09. 16. 2013. 17:44

Kertész interviews: "I was a Holocaust clown"

In July, Kertész told The Paris Review that it would be his last interview. But last week the 84-year-old Hungarian Nobel prize winner gave two other interviews to German newspapers, in which he touched on important matters.

Having lived in Berlin for a decade Kertész, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, returned to his native Budapest last November. He gave an interview to Iris Radisch of Die Zeit in his Buda apartment. Discussing his diary entries written in the last decade, to be published in a new book entitled Letzte Einkehr (Last Inn), Kertész stressed that his happiest years were between 1982 and 1989, a time when he was having continual financial problems and was living in a dictatorship. These circumstances were favourable for writing, he says, as he kept clear of official literature, whereas after receiving the Nobel Prize, he was overwhelmed by what he calls "the Holocaust business." People are powerless against such forces, he says; they can do with an individual whatever they want. "I became a brand. A brand called Kertész," the writer says.

Kertész claims he was never interested in literature per se; he was only ever interested in finding a language to describe totalitarianism, a language that traces how the individual is crushed by a machinery, changing him in a way that he cannot recognize himself or his life anymore. There is one word left, Kertész says, that he would be happy to work on if he wasn’t so tired with life, and that word is love.

In an interview given to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS), Kertész asks, "What would I be without Auschwitz?… Nothing and nobody. An average person." He became what he is now in the extermination camp, he says, and he is grateful for that.

Kertész told the interviewer of FAS that when he was writing his diary entries between 2001 and 2009, he didn’t intend to publish them. Rather than diary entries, these are ideas for future novels that he recorded so that he would not forget them, but "then of course" he did forget them. The notes were then found by a colleague who thought they were worthy of publication. Kertész added that in his biographical works he was mainly interested in his failures, unlike Thomas Mann, whose diaries are notes of a "representative writer" who thinks that whatever is happening to him is important. "I wrote aimlessly," Kertész says.

Rather than meeting and talking with fellow writers, the Hungarian Nobel prize winner was mainly influenced by writers that he read; first and foremost Thomas Mann. Literature is "nothing but boldness and hard work," he says. There is a lot of talk about talent, but "what is talent?... there are writers who write all the time… but for me this was a struggle to find a language… It was not me who was talented; I needed talent for what happened to me."

Apart from the pain caused by his illness, he has had a "wonderful" life, he says. "I have lived and understood the world, so I don’t regret anything." "What would I have experienced without Auschwitz? Whatever other people experience."

Tags: Imre Kertész