12. 16. 2013. 12:45

To humanize and dehumanize

Imitation, true contrasts, and the Faustian pact

“Towards the One & Only Metaphor” begins with Szentkuthy stating that he can take nothing else as his introductory precept or desire but “the aim of wild, absolute imitation.” What, then, we are compelled to ask, is being imitated?

When Miklós Szentkuthy published Prae in 1934 at the sprightly age of 26, the novel was deemed to be the work of a monster.(1) To defend against this charge, and being perceived as a “book-bug homunculus”(2) who lived on science, philosophy, and mathematics alone, Szentkuthy wrote, or culled and transformed from his diary, material that would make up his second book, Az egyetlen metafora felé (Towards the One & Only Metaphor), to reveal, or confess, that he did in fact bleed, that he was not made strictly of pure pulp, or formulae, abstractions, and equations, that he was just as teeming with erotic longings as a satyr in a circle of maenads. Despite his efforts, some critics, such as Gábor Halász, saw in Towards the One & Only Metaphor only a chaos of orality devoid of any organizing principle. To him, Metaphor was nothing but pure excitability, tension, flair, nerve, intellectual paroxysm; not a unified work, only the precursor to a work; all that “is left is this prae,” Halász concluded his review, pointing back, acidly, to Szentkuthy’s audacious first novel, and then remarking, dismissively, that Szentkuthy had still not learned how to write but was simply casting “raw material” at his readers.(3) What then has compelled Éditions José Corti, my own press, and perhaps soon, Aylak Adam, who will be introducing Szentkuthy into Turkish, to each publish translations of Towards the One & Only Metaphor?(4) Is there validity in Halász’s charge? Or is there an organizing principle to Szentkuthy’s text? How are we to read his fragmentary work, which many seem to find baffling, if not even unbearable? What does the title tell us of Szentkuthy’s method, or the character of the book, and what to him is metaphor? What keys are offered in the book to elucidate those things? Does he achieve his goal of humanizing himself, as he claims he sought to do, or does he remain a monster and book-bug homunculus?

Towards the One & Only Metaphor begins with Szentkuthy stating that he can take nothing else as his introductory precept or desire but “the aim of wild, absolute imitation.” This “mania” from which he says he cannot free himself is also referred to as “a primeval desire,” indicating that imitation originates in our ancient past, that it is something inherently human or primordial. What, then, we are compelled to ask, is being imitated? Equally so, since some form of imitation is advanced in the opening section of the book, and is one of its principle elements, what does Szentkuthy mean by imitation, and what is he imitating? In the very next section, he specifies that imitation is one of three if not possibly all three of the following things: 1) a means for staving off death (immortalization); 2) a fondness for bibeloterie (collecting); or 3) a desire for universal knowledge, which he deems a Faustian gesture, implying that the venture entails grave risks, that the acquisition of such knowledge is sacrificial, a bargaining with one’s very soul. Although a highly unorthodox if not iconoclastic Catholic, the Faustian gesture must remain a genuine threat for Szentkuthy. One can think here too of the second Delphic Imperative, “μηδεν αγαν!” (“Nothing in excess!”), which prohibits, or rather, warns against, the contravening of boundaries; it is a cautionary imperative against such hubristic ‘Faustian’ gestures. Echoing the ne quid nimis of Pittacus of Mytilene, both Horace and Ovid respectively warn: aurea mediocritas and medio tutissimus ibis, as does Terence, the Roman comedian, who issues a variation on this warning: “Do not pursue an object too far, too eagerly.” Full of daring, Szentkuthy takes the risk, if not actually combining the Delphic imperatives in a rather Puckish way: Know thyself (and the world) in excess! Does humor perhaps save Szentkuthy from risk? Is the Catalogus Rerum one of his ‘frivolities’? Has he truly endangered his soul? Let each reader determine.

Another fundamental element of the book is the fusion of subjective and objective perspectives, or the equal cancellation of each by the other, a ruthless dialectic of humanization and dehumanization. Szentkuthy speaks of a blade of grass, describing it as either “the graceful seal of the ephemerality of a selfish moment,” something subjective, or “a secret of Nature that is to be discovered” (§2), something objective. In this, we see how a natural object serves to mark a personal experience (the suspension of death through a material object becoming a record of something ephemeral, even though that very object is something that can decay); or, a means for the discovery of knowledge, forbidden or not, which is to be recorded in the book itself, if not the greater Catalogus Rerum of Szentkuthy’s entire oeuvre, which would include not only his published works, but his vast, immeasurable diary, as well as his personal library, which are intimately interwoven with his published works.(5) This legendary tome, rumored to be possibly over 200,000 pages in length, surely has no equal, certainly not in terms of its length, for it dwarfs the voluminous diaries of Anaïs Nin, certainly the diary of Musil, the journals of Gide, and even the multi-volume memoirs of Casanova upon which Szentkuthy based Marginalia on Casanova, the first volume of his St. Orpheus Breviary. In fact, amongst Szentkuthy’s papers, at least four complete unpublished novels have already been discovered; what else awaits the intrepid researcher will only be revealed over the next several decades, if not beyond. How and in what way this diary is possibly part of the Catalogus Rerum can only be determined later. If however it is Szentkuthy’s real work, as he himself declared numerous times toward the end of his life,(6) we can reasonably assume that it is probably related to his overarching Catalogus Rerum, or is its own such ‘index of entities,’ for each book may be its own separate Catalogus Rerum. Whatever the case, this act of creating a Catalogus Rerum is Szentkuthy’s vocation, “a tedium of mythical completeness,” as he himself names it, when explaining that the “most mysterious, most powerful companion” of his “life is boredom” (§22), a Stimmung he figures positively. The absurdity of the Catalogus Rerum, similar in kind (as it is) to the totalizing projects of the Encyclopaedists, if not the arch aim of the Enlightenment epoch — das absolute Wissen — is clearly recognizable to Szentkuthy. András Nagy questions that similarity and argues that Szentkuthy’s Catalogus Rerum is “modeled more on medieval monks and on patristic and scholastic thinkers … than on the encyclopaedia-champions of the Enlightenment...”(7) When disputing the comparisons of Prae to Ulysses and À la recherche du temps perdu, Ferenc Takács argues that a “more accurate description of [Prae’s] fictional mode could be Northrop Frye’s ‘anatomy’ or ‘Menippean satire’: the basic concern of the book is intellectual, its pervading mood is that of the comedy of ideas; ultimately, Prae is a huge mock-encyclopaedia of whatever we know (or its author knows) about mind and matter, history and self, language and reality, fact and fiction, man and woman.”(8) While Takács’s analysis specifically concerns Prae, as a mock-encyclopaedia, it is or can possibly be thought of as Szentkuthy’s very first Catalogus Rerum, a kind of anatomy as Takács notes, similar in kind to those of “Lucian, Rabelais, and, more particularly, Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy,” all of which he says can “provide a loose generic framework”(9) for how to think Prae, if not all of Szentkuthy’s texts. However one might assess the project of the Catalogus Rerum, it gives rise to laughter, even in Szentkuthy himself. Nevertheless, and at the same time, it was to him “a truly noble, Faustian goal” in which he sought to summarize “the untold thousands of phenomena in the world,” a grandiose if not quixotic goal of creating “a listing of entities and phenomena, a Catalogue of everything in the Entire World.”(10) This included cataloguing “all of nature’s accessible phenomena, all the heavens and hells of love, the whole world of history, and finally a universal review of mythologies (the universal show), all the way to Christian mythology.”(11) If the Catalogus Rerum is in fact an encyclopaedic project, what differentiates Szentkuthy from Diderot et alia is that he did not engage in a Promethean attempt to harness and dominate nature; what further differentiates him is his very jocularity, as well as his recognition that, as diligently as he pursued it, he knew that the Faustian target could never be reached but then, are we sure we know how close he came, or not, to realizing it? And did he think it could never be reached, or was that false modesty, the public mask of a jester who was truly hell-bent on reaching his target? Let us recall that, just like Casanova, Szentkuthy is the descendent of actors, and could very well say of himself, as does the narrator of Marginalia on Casanova, that “the most primal principle of life is theatrical ... Not lies, just masks, mimics. … Reality and theatre: unambiguous.” This passage closes with the proclamation that there is an “alpha and omega without which there is nothing: actor, actor, actor” (§1). More, if, as Szentkuthy himself admits in Frivolities & Confessions, his aim was to become the Dante of the 20th century,  his pursuit cannot be anything but a Faustian bargain, one about which he was dead serious.

