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Manguel Reviews Winkler

During a lunch with WG Sebald in June 2000, I asked him, since he had written splendid essays on Austrian literature, which Austrian writers he recommended. Immediately he mentioned Josef Winkler, whose work he considered a counterweight to what he saw as Austria‘s moral infamy. I then read three or four of his novels, which all revolve around the same theme: the deep-rooted corruption of Austrian society, especially the farming society into which Winkler was born in 1953. The themes of medieval Catholic traditions, the hardships of rural life and a loveless family are explored over and over again. Winkler’s prose reads like a palimpsest of angry stories, each trying to outdo the previous one in increasing depth and relentless scrutiny. Reading Winkler is like peering harder and harder into one of those painted Flemish hells that seethe with horribly inventive details of sin and retribution.

. . .

Only three books by Winkler have been translated up to now into English. The third, cleverly translated by Adrian West, with an illuminating introduction, is a good example of Winkler’s powerful art. . . . The standing of Winkler in German-language literature is undisputed. The German writer Martin Walser was euphoric when he discovered Winkler’s work; Grass praised him for the intensity of his writing. He has won almost every major literary prize in Germany and Austria. It is to be hoped that this translation will bring his writing to the attention of a wider, curious and intelligent English-speaking public.


Albert Manguel, The Guardian (November 28, 2013)




Elio Petri Retrospective

Contra Mundum Press, the Italian Institute of Culture, and Arsenal present:

A retrospective on Italian director Elio Petri

Arsenal Cinema, Berlin

November 6–21, 2013

Petri was so alive, and inside the cinema, inside the images, so inside the strength of a vision. His cinema should not be forgotten. — Tonino Guerra

Featuring talks by Paola Petri, Bert Rebhandl, Guido Kirsten, and others.

The program in German or English

Our edition of Petri’s Writings on Cinema & Life

Todo Modo







In the last period of my life, I have made unpleasant films. Yes, unpleasant films in a society which requires pleasantness in all, even in commitment. My films, on the contrary, go beyond signs of unpleasantness. What is all this due to? Why do I make films like these? It has to be related to the clear sensation of having come to the point where all the premises that were present when I was a boy, have been thwarted. Society has taken a completely different route, and this could only leave a deep mark on me. ­— Elio Petri



Ghérasim Luca: Centenary Issue

Available now, a special issue of Hyperion on Ghérasim Luca. Also available on issuu.com.

Here’s the line-up + links to some videos of Luca reciting his own poetry and publications in English, Spanish, German, and Italian:

Ghérasim Luca (1913–1994) Centenary Issue

Jon Graham, Dialectics and Ghost Stories

Krzysztof Fijalkowski, La poésie sans langue: Gherasim Luca, Visual Poet

Allan Graubard, Reading Luca, Reading Me

Petre Răileanu, L’Inventeur de l’amour

Petre Răileanu, The Inventor of Love
Translation by John Simmons & Jocelyne Geneviève Barque

Valery Oisteanu, The Zen of Death and Immortality

Valery Oisteanu, Ghérasim Luca: In Memoriam

Andrei Codrescu & Allan Graubard, Epistolary Hypercube

Mary Ann Caws, Something About This Thing: A Memoir Luca

Julian & Laura Semilian
Smuggling, Surrealism, & Sympathetic Magic: On Translating Luca

John Galbraith Simmons, Circumstances of Invention

John Taylor, Love According to Luca

Will Alexander, Fulminate Inscription as Shadow

Ghérasim Luca, Cubomanias, selected by Sasha Vlad

Gherasim Luca & alia, Malombra
Translated by Rainer J. Hanshe

Richard Waara, Metamorphosis of a Moorish Nude


Crimes sans initiales
The Resting Whirlwind


Self-Shadowing Prey (sample)

Luca & Trost, The Dialectic of Dialectic

The Praying Mantis Appraised, tr. by Julian Semilian & Laura Semilian (The Brooklyn Rail)

Prendere corpo (Luca in Italian), tr. by Alfredo Riponi (Imperfetta Ellisse)



The Passive Vampire
The Inventor of Love
Self-Shadowing Prey


Das Körperecho. Lapsus linguae


La fine del mondo
L’inventore dell amore


Inventor del amor meurte muerta

Image credit: Gherasim Luca, Passionnément

Asymptote Petri Review

“… what accounts for Petri’s absence from the critical recognition accorded to Zavattini, De Sica, Fellini, Visconti, Rossellini, Bertolucci, and Pasolini? Even at the time of their release, his films unnerved critics at home and abroad. Though a detailed analysis would reveal his kinship to De Sica and the baroque inheritance of Visconti, and despite the continuity of his artistic collaborations, every film Petri released seems to be the product of a different director; this proved disconcerting to cinema experts and the public alike, particularly as it called into question the auteur concept coined by the young Turks of Cahiers du cinema. In a masterstroke of self-promotion, Cahiers’ contributors, with Truffaut, Godard, and Rohmer at their head, had imported the idea of auctorial style from literary criticism in order to legitimize the value of the Seventh Art, lionizing a restrictive group of directors congenial to their tastes while paving the way for their own later offerings.

Yet, at this key moment in the history of film criticism, Elio Petri proved erratic and difficult to grasp, requiring a theoretical and analytical background largely unavailable to those outside of Italy. His films were openly political and too complex for superficial formal analyses. Moreover, Petri refused to act as a snake oil salesman, narcissistically hawking his own wares. In his films, literary writings, and criticism, Petri delves into the wounds of the benessere of postwar Italian society, demanding a degree of acquaintance with art and history that few in his potential audience were willing to acquire. Strange as it may seem, the depth of Petri’s commitment to understanding the problems of his time wound up banishing him from the official history of cinema.”

