This article presents a reading of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle as a whole, pursuing the existential stakes, philosophical implications, and transformative quality of the six-volume novel. My Struggle is read as a “secular confession,” which can be seen as a contemporary response to Augustine. Like Augustine, Knausgaard explores the care that binds us to others and how the experience of time cuts through every moment. But while Augustine seeks to turn us toward eternity, Knausgaard turns us back toward our finite lives as the heart of everything that matters. The animating principle of his writing is one of attachment to finite life, which is all the more profound because it remains faithful to the ambivalence of any attachment. The task is to “own” that this is the only life we have—for better and for worse—rather than seeking to leave this life behind.
Knausgaard’s Secular Confession
Martin Hägglund is professor of comparative literature and humanities at Yale University. He is the author of Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov (2012), Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (2008), and Chronophobia: Essays on Time and Finitude (2002). The essay on Knausgaard published here is a part of his next book, “This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom.”