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A Conversation with Janice Lee

Janice Lee is an American writer, artist, editor, programmer, and generally well-rounded intellectual. We discussed her recent book Damnation and its influences from the work of Hungarian director Bela Tarr and writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai (responsible for the film Damnation), the difficulties of being an “American” writer and what that even means, the grim brilliance of Hungarian culture, and the end of the world. I recommend checking out Damnation and her earlier works Daughter and KEROTAKIS, available at her site JaniceL.com. She is also the executive editor of Entropy Magazine. Many thanks to her for her time and patience in engaging with me.


DA: I was happy to see you mention Pamela Zoline’s science-fiction stories in your best of the year. I read “The Heat Death of the Universe” as a teen and thought it was quite remarkable, and quoted it in an art essay I wrote last year, Archimedes’ Mindscrew. Zoline’s story is, I think, very directly apocalyptic, which connects her to Tarr and Krasznahorkai’s work. Krasznahorkai has spoken of his “personal relationship with the apocalypse,” and Tarr’s landscapes often look like the black and white residue of some post-nuclear blast. “Even if this is the apocalypse, if you stay indoors and mind your own business, the angels and demons will leave you alone” (Damnation). What I get from all of these artists is a negating of the seeming scale of things: apocalypse isn’t a definable event or a point in time, but something baked into the order of things. (Which is why, I presume, entropy has held such an appeal to many apocalyptic writers.) Krasznahorkai says that the apocalypse has already happened. So what is apocalypse for you?

JL: “We are living in the apocalypse. The first moment of life was the first moment of the apocalypse and death. Please, don’t fear the apocalypse.” This quote by Krasznahorkai is maybe the one that resonates with me the most, this idea that we are already and have always been living in the apocalypse. The apocalypse, for me, is more of an anticipatory state. In another interview Krasznahorkai talks about birth as a journey towards failure, this inevitable journey that becomes the life in which we live, bookmarked by these two events in time. But, as we see in Tarr, time carries on without us. Time is the vantage point from which we observe and anticipate. And in one way, the real tragedy is that we must go on whether or not the apocalypse is really coming. That we go on, is the heroic gesture, is the gesture of hope. The apocalypse is about failure, but also about relief and hope. It is about the modification of reality, the ability to see the world from a pair of eyes not just one’s own. It is about disintegration and ruin, yes, but also about empathy and the relationships between human beings. It is about the acceptance of uncertainty over clarity and an abandonment into the beauty of reality. It is about the plateau, the daily struggle, not the end.

From Bela Tarr's Damnation.

From Bela Tarr’s Damnation.

DA: For all the talk about the “death of the subject,” it seems like people still return to interpersonal relationships, even familial relationships, as a place to ground themselves. Even if we are neurologically predisposed to find meaning there, we do not seem to want to let go of family or friendship in the same way that we let go of God. You titled a book Daughter, where you call a daughter “the excavator of dead gods,” and you dealt with Frankenstein, the synthetic child, in KEROTAKIS. I’ve been amazed at the sense of stability and certainty (comparatively, at least) given to me by my child. Campanella and Plato wanted to emancipate humanity from the idea of the family (nuclear or extended oikos), but the idea has never gotten much traction outside of cults. For me it’s due to two nigh-unassailable factors: the ability of creation within the family, and the reification of blood ties (real or virtual). The family is the ultimate self-propagating cult. You’ve written, movingly, about the death of a parent; what does that mean to you relative to the apocalypse, relative to time?

