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- The Best Reviewed Books of the WeekMay 25, 2018
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Every single day since I was born the sun has been there, but somehow I’ve never quite got used to it, perhaps because it is so unlike everything else we know. The sun is one of the few phenomena in our existence that we are unable to get close to, if we did we would be obliterated, nor can we dispatch probes, satellites or spacecraft there, they too would be destroyed. That we cannot even look directly at the sun without being blinded or having our eyesight permanently damaged sometimes feels like an unreasonable restriction, even an insult: right above us, visible to every human being and animal all over the world, an enormous fiery orb hangs suspended, and we can’t even look at it! But that’s how it is. If we look straight at the sun for only a few seconds, the retina fills with small quivering black spots, and if we fix our gaze on it, the blackness spreads across the inside of our eyes like ink on blotting paper. Above us, then, hangs a blazing ball which not only provides us with all our light and warmth but is also the origin and source of all life, while at the same time it is absolutely unapproachable and completely indifferent to its creation.
It is difficult to read about the monotheistic god of the Old Testament without thinking of the sun. An essential characteristic of man’s relation to God is that human beings may not look directly at God but must bow their heads. And the very image of God’s presence in the Bible is fire, it represents the divine but also and always the sun since every flame and all fires here on earth are offshoots of it. God is the unmoved mover, Thomas Aquinas wrote, and Dante, his contemporary, described divinity as a river of light, and ended La Divina Commedia with a glimpse of God himself, in the form of an eternally shining circle. In this way human beings under the sun, who without religion were merely arbitrary creatures and slaves to their condition, gained enormous significance, and the sun became no more than a star.
But while conceptions of reality rise and fall, flare up and fade away, reality itself is unyielding, its conditions immutable: day dawns in the east, slowly darkness yields its ground, and while the air fills with birdsong, sunlight strikes the back of the clouds, which change from grey to pink to shining white, while the sky that only minutes before was greyish-black now turns blue and the first rays fill the garden with light. It is day. People walk to and from their daily tasks, the shadows grow shorter and shorter, then longer and longer, as the earth turns. When we eat dinner outside, beneath the apple tree, the air is full of children’s voices, the clatter of cutlery, the rustle of leaves in the mild breeze, and no one notices that the sun is hanging right above the roof of the guest house, no longer blazing yellow but orange, burning silently.
From Autumn. Used with permission of Penguin Press. Copyright 2017 by Karl Ove Knausgaard.