Karl Ove Knausgaard writes about Detroit in NYT Magazine travel essay

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Karl Ove Knausgaard, the Norwegian author who has become a literary sensation of sorts in recent years due to his six-volume autobiographical novel My Struggle, penned a mighty travel essay as the centerpiece to this week's relaunched New York Times Magazine. Turns out, Knausgaard visited Detroit on his travels with the magazine's photographer, Peter van Agtmael. From Knausgaard

As we approached Detroit, the billboards were becoming more frequent, more and more buildings appeared along the road, big warehouses and shopping centers, typical of the outskirts of major cities, while the light slowly faded from the sky above.

It began to snow.

Suddenly, a chasm opened to our left. An enormous industrial site lay beneath huge, black clouds of smoke, our whole field of vision was filled with steel pipes, metal walls, tanks and towers, and it seemed to be on fire, there were flames leaping up in several places, patches of glowing and flickering orange beneath the darkening sky, against the backdrop of bulging, black clouds.

“Look at that!” I said.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Man is an awful and disgusting species.”

“But it’s so beautiful!”

As Knausgaard described, "I had never seen anything like it." Knausgaard visited the Garden Bowl, stayed at The Inn on Ferry Street, and, apparently, caught some local bands play. Can you find a place to experience American music better than Detroit, Knausgaard asked, "the birthplace of Motown and home of Iggy Pop and the Stooges?" But the show, it seems, wasn't all too pleasant. 

When the first band came on stage, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen. They played some kind of blues rock, with reference to the sound of early 1970s, Grateful Dead-ish, but in a high-school-graduation-party kind of way. The band knew how to play, but they knew how to play the way 14- and 15-year-olds know how to play.

Was this for real?

Weren’t we in Detroit?

Slate didn't believe Knausgaard's writing style fit for a travel writing assignment, but his observations make for a fun read. Check out the entire piece here; the second half of his essay will appear in the magazine's March 11 issue. 


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