No one reads the Queen of the Underworld (1850–1924).
In 1913, Sophie Lyons wrote her memoirs, chronicling six decades of bank robberies, prison breaks, cons, and swindles that left her a rich woman. One hundred years later, we’re [Combustion Books] bringing this important work back into print, casting back the veil of the 19th century criminal underworld. This is the world of fences and art thieves, bank sneaks and conwomen, but it is punctuated by a remarkable and nearly universal honor among thieves. Fully illustrated throughout with numerous diagrams of robbery methods and ways of concealing stolen valuables.
via Brickbat Books (my favorite Philadelphia bookstore)
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Harry Martinson 1963. First UK edition.
People continue to not read space poetry.
This edition of Aniara: A Review of Man in Time and Space by Nobel-Prize winner Harry Martinson was “adapted from the Swedish by Hugh MacDiarmid and Elspeth Harley Schubert.” Knopf published the same translation in 1963 and then Avon reprinted it as a paperback in 1976. MacDiarmid is the giant Scottish modernist poet and Schubert translated many books from Sweden, and I bet their version is idiosyncratic and wild.
Theodore Sturgeon said: "Martinson’s crowning achievement is the communication at last of galactic immensity, something heretofore reserved to intuition or the highly exclusive speech of abstract mathematics. The poet does this not once, but time and time again, relentlessly and in many ways."
In 1991, the Swedish publisher Vekerum brought out a new English translation by Stephen Klass and Leif Sjoberg. It was reprinted in the US by the now-defunct Story Line Press. All of these editions are out-of-print and pretty hard to find.
Story Line’s description: “The great Swedish writer Harry Martinson published his masterpiece, Aniara, during the height of the Cold War — right after the Soviet Union announced that it had exploded the hydrogen bomb. Aniara is the story of a luxurious space ship, loaded with 8,000 evacuees, fleeing an Earth made uninhabitable by Man’s technological arrogance. A malfunction knocks the craft off course, taking these would-be Mars colonists on an irreversible journey into deep space. Aniara is a book of prophecy, a panoramic view of humanity’s possible fate. It has been translated into seven languages and adapted into a popular avant-garde opera. This volume is the first complete English language version and received the prestigious American Scandinavian Foundation Award.”
The Vietnamese, at least, may now be reading space poetry.
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This guest post on Clamenç Llansana (Louis Boone) is taken from the introduction of Kit Schluter’s translation of Goliard Songs, which is available as a free pdf at Anomalous Press.
Certain artists specialize in the art of being overlooked.
In using the word overlooked, I am not thinking of artists who have fallen into obscurity after death, having enjoyed the satisfaction of minor prominence during their lives, or even those who seek recognition only to see it deferred during their lifetimes, but those of whom the general public remains entirely unaware, whose work is known only by family members and, at its furthest reaches, a very select coterie of friends.
Widely known examples of this strange lot are difficult to conjure, for these names do not belong to the public domain, but instead to the introverted storybooks of families and communities bound by esoteric practices, the research of obscurantists and eccentrics, and the caprices of folklore. Certain names do, however, come to mind: Henry Darger, John Barton Wolgamot, Emily Dickinson, among others.
In the cases of the sort of artists I’m interested in looking into here, it’s not a question of not knowing the right people, or not having a lucky break, or not being in the right place at the right time. Rather, the sort of public recognition that graces those artists on the tip of their generation’s tongue means nothing to these artists of whom I’m thinking, who are satisfed by the very possibility that, at some point in time, however remote, a curious soul may stumble upon the work they left behind in a crate of family photographs, their old journals and binders of loose-leaf manuscripts, as she digs through the bric-a-bracs her family has accumulated and left behind, passed along to future generations and close friends.
Or maybe even that doesn’t matter to them. Maybe, to say it simply, they just don’t give a damn about any of that. Maybe making work seems to them as inevitable as the act of shedding seems to a golden retriever in the summer, and its reception is inconsequential. It’s always a possibility.
