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

Genuinely Different

“I’ve turned this book over in my head many times and I’m mostly still at a loss. I haven’t read a book so unlike anything else in some time. Hungarian author Miklós Szentkuthy (1908-1988) wrote the ten volumes of St. Orpheus Breviary over a forty year period from the 1930s to the 1970s, and Marginalia on Casanova is the first, published in 1939 but written some years before that.

The series, or at least this first volume, is a tour through the European past, a tour through Szentkuthy’s labyrinthine library, twisting through the stranger paths of civilized minds to counter the dominant stories we learn as we’re growing up. Szentkuthy’s choice of Casanova (1725-1798) of all people as his intellectual centerpiece for the first volume is perfectly representative. Casanova’s love life doesn’t interest him per se. There is very little of the gossip or scandal of Casanova in here. He is much more attuned to Casanova’s sensibility, his emotional responses, and his ethics (such as they are). That he compares Casanova to Pope Benedict XIV should give some idea of what he’s after.

Szentkuthy also compares Casanova to Proust: both spent their last years reflecting ambivalently on the social high life in which they had previously been engaged. But for Szentkuthy, Casanova is the more interesting figure because he conducted his life with far less remove than Proust, with less concerted intellectual analysis.”

Read the whole review here: David Auerbach, Waggish (May 29, 2013)

Genuinely Different