— Beatriz Leal Riesco, Asymptote (October 15, 2013)



Transforming Revolution

My attitude towards 1968 — and especially the imbecility and pathetic commemoration which surrounds it — is all but nostalgic and benevolent. I certainly took part in the events of 1968, but was more of a supporting actor than a protagonist. Despite Carmelo Bene’s views on 1968 and the film he made, it is clear that 1968 in some way transformed a whole series of contents into forms of film and communication.
I myself had to find a way of making Lou Castel into a positive hero, a working class man who in some way opposed the middle class bourgeoisie. Carmelo Bene captured those rebel years in a quintessence of cinematographic originality. In this sense, his approach was more artistic while mine was always riddled by conflicting commitments, responsibilities and remorse and the fact that I belonged to a class which would eventually be quashed by the proletariat. Carmelo Bene rose to the challenge of 1968 with the freedom of a great artist. …
When a revolution is in progress, the artist’s job is not to illustrate or advertise it, but rather to express it in the most original manner and to transform the contents of the movement into art. In this sense, Our Lady of the Turks is a manifesto of the events of 1968. Perhaps not of 1968 as it was. But certainly of a 1968 full of contents, proclamations, and logics which only an artist could propagandize. Carmelo Bene was obviously a giant. … He struck me as a person with so little technique that he was free. And he was so capricious and original in the editing of his films. … In all the films by Carmelo Bene I have seen, there is a great sense of freedom. A freedom which becomes an expression, an image. Yet he never uses dissociated images. Carmelo Bene has a great talent for synthesis…
— Marco Bellocchio

Foreman Review

“As with all of Foreman’s published work, this collection [Plays With Films] documents visceral, physical events. Fortunately, these events are well worth capturing for the written record. … The plays show a very experienced artist simultaneously staying innovative and true-to-himself. … In presenting these texts as written documents, Foreman sets us up for his difficult theater. These plays demand focus — lots of it — and we’re lucky for that. These are plays for people who believe they deserve good art instead of mere entertainment. Hopefully, the documentation will lead to new stagings of these plays, since the collection is a de facto template for other ambitious directors to pick up the work and make it their own.” — Justin Maxwell, Rain Taxi, No. 71 (fall 2013)

“Richard Foreman’s work gives a resonance and a disturbance not felt from any other company. [He is] a pioneer in end-of-millennium controlled chaos.” — David Bowie

For more info on the book

Petri on Criterion!

Forthcoming from Criterion this December, Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion!

A three-disc dual format BLU-RAY/DVD featuring:

interview with Petri

Notes About a Filmmaker (documentary on Petri)

Interview with film scholar Camilla Zamboni (translator of Petri’s writings)

Documentary on Gian Maria Volonté, & more! 

Full details here.

For our edition of Elio Petri’s writings, see this page.


“Elio Petri was a great artist, a great director, a very great man of the cinema.” — Dante Ferretti

Rebelion Petri Review

Reseña del libro “Elio Petri: escritos sobre el cine y la vida”
“Implicado en comprender los problemas de su tiempo, se acabó situando fuera de la historia oficial del cine”
Beatriz Leal Riesco
En la historia del cine, apenas un puñado de directores internacionales se pueden vanagloriar de haber triunfado en Berlín, Cannes, Venecia y en los Oscars y de haberlo hecho en las décadas de los 60 y 70, cuando los grandes “directores” del siglo pasado inundaban las pantallas mundiales. Elio Petri (1929–1982) se eleva entre este reducido club con poco más de diez largometrajes y, en el caso de desconfiar del valor de estos galardones: ¿qué motivos llevan a que el director de la película que arrebató al Jules et Jim de Truffaut el premio a la mejor película en el Festival Mar del Plata de 1962, que tuvo en los hermanos Mastroianni, Morricone, Ugo Pirro y Tonino Guerra a incondicionales colaboradores, que se codeaba con Pasolini, Bertolucci, Pasolini o Pontecorvo, y que nos ha dejado una de las producciones más incisivas y críticas de la sociedad italiana de su época, a ser un desconocido para el público fuera de Italia?

El olvido con el que la crítica internacional lo ha premiado, siendo valorado por los especialistas nacionales, es todavía más incomprensible si se pone en la balanza del reconocimiento que otros de su generación han alcanzado. Con Elio Petri fuera de cámara, la tumultuosa historia del cine italiano y universal desde los años 60 permanecería incompleta. Hechos tan relevantes como la creación de la Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema de Pesaro en 1965, Le Giornate del cinema italiano como alternativa al festival de Venecia de 1972 o los encendidos debates en el Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografía di Roma, transformarían el concepto del cine como industria del espectáculo y cuestionarían para siempre el lugar que éste ocupa en la vida de los hombres y mujeres en la contemporaneidad y Petri tuvo un lugar destacado en todos ellos.

Read the full review here: Rebelion (September 8, 2013).

Cineaste Petri Review

“A seemingly eclectic but actually very helpful selection of such hard-to-find Petri pieces, the aptly titled Writings on Cinema & Life is posited in Gili’s introduction as homage to “a man that was like a big brother to me, a brother who had a lot to teach and pass down.” The result definitely serves as a touching tribute, showing Petri as an enormously educated and gifted writer graced with a remarkable sense of humor, but just as capable of well-reasoned and sound analysis as of occasional bon mots. (“The artistic maturity of the director is manifested through the medium of a perfect and almost nauseating naturalism,” he remarks apropos of Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire.) Meanwhile, the selection spans almost Petri’s entire career, also allowing for an appreciation of the breadth and depth of his interests.

