András Pályi: Out of Oneself
According to Péter Nádas, Pályi is the mystic of the body. He writes about the body’s experience in the broadest sense, from the infernal depths to the ecstatic heights – whether it is the tragic passion of a small-town priest (resulting in suicide) in the 19th century (Over), or an equally tragic, short, but all the more intense contemporary story taking place during a recent film shooting (At the End of the World).
Ármin Havas, who, according to the fiction, is already dead, relates a story about the age-old dilemmas concerning the body, where everything “happens to the body; yet, the force derives from the soul”, where the “temple” of the woman’s “body is the place where beauty finds its home in this world”. The substantial experience of worldly beauty – which may be related to (but never identified with) the beauty of the “temple of the body” in the evangelical sense – necessarily leads to tragedy, the tragedy of the body and the soul, which is inseparable from it. It is the tragedy of man possessing and yearning for finite beauty. Pályi sustains the tension of the necessary and beautiful tragedy as long as possible, in such a way that we may only suspect the fatal conclusion (even when a dead man is talking to us). Suspicion will, of course, gradually become knowledge as the reader passionately adapts to the narration’s troubled rhythm. For Pályi, the word is always emphatically about the body, about the prospects and boundaries of bodily existence, about airiness and stuffiness, about the body as temple and as prison, yet not in a predictable way. The author does not chase the characters towards their fates, merely follows them. That is, he gives them the word. He makes their bodies (and souls) speak, insofar as he lends the language of literature to the language of the body.
While the couple in At the End of the World – Ildi Schon, the actress, and Laci Varga, the occasional scriptwriter – do not sin in the way the priest making love to the actress does; still, their relationship leads to the same bottomless abyss. Ármin Havas breaks his professed oath, whereas Ildi Schon and Laci Varga give up everything in the name of love – all things that are necessary for maintaining an everyday life, such as relationships, career, family, everything. The man manages to start back from the edge of the precipice in time, which drives the woman into suicide. The actress's body and the soul were forced onto a dangerous path, even in her childhood, by a stepfather who regularly, though not in the most extreme sense, harassed her. This unusual (since it is based on a childhood sexual trauma) transfiguration undermines their relationship from the beginning. The sight of Laci Varga crying over the grave of his one-time lover is moving, although through Pályi’s narrative art, he sees himself from the outside (similar to the way the already-dead narrator of the other story sees himself). “Even now he saw himself from the outside. This scene is terribly sentimental and romantic. But at least it is not false.” It is artificial, but not false, like all great literature – like Pályi’s prose.
Good prose always keeps the distance, even if it gets too close to some unutterable, yet actually destructive knowledge. Let us consider, for example, the following conversation by the couple who are already in the whirlpool of destructive passion. “All fates are but armours! Like the chitin shell on insects.” To this, the man replies, “OK, you’re right. I wanted to lose my armour. I wanted a sweet lover who embraces my bare existence. Is it good in this way?” The woman laughs, “No, it’s not good.” “Why not?” “If you are playing that you are not playing, you are playing all the same.” Pályi’s heroes live up to the moment they play. Pályi, in turn, can follow his heroes, even when they no longer play, because he plays. He plays the language-game of prose on a high level, even when it is not about playful matters at all, and even if the reader often feels that the author is far from playing. Yet, it is, in fact, risking his own life, together with the lives of his heroes, and encouraging the reader to do the same. However, this is part of the game. Things that seem to be outside the game fortunately turn out to be part of it. This is how significant literature works.
“Just watch how enjoyment permeates your body, and the void still remains. You can’t do anything about it. You have no choice once you have tasted it,” Ildi Schon says to her lover, during one of the barely-survivable climaxes of bodily ecstasy. Pályi’s heroes cross over to the other side of the complete bodily experience. They cross the void as well, which destroys them. They cannot bear the difficult knowledge of the sometimes temple-like, sometimes prison-like bodily existence. In Pályi’s masterful narration, their stories remain void of solution.
Translated by Miklós Péti
András Pályi: Out of Oneself. Two Novellas. (Beyond, At the End of the World) Translated by Imre Goldstein