Written between Szentkuthy’s first major work, Prae (1934), and the first book of the St. Orpheus Breviary (1939), Chapter on Love (publ. 1936) exemplifies well Szentkuthy’s writing of excess. An attempt at polyphonic writing, it brings together the perspectives of an unlikely set of characters including the mayor of a doomed Italian city, given to debilitating “impressionism” — a penchant for observing and analyzing-apart the minutest shades of reality —, a nihilistic pope, a hanged brigand, a courtesan and her decadent pubertal adorer. They pass through the pages of this quixotic and compelling book under the threat of imminent catastrophe, filling chapter after chapter with passionate, self-generating theorizing and (mock-)philosophizing on the margins of Empedocles, life and death, female stockings, endingness and changeability, ethics and aesthetics, vitality and law, chaos and social order grounded on horror vacui, the forever elusive other person — all enmeshed with well-nigh self-parodic, idiosyncratic feats of ratiocination and theorizing driven ad absurdum, which proliferate on the analogy of (free) association.
The common denominator of their analytical furore and the yarns they spin is love, which touches not only on the human being, but the whole of nature, from the realm of plants to that of minerals. Szentkuthy’s book may don the costume of a historical novel, but it stands under the sign of the pseudo: its deliberately vague setting, somewhere in Italy toward the end of the Renaissance, is in fact but a mask which allows for anachronism (of realia, ideas, data, and even terminology) to ooze through, as the characters and their observations are our contemporaries in every respect.
Baroque and exuberant, of a sweeping melancholia and at times savage humor, a (mock-)treatise written with an abundance of striking, distant associations that evoke Surrealist practices, this strange novel tantalizingly shows a path not taken by experimental modernism, of the contrapuntal use of point-of-view converted into a contrapuntal use of analytic, essayistic observations of reality, and points towards Szentkuthy’s monumental meditations on history sub specie whatsit in the St Orpheus Breviary epic.
Miklös Szentkuthy, Chapter On Love (2020)
Translated by Erika Mihálycsa
FORTHCOMING OCT 2020
*For a review, desk copy, or interview request, write to: