Excerpt

The World Goes On

László Krasznahorkai (trans. by George Szirtes, Ottilie Mulzet, & John Batki)

January 3, 2018 
The following is from László Krasznahorkai’s book, The World Goes On . These eleven stories draw our attention away from this world, speeding our body toward annihilation, and immersing ourselves in a current of thought. László Krasznahorkai has written five novels & won the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. He lives in reclusiveness in the hills of Szentlászló.

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HOW LOVELY

How lovely it would be, a world that we could end by organizing a series of lectures—anywhere in this departing world—and give it the general subtitle, “Lecture Series on Area Theory,” where one after another, as in a circus arena, lecturers from all parts of the world would talk about “area theory”: a physicist, followed by an art historian, a poet, a geographer, a biologist, a musicologist, an architect, a philosopher, an anarchist, a mathematician, an astronomer, and so on, and where in front of a permanent, never varying audience, that physicist, that art historian, that poet, that geographer, that biologist, that musicologist, that architect, that philosopher, that anarchist, that mathematician, that astronomer, and so on, would relate his thoughts about area from his own respective point of view, keeping in mind the overall title for the lecture series, “There Is No Area,” pointing out the peculiar relation between this title and the subject, so that the artist or the scientist would speak about this, approaching it from his respective perspective of poetry, music, mathematics, architecture, fine art, geography, biology, the language of poetics and physics, philosophy, anarchy, telling us what he thinks, and what he recommends we should think about area—and all this under the aegis of a summary statement denying that this subject, area, exists at all. The contradiction, however, is only apparent; this lecture series could just as well bear (bitterly) the title “All Is Area” as objectively as its actual title “There Is No Area.” For the lecturers would speak about the significance—for them and for us—of a being from whose point of view, when looking at the universe, area does exist; they would lecture about the importance of the question, namely: can the undeniably limited nature of the human viewpoint possibly lead us to the weighty, if unprovable assertion—and according to another viewpoint besides the human it is conceivable—that there is no area, that this is how matters stand, yet, nevertheless, for us, regardless of where we look, we see ruined and intact nothing but area, area upon area everywhere; given that we have reached a point where, trapped in the bewitchingly confined space of the human viewpoint, as we near the incidental termination of an excruciating spiritual journey, we must arrive at the conclusion: beyond this bewitching confinement we in fact insist on nothing else, nothing else, not even on existence of any kind, we no longer insist even on existence, only on the promise that for once in some area, amidst the most profound beauty and decay, we may glimpse something, anything that refers to us.