In the final section of Towards the One & Only Metaphor, there is a fusion of the objective and the subjective, or the external and the internal, with each respectively even erasing or subsuming the other, though perhaps this gesture is most accurately thought of as an Aufhebung. First, the ‘erasure’ or Aufhebung of the external: “Towards the one and only metaphor?” Szentkuthy asks. “I wonder if my own fate will not be precisely the opposite: out of a million metaphors towards the one and only — person?” And, as asserted in §102, the ‘erasure’ or Aufhebung of the internal:

Forget the mirror image, face, memories, man, parents, and forcibly be drilled into the absolute foreignness of something — not ‘towards the one and only metaphor,’ or in other words, [don’t] get entangled in the excruciating monogram of the individual lyric, but out, out of the world of metaphors, impressions, fate, the world of life, into a radical, eternally heretical not-I. … Suicidal molting — that is the only medicine.

Here we have a radical ‘dehumanization,’ a movement away from subjectivity and anthropomorphism toward the ‘sub specie whatsit’ perspective, as Szentkuthy puts it in Metaphor. This is stringently put, too, with Szentkuthy stating, unequivocally, that “suicidal molting” is the only medicine. Dr. Feelgood he is not. But then, there is not enough suicidal molting in this Narcissus-ruled age, and perhaps it’s the precise antidote we need, one that will help dissipate the self-obsession of the social media generation and its frenzied delirium. Whatever your poison-cure, besides striving towards metaphors and people, the other “one & only” things toward which Szentkuthy strives include: a human face (+ other objects) as the face of the self & the soul; God; the done deed (ethics); spirituality (the one way — for Szentkuthy — toward God); death; embracing God; the love partner; feeling; the synthetic scheme of one’s inner constitution; & finally, as just described, the metaphor as not-I, or radical dehumanization.

Whereas the book began with the subjective & moved toward the objective, this movement is reversed in the final section, thereby uniting the two parts, creating an ever-moving circle, a cyclical versus linear form of temporality. In advancing this notion of time, Szentkuthy compels us to read the fragmentary (supposedly disparate, as some critics claim) nature of the book, in what was then an entirely novel way since it is informed by revolutionary notions of space and time that burgeoned in the early 20th century, both in physics & philosophy, and which Szentkuthy was not only keenly aware of, but which he studied in depth.(12) Ergo, one must distinguish Towards the One & Only Metaphor from all fragmentary books that predate it (i.e., Joubert, Lichtenberg, Novalis, et cetera). What is fundamental here is how space-time concepts relate to narration, concepts which prompted Szentkuthy to reconceive narrative structure itself, to forge a narrative temporality as akin to reality itself as possible, or then current understandings of it. Zéno Bianu recognizes a similar aim in the St. Orpheus Breviary, stating that in his epic synthesis of 2,000 years of European history, Szentkuthy breaks “time until it stills the whirlwind of history into one continuous present.” In turning briefly to a passage from Prae, we can gain further insight into how Szentkuthy conceives of structure, which can inform our approach to Metaphor, if not other books of his. Fragmentation, and how it informs the structure of an artwork, which is not only a girder to Szentkuthy, but an actual character too, is explicitly outlined in the opening of Prae:

A so-called artistic structure is not the skeleton, a coherent system of girders, of a novel, but an independent character, as if one of the active roles of Romeo & Juliet were to turn into the plot line of the same tragedy. The composition thereby becomes unending, it proliferates forever, constantly changing shape, incorporating everything, but at any moment it might also lose everything, but this structure elevated into a separate character will float as a cork ornament above the eternal foam of this continuum of elaborations.(13)

