Friday, March 29, 2013

Satantango - László Krasznahorkai (IFFP)

Satantango, starts in some mouldering Hungarian hamlet, the home of the workers of a collective long since closed and stripped of anything of worth, and like the inhabitants of the hamlet forgotten by the outside world. In fact the only growth market appears to be rot and spiders, very little happens here. Within the first few pages we realise that the rot has spread to all and sundry, there is not a single character of worth, all are, to varying degrees, corrupt, paranoid and full of loathing whether of self or of their neighbours. We also learn that they are waiting for Irimias, who may or may not be Satan, not that this matters as these individuals are so deep into the morass of all that’s bad about humanity, that Satan would be worried about contamination. The villagers wait at the inn for Irimias, who has been seen on the road heading their way with his sidekick Petrina, which is strange because Irimias, is supposed to be dead. Irimias has the ability to charm and mesmerise all to his way, even those who are deeply suspicious of him, still follow his bidding even parting with the collective’s small pot of money. This leads to a series of events that breaks what little bonds they once held and violence erupts, although this is brief as all are so ensnared by Irimias machination, that they can see little else.

In Stu’s (Winstonsdad’s Blog) post, he states that “ I felt this book had a lot of  central European mythology that has been brought to the modern age and also what makes myths..” This wonderful insight of Stu’s, I think rings true, in fact I would go further and state that the character of Irimias, is a great representation of a character not just of European  mythology but of world, Irimias, seems to be a Trickster, who features in a lot of tales from around the world whether as Loki, Syrdon, Veles, Gwydion or as Coyote, Anansi or Crow. The Trickster, is an example of a Jungian archetype, defined as being an  "ancient or archaic image that derives from the collective unconscious" (Carl Jung). The Trickster surfaces in modern literature as a character archetype often acting as a catalyst or harbinger of change, they may reveal unhappiness with the status quo through slips of the tongue or spontaneous and unusual actions, which is pretty much a pen portrait of Irimias.

Although this may be alluded to within the book Krasznahorkai, is not one for spelling things out. Irimias may be the devil/ trickster or just some cheap con man. With the action (?) confined pretty much to the hamlet, this book come across as really claustrophobic, everything cycles through like the seasons, but unlike the seasons nothing is resolved there is no growth everything appears thwarted, even stunted. The dance just goes on with no joy or release – just an increasing heaviness, everything simmers and yet the kettle doesn't boil, the pressure cooker doesn't release its pressure. There is no end.
This book has also been described as an indictment of  Hungarian Collective farming in the dying days of communism and a reaction to the reality of the capitalist dream on a communist utopia. It has also been described as a book on the nature of storytelling. None of this is spelled out in the book, as stated above, very little happens on the page, like the stage direction “Offstage action”, most of what happens here, happens within your head and continues to do so long past the turning of the final page.
This post is a series of reactions to what is basically a very simple story and yet I cannot write a cohesive review of it. The obvious place to start would be that it is divided into 12 chapters, most consisting of a single paragraph, or that the book is split into two with the chapters in the first part going from one to six and in the second part from six to one, also the last chapter is named The circle closes, which is apt. The book is set in the twentieth century, although it’s shading would lends itself to some medieval setting, or anything apocalyptic. Referring back to my kettle analogy and taking it to it’s conclusion, the kettle boils dry leaving only the husks of what was once human, the threshings of humanity.

All that I've written are bullet points, headlining some points yet neglecting others, I guess like storytelling itself, in that you choose a certain path whilst omitting others, and even whilst on that path you do not see, or choose not to see everything -  defining yourself and your tale by what you put forward. Satantango, circles on itself like some mythical serpent and within that circle the characters dance their own isolated geometries like marionettes in some brutal puppet play, whilst the story eats it’s own tail.

 As previously stated, this is a book that happens more in the mind than on the page, this makes it all the more baffling and all the more interesting, what I didn’t state is that I have read three books since Satantango, and it still haunts me - still has me trying to comprehend what this paradoxically simple tale is all about.

