Letter from a Reader

To the editors of con•text,

While sitting here in rural Ireland, looking out of the window to the yard and the muddy lane beyond, I thought of your publication, and wondered why there hasn’t yet been some review of László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango, since it just won the Man Booker International prize, and may attract some readers, unless people are already bored of reading about it, and with our attention spans these days, and with so many things vying for our attention, and with so many things deserving of and needing our attention, it would not surprise me in the least if people have already forgotten about Satantango, I mean I would have forgotten about it if it weren’t for the fact that the only things around here screaming for my attention are the sheep in the field just north of the cottage I live in, their incessant bleating which reminds me I should really move them into the adjacent field where the grass is full, but I guess it can wait until it stops raining, or at least I can wait—and that’s the thing, it will wait, for as long as I wait, regardless of whether they can wait, because I am their keeper, and they are dependent on what I do, and what I do is dependent on how I feel, and how I feel is dependent on the weather, it’s these little things, the stuff we don’t even think about, like water falling from the sky, that determine so much, like Williams and his red wheelbarrow, only more sinister, and looking out of the window to the puddles gathering in the yard and the mud running down the sides of the lane I watch the world slip away, but I do my best, I brush my teeth, I make my bed, and at the end of the day I sum things up in a little black notebook, not, however, like the Doctor in Satantango, who recorded so obsessively the goings-on of the day that he came to believe these things existed not just for his recording (a notion that already places him pretty far gone) but because of his recording, which I suppose is always the dangerous and false conclusion one can arrive at, for in the absence of any and all legitimate authority one will be created, first and foremost to discredit the kinds of insights the rain produces, and once we have control over our thoughts the rest proceeds accordingly, that is to say violently, since as a species we do have a tendency towards the tyrannical, it can be admitted, sure I admit it, have either of you ever kicked a sheep, no me neither, but Paddy Doolan down the lane wears steel-toed boots for that express purpose, I’ve seen him walking by, looking as if he’d never been dry a day in his life, like it didn’t bother him, I’m afraid of him, I’m afraid of many things around here, out here in the middle of nowhere, where distance is a close ally, and “psychomotor impairment” a fancy term for waiting out the bad weather, with the things vying for my attention very far away, and the things needing and deserving of the sort of care I just don’t have it in me to give out of sight, but not out of mind, like the sheep just north of me, crying, tell me, do you find it strange, often we know what to do, are capable of doing it, and yet when the time comes to do it, we find ourselves incapacitated, dumbly fascinated by our incapacitation, until finally we find our agency, and anxious to prove its authenticity we test it on another, like Estike, the little girl in Satantango, who tortured and killed a cat to prove that she existed, and who eventually killed herself as the ultimate proof, but don’t worry or get any ideas about me, these days just leaving the cottage, just crossing the threshold into the wet world, will be proof enough for me of agency, and anyway all my sheep are still living the last time I checked, except for the one lamb who died of pneumonia, which is actually a common way for them to go, going even though as it does against my common sense, seeing as how I wear wool sweaters to prevent the sickness in myself, but I also remain indoors, out of the rain, looking out into the rain, which always reminds me of Satantango, in fact what I see resembles what I saw in my mind when I first read it, even though this is Ireland, not Hungary, though I suppose the landscapes of all rural areas share a certain disregard, a disdain even, hell let’s call a spade a spade, a certain hatred of the human presence, as the heap of stones along the lane attest, nature cares nothing for a stone mason, a kind of man I try to emulate, though I know well merely putting stone upon stone does not make a wall, nor me a mason, each stone must fit just so, just as merely putting word after word does not make a sentence, nor me a writer, mere accumulation does not value make, which is not the case with Krasznahorkai in Satantango, whose pages resemble a well-built wall of words, and you read sentence after sentence like a judge imprisoning yourself within them, but to be honest with you I don’t remember much of the book because I read it a few years ago when George Szirtes’ English translation first appeared, I remember more the experience of reading it, the sensation of waterlogged lungs, because one doesn’t read Satantango so much as drown in it, and thinking about it now, I cannot distinguish in my mind the images produced in me by Krasznahorkai’s text from the images I received in Béla Tarr’s film adaptation of the book, which I was already familiar with by the time I got around to reading the book, so that I had come to the book a bit overprepared, but that’s how it always is, the color of one object affects the color of nearby objects, and this law of proximity holds for objects in time, too, as memory collapses all distance between events, even of those separated by the centuries, that’s called history, which, as they say, repeats itself anyway, never mind the steps we take to make damn sure that it does, I mean wouldn’t you agree, would you really disagree with me, that for this madness to mean anything at all mayhem must be made mantric, the wars and coups like incantations uttered and reuttered and rendered no different from any banality of everyday life, banalities which take on meaning by virtue only of their repetition, creating at least some sense of order that obscures the chaos, but in the way little disasters obscure total annihilation, or the way the clouds here obscure the sun and speak of storms, so I am always brushing my teeth and I am always making my bed and I am always recording in my little black notebook, I am always thinking of Satantango because it is always raining, raining, raining, raining, that while sitting here in rural Ireland, looking out of the window to the yard and the muddy lane beyond, I thought of your publication, and wondered why there hasn’t yet been some review of László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango, since it just won the Man Booker International prize, and may attract some readers, unless people are already bored of reading about it, and with our attention spans these days, and with so many things vying for our attention, and with so many things deserving of and needing our attention, it would not surprise me in the least if people have already forgotten about Satantango

Yours eternally,

John Ptacek


John Ptacek currently lives in Ireland.

Satantango by László Krasznahorkai • New Directions, 2013 • 288 pages

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