Brother, you can't go to jail
For what you're thinking
Or for the woo look in your eye
Here’s what critic James Wood had to say about the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, a lengthy autobiographical magnum opus that some critics have compared to Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past:
Many writers strive to give you the effect, the illusion, of reality. Knausgaard seems to want to give his readers the reality of reality – to strip away the literary tricks, to burst through language, to explode the artifice. And he achieves this. You read Knausgaard almost as if in real time. . . . [E]ven when I was bored I was interested (which is pretty much like life itself).
The early part of book two of My Struggle, which picks up several years after the first volume ends, focuses on mundane events involving Knausgaard and his very young children.
For example, the author takes one of his young daughters to a birthday party for a nursery-school classmate. Reading his lengthy and detailed description of the party is like viewing an unedited home video of the event.
The author loves his children, but finds the experience of modern fatherhood to be emasculating:
When I pushed the stroller all over town and spent my days taking care of my child, it was not the case that I was adding something to my life, that it became richer as a result, on the contrary, something was removed from it, part of myself, the bit relating to masculinity.
Knausgaard questions whether women and men in modern relationships are really happier than those in more traditional ones:
[I]t may be that women who followed their careers until they were almost in their forties and then at the last moment had a child . . . may have been happier than women in previous generations. It was possible that men who stayed at home and looked after their infants for six months may have increased their sense of being alive as a result. And women may actually have desired these men with thin arms, large waistlines, shaven heads and black designer glasses who were just as happy discussing the pros and cons of BabyBjörn carriers and baby slings . . . . They may have desired them with all their hearts and souls. But even if they didn’t, it didn’t really matter because equality and fairness were the parameters, they trumped everything else a life and a relationship consisted of. It was a choice, and the choice had been made.
Knausgaard could have told his wife before they had children that raising them would be her responsibility — that he wanted no part of being a househusband. But he understands that his silence implied his assent to going by the "rules of the game" for enlightened young fathers in 21st-century Stockholm:
In the class and culture we belonged to, that meant adopting the same role, previously called the woman’s role. I was bound to it like Odysseus to the mast . . . . As a result I walked around Stockholm’s streets, modern and feminized, with a furious nineteenth-century man inside me.
Knausgaard believes that a man pushing a stroller is somehow less of a man:
The way I was seen changed . . . the instant I laid my hands on the stroller. I had always eyed the women I walked past the way men always have, actually a mysterious act because it couldn’t lead to anything except a returned gaze, and if I did see a really beautiful woman I might even turn around to watch her, discreetly of course, but nevertheless: why, oh why? What function did all these eyes, all these mouths, all these breasts and waists, legs and bottoms serve? Why was it so important to look at them? . . . When I came along with a stroller no women looked at me, it was as if I didn’t exist.
I don’t worry about women seeing me pushing a stroller. That’s because the baby in the stroller that I’m pushing these days is my new grandson. Let’s face it: women don’t look at grandfathers even if they aren't pushing strollers.
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As today’s featured song says, you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking — at least not yet. But I’d suggest that you keep your mouth shut and wipe that woo look off your face when you're standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by.
From the September 5, 1902 issue of the New York Times:
Here’s “Standing on the Corner,” which was a #3 hit single for the Four Lads in 1956:
Click below to buy the song from Amazon: