Baron Wenckheim is back
but Laszlo Krasznahorkai
Translated from Hungarian by Joëlle Dufeuilly
Cambourakis, 528 p., 27 €
It is the story of a general and hopeless chaos, woven by a demiurgic writer whose prose embarks as rarely if ever. The disclaimer begins with a sentence that runs for six pages. That of the first chapter carries over ten pages and three lines. And so on. To read Laszlo Krasznahorkai is not only to explore an imaginary and a mental universe, but to become familiar with a foreign language that merges with its own idiom: it is to enter into literature.
This Hungarian creator, born in 1954, promised to the Nobel (read La Croix of June 10, 2015 and March 22, 2018), offers a book in the form of the ultimate – it was the very one he had promised himself to write by taking up the pen. His art consists of zooming in on details worthy of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch to constitute a cataclysmic overview, starting from the thoughts, the reflexes, the emotions, which spring from each character thus envisaged by breaking and entering. Its Nave of Fools is a Magyar town with an imaginary name, not far from the Romanian border. Everything suggests – no topographical detail is missing – that this is the writer’s birthplace: Gyula, on the railway line linking Bekescsaba to Sarkad.
Moreover, it is from the train that Baron Wenckheim, a native of the region, must get off before a long exile in Argentina. He is inevitably rich and, in the post-communist mess, expected like the messiah. But no. Shy, neurotic, absent, he sows doubt and desolation, despite the delirious efforts made by the town, under the direction of a mayor whom the novelist transforms into a pitiful political puppet: the city councilor wants to organize a “competition of the ‘most thunderous sneeze’ to welcome the Baron! Sounds – in particular those of motorbikes – punctuate this grating fresco, which oscillates between silence and logorrhea, torpor and agitation, empathy and the search for scapegoats: Roma, Albanian beggars, migrants; anything that would threaten from the south or east, unlike the baron who came from the west but completely west. The lyrics, which fuse from the talkative or silent subconscious of the protagonists forming a kaleidoscopic choir, recall Joyce’s prose in Ulysses. As for the imprecations of an anonymous letter addressed to the city newspaper which stabs the Hungarians in their very being, they make one think of the insults poured out by Thomas Bernhard on his Austrian compatriots.
However, the singular genius of Laszlo Krasznahorkai carries everything in its path, with its borrowings from fantastic cinema, its visual grammar (thinness versus fat), its attention to signs that become ours (pinched lips, cartographic details, travel times of iron, details of clothing, etc.). This polyphonic painting of a world destined to disappear before our eyes in an atmosphere that is at once absurd, fluffy and hyper-realistic, hits the mark with every sentence – even if it is the length of a chapter: “The question is not not to know why one must die, but why one must live, thought Baron Béla Wenckheim, and he turned his head towards the window, not because he wanted to look outside, no, but because he wanted nothing. see, and it was his way of expressing it (…)”