Tuesday, September 24, 2019

GEZA OTTLIK: HOW NECESSARY HE IS

For many many years I have had a novel SCHOOL AT THE FRONTIER by Geza Ottlik in my library.  The novel was published by Harcourt Brace (A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book)  in 1966 and in spite of coming from such a distinguished house it was not reviewed in the US.

Over the years via there is the gradually dawning realization that from Hungary were coming writers who have lead me to write: if James Joyce were alive today he would have learned Hungarian as he had once learned Norwegian and it is probably no accident that Bloom is of Hungarian origin.  

Only the stupid or poorly read are unaware and have not read the books of Sandor Marai, Imre Kertesz, Peter Esterhazy, Peter Nadas and  Laszlo Krasznahorkai...

The purpose of this brief post is to remind my few readers of Geza Ottlik whose writing and whose shadow is out of which come all of the writers I have just mentioned.  It took me years to find a copy of BUDA and then the making contact with the translator who tells me that the version of School at the Frontier was cut and at times is a little incoherent and needs to be freshly translated and he took the first step by translating BUDA that came out after Ottlik's death...

I won't go into the complex history of Ottlik, who during the very darkest days in communist Hungary was not allowed to publish... but for days now I have been living with this paragraph centered upon the central voice in the novel which is an attempt to describe the place of Buda in the lives of the characters readers first met at that school they all attended so long as  the nightmare of the 20th Century descended on Hungary and world--- and let no one think the 20th Century was anything more than another long murderous moment in the enduring --whatever you want to call human existence...

from the novel BUDA by Geza Ottlik:

..."my good friend, a writer in Buda, asks, "say BB how much longer are we supposed to live?"
---Listen, dear Bandi, dying is what I dread; me too, I'd like to get it over with.  The sooner the better. (A man's life may be seen as a urological episode: blood, stool, urine at the beginning, and it seems, at the end as well.) Meanwhile you will need a little more time to finish what you have started. (or to leave it behind in some semblance of order...) I turned my unfinished canvas around to face the wall so as not to see it all the time, and be influenced by what was good in it; I need something totally different here, something I cannot fully see yet; I'll find it eventually. (By myself, in my head.) I will.
The bad stuff in the painting does not disturb me.  What do I need here?...

From BUDA by Geza Ottlik translated into English by John Batki  and published in Budapest by Corvina in 2004 


Geza Ottlik wrote a brief article "On the Novel" from which...

"The novel attempts to create meaning on this side of language. How can it do this when it has nothing but language itself. First, language itself was born of a stratum on this side of language and is a derived system of signs referring back to that reality. Second, it is in itself a reality beyond language. For example, we simply retranslate its crude generalizations, its abstract functions, we assemble what it has torn apart and use it in its entirety. In the beginning was not the word but the sentence; it is this we break up into its component parts. In the beginning was not the sentence but the paragraph; it is this we expound into sentences! In the beginning was not the paragraph but the novel, and the novel was preceded only by silence itself."





3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Strand has no work by Geza Ottlik listed. Amazon has the Kindle version of "School at the Frontier" available. Sorry that is not how I read books. Going back to a previous post and your engagement with a reader about the remark (remarks are not literature Hemingway said Gertrude Stein) by Edward Dahlberg you used to defend your dismissal of a writer you don't like. John Middleton Murry (the husband of Katherine Mansfield), a critic and a writer of memoirs, remarked about D. H. Lawrence's novel "The Lost Girl" that Lawrence is the sort of novelist who appears to have "passed their prime long before reaching it." Who reads Murry nowadays or even knows without going to Goggle to learn who he was? Very few. And, Lawrence?, like the novelist you dismissed, will be read long after Edward Dahlberg's works have faded into a distant memory (except perhaps "Because I Was Flesh"). My point, Mr. McGonigle, your dismissal of a writer by citing a cute remark doesn't replace real criticism which is what one would expect of you.

Thomas B. Brown said...
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Treks Himalaya said...
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