In Dear Knausgaard (Fiction Advocate, Aug.), Adrian addresses Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard and takes on misogyny in literary culture.
Why did you write the book as a series of letters to Knausgaard?
Right after I got the contract to write [a book about My Struggle], I was excited to dig in, but I quickly became paralyzed because it’s just such a gigantic novel, and one I admire so much. There was just so much to say—how could I even begin? I was paralyzed for about nine months. The epistolary form immediately freed me up because it’s so intimate. It let me write more as a reader and less as a formal critic.
How do we reckon with our literary heroes and their personal lives?
I think this notion that we have to separate the work from the writer is artificial and in reality nobody does that. We all have incredibly personal responses to literature. But Knausgaard in particular really begs this question. How do we separate the work from the critical reception of it, and both from Knausgaard’s super elaborate and outsize public persona? At this point, it’s all one big ball of wax. I don’t think it’s possible. But you can at least acknowledge the messiness of it all.
What was it like writing about masculinity?
It was a little scary at first, but mostly exciting to finally articulate things about gender in literature that I’d been feeling for a long time. Knausgaard exposes his own writerly ambitions in My Struggle, and it was shocking to me to see how these looked. I think it’s very different for women. For someone like Knausgaard, there’s nothing outside of your own insecurities standing in your way. No cultural roadblocks, no millenias’ worth of structural obstacles.
How did you realize and begin working against gendered reading habits?
I was already feeling bad about my sexist reading habits, but writing Dear Knausgaard made me even more determined to break those habits. Still, the fact is, I’ve read more books by men than women because there are more books by men than by women. Also, a lot of books by women simply don’t grab me in the same way. I think this is because women tend not to take on universal themes in the way men do. Men are more comfortable taking that stance. This is a big part of what I’m trying to argue in Dear Knausgaard. Because even though My Struggle is about one man’s life, Knausgaard’s characteristics—white, male, cis, middle class—also happen to fulfill a kind of platonic ideal of what it means to be a human being in Western culture.