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The Melancholy of Resistance

de Laszlo Krasznahorkai

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9722221,628 (3.93)51
A powerful, surreal novel, in the tradition of Gogol, about the chaotic events surrounding the arrival of a circus in a small Hungarian town.The Melancholy of Resistance, László Krasznahorkai's magisterial, surreal novel, depicts a chain of mysterious events in a small Hungarian town. A circus, promising to display the stuffed body of the largest whale in the world, arrives in the dead of winter, prompting bizarre rumors. Word spreads that the circus folk have a sinister purpose in mind, and the frightened citizens cling to any manifestation of order they can find music, cosmology, fascism. The novel's characters are unforgettable: the evil Mrs. Eszter,plotting her takeover of the town; her weakling husband; and Valuska, our hapless hero with his head in the clouds, who is the tender center of the book, the only pure and noble soul to be found. Compact, powerful and intense,The Melancholy of Resistance, as its enormously gifted translator George Szirtes puts it, "is a slow lava flow of narrative, a vast black river of type." And yet, miraculously, the novel, in the words ofThe Guardian, "lifts the reader along in lunar leaps and bounds."… (mais)
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  postsign | Dec 28, 2023 |
Blijkbaar is dit een vroeg werk van de Hongaarse schrijver Laszlo Krasznahorkai, die zich inmiddels een behoorlijk reputatie heeft opgebouwd als typisch Centraal-Europees auteur. Ook dit boek bouwt duidelijk voort op respectabele referenties zoals Kafka, Canetti, Kundera, enzovoort. En dan gaat het om thema’s als de ondoorzichtigheid van de realiteit, het kortzichtige van het kleinburgerlijk bestaan, het cynisch sarcasme van machthebbers, en de dreiging van onpersoonlijke machten en krachten.
Geen gemakkelijke lectuur, dit boek, want Krasznahorkai produceert bewust breedvoerige, complexe zinnen en houdt er ook van de lezer regelmatig in het ongewisse te laten. Maar de ironische en satirische accenten maken veel goed.
Achteraf is het natuurlijk makkelijk praten, maar het lijkt wel of Krasznahorkai in dit boek uit 1989 profetisch vooruitkeek naar het opkomend populisme van de voorbije decennia en het algemeen pessimisme van de meer recente jaren. Het toneel waarop deze roman zich afspeelt, is dat van een (ongenaamd) Hongaars stadje in verval, en met hoofdperonages die zich zeer goed bewust zijn van de dreigende disrupties. Het helpt natuurlijk dat bijna alle scènes zich bij avond of nacht afspelen, waardoor de contrasten licht-duisternis des te feller tot hun recht komen, en er over de handelingen een waas van mysterie blijft hangen. Ook het perspectivisme is relevant: de personages zitten allemaal opgesloten in hun eigen perspectief, gekleurd door zelf gekoesterde illusies. En voor sommigen zijn die illusies ook opportuniteiten: vooral de zelfgenoegzaamheid en het cynisme van Mevrouw Eszter springt in dat verband naar voren, gebruik makend van de gruwelijke dreiging van de anonieme massa (angstaanjagend tastbaar beschreven) om haar eigen machtsstreven in realiteit om te zetten. Dit is grote literatuur, dat is duidelijk. ( )
1 vote bookomaniac | Aug 28, 2023 |
On the heels of László Krasznahorkai's victory this year for winning the Best Translated Book Award (BTBA) two years in a row, ever astute critic Scott Esposito has assembled a crash course in all things Krasznahorkai. The gist is that one can begin with Krasznahorkai anywhere, and, while I do agree with this, I also believe that my own journey through the work of the great "Hungarian master of apocalypse"—to use Susan Sontag's remarks on his work, and The Melancholy of Resistance in particular—has proven a wise move. Consider this, then, less a review proper then an account of a personal reading journey through the bleak and labyrinthine prose of one of the greatest writers in world literature today.

When Satantango was finally published in 2012 by New Directions, in a brilliant translation by poet George Szirtes, Anglophone readers finally held in their hands the very first novel by the mysterious Krasznahorkai. While The Melancholy of Resistance was the first of his novels to be translated into English, it is in fact Krasznahorkai's second novel with which Anglophone readers commended their journey through his oeuvre. Indeed, beginning with Melancholy might not be a bad move: the opening section dealing with one Mrs. Plauf's public—and increasingly private—struggles while on board a delayed train as she believes she is being watched, stalked, and finally harassed contains one of the most succinct introductions to the macabre mix of humor, pathos, and terror that readers find on every page of Krasznahorkai's fiction. Read by itself, Melancholy's introduction would, in my view, best serve as a summation of Krasznahorkai's major themes, and allow reader to get a sense of his prose style: how it saturates; how it alienates; how it buries one within it (a veritable "lava flow of narrative," as Szirtes has commented).