JL: The death of parent both changes nothing and everything. What happens during grieving, which lasts an entire lifetime, is different at various moments of life. When my mother died, it was sudden. I was sad, yes, but also shocked, and heartbroken in a way that only dealt with the finality of a life, trying to come to grips with an absence that wasn’t felt as a significant presence until the finality of death. Probably what hit home the hardest was when we returned to my parent’s house one evening and my dog proceeded to run around the house looking for something. He went into every room repeatedly, sniffed all of the corners, looking up at me, looked some more. He was looking for her of course, without the ability to understand that she wasn’t coming back, but also with an understanding that something was wrong. The apocalypse is a prolonged state for me, the anticipation of some finality, but this, too, is living. In one moment I remember my mother and realize how much I have become like her. In another, I lament the strange construction of an identity I have created after her death, how the collage of memories I have pieced together into an identity says more about what I need in this moment from her than who she really was as a human being. I think about how we remain constantly and incessantly surrounded by ghosts, and again, these ghosts say more about the present moment in which we find ourselves in than the ghosts themselves. After all, it is us who keeps them here, not them who linger.

From Bela Tarr's Damnation.

From Bela Tarr’s Damnation.

DA: Does time go on without us? One modern philosophical theme is the idea of the block universe, the idea that time is a human construct and all moments exist on equal footing with no concept of “now.” I read this as fundamentally similar to Nietzsche’s eternal return, since each moment is a moment that becomes emblazoned eternally. Yet physics seems to indicate profound incomprehensibility at the heart of things, such that even as we try to grasp the universe-without-us, the universe-without-us turns out to be the universe-without-us-with-us.

JL: Indeed. There is time, and then is time. What both Krasznahorkai and Tarr really point to is how subjective time is, how eternity isn’t a quantitative measurement, but more of a feeling, an endured and continuous state. Eternity can last 4 seconds, it can last hours. So time becomes something that may or may not exist outside the human world, but at least it is only significant and felt when embodied corporeally.

DA: I recently read British-Chinese novelist Xialu Guo complaining that American “realism” was a limiting ethic. Your work certainly doesn’t embody the sort of conventional writing to which she’s referring, but my reaction was Krasznahorkai’s work certainly feels more real to me than the sort of literal mundanity peddled by people from Franzen to Tao Lin. Looking at the situation in Ferguson, it reminds me more of The Melancholy of Resistance than The Corrections. But then, American literature always seems to have had a legitimacy problem. As Ann Douglas wrote, “Melville’s writing is alive with his outraged conviction that he cannot produce a work significantly better than his culture.” I think that the aspiration to a 19th century European-style realism (like that of early Henry James) is one alternative response to that problem. Is it time to reclaim “realism”, or throw it away?

JL: Realism is always such a tenuous and odd term for me. I mean, much of art has been dealing with this notion right. What is more or less realistic? What more or less embodies or expresses what is real? Once in a writing class a professor compared the work of Samuel Beckett, where real is someone trudging through the mud for countless pages, versus Bertolt Brecht, whose plays point to constructedness of reality itself. Or to look at a photograph of a vase of sunflowers versus a painting by Van Gogh where the deformity and texture and warpedness and colors of the sunflowers enacts a different kind of reality than the photo representation. Krasznahorkai’s work feels real to me in the way that it invokes such familiar qualities of abjectedness and intertia. There is mud, yes, but the humans who insist on moving through the mud, persistent. These kinds of impulses seem to human to me, so real, even if these people are so far from the reality that I live in everyday. Even something about Krasznahorkai’s sentences, the language that seems to constantly overturn itself, these protracted moments where the present gets drawn out in this way but continues to change direction. “Real” makes me think of expression and the dilemma of expression, or the dilemma of representation. So much is inarticulatable. And sometimes the inarticulation becomes the articulation. For example, I’ve been obsessed lately with taking photos of the sky and the sunset in Los Angeles. But these photos can’t capture any of the essence of what I feel in those moments looking up at the sky. That’s an impossibility. But the photo then becomes the articulation of that inarticulatable moment in a way that the evidence acts as a frantic ghost, a wound, a relinquishing of the everything of a single moment into a concentration of something, no matter its density or weight.

