Waggish

David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Tag: hungary (page 2 of 5)

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…

The Mythology of Laszlo Krasznahorkai

An article of mine on László Krasznahorkai has been published at The Quarterly Conversation:

All that is transitory is but a parable.
Goethe, Faust II

This line, meant by Goethe to indicate that our worldly lives are but symbols for a greater, permanent afterlife, carries with it ambiguities that Mahler never considered when he used it rather clumsily at the climax of his Eighth Symphony. If we are all Christians, how easy to dispose of the travails of this life by casting them as imperfections of a greater, lesser-known world. But if we do not know that world, how do we construct that parable, and how do we sustain it in the face of reality’s constant resistance to conform to it? This is the question that the Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai pursues in his fiction.

Continued…

David B.: The Veiled Prophet (a.k.a. The Prince)

A Scene from Miklos Jancso’s Red Psalm

I’ve always thought of Jancso as one of the very few filmmakers, along with Godard, who could turn abstract ideas into visual sequences that could be absorbed without requiring viewers to engage in theorizing themselves. (In contrast, Pasolini’s Teorema is the sort of thing that demands active theoretical engagement not to be boring and banal. The same goes for most of the work of Alexander Kluge, though I like Kluge a lot more.) After abandoning concrete plot and character in The Red and the White, he relies on this talent to make his movies compelling. When it works, there and in Electra My Love, he is nearly unmatched. When it doesn’t work, as in Hungarian Rhapsody, I appreciate the successes even more.

The above clip is from Red Psalm. The sequence beginning about eight minutes in is for me one of his finest moments. He choreographs something abstract and historical into visceral, visual movement. It transcends the Communist restrictions and ideology without abandoning a coherent conceptual meaning, one which does not match up with the dogmatic dialogue.

Godard, though he tries hard, never quite manages to hold onto this sort of coherence, and I just get lost in the images and anarchic inventiveness.

Krasznahorkai

Contrary to what anyone might think, it had not escaped Valuska’s notice, the evidence being so readily available, that everyone he met was preoccupied by the notion of ‘the collapse into anarchy,’ a state that, in the general opinion, was no longer avoidable. Everyone was talking about ‘the unstoppable stampede into chaos’, the ‘unpredictability of daily life’ and ‘the approaching catastrophe’ without a clear notion of the full weight of those frightening words, since, he surmised, this epidemic of fear was not born out of some genuine, daily increasing certainty of disaster but of an infection of the imagination whose susceptibility to its own terrors might eventually lead to an actual catastrophe, in other words the false premonition that a man who had lost his bearings might succumb to once the inner structure of his life, the way his joints and bones were knit, had loosened and he carelessly transgressed the ancestral laws of his soul–if he simply lost control of his undemeaningly ordered world..It bothered him greatly that however he tried to persuade his friends of this they refused to listen to him, but it saddened him most when in tones of unrelieved gloom they proclaimed that the period they were living in was ‘an unfathomable hell between a treacherous future and an unmemorable past’, for such awful thoughts reminded him of the sentiments and unremittingly painful monologues he was used to hearing on a daily basis in the house on Bela Wenckheim Avenue, which was where he had just arrived.

The Melancholy of Resistance

That traditionalism, that reference to the “ancestral laws of the soul” which supposedly keep us all in line and prevent the fall into chaos–that is the voice of fear for me. I used to think that this was indicative of a somewhat conservative tendency in Krasznahorkai, a willingness to accept the strictures of fate out of the worry that challenging them would bring down the weight and fury of the heavens. Now it seems more like a description of some lurking death-instinct, an atavistic tendency that represents something like Moosbrugger did in The Man Without Qualities, except generated in the angst and neurosis of people’s minds, a product of the flaws of order that are built into the systems that emerge: more of a biological process than a political one, the inevitable appearance of the imp of the perverse, the worm in the apple. Valuska is the world-dazzled character who does not fall prey to such autodestruction (at least not internally), but I don’t think Krasznahorkai holds him up as any sort of practical solution for the world.

[Attention Krasznahorkai fans: I have it on good authority that the English translation of Satantango is still a good 2-3 years out. Sorry.]

Laszlo Krasznahorkai Interview

An interview with Tibor Keresztury and Judit Székely:

Is it not possible that the best minds of any given age have felt exactly the same way as you feel, since time immemorial? Is it not possible that the milieu is always like this, and it is only in retrospect that certain ages seem more attractive than others?

I am not saying that the past is brilliant – the recent past, for instance, almost killed me. But those people, living under oppression, had that something about them that gave you hope that the democratic ideals we envisaged at the time could build us a country which is more tolerable when measured by the moral and aesthetic expectations we held. But let me repeat – I would in no way like to idealise what we had at the time. How could I? I would much rather say that we have now lost by the wayside even what little we had – all that once prevented people from becoming blinded by their situation. We have lost whatever used to stop people from selling their dignity for a spoonful of gold or a spoonful of free soup – whatever they have in their spoons. And, to return to your question, I am sure it is true. I am sure all independent spirits felt in their own age that the society they had been granted was intolerable and that this could easily lead to the conclusion that all human societies are intolerable unless they exist by the highest moral and aesthetical standards. This seems true not only with regard to Western civilisations. It seems to hold true for Oriental cultures, too. Confucian himself repeatedly refers his readers to the early Zhou period, directly preceding his own, as an ideal age which his contemporaries should set their standards by. And Confucian, who created the poetic vision of the most elevated moral system in the world, lived in the sixth and fifth centuries before Christ.

In a situation like this, what do writing and literature give you? What do books mean? Obviously, not the way out. Nor does writing function as a form of personal salvation for you. Then, shall we say it is the gentlest form of rebellion? Or does it play the role of issuing certain signals?

Whenever I manage to state my view in its full extent, my partner in conversation, anywhere in the world, invariably reminds me, “If you paint such a gloomy picture of the world, then why write?” This is a subtle way of asking why I don’t shoot myself in the head right there and then, and indeed, why I hadn’t done so a long while ago. My critical remarks do not mean that I think or have ever thought that literature could directly interfere with the workings of the society it criticises or rejects. The impact that a writer can exert over his or her own society is far more subtle, almost indecipherably complex and indirect, working through a number of transformations. I even doubt whether at such a degree of remoteness you can still call this an impact and an influence. In Oriental cultures, this question has found an almost radical solution: art had absolutely nothing to do with the direct, palpable reality of its own age. On the contrary, real artists were not “members” of their own society, in the same way that saints never are. This way, the art they produced did not exist as an integrated, definable, graspable part of society. Instead, it found its place in an emphatically spiritual space which nonetheless was still perceived as a part of reality.

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