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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Knausgård goes on the warpath

Norway’s celebrity author Karl Ove Knausgård seemed to suddenly take on the role of Scandinavian grouch this week, blasting both his own native Norway and his country of residence, Sweden. Norwegian media didn’t pay much attention to his diatribe, while the Swedes reacted with offense.

Karl Ove Knausgård PHOTO: Aschehoug Agency/Kristian Ridder-Nielsen
Karl Ove Knausgård PHOTO: Aschehoug Agency/Kristian Ridder-Nielsen

Knausgård is fresh from a wildly successful tour of the US, where he promoted the latest English edition in his series of My Struggle books. He was mostly greeted like a rock star “over there,” and perhaps that emboldened him to lash out at the folks back home.

The My Struggle author was clearly struggling with a bad temper or, as another Norwegian author suggested, a feeling that he’d been unfairly treated. Erlend Loe called Knausgård’s tirade against the Swedes published in newspaper Dagens Nyheter “an elegantly formulated defense,” and said he understood it.

Knausgård’s rants started Tuesday in The Guardian (external link), when he lashed out at “the shortsightedness and stupidity” of the Norwegian government’s long-announced plans to open up new areas of the Arctic for oil and gas exploration. A long list of Norwegian academics, authors and other members of the cultural elite have recently published petitions in local papers threatening to sue the government over the plans. Knausgård is among them, and also took his complaints to the British paper that has readers far beyond Norway’s borders.

“Norway is one of the richest countries in the world,” he told The Guardian. “It’s all about greed, and it’s an (expletive deleted) disgrace.” The Guardian reported that “Norway’s right-wing government coalition” (which remains far to the left of the Democrats in the US) would hear objections to the licensing, but failed to mention how the controversial Arctic expansion began during the former left-center coalition’s government period headed by the Labour Party. That government, led by a party that has traditionally supported the oil industry because of the jobs it creates, also was keen to start drilling for oil off the stunningly scenic areas of Lofoten and Vesterålen several years ago. Some Norwegians think Knausgård’s criticism of oil and gas exploration is thus coming a bit late.

The current conservative government coalition responded to the petition signed by Knausgård and others by reminding them that oil revenues to the state treasury not only ensure pensions for generations to come but have helped finance the government’s cultural allocations that often have supported their academic and artistic endeavours.

After venting his anger over his homeland’s Arctic encroachment to the British paper, Knausgård turned his attention to Swedish media, writing a commentary in Dagens Nyheter that blasted Swedes as Cyclops “who don’t want to know about the parts of reality that aren’t seen as they should be.” He claimed that Sweden’s “Cyclopian” prime minister “called a legitimate party, voted into the parliament, a ‘neo-fascist’ party,” referring to the controversial anti-immigrant party Sverigedemokraterna. “Everyone knows that’s not right, but it doesn’t matter, because if they have another opinion on a sensitive issue, they’re fascists,” Knausgård wrote.

That left him facing new criticism, from among others Swedish author Jonas Gardell, who wrote in newspaper Expressen that he first dismissed Knausgård’s rant as yet another from “a hurt, white, heterosexual man … who feels sorry for himself and puts himself instead of issues in the spotlight.” Gardell wrote that “I had a desire to call Knausgård and yell at him that we already have lots of men in Sweden who feel sorry for themselves and we didn’t need to import another one from Norway!”

Gardell rejected any argument that Knausgård was criticizing a narrow debate climate in Sweden, “when he puts himself and how hurt he is” in the center of his complaints. “The problem with these heterosexual white men is that they have never learned to tolerate a beating, to receive criticism.” Gardell maintained that Swedes “haven’t done much more than talk about immigration over the past year, in a debate that steadily portrays immigrants as the enemy.” And that he couldn’t interpret Knausgård’s commentary as anything other than “a defense of the right-wing extremist movement” that has grown in all of Europe in recent years.

Loe, the Norwegian author, maintains that the earlier criticism of Knausgård in Sweden, where he’s been depicted as having a negative view of women and even supporting a totalitarian society, “went too far.” Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that its reporters spoke with other Swedish and Norwegian authors who also were critical of Knausgård’s commentary, but didn’t want to be interviewed or identified. There was no further commentary from Knausgård, at least for now. Berglund



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