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)