08. 13. 2007. 11:20

To die in a caul

Péter Farkas: Eight Minutes

Péter Farkas has made a significant step towards something that we lack. He has found a perspective from which decomposition, decay or even fatigued desires can be described without giving the impression of voyeurism.

This extraordinarily delicate, tactful and tender short novel is about two elderly people wiling away the last days of their lives, two people who obviously spent their lives doing something, but at the moment when the novel takes place their past does not really matter any more. They have already plunged into an animalistic existence that forms a kind of protective membrane around them – one could say they are preparing to die in a caul. As a matter of fact, they do not seem to be preparing for death, but rather enjoying whatever is left for them to enjoy, from the coolness of the evening air on the balcony to the exquisite pleasure of plum jam. The more rational of the two – the old man – takes a few precautions, such as leaving the door unlocked so that people will not have to break it down to enter the apartment should the bell toll for them, but in general they do not seem to be preparing for anything tragic or terrible.
 
Péter Farkas is a Hungarian writer living in Cologne, author of a prose volume entitled Háló (Net, 1996) and a hypertext essay-novel Gólem, parts of which were also published in book format in 2004. His new book is a fragile little novel of a mere hundred and ten pages about two people who love each other very much, an old man and an old woman living their everyday lives. They are both victims of their own bodies, ”blind nuts locked in a nutshell” (Babits), yet they are not really blind after all. The man leads their duet, while the woman enjoys it passively.
 
At times, the man notices that the woman's condition has deteriorated and is filled with horror at the sight, yet this leaves his love for her unshaken. They are unable to look at each other in a way that would wear at their relationship. Sometimes others enter the picture, but they are seen by the two old people as insignificant shadows. Not that those taking care of them – it is often vague whether these people are relatives or hired nurses – would do or mean them any harm, but their closely intertwined duet needs no others' care. Or rather, they must rely on others to clean their apartment and do the shopping, and perhaps later they will need catheterization or bronchial care, but only they themselves can take care of each other's soul.
 
Péter Farkas has made a significant step towards something that we lack, a step towards a language that describes the most intimate processes of our body, that exploits the hidden potential in our language for expressing bodily existence without being awkward, obscene or scientific. This short novel casts corporeality in words with perfect ease and calm, without being crass or recherché. The author has found a perspective from which decomposition, decay or even fatigued desires can be described without giving the impression of voyeurism.
 
Tiny, precise descriptions, delicate moves, sympathy and caring encompassed in a very simple structure. Perhaps the following paragraph, describing increasing difficulty the old man has reading, explains this structural choice. ”At a certain point he noticed that as soon as he opened a book and started deciphering it, his head became terribly heavy, as if all the lead in the ancient letters was stuck in his neck. A thick, lethargic indifference settled on his brain, and often he went through lines, pages and whole chapters without the meaning of a single sign breaking through this layer. More and more distressed, he started to surround himself with a large pile of books. Often, he read half a dozen books at the same time, but put all of them aside after leafing through a few pages. All of a sudden, he no longer understood what these verbose, cooked-up stories wanted from him.”
 
It would be hard not to understand this novelette. It provides us with a subtle but not at all mannered account of the final chapter of life – a stage towards the end of which laughter grows fainter, and eventually dies away.
          
  
Farkas Péter: Nyolc perc
Budapest: Magvető, 2007
 

Judit Ambrus

Tags: Péter Farkas