The corpse as novelistic form: Knausgaard’s deconstruction of Proustian memory

Taylor Johnston

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2 Scopus citations


Though critics have called Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle the novelistic equivalent of self-obsessed digital media, I argue that his copious use of autobiographical detail actually decenters the subject and, in doing so, reworks Proustian memory for the contemporary age. The novel’s details are, in fact, too excessive to be the account of a remembering, sense-making subject. Unlike Roland Barthes’ realist objects, which are only there to signify “we are the real,” Knausgaard’s particular variety claims to be “real” subjective experience without the remembering subject—the anti-Proust and anti-memory. His realism does not depend on involuntary recollection of the past, but rather implies its irreversible loss to all but the unfailing smartphone camera. The Recherche also distorts subjective experience; as Adorno argues, the shadow of a divine rather than human subject directs Proust’s form. But in My Struggle, realist description points to neither. It is the logic of the corpse—devoid of the purpose for which it was constructed—rather than subjectivity or divinity that governs Knausgaard’s aesthetics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)368-382
Number of pages15
JournalCritique - Studies in Contemporary Fiction
Issue number3
StatePublished - 27 May 2018
Externally publishedYes

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  • Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • Marcel Proust
  • hyperrealism
  • memory
  • realism


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