Petri’s last period of activity up to Buone notitzie (Good News, 1979) … is the focus of chapter four, combining Petri’s Sciascia notes with two … interviews on Todo modo, and a real find — Petri’s long internal memo for state television RAI on his internationally unreleased four-hour TV adaptation of Sartre’s Le mani sporche (Dirty Hands, 1978). The French philosopher was a key figure for Petri’s artistic development, and the director delivers a clear-headed, lengthy analysis of Sartre’s political thought, as well as adding his Italian perspective in typically exacting … prose.

No less typical, Petri opens with general considerations on the role of television and its (ab)use as a medium for complacency; his sharp wit showcases a critically minded and comprehensively knowledgeable as well as immensely pleasurable writer. So do his discussions of two painters — Picasso and Claudio Bonichi — in the penultimate chapter, highlighting an important but often neglected influence on his work: Petri was an art collector, who had, for example, collaborated with pop artist Jim Dine to school his lead actor Franco Nero in painting for the tragicomic proto-horror experiment Un tranquillo posto a campagna (A Quiet Place in the Country, 1968). The final chapter consists only of the flash drama “Brief Encounter,” a touching farewell, in which cinema appears as a camera trying to lure an exhausted director back to work. “What about Antonioni?” the camera taunts: “He’s no child, yet he continues to think and say that he can’t live without me.” To which the director replies: “That’s because he can’t grow up. A wonderful illness, yet increasingly rare.”

This one exchange superbly summarizes Petri’s seemingly supreme disillusionment, as well as his innate gifts as an insightful, iconoclastic entertainer with a special penchant for Italian grotesque. (Immediately afterward, the camera inquires about Fellini, only to be told, “He cheats on you with Cinecittà.”) Indeed, despite Petri’s alternately melancholy and corrosive worldview, there was also a flamboyant side to him, excitedly animating his films even in their darkest moments…”

For the full review:

Christoph Huber, Cineaste (August 2013) 68–69.

Josef Winkler

Coming this fall, Adrian West’s translation of Josef Winkler’s When the Time Comes (Suhrkamp). For an excerpt from the book as recently featured in: The Brooklyn Rail, West’s essay on Winkler, and Suhrkamp’s Winkler page.

Winkler received the Georg Büchner Prize in 2008.

“Josef Winkler is not only someone who writes, but someone who lives to write.” — Günter Grass



[A text by the Editors’ Platform in Turkey follows in: English, French, Italian, and the original Turkish] 

All kinds of censorship are contagious. The most insidious, hurtful and lethal sort is self-censorship. The weakening, numbing nature of self-censorship and its capacity to regulate reality, has given it an undeniable “legitimacy”. If societies become immune to this contagion, they shove free thought and reality into a black box. Somehow, these black boxes are almost always either missing or destroyed by power holders.

If a person is unable to express his/her thoughts openly, then he/she is condemned to a false existence. Subjection to fear or intimidation is not a way of life, but a way of death. A tree may be a simple symbol but as long as it keeps on living, it’s a vital one. Those who wish to live freely are not puppets: Nobody can rule control another’s will to live, the most fundamental freedom of all, or one’s right to breathe. A society which does not breathe cannot think. A society unable to think regresses, it is imprisoned in a single opinion and thus forced into uniformity. It becomes the puppet of narrow-mindedness and bigotry. At that point, the soil upon which one lives ceases to be soil and becomes instead a blind spot. Societies build “places for living”, not “places for dying”.

We believe that books written as a result of free, independent thinking comprise a sphere of freedom and that ties of friendship established via these books give birth to a real, transformative bond. We breathe through books, we exist with them, for free, independent and creative thinking are our passion; we want to know and share truth by disseminating knowledge and free thought.

The Turkish media should demonstrate its willingness to open black boxes and tell the truth ‒ right away.

The day has come to forge, together, freedom—freedom for those who are ignored, ostracized, deemed “a small minority” or “marginals”.  Now is the time to unite the aesthetics of different colours with the power of resistance and thus display the aesthetics of resistance. It is time for us to speak up and let it be known that we live fearlessly in favor of beauty, goodness, independence and that we exercise our right to breathe.

Lift this fog, this cloud of gas. Let everyone breathe, let minds to clear.

Arms are signs of cowardice.

People, like trees, are beautiful, so long as they stand.




Si toute censure est un virus, l’autocensure en est la forme la plus sournoise, la plus blessante et la plus fatale. Son caractère atrophiant et stupéfiant, sa tendance à contrôler la réalité lui assurent une “légalité” indéniable. Si les sociétés sont  désensibilisées face à  ce virus, elles enferment l’opinion libre et la vérité dans la boîte noire. On ne sait jamais pourquoi, mais ces boîtes noires se perdent systématiquement ou sont détruites par les détenteurs du pouvoir.

Lorsqu’on ne peut s’exprimer librement, la vie se trouve faussée. Avoir peur ou reculer n’est pas une façon de vivre, mais de mourir. Un arbre peut être un symbole simple, mais tant qu’il vit, il est un symbole vivant: les gens qui veulent vivre librement ne sont pas des marionnettes. Personne ne peut prendre sous son contrôle la volonté de vivre, la volonté de respirer qui est la liberté fondamentale sur la terre. Une société qui ne respire pas est incapable de penser. Et une société qui ne pense pas recule, elle  s’emprisonne dans une seule opinion figée, elle s’uniformise. Elle devient la marionnette de l’obscurantisme et d’un conservatisme étroit. Alors la terre où nous vivons n’est plus la terre, mais le point aveugle. Les sociétés créent des espaces pour “vivre”, pas pour “mourir”.

