I dreamt I was in a small cabin on an island and I was writing page after page. The words poured out of me as if they had been damming up inside my head my whole life and now were free. I wanted to tell everything – what I ate, what I wore, where I went, who I loved. I wanted to record my life minute by minute, the good, the bad, the banal and the monumental, and I wanted to preserve it in a multivolume accounting. In the dream, my writing gushed forward and splattered onto the page, like a Pollack painting, and as the words took on the shape of narrative, I ascended to the pantheon of “great writers.” I saw my books on the shelves alongside all the greats – Thomas Mann, James Joyce, Shakespeare, Proust, the Bible – and, like these books, my books were big – not just big in terms of their impact but physically big, blocks of words and paper, virtually impossible to carry around in a back pack. When stacked side by side, they were huge, big tomes brimming with, well, everything. Yes, my books were big and my name was on them, therefore I was big. I wanted to shout this truth to the world – I am big, these books represent me and they are better than anything else that has been written on the topic of me. They will live forever, they will be compared to the greats. They are great, therefore I am great. Karl Ove the great. I was shouting my own name to the world when I woke myself up. Karl Ove! Karl Ove! Karl Ove!
Where was I? I glanced over at my companion on the other side of the bed. Who did I come home with last night? Oh yes, the lithe co-ed who caught my attention in the bar after many beers. She was blond and tall with fantastic breasts. I felt a stirring in my groin but the soft ping of a text message coming in interrupted the beginnings of an erection. I padded across the bedroom floor, fished around with my feet for my slippers, and headed downstairs to make coffee. The kitchen was cold and still dark as I felt around for the coffee jar, opened it, scooped three heaping spoons into the pot and turned on the kettle. As I lit up my first cigarette of the day, I remembered the text message and picked up my phone. It was my editor from England. Check your email, the message said.
Who was trying to sue me now I wondered? The very young girls with budding fantastic breasts whom I had ogled in my first teaching job? My brother? His wife? My former wife? The woman with small breasts who claimed I had raped her? My classmates from college, especially the woman writer I had written harshly about? Or maybe it was my best friend, Geir, angered perhaps by my constant concerns about being taken for a homosexual while hanging out with him. Oh god, oh god! No, not that! Maybe he actually was a homosexual and was truly offended, or maybe his son was homosexual and he was now offended by what he had read in My Struggle Book Six. This could be bad, very bad. If he charged me with homophobia, I would no longer stand in for everyman, the universal subject, the person in the street through whom the complexity of the world flowed. Instead, I would be marked as a bigot, a prejudiced and biased person, a homophobe. Or else, people may conclude that my comments served to cover up an actual simmering homoerotic desire for other men. In Book Six, I had written about the time that he and I were in a grocery store with his son and a couple in line looked at us and beamed. What had they been thinking, I had wondered at the time. Were they smiling in tolerant recognition at what they presumed was a gay male couple with their adopted child? I had freaked out and started shoving my best friend around to prove that I was normal, a real man, a heterosexual man who loved very young women with blond hair and fantastic breasts.
But it was not a lawsuit, just a mean-spirited review of the last three volumes of My Struggle, written by a professor in New York. Apparently, the review had circulated widely and there was much commentary in its wake about the gender and sexuality politics of my books. This person, and I say person because I honestly have no idea what gender they were, and this even after looking them up on google, this person had written a horrific parody of me and was getting some attention for it. As I began to read the review, I calmed down. It was obviously a third-rate scholar trying to score some points for an identitarian ideology that reeked of simplistic judgement and was devoid of literary insight. Thank god I am a white man, I thought, and I don’t have to engage in the tiresome jockeying for position that marks the work of homosexuals and women. No, a white man can just sit down and write and he writes his way into the whole world! The fact that this “world” also comprises mostly other white men in no way invalidates the labor, the art, the craft, the sublimity of what we write. In fact, by building on each other and on the work that came before us, we can bypass the petty squabbles of the others and just dig in to the important stuff – like whether to eat cornflakes or museli for breakfast, how best to appreciate pornography and what to do about the crazy women who pursue us.