In my family tree, there exists one Fredric Edward Schluter I (b. 1900, Huntington, IL) who, before giving up his early pursuits in sketching— ostensibly to pursue a life more assured of material security—produced at Fort Bragg a modest body of work, mostly plume and ink sketches, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three. Of this work there remains only a single self-portrait and three still lives of hardcover books, bottles, candles, desks, and sad-looking women. And yet, however little is left of this Schluter’s output, the few works he left behind have secured a central place in my imagination ; at this point, to say they have allowed me to become who I am today would indeed be no hyperbole. When the day came that I too wanted to try my hand at drawing, for example, I copied the cross-hatching of his sketches. When, as an elementary schooler, I wanted to learn to smile like a gangster to impress a friend who had been swept away by the myth of Al Capone, I studied the wry, upturned lip in his self-portrait. Later, too, his sketches of liquor bottles, candles, and open books seemed to steer my aesthetic taste toward the perverse genre of Vanitas, the memento mori, the only mode of artwork I, to this day, love unconditionally. Looking back, this experience of possessing these works of beauty that no museum would house for the sole reason of their lack of cultural capital—of my family’s having this œuvre all to ourselves in a sense—allowed these drawings to course through my very blood, and encouraged me to savor that overripe fruit that had grown of one of the shadier branches of our family tree.
In one sense, then, it strikes me that having access to these sketches (the self-portrait, most importantly) led me not only to want to leave behind artifacts that would be found by someone in the remoteness of a future I could never even dream up, but also to desire having more of this sort of secret artistic figures in my life. So, in another sense, I have the artist behind those sketches to thank for the curiosity that led me, years after his death, to find the poetry of Clamenç Llansana (né Louis Boone).
Born in 1951 in the pastoral city of Figeac, France, located roughly 100 miles North of Toulouse, the poet known as Clamenç Llansana was son of a Canadian father (Éric Boone b. Québec City) and Texan social worker (Clemence Tompson b. Dallas), who met through unlikely circumstances in Boston in the 1940s, of which I will spare you the details, and relocated to the rural city of France at some point in the 1950s under even less likely circumstances, the details of which I will also spare you, out of respect for the family’s privacy.
In his adolescence, Llansana still went by his given name, Louis Boone, but wrote under two pen-names, between which he varied depending on the language of the composition: French or Occitan. If composing in Occitan, he aligned himself with the medieval and scholastic lineage the language has to offer, and worked under the name Clamenç Llansana, which was, he said himself, the conscious merging of an Occitan first name with a Catalan surname. If in French, he imagined himself as following the leads of Lautréamont, Arthur Rimbaud, and Henri Michaux’s prose works, and wrote under the admittedly strange Marcel l’Aveugle, or in English, “Marcel the Blind.”
Thus his work vacillates between French, the language of his schooling, and Occitan, the dying language of his local community, spoken now by select communities: the elderly, the eccentrics, and certain Leftist political radicals in the Midi-Pyrenées. Interestingly enough, even though his parents were both English-speaking and he too speaks English fluently to this day, none of the extant writings in Boone’s archive (a milk crate’s worth of poetry, photographs, and drawings) are in English. By the age of twenty or so, the poet had left his given name behind, to make way for the name he goes by to this day, Clamenç Llansana.
Although his output was impressive, this chapbook, Goliard Songs [ed. note: available at Anomalous Press], is, according to the author, the only book he ever published. Released by a micro press in Villefranche de Rouergue named Éditions Igor in 1978, the book has all but entirely disappeared from conversation and circulation. Looking into this publishing venture while working as a public school language teacher in that small city during the 2011-12 school year, I found it has no other publications, and as no local poets had heard of the project, I began to suspect it was merely a one-off vanity project created by Llansana for the making of this book. Llansana himself confirmed these suspicions, not with words at first, but with a wry grin, when we had the chance to meet in the café below his current apartment in the nearby Rodez, France in March of 2012. That same day, when I asked Llansana if we could expect any more work from him in the future, he said he had given up poetry at some point in his late twenties, with no intention of returning. He then retrieved from his modest archive a prose poem in French, “Le Jour de l’armistic (Armistice Day),” which he asked me to translate as a complement to the Goliard Songs—a task I carried out happily. The copy of this book, which Llansana photocopied for me, is the only copy he has been able to locate until now. The nine others printed and distributed in bookstores in the greater Toulouse area must be out there somewhere. Should you know of another, please do find a way to be in touch.
