... may prove to be less salacious but no less provocative. Or, at least, no less thought-provoking ... Neither confessional in the vein of David Sedaris nor meditative in the style of the Atlantic’s James Parker, these essays suggest the philosophical mode of Emerson, that of an observant, detached, analytic, earnest, and fearless interlocutor whose intellect ranges over a landscape as vast as the Scandinavian night sky ... The first 17 essays in In the Land of the Cyclops are philosophically illuminating, but somewhat didactic and stylistically ponderous. The same ideas appear several times, and Knausgaard’s digressions, while interesting, can be distracting. But then we come to the final offering, Ten Years Old, the one giving form to all the principles found in the rest ... his artistic genius makes us feel something has transpired. And it is monumental.
Between the slings and arrows born and the writer’s already well established tendency toward fruitful self-absorption, it is not surprising that Knausgaard spends too much time playing defense in In the Land of the Cyclops ... But when the veil of self-preservation lifts, the fine criticism is impossible to overlook ... His review of Michel Houellebecq’s controversial novel Submission is exquisitely done ... When he gets out of his own way, Knausgaard’s passion for interiority and the detail of the individual experience, the most brilliant elements of his fiction, come through.
These occasional writings reveal a more academic Knausgaard. But, as in the fiction, his intense focus, formidable command of reference and tendency to see the interconnectedness of things make for highly stimulating, almost overwhelming reading ... Though such asides — the lighting of cigarettes, conversations with his children, midnight angst — might seem redundant, they do give the essays the same semblance of radical honesty that radiates through his fiction. This pseudo-narrative approach also allows him to dramatize his critical process: to lay bare his neuroses, deconstruct his prejudices and construct judgments from scratch. The pantomime of critical dispassion is avoided; the rhetorical effect is one of wisdom gained rather than merely delivered ... Though they can sometimes seem recondite, these essays repay slow reading and retain considerable power to surprise ... Saying everything that comes to mind may be risky, but its rewards are potentially awesome: revelation, epiphany, salvation.
Knausgaard’s critical writing does return obsessively to the question of artistic limits ... Reviewers of My Struggle frequently praised Knausgaard’s essayistic talent, and readers who enjoyed the novel’s digressions on, say, Dostoyevsky or Paul Celan will find here the same mingling of critical and personal reflection. A meditation on the northern lights detours into musings on Proust and Pascal ... The collection, which also includes essays on Michel Houellebecq, Cindy Sherman and Kierkegaard, reads less like a book of criticism at times than a work of negative theology, circling the mysteries of artistic creation ... In most cases, however, these airy speculations are saved by moments of self-searching that bring the meditation back to the personal and the concrete. To some extent, the collection is an extended reckoning with Knausgaard’s own creative process ... This artistic vantage, which Knausgaard inhabits so artfully throughout the collection, is abandoned rather abruptly in the title essay, which adopts a more defensive tone ... The essay is a blight — an outsize one, given that it shares the book’s name — on an otherwise fine collection and flatly contradicts what he has argued throughout its pages ... It is unfortunate when one of the very best occupants of that terrain ceases to see this as a necessary constraint and instead regards himself as the lone exile in a world full of monsters.
The need to be complex — and perhaps also to be seen to be complex — outweighs the need to make a point at times, and this can make some pieces hard going, but Knausgaard is an interesting thinker even when self-indulgent. At its best the writing is clear, elegant, dense and engrossing, but it is the less grandiose, less self-consciously expansive pieces that are the most satisfying and memorable ... The tone can be a bit lofty here, and elsewhere too, but turn one irritating page and something unusual will spring up — a moment of surprise or observation that, quite often, feels like the truth. Even hardened Knausgaard sceptics, then, should find something to admire here; and fans will be thrilled.
In the Land of the Cyclops finds him in, at best, a holding pattern. These are minor essays, earnest and sawdust-filled ... Knausgaard’s plodding essays read more like lectures than like criticism. They’re more oil than vinegar ... One thing to like about this book — its primary translator from the Norwegian is Martin Aitken — is how Knausgaard reorients the world of culture and allows us to view it through his own Nordic lens ... He’s right to notice that we’re living in an era when fiction, because it’s a refuge for unpoliced thought and feeling of every stripe, matters more than ever. Elsewhere in this collection, you get the sense of a writer laboriously working out things that have been better worked out by others.
In the Land of the Cyclops heightens the suspicion that Knausgaard fulfilled his authorial project with the completion of his six-part autofictional epic in 2011 ... A lengthy review here of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission opens with a plodding explanation of why Knausgaard has never before read the author, and labours on under the presumption that we are as interested in the underqualified reviewer as we are in his subject ... Knausgaard can be engaging on art and photography (subjects include Cindy Sherman, Anselm Kiefer, Francesca Woodman), but as a novelist turned philosopher-critic, he often reads as an Aristotelian particularist trying to be a universalising Plato. Whenever he looks up from the concrete, sensuous and personal, he drifts into watery abstraction. His essays are wide ranging in the sense that they tend to cover too much ground ... At his worst, Knausgaard the essayist is a monological bore ... The Knausgaard diehard will appreciate the reminiscences of childhood journeys and youthful misadventures, even if some of these are recycled ... did find myself hoping he’d take a hint and let me usher him out of the door, so I could collapse into my armchair, knackered.
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 ... 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.
In this wide-ranging, sometimes labored collection, Knausgaard argues that art is at its most effective when it destabilizes our understanding of the world ... Knausgaard approaches his subjects indirectly, often bemusingly so. (How did we get from the northern lights to Roberto Bolaño’s 2666?) The throughline is the author’s keen, almost anxious urge to understand the artistic mind ... These pieces at times feel compressed and fussy, lacking some of the considered grace of his Seasons Quartet or the essayistic longueurs of My Struggle ... Knausgaard’s intelligence is on full display here, if sometimes in strained ways.