02. 08. 2007. 08:11

P. Rose goes airborne

Lajos Parti Nagy: Leg of the Frozen Dog

Leg of the Frozen Dog, published in 2006, is a collection of short stories written during the last ten years by Lajos Parti Nagy, an outstanding member of the Hungarian middle generation of authors, who is widely considered to be the number one master of "artistic language distortion."

However, the word “distortion” – signalling, on the one hand, Parti Nagy’s method of mocking different social idioms by means of decomposition, and, on the other hand, his proneness to choose “incompetent” or “semi-competent” users of language as the target of his parody – can be misleading as it indicates that there might be one “proper” use of language from which Parti Nagy’s texts deviate. That is why I would prefer to say that Parti Nagy is the master of liberating language – or more precisely, languages. Reading his texts one can conclude that there are only competing languages, and no language.

The modes of speech evoked in Leg of the Frozen Dog have an immensely wide scope, ranging from almost subhuman barking to literary allusions, from archaic to post-modern slang, from markedly rural to high-tech urban, etc. These modes of speech mingle within the texts, within the sentences, even within the words, entering into a multi-level language game, producing centaur-like phrases and nonsense words that the reader, hunted by déjà vu, perceives as more telling than the “real” ones.

Parti Nagy personifies his dialogical method of writing through the recurring character of Szép Róza (Miss P. Rose) whose name playfully refers to the genuine link between everyday oral culture and literature. Miss P. Rose is one of Parti Nagy’s many secondary narrators – narrators whose trains of thoughts are mediated by the primary voices in free indirect speech. This kind of narration, characteristic of the volume, allows the first person voice to mingle with the speech of the quoted character, creating a fruitful tension between various modes of speech and multiplying the potential for parody within the texts.

Besides the character of Miss P. Rose and other occasional parallels like recurring locations and historical settings, the common link between these short stories is that almost all of them tell about the so-called “human condition.” They are tales about people who suffer from the distance between their wishes and their limited possibilities. The freshly widowed Jacob Widow with a gastric ulcer “as big as the red star on the tower of the Kremlin” longs for some chicken in breadcrumbs with cucumber salad. Miss P. Rose remembers her smuggler husband, who “would have bent the tower of the church of the village for her”, and was killed by a landmine while treading out grapes. The client of Miss P. Rose selling ties in a public toilet wants to choke his wife as he is convinced that she ran away with the Christmas tree. The mine laundress finds happiness with a pair of twin girls, but in the end she loses both her lovers and her husband. (In this tricky story the reader, who is accustomed to think of anyone with an unidentified sex as male, believes the laundress is a man until the very end, though there are little signs indicating she is not. This piece shows the way our preconceptions mislead us when interpreting a text.) In "No Strings Attached" the “corpulent, gold-toothed woman” overcompensates for her marital unhappiness by ordering a wedding cake for her daughter “the size of the Pope’s, or whatnot”; a cake “so big it wouldn’t fit inside the cable TV”. The reservist uniform tailor, the protagonist of "Leg of the Frozen Dog", the title story the award-winning film Taxidermia was based on – lives in a tub in the closet of his captain’s house, and has “a sex life both passionate and lonely”, until he once dreams of having sex with the captain’s wife, which proves to be fatal.

Many of the stories revolve around the dreams of the characters – dreams of wish-fulfilment or angst, or both. In most cases it is not immediately obvious for the reader that there is a dream involved; however, the events only make sense if you put them in a frame of dream logic. Take, for example, "Body Jewellery" with the coke factory blowing up in a school, or "Floor Show of Hyenas" with the characters imprisoned in the photo on a cigarette box discarded in the desert. Not only the dream-narratives but also all of the stories have a dream-like quality. The absurdity of the plots, settings and logic enhances the dream-like quality of Parti Nagy’s markedly poetic language to a point where husbands jealous of Christmas trees, lesbian mine-laundresses, and body-gilders training ants to enter the cavities of women in order to gild them from the inside become natural figures of the landscape.

Dóra Elekes

Tags: Lajos Parti Nagy