As Szentkuthy notes in the same part of Prae, this is a technique that painting has been using for some time, and one that he clearly adopts as his perhaps principal technique, or certainly one of them. The unending, shape-shifting, mosaic form of a text is undoubtedly akin to the cut-up technique practiced by William S. Burroughs, who also made similar statements about structure and, just as Szentkuthy, often stated that literature is fifty years behind painting. How Szentkuthy and Burroughs each employ these techniques is entirely different, as are their styles, and work in general; no exact analogy is meant, but Szentkuthy prefigures Burroughs in these observations and techniques by nearly thirty years, definitively demonstrating that Burroughs (and Gysin) cannot continue to be upheld as their originator.(14) If Szentkuthy himself discounted inventing such techniques himself, citing as he does their earlier use in the visual arts (specifically Dürer), his own use of them is certainly particular, quite specifically related to space-time concepts published just prior to the publication of his own book.(15) Metaphor is informed by such techniques, including the very collapsing of time, whereby the past, present, and future all coexist in a radical simultaneity, and can be characterized as a text that constantly changes shape, incorporates everything (the Catalogus Rerum), might also lose everything, yet which also floats above its elaborations through its sub specie aeternitatis perspective.

When analyzing two different types of female gestures, Szentkuthy describes a woman’s shoulder blade as a “broad and wavy planar sensory area” (§9), which he compares to a curved Minkowski erotic space or plane, thereby seeing a human body as representative or metaphoric of the geometry of physics, fusing the internal & the external, the microcosm of the human & the macrocosm of the cosmos. This is Szentkuthy’s Paracelsian pursuit, one he specifically outlines in Frivolities & Confessions:

Just as Paracelsus brought the human body, the stars, and minerals to a common denominator, or the way modern physics has a tendency to crop up every now & again, bringing to a common denominator all the material phenomena of the world (material is actually a property of energy, energy is actually a property of space. . .), so I wished to offer some kind of summing-up of art, theology, love, life, death, [et cetera] … (325)

Szentkuthy refers to these as “true contrasts,” which are perhaps akin to what Joyce calls the “equals of opposites … polarized for reunion by the symphysis of the antipathies”;(16) with them, Szentkuthy seeks the common denominator that can link one’s organs, a chemical substance, & the most distant nebulae, just as he links the beginning & end of his book, which, surely deliberately, are also linked to its very center. In seeking these contrasts, Szentkuthy outlines and enumerates, if not enacts, the deeply interwoven nature of the cosmos, that we are just as much nebula as nebulae are just as much human, which is not to anthropomorphize reality but to recognize the inextricably infinite web in which everything in and of the multiverse is threaded. Consider Whitehead’s belief that independent existence is a misconception: “There is no such mode of existence; every entity is to be understood in terms of the way it is interwoven with the rest of the universe.”(17) Blake’s maxim that infinity can be found in a grain of sand is also germane, and this alchemical or visionary principle is one of the many elements that informs Szentkuthy’s ethos. He does not however permit himself to remain naively prey to his alien and illogical powers but contrasts them with rigorous scientific and philosophic investigations, coupling in a dynamic and scintillating fusion what Schiller called the naïve and sentimental modes of art.

To return to the linked beginning, end, and center of Towards the One & Only Metaphor, consider a brief passage from §56, the central section of the book (it is comprised of 112 sections), where Szentkuthy elaborates on the separation of elements, which however coexist in an eerily faltering balance, making the notion of an Aufhebung quite accurate. There is no total erasure but a subsumption and suspension, what I would call intimate estrangement, like two wrestlers engaged in an agonistic entanglement:

In fact, the clarified essence of every crisis is the separation of certain elements, the direct observability of those clearly outlined elements, and a certain balance, which one knows will tip into one-sidedness, an absolute asymmetry. … [I]n my individual moral and biological life, the gang of the poor and the gang of the rich stand in critical separation and also, through the glaring contrast, in critical proximity.