Given that I am probably the second-best living writer in the world, after Peter Handke, I do not have to worry about pathetic transsexual scholars trying to score points by imitating my style. I texted back to my editor, told her all was fine and not to worry about the review. Next I texted my girlfriend and positioning my smart phone at crotch level, pulled down my pajama bottoms and, once I had managed to get the angle just right, giving a bit of heft and length to my otherwise flaccid member, I snapped a dick pick, checked the photo quickly and then hit send, smiling to myself and hoping that my girlfriend would reciprocate quickly with a picture of her fantastic breasts.
Over the past few years, I had been engaged in a massive writing project in which I set about to create a detailed account of my life from my first shit in the woods to my first experience of premature ejaculation, from my earliest memories of my mother to my early encounter with pornography. I had dug deep into the vast archive of Western literature from which my own writing was drawn – Joyce, Proust, Musil, Hoderlin, Goethe, Celan, Mann, Hamsun. The wretched professor from New York who was writing a parody of me had claimed that I only mentioned male writers. This is ridiculous, it is not a matter of whether the writer is male or female but only whether they are great, whether their prose rises to the level of classic, as mine does, and whether they are able, as I am, to capture the minutiae of their lives and then elevate it to the level of the universal. If women cannot perform this simple rhetorical operation, then I am not to blame. The satirist, who calls themselves a queer theorist, suggested that when women write about minutiae the work is deemed trivial but when men do it, it is literary! Nonsense! The literary requires no alibi and I will provide none for mine.
And as for this charge that I am a normative white guy insisting on putting myself and my experiences in the center of the world, well, what can I say? Far from being normal, I have always understood myself to be an outsider, a misfit, an odd and strange person living at the very edges of polite society. Look at me! I am a tall, reasonably good looking guy, I have a wife and kids, I listen to Talking Heads, I drink beer, a lot of beer, I fall down drunk, I love and hate my father, I love and respect other men, I fear and desire women, I write, I play drums badly, I confess, I look after my children, what could be further from mainstream culture than that? Indeed, since I was a small boy shitting in the woods and recording the color of my shit, I have known myself to be different others. I have been marked by traumas big and small – the ferocity of my father, the indignity of being called a faggot at school, my abuse of alcohol, my struggles with premature ejaculation. Indeed, when people ask why I called my books “My Struggle,” I try to explain the hardship that losing my erection so quickly has caused me over the years. I have struggled and struggled to find and bed beautiful blond women with fantastic breasts, but once in bed with the woman of my dreams, my desire, like my words, comes spilling out all at once and, before my partner has even removed her coat, the main event is over. At that point, I have felt humiliated and embarrassed and I have rushed these women to the door and asked them to walk home.
My struggle has been real. I have tried wanking, tried thinking of Nordic literature, tried remembering my own short stories in order to delay the inevitable but to no avail. The only way to stave off the implications of my short and quick sexual experiences is to create a long, hard, huge set of writings that offset sexual inadequacy with literary abundance, the minimalism of my desire with the maximalism of my inner life. Look, I want to say, I am big, I am Karl Ove, I am a writer, I can have sex for longer than 2 minutes.
