If you want to see straw man after straw man mercilessly slaughtered, you should definitely read Deresiewicz’s essay. I could refute his points one by one, but it would waste both your time and mine—the responses are clear enough. Fill in the blanks if you wish. Seriously. This is about the level of analysis on display here:
With its subject and size, My Struggle has invariably drawn comparisons to Proust’s Recherche, the great prose epic of the self remembered—comparisons the book itself does much to invite. But here are some things that the Recherche contains that Min Kamp does not: wit, satire, comedy, verbal and symbolic complexity, psychological penetration, sociological reach, the ability to render complicated situations, a genuine engagement with the subtleties of memory, the power to convey the slow unfolding of the self. And here is something that Proust did that Knausgaard did not: he took his time. The Recherche, only fractionally longer than Min Kamp, was labored at for thirteen years. About a page a day of finished prose appears to be the speed limit for a sustained work of competent literary fiction. You want to write shit? Write fast.
And honestly, I’d like to know where Knausgaard “does much to invite” comparisons to Proust. Yes, he does invite comparisons to many authors and artists in My Struggle. But Proust? I’m calling bullshit on this.
The biggest problem with Deresiewicz’s piece is that he appoints the following as the erstwhile defenders of Knausgaard: Jeffrey Eugenides, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Lethem, James Wood, and Leland de la Durantaye. This goes a good way toward explaining why Deresiewicz has such an easy time massacring his straw men, and why anyone who has given this book some serious thought will find his critique greatly lacking. Wood is the best of the bunch, but even his reading of Knausgaard was banal. If Deresiewicz had wanted to, he could have found much more intelligent and difficult-to-refute defenses of the book. But that would have involved hard work and deep thought, things Deresiewicz is ostensibly in favor of, but, in practice, I guess not really.
I suppose this is what The Nation’s book pages are about these days—a review of bland reviews.
You don’t have to like My Struggle. I know plenty of people who don’t. I myself think Book 3 is so-so. But you can’t just dismiss it. There’s an undeniable appeal to it, both popularly and critically. There are reasons for this. If you want to criticize the book, you can choose to wrestle with those reasons, or you can choose to cherry-pick some of the least compelling defenses of the book and cut them down with your acid wit. One of these will be worth reading, the other will be Internet fodder for about a week.
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