Laszlo Krasznahorkai

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Laszlo Krasznahorkai (1954)

Satantango (1985) ++

synopsis forthcoming

Haboru es Haboru/War and War (1999)

synopsis forthcoming

Az Ellen llas Melankoliaja/ The Melancholy Of Resistance (1986) blends Kafka's irrational spleen and omen, Camus' existential pessimism, Faulkner's black humor, Bulgakov's anarchic fantasies, Garcia Marquez's magic realism, Samuel Beckett's "Stories and Texts for Nothing", and James Joyce's peripathetic epos. And, like in Joyce's novels, the storytelling relies on very long and labyrinthine sentences, but here the unstructured, rambling, free-association stream of consciousness is in the third person. Each of the character is an allegory in him/her/itself. The whale, perhaps a symbol of doom, that towers over the story, brings to mind Hobbes' treatise "The Leviathan" and Melville's novel "Moby Dick". Janos Valuska is the idiot savant who wants to reach for the perfection of the heavens. Gyorgy Eszter is the intellectual who, aiming to mirror in music the harmony of the spheres, is first fascinated by an alternative reality (Aristoxenus' system of tuning) but then realizes the value of tradition (the Werckmeister system of tuning). People look up to him as the wise old man, when in fact he's just a mediocre failure and a tool for his wife (the politician) to seize power. His wife is a practical, opportunistic politician who simply wants power. The circus director is the showman, who represents entertainment, and claims that he has no influence on political events, but in reality it's him who brings the whale to town and it's his main act that inspires the rioters: art is more than just a representation of society, it can be the driver of social change. Valuska's mom is the middle-class woman who has no aspiration other than social order but is helpless in the face of the forces of chaos that drive society. The novel in the end pits the harmony of the heavens against the anarchy of society: those who accept the chaos live happy, those who don't are condemned to either death (Valuska's mom), madness (Valuska) or melancholy (Gyorgy).
(Note: the film adaptation by Bela Tarr is substantially different in the ending and removes almost entirely the philosophical meditations).

Mrs Plauf, who has been visiting her two sisters, catches a train back home that runs two hours late. The train is crowded and she's uncomfortable. Plauf is fearful, asocial, disgusted by the horde of peasants and workers, perpetually alarmed by everything, reading ominous signs into every event. Suddenly she realizes that an unshaven man is staring at her and she realizes that, after she removed her coat, her breasts have a sexy and provoking movement. To make matters worse, her bra snaps loose. She walks to the bathroom to fix it and the man follows her, thinking that she is propositioning to him. She changes seat and is now annoyed by a petulant peasant woman, while fearful that the unshaven man may follow her. All the while she hints that the world is going through some catastrophic times and she is only looking for peace. When the train finally reaches her town, she realizes that she missed the bus. All the street lights go off and she has to walk in the dark, passing by people who are beating someone. She also passes an enormous slowly-moving wagon belonging to a circus, that advertises the biggest whale in the world. We learn that she is 58, she was married twice, both husbands are dead (one an alcoholic and one of a stroke), and she a 27-year-old son from her first marriage who doesn't live with her, Janos Valuska. Plauf is surprised by the visit of a Mrs Eszter, a woman with a scandalous past who has become president of the women's committee. Eszter is married to Gyorgy Eszter, an eccentric hermit, but he has kicked her out of their home after quitting his job as director of the school of music. It turns out that Gyorgy's favorite pupil was Valuska, Plauf's son, and Valuska now is like a servant for Gyorgy, Mrs Eszter, ambitious and cunning, is plotting to have Valuska influence Gyorgy on a matter that would allow Eszter to increase her power in town: she needs Gyorgy to accept her back as his wife (somehow she believes that Valuska could convince Gyorgy). Mrs Plauf, however, declines to help her claiming that she has no power over her son.

