In the Land of the Cyclops


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Book Description

Karl Ove Knausgaard explores art, philosophy, and literature with piercing candor and intelligence in this collection of cultural criticism. Paired with full-color images throughout, his essays render the shadowlands of Cindy Sherman’s photography, illuminate the depth of Stephen Gill’s eye, and tussle with the inner-workings of Ingmar Bergman’s workbooks. In one essay he describes the figure of Francesca Woodman, arms coiled in birch bark and reaching up toward the sky – a tree. In another, he unearths Sally Mann’s photographs of decomposing corpses, drawn to the point at which branches and limbs, hair and grass harmonize. Each essay bristles with Knausgaard’s searing honesty and longing to authentically see, understand, and experience the world.

Translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken
with additional translations by Ingvild Burkey and Damion Searls

The collection, which also includes essays on Michel Houellebecq, Cindy Sherman and Kierkegaard, reads less like a book of criticism at times than a work of negative theology, circling the mysteries of artistic creation that cannot be directly articulated: What makes a book or a painting feel alive and relevant? Why should art, which occupies the realm of pure fantasy, have any rules at all?
Meghan O'Gieblyn, The New York Times Book Review

Knausgaard’s passion for interiority and the detail of the individual experience, the most brilliant elements of his fiction, come through . . . “In the Land of the Cyclops” proves that Knausgaard’s struggle is still ongoing, the search for truth as a balance between reality and our experience of it: “This, which we perhaps could call inexhaustible precision, is the goal of all art, and its essential legitimacy.
Jessica Ferri, The Los Angeles Times

Knausgaard is less interested in answers than in authentic engagement with the world . . . In the Land of the Cyclops is another worthy addition to Knausgaard’s oeuvre that aims to recapture this intense feeling and to see the world anew.
Phillip Garland, World Literature Today

"In this . . . thought-provoking essay collection, Knausgaard once again displays his knack for raising profound questions about art and what it means to be human . . . These wending musings will be catnip for Knausgaard’s fans. "
Publishers Weekly

"Knausgaard succeeds in producing prose that is 'alive' ... Such transgressive blurring of the borders between the public and private, sayable and unsayable, can be both life-affirming and riveting."
The Economist

"Knausgaard argues that art is at its most effective when it destabilizes our understanding of the world... 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?”... The throughline is the author’s keen, almost anxious urge to understand the artistic mind."

...As in the fiction, [Knausgaard's] intense focus, formidable command of reference and tendency to see the interconnectedness of things make for highly stimulating, almost overwhelming reading . . . The pantomime of critical dispassion is avoided; the rhetorical effect is one of wisdom gained rather than merely delivered
Charles Arrowsmith, The Washington Post

. . . A modern Roland Barthes . . . Knausgaard has a gift for stopping the reader in their tracks with an unexpected, casual profundity.
Steven Poole, Telegraph

Karl Ove Knausgaard explores the realm of the aesthetic where it overlaps with the quotidian in fact as he has in fiction . . . Much insight awaits any sifting through these disparate compositions . . . Knausgaard transforms the everyday into a portal of deep insight.
John L. Murphy, Spectrum Culture


"What’s notable is Karl Ove’s ability, rare these days, to be fully present in and mindful of his own existence. Every detail is put down without apparent vanity or decoration, as if the writing and the living are happening simultaneously. There shouldn’t be anything remarkable about any of it except for the fact that it immerses you totally. You live his life with him.”
Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books

“Knausgaard . . . strips away the literary tricks, bursts through language, explodes artifice . . . Honest and wise . . . rare properties in contemporary writing . . . Book Two sears the reader because Knausgaard is a passionate idealist and not just a tetchy complainer. He wants to create great art, and he wants to fight the conformity and homogeneity of modern bourgeois existence.”
James Wood

"Perhaps the most significant literary enterprise of our time."
The Guardian

“My Struggle is an astonishing creation, in which Knausgaard invents a monstrous, tender, brutal, gentle, vain, humble, selfish, brilliant and banal man called Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose life he minutely documents.”
Richard Flanagan, The Age

"I appreciate Knausgaard revealing his unflattering first impression, then interrogating it, his willingness to go further, to look again, and to show how his mind moves, then changes . . . I want to see what Knausgaard sees, even when I’m overwhelmed by it or disagree . . . Boring down into any moment, thought, or artwork, offers its own thrilling spectacle. You don’t want to look away."
Bridget Quinn, Hyperallergic

Click here to read The New Republic’s profile of Knausgaard & the My Struggle series.

Knausgaard discusses names, morality, the process of writing, the My Struggle series, and more with Scott Esposito for Tin House.

Knausgaard’s essay on fame in the New York Times Style Magazine.

Knausgaard takes part in the Avid Reader podcast, here.

An interview with Knausgaard about The Land of the Cyclops in The Paris Review.