Vold og visjoner i sjette bind av Karl Ove Knausgårds Min kamp
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In this dissertation, I discuss questions of violence and ethics in the last volume of Karl Ove Knausgård’s novel in six parts, Min kamp (Eng. My Struggle). Perhaps his crowning achievement, the last tome of Knausgårds’s novel both continues and reflects on the five initial ones, in which he relates the story of his life from infancy and up to the time of the novel’s first publication. According to the author, Min kamp is a sincere account of his personal experiences, a claim that has contributed to making it not only a highly controversial work, but also to its garnering international acclaim. The sixth and final volume revolves around the two seemingly incommensurable questions of how, on the one hand, the earlier volumes have affected members of his family, and on the other, the Nazis came to power in Germany during the interwar period. The discrepancy between these subjects has earned this volume a reputation for being heterogeneous and poorly edited. However, the thesis of the present dissertation is that these personal and universal histories are connected through Knausgård’s musings on ethics. In the sixth volume, Knausgård proposes an ethics for life and literature, which can be summed up in the following three imperatives: to lift one’s face, to fasten one’s gaze and to commit oneself to a free and irreplaceable you. I explore these concepts with special regard to Knausgård’s interpretation of the Book of Genesis, the story of his father’s misfortune, and the Holocaust as it appears in light of Paul Celan’s poem “Engführung” and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Moreover, Knausgård’s imperatives clearly allude to the “I/Thou” philosophy of Martin Buber and Gabriel Marcel, as well as Emmanuel Levinas’ concept of the face of the other. Against this philosophical backdrop, Knausgård stresses the tension between commitment to any visionary idea, such as the utopian “Third Reich” or the idea of a sincere novel, and the unlimited responsibility towards one’s fellow humans. Throughout the dissertation, I discuss several aspects of Knausgård’s ethics, paying special attention to his vision of an ethical relation between text and reader, where he combines social analysis with a thought-provoking critique of parts of the novel and its reception. I find that his call for texts to address the reader as a free and responsible you, thus entails a call for interpretation, as opposed to a more trustful and compliant poetics of reading. In conclusion, I argue that the sixth volume of Min kamp addresses the reader in an ethical fashion in and of itself, emphasizing several salient political implications of reading. Nevertheless, Knausgård simultaneously makes a series of questionable attempts to justify contentious portrayals of people he knows, some of which are more, and others less, problematic than has been previously recognized in the novel’s critical reception.