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"[Jane Bowles’] novel, Two Serious Ladies, was a revelation—a work of genius, unique, subversive. These terms are overused, and usually misused, but are true of this audacious, brilliantly written novel, this masquerade, comedy, tragedy, with its anarchic, singular views of sexuality, marriage, femininity, masculinity, American culture, exoticism. Jane Bowles ignored the worn lines between conscious and unconscious life; she beggared the realist novel with writing indifferent to prosaic notions of reality. Her dialogue is the most particular and idiosyncratic in American literature, as peculiar and condensed as speech in jokes and dreams. I loved and respected Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky, ‘He of the Assembly,’ and ‘Pages from Cold Point.’ But Jane Bowles’s novel shifted the ground for me—she made the world of writing move. Move over and sigh.” — Lynne Tillman, Nothing is Lost or Found
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I contacted illustrator Mahendra Singh after learning that his late aunt Monica Tornow appears in Malcolm Green’s legendary anthology Black Letters Unleashed: 300 Years of “Enthused” Writing in German (Atlas, 1989). This post grew from our exchanges.
Tornow wrote short prose pieces and one novella, Ming-Fatso & Ming-Scrawn (1989, with illustrations by Wulf Lücks). She was born in 1938 in Dresden and died in 2006 in Virginia—on the family farm, which she visited every summer—surrounded by her beloved cats.
"Body Demons," the page-long work included in Black Letters Unleashed, is her only writing translated into English. It’s an extract from a collection of similar surrealist feuilletons published in 1978 in Manuskripte, an influential Austrian publication of the time. Mahendra says “the general tenor of the pieces reminds me of the Walser short ‘A Slap in the Face’… I’m looking over them and laughing, they’re pretty good. Burning chickens, leopards knocking at the door, time machines interacting with cats … they are right up your line.” You can now read “Body Demons” on 50 Watts, along with Mahendra’s own translation of another short work, “It Was a Beautiful Day.”
Monica lived mostly in West Berlin, worked as a producer of documentaries for West German TV, and was a totally insane cat nut—Ming-Fatso & Ming-Scrawn is about her two Abyssinians. She wrote on the side, some good stuff but she was possessed of the true Bartleby spirit and simply couldn’t be bothered with the demon Ambition. She introduced me to Ernst, Walser, Gombrowicz, Saltykov, Lem and much more, the classic Central European tradition of mordant, black humour.
Monica loved a crisp, cool Fontana Candida on a sweltering Virginia summer afternoon, followed by a good goulash and some Johann Stamitz on the stereo.
She was also involved sometimes with the Berlin Film Festival … she told me that when Kaurismäki attended one time, he had a guy who would walk before him with a bottle of schnapps on a silver tray, always ready to provide him a restorative shot.
She is sorely missed by her family (except for the damn cat hair that got into everything).
Also see: Two texts by Monica Tornow on 50 Watts.
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No one reads Beatus of Liébana.
Illustrated Beatus manuscripts bring to life an extraordinary vision of the end of the world, as recorded by Saint John in the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) and filtered through the lens of Beatus of Liébana, an eighth-century Asturian monk. These manuscripts are unique to medieval Spain and a testament to the pervasive artistry and intellectual milieu of monastic culture there. The leaf shown here comes from a manuscript disassembled in the 1870s.
This table was created in an attempt to calculate the numerical “code” of the Antichrist, who was a particularly troubling figure to Christians of the Middle Ages. Saint John asserted in Apocalypse 13.18 that the “number of the beast…is 666,” the number specifically linked to the devil at the time the Apocalypse was written. Here, the eight names given to the Antichrist are lettered in red in vertical columns; each letter is assigned a number. The total given is 666, written four times diagonally in the center of the table.
from the Met via the great 1910-again tumblr
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Robert Aickman's books will soon be widely available thanks to Faber & Faber (finally!).
Dark Entries (June)
Cold Hand in Mine (June)
The Late Breakfasters (June)
The Model (June)
The Wine-Dark Sea (August)
The Unsettled Dust (September)
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Scan of a rare book cover by surrealist Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959) for Contes Bizarres by Achim d’Arnim, introduction by André Breton, published by Eric Losfeld for Arcanes, 1954.
