The Monumental Knausgard: Big Data, Quantified Self, and Proust for the Facebook Generation

Inge van de Ven*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

This article examines how Karl Ove Knausgard's My Struggle intertwines with contemporary developments in media and technologies of self-representation and - expression. First, I situate this series within the generic frame of 'autofiction' and explain the rationale behind this categorization. Then I outline developments that have led to an increasing emphasis on scale and quantification in Western culture: the emergence of big data, the accompanying mindset of 'datafication,' and 'quantified self-movement,' and the shift from narrative to database. I argue that these together amount to a shift to more inclusive scope in literature. I propose that My Struggle subverts the binary between narrative and database, and single out three devices through which this is done: interminable narration, lists, and the anaphoric singulative frequency. On the basis of these, I pose that My Struggle adopts an aesthetics of scale: a quantitative mode of narration in which causality and closure make way for seriality and accumulation.

The second part of the article considers important media-specific differences between these works and self-representation through digital media. It examines how Knausgard's literature promotes an awareness of writing as a digressive and regressive mode of recording characterized by delay and poses an alternative to ideals of instantaneity and immediacy underlying trends of quantified self and big data. I conclude that contemporary autofictional narratives harbor a potential of provocation and a promise of pleasure and reflection in societies that privilege speed and immediacy. Thus, the article offers new insights in how book-bound literary narratives undergo transformations under the influence of digitalization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-338
Number of pages19
JournalNarrative
Volume26
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

Keywords

  • autofiction
  • big data
  • Karl Ove Knausgard
  • maximalism
  • My Struggle
  • quantified self
  • social media
  • AESTHETICS
  • MEMORY

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