Animalinside Paperback – May 24 2011
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“The contemporary Hungarian master of the Apocalypse who inspires comparison to Gogol and Melville.” — Susan Sontag
“Little more than 40 pages long, László Krasznahorkai’s pamphlet-like, multi-media collaboration with the painter Max Neumann is one of the most beautifully produced works of literature this year.” — Scott Esposito (The National)
“Intense and uncompromising.” — W. G. Sebald
About the Author
Ottilie Mulzet is a literary critic and translator of Hungarian. New Directions published her translation of Krasznahorkai’s Animalinside.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The creature that narrates "Animalinside" is a prophet haunted by incompletion: "for I have no other aspirations; just once, I said, just once to find where the end of a direction is, to go along a road." Max Neumann's illustrations of a leaping dog - likewise incomplete, missing its front legs - accompany a series of texts about cages, which the animal is outside and inside at once. Because it is entirely foreign, beyond any system of thought, it finds the very fabric of space to be a trap; it announces itself as a cosmic force, encompassing galaxies, but also as a hidden principle in the human mind; it is a servile pet begging for its dinner that also threatens to rip its master's face off - unless that threat is an uneasy joke. These winding contradictions play out what it means to be a spirit that, like Goethe's Mephistopheles, always denies; they also skirt unsealable cracks in society and in the self. Krasznahorkai's ability to suspend these elements over his long sentences, suggesting turn after turn while disclosing nothing in full, makes him one of the very finest writers we have.
The beast is angry, but helpless. The beast rants about how he is beyond any constraint that can be put on him by thought or concept. He is unique and beyond comparison: "It is impossible to confuse me with anyone else." He is within you, caged in one picture, but he is struggling to break free. And so another of Krasznahorkai's conceptual contradictions emerges: the beast that is at once free beyond everything and yet trapped.
Is the beast railing at the infinite itself, the inadequacy of the concept of the infinite, or the representation of the infinite (as in this picture)? I'm not sure. This tension is the same one that occurred in Krasznahorkai's earlier From the North by Hill, from the South by Lake, from the West by Roads, from the East by River, which contained a book by a mad Frenchman ranting against Cantor's mathematical conception of infinity. Perhaps the idea is that the conception traps us while simultaneously facing us with its inadequacy, and this is unbearable because, as with the ideas of mortality and immortality, neither side is a conceivable solution.
Because the text is more rarefied and abstract than Kraznahorkai's other work, it seems to resemble Beckett at times. But Beckett never portrayed such a vicious antagonism. His personae always collapse into themselves. Even their assertions of antagonism are hopeful but futile gestures against solipsistic nightmares. That is not the case in Krasznahorkai. I do not think it ever is. His characters and voices are always struggling within a larger cosmos of forces and others.
I'm a great fan of Krasznahorkai's work. He may not be a god to me, but he's one of the best writers around. Animalinside may be pretty elusive to someone starting cold with Krasznahorkai; The Melancholy of Resistance, which was the basis of Bela Tarr's amazing film The Werckmeister Harmonies, offers a more grounded point of entry. But the book is gorgeous and short, and it makes itself strongly felt even as it remains oblique.
First off, this is a novella that started with a Neumann painting that inspired Krasznahorai's text about a creature that defies easy description. After that, Neumann provided more images with the same dog-like beast, to inspire further chapters from the Hungarian author. Prefaced by Colm Toibin, who states that the author "stands closer to Kafka than to Beckett, but he is close to neither in his interest and delight in verbal pyrotechnics, in allowing the sheer energy of his long exciting sentences full sway."
The monster of the story, if indeed that is what it is, is trapped in a place where he is excluded and in pain. "...I don't even exist, I only howl, and howling is not identical with existence, on the contrary howling is despair, the horror of that instance of awakening when the condemned--myself--comes to realize that he has been excluded from existence and there is no way back..."
The words of the beast, shown in the images as a sort of fierce two-legged dog, are almost always horrifying...caged, it waits for release to wreak havoc and battle for kingship over a wasteland of earth. At lighter moments, though, it speaks almost in a panic over the search for its food dish, but the threats he makes about its loss are nothing adorable.
Much of the imagery and words confuse me...I sense that a deeper measure of the meaning involves the ugly results of binding the voices of small, defenseless peoples until their defense is their only option. Their obsession.
And about that, "smells good" remark? New Directions designed this as part of their Cahiers series, #14, and it's designed in a seven step printing process that makes for thick, waxy pages, with layers of thick inks and contrasting textures. Maybe it's all the chemicals involved, but it smells and feels amazing. Heirloom-quality, if that's possible for a novella.
I have read Laszlo Krasznahorkai's Melancholy of Resistance, and he is able to take the essence of that very long, complicated, intense and exhausting book into a smaller scale, yet equally intense and political.