No one reads Achim von Arnim. (“Achim von Arnim is surrealist absolutely, in space and time.” —André Breton)
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It’s unlikely that your somewhat erratic editors at Writers No One Reads will be able to provide a massive 2014 Book Preview in the near future, but in the meantime, possibly more to allay our own concerns in that regard than yours, we will, as should be expected, erratically share what we’re reading.
Originally published in 1969, Stanley Crawford’s Travel Notes has been out of print for decades until being rescued from oblivion by Calamari Press. Travel Notes is a strange novel capable of making any reader feel the surreality of being a tourist. It’s a work of baroque imagination, full of invention and absurdity: there is a linguist whose invented word has the capacity to destroy the world; a conspiracy of mail carriers in an abandoned city; a seaside resort where the beaches are lined with mausoleums; an oxymoronic line of hermit janitors… In the end, the book proves to be more than the sum of its parts, making it a welcome addition to Crawford’s sadly unread body of work. (SS)
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I learned of the forgotten novelist Claire Spencer (1895–1987) through Houghton Library's post of this art deco cover. Spencer might fall into the category of “justly neglected?”—and it’s likely I’ll never get around to reading her three novels, Gallows’ Orchard (1930), The Quick and the Dead (1932), and The Island (1935). (You can read two of the books online by following those links.) At first I was just going to post the cover, but finding no wikipedia entry or online bio I decided to cobble one together myself.
Claire Spencer was born in Paisley, Scotland, and emigrated to the United States in 1918. At some point before the publication of her first novel, she married the editor and publisher Harrison “Hal” Smith, and they had two children together. They divorced in 1933 and the same year Claire married John Evans, the only son of bohemian arts patron Mable Dodge Luhan and the author of two novels. Much of this info was gleaned from the letters of Robinson Jeffers’ wife Una, who was friends with John and Claire during their time in Taos. Una called Claire “the strangest woman I’ve ever met & one of the most interesting.” Hal Smith did publish The Island two years after the divorce, but it would be Claire’s last book. The couple and their brood eventually settled in Brooksville, Maine, where Claire Spencer Evans died in 1987 (I cannot find an obituary). John served in a number of government positions until his death in 1978.
(John Evans and Claire Spencer, portraits by Edward Weston)
In Gallows’ Orchard, “marriage and child birth and death take on distorted forms for Effie Gallows. Her neighbors loathe and fear her, and eventually the village children stone her to death.” It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. (Time says, “Book-of-the-Month selectors defend their choice by comparing Gallows’ Orchard to the work of the late great Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Hardy.”)
Kirkus Reviews tells us that The Island “emerges with a certain stark beauty in spite of an incredible number of tragedies and violent deaths.” They end their short review, "Not a book to be sold indiscriminately."
The Quick and the Dead — set in New York City, unlike the Scottish village setting of the other novels — seems to have gotten the strongest reaction from 1930s reviewers. John Bronson, reviewer for The Bookman, drolly summarizes, “When his mother dies Peter is at last happy and commits suicide” and continues:
The retching jagged emotion, the dribbling loathsome sensation, the hysterical impression, the granulation and distortion and decomposition of life are Miss Spencer’s material. There is no question of the success of her style: it is sensitive, intense, and original. The only questions are whether the public is interested in being tortured and nauseated and, this premise granted, whether Miss Spencer’s rather abstract characters possess the reality to attain that end. [source]
That sounds like a review of an AMC or HBO TV show.
The notice in Literary Sign-Posts couldn’t have helped sell many copies: “The people are filled with a deep revulsion with themselves and with each other and with the lives they lead, occasionally touching a depth of disgust that is almost a spiritual nausea.”
I wonder if Graves and Faulkner read her books?
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A guest post by Russian literary scholar Muireann Maguire, who blogs about literature as Russian Dinosaur
Between 1918 and 1928, Alexander Vasilievich Chayanov (1888-1937) wrote and published (at his own expense) five short Gothic-fantastic tales in separate volumes with print runs of no more than 300 copies, mostly under the whimsical pseudonym “Botanist X.” In his lifetime and until the 1990s, Chayanov was better known as an expert in agricultural economics, particularly peasant labor – and his objections to Stalin’s program of forced collectivization caused his arrest in 1930, exile from Moscow to Kazakhstan, and eventual execution. After his rehabilitation in the post-Soviet period, these stories were re-issued in a single volume and ran to multiple editions, sparking a short-lived Russian “Chayanov boom” and a renewal of academic interest in his fiction.
