Saturday, September 7, 2013

Towards the One and Only Metaphor notes: Introduction

Toward the One and Only Metaphor by Miklós Szentkuthy, translation by Tim Wilkinson (Contra Mundum Press: 2013, 408 pages)

Introduction by Rainer J. Hanshe
The introduction can be found at Asymptote: “Entering the World Stage: Miklós Szentkuthy's Ars Poetica

(v) additional Hungarian writers listed: Sándor Petőfi, Imre Madách, and Miklós Radnóti

(vi) contemporary Hungarian writers: Péter Nádas, Péter Esterházy, and László Krasznahorkai

(vii) Note 5:“Startling Dryness: Szentkuthy’s Black Renaissance” by Nicholas Birns
Note 7: Excerpts: “Prae: Recollections of my Career I” and “Prae: Recollections of my Career II” by Miklós Szentkuthy, translation by Tim Wilkinson (§34 can be found in the second post)

(ix) Note 9: “Backdrops to the Ultimate Questions: Szentkuthy’s Diary Life” by Mária Tompa

(xi) Quote:
To Szentkuthy, the style of the ultra-modernists was outdated. In Toward the One and Only Metaphor, he outlines what he sees as the two principal forms of experimentation: “one is strictly rational, self-analytical, & overscrupulous, simply a pathology of consciousness,” and the other is “the perennial experimentation of nature,” such as biological forms of development, where there are no distinctions between ‘final results’ and ‘undecided, exploratory trials.’
(from §43 of Prae: Recollections of my Career—not in the links above)


[A]s Jóseph J. Fekete observed, “linearity of time, coherent characterization, & plotline disappeared from his work and were replaced by something alien, a mysterious secret: authorial method”
(from “Outprousting Proust: Szentkuthy, the Proteus of Hungarian Literature”)

(xv) Quote:

(László) Németh perceives a more accurate corollary in Kant:
What is important here is not the sensual material but the introspection of the artistic spirit that goes with it. If we wish to compare him with one of the big monsters, then Kant is the much nearer mark than either Proust or Joyce. The Critique of Pure Reason in point of fact is an introspection of the emptied mind. The mind jettisons the world from itself and strives to grasp what is left. As an experiment, it then again repeatedly gobbles one thing or other from the world and watches how space, time, and the categories chew it. It is not the item of food that is important, but the chewing itself; the food is only placed in the mouth so that there should be some chewing to investigate. It is like that with Szentkuthy as well, with the difference being that it is not the scholar’s brain that is observing its own mechanism of chewing, but the on-looking and shaping artist. He is the sort of poet who, before throwing himself into his poetic work, carries out extraordinarily extensive prosodic studies, though not in the way that scholars of prosody usually do, but as only a scholar-poet would do it, who, struggling to reach for a novel system of poetry completely suited to his temperament, practices the ideas he has for substitute meters and contents on a hundred different examples. Any of those examples might be a masterpiece in regard to its meaning and content, but the true goal is a prosodic foundation carried to an unheard-of scale.

(xvii) Note 22: Look for Film-portrait of the 75-year-old Miklós Szentkuthy (1983, directed by Ilona Tőrők, with Pál Belohorszky interviewing). See Wikipedia list of videos Szentkuthy has appeared in:
* András Jeles, Arc és álarc (Budapest, 1986). A video interview conducted by Pál Réz. This is an excerpt from the original 12–15 hours of footage shot by Jeles. Arc és álarc aired on Hungarian TV, Channel No. 1, in 1991.
* TV Portrait-film (1983)

(xviii) Quote:

Through the mask of St. Orpheus, Szentkuthy did avow that, through the perspective of his own life, he could “provide (the malicious of course will say ‘to mask’) a rationale for the diary style of my entire oeuvre, my utter homesickness for an endlessly complete diary,” for it is the diary which is his “ultimate ideal in place of the honest superstition of the old-fashioned ‘objective opus’.”
(In quotes from Marginalia on Casanova §73, p.134)

(xxi) Quote:

When reviewing the book in 1935, Dezső Baróti observed that Toward the One and Only Metaphor is comprised of “unconventional journal-like passages expanded into short essays, plans for novels, poetic meditations that have the effect of free verse, & paradoxical aphorisms,” all of which reveal a moral philosophy, a politics, an erotics.” It predominant motifs (insofar as one can succinctly describe it in a few words) are most especially nature, love, eroticism, sex.
[This would be a good description for Marginalia, too]

(xxiii) Quote:

What differentiates Szentkuthy from the Encyclopædists et alia is that this is only a cataloguing, not a Promethean attempt to harness and dominate nature; and what further differentiates him is his very jocularity, as well as his recognition that the Faustian target will never be reached.

Note 32: To András Nagy, Szentkuthy’s Catalogus Rerum is “modeled more on medieval monks and on parristic & scholastic thinkers…than on the encyclopedia-champions of the Enlightenment…”
From “Masks Behind Masks: A Portrait of Miklós Szenthkuthy,” originally in Berlin Review of Books and reprinted in Volume VIII, Issue 2, July 18, 2013 issue of Hyperion.

