The Hungarian novelist and screenwriter László Krasnahorkai, best known for his novels The Melancholy of Resistance and Satantango, is interviewed by George Szirtes for The White Review. Delving into a mine so often richly explored by The Paris Review, Szirtes asks Krasnahorkai how he writes. The answer, which has less to do with sharpened pencils vs laptops, clear vs cluttered table, strong coffee vs Jack Daniel’s or just plain, iron determination to sit there hour by hour until something happens, is interesting:
I don’t sit at a work-station, meaning a writing desk, and I don’t stare at the laptop hoping to get an idea, but work in my head starting from the assumption that literature is my work. Putting aside personal reasons, the fact is that when I began to write I was living in very difficult circumstances: I had no writing desk and was never alone. So I got used to beginning sentences in my head, and if they were promising I kept adding to them until the sentence came to a natural end. It was at that point I wrote it down. That’s the way I do things even now, in the most unlikely places, at the most unlikely times – in other words I am continually at work. I write everything down at the end. I don’t correct in the normal way because I’ve done all that in my head.
But don’t you forget it all the next minute? Oh, never mind. Sorry. And what does he read?
When I am not reading Kafka I am thinking about Kafka. When I am not thinking about Kafka I miss thinking about him. Having missed thinking about him for a while, I take him out and read him again. That’s how it works.
Homer, Dante, Dostoevski, Proust, Beckett and Thomas Bernhard are others who serve under this regime.
And what is the explanation for your success?
… it seems that at the time of publication, Satantango was the kind of book many people actually wanted. People who wanted to escape the middle ground of high-formal pyrotechnics and the exhaustingly new; those who were waiting for a book that says something about the world; those who want something other than entertainment, who don’t want to escape from life but to live it over again, to know that they have a life, that they have a part in it, and have a preference for the painfully beautiful. My explanation is that we have no great literature. But readers need it, not as medicine, not as delusion, but because they need someone to tell them there is no medicine.