on autobiography

I was reading about Karl Ove Knausgard last night [I emphasise reading about, not actually reading his books], and it reminds me how strange I always find that sort of writing, the deeply and intensely personal reflection on the life you actually lived or are continuing to live. And it’d be one thing if it were a couple hundred or even a handful of hundreds, but to go on and on about your life would drive me insane. Like, just physically? How could you stomach yourself for over 1,000 pages? How could you look at all those moments of your life and want to tell the world about them?

I find it almost revolting. I’m sure his gargantuan autobiography is quite good, as such things are judged, but I can’t imagine reading even a bit of it. And I can’t imagine going that direction with my own writing, though maybe I will some day [what do I know?], but I find it incredibly difficult to write about who I am without constantly lying or choosing a perspective that has nothing to do with me. Like, if I were to start an autobiography today, I’d probably write it from the perspective of the woman I didn’t become because at least she could see me with some kind of validity.

And maybe that’s part of it: I don’t think people can ever see themselves correctly. We are who the people around us say we are. I think identity is collective, not individual. Probably most people disagree with that, not only from a personal identity standpoint, but philosophically and politically.

I can’t read cogito ergo sum without rolling my eyes. I can’t even think about it without thinking how stupid it is. Humans don’t exist in a vacuum. They don’t exist separate of all other humans, so to begin a philosophy there [especially one dealing with humanness] is beyond ludicrous to me.  And he’s the beginning of so much thought!

It’s  no wonder I find humans absurd and ridiculous. It’s no wonder I find myself in constant disagreement with much of western philosophy, with much of western thinking. I think that even the way we think about thinking is broken. And let’s not even mention dualism or the obscurification of philosophical language.

But I don’t really want to talk about that. I want to talk about autobiography, because that’s what we’re all doing anyway, constantly, yeah? Social media is a continuous compendium of autobiography. Even the fiction many of us write is just thinly veiled autobiography, or there are those [like me] who are literally putting all of me on paper, but I cut it up, mix it around, throw in some magic, some wolves, some ravens, some giant trees, countless contradictory narrators, and a structure that’s more like a puzzle than a line.

But that’s how I deal with the world. That’s how I make sense of it.

I need to break it apart and make it fit in my head.

Because the world’s too large for me.

Existence is simply too much to handle or hold inside you.

It’s too beautiful.

It’s too terrifying.

And so I find autobiography interesting, but only theoretically. And scandinavians have a different relationship to it than we do here. Some of their biggest literary achievements are just autobiography. I don’t remember the names, but last year I did a lot of research about scandinavian literature [because, yeah, it’s cool], and I found several enormous autobiographies, which is surely where this newest phenomena descends from.

I kept a journal the month I met Chelsea, while I was wandering around alone. I’ve considered publishing it. I’d need to type it up first. But thinking about typing it out is even difficult. Imagining reading my naked thoughts is terrifying. I’d rather have someone else do it.

Which, incidentally, is why I find it difficult to read my books when they become books: I see it all too plainly.

Want to know who that old man is at the beginning of Ash Cinema? Want to know who the teenage girl is? [speaking of her: no one has ever discussed or mentioned how that novel has an explicit relationship between a teenager and a septuagenarian, but, yeah] Want to know who Aya is? Want to know who the wolves are? Want to know why so many characters can’t speak? Want to know why so many of them die? Want to know who the child goddess at the center of everything is?

It’s not as simple as just saying they’re me, because of course they are: I wrote them. But if every character is just ydde, than who am I, and what’s the point of all of them?

No, none of them are me, really, but all of them are a little bit.

All of it happened to me, but none of it is my life.

That brings me to another thing about my work that sort of surprises me and people. My work is generally quite serious. It’s often grim and dark, but I find a lot of hope in it. I hope others do too. But I think when people know me through my writing they expect me to be a very serious and intelligent and severe person.

But I’m really quite silly.

When people know me first in real life and then pick up my books, I think they’re expecting comedy or at least some zaniness. Instead they get dying gods and apocalypse.

See, for me, writing is a way to free myself of all that. Or, not free myself, but find a way to contextualise it and understand it. This darkness inside me, occluding light. It allows me to remain silly and carefree, even as I waltz the Death of humanity onto hundreds of pages. It allows me to strip myself bare and tell you everything you never knew because you’re not looking for me: you’re looking for yourself, for all of us.

It’s slight of hand. That’s the real goal.

And when I’m most naked on the page, that’s when you see the strange elements rise. I think that’s the biggest reason I can’t read Ash Cinema: it’s too personal. Just the fact that it’s about film makes it too close to my heart. It was the first time I wrote something that made me cry. Twilight of the Wolves would cause me to cry several times for some of the same reasons.

But that’s why I can’t understand the compulsion to tell your life story.

I mean, who wants to read that?

That’s a question I’d never be able to get past as a writer: why should anyone care?

And even if I did get past that, I’d feel that I was constantly lying, not telling it right. If I wrote an autobiography, I’d want to just interview everyone I’ve known and have them write it together.

Which is where Noir: A Love Story‘s structure comes from.

But, yeah, late night thought.

Maybe I’ll share my strange and hilarious life some day.


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