When I came back in, I went to the toilet. I hadn’t gone since I arrived in America, so the result was significant. I wiped myself thoroughly, then flushed.
That was published verbatim in, I shit ye not, the New York Times Magazine. And you won’t believe what a funny thing happened on the way to the sewer:
Instead of the water disappearing with a slurping noise before the bowl filled up again, it started to rise. I watched it for a long time. The water level showed no sign of going down. The toilet was clogged. I flushed again, thinking perhaps that would increase the pressure sufficiently. Instead, the water flowed over the top of the bowl and ran down on both sides, spilling onto the floor. I mopped it up with a towel, put the towel in the tub and looked around for an implement of some kind. There was simply no way I was going to call the reception desk about this. I searched every drawer and closet but found nothing I could use to try to remove the plug of feces and toilet paper that must be clogging the drain. Instead, I wrapped a plastic bag around my arm and stuck my hand into the icy water that was welling up from the bowl.
My arm wouldn’t go far enough.
The nominal topic of this tale is a Norwegian’s travels in North America in the footsteps of the Vikings. In addition to further autobiographical discussion of his feeble attempts to free Canada’s plumbing from the monster dump he had just taken, the author informs us that Newfoundlanders are amazingly fat and intercalates a shambling series of developments in his quest to secure an affidavit from the Swedish government that he has a driver’s license in good standing. First he lost the license years earlier, then he flew to Canada on a ten-day assignment without securing a new copy of his license or telling his bosses that he wouldn’t be able to drive, then he couldn’t renew it on account of a Swedish bank holiday, then he had trouble with the phone tree, then it turned out that he had failed to provide the country code to the bureaucrat who had tried to text him confirmation that he was licensed to drive.
This sorry bastard couldn’t keep the dog from eating his homework several times a week. To repeat, he was on assignment for the New York Times.
I understand that Knausgaard has written or is writing a six-volume autobiography, on top of his lengthy chronicling of his turds’ first landing in the New World and his discussion of how gaaah I can’t drive because gaaaaaaaaah. I’ve also heard that his writing has been compared to an endless grocery list that readers can’t put down. Speaking just for myself, I had to repeatedly put down the article during the story of his toilet-busting monster dump. Part Two of his “Saga” was published today, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it.
Some of Knausgaard’s travel writing is worth reading, and there is a certain surreal fascination that comes from reading his intercalation of solid historical survey with abject neurosis and navelgazing, but the failure (or refusal?) of the editors to cut the the endless extraneous parts about his bowel habits, subsequent poor judgment in dealing with a toilet clogged with his shit, and inability to take care of business with the rather efficient bureaucracy of his country of residence call into question the intellectual legitimacy of the Times. You or I wouldn’t be able to get that kind of interminably mewling horseshit past an editor at the Grey Lady. You or I wouldn’t be able to artlessly describe our international toilet troubles in the longwinded fashion of a Jonathan Franzen novel but with none of the style.
Karl Ove Knausgaard is allowed to publish his interminable mewling in the New York Times because he has social proof. Beyond a certain threshold of fame and influence, one is exempted from the rules of style, topical discipline, and etiquette that the little people must obey in their published writing. Beyond that threshold, one may spend multiple self-pitying paragraphs discussing the Norse conquest of Canadian plumbing that one set into motion by finally releasing several days’ and two continents’ worth of one’s own shit.
Go figure that this is one of the most concise essays I’ve ever written here. It’s just that I’m getting that old Weimar vibe again, and I don’t know what else to say.