The overall experience was almost pure pleasure of a very Knausgaardian kind — sixty poetic micro-ruminations on random topics, full of the oddity of the ordinary, the unrepeatable event that returns in dreams, the humor of everyday humiliation, the sudden painful or shameful memory, the drive to analyze and that wondrous moment when analysis fails. This seems to me to be a new way to do philosophy, and maybe theology as well. As with the My Struggle series, it resonated with my own memories. I also loved the atmospheric and occasionally weird, dreamlike paintings contributed by artist Vanessa Baird.
Here is a taste from Apples (couldn’t help but notice the Genesis-like theme of the initial story … also a perfect September topic, though most of the topics aren’t really seasonal)
I have always been drawn towards the hidden and the secret. To bite a piece of the peel from the top of an orange in order to work one’s thumb in between the peel and the flesh of the orange, and feel the bitter taste spurting into one’s mouth for a brief second, and then to loosen piece after piece, sometimes, if the peel is thin, in tiny scraps, other times, when the peel is thick and loosely connected to the flesh, in one long piece, also has a ritual aspect to it. It is almost as if the first one is the temple colonnade and moving slowly towards the innermost room, but there the teeth pierce the thin, shiny membrane and the fruit juice runs into the mouth and fills it with sweetness. Both the labor involved and the fruit’s secretive nature, by which I mean its inaccessibility, increase the value of the pleasure one experiences. The apple is an exception to this. No work, no secret, just straight into pleasure, the almost explosive release of the apple’s sharp, fresh, and tart yet always sweet taste into the mouth, which may cause the nerves to twinge and maybe also the facial muscles to contract, as if the distance between man and fruit is just big enough for this shock on a miniature scale to never quite disappear, regardless of how many apples one has eaten in one’s life. . . . Against secrecy stands openness, against work stands freedom. Last Sunday, we went to the beach about ten kilometres from here, it was one of those early autumn days which summer had stretched into and saturated almost completely with its warmth and calm, yet the tourists had gone home long ago and the beach lay deserted. I took the children for a walk in the forest, which grows all the way down to the edge of the sand, and which for the most part consists of deciduous trees, with the occasional red-trunked pine. The air was warm and still, the sun hung heavy with light on the faintly dark blue sky. We followed a path in between the trees, and there, in the middle of the wood, stood an apple tree laden with apples. The children were as astonished as I was, apple trees are supposed to grow in gardens, not wild out in the forest. Can we eat them, they asked. I said yes, go ahead, take as many as you want. In a sudden glimpse, as full of joy as it was of sorrow, I understood what freedom was.
My favorite topics were Apples, Wasps, Plastic Bags, Porpoises, Frogs, Lightning, Chewing Gum, Adders, Bottles, Experience, Lice, Oil Tankers, Flies, August Sanders, Chimneys, Birds of Prey, Silence, Drums, and Eyes. And I loved the letters he wrote each month to his yet-to-be-born daughter Anne, the inspiration for the book. The middle of the book didn't seem as strong as the beginning and end.
[Disclaimer: My book turned out to be defective; three chapters, the November letter and presumably at least one painting, were missing entirely, while some chapters were repeated. I look forward to finding an intact copy.]