Sunday, October 27, 2013

Satantango - László Krasznahorkai

Almost two year ago, I finished reading 'Melancholy of Resistance' and was in awe of this writer. The book wasn't easy to get into, for its long sentences, the super slow narration and the general bleakness of the subject. He has an uncanny knack of creating the eery atmosphere around which grows into you, and will constantly keep you disturbed until you finish reading ( and even after you closed the book). The break down of the system, the near apocalyptic events, the town/village caught in the whirlpool of the event and the general feeling of something else is behind all these occurrences who is omnipresent but invisible. Bela Tarr's adaptation followed the writer to the precise. His first ever novel is now available ( well, over an year now released in 2012) which supposed to have established Laszlo Krasznahorkai as one of the leading writers of the world in the current generation.

Satantango, has the similar voice and surroundings as in the case of Melancholy of resistance. The same isolated town/village, the slow uncovering of events , the helpless inhabitants being guided by unknown force, lead to their sad end, the collapse of the system, the visible decay of everything under the sun as well as the imminent disaster that is expected to befall at any time. The same eeriness, the same uneasiness the same helplessness which I am familiar seems to have originated from here.  If it was the mysterious circus company that was haunting the people in 'melancholy' , it was the arrival of Irimias, whom people thought is dead already, to their hamlet causing all that trouble. The 'estate' where a dozen or so families live (includes a mechanic, a headmaster, a doctor, and a couple of village whores), is a farmers collective, which is in clear decay. As few smart people are prepared to receive whatever compensation they can obtain for their cattle and move to places where they can re-build their life leaving the rest of the peasants to their fate, the cunning, devilish charm of Irimias, casts his spell on them. 

In an awesomely beautiful opening the book starts with the signs of imminent danger.

"One morning near the end of October not long before the first drops of the mercilessly long autumn rains began to fall on the cracked and saline soil on the western side of the estate (later the stinking yellow sea of mud would render footpaths impassable and put the town too beyond reach) Futaki woke to hear bells"

The novel starts with a plot be few inhabitants to escape with the money they have, but the plan was shelved with a news of the expected arrival of Irimias to the estate. There seems to be the intelligentsia at work with a clear plan to quell this movement ( as we witness in the meeting of Irimias and Petrina with the State Security in the initial chapter).  They are apprehensive of his motive but are , at the same time, hoping that he will come to their rescue, as he had done once before, prior to his absence( as people thought of him as dead). As one after other vying to get on the better side of him, offering themselves under his mercy to find a way out of this place, Irimias does what he is assigned to perform, despite few occasional moments of self doubt.  As he arrives at the estate after a long walk in the rain ( the rain is omnipresent through out the events, not as a witness, but as a catalyst), to an exhausted crowd of drunken and fallen peasants, after 'stantango' a treacherous nonstop dance orgy, with the news of the death of the young girl Esti, driven to suicide by the estate people themselves. In a remarkable chapter ( Heavenly vision or Hallucination) we witness the resurrection of the dead child ( exactly on the third day of her death) causing all sorts of visions of apocalypse to the trio ( Irimias, Petrina and the young brother of Esti, who joins them on their pursuit). Though Irimias reject the vision - “It doesn’t matter what we saw just now, it still means nothing, Heaven? Hell? The afterlife? All nonsense.” -  the other two aren't very convinced. In the meanwhile, guilty as accused for the girls death, the villagers give all their savings, before setting off to the Manor, for further instruction. With all their money in possession, Irimias and Petrina, leaves for town to appraise the authorities, and to plot and scheme larger things :“the network, that enormous spider web, as woven and patented by me, Irimiás.”

This book has the typical style of Krasznahorkai, long sentences, no paragraph breaks and descriptive narrative style with extreme slow action. His ability to get into the characters thoughts emotions to the minutest details. Split into two parts of six chapters each ( I to VI ascend in the part 1 and VI to I descend in the part 2) the first one awaiting the arrival of the devil ( or the prophet depending on how you want to look at it) and the other on the aftermaths of the arrival of Irimias and Pertina. Krasznahorkai does not give any clear indications or references to the overall moralistic view of the book. It can be a bit confusing, and mind boggling at times. One can deduce their own interpretations or assumptions as he deem fit. The writer himself does not give any further explanation as he says this in an interview, “The reader must content themselves with these lone concrete, but vague, indications, quite simply because what I describe…can happen anywhere."

The book was written and published before the fall of the communist regime in Hungary. There are suggestions that this might have targeted on the decay of the system and the clever manipulation of the individuals by the authoritarian system. Any direct references would have made the book shelved under cold storage, and hence the setting has to be clever with a symbolic or fantastic place. Irimias and Petrina ( the henchman) represents the devilish arms of the state trying to subjugate the hapless citizens.

The book published long ago ( in 1985) , is also made into a 7hr 40 minute long movie by Bela Tarr. The movie notorious for its overall length, shot in black and white, deploys mostly long shots ( of 14-15 minutes each) is considered as one of the great movies ever produced. Someone joked that for a change the reading of the book will take lesser time than to watch the movie. At times, it is easy to see that his novels are written with this in mind. It progresses from one frame to the other with clear visual and characteristic elaboration at each frame ( page or chapter). The writing is stunning and breathtaking at many places. The narration is brisk, despite the slow actions that emerge. The rain itself plays out a major part in the events ( 'fall at once, in one sack full') and the estate is 'stinking yellow sea of mud' due to this. His characterisation is impeccable, the novelistic vision is intact, the perspective is complete from every characters point of view. One of the best writers on the contemporary literature, with a unique style and narrative voice. Outstanding writer and brilliant piece of literature.

Satantango ( 1985 )

László Krasznahorkai ( translated from Hungarian by Georges Szirtes in 2012)

Atlantic Books

276 Pages
NY Books, Words without Borders, Bookslut, Guardian, Three percent, NY Times

No comments: