LÁSZLÓ KRASZNAHORKAI AT CITY LIGHTS: rare appearance june 28th

When I tell you there are pages of Krasznahorkai that rival any literature I’ve read, I’m not saying it because I like boasting for other people, nor am I saying it because I have any interest in the matter, nor because it’s reassuring to make bold claims (it isn’t), but because there are pages of Krasznahorkai that rival any literature I’ve read. The author, who lives in the hills of Hungary, is currently in the United States and will give a rare reading at City Lights on Thursday, June 28th.

I am very excited about this. The author’s sentences move calmly forward like a snake taking its time crossing the desert, sometimes repeating exact words with slight variation and sometimes switching perspectives many times before coming to the end of anything, and while it’s possible for the reader to remain engaged with each successive phrase it is inevitable that s/he will have recurring moments of wait what; rather than bringing readers back around to moments of clarity—when, after being zoomed in, consciousness catches on to a larger picture—Krasznahorkai’s text often blurs in the other direction, returning the reader to his or her self in moments of disorientation.

Put another way: the author has collaborated several times with renowned director Béla Tarr, who has been heavily influenced by the author’s aesthetics. Tarr’s 7.5-hour adaptation of Satantango features only 150 shots, many of which are 11+ minutes long and often focus on a single scene until everything in the scene loses familiarity (like saying the same word over and over until it loses meaning); this is a good way to think of Krasznahorkai’s sentences.

As I was nearing the end of The Melancholy of Resistance, it dawned on me to record myself reading a short passage; it was the first time I read the passage, and I think it will give you a good idea what I mean:

icon for podbean  [00:09:16m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download | Embeddable Player

I also asked  the author some questions, leading up to the event, and he was kind enough to respond:

Litseen: There is a traditional belief that engaging with art – especially the reading of books – is a way to escape from the world. Please talk to me about this.

LÁSZLÓ KRASZNAHORKAI: Look, this shouldn’t be limited to literature, because I think there is a general tradition of finding a way to escape from this world. Every sensitive person reaches a certain point where he or she realizes that life is a crisis, and wants to evade. Escape, evade, vanish away from where he/she is at the moment, in other words from the shallow inclination for life for which he/she was predestined. I have been at this point, and I thought I was at the end of the world. At that point, I went to a woman who was washing something in a big tub. And I asked her if I were already at the end of the world. She said, this is not the end of the world yet, although you can see it from here. I settled down then and I started looking at things. When the right time arrived, I wrote about this dialogue in a book but I wasn’t altogether happy with it because it did not contain the story above. Then I decided to write another one. But in that one the portrait of the woman became a little pale. Then I wrote the third one, in which I myself became a bit pale. And this is how it continues still today. I would like to write this story, this state, but somewhere I always make a mistake — something is always missing from it. And I can’t reconcile myself so this whole thing will probably last for a while.

From what I have read, people say your prose is meant to “disorient and de-familiarize.” Do you agree with this?

That depends on who says it. There are some I completely agree with if they express themselves like this, and there are some who I completely disagree with, but they use absolutely the same words. As for the essence of the question, I think, my books are aimed at nowhere and this is good as it is. And I wouldn’t like if they aimed anywhere. A tree has no aim either. And if the word “defamiliarize” means that it gives place to the Unknown in my books, then I have a modest joy. At the same time I don’t think we can evoke the Unkown, but if there is only one reader who loses himself in my books, who lets me raise our basic questions and joins me in the Unknown, then I have a less modest joy.

You have said that your characters are the ones with the passions and that they are speaking through you—it is their desires that propel your books, and they who are the narrators, while you are “utterly silent.” You have also expressed an intense fondness for at least one of your characters. I am wondering if you feel a larger part of yourself in more recent characters or if you are becoming more detached from them (and how your ability to “transcribe them” relates to your own personal life).

The characters in my books are by no means part of my personal life. They do not come from my own experiences; they come from a foggy, blurred space, from their own will, so it does not depend if I want or not. They come and appear in my books, they say and do what they want; I am only a medium for them. The language is my only tool; the language is the only thing I have, and through this my characters are manifesting. I only have contact with the language; they have no contact with me whatsoever. You know, they are lonely characters; they don’t need any company. As is my case, too.

You expressed a desire for “Artists who paint without brushes, make music without instruments, and write without pen and paper.” What would you say to these artists?

I wouldn’t tell them anything. If I were close, I would only listen to them. And the case is such that I am close to them, indeed.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am working on trying to say yes and no at exactly the same time.

I see you travel a lot. Where do you currently reside?

I alternate between Berlin and Hungary. Berlin’s suggestive power is important for me, but today the city exists in my eyes only in its past state. In Hungary I have a house on top of a mountain where I can only see a valley in front of me and mountains around me, a creek, stones, animals, trees, no human beings—and this is wonderful.

How long will you be in San Francisco? This is a selfish question!

I am only here for a couple of days. I have a radio interview with Mr. Michael Silver and a meeting with Mr. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and then I have a reading at City Lights bookstore. The whole thing is like a dream.