I’m working my way through my backlog of podcasts, leftover from my trip to the US, and currently am listening to Slate’s Culture Gabfest.
The show discusses Karl Knausgård’s piece My Saga in the New York Times Magazine. When Dana Stevens calls the piece self-indulgent and solipsistic, Stephen Metcalf defends it, arguing that Knausgård was the first person to call attention to the fact that human beings are sometimes dissatisfied with their own reality compared to their imagined life. He claims that when the wet coffee filter rips and coffee grounds spill all over the floor, one doesn’t just say “Fuck, now I have to clean up these coffee grounds” but “Fuck, where did it all go so wrong?”
I wasn’t aware that this was a revelation. Of course the reality in your head in better than the reality in your life. Because your imagination isn’t limited by actual, ya know, reality.
Metcalf goes on to claim that Knausgård’s writing reveals something about humanity, which is that we all have this experience of being dissatisfied with reality and now this great secret is out in in the open.
I find this to be completely absurd. Humans, over the course of history, have been satisfied with reality. That’s (part of the reason) why we tell stories. And do drugs. And day dream. Metcalf’s job as a cultural critic would not exist if humanity wasn’t, in some way, dissatisfied with the world in which we live. Otherwise, we’d never imagine a better, or at least different, world.