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OBSTACLE THEORY

You can take the Earth, and you can take the sky, he says, you can go wherever, go deep into the earth, or up into the sky, it’s the same everywhere, you can study the innermost atomic structures through IBM microscopes, or imagine giant computerized rulers in the humongously huge galaxies for measuring the diameters of the universe, you can study the most enormous things and you can investigate the tiniest particles, it makes no difference whether you study entire societies or a single family, the fate of one man from the beginning, or living creatures one by one, or rocks one by one, or ideas, sources, theories, cognition, sensation, intention, volition, or what the Venus of Milo is looking at, or who loves who and why, or who doesn’t like what and why, it’s all the same, take for instance him and this two-liter plastic jug, which by the way he’ll be finishing soon, here’s this jug, and you may be sure that if anyone took the trouble to study him then they’d be looking at how he lifts the plastic jug and takes a good swig, how he drinks and then lowers the plastic jug down on the filthy, slimy pavement here, but not the why, not why he lowers the jug, well, they would never ask that, not why he doesn’t drink more, meaning right now naturally, why his mouthful of swig is what it is and no more, in other words why doesn’t he keep the jug to his lips longer, and why does he put it down right here—and now he mashes the jug’s bottom against the slushy faux marble pavement in a corner of the underpass at Nyugati Station—and I’ll tell you something else, he says, first of all every-thing that is now in the world, in this whole wide world, everything that is in place, is there because it cannot fall any farther toward the earth, the force of gravity is pulling it down, but something doesn’t let it go, something more powerful, or let’s take a river, he says, it happens to be important which way it meanders, he for one surely knows how important, which way it meanders, exactly what kinds of turns it makes on the way to the sea, but these bends in the river, every last one of them, are determined by how water runs to a certain point on the ground, so it goes around it, in other words the river runs up against something that is on higher ground and this deflects it, well then, these countless deflections create the river’s how shall I put it—the line of the riverbed’s course, the so-called riverbed lacework, why it bends this way and that, where it has to bend, and then here come the cartographers and navigators and dam builders and god knows who else, but they aren’t interested in what’s really happening here, they just flock like flies to shit, and nobody considers the essentials, because they only see that for me this much and no more constitutes a mouthful of swig, they only see that the river bends here and over there, and they even add that the ground level is higher there, but they see none of the essentials, absolutely none; or take another example, you look around you and because of gravitation everything in the world is in place, but has anyone asked himself, what makes this the particular place of one object and not another? what causes things to have their place, what causes the world to be the way it is?!—well, you see, it is because everything, on account of gravitation, gets stuck somewhere, and does not fall any lower, and that’s how the world is, but take another case, take for instance snowfall, like right now; looking outside upstairs, the way those snowflakes fall, well now, it’s the same story, why do they happen to be falling at that low speed, what do they usually say about it: weight and mass and air resistance and wind and gravitation, that’s what they come up with, tops, but no one, nobody, says that there is an invisible gigasystem at work here, and that’s how the world is, this, just this, is simply of no interest, they point to resistance, gravitation, forces, so there, it’s all so obvious, no need to ruminate over it, whereas this is exactly what shows that everyone here is absolutely, truly ignorant; or take another example, because there it is, let’s look at the Earth, then you’ll see there are things that stand still and things that will sooner or later come to a standstill, that is, at the moment they happen to be moving from one place to another, there is stoppage and delayed stoppage, there are these two if we consider only the Earth and the way we see it, but if we take the realm of the invisible where, let’s say, he says, neutrons and protons and electrons and hadrons and leptons and quarks and bosons and super-partners bicker and so on and so forth where the series is endlessly continuable as time passes—because they too are only assembled out of something—well, no matter, the point is that here we see motion, the interruption or stoppage of which, how shall I say it, is deferred forever, so that we have stoppage and motion, but behind both, and pay attention now, he says, there is that elusive, unfathomable gigasystem that determines what is it going to be, stoppage or motion, and beyond the worlds there are other worlds, every world perfectly conceals another world, of course, although the whole thing can also be expressed by saying that any one world is only a gateway, a secret door to billions of worlds, which are reachable only through this one and only world, and there are worlds upon worlds, but really, a huge topsy-turvydom, a gigachaos, one might say, and that doesn’t express what we’re talking about any better than if we were to recognize the whole as hierarchical parts of a single vast system, of course these are only words, and words never reveal anything, no, it’s absolutely certain that they exist precisely to hide the way out, playing the role of the hidden, no, the bricked-up door that will never open, and of course things aren’t much better with thought either, thought too always gets stuck at some threshold, exactly where this thought should cross over into the beyond, in short, no matter if it is words or thoughts, this