Sunday, August 12, 2012

Scandinavian Exceptionalism

If you've read James Wood's review in the New Yorker of Karl Ove Knausgaard's "My Struggle" [yes, the title is Hitlerian, Woods explained why but I still don't get it] then you may know that nearly half a million Norwegians have read the novel, a novel that is merely the first of a whopping 6 volumes of autobiographical novel.  To put this in a little perspective, there are slightly less than 5 million people in Norway, so about 1 in every 8 Norwegians has read (or at least bought) this book.  This book is a Proustian exploration of time and past and whatever.  What what really strikes me about it are passages like the following, which Woods cited in the review:

"Inside, it is a question of getting through the morning, the three hours of diapers that have to be changed, clothes that have to be put on, breakfast that has to be served, faces that have to be washed, hair that has to be combed and pinned up, teeth that have to be brushed, squabbles that have to be nipped in the bud, slaps that have to be averted, rompers and boots that have to be wriggled into, before I, with the collapsible double stroller in one hand and nudging the two small girls forward with the other, step into the elevator, which as often as not resounds to the noise of shoving and shouting on its descent, and into the hall where I ease them into the stroller, put on their hats and mittens and emerge onto the street already crowded with people heading for work and deliver them to the nursery ten minutes later, whereupon I have the next five hours for writing until the mandatory routines for the children resume."

What an incredible routine!  What a struggle!  Only 5 straight hours a day to smoke cigarettes and stare at the ceiling and think about death.  It's like being a Chinese worker assembling iPhones for 12 hours a day.

But it is kind of sweet to think that half a million Norwegians have read this.  Psychologically, I don't know what that means.  Do they want the validation to view their life as a struggle?  Because, despite my sarcasm, I'm not saying it isn't.  You can compare your lot with that of others all you want, but it doesn't change the fact that even with the best childcare in the world life might still be a struggle.

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