Scholars are particularly intrigued by the potentially significant creative link between Chayanov’s short story “Venediktov” (1921) and the novel The Master and Margarita (1940) by his much better-known contemporary Mikhail Bulgakov. Chayanov’s illustrator, a friend of Bulgakov’s, gave the latter a copy of “Venediktov” as a gift. Bulgakov was intrigued and somewhat spooked to discover that this story’s narrator is also called Bulgakov, and that his fictional namesake falls victim to a bizarre form of psychic possession, or hypnotic persuasion, exerted by a quasi-diabolic force. Since both Chayanov and Bulgakov share an obsession with demonic characters, carnivalesque grotesquerie and magical chaos, it is reasonable to speculate that the former’s now-obscure tales influenced the latter’s now world-famous fiction.
Another tantalizing link to literary celebrity is the coincidence that Chayanov’s science-fiction utopia, My Brother Alexey’s Journey* (probably intended to demonstrate the future social benefits of his principles of agricultural economy) is set in 1984, the same year immortalized in George Orwell’s dystopian novel (published in 1949). While there is absolutely no evidence that Orwell was aware of Chayanov’s novella, he did read and review the first English translation of Evgeny Zamyatin’s science-fiction novel We (written 1921), which may have been influenced, or partially inspired, by My Brother Alexey’s Journey.
Three of Chayanov’s stories – “Venediktov,” “The Tale of the Hairdresser’s Mannequin, or, The Last Love Affair of a Moscow Architect,” and “The Venetian Mirror, or, The Extraordinary Adventures Of The Glass Man” – are available in my translation in a collection of Russian twentieth-century ghost stories called Red Spectres. Two still await publication: a love story about a ghost, and a picaresque trans-European adventure starring two accidental mermaids and a magician. All five are indulgently intertextual, erratically citing Hoffmann, Pushkin, Karamzin, Catullus, and the occasional authority on agronomy. For me, the great charm of these stories is their robust pastiche of a genre I love – the late Romantic fantastic. Chayanov intermingles an abundance of characters and tropes beloved of the early nineteenth century: mermaids, mirrors, mesmerists, and card-playing demons who worship Satan in London gentlemen’s clubs. E.T.A. Hoffmann is acknowledged as “the great master” (in the dedication of “The Tale of the Hairdresser’s Mannequin”), but Chayanov’s eclectic knowledge of Russian and European culture is reflected in the multiplicity of his influences. Théophile Gautier’s eponymous opium-hazed artist in the short story “Onuphrius” (1832) could be refracted in the beautiful female spectre, conjured by tobacco smoke blown from a charmed pipe, who enchants the naïve diarist-narrator in “Julia, or Trysts At Novodevichy Convent” (1928). Alexey, the hero of “The Venetian Mirror” (1923), whose double escapes from an antique looking-glass to cause havoc around Moscow and even kidnap his wife, joins a long Romantic tradition of mirror-doubles – but Chayanov may have been inspired by the comparably malign runaway reflection in the 1913 German silent film The Student of Prague, directed by another now little-read author, Hanns Heinz Ewers. Ewers’s film inspired Otto Rank’s psychoanalytic treatise The Double (1914). We can only imagine what Rank or Freud would have said about Chayanov’s fiction had they enjoyed the opportunity to read it – doubtless, a great deal.
In Yuli Kagarlitskii’s phrase, Chayanov “belonged to the flower of the Russian democratic intelligentsia.”** This was a uniquely cosmopolitan and intellectually dowered generation whom Stalin and the Communist Party did their best to exterminate or exile. Chayanov’s fascination with urban topography and architecture, his knowledge of European languages, his passion for engravings and his aspirations to write historical fiction (even during his first arrest he began a novel about the medieval Slav prince Yuri Suzdalskii), all bespeak the breadth of his interests and his apparently inexhaustible energy. His second wife and staunch supporter Olga Gurevich was a theatre historian, whose career was also destroyed by the Soviet regime. Chayanov’s imaginary universe was almost ludicrously antithetical to the political environment of his own time: his entire oeuvre is an anomalous outcropping against the realistic trend of Soviet literature. The rediscovery and translation of his fiction is hard to justify by economic principles, but remains deeply enjoyable for all lovers of the eccentric and eclectic.
