René Magritte, The Empire of Light, II, 1950.
We are in the midst of a cynical self-reckoning as the not too illustrious children of a not too illustrious epoch that will consider itself truly fulfilled only when every individual writhing within it, after languishing in one of the deepest shadows of human history, will have finally attained the sad and temporarily self-evident goal: oblivion. This age wants to forget it has gambled away everything on its own, without outside help, and that it cannot blame alien powers, or fate, or some remote baleful influence; we did this ourselves: we have made away with gods and with ideals. We want to forget, for we cannot even muster the dignity to accept our bitter defeat, for infernal smoke and infernal alcohol have gnawed away whatever character we had, in fact smoke and cheap spirits were all that remained of the erstwhile metaphysical traveler’s yearning for angelic realms—the noxious smoke left by longing, and the nauseating spirits left over from the maddening potion of fanatical obsession.
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.
We still produce works of art but no longer even talk about how, it is that far from uplifting. We take as our premise all that until now denoted the nature of la condition humaine, and dutifully, in fact without a clue, obeying strict discipline, but in fact foundering in a slough of despond, we sink back once more into the muddy waters of the imaginable totality of human existence. We no longer even make the mistake of the wild young ones by claiming that our judgement is the last judgement or declaring that this is where the road ends. We cannot claim that, since nothing makes sense any more, for us works of art no longer contain narrative or time, nor can we claim that others might ever be able to find a way toward making sense of things, however we declare that for us it has proved useless to disregard our disillusionment and set out toward some nobler goal, toward some higher power, our attempts keep failing ignominiously. In vain would we talk about nature, nature does not want this; it is no use to talk about the divine, the divine does not want this, and anyway, no matter how much we want to, we are unable to talk about anything other than ourselves, because we are only capable of talking about history, about the human condition, about that never-changing quality whose essence carries such titillating relevance only for us; otherwise, from the viewpoint of that “divine otherwise,” this essence of ours is, actually, perhaps of no consequence whatever, forever and aye.
László Krasznahorkai is a Hungarian writer. He has written five novels and won numerous prizes, including the 2015 Man Booker International Prize and the 2013 Best Translated Book Award in Fiction. The World Goes On, a new collection from which this piece is taken, will publish later this month.
Translated from the Hungarian by John Batki. Printed with permission of New Directions.
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