Towards the One and Only Metaphor

An excerpt

Miklós Szentkuthy

Artwork by Ellen Blom

Anyone who has experienced a life of total contemplation and total work knows what a pain mornings are. Two nonsenses: to over-contemplate a flower needlessly and to over-garden a flower needlessly. A writer's contemplation of a flower imagines everything: the flower, God, sex, poetry, logic or what you will—it is natural that infinite freedom of contemplation, the possibility of every possibility, excludes reassuring intelligence; on the other hand, working, the gardening then, for that reason, is again senseless because it is so unambiguous. If neither contemplation nor work, then what? Only one thing would attract me—I am like a chunk of iron in a field with no gravitation, nothing pulling me, nothing wants me, I have to press out of myself clumsy and crumbling pseudo-myths that I pseudo-worship.

A published fragment of a novel of mine that I find weak: the question of questions arises—should I be a life or a work? I dither with almost mathematical precision between the two poles—I don't live and I am not a 'work'; everything that I write in relation to the biological transition of life and work is instructive merely of what is between, let's say, Montaigne and Lincoln Cathedral, I could only shoulder my life completely (as opposed to the 'work') if it were an ascetic and religious life, otherwise it is unbearable. Life as 'horrible metaphysics' or a 'giddy metaphor'? An embrace of mine, for example, or a big scene on the platform of the moral mystery—the puppet-theater wires of body and soul, sin and redemption, Christ and eternity jerk my tongue, my arms, my steps—or they are just decorative ornamentation, some kind of harmony of colors, forces, and irrational forms. The fact is that just as the most orthodox Catholic morality is present in my body in its dictatorial totality and pervades my every second—it is also just as passive; I transgress it. Thus, I cannot take responsibility for my life as such as a topic. When I shave I do not know as yet whether I will be a Spanish mystic, expressionist architect, or a tennis singles partner.

Bad weather: negative. An apartment denuded for the summer, covered up, mothballed—just like churches having the altar stripped for Good Friday. Home: does it again not contain all the vital questions? 'Home' as a Freudian construction: artificial womb and artificial genitalia—home as eternal peace and archetype of for-in-Godness; home as a scheme and spatial brother of my self; home as an idol cage of family and morality; home as a permanent experimental 'outside word' and 'not-I,' a perpetual milieu; home as 'Geworfenheit'; home as hastening grave. My home sweet home, how much I revile you, loathe you, and when you are twisted and covered up this way how much I love you and am sorry for you. You are a backdrop, permanent, you are time; the one positive inside me, without you I would flow everywhere; an inverse portrait of Dorian Gray: eternally one and the same—you will remain that until I am relativized away into mist. You, lamp, picture, settee, you are my face, my one and only face, and when you are plastered all over in summer, I have no face, only a soul, and I am sick because of that. The start of summer—for me that is always space-deprivation and time-deprivation. I am on vacation, I can do what I want: ahead are two months and it looks as if I have been granted time, but it is precisely the reverse—I have been radically deprived of time. The apartment has been covered up—I am radically deprived of space. Oh, charmante poupée de la négativité!

There are people who supposedly rest during the summer, but I experience the pain of all pains. I am thrown back on my own devices, and one can draw nothing out of oneself. The whole season is a Pascalian horror: not due to external emptiness but to inner emptiness. Metaphysics in the most palpable biological form—that is the summer program. Space, time, life, sickness, morality: those kinds of philosophical concepts live inside me, or rather I identify with them, they are embodied within me, I have nothing else with which to occupy myself. From morning till night I am places, from morning till night I am terminationsà la Proust, à la St. Augustine. A paradoxical, maddening world of intensity and nonexistence, a dual instinct of nihilism and ultra-intellectual analysis throbs inside me. Wild plans to confess, mining for principles—and goofy mooching, impressionist loafing.

Summer is the one season that exists, the other three are calendrical conventions—that is one reason why I should write a Completa Aestatis Morphologia; maybe this year. It is the 'most human' time of year. Why do I call it that? Sometimes one feels the most absurd situations, sometimes even the most banal, are felt to be especially human. The summer is absurd. In all its naked structure and impudent poetry time, for instance, stands before us in summer: repetition, the perpetual selfsame ("We were here last year as well": what wonder there is in the words), existence, traditional monotonous rhythm, and these dreamy pillars, compared with those the eternal stimuli and facts of: a holiday, a 'jaunt,' the great escape: the past is never the past in such a divine manner and so devoutly as in summer (cosmic refrain)—a holiday, a new brainwave, a new flirt, an escapade, are never in such an elementary fashion screamingly unusual vita nuova. Things new in time and things ancient in time: they live in a lukewarm mixture in the other three seasons. Married couples go to their parents: the invincible and ominous concretes of wife and parent loom up from the metaphysical glass cockleshell of summer. A pack of primitive myths and superstitions, a pack of refined modern experiments, scintillating sophistry.

No experiences at an art exhibition: negative. What a frightful heap of works that have absolutely no impact—a sea of the boring creations of 'great' artists. That is the most depressing element of my life. As far as I'm concerned, the unresponsive phenomena of ordinary life and its concomitants are bigger sensations. One of these days I shall define the prerequisites of a sensation for me.

I leaf through books in two bookshops: an achingly deadly tedium. Don't search for joy in art: how many times have I said that to myself, and I am such an imbecile that I still always take a look into books and art galleries. I bring home a little book by Emil Brunner, the theology professor in Zurich: Vom Werk des Heiligen Geistes. On the bus I look alternately at that and the woman sitting opposite me. Her dress: on her chest there is the red wrinkling of her blouse like a half-opened fan. Voilà—that, after all, is my element, that has an impact, that is an experience, that pair of red wrinkles. My whole being is a gigantic 'phobia'—crystal, sheer antipathy (if there had not been a Freud fashion, of course, I would not generalize so eagerly), and the most important of these: my thinking phobia, Denkphobie: that is why I cling on with such frantic enthusiasm and intensity to outside drawings of objects (primarily flowers and women's dresses) because for me a drawing, a colored form, a line is a hundred percent substitute for thought, or rather an expression of the transcogitative state of the soul: true precision. A drawing is not wrong and it is not true; in a drawing reality and symbolic openness are one. The doctrine of sensation: that is the great doctrine. My Denkphobie are oversensitivity and truth at one and the same time.

translated from the Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson

Click here to read Rainer J. Hanshe's introduction to Miklós Szentkuthy.

Click here for more information about the book.