The prose of Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai is full of menace, but it would be a mistake to read the menace either as political or as coming from nowhere. In novels such as The Melancholy of Resistance and War & War, his imagination feeds on real fear and real violence; he has a way of making fear and violence seem all the more real and present, however, by removing them from a familiar context.
It is fascinating to watch the work of László Krasznahorkai as though in action, spurred into sentences by the suggestive images of the German artist Max Neumann. The writer worked first from one of Neumann’s images and then Neumann, spurred on in turn by the words, made the rest of the images to which Krasznahorkai, his mind let loose by the captured visuals, responded by writing more texts. What follows is an excerpt from the book, Animalinside, that resulted from their collaboration. —Colm Toibin
Withdraw into protection and safeguard all that is important to you, take it down to below the earth, all that you have, take down the jewelry, the food, the children’s photographs, the armchair where you like to sit with a book in your hand, the curtain, behind which you feel yourselves to be safe, from the window; gather together all that was dear to you, gather together the identity cards and baptismal certificates, take the money out of the bank and hide it in the cellar behind the wall, but really every piece of jewelry, every scrap of food, every photograph of the child, every armchair and every beloved book, every curtain and every document, and really all of the money down to the very last cent, and really hide all of these things well, but really well, under the earth, so that at least you will be able to believe until then that there was some sense to it all, until we get there, seek out protection at least until then, while you are still able to believe that we haven’t got there yet, believe and hope, hope and believe very much that it is rational to prepare for our arrival, just move away and pack up, take the chests stuffed full of pilfered loot, take them one after the other, down below the earth, at least until then do not think about how it is not necessary to wait for us, that it is not necessary to be afraid of us, that we are coming and that there is no need to worry about us, that the day is coming and we are coming, and seeing as it’s already here, seeing as that day has come, and you didn’t notice that it has come, here we are, we see it all, we see what you’re doing with your little chests, we see what you’re doing with your little possessions, and we see what you’re doing with the child, we see everything already from up here, because we are watching you, if you look up you can also see how the light sparkles in our eyes, but you don’t look up, and that is how the day ends for you, and that is how life ends for you, because it is impossible to hide away from us, there is no depth within the earth that could be a refuge for you, we are here, above, here, look we’re watching from up here what you’re doing down there, but we don’t have to watch everything, because we already know everything about you, because the judgment has been brought upon you, and you do not merit the earth, that is what it says in the judgment, because you have gambled away your luck upon the earth, that is what it says in the judgment, because you have become unworthy of the earth belonging to you, all you lot will clear out of here now and someone else is coming, someone else shall live upon the earth, it’s the end of you lot, not even a trace of you all shall remain here, that is what it says in the judgment, so that now you might as well put down that last chest, that too is written in the judgment, and that is why we came here, to execute that judgment upon you.
You are my master, I’m inside you, just like that, inside you, you who are standing here, your hands clasped behind your back, you lean forward attentively and look, but really where do you think you are, in the zoo? a blossoming meadow? in an orchard!? Well no, no, not in the zoo and not in the blossoming meadow and not in an orchard but within your own self, you are completely alone, there where between you and me there isn’t any distance at all, because I’m not out there but I’m in here, because I was always inside you, at first just as a kind of cell, or rather something like a mistake in a cell, but then suddenly I grew and now I exist within you with all my force, you carry me everywhere with yourself, your bearing is nice, your clothes are nice, your coat is nice, your shoes are nice, nice and shiny and not even a speck of dust on them, not even a drop of mud, not even a speck of grimy slush, nothing, you are elegant, you went, you strolled, and now something stopped you, or rather you thought oh I’ll stop here, I’ll clasp my hands behind my back, and I’ll look at something, I will look and see what this thing is in front of me, that’s what you thought and that’s what you did, the only thing is, I am there inside, you carry me within your own self, it’s of no help at all, not the nice bearing with the head nicely tilted to one side, not the nice clothes, not the nice coat, not the two nice shoes neatly shining, nothing, and now you’re still thinking about nice things, thinking for example well let’s have a look at what’s over there, that looks pretty ghastly let’s admit it, you say good-naturedly and unsuspectingly, you clasp your hands behind your back, you put your two nice clean shoes next to each other, and you lean to the left and you look at me, erroneously, because it’s not me that you’re looking at, even if you think you are, because I, that thing that looks so ghastly, is within you, because I am within you, and I am watching all of your nice thoughts, as you think to yourself how pleasant it is here in the orchard, how marvelous it is here in this blossoming meadow, how enchanting it is to stroll a little now here in the zoo, and I look at all of these nice thoughts, and I’m watching how nicely you look and you think, but here I am inside, and I’m extending outwards, here I am inside, and I’m straining more and more, and always forwards, and always in an outward direction, and at one point I will break out, and that will put an end to all the nice thoughts, an end to the nice looks, and an end to the nice clothes and the nice coat and to how nicely you hold your head, and you look, because then you won’t be looking anywhere at all, you won’t even have any eyes, because I shall begin by corroding both of them, because my coming is violent, just a few moments now, and I shall break out of you, and you will be that which I am, and that which I always have been.
Translated by Ottilie Mulzet
This text is drawn from Animalinside, by László Krasznahorkai and Max Neumann, translated by Ottilie Mulzet, with an introduciton by Colm Toibin. It was published jointly by the Center for Writers and Translators of The American University of Paris, Sylph Editions, and New Directions press, as part of the Cahiers series. More information on the series can be found at www.sylpheditions.com/sylpheditionscahier.html.