(xxiv) In listing sources, Paracelsus is mentioned! The boys and I covered him recently in William Bynum’s A Little History of Science—chapter 9. (see my post with a few notes on the book) The introduction’s epigram is from Paracelsus too:
He who is born in imagination discovers the latent forces of Nature… Besides the stars that are established, there is yet another—Imagination—that begets a new star & a new heaven.

The quote from Szentkuthy regarding Paracelsus (from 1988’s Frivolities and Confessions):

Just as Paracelsus brought the human body, the stars, and minerals to a common denominator, or the way modern physics has a tendency to crop up every now and again, bringing to a common denominator all the material phenomena of the world (material is actually a property of energy, energy is actually a property of space…), so I wished to offer some kind of summing-up of art, theology, love, life, death, the everyday, mythology, games, tragedy, the cradle, the grave, jokes, a revelation. A listing is not moonshine: with me those are true ‘contrasts.’

(xviii) Quote (with embedded quote from Frivolities and Confessions):

For one of the most conspicuous features of Towards the One and Only Metaphor is analysis. “My endeavor,” he revealed, points
To a world concept in which I am able to offer a summation of the ultimate questions of life. (Like the figures seen in old coats of arms—the stylized images of a lion, the moon, stars, a chess table, an arm with a mace, hillocks & stretches of water, et cetera—a lot of fine things fit into a small space…) Ultimate question is a very good term because in this world of ours everything remains a question, at least for the examining brain. As a result…, it is of much more value to catalogue issues that reach to the very foundations of the world than to give premature answers and solutions.
No answers, no solutions, but a catalogue of questions, though even that is not meant literally: one will not find in this book a single ‘list’ in the common sense of the word.

[“Everything remains a question, at least for the examining brain.” Which causes me to look at the title again—“Toward” implies near but not reaching…”Metaphor” is not a detailed description of the thing being described or referenced but is an analogy, put in terms we can understand. Is there a one and only metaphor? It’s implied there isn’t but is Szentkuthy exploring how close he can get to one?]

(xxix-xxx) [Also in Frivolities and Confession there is something along the lines of my thoughts in the previous note on the words in the title]

In particular, as Szentkuthy describes it, Spengler’s biological view of the life cycle of cultures solidified his search for the unifying Paracelsan metaphor:
According to Spengler, the history of the Chinese, Jews, Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs, etc. all displayed one and the same biological progression and formula, the primitive epoch of girth may be seen everywhere, the most splendid era of flowering, and then the over-ripeness in every area at harvesting time, which in turn leads on to total withering and an almost sickly unproductive decadence. Thus, for Spengler at least, world history shows a single picture or recipe—a one and only metaphor!—as, indeed, in several other respects, the histories of plants and animals also do from the earliest times until the present age.
Early critics such as Gábor Halász saw in Towards the One and Only Metaphor only a chaos of orality devoid of any organizing principle, let alone a calculating geometry.

(xxxi) Quote:

As with any fragmentary work, its lack of a systematic structure does not betray a lack of design, nor the absence of a guiding vision.

[Viewed from a distance, fragments can still form a pattern.]

(xxxii-xxxiii) Quote reflecting on the ‘style’ of Marginalia that carries over to Metaphor:

And in Marginalia on Casanova, through the figure of its narrator, St. Orpheus, Szentkuthy offers a key to his very art when he describes ‘the most savage battle of his life’: “the battle of the ‘descriptive’ versus the ‘anecdoticizing,’ the Romantically luxuriant in statics versus the French moralizing style of a La Bruyère or La Rochefoucauld.” While both styles figure prominently throughout his oeuvre, description is undoubtedly victorious, since Szentkuthy finds in it “many more novelties, variations, elements, and shades than in any kind of so-called rational thinking. The most complex thoughts, poetic sensibilities, or philosophical sophistications are all stupefying platitudes, oafish homogenizing beside the infinity of nuancing an object. Thinking, however, imposes a demand for nuance, a microscopic madness; it goes where it can best satisfy that insatiability for atoms.” (§73, p. 130 of Marginalia)

(xxxiii) Hanshe notes what may be Szentkuthy’s central metaphor

And through this play—in every book, whether masked or unmasked—Szentkuthy’s ars poetica yields up a philosophy of love. It is always Eros which is put through a thousand and one permutations, and which is repeatedly—tableaux-like—animated out of Szentkuthy’s efflux of materials, like the thousand & one figures of Asian temples, such as the Kharjuravāhaka monuments, which are equally spiritual, geometric, and erotic.

[So I’m wondering…the cover design by István Orosz…many hands holding pencils laced together, narrowing the distance between them until they converge on one hand at the bottom. And yet my first thought is that it looks like a corset. I may be Szentkuthy's ideal reader.]

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