Κυριακή, 5 Αυγούστου 2018

Αφήγημα

Θεόδωρος Γρηγοριάδης

«Ο φύλακας στο βουνό»



Μερικές φορές αναλογίζομαι τα άσχημα όνειρα που με ξυπνάνε νυχτιάτικα. Δεν είναι πολλά.  Ένα όμως επανέρχεται  συχνά     τα τελευταία χρόνια κι ας είναι ριζωμένο στο χωριό,  κάπου πριν την εφηβεία μου. Θαρρώ, μέσα στον ύπνο μου, ότι ακούω τις καμπάνες του Αι Γιώργη και του Απόστολου Θωμά να χτυπάνε. Συναγερμός! Καίγεται το βουνό!
Όταν βρίσκομαι μακριά από το χωριό μου  η γενική εικόνα που έχω γι αυτό   δεν είναι τα σπίτια , οι γειτονιές,  η πλατεία. Αυτά μπορείς να τα συναντήσεις σε οποιοδήποτε χωριό της  χώρας. Είναι η αίσθηση ότι το χωριού ανήκει στο βουνό.    Είναι ταυτισμένο με το βουνό. Χωρίς το βουνό  ίσως και να μην υπήρχε. 
Στο  προσφυγικό μας σπίτι,  από τα μεγάλα παράθυρα  σε κάθε δωμάτιο,  αντικρίζω μια διαφορετική όψη του Παγγαίου. Άλλοτε στιβαρό και σοβαρό, άλλοτε μουτρωμένο και σκεπασμένο από ομίχλη και άλλοτε βυθισμένο σε μια χρωματική πανδαισία  όλων των αποχρώσεων   του καφέ και του πράσινου.
Καθώς το χωριό ανηφορίζει, ξεκινώντας από τον  κάμπο και αφού καβαλήσει όλο το οροπέδιο, που σχηματίζουν οι πρόποδες του βουνού, καταλήγει στα ριζώματα των  λόφων που το περικλείουν. Σε κάθε λόφο βρίσκεται χτισμένο και ένα εκκλησάκι  προσκύνημα και αγίασμα μαζί.
Δεν υπάρχει σημείο που να σταθείς   και να μην βλέπεις το Παγγαίο. Η χαρισματική τοποθεσία του χωριού  σε κάνει  να πιστεύεις ότι βρίσκεσαι στην καρδιά  του βουνού και ας  κατέχει το χωριό μία πλευρά του μόνο.
Από τον βουνίσιο όγκο  ξεφεύγει ο λόφος με το κάστρο. Απλώνεται σαν μια μικρή χερσόνησος προς τη μεριά του κάμπου, έχοντας στην απέναντι μεριά πεδιάδας την ακρόπολη των Φιλίππων. Ο λόφος  διατρέχει την ανατολική πλευρά του βουνού, κάπως ανυπάκουα θα έλεγα, αλλά χωρίς  να αποσπάται από τα σπλάχνα του Παγγαίου. 
Ο λόφος παραμένει  ένας οικείος τόπος ίσως ακριβώς γιατί  κατεβαίνει κυριολεκτικά μέσα στο χωριό.  Στην κορυφή του  υψώνεται το κάστρο του Μεγαλέξανδρου και ανάμεσα στα τείχη ξεφυτρώνει το εκκλησάκι των Αγίων Θεοδώρων. Η θέα από την κορυφή των επάλξεων είναι  συγκλονιστική. Ατενίζεις  ολόκληρη την πεδιάδα των Φιλίππων με την κεφαλή του Βρούτου στα δεξιά, στο βάθος διαγράφεται το Φαλακρόν Όρος, μόνιμα φαλακρό και χιονισμένο,  ενώ πίσω  και περιμετρικά απλώνεται  το Παγγαίον Όρος ιδωμένο από διαφορετική γωνιά και υψόμετρο.
Για να φτάσεις   στο κάστρο πρέπει να διαβείς ένα στενό μονοπάτι φραγμένο από αγριοπούρναρα. Πληγώνεται  το δέρμα, σχίζονται τα ρούχα σου  όμως αξίζει τον κόπο η ανάβαση και το λαχάνιασμα. Όμως λίγο πριν, πάνω στην ράχη του λόφου, ξαποσταίνεις σε ένα πλάτωμα. 
Εκεί, πριν από χρόνια, είχανε φτιάξει μια καλύβα, ένα  σκέπασμα  ανοιχτό  στους αέρηδες. Τέσσερις ξυλεμένοι κορμοί δένδρων στήριζαν την καλαμένια σκεπή. 
Αυτή η λιτή-ομηρική θα έλεγα - καλύβα  έγινε παρατηρητήριο για τον φόβο των πυρκαγιών.   Μόλις πλησίαζε το καλοκαίρι άρχιζαν οι βάρδιες και οι επιτηρήσεις. Κάθε οικογένεια από τον Ιούλιο μέχρι τις αρχές Σεπτεμβρίου είχε την υποχρέωση να στέλνει ένα μέλος της (μία και δύο φορές την ίδια εποχή) για να φυλάει το βουνό. Την σειρά την κανόνιζε η Κοινότητα. Απλώς η οικογένεια αποφάσιζε  ποιος θα στεκόταν, όλη μέρα,  μέχρι να πέσει ο ήλιος κάτω από την καλύβα. Συνήθως μόνον  άνδρες, ο πατέρας ή ο μεγάλος αδελφός της οικογένειας, ανέβαιναν για αυτό τον σκοπό. Δεν θυμάμαι να έχω  ακούσει για καμιά κοπέλα..
Όμως τον Ιούλιο και τον Αύγουστο έπαιρνε φωτιά και ο κάμπος -από τη δουλειά βέβαια... Τα καπνά τα μάζευαν πολύ πριν το ξημέρωμα  και το «μπούρλιασμα» δεν τελείωνε παρά αργά το απόγευμα. Μπορεί όλες οι οικογένειες να συμφωνούσαν να στείλουν κάποιον για την φύλαξη του βουνού όμως προτιμούσαν να είναι κάποιος που η απουσία του  δεν θα κόστιζε σε εργατικά χέρια
Εκείνο το καλοκαίρι με ξύπνησε χαράματα ο μπαμπάς (πόσο να’ μουν; Δώδεκα; Δεκατρία χρονών; Αμούστακος πάντως.) Στην τετραμελή μας οικογένεια ήμουν ο μεγάλος αδελφός. Ο πατέρας μου μου είπε πως ήταν η σειρά μας για την καλύβα. Έπρεπε να ανέβω. Είχε έρθει η ώρα μου.
Πήρα μαζί μου ψωμί, τυρί, λίγα σταφύλια και ένα παγούρι νερό. Κανείς δεν με ξεπροβόδισε. Οι δικοί μου έφυγαν βιαστικοί στα χωράφια. Έστριψα πίσω από τον προσφυγικό μαχαλά και βγήκα στο Δασαρχείο. Το Δασαρχείο ήταν ένα  χαμηλό κτίσμα με τρία δωμάτια   Το  σπιτάκι βρισκόταν στην άκρη του χωριού, ανάμεσα στα πεύκα, τα λιγοστά πεύκα του χλοερού δάσους.
Ο δασοφύλακας, ο κυρ’ Γιάννης, με καλημέρισε σοβαρός. Είχε περασμένα στο λαιμό του τα κιάλια με τα οποία επόπτευε  τα βουνίσια λημέρια. Όμως δεν έφτανε ένας άνθρωπος για ένα  σύμπαν βουνά! Τόσες χαράδρες, τόσοι λόφοι, τόσες απόκρημνες πλαγιές!
«Τα μάτια σου ανοιχτά!», μου είπε σοβαρός.  «Μόλις δεις  φωτιά να γίνεις  καπνός».
Από την καλύβα μέχρι το δασαρχείο είναι ένα τέταρτο τρέξιμο. Όμως και τις φωνές να έβαζες, και τα χέρια σου να κουνούσες, όλο και κάποιος θα σε έβλεπε εκεί ψηλά. Η καλύβα βρισκόταν σε πανοπτική θέση. Δεν υπήρχε περίπτωση να κρυφτείς, ή να μην πέσει το βλέμμα σου προς τη μεριά του κάστρου.
Ανηφορίζοντας το μονοπάτι πέρασα από το Κρυονέρι και γέμισα το παγούρι με παγωμένο, κρυστάλλινο νερό. Ρυάκια και μικρά ρέματα παντού, σκεπασμένα με θεόρατα πλατάνια. Παραδίπλα υπήρχε ένα εξοχικό κεντράκι με πίστα όπου διασκέδαζαν  οι συγχωριανοί μου ενώ  στους γύρω θάμνους  αγαπήθηκαν ουκ ολίγοι άνθρωποι...
Λίγο  πιο πάνω κουτρουβάλησα σε ένα βουναλάκι σιδηρόπετρες. Αναρωτήθηκα για άλλη μια φορά αν  πράγματι αυτές οι αστραφτερές πέτρες προέρχονταν από τα μεταλλεία χρυσού του Φιλίππου αφού λένε ότι η «σκαπτή ύλη» βρίσκονταν στις δικές μας πλαγιές.
Τελικά έφτασα στην καλύβα  και άραξα κάτω από την σκιά. Πώς θα περνούσε άραγε η μέρα μου; Δεν με λυπόντουσαν οι γονείς μου που με έστελναν στην άκρη του χωριού, στην άκρη του κόσμου; Πήγε να με πάρει το παράπονο.
Ώσπου έστρεψα το κεφάλι μου και για πρώτη φορά αντίκρισα το Παγγαίο στην πιο φυσική του στιγμή. Αγέρωχο, όμορφο, να αλλάζει χρώματα ανάλογα με την στιγμή, μες το χρώμα του ουρανού αλλά και μες την δική σου διάθεση. Γεμάτο δένδρα πανύψηλα, οξιές, καστανιές, φλαμουριές.  Παντοτινό βουνό, επιβλητικό, οι λόφοι του σαν μπράτσα  αγκαλιάζουν από παντού το χωριό αφήνοντάς το ακάλυπτο  μόνον απ’ την πλευρά του κάμπου.
Ήταν μια αποκαλυπτική στιγμή που την βίωνα   ενστικτωδώς. Με την σκέψη παιδιού είπα: «Εκεί, ανάμεσα στις στέγες, βρίσκεται το σπίτι μου. Οι δικοί μου. Εκεί είναι το χωριό μου. Εδώ είναι οι άλλοι δικοί μου. Η φύση, το βουνό μου. Πρέπει  να το προστατεύσω».
Εκείνη την στιγμή  ωρίμασα κάτω από την καλύβα, μεγάλωνα στην ψυχή και ήρθα και φούσκωσα από περηφάνια ότι και εγώ μπορούσα να αναλάβω την φύλαξη αυτού του τόπου, αυτού του τοπίου.
Άρχιζε ένας μυστικός διάλογος με τη γύρω φύση. Με τις κρυφές σπηλιές, τα υπόγεια ρεύματα, τα «περιβόλια» του βουνού, με τους λύκους, τα αγριογούρουνα που έφταναν ως τις αυλές. Θυμήθηκα το πληγωμένο ζαρκάδι που ξεψύχησε στην πλατεία αναζητώντας ανθρώπινη βοήθεια. Είδα τον πατέρα μου να κατεβάζει ξύλα, ξαναπερπάτησα με την  σχολική  εκδρομή για  το μοναστήρι, αφουγκράστηκα σκόρπιους θρύλους για αρχαίες τοποθεσίες και Ιερά, άκουγα τις γκάιντες στο πανηγύρι του Προφήτη Ηλία. 
Κρατούσα τα μάτια μου ορθάνοιχτα,  τόσο ανοιχτά,  που η ανελέητη αντηλιά του Αυγούστου τα πλήγωσε. Κάποια στιγμή, μετά το μεσημέρι, και αφού έφαγα το κολατσό μου, νύσταξα. Πρέπει να  αποκοιμήθηκα  για λίγα λεπτά. Και ξαφνικά άρχισαν να χτυπάνε καμπάνες και να  βλέπω φωτιές!
Πετάχτηκα τρομαγμένος. Απόλυτη ηρεμία. Ακίνητο μεσημέρι. Η υγρασία του δάσους άφηνε ένα σύννεφο   στα ανήλια περάσματα. Θαμπό και το χωριό, σαν ζωγραφιά. Κεντημένο ταπί στον τοίχο,  δίπλα στο κρεβάτι μου.
Όχι, δεν είχα κοιμηθεί πολύ.  Ξύπνιος ονειρευόμουν. Έριξα νερό στο πρόσωπό μου και μου φάνηκε καυτό. Επέτεινα την προσοχή μου τις επόμενες ώρες.

Ξαναπήγα στην καλύβα τα επόμενα καλοκαίρια. Το φυλάττειν       διαπότισε την συνείδησή μου και  νομίζω πως από τότε άρχισα να σέβομαι πράγματα   που  οφείλουμε αληθινά να προστατεύουμε χωρίς αυτό να μας επιβάλλεται από θεσμούς και νόμους. Το βουνό  είναι ένας   θεσμός, αρχέγονο σύμβολο και πρόταση ζωής.



Μεγαλώνοντας άρχισα να επιστρέφω όλο και πιο  συχνά  στο παλιό μου χωριό, το Παλιοχώρι. Δεν βλέπω  την καλύβα στη θέση της. Ούτε όμως άκουσα   για πυρκαγιές. Η περιοχή μας  ποτέ δεν καταπατήθηκε, δεν προκάλεσε-ευτυχώς- τον αδηφάγο τουρισμό.
Όσο για τις φωτιές στον ύπνο μου  μάλλον  κάτι σημαίνουν. Ίσως έχουν  σχέση με την  εγκατάλειψη  εκείνου του πόστου, του φύλακα, ψηλά στην καλύβα. Ίσως είναι  η συνείδηση του βουνού που ακόμη με βαραίνει.  Μήπως πρέπει να  ξαναπάρω τα βουνά.  Άλλωστε πόσα πράγματα ορίσαμε να φυλάγουμε παντοτινά στη ζωή μας;




Δημοσιεύτηκε στην εφημερίδα ΚΑΘΗΜΕΡΙΝΗ, ΕΠΤΑ ΗΜΕΡΕΣ, Αφιέρωμα:  ΤΟ ΧΡΥΣΟΦΟΡΟ ΠΑΓΓΑΙΟ, 7 Μαίου 2000

Κυριακή, 22 Ιουλίου 2018

Καλοκαίρι στο Παγγαίο



Καλοκαίρια στο χωριό, κάθε καλοκαίρι, στο πατρικό, με τις ψηλές φλαμουριές μπροστά, τις δροσιές του Παγγαίου, τις μνήμες αλλά και τα επόμενα σχέδια.
Φέτος διορθώνω τα διηγήματα που θα κυκλοφορήσουν το φθινόπωρο και-τι σύμπτωση- πολλά απ' αυτά διαδραματίζονται στον ίδιο τόπο όπου γράφω αλλά και στην περιοχή γενικότερα. Κανείς δεν ξεφεύγει από τον τόπο του ωστόσο είναι πολύ δημιουργικό να επιστρέφεις και να τον ξαναχτίζεις.
Σ΄αυτό το δωμάτιο όπου έζησα μέχρι τα δεκαοχτώ τώρα ξαναζώ τις ιστορίες που άκουσα και έγραψα αργότερα μακριά. Η απόσταση κάνει καλό. Και ακόμη καλύτερο εδώ, στις πλαγιές του βουνού, απουσιάζει η "λογοτεχνική ζωή" της πόλης αλλά κυριαρχεί μια αρχετυπική, καθάρια ζωή.

Πέμπτη, 28 Ιουνίου 2018

László Krasznahorkai, The Art of Fiction No. 240



Interviewed by Adam Thirlwell

Issue 225, Summer 2018

undefinedIn Copenhagen, 1987.
László Krasznahorkai was born in 1954 in Gyula, a provincial town in Hungary, in the Soviet era. He published his first novel, Satantango, in 1985, then The Melancholy of Resistance (1989), War and War (1999), and Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming (2016). These novels, with their giant accretions of language, global ­erudition (he’s as familiar with the classics of Buddhist philosophy as he is with the European intellectual tradition), obsessive characters, and rain-sodden landscapes, might give an impression of hardened late-modernist hauteur, but they are also pointillist, elegant, and delicately funny. His gravity has panache—a collision of tones visible in other works he has produced alongside the novels, which ­include short fictions such as Animalinside (2010) and geographically vaster texts like Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens (2004) and Seiobo There Below (2008).
Although Krasznahorkai still has a house in Hungary, he mainly lives in Berlin. The first time I tried to reach Berlin from London to begin this interview, in the winter of 2016, my plane was canceled due to fog. A few hours later, as my new flight was on the tarmac, we were told that technical difficulties would further delay our departure. Having at last arrived in Berlin and found a taxi—driving at unnervingly high speed because, the driver told me, he desperately needed to find a bathroom—I found Krasznahorkai in front of the U-Bahn entrance at Hermannplatz, twelve hours after I had left London. I might as well have met him in Beijing. This elongated contemporary travel farce, I thought, seemed incongruously comical. But then I reconsidered: Krasznahorkai’s art has always been hospitable to the absurd, to the ways the world will personify itself and become an implacable opponent.
Krasznahorkai speaks English with a seductive Mitteleuropean ­inflection and the occasional American accent, the result of his time in the nineties living in Allen Ginsberg’s New York apartment. Krasznahorkai is a large, gentle man, often laughing or smiling and full of creaturely care. He loaned me a sweater when I looked cold, bought me Durs Grünbein’s poetry collection Una Storia Vera as a present, and offered recommendations of György Kurtág recordings. With his long hair and mournful eyes, he looks like a ­benign saint. He is also a man of absolute privacy; he never, therefore, wanted to meet in his apartment. Instead, we conducted long sessions in its general environs, in various cafés and restaurants around Kreuzberg.
—Adam Thirlwell

INTERVIEWER
Let’s talk about your beginning as a writer.
KRASZNAHORKAI
I thought that real life, true life was elsewhere. Along with The Castle by Franz Kafka, my bible for a while was Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. This was the late sixties, early seventies. I didn’t want to accept the role of a writer. I wanted to write just one book—and after that, I wanted to do different things, especially with music. I wanted to live with the poorest people—I thought that was real life. I lived in very poor villages. I always had very bad jobs. I changed location very often, every three or four months, in an escape from mandatory military service.
And then, as soon as I started to publish some small things, I received an invitation from the police. I was maybe a little bit too impertinent, because after every question I said, “Please believe me, I don’t deal with politics.” “But we know some things about you.” “No, I don’t write about contemporary politics.” “We don’t believe you.” After a while, I became a little angry and said, “Could you really imagine that I’d write anything about people like you?” And that enraged them, of course, and one of the police officers, or someone from the secret police, wanted to confiscate my passport. In the Communist system in the Soviet era, we had two different passports, blue and red, and I only had the red one. The red wasn’t so interesting because with it you could only go to socialist countries, whereas the blue one meant freedom. So I said, You really want the red one? But they still took it away, and I didn’t have any passport until 1987.
That was the first story of my writing career—and could easily have been the last. Recently, in the documents of the secret police, I found notes where they discuss potential informers and spies. They had some chance with my brother, they wrote, but with László Krasznahorkai, it would be absolutely impossible because he was so anticommunist. This looks funny now, but at the time it wasn’t so funny. But I never made any political demonstrations. I just lived in small villages and towns and wrote my first novel.
INTERVIEWER
How did you publish it?
KRASZNAHORKAI
This was 1985. Nobody—myself included—could understand how it was possible to publish Satantango because it’s anything but an unproblematic novel for the Communist system. At that time, the director of one of the publishing houses for contemporary literature was a former secret-police chief, and maybe he wanted to prove that he still had power—power enough to show that he had the courage to publish this novel. I guess that was the only reason the book was published.
INTERVIEWER
What kind of jobs were you doing?
KRASZNAHORKAI
I was a miner for a while. That was almost comical—the real miners had to cover for me. Then I became a director of various culture houses in villages far from Budapest. Every village had a culture house where people could read the classics. This library was all they had in their everyday lives. And on Fridays or Saturdays, the director of the culture house organized a music party, or something like it, which was very good for young people. I was the director for six very small villages, which meant I always moved between them. It was a great job. I loved it because I was very far from my bourgeois family.
What else? I was night watchman for three hundred cows. That was my favorite—a byre in no man’s land. There was no village, no city, no town nearby. I was a watchman for a few months, maybe. A poor life with Under the Volcano in one pocket and Dostoyevsky in the other.
And of course, in these Wanderjahre, I began to drink. There was a tradition in Hungarian literature that true geniuses were total drunks. And I was a crazed drunk, too. But then came a moment when I was sitting with a group of Hungarian writers who were sadly agreeing that this was inevitable, that any Hungarian genius had to be a crazed drunk. I refused to accept this and made a bet—for twelve bottles of champagne—that I would never drink again.
INTERVIEWER
And you haven’t?
KRASZNAHORKAI
And I haven’t. But still, at that time, among contemporary prose writers, there was one writer and drinker in particular—Péter Hajnóczy. He was a living legend and a total and profound alcoholic, like Malcolm Lowry. His death was the biggest event in Hungarian literature. He was very young, maybe forty. And that was the life I lived. I wasn’t worried about anything—it was a very adventurous life, always in transit between two cities, in train stations and bars at night, observing people, having small conversations with them. Slowly, I started to write the book in my head.
It was good to be working like that because I had a strong feeling that literature was a spiritual field—that elsewhere, in the same era, Hajnóczy, János Pilinszky, Sándor Weöres, and many other wonderful poets lived and wrote. Prose literature was less powerful. We loved poetry much more because it was more interesting, more secret. Prose was a little too close to reality. The idea of a genius in prose was someone who stayed very close to real life. That’s why, traditionally, Hungarian prose writers, like Zsigmond Móricz, composed in short sentences. But not Krúdy, my only beloved writer from the ­history of Hungarian prose literature. Gyula Krúdy. A wonderful writer. Surely ­untranslatable. In Hungary, he was a Don Giovanni—two meters high, a huge man, a phenomenal man. He was so seductive that no one could resist.
INTERVIEWER
And his sentences?
KRASZNAHORKAI
He used sentences differently from any other prose writer. He always sounded like a slightly drunk man who is very melancholy, who has no illusions about life, who is very strong but whose strength is entirely unnecessary. But Krúdy wasn’t a literary ideal for me. Krúdy was a person for me, a legend who gave me some power when I decided I would write something. János Pilinszky was my other legend. In a literary sense, Pilinszky was much more important for me because of his language, his way of talking. I’ll try to imitate.
Dear Adam—we shouldn’t—wait—for an apocalypse, we are living—now—in an apocalypse.—My dear—Adam—please don’t go anywhere—anywhere . . .
Very high-pitched, slow, with all these pauses between words. And the last letters of every word were always expressed very clearly. Like a priest in a catacomb—without hope but with huge hope at the same time. But he was different from Gyula Krúdy. Pilinszky was like a lamb. Not a human being—a lamb.
INTERVIEWER
Was there much available in translation?
KRASZNAHORKAI
There was a time, in the seventies, when we got a lot of Western literature. William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, Rilke, Arthur Miller, Joseph Heller, Marcel Proust, Samuel Beckett—almost every week there was a new masterwork. Because they couldn’t publish their own work under the Communist regime, the greatest writers and poets became translators. That’s why we had wonderful translations of Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, and of every great American writer, from Faulkner onward. The first translation of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow was really marvelous.
INTERVIEWER
And Dostoyevsky?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Yes. Dostoyevsky played a very important role for me—because of his ­heroes, not because of his style or his stories. Do you remember the narrator of “White Nights”? The main character is a little bit like Myshkin in The Idiot, a pre-Myshkin figure. I was a fanatical fan of this narrator and later of Myshkin—of their defenselessness. A defenseless, angelic figure. In every novel I’ve written you can find such a figure—like Estike in Satantango or Valuska in Melancholy, who are wounded by the world. They don’t deserve these wounds, and I love them because they believe in a universe where everything is wonderful, including human existence, and I honor very much the fact that they are believers. But their way of thinking about the universe, about the world, this belief in innocence, is not possible for me.
For me, we belong more to the world of animals. We are animals, we are just the animals who won. Yet we live in a highly anthropomorphic world—we believe we live in a human world in which there is a part for animals, for plants, for stones. This is not the truth.
INTERVIEWER
So you mean, your own philosophy would be pure materialism?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Oh no, Myshkin is also real. Sorry.
INTERVIEWER
No, tell me more.
KRASZNAHORKAI
Franz Kafka is a person. He’s Franz Kafka, with his life story, with his books. But K. is there, in a heavenly space in the universe, and perhaps some characters from my novels live there, too. For example, Irimiás and the doctor from Satantango or Mr. Eszter and Valuska from Melancholy or, from my new novel, the Baron. They are absolute—they live. They exist in the eternal place.
Can you argue that Myshkin is only fictional? Of course. But it’s not the truth. Myshkin may have entered reality through someone else, through Dostoyevsky, but now, for us, he is a real person. Every character in so-called eternal fiction came through ordinary people. This is a secret process, but I’m entirely sure that it’s true. For example, a few years after I had written Satantango, I was in a bar, and somebody tapped my shoulder. It was Halics from Satantango. Really! I’m not joking! That’s why I’ve become more careful about what I write. For example, the original text of War and War was quite different from the version I published. The first hundred pages originally dealt with Korin’s self-destruction, but I was afraid that I would meet him in that condition later on and wouldn’t be able to help him. I was afraid of the possibility that he might never leave his small town. That’s why I chose to get him out of there—with his wish to go just once, at the end of his life, to the center of the world. I hadn’t decided that this would be New York, but that was how I freed myself of the story where he lived forever in this provincial place.
INTERVIEWER
I’m just thinking about what you said about humans living in an anthropomorphic world. It sometimes occurs to me that novels are so blithely anthropocentric. Where are the octopi? Where are the algae? One of the things I love about your novels is that they’re trying not to be so, as it were, provincially human. But it also feels like an oxymoron. What else could they be?
KRASZNAHORKAI
This is very important. The frame of the novel may be too anthropocentric. Which is why the problem of the narrator is the first problem, and it remains that way forever. How can you remove the narrator from a novel? In my most recent novel, on every page there are just people talking to each other—and that’s one way to avoid the narrator, but this is just a technique. Because I agree with you—the frame of the novel and of the world is anthropocentric. But if I have to choose between the universe without a frame and mankind with a frame, I would choose mankind.
We don’t have any idea what the universe is. Wise people have always told us that this is proof you shouldn’t think, because thinking leads you nowhere. You just build over this huge construction of misunderstanding, which is culture. The history of culture is the history of the misunderstandings of great thinkers. So we always have to go back to zero and begin differently. And maybe in that way you have a chance not to understand but at least not to have further misunderstandings. Because this is the other side of this question—Am I really so brave to cancel all human culture? To stop admiring the beauty in human production? It’s very difficult to say no.
INTERVIEWER
You still write novels, though.
KRASZNAHORKAI
Yes, but maybe that’s a mistake. I respect our culture. I respect high ­human articulation in every form. But the root of this culture is false. And if we do nothing, everything continues anyway. And maybe this is the most ­important thing. Everything must go on without any thinking about essences, about what it is, and other such questions.
INTERVIEWER
As if writing, and every art form, should become a ritual without a theology?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Maybe it’s possible to think of writing as a ritual to be performed—­something repeated, word after word, sentence after sentence. Not in the sense of the classic avant-garde at the beginning of the twentieth century, like Dada, say, which led great artists nowhere because they neglected content and that was, poor geniuses, their mistake. But if you think of writing as a ritual you perform, and if you are able to see yourself at the same time, that you are down there on Earth and you write word after word after word . . . and then you have a book. You stop. You close the book. And you open another one, with empty pages. And you write again, write again, write again. Word after word. Sentence after sentence. Close the book. The next one . . . This is a ritual. Maybe it’s not how you think of your writing, but maybe it is what you do.
But this is the point at which we should remember our readers. Because readers need, I hope, our writings. And in this small space—where we write books, novels, poems—there is also a place for our readers. This sympathy, this feeling is very important—finding a common essence between writers, who create form, and readers, who need what we do. This also makes some sense of this small space, which from the higher level we see is absolute nonsense. So maybe the universe is full of small spaces—each with their own time, essence, characters, creation, events, and so on. Different ideas of time for different spaces. Just as we are here, in the universe, inside our small human space.
INTERVIEWER
How did you arrive at your style—these grand, vast sentences?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Finding a style was never difficult for me because I never looked for it. I lived a secluded life. I always had friends, but just one at a time. And with each friend, I had a relationship in which we spoke to each other only in monologues. One day, one night, I spoke. The next day or night, he would speak. But the dialogue was different each time because we wanted to say something very ­important to the other person, and if you want to say something very ­important, and if you want to convince your partner that this is very important, you don’t need full stops or periods but breaths and rhythm—rhythm and tempo and melody. It isn’t a conscious choice. This kind of rhythm, melody, and sentence structure came rather from the wish to convince another person.
INTERVIEWER
It was never literary? Never related to other styles, like Proust’s or Beckett’s?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Maybe when I was a teenager, but that was more an imitation of their lives, not their language, not their styles. I have a special relationship to Kafka because I started reading him very early, so early that I couldn’t understand what, say, The Castle was about. I was too young. I had an older brother, and I wanted to be like him, so I stole his books and read them. That’s why Kafka was my first writer—a writer I couldn’t understand, but also one I wondered about as a person. One of my favorite books when I was twelve or thirteen was Conversations with Kafka, by Gustav Janouch. With this book, I had a special channel to Kafka.
And maybe that’s why I studied law—to be like Kafka. My father was a little surprised. He wanted me to go to the law faculty but was sure I would say no because I was interested only in art—in literature, music, paintings, philosophy, everything except law. But I said okay partly, I think, because I wanted to deal with criminal psychology. At that time, the early seventies, it was a forbidden science in Hungary. It was Western and therefore suspect. But the main reason was, I think, Kafka. Of course, after three weeks I couldn’t bear the atmosphere, and I left—not just the law faculty but the city itself.
INTERVIEWER
Where was this?
KRASZNAHORKAI
A town called Szeged. Because of the military-service system it wasn’t easy to leave. If I left, I had to go back into military service. Normally, military service was two years, but if you graduated, you only had to do one year. However, if you left university early, you had to go back for the second year. So I became a deferred student and lived for a while in Budapest, studying religion and philology. I continued my old Greek and Latin studies, but the exams were difficult because I wasn’t actually at university. Then finally, after four years, I had children. And with children, the military-service problem was solved, because if you had two children, you were free of this terrible obligation.
Military service, for me, was almost a death. In the whole year, I never got permission to leave the camp. I wasn’t a hero or a pacifist, but if you were at a watch post, you had to stay there with a gun and do nothing. Sometimes an officer came to observe me, and if I was reading Kafka, I couldn’t stop because Kafka was more interesting than an idiotic officer, so I always received punishments in the camp prison. That wasn’t so terrible, but it also meant I couldn’t get permission to leave the camp. And that was terrible—to be there, always.
The beginning of my service was the most difficult. When I went in on the night train, with other new military soldiers, I was completely destroyed. I couldn’t speak with anybody. Everybody wanted to make jokes, but me, no. I discovered another guy, a young guy, who was in the same state, so we spoke a little bit. We spoke about how, if we had the chance, we’d visit each other. And after about a week, when I got a little bit of free time, I went to the building where he worked and asked, Where can I find this guy? And somebody said, Third floor. At the third floor, I asked again, Where can I find this guy? And somebody said he was in the munitions store because of a punishment. He was cleaning the guns, and as I opened the door, he shot himself through the mouth. At exactly the same moment. I opened the door and my friend shot himself. I was a child. We were children. We were hardly eighteen years old.
What was your question?
INTERVIEWER
I’m just trying to sort out a rough chronology. You were born in Gyula, then followed your military service, your studies in Szeged, your Wanderjahre, and the publication of Satantango. You came to Berlin in 1987 and were back in Hungary in 1989.
KRASZNAHORKAI
And always back and back to Germany.
In the early nineties, I started War and War. Originally, I wanted to know what the border meant for the Roman Empire. I went, for instance, to Denmark, to Great Britain, to France, to Italy, to Spain, to Crete—trying to find ruins, traces of military defenses. I was always on the road. It wasn’t until 1996, I think, that I really started to write down War and War, while in New York, in Allen Ginsberg’s flat.
INTERVIEWER
How did you meet Ginsberg?
KRASZNAHORKAI
We had a mutual friend. And Allen was a very friendly guy. In his apartment, the door and its lock were completely unnecessary. People came and went, came and went. It was fantastic to be there but also very disturbing to be part of Ginsberg’s circle. During the day, I could work, and at night, which was when Allen really came alive, I could take part in the parties and conversation and music making. I never told them I came from Gyula, but I could never forget it, you know? That I was actually the same provincial boy, just without any hair, and with some teeth missing, who was in shock when he sat in the kitchen beside Allen and in came these musicians, poets, painters—immortal people.
INTERVIEWER
I remember you once talking about the sense of timelessness you always feel and relating it to growing up under the Soviet empire, which had done away with history.
KRASZNAHORKAI
It was a timeless society because they wanted you to think that things would never change. Always the same gray sky and colorless trees and parks and streets and buildings and cities and towns, and the terrible drinks in the bars and the poverty and the things you were forbidden to say out loud. You were living in an eternity. It was very depressing. My generation was the first that not only didn’t believe in communist theory or Marxism but found it ridiculous, embarrassing. When I lived through the end of this political system, it was a wonder. I’ll never forget the taste of political freedom. That’s why I now have German citizenship, because for me the European Union means, above all, political freedom against the aggressive stupidity which is now the god of Eastern Europe.
I came from a bourgeois world, where communist theory never played any role. We were social democrats, my family. My father was a lawyer, and he helped poor people. That was the reality of my life—that two or three evenings a week poor people came to us, and my father helped them for no fee. And the next day, early in the morning, they came and left something outside our door—two chickens, I don’t know what.
INTERVIEWER
And your parents were Jewish, yes?
KRASZNAHORKAI
My father had Jewish roots. But he only told us this secret when I was about eleven. Before that, I had no idea. In the socialist era, it was forbidden to mention it. Well, I am half Jewish, but if things carry on in Hungary as they seem likely to do, I’ll soon be entirely Jewish.
INTERVIEWER
How did your father survive the war?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Our original name was Korin, a Jewish name. With this name, he would never have survived. My grandfather was very wise, and he changed our name to Krasznahorkai. Krasznahorkai was an irredentist name. After the First World War, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory, and the main line of politics after the war, of the conservative nationalist government, was to restore these lost territories. There was a very famous song, an unbearably sentimental song, about the Krasznahorka Castle. After the war, it became part of Czechoslovakia. The essence of the song is that the Krasznahorka Castle is very sad and dark and everything is hopeless. Maybe that’s why my grandfather chose it. I don’t know. Nobody knows, because he was a very silent man. This was in 1931, before the first Hungarian Jewish laws.
INTERVIEWER
Let’s talk about your writing more. One thing that intrigues me is that you seem very clear that you’ve only written four novels.
KRASZNAHORKAI
There is Satantango, The Melancholy of Resistance, War and War, Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming.
INTERVIEWER
Where would you place, say, a text like Animalinside?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Animalinside is a novel, though not in the strict sense. But whether something is a novel or a short story doesn’t depend on the number of pages. I wrote some stories at the beginning of my career, in Relations of Grace (1986). These stories work in a very small space, in a very confined time span, in the middle of which is a single character. A novel contains a huge construction, like a bridge, an arch, from the beginning through to the end. In the case of a story, there is no need for an arch. Instead, a story is a black box, in which no one knows what happened.
INTERVIEWER
And so what’s the new novel, Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming, about? Is it a kind of odyssey?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Yes. For this main character, this is a homecoming at the end of his life. He is a very old man who lives in Buenos Aires. He’s a very sensitive, very tall man, like Gyula Krúdy. But very unlucky—he always makes mistakes.
INTERVIEWER
So he’s your Myshkin, your defenseless character?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Yes, like Estike. Because this novel is my summary, actually, of all my ­novels—you can find a lot of parallels with other characters, other stories. I make jokes about the word satantango and so on. This is my finest novel, I think.
INTERVIEWER
Your finest?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Funniest. The funniest book. It isn’t full of apocalyptic messages. Instead, this is the apocalypse. It’s already come.
INTERVIEWER
But then, I feel, in all of your books, that the apocalypse has already, secretly come. I wonder if there are two types of novelists. Those who see each novel as a separate object, and those who think they’ve written one novel, that all of their novels fit together.
KRASZNAHORKAI
I’ve said a thousand times that I always wanted to write just one book. I wasn’t satisfied with the first, and that’s why I wrote the second. I wasn’t satisfied with the second, so I wrote the third, and so on. Now, with Baron, I can close this story. With this novel I can prove that I really wrote just one book in my life. This is the book—Satantango, Melancholy, War and War, and Baron. This is my one book.
INTERVIEWER
Do you ever long to write something completely outside the terms of these fictions?
KRASZNAHORKAI
No. It doesn’t bother me if Johann Sebastian Bach stays the same his whole life.
INTERVIEWER
You often return to Bach—and other Baroque composers, like Rameau. What’s the importance of the Baroque to you?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Bach’s music is structurally complicated because of the harmony, which is why I can’t bear Romantic music. After the late Baroque, music became more and more vulgar, and the peak of this vulgarity was in the time of the Romantics. There are some exceptional composers, like Stravinsky or Shostakovich or Bartók or Kurtág, whom I love very much, but I think of them always as exceptions. For me, music history is a descent. And after two thousand years, this is also happening in literature. But it’s very difficult to analyze this process of vulgarization. The terrible revolution that was always going to happen in modern societies has in fact happened. Not that mass culture has won, but money. Occasionally a very high-level literary work happens to say something on the midrange level and reaches more readers—and maybe this is the fate of a lot of contemporary writers.
INTERVIEWER
What about your novels?
KRASZNAHORKAI
No, my novels absolutely don’t work on the middle level because I don’t ever compromise. Writing, for me, is a totally private act. I’m ashamed to speak about my literature—it’s the same as if you were to ask me about my most private secrets. I was never really part of literary life because I couldn’t ­accept being a writer in a social sense. No one can speak about literature with me—except you and a few other people. I’m not happy if I have to speak about literature, especially my literature. Literature is very private.
When I write a book, the book is ready in my head. Ever since I was young, I worked like that. In my childhood, my memory was quite abnormal. I had a photographic memory. And so I would find the exact form, a sentence, some sentences, in my head, and when I was ready, I wrote it down.
INTERVIEWER
You don’t revise?
KRASZNAHORKAI
I work almost every minute, like a mill that keeps on turning. If I’m sick, I can’t. And if I were drunk, I couldn’t. But with these exceptions, I work and work, because a sentence starts and next to that sentence a hundred thousand other sentences, like very fine threads from a spider. And one of them is somehow a little bit more important than every other, and I extract it, enough so that I can work with the sentence, correct it. And that’s why, although there are wonderful translations of my books, I wish you could read them in the original, because when I’m working, the first thing I do with a sentence in my head is to make the rhythmic element perfect. When I work, I use the same mechanism that is common to music composition and literary composition. Music and literature and visual art have a common root—structures of rhythm and tempo—and I work from this root. The content is absolutely different in the case of music and in the case of novels. But the essence, for me, is really similar.
