04. 20. 2004. 15:39

Smell of hospitals, dawn, tiny nurses' room

Lajos Parti Nagy: Black Lead Scraping

In his review, Gergely Angyalosi claims that "[y]ou don't need to be exceptionally insightful to realize that those readers who are willing to immerse themselves in the world of Parti Nagy's most recent book should expect to experience a shift in their attitudes towards their mother tongue."

Angyalosi goes on to say that for Parti Nagy, "writing is not - or perhaps not primarily - a spiritual retreat or mere intellectual gymnastics, but a sensual activity that anyone can take on wherever they like. 'Grafitnesz' - a pun merging the noise of the black lead of pencils scraping paper and the Hungarian version of 'fitness' - mirrors the dual nature of this kind of pastime: the noise you make during the act of writing and the conscious wordplay with the metaphor fragments emerging in a fitness-happy guy's mind are both part and parcel of the game."
You don't need to be exceptionally insightful to realize that those readers who are willing to immerse themselves in the world of Parti Nagy's most recent book should expect to experience a shift in their attitudes towards their mother tongue. Although I cannot be sure, I think I am right to assume that the majority of Hungarian native speakers utilize their native tongue as a sort of toolbox, that is, if they ever stop to consider that they make use of a language while they talk or read. The awareness of language only emerges when you don't seem to find the right 'tool', or don't know how exactly to use it. But this is perfectly all right. Yet it doesn't hurt to acknowledge the enormous role language plays in what most of us are at all times fully convinced we mean to say or we want to convey. To quote one of my high school language instructors, "when you are in the process of learning a foreign language, you say not what you want to say but what you can say." This, of course, was meant by the excellent teacher to relieve us of our anxieties while trying to express ourselves in a foreign tongue, but, by extension, this piece of everyday wisdom leads us to the conclusion that in our mother tongue, too, we mostly say what we can. Naturally, the significance of what you intend to say should not be ignored - or not fully, at least.
When you start reading Grafitnesz, you find yourself in a world that might at first seem appallingly anarchic, unless you are a devoted fan of Parti Nagy's poetry and are familiar with his earlier work. However, what dominates the book is the outburst and limitless exuberance of forms rather than their disruption. One could argue that this is essentially the same as the breaking of conventional forms, but there is a fundamental qualitative difference between the destruction of traditional (semantic, syntactic and poetical) forms of writing and their exaggeration. The basic regularities of the fashion in which Parti Nagy treats language can be approached in several ways; I choose to stress the method of exaggeration. What I mean by this term is that the author extends the application of certain (grammatical, semantic or poetic) rules to areas beyond their customary realm, thereby probing new spheres and often reaching new levels. This has a double effect on readers; on the one hand, you feel both comfortable and secure because you have the feeling you have seen all the tricks this method can produce; on the other hand, you feel truly disoriented, deprived of the soothing sense of familiarity, and have the impression that somehow everything is out of place. If I am not mistaken, this is the state Freud described as unheimlich; a sense of something ticklingly bizarre and entertaining, yet somehow hair-raisingly terrifying, since what has turned into unfamiliar and threatening had been friendly and well-known.
 
 
Parti Nagy Lajos: Grafitnesz
Budapest: Magvető, 2003

Gergely Angyalosi

Tags: Lajos Parti Nagy