In these posts I will briefly recommend a short story or novel that I have found inspirational and meaningful as a writer and reader. Some will be newly discovered works and some will be my all time favorites.
Novel: Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai
I would not call Krasznahorkai a fun read. Certainly not an easy read. Definitely not a page turner. His sentences go on for pages and he doesn’t really use paragraphs, since his sentences are chapters in and of themselves. Additionally, his pacing tends to be the opposite of most best-sellers, one that makes glaciers appear to move quickly. The best way to describe his writing comes from one of his novels, War and War, where a character describes a manuscript as “reality examined to the point of madness, and the experience of all those intense, mad details, the engraving by sheer manic repetition of the matter into the imagination, was, and he meant this literally…as if the writer had written the text not with pen and words but with his nails, scratching the text into paper and into the mind.” Here, Krasznahorkai describes his writing better than anyone else, including myself, could put into words. It’s hard to follow that description just as it’s hard to forget a Krasznahorkai sentence/chapter once you’ve read it.
I’ve shown his novels to friends then watched as they wince at the sentence walls and tell me no thanks. But to those souls brave enough to want to foray into the trenches of a Krasznahorkai novel, his work is extremely rewarding, although those rewards might not become apparent until days or weeks after you finish reading.
While there are tons of quotes that stand out to me in The Melancholy of Resistance, one of the most unique was this one involving a musician, “Ever since he was young he had lived with the unshakeable conviction that music, which for him consisted of the omnipotent magic of harmony and echo, provided humanity’s only stay against the filth and squalor of the surrounding world, music being as close an approximation to perfection as could be imagined, and the stench of cheap perfume in the stuffy hall together with Frachberger’s senile croakings represented a crude violation of such transparent ideality.” This is Krasznahorkai at his most agile, where even those of us that are not musicians can appreciate the delicacy of his insightfulness.
Krasznahorkai novels are just not about getting from point A to point B but the weight of his observations during the journey itself. On the surface, The Melancholy of Resistance is about a small town that receives a mysterious circus, a circus that consists of just one exhibit, an enormous whale, but the novel delves into so much more from his favorite topic of apocalypses, large and small, to insights into human nature. For my friends who are not prone to reading chapters that are single paragraphs, a great adaptation of this novel was made by Krasznahorkai’s frequent collaborator Béla Tarr, into a movie titled Werckmeister Harmonies (2000).
So while Krasznahorkai’s novels might not be the easiest of reads, they’re one of the most rewarding. Finishing one of his novels brings enjoyment akin to deciphering a secret code carried by spies or finishing a marathon for the first time. You’ve put in some serious work and deserve a stiff drink in celebration. There is a sense of accomplishment as well as a residual sense of wabi-sabi as zen practitioners call the acceptance of imperfection and feeling complex emotions like melancholy and timelessness.
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