Karl Ove Knausgaard on the Benefits of a Work-Driven Life

Photo by Stephanie Valdez.

The Protestant work ethic here was very familiar to me. Johannes hadn’t had it, and probably not Magnus either; they had been cheerful men with more dreams than they had will to realize them, at least my grandfather. My mother’s mother had the work ethic, and she had passed it on to my mother, who had just retired, and who missed her job in the same way, as she put it, a cow misses its pen.

That, too, is something I have inherited. I can’t be unoccupied, I can’t take a vacation, I can’t relax; even reading a book, which is actually part of my job, makes me feel guilty. It’s not work, it’s enjoyment. At the same time, and this is obvious, what lies behind this need to be occupied is not just a moral sensibility; working all the time is also a way to simplify life, to parry its demands, especially the demand to be happy.

-From Part Two of Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s travel narrative through the Midwestern United States for the New York Times Magazine.

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