The World Goes On
The mistake, or at least one of the mistakes, being made by each of the narrators of the stories that comprise Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s The World Goes On is thinking that the occurrences that constitute what they think of as their lives have anything to do with them, and, although they are themselves insufficient reason for these or any other occurrences, the narrators nevertheless find it impossible to extricate themselves, to absent themselves from the proceedings in which they find themselves caught up. The sentences that constitute their lives, for us at least, and what else have they got, are both a grasping for and, by the fact of this grasping, a separation from the circumstances of which they are aware, or that constitute their awareness, so to call it. The characters achieve neither fulfilment nor dissolution, wavering in their inclinations between the two impossibilities, they strive for the meaning of their situation, so to call it, the meaning each time withheld, or in any case ungrasped, the difference between withholding and nongrasping being irrelevant to the reader, as if meaning was something that could either be grasped or withheld, as if anything could signify anything other than itself. Krasznahorkai’s narrators are paralysed by their own ambivalences, they naturally incline, as we all do, both towards the partial, which can be sensed, which cannot be understood, and also towards the general, towards the totality, towards understanding but away from sense, towards the point at which those things that can be grasped are cancelled out by other things that are not grasped, the quest for understanding leading towards the point at which that which could be understood is extinguished, knowledge only becomes possible at the point at which there is no longer anything to know, the whole being not so much the sum of the parts as their nullification. There is no wisdom to be gained from this world. If you are leaving, there is nothing that you need to take, even if you could take anything, even if you could leave, but there is no such possible departure: “History has not ended, and nothing has ended; we can no longer delude ourselves by thinking that anything has ended with us. We merely continue something, maintaining it somehow; something continues, something survives.” The world goes on. “Nothing ever happens without antecedents, actually everything is just an antecedent, as if everything were just always preparing for something else that came before, as if it were preparing for something, but at the same time, an in an appalling manner, as if preparing without any final cumulative goal, so that everything is just a continually dying spark, everything is always striving towards a future that can never occur, what no longer exists strives towards what does not yet exist … nothing can be said beyond the fact that in addition to antecedents there are also consequences [a better translation might be ‘subsequences’], but not occurring in time.” Krasznahorkai, whose native medium is language, must express the paradoxical relationship between meaning and its impossibility through the failure of language to achieve the ends of language. Attempts to represent in language the incomprehensible events in which his narrators are immersed, and they exist only in language after all, result in the incomprehensibility of these events transferring to language itself. Agency becomes indeterminate, narrative position unstable, identity at once both overdefined and underdefined. Understanding is not gained, because it is impossible, but the usefulness of language for even its most straightforward functions is destabilised and suspicion is thrown upon it as an agent of estrangement and obfuscation that leaves us incapable of distinguishing reality from theatre. The virtuosity at which Krasznahorkai aims is almost unattainable. The closer language can be brought to resemble thought the more the shortcomings, or rather limitations, of both language and thought will be revealed. The thirty-page single sentence of ‘A Drop of Water’ is not so much linear, or even circular, as spherical, a thread of words looped endlessly over the surface of a droplet, always encountering itself and then moving on towards the next such encounter, never breaching the surface, and the fifty-three page sentence of ‘That Gargarin’, to my mind the best story in this collection, gradually reveals the insanity of its narrator, or leads him, and us, into this insanity. In his narratives and the tendencies of thought that they embody, Krasznahorkai frequently reaches into the general and towards the universal, presumably in order to demonstrate the futility of such an approach. Only the failure of the perfect, and therefore impossible, attempt can prove the impossibility of the task, but, in the struggle for better failures, is there a point at which the impossibility of the task begins to outweigh the shortcomings of the attempt, a point at which we begin to sense that our failures are existential rather than individual, a point at which we are released from personal into communal hopelessness?
A Hungarian interpreter obsessed with waterfalls, at the edge of the abyss in his own mind, wanders the chaotic streets of Shanghai. A traveller, reeling from the sights and sounds of Varanasi, encounters a giant of a man on the banks of the Ganges ranting on the nature of a single drop of water. A child labourer in a Portuguese marble quarry wanders off from work one day into a surreal realm utterly alien from his daily toils. In The World Goes On, a narrator first speaks directly, then tells twenty-one unforgettable stories, and then bids farewell ('for here I would leave this earth and these stars, because I would take nothing with me'). As Laszlo Krasznahorkai himself explains: 'Each text is about drawing our attention away from this world, speeding our body toward annihilation, and immersing ourselves in a current of thought or a narrative...' The World Goes On is another masterpiece by the winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. 'The excitement of his writing,' Adam Thirlwell proclaimed in the New York Review of Books, "is that he has come up with his own original forms-there is nothing else like it in contemporary literature."
A new masterpiece from Europe's leading literary genius
One of the great inventors of new forms in contemporary literature ... there is nothing else like it in contemporary literature -- Adam Thirwell * New York Review of Books *
Laszlo Krasznahorkai was born in Gyula, Hungary, in 1954. He has written five novels and won numerous prizes, including the International Man Booker Prize 2015, 2013 Best Translated Book Award in Fiction for Satantango, and 1993 Best Book of the Year Award in Germany for The Melancholy of Resistance. For more about Krasznahorkai, visit his extensive website: http://www.krasznahorkai.hu/