Szentkuthy conjures up and analyzes spectacle and thought past and present with extraordinary sensitivity, exceptional erudition, great fantasy, and unparalleled linguistic force. — Forthcoming from Contra Mundum Press.
Szentkuthy referred to this nearly unclassifiable text as a Catalogus Rerum, “an index that is of entities and phenomena, a Catalogue of Everything in the Entire World.” In a sequence of 112 shorter and longer passages, Szentkuthy has recorded his experiences and thoughts, reflected on his reading matter as well as political, historical, and erotic events, moving from epic subjectivity to ontological actualities: “Two things excite me: the most subjective epic details and the ephemeral trivialities of my most subjective life, in all their own factual, unstylized individuality — and the big facts of the world in their allegorical, Standbild-like grandiosity: death, summer, sea, love, gods, flowers.” Szentkuthy conjures up and analyzes spectacle and thought past and present with sensitivity, erudition, and linguistic force. (Contra Mundum)
PROUST AND HITLER: I wonder if the dreadful urge to keep myself busy which is at work in me is simply a naïve nostalgia which operates in every intellectual for the non-intellectual, for action, for historical irrationality, or is it a genuine sense of mission, a real ability to be of assistance to humanity?
How close things are to each other in life, just as close in our minds as the houses are in towns: churches, lingerie shops, political posters, and hearses. Those are all obtuse, however: people cross themselves when passing in front of a church but not, for a second, do they feel that it is a fantasticality to beat all fantasticalities that, to start with, God, the one and only Creator, is present on the altar, thirty yards from the bus stop, and for a second thing, that the symbol of God is a device for executing murderers and thieves, a grubby sort of gallows. People go into stocking shops to buy silk stockings, but they don’t feel for a moment that stockings are a unification of elemental eroticism and abstract metaphor, biological arching (the foot!) and a mathematical form (squares of a net!), which is to say, two of life’s greatest secrets: stupefaction in love and raving-mad mathesis, which both blindly steer clear of God. People also read election placards, cast their votes as well, but they don’t for a moment feel how grotesque a game all politics is from the perspective of death, what an unbridgeable gap there is between a private individual’s private life (his love, his sleep, his illness, his dress, his petty passions) and the apparatus of law, collective arrangements. An artist differs from the man in the street only insofar as the ordinary citizen does not take God, stockings, or an election for what they are — whereas an artist simply takes God for really being God, a stocking for really being a stocking. On the other hand, the idea that artistic perception is plain perception as compared with an ordinary bloke’s complete insensitivity is a myth: a God myth, a stocking myth, or a political myth. That’s life: either naught or a myth.
(HYMN TO DESTINY.) Why did you give me a mother? So that when she gave birth she should moan, see on her bed blood which will turn green in its decay, and swim on it like a piece of wreckage cast from a sunken ship to the surface? So that she should first tweak and pinch her breasts with wires, rings, and pincers in order to make the milk flow better, which hurts more than the Amazons having their right breast cut off or burned out. For me then to bite and suck them, like the asp bit Cleopatra, like a grunting, red-haired bloodsucker? And only if the gentle velvet of reason finally appeases the animal roving of my eyes, for me then to leave her: her lap still as warm as a baker’s deep cellar ovens, but then I light a candle for a never wanted consummation — in her hands the mimicry of striking still trembles like a nervous butterfly on an ageing tree branch, but I only exercise a bad form of kisses on awkwardly blind nymphs. From one betrayal to another: on the evening of my consummation, my mother stays up, gazing at the Moon like at the jeering crown of falsehood, death’s discarded mask wired to the sky, every madonna’s ignominious ‘I.N.R.I.’ — she thinks I have left her, though I am crying out for Mother amid the slowly bubbling, smoky, bed-begriming torches of the consummation, and the sobbing, ignorant nymph I leave intact. Naked, she holds out towards me through her tears and black hair only an alarmingly newly wrought ring. To deceive both: was that why you gave them, withered, marble-faced destiny?