Eszter sees signs everywhere that something momentous is about to happen: a water tower that suddenly wobbles, a broken church clock that suddenly starts to move again, a colossal poplar that collapses on a hotel, and the enormous wagon of the circus. It turns out that Mrs Eszter is the one who hired the circus. We also learn that she is having an affair with the police chief, an alcoholic widower with two boys. She is in turn romanced by Harrer, Valuska's landlord, an old flame who still lusts after her. Mrs Eszter carries a suitcase to Janos Valuska, convinced that Valuska will help her. However, she doesn't find him home. Valuska, a halfwit simpleton, is at the inn of Hagelmayer, where he usually spends his evening, entertaining the local drinkers with his stories about the motion of the heavens. This time he is preparing a pantomime to describe how the Earth orbits the Sun and the Moon orbits the Earth. He drafts three drunken regulars to impersonate the three celestial bodies and then makes them spin around each other, a reenactment of the dance of the celestial bodies. He explains the heavens in the tone of a "prophetic trance". Valuska knows that the townfolks perceive the circus as a bad omen, as a prelude to some kind of catastrophe. For weeks the town has been gripped in a state of melancholia. Valuska knows that everybody is expecting some kind of collapse to take place, and that people expect to transition from an unmemorable past to a treacherous future. A lenghty description of Valuska informs us that he is 35, that he is considered an idiot, that he has the mind of a child. Meanwhile, the town is filling with people coming from nearby villages to see the whale, but a curious silence looms over the village. Valuska is fascinated by the writing on the van of the whale, that he cannot understand. He buys a ticket and stands in live to see the giant whale. Then he walks home, performing like every night a full circle of the town. At home he is surprised to find Mrs Eszter with the suitcase. She has been waiting for him since the morning. She explains to Valuska that she wants to form a new political movement, but the townsfolk will follow her only if Gyorgy is the leader. Gyorgy's wife leaves Valuska the suitcase and a paper note. The suitcase contains laundry.

A digression gives us background on Gyorgy. He is widely respected despite having isolated himself. One day he suddenly decided to confine himself to his bed. Valuska started as his meal provider, but had slowly become his servant and friend for the last eight years. Mrs Harrer provided cleaning services and delivered the gossip. Gyorgy views Valuska as an angel, and doesn't believe that Valuska's cosmos is the real cosmos, but rather a fiction of his angelic imagination. And Valuska represents the one-man audience to Gyorgy's philosophical ramblings. Valuska is excited at the idea that this project may convince Gyorgy to snap out of his torpor. Gyorgy is aware that, by lying in bed all the time, he is likely to develop a serious disease. He despises his wife (we learn that her name is Tunde) with whom he had lived for 30 years. Then one day as Frachberger the piano tuner was mumbling incoherent sentences to the piano strings, Gyorgy decided that the way to escape from the human decline into madness was to isolate himself, and kicked Tunde out. He decided to devote himself to the study of music, the closest thing to perfection. Inspired by Pythagoras, Gyorgy had taken to write mathematical formulas to explain the power of the musical language. He had rediscovered the ancient musical tuning of Pythagoras and Aristoxenus (equal temperament), which he views as stemming from a mathematical understanding of the heavenly harmonies, as opposed to Andreas Werckmeister's modern tuning, and draws profound philosophical conclusions from the evolution of musical tuning: to him, music has become a misleading denial of the sorry state of the world: "a barbiturate that functioned as an opiate". So Gyorgy developed an alternative system of tuning. Unfortunately this resulted in deadful sounds. His custom-tuned, "purer" piano turned pieces of Bach's "Well-tempered Clavier" into cacophony. Throughout those 30 years Gyorgy feared the return of his wife Tunde. Now Valuska present him with the suitcase full of laundry and the paper note. Gyorgy finds Tunde's clothes mixed with his in the suitcase and realizes that it means: that she wants to return. The paper note describes her proposed political movement: she demands that he helps her jumpstart a new political movement or... she'll return to live with him. He dislikes her so much that Gyorgy gets up. He can't even walk properly anymore, but, assisted by Valuska, he sets out to announce the new political movement to the townsfolk. Unfortunately just about everybody is at the circus. He sees cats and rubbish. Nobody has been picking up the garbage, another sign of collapse. Valuska is telling Gyorgy about the whale and the hundreds of strangers who have come to see it, but Gyorgy is focused on walking without falling. They run into three people, notably the butcher and poet of the town, Nabadan, who start complaining about the general decline of the town. We learn that telephones stopped working. Gyorgy tells them that he is starting a political movement to restore hope and the trio receives the news enthusiastically. Gyorgy has no desire to see the whale and slowly returns home alone, while Janos Valuska stays until the circus director in person comes out to tell the crowd that the show is over for the day.

