If you weren’t introduced to the Hungarian writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai this past summer by James Woods’ New Yorker piece, now would be the time to turn your attention to him. If you want to read someone that isn’t debasing themselves to be part of the stroller-pushing high-brow entertainment industry, read Krasznahorkai. If you want to read a writer who, as de Tocqueville put it, prefers “success to glory”, then do not read Krasznahorkai.
His river of sludgy prose and psychotic breakdowns work when they do, and (if you’re not used to writers who prefer to strike out swinging) might make you cringe when they don’t. But — and what a relief — he tries to accomplish a lot more than most contemporary American authors have the bad taste to.
If arguments from authority appeal to you, then you’ll be happy to know that W.G. Sebald is a fan, and that Susan Sontag compared him to Gogol and Melville. Basically, Krasznahorkai is the shit.
The other day I came across an interview with him from 1985. I think it’s probably the best introduction to Krasznahorkai, maybe even more so than James Woods’ piece:
In a situation like this, what do writing and literature give you? What do books mean? Obviously, not the way out. Nor does writing function as a form of personal salvation for you. Then, shall we say it is the gentlest form of rebellion? Or does it play the role of issuing certain signals?
Whenever I manage to state my view in its full extent, my partner in conversation, anywhere in the world, invariably reminds me, “If you paint such a gloomy picture of the world, then why write?” This is a subtle way of asking why I don’t shoot myself in the head right there and then, and indeed, why I hadn’t done so a long while ago. My critical remarks do not mean that I think or have ever thought that literature could directly interfere with the workings of the society it criticises or rejects. The impact that a writer can exert over his or her own society is far more subtle, almost indecipherably complex and indirect, working through a number of transformations. I even doubt whether at such a degree of remoteness you can still call this an impact and an influence. In Oriental cultures, this question has found an almost radical solution: art had absolutely nothing to do with the direct, palpable reality of its own age. On the contrary, real artists were not “members” of their own society, in the same way that saints never are. This way, the art they produced did not exist as an integrated, definable, graspable part of society. Instead, it found its place in an emphatically spiritual space which nonetheless was still perceived as a part of reality.
Here’s a taste of his fiction. Go read him! Not because he was finally mentioned in the New Yorker, but because he would have been just as great if he had never been.