03. 03. 2006. 10:22

George Szirtes's blog - day three

To London for Márai

Márai is easy to translate. What I mean to say is that he gives himself to you and invites you to enjoy the clear rhetorical circling of his prose as he uncovers layer after layer of motivation. He is all burning curiosity tempered by patience.

The journey down to London takes a little under two hours by train. The sun is gone and the flattish fields zip by in the blank startling sun that should be setting soon. I have made this journey so many times, and always think of W.G. Sebald’s  description in his great book Austerlitz: quicksilver mudflats, cooling tower, the new estates, the sewage farm, the parked cars beyond Colchester glittering in silver, the light plump and quilted with them. English green is different from Hungarian green: the grass is darker here, and darkens as you move west towards the fat rain of Ireland, those great soft drops I remember in Dublin, forming, splashing and spreading.

I am on my way down to the Márai performance. The class this afternoon started an hour early. We were looking at poems about photography and the cinema, some four or five on each subject, each haunted by the notion of memory and documentary, the recording of vanished, vanishing data. Edwin Morgan’s Instamatic Poems are word photographs; Paul Farley’s poem about negatives is dark and silvery, the reversed light shining from within the eyes outwards; Frank O’Hara chatters on about Lana Turner collapsing, the poem apparently going nowhere then lifting us, out of that nowhere, into more light.

Meanwhile the sun is bursting through the trees like a regular pulse, then the cuttings deepen and we drop into median shadow. Where has yesterday’s snow gone? Gone.

Márai is easy to translate. What I mean to say is that he gives himself to you and invites you to enjoy the clear rhetorical circling of his prose as he uncovers layer after layer of motivation. He is all burning curiosity tempered by patience. Prose slips through his fingers. In Krasznahorkai’s fingers prose turns into medieval castles, convoluted shadows, long cluttered streets that must be unwound first before they can be called streets. Everything must be collapsed before it can rise again.

The clouds are building as we approach London, dark soaked sponges breaking up as the light filters through them. Almost everything I have written so far seems to be concerned with light. More later, in the dark, on the train home after the performance.

*

Had to run for the train back faster than I like to. I watched Embers from the box straining a little to see the whole stage. It was press night with all the critics out in force. The cast featured Jeremy Irons as Hendrik, Patrick Malahide as Konrad and Jean Boht as Nini. Having risen at 4 this morning I found the second half – Hendrik’s monologue – hard to concentrate on – it is very static – but it was rather beautifully played. After an uncertain start Irons warmed to the performance, presenting an apparently mild-mannered general just containing his bitterness, shifting delicately from gentlemanly politesse through a languid yet nervous aristocratic hauteur to barely controlled fury. Hendrik talks about the lustless erotics of friendship and it is possible to see the whole play in those terms. The crucial hunting scene loses something through being described in the adaptation to stage. The association of Márai’s voice with his characters’ voices offered a denser, more allusive experience in the text.

Nevertheless the story works surprisingly well in the English milieu. It is a little like an English Chehov, elegiac yet bitterly funny in places; like Chehov, relentless. There is even an anti-Chehov joke in the prologue when Hendrik takes a gun out of the desk, loads it and aims it, never in fact to use it. The gun is not seen again. There is nothing at all specifically Hungarian or Central European in the production. It is chameleon. Anywhere. The set is simple, unchanging, archetypal: it is where Hendrik was born, where he has been abandoned, and where he will, as he says, die. The room is not history but the psyche. It is mind and body rather than location. In the audience: John Mortimer, Clive James, actors and writers. Great applause at the end.  Me, I have to run.

And two sudden deaths. The footballer Peter Osgood who I saw play in the 70s, and the female comedian Linda Smith, only forty-eight, of cancer. A warm, sharp, funny woman, also the President of the British Humanist Association. Not a post usually held by comedians. 

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