Tr. by Tim Wilkinson
Intro by Zéno Bianu
Afterword by Mária Tompa
“Szentkuthy’s objective is not the sanctioned masterpiece, but the circus where the carnal and material origin and purpose of all art are revealed in their total nakedness. In his circus, the tent arches over all of human history and the whole of existence; Casanova treads the tightrope with Elizabeth of England, and Mozart conducts the orchestra.” — Csaba Sík
Marginalia on Casanova, the first book of Szentkuthy’s St. Orpheus Breviary, has been translated into English for the very first time. Originally published in Hungarian in 1939, as Csaba Sík noted, St. Orpheus Breviary “represents the greatest enterprise in scope, in worth? – undertaken in the Hungarian novel.”
Marginalia on Casanova is the first volume of the St. Orpheus Breviary, Miklós Szentkuthy’s synthesis of 2,000 years of European culture. As Szentkuthy’s Virgil, St. Orpheus is an omniscient poet who guides us not through hell, but through all of recorded history, myth, religion, and literature, albeit reimagined as St. Orpheus metamorphosizes himself into kings, popes, saints, tyrants, and artists. At once pagan and Christian, Greek and Hebrew, Asian and European, St. Orpheus is a mosaic of history and mankind in one supra-person and veil, an endless series of masks and personae, humanity in its protean, futural shape, an always changing function of discourse, text, myth, and mentalité.
Through St. Orpheus’ method, disparate moments of history become synchronic, are juggled to reveal, paradoxically, mutual difference and essential similarity. “Orpheus wandering in the infernal regions,” says Szentkuthy, “is the perennial symbol of the mind lost amid the enigmas of reality. The aim of the work is, on the one hand, to represent the reality of history with the utmost possible precision, and on the other, to show, through the mutations of the European spirit, all the uncertainties of contemplative man, the transiency of emotions, and the sterility of philosophical systems.”
Marginalia on Casanova relives the spiritualization of the main protagonist’s sensual adventures, though it is less his sex life and more his intellectual mission, the sole determinant of his being, which is the focus of this mesmeric book. Through his own glittering associations and broadly spanning array of metaphors, Szentkuthy analyses and views the 18th century and its notion of homogeneity from the vantage point of the 20th century, with the full armor of someone who was, perhaps, one of the last Hungarian Europeans. While a commentary on Casanova’s memoirs, it is also Szentkuthy’s very own philosophy of love.
Passion, playfulness, irony, and a whole gamut of protean metamorphoses are what characterize Marginalia on Casanova, a work in which readers will experience both profundity and a taking to wing of essay-writing that is intellectually radiant and as sensual and provocative as a gondola ride with Casanova.
“… a genuine avant-gardist … Just to know that Hungary has such a writer is, in itself, enriching for ourselves and for Hungarian literature as a whole.” — István Vas
“Szentkuthy is a poet to the core: this is evidenced in the vibrating emotional tension of every sentence, the high sensitivity of the inner recorder, the novel, often daring, but always suggestive images, comparisons and associations in which his recitation moves. His attention turns to all manifestations of life with the same intensity [...] and offers the reader stimulation and immersion and deserves to be regarded as one of the values of the new Hungarian literature…” — Pester Lloyd, 8 November 1936
“It is not just that Szentkuthy has not written down the word ‘Hungary,’ but the name of not one Hungarian book, person, or event crops up in this work. Homelessness, as we have seen, is one of his main distinguishing marks, as compared with kindred Western writers. I sense that homelessness to be a higher form of protection of the mind.” — László Németh
Miklos Szentkuthy, Marginalia on Casanova (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2012). ISBN 9780983697244. 20 USD, 16 GBP, 14 €. Bookstores can order through Ingram. Otherwise, copies can be acquired through local retailers or via Amazon and similar sites worldwide. For a review, desk copy, or interview request, write to: email@example.com
“The Only True Luxury” (Los Angeles Review of Books)
“A universe of books” (Waggish)
J. J. Fekete, “Outprousting Proust: The Proteus of Hungarian Literature”
Ferenc Takács, “A Comedy of Ideas: Szentkuthy’s PRAE”
Zéno Bianu, “Boudoir and Theology”
András Nagy, “Masks Behind Masks” (Berlin Review of Books)