Nous croyons que les livres écrits par la pensée libre et indépendante créent un espace de liberté. Nous aussi croyons que l’amitié établie par ces livres anime une relation réelle et transformatrice. Nous respirons et nous existons grâce aux livres. Parce que nous sommes curieux de l’opinion libre, indépendante, créative et nous voulons savoir et partager la réalité en diffusant le savoir et l’opinion libre.

Les médias en Turquie doivent immédiatement montrer la volonté d’ouvrir les boîtes noires et doivent exprimer la réalité. C’est le jour de rendre effective la liberté de respirer pour les gens prétendument “minoritaires” ou “marginaux, pour tous ceux qui sont  ignorées, ceux qu’on essaye de marginaliser. C’est le jour d’exposer l’esthétique de la résistance en rassemblant l’esthétique des couleurs diverses avec la force de résistance. C’est le jour d’exprimer notre droit de respirer, de vivre sans avoir peur et d’être indépendant.

Retirez cette fumée, retirez ce nuage de gaz.

Laissez les gens respirer, laissez les esprits respirer.

L’arme est le symbole de la lâcheté.

Et l’homme est beau tant qu’il résiste comme un arbre.




Ogni tipo di censura è contagioso. E l’autocensura è la forma di contagio più ingannevole, più offensiva e la più letale. Per la sua natura, la capacità di offuscare la realtà, di accecare e rendere dipendenti, ha acquisito una ‘legittimità’ innegabile. Quando le società diventano immuni a questo contagio inseriscono l’idea di libertà e la realtà in una scatola nera. In qualche modo queste scatole nere vengono sempre inevitabilmente perse o fatte scomparire da chi detiene il potere.

Quando qualcuno non riesce a esprimere in modo libero i propri pensieri, non si può che parlare di un’esistenza fasulla. La paura e l’ansia non sono un modo di vivere, ma una forma di morte. Un albero può essere un semplice simbolo, se entra a far parte della vita diventa un simbolo vitale: le persone che intendono vivere liberamente non sono dei fantocci. Non si può controllare la determinazione di vivere, la libertà di respirare, diritto fondamentale. Una società che non respira, non riesce a pensare e una società che non pensa regredisce e viene rinchiusa in un pensiero unico. Così le persone diventano fantocci, con orizzonti ristretti e una mentalità chiusa. La terra su cui si vive è un punto di non ritorno. Le società devono salvaguardare i propri ‘spazi di vita’, non ‘spazi di morte’.

Noi crediamo che i libri che si basano su un pensiero libero e indipendente rappresentino uno spazio di libertà e che facciano nascere. Grazie ai libri respiriamo, grazie ai libri esistiamo. Perché noi ricerchiamo un pensiero libero, indipendente, creativo, e vogliamo conoscere e far conoscere la realtà diffondendo la conoscenza e il pensiero libero.

I media turchi devono poter aprire il prima possibile ‘le scatole nere’ e mostrare la realtà. Oggi è il giorno in cui le persone definite “una piccola minoranza”, dei “marginali”, invisibili, stigmatizzate, tutte insieme, fianco a fianco, sono libere di respirare. È il giorno in cui si mostra un’estetica della resistenza composta dalla diversità dei colori e dalla capacità di ribellarsi. Oggi è il giorno in cui diciamo apertamente che viviamo dalla parte del bello e del buono, che viviamo in modo indipendente e senza paura, e che usiamo il nostro diritto a respirare.

Cacciate via questo fumo, questa nube di gas. Lasciate che tutti respirino e che le menti si illuminino.

Le armi sono il simbolo della codardia.

L’uomo é bello quando resiste come un albero.




Sansürün her türlüsü virüstür. En sinsi, en yaralayıcı, en ölümcül olanı da otosansürdür. Otosansürün köreltici, gerçeği denetim altına alan, uyuşturucu karakteri ona yadsınamaz bir “yasallık” kazandırmıştır. Toplumlar bu virüse bağışıklık kazanırlarsa özgür düşünceyi, gerçeği karakutuya tıkarlar. Nedense, istikrarlı biçimde o karakutular hep kayıptır ya da iktidar sahiplerince yok edilir.

Kişi fikirlerini açıkça dile getiremiyorsa ancak sahte bir yaşama eyleminden söz edilebilir. Korku, sinmişlik bir yaşama biçimi değil, ölme biçimidir. Bir ağaç basit bir simge olabilir, yaşadıkça canlı bir simgedir: Özgürce yaşamak isteyen insanlar kukla değildir. Kimse yaşama iradesini, yeryüzündeki en temel özgürlük olan nefes alma özgürlüğünü denetim altına alamaz. Nefes almayan bir toplum düşünemez: düşünmeyen bir toplum geriler, tek bir düşünceye hapsolur, tektipleştirilir. Geri kafalılığın, dargörüşlülüğün kuklası haline gelir. Artık yaşanan toprak, toprak değil kör noktadır. Toplumlar “yaşanacak yer” kurarlar, “ölünecek yer” değil.

Biz, özgür, bağımsız düşünceyle yazılan kitapların bir özgürlük alanı oluşturduğuna, bu kitaplarla kurulan dostluğun dönüştürücü, gerçek bir ilişkiye hayat verdiğine inanıyoruz. Kitaplarla nefes alıyor, kitaplarla varoluyoruz. Çünkü özgür, bağımsız, yaratıcı düşünceye merak duyuyor, bilgiyi ve özgür düşünceyi yaymak suretiyle gerçeği bilmek ve paylaşmak istiyoruz.

