Alive to death

Opening paragraph of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle Book One:

For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops. Sooner or later, one day, this pounding action will cease of its own accord, and the blood will begin to run toward the body’s lowest point, where it will collect in a small pool, visible from outside as a dark, soft patch on ever whitening skin, as the temperature sinks, the limbs stiffen and the intestines drain. These changes in the first hours occur so slowly and take place with such inexorability that there is something almost ritualistic about them, as though life capitulates according to specific rules, a kind of gentleman’s agreement to which the representatives of death also adhere, inasmuch as they always wait until life has retreated before they launch their invasion of the new landscape. By which point, however, the invasion is irrevocable. The enormous hordes of bacteria that begin to infiltrate the body’s innards cannot be halted. Had they but tried a few hours earlier, they would have met with immediate resistance; however everything around them is quiet now, as they delve deeper and deeper into the moist darkness. They advance on the Havers Channels, the Crypts of Lieberkühn, the Isles of Langerhans. They proceed to Bowman’s Capsule in the Renes, Clark’s Column in the Spinalis, the black substance in the Mesencephalon. And they arrive at the heart. As yet, it is intact, but deprived of the activity to which end its whole construction has been designed, there is something strangely desolate about it, like a production plant that workers have been forced to flee in haste, or so it appears, the stationary vehicles shining yellow against the darkness of the forest, the huts deserted, a line of fully loaded cable-buckets stretching up the hillside.


I read a review of My Struggle Book Two: A Man in Love that implied you had merely to read the first paragraph of Book One to know if you would want to read this book. I felt compelled to find that passage.

From the promotional material: “Knausgaard breaks down lived experience into its elementary particles, revealing the wounds and epiphanies of a truly examined life.”

Related posts:
Knowing when you’ll die: Tony Judt’s last interview
Palliative care: Lost and recovered
Death be not visible
The video of Neda Soltan’s death
The death of a child

Image source: Macmillan Publishers


Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle Book One

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle Book Two: A Man in Love

Leland de la Durantaye, Inside Story: Book 2 of ‘My Struggle,’ by Karl Ove Knausgaard, New York Times Book Review

Karl Ove Knausgaard, The Birthday Party, New Yorker [excerpt from Book Two, introduced by James Wood]

Daniel Fraser, The Light Behind the Bookshelves, 3:AM Magazine [interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard]

Nina MacLaughlin, Recapturing the World with Karl Ove Knausgaard, Los Angeles Review of Books


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