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The Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai
book review | June 2019

Hallucinatory, yet utterly real*, this cautionary/prophetic tale sweeps the reader on a thrilling, and at times chilling, torrent of words from page one through its intimately detailed and devastating denouement some 320 pages later. Belying what is actually an astonishing semantic and syntactic economy, Krasznahorkai's powerfully effusive approach to form enfleshes his characters so fully that one cannot help but identify in some way with each hapless soul in their acts of resistance/acceptance/resistance toward all manner of melancholy.

Ultimately a polemic against self-wrought isolation and alienation from the socio-political sphere, The Melancholy of Resistance demonstrates that individual resistance is futile in the face of ruthlessly opportunistic forces (such as populism and fascism, those ever-latent viruses of the body politic) that inevitably emerge to fill the vacuum once a politeia vacates its responsibility to the commons. However in clocking the motivations and missteps of Krasznahorkai’s characters, it is possible to envision and perhaps begin to enact other options to such bitter civic ends, so that the upshot of reading the novel is a paradoxical optimism for humanity at large—even in the face of one's own eventual oblivion—and this is both solace and recourse for the non-nihilists among us to act with hope for alternative futures indeed. 

I would be remiss in not recognizing the brilliant work of George Szirtes, who clearly must have enjoyed translating this extraordinary text. All of its beauty, urgency, and gleeful absurdity appears to have been seamlessly transmitted through this translator's deft poetics. Surely I have Szirtes as much as Krasznahorkai to thank for my favourite phrase in the book: 'the sickeningly dainty pong of doll's-houses'. My favourite passage in case anyone is wondering: Eszter's (futile) enlightenment, pp 180-191.

* On this and other points I disagree with several of previous synopses and descriptions of this book.

László Krasznahorkai, described by James Wood in The New Yorker as “obsessive, visionary,” was born in Gyula, Hungary. He is the winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize and was nominated again in 2018.

The Melancholy of Resistance is published by New Directions (June 17, 2002).

h/t Neven Lochhead

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