Tuesday, 14 September 2010


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A collaboration between Hungarian author, Laszlo Krasznahorkai and German artist, Max Neumann, this is the latest installment in the beautiful Cahiers Series. The goal of this series is to explore new directions in writing and translation and this book certainly provides plenty of food for thought for those interested in this field - Neumann's original painting inspired a prose response by Krasznahorkai which in turn inspired a series of paintings by Neumann which Krasznahorkai then wrote further prose responses to. So painting begets prose which begets painting which begets prose. To further complicate things the work is presented in an English translation by Ottilie Mulzet who used both the words and images in preparing her version. So I make that four different acts of translation and three different modes of translation (visual art into words, words into visual art and art plus words into a foreign language).

While this project is certainly theoretically dense I felt that Krasznahorkai's prose was at times a little too predictable. So in section III he has the dog/beast who narrates the work describe how big he is:

"I extend diagonally around the Earth in every direction, I hang down from it, I extend around it so so much that I extend around it twice, I extend around it three times, I extend around it one hundred times, one thousand times, one million times, so that I extend around your Earth a billion billion times, then I extend all the way from the Earth to the Moon, so so big am I that I cannot even fit into the Milky Way, so so sooo big that I extend across two galaxies, if I want, and sooo so big that I extend across one hundred galaxies, so that I extend across every galaxy, and sooo sooo big ..."

And so on. Perhaps this sounds marvelous in Hungarian but in English it just sounds repetitive and predictably so (yes the dog goes on to extend around the entire universe and then outwards towards infinity).

By all accounts Krasznahorkai's other works are imaginatively rich so I wonder if the very act of creating in response to paintings made for a certain restriction of his creativity? Did he feel compelled to stick too closely to the images and did those images - with their themes of blindness, frustrated movement and imprisonment - produce a reciprocal stasis in Kraznahorkai's writing? Or does the mere fact of knowing that your writing will be published in conjunction with visual art allow you to strip out the visual imagery from your text? Would a richer, more imaginatively complex style of writing have detracted from the images?

This writing on its own would probably get three stars at best but I'll give the work as a whole four - it's a beautiful object (thick cream paper, classy fonts and the reproductions are gorgeous) and it certainly got me thinking about the role of translation/collaboration.

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