INTERVIEWER
You were a kind of jazz prodigy, no? And played in jazz bands when you were young?
KRASZNAHORKAI
I was a professional musician from fourteen until I turned eighteen.
INTERVIEWER
And Thelonious Monk was your great hero as a pianist. Why Monk?
KRASZNAHORKAI
I often ask myself the same question. Looking back, it’s difficult to explain why our taste in music under the Soviet system was so perfect. I’m trying not to sound vain. I played not just in a jazz group but also in a rock group, regularly. Our concerts were parties for working-class people. I recently found a piece of paper with titles of songs we played, and we had absolutely the best taste. Not my taste, but our generation’s taste. At that time, the sources of jazz or rock music were very small. There were two radio stations—the Radio Free Europe, from Munich, and Radio Luxembourg. Our recordings were very bad quality, since we recorded directly from the radio—in secret, of course, because it was forbidden. I had an acquaintance, a doctor in a hospital in Gyula, who had a huge LP collection, and he allowed me to make recordings from his collection. But how I chose the best music, I don’t know. We played Cream, Them, Blind Faith, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield. The most conventional group was the Kinks. What else? Troggs, Animals, Eric Burdon. The Rolling Stones, of course. No Beatles. I don’t know why, but no Beatles. And a lot of blues.
In the jazz trio, I played with a drummer who was fifty and a bass player who was also maybe fifty. I was fourteen. We played everyone from Erroll Garner to Thelonious Monk. And I don’t have an explanation for why Monk was my favorite. Because I’m an old man now and I would still say the same thing.
INTERVIEWER
And you sang, too?
KRASZNAHORKAI
In the rock group, yes. I had a very high voice, like a counter tenor. So I only sang songs by women—Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin.
INTERVIEWER
What about the art scene? Were you listening to Bowie, the Velvet Underground?
KRASZNAHORKAI
I joined the Bowie fan club late, after I became friends with Béla Tarr. Béla lived in a wonderful small apartment in the middle of Budapest. He walked around in one room the whole day, always with music. David Bowie, Lou Reed, Nico . . .
INTERVIEWER
You began working with Tarr on the film Damnation shortly after publishing Satantango, in 1985—is that right? And then went on to make two adaptations of your novels, Satantango, in 1994, and Werckmeister Harmonies, which is a version of The Melancholy of Resistance, in 2000.
KRASZNAHORKAI
At the beginning, we made Damnation because, under the Communists, we were forbidden from making Satantango. This whole story began in 1985, after that novel was published. Béla, his wife, Ágnes, and I—we wanted to make a film of Satantango, but Béla was a hated man in the Hungarian film world. He went to one film company and another. Finally somebody told us that it was forbidden to do Satantango. And I told Béla, Okay, you go home, I go home, it’s over. Maybe two weeks later, Ágnes came to me and begged me to write a new script, because otherwise Béla would commit suicide. I know him, she said. He will commit suicide if he can’t make a film with you. Of course, that was a trap, a story to make me work with him.
INTERVIEWER
Is Tarr the only director you’ve worked with?
KRASZNAHORKAI
I only ever worked with Béla. With him, it was more than a collaboration. I gave everything to him, and he took away the whole. We always worked together after I wrote the scripts, but they were his movies. Cinema is an art without justice. If you are a writer and a film director wants to adapt your work, you should accept that he is the director. This movie will be his. Otherwise, you’re making a mistake.
My scripts were always literary works. I used the form, I used dialogue, but when I wrote about a main character, “He thinks of a world without God,” Béla said, This isn’t a script. How can I show this? That’s why I was a little afraid during those projects. For example, when Estike goes up to heaven. Béla asked, How can I make a shot of that? In the end, the only possibility was to place the camera maybe eighty centimeters in front of Irimiás’s face. And if, in the movie, we could see on his face what happened to Estike, then okay, we win. If not, it’s a failure. Whereas, I can write it in a book and it’s interesting and has a philosophical background. What is reality? Is Estike’s ghost real? For the camera, no.
INTERVIEWER
But for language, yes.
KRASZNAHORKAI
Exactly. And it means that if you have a question about the universe, you always have a few possibilities—in particular through language. The power of the word is, for me, the only way to get closer to this hidden reality. Everyone is a fictional person and, at the same time, a real person. I belong to the fictive world and to the real world—I’m there in both empires. You too. And everyone in this restaurant. And also this object and everything we can perceive and also things we can’t perceive, because we know that with our five senses, some part of reality is imperceptible. I’m not being esoteric. Reality is so important to me that I always want to be aware of every possibility.
INTERVIEWER
I wonder if this is why translation feels so uncanny. How can the reality invented by the Hungarian version of Satantango or Baron Wenckheim be the same as the reality invented by English or French words? There isn’t an equivalent problem for other art forms. Bach makes a cantata and it’s an ­attempt, for him, to express some kind of transcendent ideal—
KRASZNAHORKAI
No, no. Bach is just a musician. When he started his career and began to make his own cantatas, he dealt only with musical questions—structure, the fugue form, the prelude, the falsobordone. We listen to his music and we have a picture of Bach as a holy man, always looking to heaven. But in fact, all geniuses are only interested in the physical, in technique. If you look at Thuringia, where Bach was from, Thuringia was full of Bachs—musicians, generation after generation. Bach was really a synonym for a good musician.
When I was in Japan, I went to a workshop where Buddha sculptures were being restored by specialists. They were incredible workers, geniuses, true artists, but they were entirely absorbed in the technical question—How can I repair this broken sculpture? Then, when the restored Buddha was ­returned to his location, he was now sacred, and someone could pray to him. You can say this is a contradiction, but there was no contradiction for them. The sculptor and the restorer are the same thing. And when someone is a true poet, it means they know that the word has power, and they can use words. If you have that ability, you only need to deal with technical questions.
INTERVIEWER
So you mean, the only true artistic questions are questions of technique?
KRASZNAHORKAI
An artist has only one task—to continue a ritual. And ritual is a pure technique.
INTERVIEWER
I feel that we should single out one particular work for more technical analysis . . .
KRASZNAHORKAI
I think this relates to another question. If we talk about Homer or Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky or Stendhal or Kafka, they are all in this heavenly empire. And once someone crosses this border, it’s forbidden to say, The Idiot is wonderful, but “White Nights” isn’t so good. Or Thelonious Monk—we are not allowed to say that his playing isn’t so good in one place, or in another is too dissonant. These are holy people! We shouldn’t speak about details but about the wholeness of the work or of the person. If you proved once, just once, with a work that you are a genius, after that, in my eyes, you are free. You can make shit. You will still remain absolutely the same holy person, and that shit is sacred shit, because having crossed this border, this person is invulnerable.
I am convinced that Franz Kafka is a fact in an empire that I, from a distance, can only wonder at. I feel joy that this empire exists and that figures such as Dante and Goethe and Beckett and Homer existed, and exist now, for us. I’m sure that all thoughts about these figures, these holy figures, have something in common. My picture of Kafka won’t be so different from your picture of Kafka.
Does that answer your question?
INTERVIEWER
Well, only in that it’s a refusal to answer my question! Can I put it differently? What you’re saying about Bach seems related to your idea that whatever meaning a work possesses will be reached through pure concentration on technique. You once wrote, “The world, should it exist, has to be in the details.” And maybe the work, should it exist, has to be in the details as well—as if they’re different aspects of the same thing?
KRASZNAHORKAI
For me, details are the most important, yes. The smallest details are a question of life and death. A mistake in a sentence kills me. That’s why I can’t bear to read my books, because it’s almost impossible to write a book, in three hundred ­pages, without one rhythmic mistake. And maybe this isn’t a question of perfection but a desire to care about the smallest details, because there’s no difference in importance between the smallest details and the whole. What’s the difference between one drop of the ocean, and the ocean as a whole? Nothing. Nothing.
INTERVIEWER
Is it also related to what you were saying before—that you almost have the whole book in your mind before you begin the actual process of writing?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Yes, but there is something else. Who writes the books? If you have a feeling that you can decide something in the middle of the work, then you are not in the work—you are outside it. If you have the feeling that you are writing the book, you are outside the work itself.
INTERVIEWER
Are there then implications for the interpretation of the work, for literary criticism? If I were to ask about the meaning of The Melancholy of Resistance, is that a stupid question?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Stupid? No. It depends on who is asking. Speaking with you is a different kind of conversation. I honor what you do. It’s not an accident that we are sitting here, because normally I don’t sit down two or three times, for two or three days, with somebody. And of course, my assumption is that you also have your own interest in the answer to your question—this question about meaning. It always comes back to the problem of a whole and details, of how details become a whole.
INTERVIEWER
Are you saying that the two things—the details and the whole—are so ­interdependent that you can’t think of one without thinking of the other? So that, in a way, a work is a third thing, neither the details nor the whole?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Buddha never allowed a person to speak about wholeness because it was an abstraction—because wholeness lacks reality. We have to be very careful using the word wholeness. For instance, we believe that the world, the universe,
is infinite. This is a fiasco, because if the world really were infinite, then this object [pointing to a glass of tea] couldn’t exist.
INTERVIEWER
Why not?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Because everything you can experience in existence is finite. In this glass, there are finite small parts, subatomic elements, and so on. Intangible to us but not infinite.
INTERVIEWER
There’s the moment at the end of Satantango where we realize that the novel is on a loop—that the last lines are also the novel’s first lines, as written by one of its characters. I think it’s the only metafictional moment in your ­novels, the only absolute regression. Was it obvious to you from the beginning that the book would have that circular structure?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Not at all. When I work, I begin from the beginning, and I never know more than my characters. At the beginning of Satantango, I had no idea that at the end, this whole construction, like a musical form, would come back and begin again from the beginning—but on another level, because when you read this book again, you read it with the knowledge that it was written by somebody who is a character in the book. No, I never worked with that conception.
INTERVIEWER
Because it makes the novel infinite.
KRASZNAHORKAI
Oh, no. No, I don’t think so. Only the uncountable finite can exist.
INTERVIEWER
What I mean is, theoretically, it’s capable of being read infinitely, or endlessly, in a kind of circle.
KRASZNAHORKAI
Do you remember what Buddha told us about the circle?
INTERVIEWER
No.
KRASZNAHORKAI
If you follow a circle, after a while you will understand that a circle doesn’t exist. It’s simply a point that doesn’t exist. There is a big difference between the infinite and the uncountable finite. After all, what do you think happens when the Sufi dancer dissolves into nothing?
INTERVIEWER
But then, to finish with this question of endings. You said that Baron Wenckheim would be your last novel. But I know you’re still writing. Does that mean that what you’re writing now isn’t a novel?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Small things, not a big construction. I’ve already written three small books since the last novel. The first, The Manhattan Project (2017), is a prologue to the second work, my New York book. A provisional title could be something like “Spadework for a Palace.” And I also finished a book I’ve wanted to write from the very beginning, because I’ve adored Homer ever since my youth. I made a trip last autumn to Dalmatia, on the Adriatic Coast. This journey led me to an island in the Adriatic, and one myth of the Odyssey suddenly came back, and I wrote a book about it. A small book, like a novella.
INTERVIEWER
You really don’t think you’ll write another novel after Baron Wenckheim?
KRASZNAHORKAI
Novel? No. When you read it, you’ll understand. Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming must be the last