Those elements are all viewed from the perspective of eternity, from a distant realm, a distance that enables Szentkuthy to sustain the most ethical, or perhaps just, viewpoint, because it is an essentially neutral viewpoint, removed from any particular political, religious, or social position, if not from any anthropomorphism. This section also concerns the ethics of the sub specie aeternitatis perspective, as well as formal & biological matter. It is the realm of the “radical, eternally heretical not-I,” the dehumanized realm, a space of a forever oscillating Aufhebung of the internal and the external, the apotheosis one might say of reality itself. Towards the One & Only Metaphor, and thereby Szentkuthy’s entire oeuvre, is then a Catalogus Rerum of everything from books to spirituality, home (& homelessness), love, eros, art, philosophy, death, & more, an ontology or study of existence itself, though not a systematic or abstract one but a highly sensual, perceptive, sensitized study as vivid and precise as an x-ray, microscopic slide, or satellite picture of a nebula. Even Szentkuthy’s personal library figured as part of this Catalogus Rerum, for anyone who encounters it instantly recognizes that he was not a precious collector but one who mined & devoured every book he owned, even expensive art books, precisely marking and dating them, filling each with copious marginalia, all of which would feed into his grand project of the Catalogus Rerum, with him even rereading and marking up countless books just minutes before his death as if there was one last secret he could discern and record before finally drifting into oblivion. In this is condensed the three primary modes of imitation: immortalization, bibeloterie, & the desire for universal knowledge, edging us back, again & again, to Faust. . .

In another key section of Metaphor, Szentkuthy differentiates between two forms of experimentation, figured as a Haydn-sonata and a cactus, the first being a metaphor for “the classical-rational structure of a ‘work’,” the second being a metaphor for “biological forms” (§43). The first is “strictly rational, self-analytical, and overscrupulous, simply a pathology of consciousness,” while the second is = to “the perennial experimentation of nature: after all,” Szentkuthy proclaims,

the fact of evolution is in itself a constant experiment. Biology is so explicitly an experimental domain that no distinction is made between a ‘final result’ and an ‘undecided, exploratory trial’: … if Prae and other works I have planned are ‘experimental,’ then they are so in a specific biological sense: not an apprehensive, exaggerated self-consciousness, but experiments of primal vitality, which are in a specific biological relationship with form.

In Prae, Szentkuthy uses the exact same image of the cactus to express the essence of a lily’s beauty, which he relates to the newly discovered possibility of an editing style that includes “humorous distortion” & “frivolous decorativeness.” Here, a grotesque cactus, something organic, is referred to as a game, & a hat ornament (manufactured material), something inorganic, is metaphoric of what is modish: together, the two “would make artistic & jurisprudential order.” The organic & the manufactured, game & modishness, as primary modes of composition, elements which are imitations of reality; these modes of composition can be further elucidated by considering other passages from Metaphor, which include Szentkuthy’s reflections on different forms of artistic expression. To Szentkuthy, “total impression hedonism” is fruitless, perhaps because it is too anthropomorphic, not dehumanized enough. Against such humanism, he pits “impressionistic nihilism” and “mathematics,” fusing them together in “the form of clumsy vignettes,” or playing them as true contrasts against one another as literature in order to “raise the impression of a game” (§103), or the play of biology, nature’s undecided, exploratory trials. The radical dance is at hand. What Szentkuthy seeks to do here is “to give symbolic-absolute expression to an ascetic denial of impression & a mathematical denial of impression” (§104). In this, we have what he describes elsewhere as “the marriage & battle of biology & art, of abstract construction & vital ‘amorphism’ ” (§45) — the cactus versus the cerebrum, sensation & thought, the ever-vibrating tense dialectic of humanization & dehumanization. The agonal-erotic tango of two wrestlers, or two membranes giving birth to the cosmos. Reality as the sportarielek which Szentkuthy seeks to capture in the spinning glass of his many-eyed kaleidoscope, viewing the cosmos as if from outside, or the most external perspective possible. To play among leaves is to seek a secret of the universe.

To return to the opening question of imitation, what ultimately is it that is being imitated? In §65, Szentkuthy offers this insight: in creating physical objects in external space, architecture, painting, and even music are precise imitations of “the psychological & biological rhythms of our murkiest innards”; in fact, they “coax, correspond to, & seek out” those rhythms, are made of the “evanescent, capricious associations, memories, forever unfinished anarchy” of “the reader’s soul.” In this, art works create “precisely something ‘objective,’ independent of us, absolutely dehumanized. The statue & the pyramid: structures of our innermost physiology.” A complex dialectic where an erasure, or even a ‘suicide,’ results in the paradoxical establishment of a complex, eternal structure that is both the eradication of the human and its concretization, or the concretization of specific elements, all of which are meant to bring us as close to reality as possible, all of which are forms of immortalization. Art, illness, & eros are each “equally in search of plasticity, which is nothing other than forcing onto & into the outside world the hunches about form suggested by our general condition, our inner organs, our blood, skin tension, the slackness of our guts, et cetera.” What does form tell us of ourselves, of the composition of the world, of reality itself? These are some of the questions pursued in the Catalogus Rerum, questions left for each of us to pursue, questions which were cacti and sonatas that Szentkuthy wrestled over his entire life, questions which will remain ever pertinent to us, as they will to each succeeding generation that wrestles with his texts.