I remember the day that Geir told me that the title of my books, My Struggle, was not original. What? I said, flabbergasted. Has someone else also written about premature ejaculation at length? In a way, he answered. Have you heard of a little man called Adolf Hitler? Vaguely, I had heard of him, he was the father of Fascism and another man who struggled with his father, with his desire for women, with sex. There was a world of men out there, I realized, like me. Men who loved and hated daddy, loved and ignored mommy, men who wanted to be great and famous. I resolved then to pull my books out of the weeds, out of the mundane recording of events – what I ate, when I moved my bowels – and make them meaningful. I turned on my computer and dropped a four-hundred-page account of Hitler, fascism and the Holocaust into the middle of my book about family. There, that should do it, a big story sandwiched within a little story, a story of a son who becomes the uber-Vater in the middle of a story about a father who dies and leaves a mess. If the title My Struggle was taken, I needed a new one – The Birth of a Nation had a ring to it. That may do it! I turned on my phone to text my editor/love and tell her about the new title. But there were three text messages there already from Geir! I tapped on the first one and saw that he had sent me a photo. What was it? A turkey neck? A hairless mole? A large worm? Oh no, no no no, it was a dick pic! But why was he sending me this. I scrolled up the message thread. Oh my god, my dick pic had gone to him and not to my girlfriend, and now he was reciprocating and declaring his love for me. He was a homosexual! Maybe I am too? No, no, no. I cannot be, I love women, sort of, I hate men, sort of. Or do I love men and hate women? All the writers I read and love are heterosexual too, aren’t they? Proust? Mann? Shakespeare? Wait, wait, the queer theorist had implied these writers were all homosexual. This deviant had implied I was a homosexual in denial. But, of the many shameful desires that churn inside me, homosexuality is not one. In the end, my orientation is not to man or woman but to art!
I needed yet another title. But, before I came up with one, I decided to go to the store and shop for everything I would need to sustain me while I wrote Book 7 of my magnum opus. I walked down the stairs, out into the street and headed for the convenience store that had opened recently in the neighborhood. I pushed my cart down the aisles and picked up some spaghetti and a marinara sauce, 5 ramen packets, 2 tins of coffee, a 12 pack of Pepsi, 3 bottles of good red wine, 5 packs of cigarettes, cornflakes, 2 cans of tuna, a carton of washed lettuce, some Swedish meatballs, reindeer meat from Norway, pickled herring, a carton of milk, some condoms and breath mints. Stopped next at the pharmacy and picked up my supply of Viagra. The queer theorist had accused me of making shopping lists in my book, again to prove what a good house husband I was while detailing the many faults of my many wives. But the lists are important to me. Not because, as Frederic Jameson says in an interview about my books, that I am committed to “itemization,” but because this is truth, this is the real stuff of life and this is how I remain the hero of every story I tell, because once you know me, really know me, you cannot judge me for my infidelities, my arrogance, my abuse of my wives, my tendency to judge all women by their looks and their breasts. The lists help me to seem banal, vulnerable, helpless and hard working. By my lists, you know I am good, a good man, a man who leads with his heart not his head, a man who you can love.
In the end, I have taken this risk, the risk of writing down everything I think and everything I do and of examining life down to its most trivial detail and I have done so because this is the only way to tell the truth, the truth of who I, Karl Ove, really am. And yes, that includes loving very young women with fantastic breasts, listening to white guy bands and reading white guy novels, and patiently putting up with the women in my life while they experience self-induced melt downs despite my best efforts to support them to support me. My story, you see, has never been told. This is the story of a young boy struggling to make a mark of the world and then a young man struggling not to have to work and then a husband struggling to get away from his wife and kids and then a man struggling to be free. It is a story that we catch glimpses of in Knut Hamsun’s Hunger and in Ernst Junger’s Storm of Steel because they, like me, were young men who declined to bend their narratives to the whims of public opinion and the fluctuating orientations of popular politics, they like me dug deep into the psyche and found the truth, they like me struggled with struggle, flirted with Fascism and desired “a man in black with a meinkampf look” as a nameless female poet once wrote. Except, unlike this second-rate poet, I am the man in black, I have the meinkampf look, and like Knut Hamsun, I offer psychological complexity in order to capture “the whisper of blood and the pleading of bone marrow.” In the heart of many a good, white, Aryan man lies a swastika, contempt for women, fear of death, a desire to be god and to conquer death. But we cannot conquer death nor reconcile to it and so the whole world must burn. But, as I grow older, as death beckons to me, as impotence sets on, I realize that death is not the problem, it is the solution. That was it, I had my title at last for Book 7 – The Final Solution. The publisher loved it, the work was over, the struggle is real.