"The imagination never stops working but we're not one jot nearer the truth," – Irimias

This book’s translator was George Szirties, whose skill in translating this novel into a language that I could read gets my undying thanks. Although my understanding of Hungarian is somewhere below nil and thus I’m not able to judge how accurate the translation is, I can form an opinion of how it reads in my own language and it reads beautifully.

George Szirties (1948-) is a poet and translator who settled in England after his family fled the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. He currently teaches creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and is trained as a painter. His poetry has won many awards, including the Faber Memorial Prize (1980), the T.S. Eliot Prize (2005) and the Forward Poetry Prize (2009).

New Directions (László Krasznahorkai)
www.László Krasznahorkai


Tony said...

Sounds like my kind of book :)

This'll be the last of the IFFP reads for me - if and when my copy gets here :(

Bellezza said...

I'm so envious of the availability you have for these books contending for the IFFP! Please, someone tell Amercan libraries and bookstores that not everyone wants to read of romance and vampires...

Richard said...

Smashing review, Gary, insofar as it has only whet my appetite to try Krasznohorkai soon (another title of his has been on my TBR stack for ages) and "Satantango": I recommend Bela Tarr's film adaptation of the book if you have a spare eight hours! P.S. to Bellezza: This book is super easy to find where I live (and is also available online); let me know if you ever need help finding a book because college town bookstores are the best!

Violet said...

This sounds like a wonderfully intense read. I do wish my state library system and Perth bookstores would be a bit more adventurous and make available books that challenge us and make us think, instead of piling their shelves with more of the same egregious piffle. If only I could deal with eBooks, eh?

Bellezza said...

Thanks, Richard, but there's another problem: I just discovered this week that A Death in The Family by Knausgaard is titled My Struggle in the U.S. Excuse me? How does that help?! :)

Brian Joseph said...

Sounds like a fascinating book. I have often thought about the archetype of the Trickster myself so I found your commentary very insightful.

As to your comments about the nature of your post. I do not really believe in "Reviews". I think that as you alluded to, it is so much more useful to talks about the points of a work that interest one at the moment. Sometimes that necessitates ignoring major aspects of a work.

Parrish Lantern said...

Hi Tony, this is one for those who are happy to be contemplating a book long after they've finished it. So you should enjoy.

Hello Bellezza, it's not been that easy for all the titles some my library had, some they're getting, some I've gone begging from publishers & some I've purchased this one as an Ebook from Google play. It's a bit like the Swan analogy all calm & grace above the water & flapping about like a lunatic beneath. Best of luck with your hunt. :-)

Thanks Richard, I've already tracked down my next Krasznahorkai & hopefully it will arrive soon & I'll find the space to read it.
Ps which other Krasznahorkai, have you got?

Hi Violet, our library of late has been affected by the current crisis & has had extensive cutbacks which I guess has a knock on to what they have in Stock for example reduced numbers of copies shared over a wider area :-(

Parrish Lantern said...

Hi Brian, yes I've found in the past that the term "review" sticks in the throat with its implication of a professional critique, which is far from my interest in posting on any facet of literature. I tend to find a point of interest, a way in to the book and work from there.Sometimes it works & others I end up with a collection of ideas with no cohesive structure, but as long as I can get across that I liked/loved this book I'm happy

Rise said...

Great post. Intrigued with the structure and style of the book. I see similarities between the Irimias character and someone in The Melancholy of Resistance. And the image of the perpetually boiling kettle is truly apocalyptic.

Parrish Lantern said...

Thanks Rise, read several posts that state of similarities between this and Melancholy, making me wanting to read that. The idea of the kettle/pressure cooker was that intense build up of pressure in a confined space with no release.

Richard said...

Gary, your exchange with Rise reminds me I forgot to answer your question: The Melancholy of Resistance. What's the new Krasznahorkai that you picked up by chance?

Parrish Lantern said...

Richard i went for War and war, purely chosen because I had not heard of it and the blurb intrigued me, I also noticed there's a new one out in may called Seibo There Below from New Directions (I think) which has a Japanese connection so I maybe raiding the piggy bank again.

stujallen said...

Many thanks for the mention I m, pleased this was my first book by him as it was his debut ,I love its style and the4 fact it is so challenging ,all the best stu