Türkiye Medyası karakutuları açma iradesini bir an önce gösterip gerçeği dile getirebilmelidir.

Gün “küçük bir azınlık” ya da “marjinal” olduğu iddia edilen, görmezden gelinen, ötekileştirilmeye çalışılan insanların nefes alma özgürlüğünü bir arada, yan yana icra etme günüdür. Farklı renklerin estetiğini, direnme gücüyle birleştirip direnmenin estetiğini sergileme günüdür. Gün güzelden, iyiden yana, bağımsızca, korkusuzca yaşadığımızı, nefes alma hakkımızı kullandığımızı dile getirme günüdür.

Bu dumanı, gaz bulutunu kaldırın, bırakın herkes nefes alsın, zihinler aydınlansın.

Silah korkaklığın simgesidir.

İnsan da ağaç gibi direndikçe güzeldir.


Genuinely Different

“I’ve turned this book over in my head many times and I’m mostly still at a loss. I haven’t read a book so unlike anything else in some time. Hungarian author Miklós Szentkuthy (1908-1988) wrote the ten volumes of St. Orpheus Breviary over a forty year period from the 1930s to the 1970s, and Marginalia on Casanova is the first, published in 1939 but written some years before that.

The series, or at least this first volume, is a tour through the European past, a tour through Szentkuthy’s labyrinthine library, twisting through the stranger paths of civilized minds to counter the dominant stories we learn as we’re growing up. Szentkuthy’s choice of Casanova (1725-1798) of all people as his intellectual centerpiece for the first volume is perfectly representative. Casanova’s love life doesn’t interest him per se. There is very little of the gossip or scandal of Casanova in here. He is much more attuned to Casanova’s sensibility, his emotional responses, and his ethics (such as they are). That he compares Casanova to Pope Benedict XIV should give some idea of what he’s after.

Szentkuthy also compares Casanova to Proust: both spent their last years reflecting ambivalently on the social high life in which they had previously been engaged. But for Szentkuthy, Casanova is the more interesting figure because he conducted his life with far less remove than Proust, with less concerted intellectual analysis.”

Read the whole review here: David Auerbach, Waggish (May 29, 2013)

Szentkuthy-életműkiadás angolul

Hungarian press on Contra Mundum and Szentkuthy

“Az első kötet, a Széljegyzetek Casanovához (Marginalia on Casanova, 2012) megjelenése után az első recenzens, Nicholas Birns máris így fogalmazott: kétségtelen, hogy Szentkuthy hamarosan elfoglalja méltó helyét a huszadik századi irodalmi kánonban, sőt meg is fogja változtatja azt. Idén augusztusban jelenik megAz egyetlen metafora felé (Towards the One and Only Metaphor), a jövő évre pedig a monumentális Prae első kötetét tervezi a kiadó. A Szentkuthy-műveket a Kertész-fordításairól ismert Tim Wilkinson ülteti át angolra.”

Read the entire piece here: Orzóy Ágnes, Litera (May 22, 2013)

New Statesman Pessoa Review

“Beautifully edited and presented with a spirited afterword, the essays form part of over 1,400 separate sheets, themselves only a small part of over 27,000 sheets that are preserved in the Pessoa archive in the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal.

Often fragmentary, at times not much more than jottings, these essays lack the elegance of Pessoa’s verse and the wistful charm of his hetero-biographical prose. However, they abound in arresting and surprising insights and this book will be of absorbing interest not only to those who love Pessoa but also anyone who wants philosophy to be more than the dull rehearsal of commonplace pieties.”

Read the full review here: John Gray, The New Statesman (May 2, 2013)

The Only True Luxury

David Van Dusen reviews Marginalia on Casanova:

“Szentkuthy’s “commentary” is possibly better classified as a novel; he himself considered it the first volume of Szentkuthy’s recherché, pan-European opus, the 10-volume Szent Orpheus breviáriuma (St. Orpheus Breviary). Marginalia on Casanova is a dazzling English rendering by Tim Wilkinson, of Szentkuthy’s 1939 book, and also Szentkuthy’s English debut. (The other volumes of the Breviary — with titles like Black Renaissance,Europa Minor and In the Footsteps of Eurydice — will, I hope, be forthcoming from Contra Mundum Press soon.)

Miklós Szentkuthy — born Miklós Pfisterer, in 1908 — introduced himself to Budapest’s literary circles in 1934 with a self-published novel, Prae, and he remained a provocative figure until his death in 1988. Szentkuthy is still referred to as the “sacred monster” of Hungarian letters, and the expression is apt. His huge output — foremost, the “Romanesque cathedral” that is the Breviary — is at once speculative and manneristic, hyper-erotic and hyper-religious, bleary eyed and clear-sighted.

Szentkuthy’s ambition was medieval: to produce a catalogus rerum, “an index of all entities.” His method is “Hellenistic-rococo”: he writes spirited variations on the letter of the canon. His syntax and affect are irreverently modernist, yet there is nothing programmatic about his avant-gardism, and what he wrote of Casanova holds true of him as well: “the muck of literary programme is not allowed to dirty his white cuffs.” In the Marginalia, “metaphysical facts,” “factual truths,” and deliriums are calculated to transect “with the epic grace of an apoplectic fit.” It is not accidental, then, that he was thrilled by the expression of the15th-century polymath, Nicolas of Cusa — echoed by Romantics like Novalis and Coleridge — that the essence of all things is a coincidentia oppositorum: a “coincidence of opposites.” Szentkuthy is, himself, such a coincidence.”