Τετάρτη, 6 Ιουνίου 2018

Παρουσίαση του βιβλίου “Ο απατεώνας” του Χαβιέρ Θέρκας

Δευτέρα 11 Ιουνίου

Μουσείο Μπενάκη Κτίριο οδού Πειραιώς

19:00 – 20:00

Η υπόθεση του ενενηντάχρονου Βαρκελονέζου Ενρίκ Μάρκο έκανε το γύρο του κόσμου παρουσιάζοντας αυτό το μυθιστορηματικό πρόσωπο ως απατεώνα ολκής και τρισκατάρατο. Ο Χαβιέρ Θέρκας προσεγγίζει σε αυτό το θρίλερ, που είναι επίσης και ένα συμπόσιο με πολλά εδέσματα -αφήγηση, χρονικό, δοκίμιο, βιογραφία και αυτοβιογραφία- το αίνιγμα του ήρωα. Αναδρομή σε έναν αιώνα Ιστορίας της Ισπανίας και βουτιά στα τρίσβαθα του είναι μας: στην απέραντη ικανότητά μας για αυταπάτη, στη συμβατικότητά μας, στα ψέματά μας, στην ακόρεστη δίψα μας για στοργή και στις αντιφατικές μας ανάγκες για μύθο και πραγματικότητα.

Με τον συγγραφέα συνομιλούν η δημοσιογράφος Μικέλα Χαρτουλάρη, η μεταφράστρια Γεωργία Ζακοπούλου και ο συγγραφέας Θεόδωρος Γρηγοριάδης.

* Στα ισπανικά και τα ελληνικά

Με την υποστήριξη της Accion Cultural Espanola και των Εκδόσεων Πατάκη και υπό την αιγίδα της Πρεσβείας της Ισπανίας και του Ινστιτούτου Θερβάντες της Αθήνας


απόσπασμα
Σελίδα 401:
"Τι είναι η βιομηχανία της μνήμης; Μια επιχείρηση. Τι παράγει αυτή η επιχείρηση; Ένα υποκατάστατο, μια υπο βάθμιση, μια εκπόρνευση της μνήμης· επίσης μια εκπόρνευση, μια υποβάθμιση και ένα υποκατάστατο της ιστορίας, επειδή, στα χρόνια της μνήμης, η μνήμη καταλαμβάνει σε μεγάλο βαθμό τον χώρο της ιστορίας. Ή, με άλλα λόγια, η βιομηχανία της μνήμης είναι για την αυθεντική ιστορία ό,τι είναι η βιομηχανία της διασκέδασης για την αυθεντική τέχνη· και, με τον ίδιο τρόπο που το αισθητικό κιτς είναι το αποτέλεσμα της βιομηχανίας της διασκέδασης, το ιστορικό κιτς είναι το αποτέλεσμα της βιομηχανίας της μνήμης. Ιστορικό κιτς, τουτέστιν ιστορικό ψεύδος".

Δευτέρα, 28 Μαΐου 2018

500 Λέξεις στην Καθημερινή για βιβλία και συγγραφείς

ΕΤΙΚΕΤΕΣ:500 Λέξεις
Γεννήθηκε στο Παλαιοχώρι Καβάλας το 1956. Σπούδασε Αγγλική Φιλολογία στο Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο Θεσσαλονίκης και δίδαξε στη δημόσια εκπαίδευση. Εγραψε έντεκα μυθιστορήματα, δύο συλλογές διηγημάτων, μία νουβέλα και τρία θεατρικά κείμενα. Η «Ζωή μεθόρια» βραβεύτηκε με το Κρατικό Βραβείο Μυθιστορήματος 2016. Το τελευταίο του μυθιστόρημα, «Καινούργια πόλη» (2017), κυκλοφορεί από τις εκδόσεις Πατάκη.
Ποια βιβλία έχετε αυτόν τον καιρό πλάι στο κρεβάτι σας;
Κλάους Μαν «Σημείο καμπής», Zία Χάιντερ Ράχμαν «Υπό το φως των όσων γνωρίζουμε», Χαβιέρ Θέρκας «Ο απατεώνας».
Ποιος ήρωας/ηρωίδα λογοτεχνίας θα θέλατε να είστε και γιατί;
Ο εννιάχρονος Εγκόρουσκα στη «Στέπα» του Αντον Τσέχοφ. Αφήνει το σπίτι του και διανύει με άμαξα και καραβάνι τη στέπα προκειμένου να γραφεί στο γυμνάσιο. Πνευματικό ταξίδι, πορεία προς την ωριμότητα, η συγκινητική ματιά ενός παιδιού για τον καινούργιο κόσμο. Αγάπησα πολύ το ταξίδι αυτό.
Διοργανώνετε ένα δείπνο. Ποιους συγγραφείς καλείτε, ζώντες και τεθνεώτες;
Τον Ιαν Μακ Γιούαν, τον Λάσλο Κρασναχορκάι, τον Ντάνιελ Μέντελσον, τον Γιώργο Χειμωνά, τον Γιάννη Κοντό, τον Γιώργο Ιωάννου, τον Θωμά Κοροβίνη, την Ερση Σωτηροπούλου.
Ποιο ήταν το πιο ενδιαφέρον στοιχείο που μάθατε πρόσφατα χάρη στην ανάγνωση ενός βιβλίου;
Ο Νίκος Βατόπουλος με το «Περπατώντας στην Αθήνα» μου ξανάμαθε την πόλη που επέλεξα να ζήσω, να ξαναδώ τις γειτονιές και τα σπίτια, να ακούσω ιστορίες που μου διέφευγαν.
Ποιο κλασικό βιβλίο διαβάσατε πρόσφατα για πρώτη φορά;
«Τη συνείδηση του Ζήνωνα» του Ιταλο Σβέβο.
Και ποιο είναι το βιβλίο που έχετε διαβάσει τις περισσότερες φορές;
«Η καρδιά του σκότους» του Τζόζεφ Κόνραντ.
Πώς και αυτή η επιστροφή στη δεκαετία του ’90 στην «Καινούργια πόλη»;
Ολοκληρώνεται η τριλογία που ξεκίνησε με το «Παρτάλι» της γενιάς της Μεταπολίτευσης και συνεχίστηκε στη δεκαετία του ογδόντα με τη «Ζωή μεθόρια». Στην «Καινούργια πόλη» μιλάω για τη δεκαετία της λάμψης και της σπατάλης με αφορμή τον ερχομό για πρώτη φορά στην Αθήνα του πρώην φοιτητή Μανόλη και της μάνας του Μαργαρίτας.
Ελληνίδα μάνα και Ελληνας γιος: εκρηκτικό δίδυμο;
Αρχετυπικό δέσιμο, αλλά στο μυθιστόρημα επέρχεται η κάθαρση με τη θυσία του ενός.
Εχετε Facebook, Twitter κ.τ.λ.; Εάν ναι, εμποδίζουν ή εμπλουτίζουν το γράψιμο και το διάβασμα;
Χρησιμοποιώ όλα τα μέσα κοινωνικής δικτύωσης από την πρώτη στιγμή, αλλά με σύνεση. Επιλέγω το Διαδίκτυο για ενημέρωση, έρευνα, επαφές, συνδρομές. Δεν θέλω να ξαναζήσω την εποχή που στηνόμουν στην τράπεζα για ένα έμβασμα που θα το ταχυδρομούσα και πάλι στημένος στην ουρά για να μου έρχεται συνδρομητικά στο σπίτι ένα ξένο λογοτεχνικό περιοδικό ή βιβλίο.
Έντυπη