is just like a border closing in the old days—no way in, no way out—while the enclosed area in its tense causality quivers there like a jelly-like mass, worthless and misleading, but we could go one step further, because if earlier we have agreed, he says, on there being either stoppage or delayed stoppage, behind that entity that decides whether we stop or move, behind that too there is an unfathomable but still conceivable gigasystem, and this is the same identical one, in every example of his the same gigasystem is at work, all this gigaing isn’t very helpful but he can’t think of a better term right now, and anyway it’s of no interest which word is unable to express what he wants to say, this isn’t the first time he’s run up against this problem, for alas he can only repeat that this is the situation with words, that words are helpless, it’s always a merry-go-round, around the thing itself, never a bull’s-eye, that’s words for you, so that he for his part doesn’t get too excited that he too is unable to find the right word, for today let’s go with the gigasystem, it doesn’t express anything anyway either, that is to say, compared to what it should be expressing, that as a matter of fact the reason this system is there immediately behind each and every piece of the visible and invisible realms, that in fact this system is there in the realms of tremendously vast universal units and of tremendously minuscule universal units, and this is not the world any longer, it is the essence, as he takes another swig from the plastic jug here in a corner of the underpass at Nyugati Station where he sought refuge from the winter’s cold, for there is the world and there is this essence of the world, and presumably there are these various worlds, each with its own essence, but simultaneously, all together, because that’s how we must think of it, all of it is simultaneously together, these worlds and their essence don’t separate from each other, they are made of the same cloth, this essence is woven into, so to say, into its own particular world, speaking of which—and here with a look of deep significance he lowers the plastic jug down into the filthy slush of the faux marble pavement—we are not wrong to speak separately about the world and separately about its essence, insofar as it is possible, that is, the essence about which he himself, here at the Nyugati Station, in the thick of Christmas rush, before he empties his plastic jug, he will say this much, so you will be able to imagine it for yourself in a simpler form—although he can understand that our attention is flagging—if you take time to do so, you can see it in the form of a jumble of obstacles, a horrendous, monstrously vast, funny obstacle course, nothing but invisible obstacles and nothing but concealed resistance everywhere, for imagine the world in front of you, or to be more precise, imagine an enormously vast world, as enormously vast as you can think of, and then you’ll be able to see that each and every event in it hinges upon an obstacle, it depends more significantly upon that obstacle than on the impulse, so to say, that propels it forward, or would put it into motion if it could, this is not so complicated, he says, it can be imagined, let your mind run through the entire world from the inexhaustible realm of subatomic particles to the inexhaustible realm of universes, and you will be able to see the facts, that are either events, or things, or absences of events, or absences of things, but if they are the latter, even then, they are absences, possessing the diametrically real fact of the non-occurrence of things or events, well then, and now he attempts to struggle to his feet but falls back on the layers of overcoats spread under him, we can clearly recognize this essence of the world, of the various worlds, for it is clearly visible now, no? that it is obstacles that hold it together, obstacles that give it structure, insofar as it is possible to speak of structure, obstacles determine what will be and what will not be, obstacles, whether it will be this or that, the Big Bad Wolf or Little Red Riding Hood, which one it will be, and which one it won’t, where it will go or where it will stop, or when it will start or will it start at all, there is nothing, he says with his back flung against the wall, to the crowds surging past in the earsplitting racket of the underpass, nothing that is not brought about by Him, or done away by Him, lord of life and death, the mightiest world order behind the world, the most tremendously monumental structure in existence, that is all too extant, while—and this is really not very funny—while . . . he repeats, raising his free hand in warning to the crowd that takes not the slightest notice of him, this essence is not at all present in existence, for in existence it is present only through its consequences, and this is the world; or, to put it more plainly, take a look at him for instance, he is no less uninteresting than anyone else in this mad Christmas rush, so he will do as an example, he had a life, in his life he went here and there, there was stopping and there was going, meanwhile he could not go this way, then that, one thing is sure now he is standing, now it is nothing but obstacles everywhere, a gigacheckmate, you could say, when the only thing that remains is those last swigs in the plastic jug, he can still drink that, another swig and mouthful, before he stops for good, before he disappears for good, before that great stinking blur swallows him, completely, so that no one will bring him back—here by the subway entrance of Nyugati Station—you can come back and see for yourself, here by the side of the ticket office, in the recessed corner; the draft is pretty bad here, tomorrow is Christmas, just one forint please, it’s snowing upstairs, and tonight, here is this empty plastic jug, in his lap grown cold.

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From The World Goes On. Used with permission of New Directions. Copyright © 2017 by László Krasznahorkai.




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