Forgotten Modernist Masterpiece

Paul Griffiths on Szentkuthy’s PRAE, Tim Wilkinson’s “colossally laudable” translation, & so much more, in the TLS (Sept. 25, 2015)

“What if we found that something had long been missing from the great canon of modernist ancestors? What if, besides Proust and Musil and Joyce and Kafka, there were some other writer who had reconsidered what prose could be about — reconsidered how prose could be about anything at all? What if this other writer’s work were so dense as to be almost totally impenetrable, which is why it had been overlooked so long, but we were now coming to realize that the impenetrability‚ — being in the presence, as a reader, of a vast rockface with almost no footing — was entirely the point? What if, in other words, Miklos Szentkuthy?”

Republished in The Wall St. Journal

Forgotten Modernist Masterpiece

Szentkuthy: TLS Review

“In the first pages of a notebook he kept in the summer of 1934, Miklós Szentkuthy lies sweating in bed. He stares at “the lathes of the roller blinds” in his bedroom, the spreading “milky-blue leaves” of houseplants. Budapest is hot, “fermenting at daybreak,” but it is not just the city’s heat that makes him sweat: he is also sick with fever. Waves of ultra-hot particles blast out of the sun, loosening the “foliage hawsers of the trees” in Budapest; a wavelet of toxicity is excreted by Szentkuthy’s gall bladder, heightening and disordering his sensations. The sphere of outer heat is nothing less than the world; the sphere of inner heat is little more than a sickbed. Yet both types of heat are physical, primordial, real — which, then, is more essential: the sun over Budapest, or his distempered gland? By which he means, metonymically: the outer perspective, the “not-I,” the systematic; or the inner perspective, the “I,” the impressionistic? Szentkuthy pursues this question with inventiveness and flair over the 300-page notebook he published in 1935, in 112 numbered sections, as Towards the One & Only Metaphor (Az egyetlen metafora felé).”

. . .

Szentkuthy’s opening scene, with its question of outer and inner “heat,” introduces one of the counter-perspectives that keeps him moving – and not towards the One. He urges himself later to “be drilled into the absolute foreignness of something, not ‘towards the one and only metaphor’ but out, out of the world of metaphors, impressions, fate, the world of life, into a radical, eternally heretical not-I.”

— David Van Dusen, “The most mysterious thing in life,” Times Literary Supplement (February 7–14, 2014) 22.

An excerpt from a review of our edition of Szentkuthy’s Towards the One & Only Metaphor.

http://contramundum.net/catalog/current/towards-the-one-and-only-metaphor/

 

 

Szentkuthy: TLS Review

To Humanize and Dehumanize

Imitation, True Contrasts, and the Faustian Pact: On Szentkuthy’s Towards the One & Only Metaphor

 

When Miklós Szentkuthy published Prae in 1934 at the sprightly age of 26, the novel was deemed to be the work of a monster.(1) To defend against this charge, and being perceived as a “book-bug homunculus”(2) who lived on science, philosophy, and mathematics alone, Szentkuthy wrote, or culled and transformed from his diary, material that would make up his second book, Az egyetlen metafora felé (Towards the One & Only Metaphor), to reveal, or confess, that he did in fact bleed, that he was not made strictly of pure pulp, or formulae, abstractions, and equations, that he was just as teeming with erotic longings as a satyr in a circle of maenads. Despite his efforts, some critics, such as Gábor Halász, saw in Towards the One & Only Metaphor only a chaos of orality devoid of any organizing principle. To him, Metaphor was nothing but pure excitability, tension, flair, nerve, intellectual paroxysm; not a unified work, only the precursor to a work; all that “is left is this prae,” Halász concluded his review, pointing back, acidly, to Szentkuthy’s audacious first novel, and then remarking, dismissively, that Szentkuthy had still not learned how to write but was simply casting “raw material” at his readers.(3) What then has compelled Éditions José Corti, my own press, and perhaps soon, Aylak Adam, who will be introducing Szentkuthy into Turkish, to each publish translations of Towards the One & Only Metaphor?(4) Is there validity in Halász’s charge? Or is there an organizing principle to Szentkuthy’s text? How are we to read his fragmentary work, which many seem to find baffling, if not even unbearable? What does the title tell us of Szentkuthy’s method, or the character of the book, and what to him is metaphor? What keys are offered in the book to elucidate those things? Does he achieve his goal of humanizing himself, as he claims he sought to do, or does he remain a monster and book-bug homunculus?

 

Read the rest of the essay on Hungarian Literature Online (December 16, 2013)

 

 

 

To Humanize and Dehumanize