* Chayanov’s unfinished sci-fi novella, My Brother Alexey’s Journey Into the Land of Peasant Utopia (first published in Moscow in 1920 under a pseudonym) was published in an English translation as a slightly eccentric addendum to the late Professor R.E.F. Smith’s 1977 book The Russian Peasant, 1920 and 1984.
**Yuli I. Kagarlitskii, Slavic Review, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Winter, 1990), pp. 634-642 [link]
images: (1) photo of Chayanov, 1921; (2) original 1924 cover illustration by Natalia Ushakova (who gave “Venediktov” to Bulgakov); (3) & (4) recent woodcuts by Grigory Babich for a Chayanov edition via book designer Alina Vekshina; (5) unpublished 1928 illustration by Kravchenko via nasledie-rus.ru; (6) photo of Chayanov
This is a guest post by Russian literary scholar Muireann Maguire, who blogs about literature as Russian Dinosaur.
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A guest post by David van Dusen, who has reviewed Szentkuthy’s Marginalia on Casanova for the Los Angeles Review of Books
Hungarian novelist Miklós Szentkuthy is not unread in Paris and Brussels. Ten of his works have seen French editions since his death in 1988. Nor is Szentkuthy unread in Budapest, where it is no trouble to find him in handsome, mid-century Hungarian editions. He is, however, unheard-of and unread in the Anglosphere, from London to Los Angeles. And if this is changing—as it should—it is only because a boutique publisher out of New York, Contra Mundum Press, has released superb, annotated translations by Tim Wilkinson of his 1939 novel-essay, Marginalia on Casanova, and his 1935 notebook, Towards the One and Only Metaphor. Contra Mundum has also announced forthcoming translations of Szentkuthy’s 1934 novel, Prae, which will be followed by his Chapter on Love, Narcissus’ Mirror, and Black Renaissance. (Marginalia on Casanova is the first volume, and Black Renaissance the second, of a ten-volume novel-essay titled St. Orpheus Breviary.) Szentkuthy may, then, be a writer no one yet reads in English.
In any case, he deserves to be read. In a 1949 letter postmarked Santa Monica, California, and addressed to Mária Hercz—one of Szentkuthy’s translators and lovers—in Budapest, Thomas Mann says that Hercz’s German translation of a Szentkuthy essay had “put me in mind of … some oeuvre with which I could satisfy a certain European fastidiousness created by Proust and Joyce.” Since Szentkuthy later translated Joyce’s Ulysses and had designs to “outproust Proust,” Mann’s constellation is not a haphazard one. But it is also not a stylistic one: no one could confuse Szentkuthy with an imitator of Proust or Joyce. He is fiercely, prolifically, unmanageably his own man. And this makes him, and his works, hard to classify.
Szentkuthy’s first novel, Prae, is rightly considered to be the first “modernist” novel in Hungarian, while his early critics also labelled it “experimental” and “avant-garde.” Szentkuthy was neither flattered nor convinced, and termed his own style “hyper-Baroque.” This is not the place to decide what “hyper-Baroque” means (though etymologically, baroque refers to an irregular pearl, which is apt), but there is a passage in Towards the One and Only Metaphor that gives an impression, at once, of Szentkuthy’s style and “Baroque” ideals. These pages take up one of modernism’s defining obsessions—language—and are occasioned by Szentkuthy’s reading of Sir Thomas Browne’s curious 17th-century treatises, Urn-Burial and The Garden of Cyrus, in 1934.
For Szentkuthy, these Baroque texts are “more Joycean than Joyce,” unparalleled exhibits of “the thousand-jointed undulations of language.” Language is “a living Neander-valley,” and any modernist’s language—like Browne’s, if less visibly so—is a dense matrix of “chance reflex crystals (which is what words are, after all).” If Szentkuthy is “hyper-Baroque,” then, it is not least because:
In the language of the 17th century, the prowling in time & space of all languages is perceptible: in the language of the 17th century it is precisely not the 17th century which is sensed but the 3rd, the 14th … i.e., each separate, undigested, raw temporal layer, preserved in various words.
