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The Very Edge of Fiction. Karl Ove Knausgård and the Autofictional Novel

October 25 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

A trader sits on the curb in front of a screen with images of the stock market crashing. His briefcase is next to him and his head is in his hands.
Image Source: Joyseulay / Shutterstock.com

Claus Elholm Andersen

Resident Fellow (2021-2022)

Paul and Renate Madsen Assistant Professor; Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic, UW–Madison


In my talk, I will examine the relationship between autofiction and the Financial Crisis in 2008, specifically in relation to Karl Ove Knausgård’s “My Struggle.” Autofiction, as I define the term, is a sub-genre of the novel. It involves a blurring of fiction and reality that would undermine traditional autobiographies, with the paradoxical effect of suggesting a sincerity widely held to have been absent in contemporary literature. It evokes what Phillipe Lejeune calls the autobiographical and the fictional pacts, which he envisions as invisible contracts between the reader and the author determined by genre designations on the cover and by the corresponding attitude of the readers; I join other critics in seeing it as the product of what David Shields calls “reality hunger.” I argue that this hunger peaked in the wake of the Finance Crisis of 2008, when it became evident that the whole of our economic system was based on nothing but fiction. As the crisis revealed a system built upon fiction, and a simultaneous divorce of political discourse and reality with terms such as post-truth and fake news, autofiction displays an attempt to counter this historical development with reality and authenticity.


Claus Elholm Andersen is the Paul and Renate Madsen Assistant Professor of Scandinavian Studies. In his research, he is interested in the novel and in questions of fiction and fictionality: what it is, how it works, and what it implies. His current work focuses on contemporary Scandinavian literature. He recently co-edited a special issue of Scandinavian Studies, with Dean Krouk, on Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle and he is currently working on a book-length project on Knausgård called The Very Edge of Fiction. His latest publications are an article on Danish novelist Helle Helle in Edda in 2019 and an article on Henrik Pontoppidan’s novel Lucky-Per in Scandinavian Studies.


October 25
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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