cover image In the Land of the Cyclops: Essays

In the Land of the Cyclops: Essays

Karl Ove Knausgaard, trans. from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken. Archipelago, $28 (350p) ISBN 978-1-9398-1074-8

In this dense and thought-provoking essay collection, Knausgaard (My Struggle) once again displays his knack for raising profound questions about art and what it means to be human. While Knausgaard brings complexity to his studies of paintings and photographs, analyzing the function of myths in German artist Anselm Kiefer’s paintings and wondering “how are we to understand” Francesca Woodman’s mid-20th-century photographs, the essays pick up when Knausgaard writes about literature. Among the most successful pieces are “To Where the Story Cannot Reach,” which contains his musings on craft and his relationship with his editor (whom Knausgaard has “absolute trust in”); the title essay, which asks, “What is literary freedom?” when writers are told “what they should and shouldn’t write about”; and an exploration of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (“If [it] were published today, there is no doubt in my mind that tomorrow’s reviews would be ecstatic”). In “All That Is Heaven,” he eloquently compares art to dreams, writing, “art removes us from and draws us closer to the world, the slow-moving, cloud-embraced matter of which our dreams too are made.” Though unevenly paced, the volume tackles knotty subjects and offers nuggets of brilliance along the way. These wending musings will be catnip for Knausgaard’s fans. Photos. (Jan.)