Pamela Erens is the author of the forthcoming Matasha (Ig, 2021), and George Eliot’s Middlemarch: Bookmarked (Ig, 2022). Her most recent books are Eleven Hours (Tin House, 2016), The Virgins (Tin House, 2013), and The Understory (Ironweed, 2007). She has been a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.
The first poem in Leonard Cohen’s posthumous book The Flame made me laugh. Not because the lyrics are especially funny (although there are touches of Cohen’s characteristic wry humor), and not because the poem is foolish (it’s quite good), but because it is practically a medley of every single theme and obsession Cohen took up over his sixty-year career. Holiness and pussies are just a start. One almost senses him (knowingly, always knowingly) ticking off boxes. Angels and devils: check. Art, sartorial elegance, and slaves: check, check, check. Messianism: check:
This time, as the contraction mounts, Lore does not cry out, but her face is tense and grim. In fighting back her cries of fear she is fighting her body, too, and the nurse, Franckline, can feel the inner muscles clenching against the descending head, rendering the long moment of suffering unproductive.
All of this is surprisingly interesting, even addictive, as has often been pointed out in reviews. But no one can pinpoint precisely why. A striking element in the praise of Knausgaard—and he has garnered almost uniform praise in the English-speaking press—is the recourse to vocabulary not normally considered complimentary. “Boring” comes up an enormous amount.
Yet even when my disorder was at its worst, there were pleasures I can still recall. I considered it “okay” to eat when I was genuinely hungry. I don’t know if this was permission I’d received from Fat Is a Feminist Issue, a book I turned to which argued that compulsive eaters needed to reteach themselves to recognize their bodies’ hunger and saturation signals, or if I made allowances for this sanity all by myself.