07. 01. 2011. 08:26

László Krasznahorkai in The New Yorker

“Reality examined to the point of madness. What would this look like in contemporary writing? It might look like the fiction of László Krasznahorkai”, James Wood writes in “Madness and Civilization. The very strange fictions of László Krasznahorkai”, a five-page portrait of the Hungarian author in the July 4, 2011 issue of The New Yorker.

Postwar avant-garde has tended to move between augmentation and subtraction (minimalism), James Wood observes. Krasznahorkai tends towards the latter—augmentation in the sense of filling the sentence, notating the tiniest qualifications in very long, breathing, unstopped sentences that Krasznahorkai’s translator George Szirtes has called “a slow lava-flow of narrative”. Krasznahorkai “pushes the long sentence to its furthest extreme, miring it in a thick, recalcitrant atmosphere, a dynamic paralysis in which the mind turns over and over to no obvious effect.”

Three of Krasznahorkai's books have been published in English translation: War and War, The Melancholy of Resistance and Animalinside, and James Wood provides a sensitive analysis of all three. (Satan’s Tango, his masterpiece published in 1985, and his recent volume of short stories, Seiobo Has Been Here Below, are to be published by New Directions—see our interview with Barbara Epler, editor-in-chief of New Directions.)

Krasznahorkai’s fictional world, Wood observes, “teeters on the brink of a revelation that never comes”. The writer “is fascinated by apocalypse, by broken revelation, indecipherable messages”—his world is a Dostoyevskian one from which God has been removed. “The prose has a kind of self-correcting shuffle, as if something were genuinely being worked out, and yet, painfully and humorously, these corrections never result in the correct answer.” The Melancholy of Resistance is “a comedy of the apocalypse, a book about a God that not only failed but didn’t even turn up for the exam.” In Animalinside, the result of a cooperation between Krasznahorkai and the German artist Max Neumann, Neumann's dogs come to represent “everyone’s secret dread, everyone’s inevitable fate.”

Wood notes the influence of Thomas Bernhard on Krasznahorkai, and likens the Hungarian author to writers like Samuel Beckett, W. G. Sebald, José Saramago, Claude Simon or David Foster Wallace, noting that of all these novelists, Krasznahorkai is perhaps the strangest. He remarks that in Germany Krasznahorkai is “almost canonical” and is spoken of as a potential Nobel laureate.

Speaking of Béla Tarr’s films, some of which—e.g. Satan’s Tango and Werckmeister Harmonies—were based on Krasznahorkai’s novels, Wood describes them as “a filmmaker’s analogue of Krasznahorkai’s serpentine sentences in their tracking shots, which can last as long as ten minutes.”

See our review on and an excerpt from Seiobo Has Been Here Below; a review on Animalinside; a review on Satan's Tango; an interview with László Krasznahorkai

Tags: Béla Tarr, László Krasznahorkai