To read the entire review: Los Angeles Review of Books (May 2, 2013)

Entering the World Stage: Szentkuthy’s Ars Poetica

“As a text that defies classification into any particular genre, Towards the One and Only Metaphor is perhaps most accurately thought of as literature — in Blanchot’s expansive sense of the term, literature is that which ‘ruins’ distinctions and limits in its creation of a unique and amorphous hybrid beyond the distinctions of a particular genre. Originally published in 1935 and republished in 1985, Towards the One and Only Metaphor is, as Dezső Baróti elucidated, comprised of “unconventional journal-like passages expanded into short essays, plans for novels, poetic meditations that have the effect of free verse, and paradoxical aphorisms,” all of which reveal a moral philosophy, a politics, an erotics. “Its predominant motifs (insofar as one can succinctly describe it in a few words) are most especially nature, love, eroticism, sex. All that, however, is constantly painted over by the vibration of the unconcealed presence of a writer constantly in search of himself, and rife with beguiling, stimulating, and ever-renewed surprises.” In this sense, it is an essayistic and confessional work à la Montaigne, or like the ruminative waste books of Lichtenberg, or Joubert’s keen-eyed observations. Yet, if as fragmentary as those texts, Towards the One and Only Metaphor is at the same time ordered, like a group of disparate stars that, when viewed from afar, reveal or can be perceived to form a constellation — they are sculpted by a geometry of thought, for, as András Keszthelyi observed, the text is essentially something of a manifesto, “an explicit formulation of the author’s intentions, his scale of values, or, if you wish: his ars poetica.”

For the full essay: Asymptote (April 2013).

And for an excerpt from: Towards the One and Only Metaphor.

Truth Tableaux on Pessoa

“The philosophical essays [of Pessoa] are thematically similar to Schopenhauer’s writings, especially his essay on free will, which Pessoa owned in a French translation.  The writing style resembles Pascal’s Pensees, Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human, and even Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Remarks in that they are fragments on various philosophers and topics: rationalism, free will, causation, Pascal, Heraclitus, and Thomas Aquinas.

The essays will unlikely appeal to Anglo-American philosophers who eschew literary writing in favor of formal logic and linguistic analysis.  Pessoa’s meditations are impressionistic and fragmentary, not rigorously argumentative.  Thereby, he provides no deductive proofs or formulae.  Rather, he provides notebook entries that show a brilliant mind at work—profound insights without logical apparatus.

The newly published essays will allow readers to explore Pessoa’s philosophy in the context of his work.  Although Pessoa claimed to be a “poet animated by philosophy,” we can now consider him to be a philosopher, not merely a poet who researched philosophy.  In this way, Pessoa was a poet-philosopher akin to W.B. Yeats, not like T.S. Eliot or Wallace Stevens, who wrote on philosophical themes.”

Read the whole review here.

Pessoa Review

Allan Graubard on Pessoa’s Philosophical Essays in Leonardo 46: 1 (2013).

“The relationship of poetry to philosophy, and vice versa, which to my mind at least is one theme of these musings, however seemingly couched in the discourse of argument, is an exceptionally rich area. In one sense it returns to language a resolution not to foreclose too quickly on meaning, significance and resonance. In another sense it can open a reciprocal current that enlivens the concept that seeks clarity in its expression and the expression that seeks clarity in its embodiment.

I cannot but believe that behind Pessoa’s “pre-heteronyms,” which feed the current volume, and his “heteronyms,” which feed the books he is celebrated for, that play carried the day, and that all else to follow for their author would come because of his mastery in playing.

Pessoa’s Philosophical Essays are part and parcel of this sensibility, which left me wanting more from the aforesaid Charles Robert Anon and Alexander Search, however much those two last names, when placed contiguously, transform my want into something entirely else: Anon Search.” — Allan Graubard

Read the full review here.

Masks Behind Masks

András Nagy’s portrait of Szentkuthy in The Berlin Review of Books:

“The mask in general is an important part of the identity of the personality; paradoxically it may be even a synonym for it as the use of the borrowed “face” tells more of the person applying it than the features he is born with. The experience with identities was regularly developed into novels applying different protagonists, characters, and roles, yet Szentkuthy had to realize in the years to come that daily life must also be lived in different masks. A mask was needed to hide those features of his very self that were rejected by the more and more intolerant authorities that directly and indirectly attempted and partly infiltrated his life and even his works. However, with Szentkuthy’s intellect and unlimited free spirit, the attempts to control him regularly failed as he was happily using different incognitos and roles, while keeping deeply hidden what was behind the masks. These secrets were carefully registered and kept in a “giant-diary” as he liked to call it, hundreds of thousands of pages of the most authentic chronicle from his early age until almost to his death. It included significant entries for each day, obviously touching upon the most personal and the most abstract issues, being both extremely vulgar and extremely subtle, as well as ideas and recollections of people and events he came across, likely matching the same high artistic level and aesthetic quality as the rest of his work. Even if it will not be revealed still for many years to come, it is an important part, if not the most important one of the author’s oeuvre. Szentkuthy suggested in an interview that his whole oeuvre could be defined, described, and interpreted as a “giant-diary”, modeled on the textual corpus of Saint-Simon and of Montaigne. Stories, novels, studies, essays, etc. may turn out to have a wholly different meaning once read in the  larger context. It is easy to imagine then that once the diaries will be opened – this will occur for the first time in 2013 – readers will have to reinterpret all of Szentkuthy’s writings in a radically new way. Surprises, and even revelations, of literary history are to be expected in the years to come.”

For the full essay: go here.