From Bela Tarr's Damnation

From Bela Tarr’s Damnation

DA: America has a long-running streak of Millenialism in its religious populations, but in my own reading I’ve always felt like Eastern Europe has really had the monopoly on doomy apocalyptic literature–and that in contrast, modern secular America is very good at minimizing eschatology and doom (malaise, yes, but not doom). So when reading Damnation through two lenses, first my own American lens and then through my image of Tarr and Krasznahorkai’s European presence, and I felt somewhat dislocated, caught between my preconceptions of American garrulousness and Eastern European austerity. This was one of the reasons I wanted to read your other work, to see how to what extent I would feel one association or the other; what I noticed in those other works was, in fact, that your use of religious and morbid content acted to smooth over the gap between these two divergent conceptions. So aside from asking for your reaction to my own impressions, I’d like to ask whether you feel a particular American component to your work, and to what extent you feel other lineages (whatever they may be) tugging on you?

JL: This is a hard question for me to answer. Mostly, because I’m not sure. I’ve never been to Europe. I can start there. I’ve actually never left North America. Nor do I feel any strong or direct connection to the history or culture of Eastern Europe. Yet, nonetheless, the worlds of Tarr and Krasznahorkai make sense to me, make more sense to me than probably any of the other worlds I’ve encountered in film or literature or art yet, and I’m still wondering why that is. I was very pleasantly surprised, when, taking this silly little online quiz, to find that my test results deemed Hungary as the country of my internal citizenship. So maybe there is something there. But something more to do with the bleakness, the worldview, the hope, the empathy, etc. rather than the specific history or culture. Whether I feel a particular American component to my work, I can only answer that with the above, and an added piece of information that, well, yes, I’ve lived in America my entire life and will probably die here. Yet, I’m still not sure of this relationship between a writer’s country and the art that is produced.

DA: Hungary, or more generally the “Alpine-Carpathian zone” (in Paul Magocsi’s term) has been a touchstone for me as well. The area produced a huge number of influential scientists and mathematicians in the 20th century as well, in addition to its great artists, yet I’d be hard-pressed to make a generalization about it other than a generally dour, skeptical, yet curious worldview. When I was in Slovakia two years ago, I felt a bit more at ease with the willingness of people to criticize and express themselves unselfconsciously, as though the freedom to speak one’s thoughts would be welcomed without it being taken as a personal affront. Even something as simple as saying, “Have you read X?” to a stranger and hearing “Yes, I didn’t like X” was refreshing. But as Douglas says of Melville, the inability to come to grips with America is probably one of the signposts of being a real American writer. America simply does not seem to produce national figures like Goethe, Pushkin, Shakespeare, or Soseki. T.S. Eliot had to go to England to become a national figure there!

JL: I’m becoming more and more convinced that I really need to visit Hungary ASAP, to really be in the physical space and investigate what it is about that place that draws me so close and which I somehow, from a great distance, empathize with so closely.

From Bela Tarr's Damnation

From Bela Tarr’s Damnation

DA: You work as a programmer, as have I. There was a time, centuries ago, when the sciences and the humanities were not so differentiated, long before C. P. Snow made his “two cultures” argument. For me this split is something I live, because writers of all stripes are so different from technically-minded people, and each points out the deficiencies in the position of the other (and how I possess both sets of deficiencies.) More than anything else, the public image of technology, in the eyes of writers, bears no resemblance to technology as I relate to it and as most techies I know relate to it. What is often called dehumanizing or mechanistic I see as blessedly regular and beautiful, a source of beauty purer than that in all but the greatest works of art. This was why I was drawn to Robert Musil, for trying to reconcile the two, and Krasznahorkai touches on this at length in his references to the mathematics of tuning and Cantor’s infinity. This too seems to be common to the region; Ferenc Karinthy’s Metropole is one of the most precise books about being lost in language that I know. And it is the fierce organization of sections like “The Machinist” in Damnation that makes me think of programming. Where are the joins for you?