Πέμπτη, 24 Μαΐου 2018

Visby, Gotland, Sweden, Baltic Centre


Στο σουδικό νησί Γκότλαντ, στην μεσαιωνική πόλη Βίσμπυ, φιλοξενούμενος συγγραφέας στο Baltic Centre, συναντήσαμε χθες μαθητές σχολείου. Κάτι απλό που ωστόσο είχε πρωτοσέλιδη κάλυψη στην τοπική εφημερίδα η οποία καθημερινά έχει την έκταση μιας κυριακάτικης ελληνικής. 

Στην πάνω φωτογραφία με μία μαθήτρια ελληνικής καταγωγής από πατέρα Θεσσαλονικιό και παντρεμένο στο νησί που ήταν και η πιο φιλοπερίεργη για το τι σημαίνει να είσαι συγγραφέας και πώς γίνεσαι.



Το σπίτι του Ίνγκμαρ Μπέργκμαν στο νησί Φάρο και ακριβώς απέναντι είναι η ταινιοθήκη του. Απέραντη βλάστηση αλλά και παραλίες απογυμνωμένες από τους βόρειους ανέμους της Βαλτικής. 

Τετάρτη, 9 Μαΐου 2018

Διεθνής Έκθση Βιβλίου Θεσσαλονίκης μεταφράσεις στο εξωτερικό

Μεταφραστές ελληνικής λογοτεχνίας από την Αίγυπτο, Γαλλία, Βουλγαρία, Ουκρανία, Σερβία συζητάνε για την προώθηση της ελληνικής λογοτεχνίας στο εξωτερικό. Για την αγάπη που έχουν αλλά και τις δυσκολίες στο έργο τους, τις περισσότερες φορές αβοήθητοι από την ελληνική πλευρά. Να τονίσουμε ότι το Κέντρο Μετάφρασης της Αιγύπτου έχει την πιο ολοκληρωμένη και συγκροτημένη παρουσία στον τομέα αυτό στην Έκθεση μέσα ενώ το Ίδρυμα Πολιτισμού στην Ουκρανία προγραμματίζει δύο βιβλία το χρόνο.
Ανάμεσά τους οι Andriy Savenko και Khaled Raouf .
Ο Χάλεντ Ράουφ είναι και ο δικός μου μεταφραστής στην Αίγυπτο αφού μετέφρασε το μυθιστόρημα "Αλούζα χίλιοι κι ένας εραστές" στα αραβικά το 2017. Όπως είπε το μυθιστόρημα έχει μεγάλη επιτυχία τόσο εμπορική όσο και κριτική. 
Πολύ καλά επίσης πάει και το βιβλίο του Δημήτρη Δημητριάδςη "Πεθαίνω σαν χώρα" σε δική του επίσης μετάφραση. 

Πέμπτη, 3 Μαΐου 2018

Υπήρχε άραγε queer πριν το queer;

Γράφει σε ανάρτηση ο επίκουρος καθηγητής νεοελληνικής λογοτεχνίας ΑΠΘ Τάσος Καπλάνης μια μέρα πριν την συζήτηση στην Έκθεση Βιβλίου Θεσσαλονίκης, την Παρασκευή στις 9μμ στο Φιλολογικό Καφενείο, Περίπτερο 13¨

"Υπήρχε άραγε queer πριν το queer; Πολύ μεγάλο θέμα, αλλά αν υπήρχε, τότε η επιτομή του είναι ο Dr. Frank'n'Furter (Tim Curry) από το Rocky Horror Picture Show του 1975, η sweet transvestite from trans-sexual Trans-sylvania:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQRjhZyXJFg
Αλλά πάλι μιλάμε για τα 1970s: την εποχή του Παζολίνι, του Ντέρεκ Τζάρμαν, της Λίντα Λάβλεϊς από το Βαθύ Λαρύγγι που είχε την κλειτορίδα στο λαιμό της (!). Αχ αυτά τα 70s (φυσικά όχι τυχαία το Παρτάλι διαδραματίζεται στα 1970s). Και τι ωραία και αποτελεσματικά που τα ρούφηξαν και τα απονεύρωσαν τα 1980s...
To ενδιαφέρον με το queer στα 1990s πια είναι ότι δεν ονειρεύεται πλέον μια επανάσταση (το έχουμε ξαναδεί το έργο και την κατάληξή του...), δεν αμφισβητεί το θέαμα και την κοινωνία του θεάματος, όπως έκαναν οι καταστασιακοί το Μάη του 68, αυτοσυστήνεται ως θέαμα αμφισβήτησης και, πολιτικά, στην Αμερική τουλάχιστον, γίνεται έτσι πολύ πιο αποτελεσματικό. Φυσικά όχι χωρίς αντιστάσεις. Οι στρατηγικές πολλές και συχνά καταστασιακές: σκάνδαλα, δημόσιο outing (που καταλήγει συχνά σε φυλλάδες και "μεσημεριανάδικα"), ανοιχτή προβολή και δημόσια συζήτηση, που όμως δεν ταρακουνάει τα θεμέλια της ετεροφυλόφιλης καπιταλιστικής κανονικότητας. Απλά διεκδικεί το δικαίωμα της ύπαρξής του, στο φως, όχι στο σκοτάδι.
Σε μας έρχεται, ώριμο και αγαπησιάρικο, το 2001 με το Παρτάλι του Γρηγοριάδη και το 2009 με τη Στρέλλα του Κούτρα στο σινεμά. Το σημαντικότερο στοιχείο και των 2 δεν είναι ότι οι κεντρικές πρωταγωνίστριες είναι τρανς (που δεν είναι ούτε λίγο ούτε άσχετο βέβαια): λέω ώριμο και αγαπησιάρικο γιατί έχει ξεπεράσει τον θυμό και την καταγγελτικότητα και προβάλλει την αποδοχή και την αγάπη μέσα από δύσκολες καταστάσεις (στην περίπτωση της Στρέλλας μάλιστα απίθανα δύσκολες!) ως μοναδική και αλίμονο συχνά μόνο πρόσκαιρη διέξοδο της ανθρώπινης κατάστασης από τις μιζέριες της.
Φυσικά, όλα είναι σόου. Διαρκές μάλιστα. Όπως γράφει και ο Μάικ στο ημερολόγιό του μιλώντας για τη Ζωή και τον Μανόλη, που πρωταγωνιστούν στα άλλα δύο βιβλία της τριλογίας: "Έπειτα, αυτός [ο Μανουήλ] αισθάνεται ότι τελείωσε η ιστορία. Χαχα, επειδή τον έπεισε η Ζωούλα; Ποια ιστορία, Μανουήλ μου; Τώρα αρχίζει το show! Don't dream it, be it!" (με όχι τυχαία αναφορά στο εμβληματικό τραγούδι του Rocky Horror):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEYjZL7WWKc
Και η ιστορία συνεχίζεται κάπως και στα άλλα δύο βιβλία της τριλογίας, που πέρα από την ακτινογραφία της ελληνικής επαρχίας στα 1980s και της αθηναϊκής πρωτεύουσας στα 1990s, προσφέρουν αγάπη και αποδοχή για την Ζωή και τον Μανόλη, με τα ελλείμματα και τις διαψεύσεις τους (κυρίως με αυτά). Δεν είμαστε υπεράνθρωποι, δεν είμαστε τέλειες/οι, δεν είμαστε καν (πετυχημένες/οι) επαναστάτριες/άτες, ακόμη κι αν προσπαθούμε, τι να κάνουμε; Όμως αυτές/οί είμαστε, αποδεχτείτε το κι αν μπορείτε αγαπήστε μας (κι αν δεν μπορείτε, χεστήκαμε, θα την βρούμε κάπως την άκρη!). Πράγμα που ισχύει για όλες και όλους μας! :)
TRHPS Sweet Transvestite
youtube.com

Δευτέρα, 30 Απριλίου 2018

Το Παρτάλι στην Έκθεση Βιβλίου Θεσσαλονίκης

Γράφει σε ανάρτησή του στο fb ο καθηγητής νεοελληνικής φιλολογίας στο ΑΠΘ Τάσος Καπλάνης με τον οποίο θα παρουσιάσουμε το Παρτάλι και την τριλογία:


"H ποιητική του Γρηγοριάδη τόσο στη μυθιστορηματική του τριλογία (Παρτάλι, Ζωή μεθόρια, Καινούργια πόλη) όσο και σε ολόκληρο, θα τολμήσω να πω, το μυθιστορηματικό του έργο συνοψίζεται σε δύο φράσεις από το Παρτάλι:
"Κι η πόλη έγινε σώμα του και το σώμα του έγινε πόλη, όπου φώλιασαν μυστικά, άνθρωποι και ιστορίες" και
"Πίσω στο χρόνο, που είναι ένας".
Και από αυτή την άποψη, η ποιητική του είναι έντονα μπαχτινική και σε ό,τι αφορά το χρονότοπο και σε ό,τι αφορά το καρναβαλικό, ενώ την ίδια στιγμή αναδεικνύει με τον καλύτερο δυνατό τρόπο (που θα πει: χωρίς εξαλλοσύνες) το θέμα των ρευστών ταυτοτήτων, έμφυλων, σεξουαλικών, και άλλων.
Το Παρτάλι ειδικά -ένα κείμενο που εμφανίστηκε στις αρχές του 21ου αιώνα (2001)- ήρθε μάλλον νωρίς για το νεοελληνικό αναγνωστικό κοινό και δεν είχε ούτε τότε ούτε σήμερα ακόμη την ευρεία αναγνώριση που του αξίζει: γιατί παραμένει το καταστατικό κείμενο της σύγχρονης νεοελληνικής κίναιδης (queer) λογοτεχνίας - κίναιδης με όλες τις δυνατές σημασίες της λέξης, μα ιδίως με την παρετυμολογική: κινεί την αιδώ, βγάζοντας στο φως πολλά από αυτά που θέλουμε ως κοινωνία να κρύψουμε κάτω απ' το χαλί ή μέσα σε ντουλάπες, ανεπιτυχώς και ανοήτως βέβαια.
Το σημαντικότερο όμως είναι ότι δημιούργησε έναν αυτόνομο λογοτεχνικό μικρόκοσμο και μια σειρά από ήρωες και ηρωίδες, που παλεύουν διαρκώς ανάμεσα στα πρέπει και τα θέλω τους (όπως και οι περισσότερες/οι από μας άλλωστε), ανάμεσα στο προσωπικό δράμα και την καθημερινή επιβίωση, ανάμεσα στο κοινωνικό περιθώριο και την κοινωνική καταξίωση, που είτε τους αντιπαθήσεις είτε τους αγαπήσεις, δεν μπορούν να σε αφήσουν αδιάφορη/ο.
Για αυτό και από το αινιγματικό Παρτάλι, περνάει κανείς ευχαρίστως στη βραβευμένη Ζωή μεθόρια (την ιστορία της δυναμικής αστής Ζωής) αλλά και στην Καινούργια πόλη (την ιστορία του πιο απογοητευτικού στο Παρτάλι, αλλά αλίμονο μάλλον πιο συνηθισμένου νεοέλληνα ήρωα, του Μανόλη). Και φυσικά, αναμένουμε ανυπόμονα τη συνέχεια της ιστορίας του επικού Μάικ που ελπίζω να αποτελέσει κάποτε το επόμενο βιβλίο της τετραλογίας. :)
Το καλό με τον Γρηγοριάδη, όπως και με άλλες/ους συγγράφισσες/είς που αγαπώ, είναι ότι μου δίνει πάντα την αίσθηση, όταν τελειώνω ένα βιβλίο του, ότι δεν είπε ακόμη όλα όσα έχει να πει. Και αυτό με κάνει να περιμένω με ανυπομονησία το επόμενο!


Δευτέρα, 16 Απριλίου 2018

Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for Queer Novel "Less"

Around the World in 50 Years




LESS
By Andrew Sean Greer
263 pp. A Lee Boudreaux Book/Little, Brown & Company. $26.
Convulsed in laughter a few pages into Andrew Sean Greer’s fifth novel, “Less,” I wondered with regret why I wasn’t familiar with this author. My bad. His admirers have included John Updike, Michael Chabon, Dave Eggers and John Irving. “Less” is the funniest, smartest and most humane novel I’ve read since Tom Rachman’s 2010 debut, “The Imperfectionists.”
The setup: Nothing is going well for Arthur Less. He’s about to turn 50. The mysterious narrator tells us that Arthur is “the first homosexual ever to grow old. That is, at least, how he feels at times like these.” Arthur is a novelist, and that’s not going well, either. His first book, now distant in the rearview mirror, was a “moderate success.” A big-name critic reviewed it in these very pages. “But every author can taste the poison another has slipped into the punch,” and the critic ended by calling Arthur “a magniloquent spoony.” Staring at this odd phrase, Arthur asked his lover at the time, a distinguished older poet, “What the hell was a spoony?” “‘Arthur,’ Robert said, holding his hand, ‘he’s just calling you a faggot.’”

Photo

Andrew Sean Greer Credit Kaliel Roberts

Years later, Arthur is nominated for a prize he didn’t even know existed: the “Wilde and Stein Literary Laurels.” He thinks his agent has told him, “Wildenstein.” Arthur replies that he’s not Jewish. The agent coughs and says, “I believe it is something gay.” “‘How did they even know I was gay?’ He asked this from his front porch, wearing a kimono.”
Now, on the cusp of the dreaded 50th birthday, Arthur finds himself in a sort of authorial Sargasso Sea, “too old to be fresh and too young to be rediscovered, one who never sits next to anyone on a plane who has heard of his books,” reduced to accepting gigs like interviewing a mega-best-selling author named H.H.H. Mandern, who has made zillions writing “space operettas” of “tin-ear language and laughable stock characters.” Arthur knows that the event sponsor has made the calculation: “What literary writer would agree to prepare for an interview and yet not be paid? It had to be someone terribly desperate. How many other writers of his acquaintance said ‘no chance’? How far down the list did they go before someone said: ‘What about Arthur Less?’”
It has come, finally, to this. But wait — the crowning humiliation of “our gay Job” is that his boyfriend, having dumped him, is now getting married.
As Hunter S. Thompson used to say, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Rather than submit to the ultimate humiliation of attending the wedding, or even of finding himself in the same time zone (nonspoiler alert: the San Francisco Bay Area), Arthur decides to accept a series of invitations to literary events that most self-respecting authors would probably toss into the wastebasket.
Off he goes, around the world, wearing his treasured blue suit, hand-tailored years ago in “humid, moped-plagued” Ho Chi Minh City. His itinerary will take him to New York, Paris, Berlin, Morocco, southern India and Kyoto. His current project is a novel titled “Swift,” about which the lover who has spurned him sniffed censoriously, “All you do is write gay ‘Ulysses.’”
Maybe. But “Ulysses” was never this much fun. Arthur’s wanderings as he makes his way from disaster to disaster are hilariously, brilliantly harrowing. But laughter is only a part of the joy of reading this book. Greer writes sentences of arresting lyricism and beauty. His metaphors come at you like fireflies — or like the “pygmy hummingbird moths” that delight Arthur amid his latest gloom, at a golf resort he fears he has visited accidentally (in place of a vacationing Austrian doctor in red shorts and suspenders).

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Delights of language abound. On a turbulent night flight into Mexico City, “the plane convulses in the moonlight, like a man turning into a werewolf.” And in another fraught venue, “an eel of panic wriggles through him as he searches the room for exits, but life has no exits.” Even Arthur’s random observations are entertaining. Why, he bitterly wonders, do today’s young gay men insist on marrying? “Was this why we all threw stones at the police, for weddings?” And as for quaaludes, “is there any more perfect spelling than with that lazy superfluous vowel?”
In France, Arthur is taken to a remote area on the German border where his schedule consists of “visiting a school during the day and a library at night, with sometimes a monastery in between. … Later: He read aloud to coal miners, who listened thoughtfully. What on earth was everyone thinking? Bringing a midlist homosexual to read to French miners?”
At a literary festival in Italy, where he’s in the running for yet another award he’s never heard of, Arthur recalls being ambushed on stage once, excoriated as an “assimilationist” gay writer. His crime? In Arthur’s debut novel, the gay protagonist returns in the end to his (female) wife. Arthur is not a gay enough writer, it appears.
In Piemonte, where the Italian festival convenes, the big prize jury turns out to consist of a dozen teenagers. Again, Arthur has a bad feeling. “How has it come to this? What god has enough free time to arrange this very special humiliation, to fly a minor novelist across the world so that he can feel, in some seventh sense, the minusculitude of his own worth? Decided by high school students, in fact.
Yet what bubbles up amid all these disasters isn’t self-pity but Arthur’s warm humanity. Pace E. M. Forster’s famous dictum, Arthur connects, especially with young people.
The creative writing seminar he gives in Berlin is so inventive and engaging that it could be used as a template at any college, as a model of how to get kids to fall in love with literature. He has them cut up a paragraph of “Lolita” and reassemble the text any way they want. “He gives them a page of Joyce and a bottle of Wite-Out — and Molly Bloom merely says ‘Yes.’ A game to write a persuasive opening sentence for a book they have never read … leads to a chilling start to Woolf’s ‘The Waves’: I was too far out in the ocean to hear the lifeguard shouting, ‘Shark! Shark!’” His students “learn to love language again, something that has faded like sex in a long marriage. Because of this, they learn to love their teacher.”
By the time Arthur reaches Japan, the reader isn’t just rooting for him but wants to give the poor guy a hug. And by now, good things are starting to happen. A crisis prompts a phone call to the former lover/mentor, the older poet, who informs Arthur that turning 50 “isn’t all bad. It means now people will think you were always a grown-up. They’ll take you seriously. They don’t know that you once spent an entire dinner party babbling about Nepal when you meant Tibet.” “I can’t believe you brought that up again,” Arthur replies.
Like Arthur, Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less” is excellent company. It’s no less than bedazzling, bewitching and be-wonderful.