Recently, I finished reading A Man in Love by Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard. There are many wonderful passages in the book, short essays and reflections, interspersed between the narrative web of memories of his own life, which made reading the book a rich feast for body and soul. Above all, entering his world was an uncanny experience of piercing the usual membrane of separateness between self and other. As I read it was as if I inhabited Karl Ove’s very skin at the same time as my own, his experiences and memories somehow merging with mine. There may be other writers who have achieved this same dissolution of barriers but I am not aware of them. I had grown tired of the “made-up-ness” of many novels, which pull you roughly along with their carefully constructed plot lines. In contrast I appreciate greatly the direct honesty of Knausgaard’s writing. In a way, his “confessional” and rawly revealing style, as well as his willingness to log all the mundane details of life (and somehow keep you, the reader engaged), is an affirmation for me of my own lifelong habit of writing diaries. All the times when I’ve wondered what was the point to it all.
And during my immersion in Knausgaard’s world I found a thread of something I am increasingly interested in these days. How we find ourselves separated off from our external reality and especially other people, caught as we are in our own particular net of ways of thinking, views, beliefs, values and all the other mix of factors – where we grew up and when, our genes, physiology, family culture, local culture, who we’ve met along the way, the minor or major traumas and triumphs or failures that have fed into our being – not only mentally but viscerally. And also what we have in common, our underlying bonds as human beings. I was taken by this passage in particular:-
“Writing a novel is setting yourself a goal and then walking there in your sleep, Lawrence Durrell had once said that was what it was like, and it was true. We have access not only to our own lives but to almost all the other lives in our cultural circle, access not only to our own memories but to the memories of the whole damn culture, for I am you and you are everyone, we come from the same and are going to the same, and on the way we hear the same on the radio, see the same on TV, read the same in the press, and within us there is the same fauna of famous people’s faces and smiles. Even if you sit in a tiny room in a tiny town hundreds of kilometres from the centre of the world and don’t meet a single soul, their hell is your hell, their heaven is your heaven, you have to burst the balloon and let everything in it spill over the sides.”
This also reminds me of Kafka’s words:
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
I find in writing these blog posts, but especially in the less constrained space of my journals, this kind of uncovering process going on and meditation can be like this too. This getting under the skin of things, of paying deep attention, and of patience, a kind of waiting, that leads to deeper self-understanding and through that, or in addition to that, a kind of seeing into what unites us all. And what seems to separate us, the suffering in that.