JL: I agree that it seems these kinds of modes of thoughts and roles seem to be getting more and more specialized. But honestly, to me, I’ve never distinguished between these disciplines. I work as web designer, yes, one of my many modes of thought and being. Evident from my first book, KEROTAKIS, I’m also research-obsessed and have a lot of interests, including neuroscience, the occult, alchemy, the paranormal, ufology, biological anthropology, psychology, theology, phenomenology, etc. I just mentioned in another interview that I like to stay away from aesthetic categories that act as constricting forces and rather, see all these disciplines and areas as overlapping wavelengths on a broader spectrum, or different perspectives on the same subject of study, namely, life. I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t study science first. I wouldn’t see narrative the way I do if I hadn’t, in some part of my life, been on the track to be a doctor. And I wouldn’t have the relationship with language I do today without the films of Bela Tarr. That is to say, it’s hard for me to separate between these areas, between the sciences and humanities even, at least in my own practice.

The Turin Horse

BERNHARD: Because everything’s in ruins. Everything’s been degraded, but I could say that they’ve ruined and degraded everything. Because this is not some kind of cataclysm, coming about with so-called innocent human aid. On the contrary, it’s about man’s own judgement, his own judgement over his own self, which of course God has a hand in, or dare I say takes part in. And whatever he takes part in is the most ghastly creation that you can imagine. Because, you see, the world has been debased. So it doesn’t matter what I say, because everything has been debased that they’ve acquired. and since they’ve acquired everything in a sneaky, underhand fight, they’ve debased everything. Because whatever they touch-and they touch everything-they’ve debased. This is the way it was until the final victory. Until the trimphant end. Acquire, debase, debase, acquire. Or I can put it differently if you like. To touch, debase and thereby acquire, or touch, acquire and thereby debase. It’s been going on like this for centuries, on, on and on. This and only this, sometimes on the sly, sometimes rudely, sometimes gently, sometimes brutally, but it has been going on and on. Yet only in one way, like a rat attack from ambush. Becouse for this perfect victory, it was also essential that the other side, everything that’s excellent, great in some way and noble, should not engage in any kind of fight. There shouldn’t be any kind of struggle, just the sudden disappearance of one side, meaning the disappearance of the excellent, the great, the noble. So that by now these winning winners who attack from ambush rule earth, and there isn’t a single tiny nook where one can hide something from them, because everything they can lay their hands on is theirs. Even things we think they can’t reach – but they do reach – are also theirs. Because the sky is already theirs and all our dreams. Theirs is the moment, nature, infinite silence. Even immortality is theirs, you understand? Everything, everything is lost forever! And those many noble, great and excellent just stood there, if I can put it that way. They stopped at this point, and had to understand, and had to accept, that there is neither god nor gods. And the excellent, the great and the noble had to understand and accept this right from the beginning. But of course, they were quite incapable of understanding it. They believed it and accepted it but they didn’t understand it. They just stood there, bewildered, but not resigned, until something – that spark from the brain – finally enlightened them. And all at once they realized, that there is neither god nor gods. All at once they saw that there is neither good nor bad. Then they saw and understood that if this was so, then they themselves do not exist either! You see, I reckon this may have been the moment when we can say that they were extinguished, they burnt out. Extinguished and burnt out like the fire left to smoulder in the meadow. One was a constant loser, the other was the constant winner. Defeat, victory, defeat, victory, and one day – here in the neighbourhood – I had to realize, and I did realize, that I was mistaken, I was truly mistaken when I thought that there has never been and could never be any kind of change here on earth. Because, believe me, I know now that this change has indeed taken place.

OHLSDORFER: Come off it, that’s rubbish.

The Turin Horse

Yes, they really did give him the name Bernhard. He even looks a bit like Thomas Bernhard. Perhaps his words are to not to be taken as the thoughts of Bela Tarr or Laszlo Krasznahorkai.

Pile of Shit Reviews Profound Philosophical Rhapsody: Lars Iyer’s Spurious

I reviewed Lars Iyer’s Spurious for the Quarterly Conversation. Blogger reviews blogger. I wrote this review during a break from a longer, far more exhausting project, so I took the opportunity to kick back and enjoy myself.

