I do not want anyone to get close to me, I do not want anyone to see me, and this is the way things have developed: no one gets close and no one sees me.
— Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle
In life, I am a connoisseur of distance. Socially, I plunge, flirt, play, only to withdraw the moment I sense the risk of intimacy. It's familial. Yesterday, my brother mentioned a recent essay of mine. In it, I talk about Trump and televangelism, but what struck him most, he said, was learning about things that happened in our house—my insomnia, my midnight wanderings—that he never knew about. And this is how it's always been with us, our family. I've inherited a penchant for emotional isolation.
But in writing, I bare myself. I become an exhibitionist. And I suspect this is something I love, too, about reading: intimacy at a distance, intimacy without flesh. What could be more perfect, then, than epistolary criticism, thinking via correspondence? And what text more ideal than Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle?
Last summer, Contemporaries inaugurated The Slow Burn as an experimental, para-academic space in which to luxuriate, loiter, savor, dwell. We will practice the same. Sarah Chihaya called it slow-form criticism. Summer is a season, she wrote, to stretch out time. One of Knausgaard's essential modes, I think, is dilation, this stretching and spreading of time. We will join him there. Last summer, following Elena Ferrante's Lila and Lenù, friendship threaded through the months. Our correspondence will gather other resonances in keeping with our text. What seduced me most last summer was watching thinkers I admire put their processes of reading on display—a kind of voyeurism, the witnessing of vulnerability. This vulnerability, I know, is both true and illusionary, both very real and, at the same time, carefully crafted—a dialectic of recklessness and control.
We will pursue this vulnerability, this dialectic, privileging process over product, an alternative to standard forms of criticism. Most importantly, we will do it together, writing to one another. The correspondents are a poet-scholar, Diana Hamilton, and three academics, Cecily Swanson, Omari Weekes, and myself. Several others, including Sarah, Merve, and Katherine from last summer, will make guest appearances. Between June and September, we will discuss the five published books of My Struggle.
Slow-form, epistolary criticism will, I hope, encourage us to push against the constraints of our training, the containers that shape our thoughts. As Knausgaard discovers, life and writing cannot be as tidily compartmentalized as he or I might like. Despite his longing for anonymity, by the act of writing, everyone sees him—he invites every reader into his most intimate thoughts. "For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can." So he begins. It will turn out to be a dark joke. The heart, that corporeal engine, that seat of emotion, will prove anything but simple. It will break and spill. Body and soul, life and writing, bleed into each other.
The Slow Burn, volume 2, will run in this space all summer. Last summer’s Slow Burn, on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, can still be found here.
ALSO IN THIS SERIES:
My Struggle, vol. 1: Cecily, June 6
My Struggle, vol. 1: Diana, June 9
My Struggle, vol. 1: Omari, June 14
My Struggle, vol. 1: Dan, June 17
My Struggle, vol. 2: Omari, June 24
My Struggle, vol. 2: Cecily, July 1
My Struggle, vol. 2: Sarah Chihaya, July 5
My Struggle, vol. 2: Dan, July 12
My Struggle, vol. 2: Jess Arndt, July 18
My Struggle, vol. 3: Omari, July 25
My Struggle, vol. 3: Marissa Brostoff, August 1
My Struggle, vol. 2: Dan, August 4
My Struggle, vol. 3: Jacob Brogan, August 8
My Struggle, vol. 3: Diana, August 12
My Struggle, vol. 4: Omari, September 1
My Struggle, vol. 4: Dan, September 2
My Struggle, vol. 4: Diana, September 15
My Struggle, vol. 5: Omari, September 27