Although Szentkuthy’s oeuvre did not receive sufficient critical attention during its time, nor still to date, two years subsequent to his death, one book of his has been translated nearly every year, indicating that, outside of Hungary, his work has been gaining more and more prominence and that there is a consistent and sustained interest in translating it. Equally so, this distinction is evident from his recent critically acclaimed English-language reception, though certain more prominent sources remain woefully silent before the introduction of Szentkuthy to the Anglophone public.(18) To consider the magnitude of it, imagine if Melville or Joyce were not at all known and introduced only now. Although the Hungarian press and literary establishment has also neglected to sufficiently address the significance of Szentkuthy’s work, and despite the fact that it has not devoted adequate attention to the opening of his diary, it is a truly momentous if not historic occasion, one which should hasten a vigorous engagement with Szentkuthy’s work as its international reception forces us to reconsider the genealogy of Weltliteratur and Szentkuthy’s substantial, prodigious, and novel contribution to it. Moreover, this continuing reception of Szentkuthy in Europe and the Americas should also instigate a reassessment of the genealogy of Modernist Hungarian literature by Hungarian critics since Szentkuthy still remains something of an obscurity within his own country. Since his work predates that of the new, late-Cold War generation (i.e., Nádas, Esterházy, Kertész, Krasznahorkai), who didn’t begin publishing until the end of the 70s and early 80s,(19) long after Szentkuthy had produced all of his major works and established himself as Hungary’s foremost Modernist, it is only through wrestling with Szentkuthy’s work that we can understand the lineage out of which Nádas et alia come; it is only then that we can make an accurate appraisal of each writer’s work.(20)

To entertain such a mythos, Szentkuthy may very well have given his soul to fulfill the Faustian pact...


(1) This essay is an expanded version of a talk I presented on November 27, 2013 in Budapest at the Petőfi Literary Museum in honor of Szentkuthy’s entry into the Digitális Irodalmi Akadémia, which is in the midst of digitizing Szentkuthy’s entire oeuvre. On this occasion, László Kreutz presented a composition he wrote and performed based on Szentkuthy’s Marginalia on Casanova. Of special note: Szentkuthy’s election into DIA was the first time in its history that the vote for an author was unanimous. See the DIA section on Szentkuthy. N.B. I have adopted for this essay a few brief excerpts from my introduction to Towards the One & Only Metaphor (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2013) o-xxxiv.

(2) Frivolitások és hitvallások (Budapest: Magvető, 1988) ch. XIII. Tr. by Tim Wilkinson. All further translations from the Hungarian made by Wilkinson will be marked [TW].

(3) “On Az egyetlen metafora felé,” Napkelet, No. 12 (1935). [TW]

(4) Éditions José Corti published Vers l’unique métaphore in 1991, Contra Mundum published its edition in 2013, and in 2014, Aylak Adam Yayınları will be publishing Marginalia on Casanova. In a personal correspondence, Kaya Tokmakçıoğlu, the editorial director of AAY, expressed interest in publishing a translation of Az egyetlen metafora felé, as well as of Prae and other Szentkuthy texts.

(5) Although recently opened, even the first half of Szentkuthy’s diary (1927–47) remains at a distant remove to us since it must be transcribed before being made accessible to the public; part two (1948–88), sealed by Szentkuthy until 50 years after his death, will be opened in 2038. If the diary is open to researchers, it remains unclear whether or not they are permitted to quote from it. As for Szentkuthy’s personal library, most of the books are full of marginalia, including dates noting when he read and reread each book, with reading periods marked even on specific pages, as well as at the beginning and end of each book. Additionally, countless books he read contain notes for his own books, marked for example with titles, lines, and arrows (i.e., à ST. ORPH B, VOL. IV), if not references to his diary, compelling us to consider how all of these texts are united. Some writers conceal the workings of their ‘laboratory,’ others reveal them, as has Szentkuthy, giving us very explicit maps to his creative process, or at least to some traceable textual element of that process. For two prototypical examples, see these images: jegyzet-tanítványok; jegyzet-eurüdiké.