Friendship demands one expose oneself, or better, that one allow oneself to be exposed in the ecstasis that does not permit us to remain mired in tautology.

Lars Iyer, Blanchot’s Communism

Spurious cannot be reviewed like the books of so many dead authors, or even so many living ones. Lars Iyer is a blogger whose site is named Spurious, and now he has published a book named Spurious with a narrator named Lars. The book relates closely to the blog in content, in style, and in spirit. (It shares little in common with his two academic books on the French writer and philosopher Maurice Blanchot, however.) Some of the content from the book has appeared on the blog as daily entries, before and even after the book was published.

I am a blogger as well. We share some of the same tastes: Thomas Bernhard, Bela Tarr, Andrei Tarkovsky, Smog. Lars and I were both anonymous bloggers for a time. We did not want a public persona influencing our reader’s impressions of our work. Now we are not anonymous. I decided it was futile. Just ask Tao Lin. By signing up with Melville House, Tao Lin’s publisher, I gather Lars agrees.

Those who take Spurious the blog, and thus Spurious the book, as a pathetic intellectual burlesque are missing the great complexity offered by each. It is a subtle complexity, obscured by misdirection. But the richness in the book is available to those who let themselves be misdirected and then misdirect themselves. It takes some effort on the part of the reader to unsituate him or herself, however. Because this book does read like a sequence of blog posts on Spurious, and because it plays on the border between fiction and non-fiction like so many blogs, it demands a different sort of reading than one would give a novel that comes with nothing but a name attached. The chorus of Larses in the book, the blog, and Iyer’s interviews speak with greatly overlapping voices. But listen to this chorus of Davids and all will be made clear.

…continued…

PS: Apropos of nothing, I’m quite impressed with Google’s tribute to Will Eisner. Eisner’s letters-as-buildings and flexible panel space were always some of his most striking techniques. Nice to see them here.

 

Trainspotters Update: Lars Iyer “Like”d my article on Facebook. Steve Mitchelmore has defriended me, however.

Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s Chaos

These thoughts are a follow-on to the points I made in The Mythology of Laszlo Krasznahorkai and to a lesser extent in my comments on his Animalinside, which it seems will finally be released in the US in April by New Directions.

Krasznahorkai’s work tends to revolve around an intrusion onto order by chaos. In some of the early work like Satantango and The Melancholy of Resistance, the order takes a form of a recognizable socio-political situation: a small town, perhaps with echoes of the Communist era in it, though those echoes are never more than secondary associations. In other works, though, it just becomes what’s familiar by definition: the ideas and concepts we use to structure reality. The chaos comes as a pollutant. It’s some force that leaks into the known world and rips it to shreds. The world does recover, and I think this is because it must. Order will not disappear except with the death of every last human being. The chaos is an irruption.

Now, the order/chaos dichotomy is one that I do take fairly seriously. I think that it resists easy dismissal because, as Blumenberg says, it is primordial. The chaos is defined via negativa: it’s whatever our minds and concepts can’t get around. You can use other terms for it, like “infinite” or “other” or “transcendent,” but these are all misleading because they all imply (at least to me) a degree of access that, were it to exist, would domesticize the chaos and make it, well, non-chaotic, non-infinite, non-other, non-transcendent. Kierkegaard is always bizarre to read because he acts like he is on a first-name basis with the infinite, palling around with it and chatting over that crazy character Abraham. The same goes even moreso with Levinas: you can’t bow down to the Other in the way that he wants everyone to do so. This I think is one of his mechanisms for how the Other and the worldly tend to merge at certain points, when such a merging should not be possible, leading to twisty bits of logic like this:

Religion and religious parties do not necessarily coincide. Justice as the raison d’etre of the State: that is religion. It presupposes the high science of justice. The State of Israel will be religious because of the intelligence of its great books which it is not free to forget. It will be religious through the very action that establishes it as a State. It will be religious or it will not be at all.

Levinas, “The State of Israel and the Religion of Israel”

I do not find this objectionable; I merely find it incoherent.