And the father, why? So that when he sees his son being nudged by the fiery uncertainties of thought into perhaps untruthful creeks, his soul is enticed like a sea-serpent-green Laocoön of sentiment to sickbeds and blasphemous tragedies, thereby offering his young life as a mad bride affianced to Nothingness: then to have you, a still young man, jostled away from your work by stout despots of dissolute forums only to be sent flying over the threshold like a bad servant? There you stand, at a premature end to your work, looking with loud moans or in quiet pain at the torso: like at a statue of sad, snow-covered Hermes in the garden that a nighttime storm blew over into the mud. And now that fattened servants of the state have taken the kiss-caressed tablets of work out of your hands you would like your son to sweep with pride toward new Icarus trajectories: but he, racing from bad lovers towards bad gods, is pining in his dreams, awaiting the vengeance of consorts and contagions. O, why do we not go together: you, Father, the end without an end, and I, the beginning without a beginning? Why do we not go into the poison-leafed Delphic gloom in order to bathe our cheated martyr’s heads in the billows of Nonsense, the foolish opium of Lethe — or if you don’t want that — then let us shatter, rebellious and young, the posturing theater gods and the moronic state? If it did not take care of us, take care of its best!
For what reason, O Fate, did you give the blond child to the father’s son: his hummingbird screeches of joy, in his father’s eyes similar to a lizard gliding in the sun, Ophelia wreath of love in his blond head, the little railed bed, and sometimes a precocious hard-stoned woe in the throat when dogs or heavy-handed maids chased in a dream — why did you give a child to the anchorless father? So that cheap troubadours or sleepwalking merchants should take him away, so that he should see his young father’s legs collapse like a castle of cards swept by a draught from shutting the door? See a lover killing a lover out of love, and the one who brings toys, a flashy doll, and a rattling-shelled sweet, his pale hand — like a nightmare — flourished in and piercing the mystic boundary between two beds, as he points at the desperate signs of love and betrayal? Is that what the child is needed for?
Why the need for a moral madonna, a poetic lover, and a mechanical hetæra — great tax collectors in the night dedicated to the End: I toss the sepulchral farthing of loyalty onto the marriage bed, the believed metaphors of falsehood into the lover’s humble basket, the immature wine of unwanted desire into the hetæra’s peasant Danaë glass? Why don’t you leave me, or if you have had me taxed to death, why don’t you leave each other? Why does the holy lover involuntarily pursue the other holy madonna, and why does the seagull-plucky pace of two holinesses become a vulgar sin: blood on the steps, curses and woe-is-me’s on bitterly regretful lips?
And you, distant strumpet, crouching diligent as a gnome, now you have transmitted your body’s poison into me, why do you want, O Destiny, that I should decorate virginal bloods with the crippling enigmas of death? What is destiny if it is not the mysteriously close impossibility of the mysteriously close possibility: the frost on the cheeks of an almost-ripe fruit, the shallows before the prow of a ship plowing into harbor, the sightlessness overwhelming one on the last page of a book. That is what I feel, even despondent as I am: in my mother’s eyes, fluttering like wild flowers and the gold-glittering zigzagging bees above them, is joy; so justified, so ready, so simple is that joy, yet, all the same, her time has not come — my father and I burst in, and the deaf forum and even deafer strumpets do not want it. The spouse also stands there in welcome on the church’s sunlit, stepped terrace — but the accursed nymph is standing there already in the dumb rabidity of solitude to throw her black net on him.
Nothing good will come of it; here no one wants any good — the children cover their mother, lovers cover lovers in the beggars’ rags of affliction: everyone’s all holy, all goodness, joy, and virtue covering the sky as creepers, and nevertheless together they weave the Parca frieze garments of songless, hideous extinction. Daemon, daemon.
Miklos Szentkuthy, Towards the One and Only Metaphor, tr. by Tim Wilkinson (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2013).
Miklós Szentkuthy: Towards the One and Only Metaphor
Translated by Tim Wilkinson
New York: Contra Mundum, 2013
Translated by: Tim Wilkinson
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