(6) Szentkuthy made this statement first in 1979 for the Who’s Who Encyclopaedia, then in Film-portrait of the 75-year-old Miklós Szentkuthy (1983), and in Frivolities & Confessions (1988). Also, cf. Miklós Szentkuthy, Az élet faggatottja, ibid., 102–114.

(7) András Nagy, “Masks Behind Masks: A Portrait of Miklós Szentkuthy,” Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics (July 18, 2013) 19.

(8) Ferenc Takács, “A Comedy of Ideas: Miklós Szentkuthy: Prae,” Hungarian Literature Online (May 1, 2012).

(9) Ibid.

(10) Frivolitások és hitvallások, ibid., ch. XIII.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Two years prior to the publication of Metaphor, Szentkuthy read works by Einstein, Planck, Broglie, Bergson and others, all in a concentrated period of time. In fact, he read Einstein’s “On the Method of Theoretical Physics” on July 7, 1933, just over one month after Einstein delivered the lecture on June 6, 1933, which indicates how Szentkuthy was both mindful of and engaging with the most advanced scientific and philosophical developments of his era at the very moment that they were occurring, and incorporating them in his art. This information was gathered from consulting Szentkuthy’s personal library, including marginalia in the texts of each aforementioned author.

(13) Prae (Budapest: Magvető, 2004) Vol. I, p. 14. [TW]. What Szentkuthy says here of active roles and plot lines et alia could very well be said of Carmelo Bene’s work.

(14) The narrator of Prae explains how the book’s structure is capable of freely moving, is not fixed, and performs a kind of molecular dance, rejecting the idea of sequentiality: “if a narrative happens to appear in a form of a book, it is only due to constraints and inefficiency, in fact any fragment can occur anywhere, at any time the whole work can be regrouped” (ibid., 343).

(15) Cf. note 12, and for one exemplary study of the influence of space-time concepts on modern art, see Linda Dalrymple-Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).

(16) Finnegans Wake (Oxford: OUP, 2012) 92.

(17) “Immortality,” The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, ed. by Paul A. Schillp (Evanston & Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1941) 687.

(18) See the numerous reviews in English of Marginalia on Casanova, as well as its recently being chosen as one of the best books of 2013 by Nicholas Lezard of The Guardian (December 5, 2013).

(19) While Nádas published his first short story collection, The Bible, in 1967, he did not publish his first novel, The End of a Family Story, till 1977.

(20) To give one example, in an interview conducted by Mauro Javier Cardenas, Krasznahorkai explained that he doesn’t believe in dialogue but only in monologues. “I believe only in the man who listens to the monologue, and I believe I can be the man who listens to your monologue the next time around. I believe only in monologues in the human world.” Cf. Music and Literature (12/12/2013). As a novel that consists predominantly of monologues, Szentkuthy’s Chapter on Love (1936) may very well have influenced Krasznahorkai. Even if that conjecture is not true, and although there are other monologue-driven novels (Schnitzler’s Lt. Gustl (1901), Sartre’s Nausea (1938), Beckett’s Malone Dies (1951)), within the genealogy of Hungarian literature, Chapter on Love is certainly a precursor to Satantango (1985) and War & War (1999). Although Krasznahorkai has not publicly expressed any interest in Szentkuthy, the Szentkuthy Archive contains a copy of his Kegyelmi viszonyok: Halálnovellák [Relations of Grace: Death Novella] (Budapest: Magvető, 1986), which he signed and dedicated to Szentkuthy on May 5, 1986.

Miklós Szentkuthy: Towards the One and Only Metaphor
New York: Contra Mundum, 2013

Portrait of Miklós Szentkuthy by László Nagy

Rainer J. Hanshe

Tags: Miklós Szentkuthy