05. 20. 2015. 12:40

The work of destruction

Krasznahorkai's Booker Prize

He is among our most Hungarian and most universal writers at the same time: he made the Great Hungarian Plain a metaphor of the world, in order to demonstrate that the whole Creation resides behind God's back now―where it has possibly been from the very start.

Ádám Bodor, Péter Esterházy, Imre Kertész, László Krasznahorkai, Péter Nádas, György Spiró, Sándor Tar. The two great generations of Hungarian literature were granted a new, well-deserved award last night when, somewhat more than a decade after Kertész’s Nobel Prize, one of the most prestigious international literary awards, the Man Booker International Prize was given to László Krasznahorkai.

Those who are familiar with the famous Krasznahorkai sentence, which opened up new possibilities for Hungarian literary language, will never forget the world of Satantango and The Melancholy of Resistance. The rhythm dictated by these sentences is that of unchanging, perennial, and unceasing hopelessness, from which perhaps neither death nor anything else will ever redeem us.

These sentences speak up from a place where it is only the ultimate lack of perspective that overcomes the shapeless anxiety seeping in from everywhere, and where any movement is only a pathetic and painful illusion. The scene is the stylized, yawning landscapes of the southern part of the Great Hungarian Plain, literally behind God’s back. This empty metaphor, being 'behind God’s back,' is revitalized and given a historico-philosophical meaning by Krasznahorkai’s prose in its deepest moments. These are places where a feeling of being irrevocably unredeemed dominates.

In this vision―which, as Krasznahorkai’s later books have shown, is not foreign to that of Prince Siddhartha aka the Buddha―all our (mostly unwitting) efforts are directed at assisting in the completion of the task of destruction, which is, as it were, the mute command of nature. As Krasznahorkai said in an interview a few days ago: "Man belongs to the satanic side of the 'Unnameable,' in other words, he is dominated by satanic forces, and therefore he corrupts everything around himself if only he has enough time to accomplish what he was destined for."

And he certainly seems to have enough time. "[Time] rolls on, but it doesn’t pass."

The implacable radicalism of his anthropology, the inexorable darkness of it, has a lot in common with that of Imre Kertész, Ádám Bodor and Péter Nádas―the great generation―and virtually nothing in common with their literary predecessors. He is among our most Hungarian and most universal writers at the same time: he made Békés county, the southern part of the Great Hungarian Plain, a metaphor of the world to demonstrate that the whole Creation resides behind God's back now―where it has possibly been from the very start. And there are images to go along with the sentences as Krasznahorkai has been lucky to have a like-minded film director by his side who is also a genius―Béla Tarr.

The oeuvre of Krasznahorkai and Tarr was already an international phenomenon long before this prize, valued and admired by the likes of Susan Sontag and W.G. Sebald.

We are living in the end of a golden age of Hungarian literature, and the beginning of a silver age. And the amazing performance of this 'small' language seems to be known and recognized by many beyond our borders.

And although the Master is probably right in his assessment of the world, yet the weight of Krasznahorkai's sentences will make things somewhat easier here for some time. So, in spite of all, let us rejoice.

This article was originally published in Hungarian at nol.hu. Photo by Dániel Deme.

György Vári

Tags: László Krasznahorkai