However, when I reviewed Satantango for the Los Angeles Review of Books (on Goodreads here), it was all I had read of Krasznahorkai—and I'm glad of this now. I stand by my review even if I refuse to re-read it now, fearful of resorting to the same adjectives to describe both the technical aspect and the experience of reading Krasznahorkai's prose (e.g., "labyrinthine," "ornate," "claustrophobic," and so on). Structurally, Satantango is extremely well-conceived—and I would invite you to read my review of the novel where I consider the Möbius
strip narrative in some depth—and this carries over into his subsequent work. It often seems that when one encounters a review or a piece on Krasznahorkai, one is faced with an exploration of his almost obsessive themes, these recursive dynamics to which he returns again and again; however, I think this does a gross injustice to Krasznahorkai's more technical side as it obscures it from most discussions of his work and his work's resonance. Melancholy's structure is not as complex as Satantango, but it shows Krasznahorkai moving forward: as such, it would do him a disfavor to read Melancholy (again, his second novel) before Satantango which, as a first novel, shows an erudite skill in uniting both schematic and thematic approaches to a small village on the brink of change.

And these schematics (structural and otherwise) as well as the much-discussed thematics span the breadth of Krasznahorkai's work. While I had read Animalinside, his collaboration with artist Max Neumann (and which I reviewed here), after Satantango I had not opened another novel of Krasznahorkai's—without really being able to answer why. Perhaps I recalled the harsh extremes in his first novel, the long sentences that leave no room to breathe, the unrelenting dissection of individual and collective psychological states—and boy, does Krasznahorkai know and channel his Freud—that leave little room outside the narrative space. Perhaps I wasn't ready to immerse myself in a textual zone from which I would have no easy way to escape.

But that is also the wonder of Krasznahorkai: that he is able to create these textual spaces so charged with violence and intimacy, with pessimism and yet an underlying humanity, with an eye keen on critiquing avarice in all its forms just as much as it is extremely interested in those who are marginal to mass culture: the outsiders, the downtrodden, those who are all too often used as scapegoats by those in positions of power. Satantango thematizes this throughout, so it was no wonder, as I began to read The Melancholy of Resistance in earnest that I felt like I was returning to a familiar space, a canny and known zone. It was only after settling back into Krasznahorkai's rhythmic prose that I realized I had been keeping him at bay for all the wrong reasons.

The Melancholy of Resistance deals, like Satantango does, with life in a small, unnamed Hungarian town; in both novels, the locals are waiting for the appearance of visitors. In Melancholy, the circus troupe that enters the town, offering the greatest spectacle on earth (the Leviathan figure of an embalmed whale) for the poor, cold, hungry, and bitter denizens to escape the shackles and desolate deprivations of everyday existence. But there is an interesting dualism at work here: that which offers escape is also a venture rooted in consumerism; it is, in effect, profiting from the immense unease and unrest of the public, all in the name of spectacle, art, and performance.

Likewise, the townspeople cling to all measures of "order" when faced with a world thrown into utter chaos. Mrs. Plauf orders her flat, meticulously, priding herself on her flowers; Eszter, the local intellect and music scholar, immerses himself in the harmonies of Andreas Werckmeister, trying to find the perfect tuning of piano keys that would best echo the music of the heavenly spheres; Valuska, our hapless hero of sorts, clings to cosmology even if his speeches about orbits and plants result in a tavern full of drunks labeling him "the village idiot," for they come to rely upon these enactments of planetary movements as much as he does himself; and, finally, Mrs. Eszter, the composer's estranged wife, who clings to institutionalized forms of power with claws sharpened so that she can take anyone down who will stand in her way.

Krasznahorkai pits these individuals against one another and the result, as one can imagine, is sinister, bloody, and downright impossible to read at times, so enveloped in the prose (this never-ending "lava flow" of black text) that any exit is entirely blocked from view. And in doing so, our position as readers mirrors those of the main characters who are similarly trapped, not only geographically, but in their attempts to apply order to a world that resists these attempts. If chaos reigns—to use a phrase plucked from Lars von Trier's film Antichrist—then the sole purpose of fashioning order from the planets, the musical scales, law and carceral codes is, in effect, pointless despite how our lives are so governed by these very attempts to fashion sense by creating cleanly demarcated lines of order.

