Nietzsche 101 for Toddlers

Karl Ove and NietzscheMy two-year-old saw The Portable Nietzsche beside my bed, which bares Nietzsche’s image on its cover, and asked, “This, Karl?” (referring to our previous conversations about writer Karl Ove Knausgaard). Not expecting the question, I laughed abruptly, “No,” I said, “This is Nietzsche.”

“Oooooh, Nietzsche,” he said as if he knew exactly who Nietzsche is, and now clearly recognized him, which made me laugh more.

So our first conversation about Nietzsche, it turns out, is when you are two, I think to myself.

He belted out the name, “Neeee-chuuuuh!” a few more times because this new recitation brought pleasure to his lips, mouth and vocal chords, but also because he could tell how much it amused me.

Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Ove Knausgaard: a resemblance?

Then I see what I had never noticed before, which my son in an instant must have recognized: on the book covers of The Portable Nietzsche and My Struggle: Book Two both men are photographed in black and white, both look with heads turned completely to the west with a determined, pensive gaze; both have their right arm lifted. Nietzsche rests his head on his hand, propped up on bent elbow like Rodin’s The Thinker; Karl Ove’s arm, and bent elbow, is lifted to bring a cigarette to his lips. Nietzsche has an impressive thick wooly mustache, and Karl Ove a modest beard. They both have tasseled hair because when you are a person who prioritizes, above all else, thinking and writing it will always take precedence over making sure each hair remains in place.

A couple weeks later we are traveling in Boulder, Colorado. I unpack my bags, set a couple books beside my bed, including My Struggle: Book Two of course.

Seeing this my son said, “Oh, Karl!” and then, “Where’s Nietzsche?”

“Nietzsche didn’t come with us to Colorado.”

“Oh, okay.”

And then uncontrollable joy comes over me and laughter that makes me rush to him, scoop him into my arms, squeeze him and kiss his luscious cheeks over and over again. A huge smile of confidence, half aware of his cleverness and how pleased I am with him, lights up his entire face.

Yes my dear, dear, boy, Nietzsche didn’t come with us to Colorado.

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Karl Ove’s Spring

I just finished reading My Struggle: Book I by Karl Ove Knausgaard. The novel sat beside my bed and traveled everywhere with me for the past month, from Asheville to Key Biscayne, Miami to Los Angeles, and West Hollywood back to Asheville. My son, not yet two, would sometimes look at the book and ask, “This man?” Karl Ove’s intense searing eyes looking back at us, from the book cover, complex and mysterious, like every moment he had lived and every word he had scribed, every struggle, both significant and mundane as well as every cigarette he had chain-smoked, was written into a map on his face. “This man is Karl Ove,” I would say almost proudly, with an air of he is someone important, just one of the greatest writers of the twenty-first century! Eventually I would just hold up the book for him and say, “Who is this?” and he would say, “Karl,” as if Karl was a good friend of ours. It never ceased to amuse me.

Karl or his novel, the first in a six-part series (four volumes published in the U.S. so far), felt like a good friend to me as I read it. It has been quite a while since I have fallen-in-love with a “novel” and it feels good to be in-love with one again. Spring is the perfect mise-en-scene for such sentiments, as it is here in one of my favorite passages from the novel. The “character” Karl Ove, as a teenager, has fallen in-love for the first time, simultaneously spring is unfolding in his hometown in Norway:

“Few things are harder to visualize than that a cold, snow-bound landscape, so marrow chillingly quiet and lifeless, will, within mere months, be green and lush and warm, quivering with all manner of life, from birds warbling and flying through the trees to swarms of insects hanging in scattered clusters in the air. Nothing in the winter landscape presages the scent of sun-warmed heather and moss, trees bursting with sap and thawed lakes ready for spring and summer, nothing presages the feeling of freedom that can come over you when the only white that can be seen is the clouds gliding across the blue sky above the blue water of the rivers gently flowing down to the sea, the perfect, smooth, cool surface, broken now by rocks, rapids, and bathing bodies . . . One evening in March the snow turns to rain, and the piles of snow collapse. One morning in April there are buds on the trees, and there is a trace of green in the yellow grass. Daffodils appear, white and blue anemones too. Then the warm air stands like a pillar among the trees on the slopes. On sunny inclines buds have burst, here and there cherry trees are in blossom.”