Szentkuthy is a prowler in time and space, and he wants us to perceive the sediments—and revenants—within all that modernists call “modern.” He writes earlier in this book: “To every explicitly psychic phenomenon there always belongs some anachronism.” And in this sense, Szentkuthy is an “anachronist” as much as a modernist.
These pages on Browne are also interesting since they attest to Szentkuthy’s mastery of English. He recalls his wife Dóra, who herself wrote a dissertation on W. Somerset Maugham, reading aloud to him when he was ill. In Dóra’s mouth, the English words “do not reach the air by a direct route but after yachting, meandering about.” Because she is only “loosely, sketchily forming the syllables,” Szentkuthy is able to hear sounds prised away from their sense, which gives him a distinct sort of pleasure. His own reading of Browne is differently, but no less sharply attuned: “Instead of ‘blue’ all one has to write is ‘blew’ & that banal word becomes at once important, isolated.” When Browne calls the brain a “Metropolis of humidity,” for instance, or invents the word “vinosity” (“some yet retaining a Vinosity and spirit in them”), Szentkuthy is so nourished that he “almost put on weight due to it.” It is not difficult to argue that a man like this should be translated into English.
I have said that Szentkuthy is a prowler in time and space, and he is also a genre-prowler. His most recent translation, Towards the One and Only Metaphor, roves from erotic memoir to confessions, prose-poetry to burlesque, literary criticism to archetypal invention, “Stuart-collars of starched organdie” to “the bangs on Katherine Hepburn’s forehead,” in three hundred pages. There is a super-abundance of material in his books, much of which will satisfy you, and some of which did not even satisfy him. But regardless: when he is afire, Szentkuthy burns bright.
Szentkuthy in English
Miklós Szentkuthy. Marginalia on Casanova. Tr. by Tim Wilkinson. Intro. by Zéno Bianu. Afterword by Mária Tompa. New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2012. (Visit the publisher’s page.)
Miklós Szentkuthy. Towards the One and Only Metaphor. Tr. by Tim Wilkinson. Intro. by Rainer J. Hanshe. New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2013. (Visit the publisher’s page and read an excerpt at Asymptote)
Special Issue on Szentkuthy
“Miklós Szentkuthy Special Issue.” Hyperion. On the Future of Aesthetics VII.2 (July 18, 2013). 318 pp.
Other Recent Essays
Rainer J. Hanshe, “Entering the World Stage: Miklós Szentkuthy’s Ars Poetica,” The Quarterly Conversation (September 2, 2013).
András Nagy, “Masks behind Masks: A Portrait of Miklós Szentkuthy,” The Berlin Review of Books (March 25, 2013).
David van Dusen, “All That Exists Is the Only True Luxury: Miklós Szentkuthy’s Marginalia on Casanova,” Los Angeles Review of Books (May 2, 2013).
Situating Szenkuthy’s first novel, Prae (forthcoming in English)
[Szentkuthy’s first novel Prae has] “aspirations at least as ambitious as Ulysses or À la recherche du temps perdu, the two books with which it has been frequently and, in my view, misleadingly compared. It is certainly fiction, though not quite a novel, not even in a Joycean or Proustian sense of the term. A more accurate description of its fictional mode could be Northrop Frye’s ‘anatomy’ or ‘Menippean satire’: the basic concern of the book is intellectual, its pervading mood is that of the comedy of ideas.… If we must insist on comparisons, Prae is much closer to [Musil’s] Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften than to anything in Joyce or Proust, while it is as important to recognize an older tradition informing this apparently unorthodox work: ‘anatomies’ by Lucian, Rabelais, and, more particularly, Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy provide a loose generic framework we can usefully apply. (This latter connection is perhaps the most important: Szentkuthy is emphatically part of that already ‘classic’ trend in the modern which sees highly significant affinities between the baroque and surrealism, between metaphysical conceit and diaphoric juxtaposition.)” – Ferenc Takács, Professor of English Literature at Eötvös Loránd University (Budapest) and President of the Hungarian James Joyce Society
This is a guest post by David van Dusen, who has reviewed Szentkuthy’s Marginalia on Casanova for the Los Angeles Review of Books.