Knausgaard’s Winter follows Autumn
Christine Foster Meloni
Winter (2018), the second volume of Knausgaard’s seasonal quartet, is identical in organization to Autumn (2017). It is divided into the three winter months, December, January, and February, and each month contains 20 short observations of mostly natural phenomena and manmade objects. His declared audience is the same: his daughter. For all of the autumn months and two of the winter months, she is his “unborn daughter.” In the final winter month, however, she becomes his “newborn daughter.”
Knausgaard hopes to instill in his daughter a deep curiosity for everything in the world around her. In Winter, he covers a wide array of subjects, from the moon to Q-tips to aquatic apes to the 1970s. He encourages his daughter as well as his readers to pause and consider everything in the world more deeply. He wants us to stop and reflect in order to have a richer life.
He writes several essays on topics directly related to winter. In “The First Snow,” he surprises us by criticizing winter. What? A Norwegian who has something negative to say about winter, the season most beloved by most Norwegians? Reflecting on the first snow of the season, he writes,
“Winter had almost no self-confidence after the triumph of summer and autumn’s resolute clean-up that followed, for what was winter, with its snowfalls and its icing of the waters, other than a cheap conjurer? Turning rain into snow, water into ice, that was all winter was capable of . . . ”
In his essay, “Winter Sounds,” he observes how winter muffles some sounds but intensifies others. But winter “also has sounds that are entirely its own, unique to the season, and some of them are among the most beautiful of all.” For example, the “low boom of ice-covered waters as they freeze” or “the razor-sharp, crisscrossing sound of speed skates as the blades cut across the ice and leave it.”
Most essays are not about winter, however. Take the subject of money, for example. He states that we understand its purpose: Money is used to provide us with something in return. But in his essay “Coins,” he focuses on the coin itself and points out that it is really quite useless in itself.
“Our whole society is built around the belief in the fiction of coins, and the moment that belief vanishes, society collapses, as in Germany in the ’30s, when suddenly no one believed that the money was worth anything, as a consequence of which it wasn’t.”
Knausgaard often chooses a particular object and analyzes all representations of it in a unique way. In his essay “Pipes,” he considers all kinds of pipes and explains their importance. He begins:
“Pipes transport flowing liquids. Pipes come in all sizes and in all materials, from gigantic concrete pipes that transport lake water down to power station turbines to the smallest capillaries, thin as strands of hair, that lead blood from one place in the body to another. Characteristic of pipes is that they are round, they are hollow and they are open at both ends.”
He then reminds us “That our body is filled with liquids, and that our life depends on the distribution of these liquids from one organ to the other through thousands of little pipes which vary in size from the tube-like intestines to the capillaries of the brain, and that all life, even the most primitive of trees, is coursed through by pipes in this manner and makes the principle of the pipe perhaps the most important of life’s requirements and humankind akin to the reed.”
With 60 essays, you will most likely find many that strike a chord and you will ask yourself, “Why didn’t I think of this before?”
Note: A review of Autumn appeared in the Dec 24, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American at www.norwegianamerican.com/autumn-knausgaard.
This article originally appeared in the February 21, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.