Valuska returns to Mrs Eszter's home to report about his mission with Gyorgy, and finds the woman in a tense meeting with the mayor and the police chief. They are all anxiously waiting for Harrer, who has been shipped to deliver some kind of message. Mrs Eszter asks Valuska to walk back to the square and then report on the situation. Valuska ends up inside the circus and witnesses a conversation between the director and The Prince, a mysterious figure who uses an interpreter. The director tries to keep the Prince from showing himself, but the Prince cannot be constrained. The director fears that the Prince will cause a riot. Valuska is now assailed by fear. The circus, that he originally viewed as a positive event, now appears to him as a threat. Valuska rushes back to report what he heard to Mrs Eszter but arrives after Harrer who tells them that the circus has accepted to leave town and the Prince will not appear. They don't listen to Valuska, but Valuska has heard what happened after Harrer left, that the Prince refused. Mrs Eszter instead dispatches Valuska to make sure that the police chief's children are ok. Shaken by the events, Valuska rings the bell at his mother's house but she rudely refuses to see him. Valuska, ignored by everybody, pays a visit to the chief's children and then mounts guard outside his friend Gyorgy's home, sensing danger. Suddenly, he is surrounded by strangers and captured. He looks up and can't see the sky anymore. Gyorgy is home. A long stream of consciousness describes his mood: he had been meditating about his life, his paranoid desire for security, and reached the conclusion that Valuska's devotion is what truly matters. His thoughts are interrupted by Mrs Harrer who breaks into the house in tears and relates how riots have erupted and the army has entered town to restore order. People have died and the circus is being blamed for the uprising. And Valuska is missing. At this news, Gyorgy rushes out of the house.

The violence spirals out of control, and the mob sets on fire the movie theater, a church, the hospital. Valuska joins the rioters and undergoes a transformation. He is no longer a naive angel but a cynical nihilist. He finds the notebook of one of the rioters and reads a diary of senseless and cruel violence. Feeling that he is being hunted by the soldiers, Valuska flees. He runs into Harrer who tells him that Mrs Eszter sent him to protect him and advises Valuska to leave town following the railway. Valuska then runs into the chief's children who, abandoned by their father, are determined to follow him.

Gyorgy is looking for Valuska everywhere and witnesses the devastation. He passes by the town's doctor, Provaznyik, who is examining a dead person: Mrs Plauf. Gyorgy makes the mistake to ask soldiers about Valuska and is arrested. He witnesses the interrogation of one of the rioters, who doesn't feel sorry about killing a child and says that the Prince's face is always covered. Suddenly, Harrer and Gyorgy's wife also appear at the police station, trying to intercede for him. Harrer reassures Gyorgy that Valuska is ok. The cops start interrogating the circus director, who claims that his circus has nothing to do with the riots. We now understand that the Prince is considered the chief agitator of the riots because his stage performance was indeed about a rebellion, but the circus director claims that the crowd misunderstood a stage performance for reality. The Prince is not even in town because he fled when the riots started. The circus director blames hotheads that keep following the circus from town to town. However, the trio of townfolks led by Nabadan shout that he's a liar and point out the strange events that occurred after the arrival of the circus, like the wobbling water tower and the clock that started moving again, proving in their opinion the diabolic nature of the circus. When she's finally allowed to speak, Gyorgy's wife makes a statement about Valuska's innocence and gains her husband's release. Gyorgy walks home and sets out to play Bach on his piano, but this time he uses the Werckmeister's tuning, which turns out to be a lot easier than Aristoxenus' tuning. Meanwhile, his wife is moving back in.

Two weeks later Tunde Eszter has become the town's new leader, and Harrer has become her loyal assistant. Tunde is the one who invited the circus in town, but in the end benefits from the chaos that came with the chaos that ensued. We now learn of her machinations. She kept the police chief drunk so that he couldn't stop the rioting. She made sure that chaos got out of control and then presented herself to the colonel of the army as the one tough person who could control the town. She (who already had been Harrer's lover and the chief's lover) slept also with the colonel, Peter, and now rules the town in cahoots with him. The circus has been expelled, the whale is gone, and the Prince is still on the run. The police chief has been internet in a rehab clinic, and Valuska in a mental asylum. Her husband Gyorgy spends his days visiting Valuska at the mental asylum and otherwise avoids any contact with her. Mrs Eszter also presides over the funeral of Mrs Plauf and delivers a lengthy eulogy. The novel ends with a four-page description of Mrs Plauf’s bodily decomposing with scientific details on the chemical forces at work, an ending that is both sarcastic, harrowing and poetic.

A Theseus-altalanos (1993)

synopsis forthcoming

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