Exemplary translation

Stuart Kendall works time in a physical way — takes the ancient tablets and breaks them into pages, pages that shatter the ongoing narrative into (instead) confrontative moments. […] the strikingly handsome Contra Mundum edition [of Gilgamesh] has the feel of picking up a fragment of the cuneiform tablet, miraculously lucid, magically set … the solemn priestly tablets of the “original”  … are transformed into communiqués from the field of action: the page, [which is] the field, spacetime itself, your moment. … [This is an] exemplary translation [that] recover[s] the time of listening

By chopping sentences into lines, staggering them down the page, not letting the sentence rest, Kendall keeps us going, each page a reward and a challenge to go on. It’s wonderfully unsettling [… and] dramatically urgent, starting and stopping like a man in rage, his timeless pauses, his insistence on bringing us at every moment into the hero’s moment.

Kendall can make us feel the baffled stammer of a hero unsure of what to cry out next. His method is frictional, making the reader react tablet by tablet, ever thrown back into the story. Ability to react to stimuli is the universal property of, surest sign of, life.  – Robert Kelly, Nomadics

Read the whole review here.

Exquisitely thought-provoking

“I come back to scandalous neglect (other European countries are fine with him). Wilkinson himself once said that English literature is “boring”, and compared to this, it is: with a very few exceptions, and they know who they are, English writers (I refer specifically to the English) may as well be producing Ladybird books, so formally conventional, so stylistically timid, are they. Open your minds, then, to the European enlightenment, sit back and let this exquisitely thought-provoking book seep into you. Let’s hope the remaining nine volumes, and indeed the rest of Szentkuthy’s oeuvre, get translated soon.” – Nicolas Lezard, The Guardian

Read the full review here.

Against a culture of stupefaction

Against a narcotic culture whose primary desire is stupefaction

Andrea Scrima talks to Rainer J. Hanshe, founder of Contra Mundum Press

The Brooklyn Rail, Dec/Jan 2012-13

“Often, typically before disasters or in the midst of excruciating crises, many artists believe or feel that their work is meaningless and without value. Who is an artist before a surgeon or scientist? But the fact that tyrants and political regimes of every age have been threatened by art again and again, condemned it as degenerate or poisonous, and have silenced, brutalized, or murdered artists because of their work (and it is happening in our own time) only serves to illustrate how significant art is, that it is our one greatest power — the unique power of the individual, the singular force of the marginalized, and therefore, a political force. I would even go so far as to say that the ‘enemy’ of art experiences it more acutely than its devotee or acolyte, for the latter is generally too ‘pious’ and adoring, whereas art’s ‘enemy’ suffers its transformative threat more, is even endangered by it, hence their terror. It is the Platonic fear of art’s power over the ‘soul.’ And the fear of the destruction of the polis, but destruction only leads to new creations, to mutations that take us into new territory. What we have here is something inordinately potent — art is a life force, the vital breath that sustains us in the midst of our most excruciating trials. It is the powerless individual’s animating energy.”

Read the full interview here: against a culture of stupefaction.

An odd, fascinating book

M.A. Orthofer on Marginalia on Casanova:

Marginalia on Casanova is an odd, fascinating book — a philosophical work, but also one of interpretation, in several layers, from eras and context, to Casanova’s own words as reflection of his life, times, and deeds, and finally also as a work of self-reflection. Living in such very different times — 1930s Hungary ! — Szentkuthy does travel to nearby Vienna and Venice but even these descriptions seem removed from the reality of the times, and these asides are more aesthetic mind-voyages than physical ones; the bulk of the book is grounded entirely elsewhere, situated in even more distant times. Szentkuthy comments little on the present-day — but then Casanova also allows him to focus on the timeless universals, love first and foremost among them. […] Marginalia on Casanova is not so much digressive as involuted, its arguments and observations turned and repeated in a structure that is complex, ordered, yet also strikingly creative. Rigorously argued, offering a broad and deep vision, it is also surprisingly entertaining.

Read the full review here.

Rococo Jungle

Ottilie Mulzet on Marginalia on Casanova:

“. . . in his endless self-interruptions, Szentkuthy uncannily almost seems like an earlier incarnation of Péter Esterházy (even in his copious use of quotations), and thus the designation of “the first Hungarian post-modernist” seems fully justified.

It is to be hoped that the other volumes in the series St. Orpheus Breviary will themselves see the light of day. The scattering of Szentkuthy’s brilliant aperçus throughout the text make reading the book a pleasure. At the same time, the publication of a work such as this helps to fill in the inevitable huge gaps in the availability of important Hungarian works of literature in English translation.”

Hungarian Literature Online, 4.11.2012

World Premiere! — Pessoa’s Philosophical Essays

Pessoa PE

Edited with notes and introduction by Nuno Ribeiro
Afterword by Paulo Borges

Fernando Pessoa claimed to be inhabited by “thousands of philosophies,” all of which he intended to develop in his unfinished project of English-language Philosophical Essays. The resulting fragments were never published by Pessoa himself and almost the entirety of them are presented in this edition for the very first time in history.

This volume exhibits Pessoa’s musings and wild insights on the history of philosophy, the failures of subjectivity, and the structure of the universe to reveal an unexpectedly scholarly, facetious, and vigorous theoretical mind. Written under the pre-heteronyms of Charles Robert Anon and Alexander Search, these texts constitute the foundation for the fabrication of Pessoa’s future heteronyms. They are the testimony of a writer who referred to himself as a “poet animated by philosophy.”

Through editor Nuno Ribeiro’s careful critical efforts, a new and fundamental facet of the work of one of modernity’s most seminal geniuses has now been brought to light in a remarkably reliable and clear fashion.

Original cover design: Istvan Orosz.


Ferdinando Pessoa, Philosophical Essays: A Critical Edition (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2012). For a review, desk copy, or interview request, write to: info@contramundum.net. $20 USD, 15 GBP, 15 EU.

