Translating Art

Laszlo Krasznahorkai~Hungary
Thomas Bernhard~Austria





It’s rare in today’s mercurial publishing industry and, more pointedly, in the realm of works in translation, to have two high quality objects of art made available to the public.  Yes, there are beautiful art books and there are masterful works of literature housed in between eye-catching covers, but to combine both high quality art and literature isn’t done as often as we would like to see.  That’s why it is so impressive that New Directions and Seagull Books committed themselves to producing literature as works of art.  Animalinside is a collaboration between Hungarian writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai and German painter, Max Neumann.  Stunning and ferocious were the words that sprung to my mind immediately after finishing this 48 page call-and-response art/text duo.  Krasznahorkai wrote a piece prompted by Max Neumann’s painting of a dog-like beast trapped in a room.  When Neumann read this first piece, it begun a creatively inspired relationship which spurred the painter to paint and the writer to write.  Max Neumann’s work is faceless and dark, eschewing details for stark contrasts the emphasize his gift for metaphor and commentary.  The stories created by Krasznahorkai express in words the primal emotion of Neumann’s beast that lives inside us, which is a different beast to all people, and how it looks for escape, freedom, a way to destroy us or be conquered by us.  Fourteen paintings and fourteen accompanying texts render the reader breathless, tense, and contemplating how our demons can alienate us.  There is riveting, animalistic intensity in Krasznahorkai’s prose that, buttressed by Neumann’s paintings, delivers a sense of urgency for the reader that is unsettling and hypnotic.  Part of The Cahiers Series, this is a piece of art that provokes and lasts.  With the impressive translation by Ottilie Mulzet, none of the immediacy nor none of the steamrolling fluidity is lost. 

As brutal and primitive as
Animalinside is, Victor Halfwit delivers a humorous and light coupling of Thomas Bernhard’s short story and the work of graphic artist, Sunandini Banerjee.  This object of art is over 200 pages although Victor Halfwit is, at best, a 2 page short story.  The text features perhaps 3-20 words per page interspersed with gorgeous prints that showcase Banerjee’s wit and sense of irony.  You can’t just put this book on any ole coffee table, it needs to be on a nice coffee table worthy of its artistry.  Bernhard’s story is simple, a fable derivative, about a doctor who has to walk through a forest to visit a patient.  During his journey, he stumbles upon a legless man who needs to get to the other end of the forest as well.  The doctor deliberates and then decides to help the man.  Of course there is a moral at the end of the tale, which I will not reveal, but it’s a fun little story.  It’s like a picture book for adults and it’s the type of book you give to people because it is so beautiful. 

The idea of bringing art and text together is not new, but definitely not done enough.  These two works are examples of when it’s done well, the pairing of art and literature can bring dignity to the creative process and underscore the move towards a global artistic community.  The importance of art and literature to society needs no further proof than to look to these two works.

Animalinside

Text by Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Art by Max Neumann
Translated by Ottilie Mulzet
New Directions Publishing Corporation
Paperback, 48 pp.
ISBN: 978081219167
$20.00

Victor Halfwit: A Winter’s Tale


Text By Thomas Bernhard and Illustrated by Sunandini Baherjee
Translated by Martin Chalmers
Seagull Books
Hardcover, 208 pp.
ISBN: 9781906497644

Leave a Reply