I wrote my own version of the Cain and Abel story because I wanted to write about brothers. There’s a lot of me and my brother in that retelling of the story. I’ve always been interested in writing about all those mixed feelings brothers have: your jealousy, and hatred, but always a kind of unremitting love. My brother could do anything he wants—but no matter what kind of horrible thing he does, he would still be my brother. And I think it’s the same way with him.
Part of it is because it’s always been us against our parents—the bond there of coming from the same place, but still being very, very different. When so many qualities are the same, but so much is different, it allows for the kind of compression you see in the Cain and Abel story. It’s a very good place to write from. It’s also a story about losing complete control. Because losing control is the worst thing you can do, and no one wants to do it—I’m sure about that. What is it to lose control so completely?
In a completely different sense, writing My Struggle has been an exercise in giving up control. Every morning now, I write one page. I get up early and write one page in two hours. I start with a word. It could be “apple” or “sun” or “tooth,” anything—it doesn’t matter. It’s just a starting point—a word, an association—and the restriction that I write about that. It can’t be about anything else. Then I just start, without knowing what it’s going to be about. And it’s like the text produces itself.
I’m not talking about quality. For God’s sake, no. It’s not like this text ever looks good or anything. It’s just sitting there writing. Not thinking, and writing. I think it’s a state of mind, one I usually compare with music. When you watch musicians, they’re not thinking about what they’re doing, they’re just playing. Well, the same thing can be with writing. It’s just writing.
When you are not aware of yourself, you start to write things you have never thought about before. Your thoughts do not take the path they would normally have followed, and the thinking is different from your own. The language is in you, but it’s out of you, and it doesn’t belong to you. That’s what literature can do—when you throw something in, something else comes back.
This approach was something I discovered very early on, when I first started to write with ambition. I was 17, 18. I just wrote. I didn’t think. It wasn’t hard, because I was so naive and innocent. But what I mostly did was spit out clichés.
Later, I had many years when I couldn’t write because I felt I knew too much—suddenly, I had a notion of quality. But when I was 27 or 28, I had a new experience for the first time: I just disappeared somewhere. I just wrote and followed the text. It was like reading, basically. I knew I was onto something because I couldn’t predict what was coming and I couldn’t identify it with myself when I read it—it was outside my normal reach, in a way. Not that it was better. But it was different.