“I feel a long and unresolved desire / For that serene and solemn land of ghosts, / It quivers now, like an Aeolian lyre, / My stuttering verse, with its uncertain notes, / A shudder takes me: tear on tear, entire, / The firm heart feels weakened and remote: / What I possess seems far away from me, / And what is gone becomes reality.” The Dedication to Goethe’s Faust could be the motto of this new collection of interviews with László Krasznahorkai, entitled Doesn’t Ask, Doesn’t Answer. The writer’s voice is the same that we are familiar with from his other books: the voice of the narrator of his prose, a passionate, insistent and resonant voice; a single, long monologue, so to say, an incessant linguistic action, or in other words, as the writer himself describes his art: a holy mass. And with this term we are already in the midst of it: in Krasznahorkai’s world view which attempts to break through the conventional framework and boundaries of literature with almost manic ambition, in the hope, and in the sure knowledge of the hopelessness of this hope, that his texts should build a bridge—act as Jacob’s ladders—between celestial and earthly dimensions, with the story of the latter (a once perhaps terrible story which today seems merely petty and pathetic) unfolding in the light of the former.
Krasznahorkai is an author who is armed with a vast knowledge of tradition, and not only European but Eastern tradition as well. He is an incorruptible seeker; for him, the validity of the creative attitude is linked to sacrality—that is why the holy mass, as we have mentioned, has become a category of central importance for him. For Krasznahorkai, art is essentially creation, he is a witness and representative of this attitude, and here the emphasis is on creation. Not that he claims that the celestial and the earthly planes of reality had ever been in harmony with each other, but that the two do not presuppose each other any more, as they used to, and here he refers first of all to the European narrative. “The basis of Chinese civilization is the recognition that different philosophical solutions relate to different sides of man. Thus, we could also say that Western man has a Hegelian, a Kantian and a Platonist side. However, in the West this attitude has been forgotten, as knowledge and experience became separated.” Undoubtedly, Krasznahorkai continues that powerful twentieth-century sphere of thought the foundations of which were laid by Martin Heidegger, among others. Telling the story of the decline of European man, Heidegger uses the term ‘forgetfulness of being’, and assumes that crisis is a constant and determining factor in European history. As with Heidegger, we are constantly faced with supposed or actual contradictions of this apocalyptic vision in Krasznahorkai’s works as well when this vision keeps knocking against the barriers of his own validity by implying and at the same time rejecting the myth of the Golden Age. But it is only for the lop-sided, over-rationalizing mind that this tension, quivering in the fine structure of thought, constitutes an insoluble problem. Like the great German thinker, Krasznahorkai also calls our attention with implacable intent to the fact that man is basically a paradoxical being, yet in order to maintain this paradoxicality, which is spectacularly grasped in Western culture, he cannot renounce the Kantian moral laws within and the starry sky above. Yet both Heidegger and Krasznahorkai maintain that he has renounced.
That is why Krasznahorkai’s orientation both as an individual and as a writer took a turn in the middle of the Nineties: he opened a window on his house towards the East, because the traces of the interplay of oblivion and memory took him into that direction, while he also realized that no one was exempt from the dramaturgy of loss—everyone was given a part. In this sense, this book also argues against the deeply ingrained Hungarian provincialism.
These speculations apart, reading Krasznahorkai’s conversations is a real literary treat, and not only in the usual sense. There is something amazing about the way he keeps uttering these sentences of his, sentences fit for a novel. He keeps repeating things, yet he doesn’t give the impression of harping on the same things; he is a minimalist, yet he is not boring; he is mono-tonic, yet not monotonous. Behind each comma and dash one can feel the tempo, the rhythm, and the way he takes breath. His book is not a philosophical thesis drama, but a literary performance. The guidance that Krasznahorkai’s master gave the writer at the end of his time spent with Japanese monks is shocking: “He said that my destiny was to finally understand that I would not get anywhere with words, even by proceeding with the greatest care. Carefulness and discontent are not enough for what I strive for… He formulated this even more bluntly when he said, ‘László-san, you must stop writing.’… I am looking for a way out of this verdict… while at the same time I feel that this verdict is irrevocable. Perhaps I have a dash of chance: if one day I will be able to restrict everything to just one word.”
There is certainly some theatricality in Krasznahorkai’s edifying utterances. Which, however, is to be imagined within the spectacular space of a lonely mass. Therefore this reviewer is glad to be a contemporary of this writer, this incorruptible wanderer of the labyrinth of beauty. And all this reminds him of an anecdote about Beckett. The writer stepped out of the studio of his favourite photographer, who looked up at the sky and said: “Look, the sun is shining, we will have a wonderful day today.” To which the author of Waiting for Godot answered, “Well, I wouldn’t go as far as that.’
The reviewer started by giving a motto to Krasznahorkai’s book; now it is with this anecdote that he says goodbye to it.
Nem kérdez, nem válaszol
Budapest: Magvető, 2012
Tags: László Krasznahorkai