But all this confusion has something to do with the falseness of Gnosticism. For any gnostic worth his salt is not going to come out and start talking about how much he (or she, but usually he) is a gnostic. Any real knowledge of that raw chaos, the way it is manifested far more honestly in Krasznahorkai’s work, causes insanity. By insanity I mean a form of disconnection from the world that no longer allows dialogue with the “order” of the known. Did Daniel Schreber have it? Did Antonin Artaud? (Louis Sass takes these two as studies in schizophrenia in his excellent book The Paradoxes of Delusion: Wittgenstein, Schreber, and the Schizophrenic Mind.)

Perhaps Cassandra is another case of this sort of intrusion, given more logical form as befits Greek culture, but there the joke is that she actually knew better. They thought she was insane, but really, she was right! It’s an inexact example. In Krasznahorkai’s cases, such as with Korin in War and War and the grandson in From the North by Hill, as well as (I think) the narrator in Animalinside, the chaos is dehumanizing in that it removes the person from the realm of the human. It overruns them with non-sense (not nonsense). In contrast, the gnostic sages that claim secret access to the Truth are false prophets, since they speak our language too well.

In contrast, I think the real sense of what that confrontation with chaos might feel like is partly captured by the ending of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, which starts off as beauty and then turns very very frightening, perfectly accompanied by the shift from Bach to Artemiev’s electronics:

(For all the differences between Tarkovsky and Stanislaw Lem, Lem’s focus on human knowledge encountering its limits and being forced to recognize those limits certainly provided a common ground between them, as much as Lem may have loathed admitting it. I wish Tarkovsky had made it clear that Kelvin’s gesture of falling to his knees is pointless, as good a reaction as any to the planet. Tarkovsky may not have thought that, though I know that Lem did. Bach is playing, the day is lovely, you feel in perfect harmony with the universe and in touch with God or whatever, and then you realize everything is wrong.)

And also with this excerpt from Kafka’s The Castle, which I quoted in the article and which still holds as an example of the announcement of that which is beyond you:

The receiver gave out a buzz of a kind that K. had never heard on a telephone. It was like the hum of countless children’s voices—but yet not a hum, the echo rather of voices singing at an infinite distance—blended by sheer impossibility into one high but resonant sound that vibrated on the ear as if it were trying to penetrate beyond mere hearing.

Franz Kafka, The Castle

So, likewise but without the religious apparatus, chaos appears in Krasznahorkai’s work as a threat, a breach upon what is safe and orderly, the violation of Hume’s riddle of induction that requires that we take our predictions to be reliable though we have no guarantee that they will be. It is an antagonist, like the Prince and the angry mobs he foments, or a corrupted trickster figure like Iremias in Satantango.

It spreads as well. I think of it a little like Ice-9, except that the process is reversible through the brutal reassertion of order. The infringing agent is destroyed in some manner or reassimilated into the greater orderly whole (remember, despite his seeming power, the Prince is a frail figure who needs the assistance of a factotum, among others). Iremias seems to display both aspects, both chaotic and order, since he rips up the social fabric of the town just as easily as he informs on the townspeople to the authorities, and I take this to be a sign of his malevolent madness. His mystical experiences are not total fabrications, but he is utterly unable to share them with the others; he merely inspires them with high-minded rhetoric to destroy their lives.

I do not think that Krasznahorkai paints an end or resolution to this sort of intrusion and countermeasure. He portrays it as far more imminent and pressing than most people are likely to experience, since we don’t usually suffer such irruptions, and when we do, there are carefully coded social mores and institutions to try to regulate and control them. This provides a feeling of safety and insulation, until it doesn’t. The chaos is something we live with.

Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Max Neumann: Animalinside

(I recently wrote an overview of Krasznahorkai for The Quarterly Conversation, which may help give some context to the themes here.)

