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

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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

Masks Behind Masks

András Nagy’s portrait of Szentkuthy in The Berlin Review of Books:

“The mask in general is an important part of the identity of the personality; paradoxically it may be even a synonym for it as the use of the borrowed “face” tells more of the person applying it than the features he is born with. The experience with identities was regularly developed into novels applying different protagonists, characters, and roles, yet Szentkuthy had to realize in the years to come that daily life must also be lived in different masks. A mask was needed to hide those features of his very self that were rejected by the more and more intolerant authorities that directly and indirectly attempted and partly infiltrated his life and even his works. However, with Szentkuthy’s intellect and unlimited free spirit, the attempts to control him regularly failed as he was happily using different incognitos and roles, while keeping deeply hidden what was behind the masks. These secrets were carefully registered and kept in a “giant-diary” as he liked to call it, hundreds of thousands of pages of the most authentic chronicle from his early age until almost to his death. It included significant entries for each day, obviously touching upon the most personal and the most abstract issues, being both extremely vulgar and extremely subtle, as well as ideas and recollections of people and events he came across, likely matching the same high artistic level and aesthetic quality as the rest of his work. Even if it will not be revealed still for many years to come, it is an important part, if not the most important one of the author’s oeuvre. Szentkuthy suggested in an interview that his whole oeuvre could be defined, described, and interpreted as a “giant-diary”, modeled on the textual corpus of Saint-Simon and of Montaigne. Stories, novels, studies, essays, etc. may turn out to have a wholly different meaning once read in the  larger context. It is easy to imagine then that once the diaries will be opened – this will occur for the first time in 2013 – readers will have to reinterpret all of Szentkuthy’s writings in a radically new way. Surprises, and even revelations, of literary history are to be expected in the years to come.”

For the full essay: go here.

Masks Behind Masks