Monday, October 1, 2007

Krasznahorkai's WarAndWar

From Spurious
Plato was wrong: it is not immortality that is sought in the creation of a book, but the sweetness of obscurity. Not immortality - not the fame of a name that spreads from generation to generation, but the oblivion of a name, the St. Andrew's cross that is placed across it.

One could argue for a reading of Krasznahorkai's WarAndWar as a prolonged narrative meditation on this theme. A copy of the book has been resting, sometimes on the edge of my desk, sometimes on the floor beside me, since I finished it a month or so ago. I remember promising a review--waiting for me to honor my promise.

I had in mind, not a full exposition: plot, characters, literary themes... the usual, but rather, something more narrowly focused. I asked myself, a week or so after finishing the book, what element most stubbornly resisted the erasure of memory, which--even if I couldn't easily describe or define it--clung to me as the book's most haunting presence.

That is where I would have to begin.

The narrator, Korin, has found a manuscript in an archive. Though he not the author (the manuscript is anonymous), he takes upon himself an authorial obligation to the work that he has found by accident. He becomes--he accepts--absolute responsibility for its dissemination. The transitions from one layer of narrative to the other are like a prolonged, episodic struggle for oblivion--a sacrifice of self-being for the sake of the immortality of the work. A sacrifice doomed to failure.

He devotes himself--gives up everything, offers his own life as the instrument for its universal survival (though we cannot be altogether sure the manuscript has not provided him a rationale for a sacrifice he has already decided upon). The narrative related in the manuscript is woven into the account of Korin's efforts to see to its publication and survival. My review would have to begin, I thought, with these transitions--from Korin's story to that of the four time travelers of the manuscript. Transitions without formal mediation. In the course of a single sentence (Krasznahorkai's sentences can be pages long--more than a few make up entire chapters), the narrative moves from the chronical of Korin's journey, to the narrative in the manuscript. As you read, you are carried from one course to another; the transitions are all but invisible, like one river merging into another. I hope I will eventually find the time to analyze these passage in detail.

László Krasznahorkai: War"ampersand"War (Blogspot will not allow the ampersand). Translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes (2006). A New Directions Book.

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