When order collapses, Krasznahorkai is the master at providing readers with the effects at the individual and social levels. And because Melancholy opens up a bit wider in terms of its structure than the earlier novel Satantango, one can see Krasznahorkai's evolution as an artist more clearly when they are read in order of composition, not of translation. Personally, the imprisoning and shattered world of Satantango helped me to see more clearly what Krasznahorkai was doing in both his collaborative text Animalinside as well as here in Melancholy. It is my understanding, too, that the world of War & War opens up schematically and structurally a notch more as well, and so, for me, it makes sense to follow the progression of Krasznahorkai's work at it was written.

To see alone how he has woven in more philosophical strands of thoughts, more fleshed out characters, and mastered—even more so, for he was master to begin with—the mood and tone just from Satantango to Melancholy was a rewarding experience, one I would have never had had I read them back to front. It is my hope that, when I turn to Krasznahorkai again, War & War will continue this progression, this evolution, this me-learning-from-Krasznahorkai as a sort of pupil to a questionably dark shaman who is as acquainted with and schooled in the brief amount of light as he is with the immense amount of dark. Further into the darkness, then, so that we may emerge: enlightened maybe; still surrounded by pitch black, perhaps; but selves later and selves beyond the first journey—that, at least, is a certainty. ( )
  proustitute | Apr 2, 2023 |
Tragicómica y melancólica, esta novela nos presenta un mundo plúmbeo y totalitario, dominado por fuerzas ciegas e impersonales. Un escenario humano desolador en el que la inteligencia es anulada por la fuerza bruta y la violencia, y en el que el caos arrastra irremediablemente a unos personajes que, entre el conformismo y la insignificancia, no aciertan a crear un orden nuevo menos cruel y menos gris. El estallido de violencia no alcanza siquiera el rango de revolución y la vida transcurre, en esta pequeña y anónima ciudad húngara, sumida en una atmósfera de terror y amarga ironía. Melancolía de la resistencia es una obra maestra del humor negro.
  Natt90 | Mar 13, 2023 |
I thought this book was pretty good! (Insert author name) has some serious intellectual and authorial firepower and it is obvious that he is aiming for subtle and universal themes of power, chaos, and control in this novel. The central characters were all compelling, but ultimately a bit cartoonish and over the top.

One thing I want to stress is that this book’s prose can be difficult to read. Sentences are dense: they probably average 10 lines of intricately layered clauses, and word choice/subject matter is often complex. There are almost no paragraph breaks in the the entire novel, and there are no chapters outside of a three-part breakup into (1) Intro (2) Body (3) Conclusion. The pages are also noticeably taller than the average softcover book. This is all to say that this book’s 315 page count is not reflective of how long and difficult it really is. But, to be fair, until the very last few pages (with the biology jargon), it was always decipherable content, and I don’t want to make it seem like this book is impossible to read. It was actually really pleasant and beautiful for most of the book. (Insert author name) has a great talent for details and (usually) knows when too much character rumination is too much.

I’m glad I read it and would read another of his books, but maybe not for a while. ( )
  jammymammu | Jan 6, 2023 |
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Nome do autorFunçãoTipo de autorObra?Status
Laszlo Krasznahorkaiautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculado
Alföldy, MariTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Skirecki, HansTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Szirtes, GeorgeTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado

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A powerful, surreal novel, in the tradition of Gogol, about the chaotic events surrounding the arrival of a circus in a small Hungarian town.The Melancholy of Resistance, László Krasznahorkai's magisterial, surreal novel, depicts a chain of mysterious events in a small Hungarian town. A circus, promising to display the stuffed body of the largest whale in the world, arrives in the dead of winter, prompting bizarre rumors. Word spreads that the circus folk have a sinister purpose in mind, and the frightened citizens cling to any manifestation of order they can find music, cosmology, fascism. The novel's characters are unforgettable: the evil Mrs. Eszter,plotting her takeover of the town; her weakling husband; and Valuska, our hapless hero with his head in the clouds, who is the tender center of the book, the only pure and noble soul to be found. Compact, powerful and intense,The Melancholy of Resistance, as its enormously gifted translator George Szirtes puts it, "is a slow lava flow of narrative, a vast black river of type." And yet, miraculously, the novel, in the words ofThe Guardian, "lifts the reader along in lunar leaps and bounds."

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