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

Advertisements
Forgotten Modernist Masterpiece

Review: Szentkuthy

“With [Towards the One & Only Metaphor], the second of Szentkuthy’s works made available in English by Contra Mundum Press, after Marginalia on Casanova, the author begins to take on more of a shape. Towards the One and Only Metaphor (1935) pre-dates the Marginalia — itself only the first volume in the larger-scale project of the St. Orpheus Breviary — and in his Introduction Rainer J. Hanshe notes it is, in part: “a response to criticisms directed against Prae,” Szentkuthy’s first novel — a volume not yet available to English-speaking readers (though it is expected soon); the bigger picture will require more patience, but like the Marginalia this volume stands strongly on its own, too.

. . .

Impressively, Tim Wilkinson’s translation manages to retain and convey much of the sense of language(-play) here — with English-in-the-original words and phrases printed in a different font, helpful in a text that effortlessly traverses languages.

. . .

While there’s very much a sense of this being one building-block of a larger œuvre — far too much of which remains, as yet, inaccessible to English-reading audiences — Towards the One and Only Metaphor is nevertheless a rewarding text on its own, a fascinating and diverse personal catalogue from the pen of an exceptionally cultured writer (which manifests itself both in his style, and in the substance of his writing).”

Michael A. Orthofer, Complete Review (29 August 2014). Read the entire review here.

For another essay on TooM, see “To Humanize & Dehumanize: Imitation, True Contrasts, and the Faustian Pact,” Hungarian Literature Online (December 16, 2013)

Review: Szentkuthy

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

The Only True Luxury

David Van Dusen reviews Marginalia on Casanova:

“Szentkuthy’s “commentary” is possibly better classified as a novel; he himself considered it the first volume of Szentkuthy’s recherché, pan-European opus, the 10-volume Szent Orpheus breviáriuma (St. Orpheus Breviary). Marginalia on Casanova is a dazzling English rendering by Tim Wilkinson, of Szentkuthy’s 1939 book, and also Szentkuthy’s English debut. (The other volumes of the Breviary — with titles like Black Renaissance,Europa Minor and In the Footsteps of Eurydice — will, I hope, be forthcoming from Contra Mundum Press soon.)

Miklós Szentkuthy — born Miklós Pfisterer, in 1908 — introduced himself to Budapest’s literary circles in 1934 with a self-published novel, Prae, and he remained a provocative figure until his death in 1988. Szentkuthy is still referred to as the “sacred monster” of Hungarian letters, and the expression is apt. His huge output — foremost, the “Romanesque cathedral” that is the Breviary — is at once speculative and manneristic, hyper-erotic and hyper-religious, bleary eyed and clear-sighted.

Szentkuthy’s ambition was medieval: to produce a catalogus rerum, “an index of all entities.” His method is “Hellenistic-rococo”: he writes spirited variations on the letter of the canon. His syntax and affect are irreverently modernist, yet there is nothing programmatic about his avant-gardism, and what he wrote of Casanova holds true of him as well: “the muck of literary programme is not allowed to dirty his white cuffs.” In the Marginalia, “metaphysical facts,” “factual truths,” and deliriums are calculated to transect “with the epic grace of an apoplectic fit.” It is not accidental, then, that he was thrilled by the expression of the15th-century polymath, Nicolas of Cusa — echoed by Romantics like Novalis and Coleridge — that the essence of all things is a coincidentia oppositorum: a “coincidence of opposites.” Szentkuthy is, himself, such a coincidence.”

To read the entire review: Los Angeles Review of Books (May 2, 2013)

The Only True Luxury

Entering the World Stage: Szentkuthy’s Ars Poetica

“As a text that defies classification into any particular genre, Towards the One and Only Metaphor is perhaps most accurately thought of as literature — in Blanchot’s expansive sense of the term, literature is that which ‘ruins’ distinctions and limits in its creation of a unique and amorphous hybrid beyond the distinctions of a particular genre. Originally published in 1935 and republished in 1985, Towards the One and Only Metaphor is, as Dezső Baróti elucidated, comprised of “unconventional journal-like passages expanded into short essays, plans for novels, poetic meditations that have the effect of free verse, and paradoxical aphorisms,” all of which reveal a moral philosophy, a politics, an erotics. “Its predominant motifs (insofar as one can succinctly describe it in a few words) are most especially nature, love, eroticism, sex. All that, however, is constantly painted over by the vibration of the unconcealed presence of a writer constantly in search of himself, and rife with beguiling, stimulating, and ever-renewed surprises.” In this sense, it is an essayistic and confessional work à la Montaigne, or like the ruminative waste books of Lichtenberg, or Joubert’s keen-eyed observations. Yet, if as fragmentary as those texts, Towards the One and Only Metaphor is at the same time ordered, like a group of disparate stars that, when viewed from afar, reveal or can be perceived to form a constellation — they are sculpted by a geometry of thought, for, as András Keszthelyi observed, the text is essentially something of a manifesto, “an explicit formulation of the author’s intentions, his scale of values, or, if you wish: his ars poetica.”

For the full essay: Asymptote (April 2013).

And for an excerpt from: Towards the One and Only Metaphor.

Entering the World Stage: Szentkuthy’s Ars Poetica

Exquisitely thought-provoking

“I come back to scandalous neglect (other European countries are fine with him). Wilkinson himself once said that English literature is “boring”, and compared to this, it is: with a very few exceptions, and they know who they are, English writers (I refer specifically to the English) may as well be producing Ladybird books, so formally conventional, so stylistically timid, are they. Open your minds, then, to the European enlightenment, sit back and let this exquisitely thought-provoking book seep into you. Let’s hope the remaining nine volumes, and indeed the rest of Szentkuthy’s oeuvre, get translated soon.” – Nicolas Lezard, The Guardian

Read the full review here.

Exquisitely thought-provoking