Daily BulletinHoliday Centre

The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageAn author who demands to be read.Gyula Czimbal/EPA

Like league tables in education, the danger of literary prizes is that something with value beyond the all-consuming capitalist pursuit of excellence becomes reduced to a kind of sporting event.

This is one effect of the often-quoted puff copy by Susan Sontag which first aroused my curiosity in the work of the Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai, who has just won the sixth International Man Booker Prize. Sontag described him as the “contemporary Hungarian master of the apocalypse”. My first thought was to wonder whether every country had its own reigning literary Master of the Apocalypse who would compete for a global prize (a fight to the death, obviously).

But Krasznahorkai’s award is welcome precisely because it provides us with a sense of something beyond the norm. His work deserves to be read by more than the small but devoted band of English and American readers who have discovered him over the past few years as a result of superlative translations by George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet (both of whom shared £15,000 in prizemoney).

Global vision

The International Booker Prize is awarded “for an achievement in fiction on the world stage” and the appeal and ambition of Krasznahorkai is certainly global. His work mixes timelessness with the unmistakably now. Details about the villages in his novels Satantango (1985) and The Melancholy of Resistance (1989), for example, are in short supply, giving the stories they tell a timeless air. They are like the fables or philosophical allegories of other writers in the European existentialist tradition who might be regarded as Krasznahorkai’s forebears: Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Kafka and Beckett.

imageNew Directions

At the same time, his preoccupation with societies which spiral into self-destruction and debauchery, with the spectre of apocalypse, and with charismatic but menacing quasi-poitical leaders, make Krasznahorkai’s writing unmistakably the product of the late 20th century, an age beset by fears of social breakdown, environmental catastrophe, the end of the species (or the species as we know it), global economic meltdown and so on. Anxiety is hard-wired into the modern sensibility, and the mood of Krasznahorkai’s fiction is its perfect complement.

One of the allegorical contexts his work invites is, inevitably, that of totalitarianism and the Cold War. Reading Krasznahorkai in 2015 transports the UK reader into a temporal vaccuum. The Melancholy of Resistance was published in a landmark year – 1989 marked the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the restoration of Hungary to a democratic parliamentary republic. That year ushered in what turned out to be a brief moment of political hope – until 9/11 triggered a return of the apocalyptic imagination.

To read the novel in 2015 means its tale about a travelling exhibition of “The Biggest Whale in the World”, which leads not to carnival and wonder but a descent into chaos and violence, eventually requiring the army to move in and restore order, becomes at once a historical allegory of totalitarian Hungary and a cautionary tale about the dangers of social breakdown in the face of the collapse of religion and politics.

‘In and out of cellars’

Krasznahorkai’s writing tends to be described as “difficult” or “innovative”. What this means is that he does not conform to the norm in contemporary literary fiction and write accessible narrative-driven realist or historical fiction. Instead, he experiments with literary form and language. The most recent of his novels to be translated, his 2008 novel Seiobo There Below, is an exercise in “constrained writing” (where an arbitrary rule dictates the structure) in which the chapters are numbered according to the Fibonacci sequence in mathematics.

imageNew Directions

And then there are the sentences. One of the most striking features of Krasznahorkai’s writing is the sheer length of its sentences and paragraphs. It is not uncommon for a paragraph to comprise a single sentence and that sentence to last for a page or more, punctuated by commas and semi-colons. The effect, as Szirtes has said, is that readers feel guided into “loops and dark alleyways – like wandering in and out of cellars”. But the rhythm of the clauses produces a lyrical beauty which conveys the sense that the world is endlessly fascinating and beyond our comprehension.

Its relevance to the contemporary mood and its sense of being beyond the norm is why Krasznahorkai’s fiction demands to be read. In a year marked in Britain by the rise of crude anti-European – especially anti-Eastern European – xenophobia, I find it a comfort to regard the International Booker Prize not as a reward for excellence but as a reminder of an enriching cultural perspective beyond the narrowly British. In the case of this particular winner, it offers a welcome insight into a global but distinctively Eastern European perspective on the modern world.

Bran Nicol does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/why-you-should-read-the-hungarian-master-of-the-apocalypse-42233

INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

The Conversation

Politics

Closing the Gap Statement to Parliament

Mr Speaker, when we meet in this place, we are on Ngunnawal country. I give my thanks and pay my respects to our Ngunnawal elders, past, present and importantly emerging for our future. I honour...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Alan Jones

ALAN JONES: Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Alan.    JONES: I was just thinking last night when we're going to talk to you today, you must feel as though you've ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Prime Minister Bridget McKenzie press conference

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon everybody. The good news is that the Qantas flight is on its way to Wuhan and I want to thank everybody for their cooperation, particularly the Chinese Government as...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Choosing the Right Coworking Space For Your Business

As the capital of Victoria in Australia, Melbourne is inhabited by millions of people and is known as one of the most liveable cities in the world. The latter is due to the city’s diverse community...

Sarah Williams - avatar Sarah Williams

What Should You Expect from A Carpentry Apprenticeship?

Those wanting to pursue a career in woodwork, whether it be to make furniture, construct buildings or repair existing wooden structures, will have to first commence a carpentry apprenticeship. This ...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Tips To Choosing A Reliable SEO Company For Your Digital Marketing Agency

Working with a digital marketing agency Perth is the best bet in ensuring that your business is promoted well in the online space. If you are an app developer Perth, you may have to work closely wit...

News Company - avatar News Company

Travel

Travelling With Pets? Here Is What You Should Know

Only a pet parent can understand the dilemma one experiences while planning a vacation. Do you leave your pets at home?  Will you get a pet sitter or someone to take care of them while you are away?...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Be a Smart Frugal Traveller

You are looking through Instagram, watching story after story of your followers overseas at a beach in Santorini, walking through the piazza in Italy, and eating a baguette in front of the Eiffel ...

News Company - avatar News Company

HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR GRADUATION TRIP

Graduation is the stage of life when a student receives the rewards of hard work of years. It must have taken sleepless nights and tiring days to achieve the task. Now, as you have received your cov...

News Company - avatar News Company

ShowPo