Links: Autobio fiction, economical art, writerly authority

1. “At the Writing Academy,” a fiction by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I’d heard of Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” books (here and here) as autobiographical fiction, which interested me because I was inspired years ago by the autobio aspects of Kerouac’s On the Road  and because I’ve long pondered how to publish certain aspects of my journal writings. This selection above is the only part of Knausgaard’s books I’ve read, but I was a little underwhelmed by how much the story felt more like fiction than like nonfiction. It seems as if his story is shaped in a traditional story arc, rather than dealing with the messiness and day-to-day unclarity of live as lived — as my lived-life seems to be, anyway.

2. This essay makes a great point about how one’s economic situation can limit — in a good way, a creative way — the art one can make. Richard Brody writes of filmmaker Joe Swanberg:

Rather than imagining specific stories for films that required some more distant and complex organization, that required travel, specific actors, settings, effects, or crowds, Swanberg has made movies that relate clearly to the specific circumstances of his own life—but his discovery of drama within those circumstances has been nothing less than prodigious.

Everyone has lots of stories; lives proliferate stories, as is proven by most of our conversations. Whatever we tell our friends and relatives and colleagues, whatever we think about our relationships and our work, is a virtual screenplay that, in a thoughtful telling, would fill out a feature film with ease. Swanberg is a prolific filmmaker because he recognizes and extracts the drama from what’s nearest at hand.

3. An intriguing essay I found worth reading, even if I’m not sure I agree with its conclusions. Some points:

In 1980, Michel Foucault gave an anonymous interview for Le Monde because he was, in his words, “nostalgic for a time when, being quite unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard.” Calling himself the “Masked Philosopher,” he suggested that the unknown author has an “unrippled” “surface of contact” with the reader, and that the book without an author might “land in unexpected places and form shapes that I had never thought of.” He temporarily shed the authority of his name, because “a name makes reading too easy.” …

In The Irresponsible Magician, Rebekah Rutkoff gets to the point. Her prose can be perplexing, but only because we are so used to our books coming with elaborate instructions that tell us how to read them. …

IN a sense, The Irresponsible Magician is a book about authority. It flashes brightest when it throws into conflict different ways of knowing … Authority produces blind spots and excesses. As such, it’s a form of eccentricity. We all hold some tattered scrap of authority, and there is no version of it that is not somehow distorted or compromised. …

And yet something crucial distinguishes the famous from the unknown: the fact that the celebrity is both person and image. His image sustains his personal power and authority, but also undermines it. He cannot always control where he appears, what with so many unannounced cameos in books and dreams and unauthorized TV biopics. His image goes wild but leaves him trapped. Like the professional critic, or the anthropologist, or psychoanalyst, the celebrity’s authority is limiting; it leaves him a slightly automated servant to his own identity. …

The most striking thing about The Irresponsible Magician is the fact that dreams function within it as real, legitimate evidence—not just about the author’s inner life, but about the world writ large. This is the lesson we ought to draw from it. We’re used to treating dreams as belonging to the individual; analysts treat them as signposts on the hero’s journey out of neurosis and into an uncertain truce with the-world-as-it-is. But dream-data is not just individual. It’s also social and historical. Each dream reveals a foundational lie—that, for example, the world is a mall—while at the same time revealing there is a truth in the lie—that the structure of the mall commands the world and that the world is falling apart. Our job is to hold tight to these contradictions, to refuse to resolve them but instead to harness their dialectical heat. The result will not be dream-interpretation, but dream-criticism.

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