To order the book directly from the publisher, send your name, address, and number of copies desired to enable us to calculate shipping charges. Secure payments can then be made through Paypal. For orders to the Americas, we ship from the US; for orders within the EU, we ship from GB; for orders from Australia and its surroundings, we ship from there. 

“Genuinely Innovative” — review of Marginalia on Casanova

“… this is truly a seminal work, both because of the breadth of its range and the nuance and slyness whitch which it traverses this breadth. Szentkuthy reminds us that to be intellectually omnivorous is a wasted asset without a sense of irony; he is, in a sense, Arnold Toynbee as written by Henry James. He writes of the rise and fall of civilizations as if they were extended drawing-room conversations — that is to say in what James would consider a civilized way. Szentkuthy will unquestionably enter and alter the canon of twentieth-century literature as we know it.” — Nicholas Birns, Tropes of Tenth Street

Read the entire review here.

Elio Petri Writings: First Ever English Publication!

Italian writer/director Elio Petri (1929-1982) is of the cinematic era of Bertolucci, Bellocchio, and Pasolini, and although recognized by film scholars as one of the major figures of Italian cinema, his work remains largely unknown outside of Italy. Hardly a marginal figure, Petri began as an assistant to Giuseppe De Santis, and his future collaborators would include many of the most renowned film artists of the 20th century: Marcello Mastroianni, Gian Maria Volonté, Dante Ferretti, Ennio Morricone, Ugo Pirro, and Tonino Guerra.

Due to Petri’s belief that culture is inextricable from political struggle, he was a central figure in the fervent debates of his time on both Italian cinema and culture that arose from the aftermath of World War II to the 1980s. However, while generally characterized as a political filmmaker, that view is limited and reductive, for Petri’s films are polemical interrogations of social, religious, and political phenomena as well as acute analyses of moral, psychological, and existential crises. His cinema is also informed by a rich and profound understanding of and engagement with literature, philosophy, psychology, and art, evident for instance in his adaptations of Sciascia’s novels, Miller’s The American Clock (for the stage), and Sartre’s Dirty Hands, as well as in his use of Pop and Abstract Art in The Tenth Victim, A Quiet Day in the Country, and other films.

Now available for the first time ever in English, Writings on Cinema and Life is a collection of texts Petri originally published mainly in French and Italian journals. Also included are several art reviews, as well as Petri’s essay on Sartre’s Dirty Hands, a text forgotten until recently. Petri’s affinity for subtle analysis is evident in his clear and precise writing style, which utilizes concrete concepts and observations, cinematographic references, and ideas drawn from literature, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. There is as well an acute and scathing sense of humor that permeates many of the texts.

Petri was the recipient of the Palme d’Or, an Oscar, and the Edgar Allan Poe award among many others, and in 2005 he was the subject of the documentary Elio Petri: Appunti Su Un Autore. This collection of Petri’s writings is an important contribution to the history of cinema and offers further insight into the work, thought, and beliefs of one of cinema’s most ambitious and innovative practitioners.

Marginalia on Casanova — excerpts now available!

Boudoir & Theology, Zéno Bianu’s introduction to our forthcoming edition of Szentkuthy’s Marginalia on Casanova, is now available at Hungarian Literature Online. 

In addition, an excerpt from the book (the first 12 sections of “Lectio (Saintly Reading)”) is also now available on HLO.

“The greatest enterprise in scope, in worth? —  undertaken in the Hungarian novel.” — Csaba Sík on the St. Orpheus Breviary

“… Szentkuthy ist zutiefst Lyriker: dies beweist die in jedem Sätze vibrierende Gefühlsspannung, die hohe Empfindlichkeit des inneren Aufnahmeapparates, die neuartigen, oft kühnen, aber immer suggestiven Bilder, Vergleiche und Assoziationen, in denen sein Vortrag sich bewegt… … Seine Aufmerksamkeit wendet sich allen Erscheinungsformen des Lebens mit gleicher Intensität zu. … bietet dem Leser Anregung und Vertiefung und verdient als eines der Werte des neuen ungarischen Schrifttums betrachtet zu werden. . .” — Pester Lloyd, 1936, nov. 8

[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. . .]

Grant Award!

Contra Mundum Press is honored to announce that it received a subvention from the Hungarian Books & Translations Office division of the Petőfi Literary Museum. The grant award is to assist with our forthcoming translation of Miklós Szentkuthy’s Marginalia on Casanova, which is being translated into English for the very first time by Tim Wilkinson.

Born in Wales in 1947 and schooled in Sheffield, England, Tim Wilkinson first began translating while living and working in Hungary from 1970-73. He has translated a number of substantial works on Hungarian history and culture including Éva Balázs, Hungary and the Habsburgs 1765-1800 (1997), Domokos Kosáry, Hungary and International Politics in 1848-1849 (2003), and Péter E. Kovács and Kornél Szovák, (eds.), Infima Aetas Pannonica: Studies in Late Medieval Hungarian History (2009). In the literary field he has translated works by Imre Kertész and many other contemporary prose writers.

The US edition of Wilkinson’s tr. of Fatelessness was awarded the PEN American Center’s PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club 2005 Translation Prize. The UK edition was runner-up for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2006 and sole winner of the Jewish Quarterly — H.H. Wingate Literary Awards (Fiction and Non-Fiction) for 2006. And Wilkinson’s tr. of Kertesz’s Fiasco is a finalist for Three Percent’s Best Translated Book Award (2012).

Major Publication Forthcoming Soon

Tr. by Tim Wilkinson

“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 despiritualization 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.