I read something yesterday that surprised me and got me thinking. I’ve always thought of writing as a creative pursuit, particularly fiction, which in my book (if you’ll pardon the pun) is all about the imagination. Karl Ove Knausgaard, award winning Norwegian super star author of the six volume series My Struggle, says writing is more about destroying than creating.
How in the world does he come to this bizarre and rather bleak conclusion?
Knausgaard says a prerequisite for literature is forcing the subject of the writing into a form. Knausgaard admits that adhering to the structure according to expectations and ‘rules’ of that particular genre, is, particularly difficult when writing about something or someone close to you. With reference to his tell-all autobiographical My Struggle, it was tricky for him to submit this material to a form as he was too close to it.
So out of frustration and refusal to conform to literary conventions, he created a new form — categorised sometimes as a novel, sometimes as an autobiography — it is the most unique piece of writing I have read.
According to Knausgaard, if any of literature’s other elements are stronger than form — such as plot, theme, style — and take control of form, the results are poor. That’s why, he says, writers with a strong theme or style often write poor books. Themes and styles have to be broken down before literature can come into being. This breaking down is called writing. And that is why writing is more about destroying than creating.
While I can see his point I still believe that writing is essentially creation not destruction. Writing is drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows; of allow our imagination to blossom. It’s inspiring and positive not negative and destructive.
Perhaps to retain authenticity and stoke the flames of creativity, more writers need to push the boundaries of genre expectations, and, like Knausgaard, be the phoenix; who throws the rule book into the fire to create something truly different.
Do you agree with Knausgaard that writing is more destructive than creative? Can you think of any examples where strong themes or styles control the form and are detrimental to the book?
Best wishes (and happy writing!)
Karl Ove Knausgaard, A Death In The Family, My Struggle: 1, Vintage Books 2013