liquidation by imre kertész


beckett and bernhard may be the basis of “Bee,” the writer whose suicide is the vacuum at the center of this novel. as such it makes sense that under the layer of gossipy bedswapping tales by intelligentsia and almost crudely titillating descriptions of common breakdowns and various life botchings is the novel’s real content–our natural state of depravity which makes such crudeness and vacuity our continued mode of being.

the book is either great because it shows how literature redeems the banality of our evil world or because it honestly depicts how our great arts are debased and fundamentally banal. a dark choice.

the articulation of the former by the book’s sometimes narrator: “But I believe in writing–nothing else; just writing. Man may live like a worm, but he writes like a god. There was a time when that secret was known, but now it has been forgotten; the world is composed of disintegrating fragments, an incoherent dark chaos, sustained by writing alone. If you have a concept of the world, if you have not yet forgotten all that has happened, that you have a world at all, it is writing that has created that for you, and ceaselessly goes on creating it” (97).

and while the book is about the impossibility of existence after auschwitz, the parts that affected me most were strangely those about the comparably negligibly-weighted topic of the literary life. but i think that’s the truth and greatness of kertesz: to speak unsentimentally and defiantly crudely. a crudeness that is only possible due to an elemental refinement, a rare ability to look sincerely at our limits.

here’s a long passage, capturing both the pleasures of literary life as well as the self-awareness of its vanity and foolishness:

“The fact is that in my nineteenth or twentieth year…a book came into my hands… I knew about the existence of this book only from other books, in the way that an astronomer infers the existence of an unknown celestial body from the motion of other planets; yet in those days, the era of undiscoverable reasons, it was not possible to get hold of it for some undiscoverable reason. I happened to be grinding through university at the time; though I did not have much money, I staked it all on the venture, mobilizing antiquarian booksellers, denying myself meals in order to acquire an old edition. I then read the bulky volume in less than three days, sitting on a bench in the public garden of a city square, as spring was in the air outside while a constant, depressing gloom reigned within my sublet room. I recall to this day the adventures of the imagination that I lived through at the time while I read in the book that the Ninth Symphony had been withdrawn. I felt privileged, like someone who had become privy to a secret reserved for few; like someone who had been suddenly awakened in order to have the world’s irredeemable condition revealed to him, all at once, in the blinding light of a judgement.

Still, I don’t think it was that book which carried me into my fateful career. I finished reading it; then, like all the others, it gradually died down within me under the dense, soft layers of my subsequent reading matter…

[A] person becomes a literary editor, and later a publisher’s reader, our of error in the first place. In any event, literature is the trap that captures him. To be more precise, reading: reading as a narcotic which pleasantly blurs the merciless outlines of the life that holds sway over us” (38-9).

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