28 May 2023

The Morning Star, by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Knausgaard is most famous for his six book autofiction series My Struggle. Thousands and thousands of pages of barely novelized autobiography in which he painstakingly reveals his inner being, his confessional of thoughts, feelings, emotions, his psychological state at the various stages of his life.  It’s a massive literary attempt to make sense of his own existence. It’s probably the best chronicle of contemporary Western living or what Western people call living. The existential crisis Knausgaard is obsessively concerned with, and meticulously investigates, is the authenticity of what the Western world calls living. Are people really living if they are so discontent, so restless, depressed and unhappy?

The West is saturated with addicts. People seeking escape from their own lives through narcotics (legal and illegal), alcohol, pornography, food, gambling, video gaming, scores of therapies and religions. People don’t seek escape if they are content.

The characters in Knausgaard's six volume My Struggle and the novel The Morning Star all wonder how much of their lives is authentic and how much of their lives is just them being swept along the social tide, mimicking what society has conditioned them into believing life should be. A life exclusively material and temporal.

It’s not a question most Americans really consider. Most Americans live as they are told. They are distracted from examining their own individual existence by manufactured cultural concerns, issues which they believe are larger than their own lives. Safeguarding the border, safeguarding restrooms from transsexuals, safeguarding their faces from being masked, safeguarding their cherished brands from catering to people who seek escape from likewise miserable lives but through channels they deem evil.

It’s OK to believe that our lives have been made miserable by the spouses we have made vows to and believe that by escaping through divorce our lives will be made better if we find a new and improved spouse, or just freely fornicate. That’s OK, that’s OK as long as it’s not done in a homosexual manner. And if one of our cherished brands should seem to support homosexual fashion than that brand should be punished.

Americans live in perpetual fear their unfulfilling lives will be disrupted.

The American is constantly distracted from himself by these manufactured irrelevancies.

In The Morning Star nobody worries about the debt ceiling. No one is anxious if the government is plotting to take away their guns.

The Knausgaard character is aware his own discontent is internal in origin, he stops and examines his life and ask himself this question, which distills the multi-thousand page Knausgaard canon into two sentences:

Why wasn't this good enough?  Why isn't it sufficient in itself? (p. 380).

The Knausgaard character has never learned what the apostle Paul learned

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.  I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. . .

The main thematic difference between My Struggle and The Morning Star is t
hat in the My Struggle books Knausgaard is chiefly concerned with the discovery of the internal discontent and the recognition of the inauthenticity of life, whereas The Morning Star spends considerable time on its origin and its possible remedy.

In The Morning Star we read about the unsatisfying lives of nine narrators as they go about their day-to-day unrest when suddenly a huge new star blazes in the sky. Simultaneously in their individual lives strange phenomena begin to occur which may or may not be supernatural. This plot device allows Knausgaard to continue his examination of the authenticity of contemporary life but also enables him, through characters such as a priest, a journalist, a teacher, and a would-be philosopher to engage in much theological and philosophical speculation as to what has been lost in the scientific/technological secular age we live in.

The seeming supernatural events in the story-line are briefly and sketchily detailed, and while early in the novel it appears as if they will converge, they never do, nor is much consideration given to their reality.

The question is not whether these events are actually supernatural, it’s whether our lives are more than material, if there is something beyond that which we have been taught scientifically. Would our lives be be larger and more fulfilling if we looked past contemporary life’s scientific boundary?

The increasing interest in the old pagan religions, which Knausgaard touches upon in a subplot concerning a death metal band, perhaps reflects this. For even modern Christianity discounts the supernatural, there are no miracles in modern Christianity, healings occur outside of the church, sick Christians go for chemotherapy, liver transplants, they take the same prescription drugs as the infidels. I chuckle over the small self-proclaimed Christian who, rightly, rails at the pharmaceutically polluted gender fluid youth, but at the same time they flock to the pharmaceuticals at the first little ache in their bodies. Their medicine cabinets are just as full. Are they any more the person God made them to be than the gender bender?

In The Morning Star the reader must consider if the acceptance of the scientific boundary of life has limited it.  Is it a reason our lives are so small?

And, of course, the boundary of our science is death. Our science does not accept life after death. The consequence of this is the tiny temporal lives we live here on this earth, and that’s the main reason for our constant worrying and fretting which drives us to discontent and despair and the addictions of our escape. We must gain the impossible from this life before it ends. If there is no life after death, we must gain treasure and pleasure enough in this life to last the eternity of the void. In this life, if even paying rent seems arduous, is it any wonder most of the entire Western world is anxious, depressed, restless, discontent?

And this question of death is another large concern of The Morning Star. If we were able to look beyond this life, as Christ exhorted His followers, our worries would cease, our need for escape would disappear. But in this world where the boundary has been set by science, we are not allowed to believe Christ has defeated death.

The Morning Star ends rather in a rather unsatisfying fashion, it must be admitted, as Knausgaard attempts to imagine a life without the boundary at death. It’s a hodgepodge of pre-Christian beliefs and modern near death experiences that is vague in meaning, followed by an apocalyptic epilogue (the book, probably not coincidentally, ends on page 666) which, rather than tying the novel's supernatural loose threads together, just unravels one more.

But despite the weak ending, The Morning Star is nonetheless another admirable attempt by Knausgaard to sort out the difficulties of the post-Christian way of life.