No, history has not ended, and nothing has ended; we can no longer delude ourselves by thinking that anything has ended with us. We merely continue something, maintaining it somehow; something continues, something survives.
Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize
Many reviewers have pointed out that the short story collection The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet and George Szirtes, might not be the best place to start exploring Krasznahorkai’s bibliography, however, this was my first introduction to his writing, and these stories have convinced me that I definitely need to read more of his work.
The collection includes 21 stories, a mix of shorter and longer pieces, most of which are written in Krasznahorkai’s characteristic prose style of single, continuous sentences that supposedly more closely reflect the way our minds actually work. These are bleak visions of the world and the thematic thread that seems to connect most of these stories is the desire to escape. The characters in many of these stories exist in a constant state of frustration and are yearning to escape something, but they somehow find themselves stuck in the same place. For some reason the imagery and dreamlike quality of some of the stories immediately reminded me of David Lynch’s works which often try to illuminate the strange and undefinable in the very mundane, however, Krasznahorkai’s seems to have a much bleaker view of the world.
In one of the most notable pieces in the collection, Nine Dragon Crossing, a simultaneous interpreter, who yearns to visit a waterfall, wanders the streets of Shanghai on foot and gets stuck inside the very complicated intersection of elevated roads called Nine Dragon Crossing. This leads him to ponder the fate of language and the place of human beings in an increasingly modern world that seems to be speeding up more and more. Moreover, Krasznahorkai’s dense, looping prose style feels like a protest against the fast flow of information that we must adapt to.
[…] the desired speed was attained, and only he – and here it was the simultaneous interpreter speaking again, the livid-faced condemned man of Nine Dragon Crossing – only he alone didn’t understand why we needed such speed, speed that moreover would soon have to be increased, god is there no one, he now cried into the artificially illuminated firmament of Nine Dragon Crossing, no one who understands that we simply don’t need such speed?! […].
Another highlight of the collection is the story That Gagarin, which speculates on the effects that the first space mission in 1961 had on the life of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, and reflects on a possibly deeper meaning of Gagarin’s words upon seeing the Earth from space: “I see Earth. It is so beautiful.” An emotionally moving story that I consider to be one of the strongest pieces in the collection.
In the evocative Journey In A Place Without Blessings, a diocesan bishop addresses the congregation for the very last time while disassembling the church because they have failed to understand and follow the Scriptures. A story that is powerful in its simplicity.
Some of my other favourites from the collection are György Fehér’s Henrik Molnár, Wandering – Standing, He Wants to Forget, Universal Theseus, and I Don’t Need Anything From Here, a one-page monologue that I think best describes a sentiment shared by most of the protagonists of these stories who yearn to transcend this world:
[…] I would leave this earth and these stars because I would take nothing with me, because I’ve looked into what’s coming, and I don’t need anything from here.