Animalinside, a short work which is published as part of the Cahiers series on writing and translation, is a formal experiment for Krasznahorkai. Krasznahorkai wrote a text to accompany a drawing by Max Neumann, and Neumann drew over a dozen more in response, and Krasznahorkai wrote a short text for each one. There’s an obvious unity to it all: the pictures all feature the (usually) black silhouette of some sort of feral animal poised to jump, and the texts are all about some sort of beast or beasts, usually written in the first person singular or plural. (Notably, the first text is in the third person and quotes the beast.)

The interaction of images and text is not new for Krasznahorkai, as he collaborated with Bela Tarr on at least four films, including two based on his novels. Those last two films diverge significantly from their source texts, and Tarr has said that modifications were made throughout the filming. So here again, despite appearances, I tried not to make too literal a tie between the images and the texts. The affiliation feels more thematic than literal. The beast’s silhouette is usually black, but occasionally white or gray. These shifts make themselves felt in the beast’s attitudes in the text for each picture.  The color as well as the use of space is treated metaphysically. Neumann’s subsequent drawings after the first seem to bring out themes already present in the first text, which Krasznahorkai then elaborates on. Whether they form an actual narrative is ambiguous, but they certainly form a whole.

The beast is angry, but helpless. The beast rants about how he is beyond any constraint that can be put on him by thought or concept. He is unique and beyond comparison: “It is impossible to confuse me with anyone else.” He is within you, caged in one picture, but he is struggling to break free. And so another of Krasznahorkai’s conceptual contradictions emerges: the beast that is at once free beyond everything and yet trapped.

The beast is beyond imagination, beyond containment, beyond conception…but not beyond language. At first, his rantings about chaos and the destruction of anything and everything call to mind The Prince, from The Melancholy of Resistance. But The Prince himself spoke gibberish which was then translated by a Factotum. (In the movie version, however, he speaks Slovak! Thanks to Gwenyth Jones for pointing this out to me.) Our beast here speaks for himself, and in doing so he reveals a weak spot. When the beast faces infinity in the picture accompanying the ninth text, he must rail against it too:

I hate all that is infinite, there burns within me an unspeakable hatred towards the infinite…the infinite is a deception, the infinite is a deception in space, the infinite is a deception in measuring, and every aspiration to the infinite is a trap, but the kind of trap that has to be walked into again and again by him who, just like myself, is searching for the end of a direction, for I have no other aspirations.

Is the beast railing at the infinite itself, the inadequacy of the concept of the infinite, or the representation of the infinite (as in this picture)? I’m not sure. This tension is the same one that occurred in Krasznahorkai’s earlier From the North by Hill, from the South by Lake, from the West by Roads, from the East by River, which contained a book by a mad Frenchman ranting against Cantor’s mathematical conception of infinity. Perhaps the idea is that the conception traps us while simultaneously facing us with its inadequacy, and this is unbearable because, as with the ideas of mortality and immortality, neither side is a conceivable solution.

Because the text is more rarefied and abstract than Kraznahorkai’s other work, it seems to resemble Beckett at times. But Beckett never portrayed such a vicious antagonism. His personae always collapse into themselves. Even their assertions of antagonism are hopeful but futile gestures against solipsistic nightmares. That is not the case in Krasznahorkai. I do not think it ever is. His characters and voices are always struggling within a larger cosmos of forces and others.

Anyone who has been reading me knows that I think Krasznahorkai is one of the greatest living writers, and as I’ve read more, his work hooks together in an increasingly revealing way. I know that a translation of Satantango is due out next year, and hope that more is on the way.

Update: Daniel Medin points me to an article by the translator of Animalinside, Ottilie Mulzet. She analyzes the work in the context of the apocalyptic imagery of the Bible, an approach similar to that which I saw in The Melancholy of Resistance. The key line in the essay for me is “The form that this End would take remains unvoiced, perhaps even too ghastly for articulation. [emphasis mine]” Also notable is this instruction that Krasznahorkai gave Mulzet:

…there are many repetitions in the text, and this is very important; repeat everything exactly as it is in the original regardless of what the English language WANTS…
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