Knausgaard’s intelligence is on full display here, if sometimes in strained ways.

IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS

The acclaimed author of the My Struggle series offers essays on fine art, classic literature, and his own work.

In this wide-ranging, sometimes labored collection, Knausgaard argues that art is at its most effective when it destabilizes our understanding of the world. Photos by Cindy Sherman that satirize the human body, for instance, grab the author’s attention because they spark the same “discomfort, nausea, anger” he experienced while working in a mental institution. Similarly, the moody, provocative black-and-white photos of Francesca Woodman reveal the “constraints of our culture and what they do to our identity” while Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission succeeds because it suggests how easily disillusioned people might accept political upheaval, asking “What does it mean to be a human being without faith?” Knausgaard approaches his subjects indirectly, often bemusingly so. (How did we get from the northern lights to Roberto Bolaño’s 2666?) The throughline is the author’s keen, almost anxious urge to understand the artistic mind. He is fascinated by Ingmar Bergman’s workbooks, how a simple jotting can expand into a classic film like Fanny and Alexander, and how Knut Hamsun’s sensibility shifted over time. Knausgaard also gives his own work close scrutiny, celebrating the crucial role of editors and sounding boards in supporting his work and psyche—he reports that he read every word of My Struggle, some 5,000 pages, to a friend over the phone—and letting fly at narrow-minded critics who “can’t handle ambiguity.” The book’s three translators all reckon with the author’s rhetorical switchbacks and run-on sentences with admirable grace, though Knausgaard is at his best with a wide canvas. These pieces at times feel compressed and fussy, lacking some of the considered grace of his Seasons Quartet or the essayistic longueurs of My Struggle.

Knausgaard’s intelligence is on full display here, if sometimes in strained ways.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-939810-74-8

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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