Thursday, 18 March 2010

Mrs Schmidt's daydream in the den of vice

A draft translation from Krasznahorkai's Satantago.

We are in the inn, waiting for a shady, demonic pair of desperadoes, Irimiás and Petrina, to appear. The village had thought they were dead but they turn out to be very much alive. There is terror at the thought of them returning and exacting some sort of vengeance.

In the inn are the innkeeper; Kerekes a huge, belligerent drunk farmer; Halics a weaselly villager; his wife, the fervidly religious, Bible-clutching, Mrs Halics (who regards the inn as a den of vice); Kelemen, an old driver who has caught sight of the demonic couple and brings news of them; and Mrs Schmidt, fancied by all, but fancying none, bar the leader of the demonic pair, Irimiás. When she hears Irimiás is on the way she begins to daydream of a possible life with him, leaving behind both her husband, Mr Schmidt, and her lover, the lame Futaki:

From the film version, directed by Béla Tarr

Mrs Schmidt’s entire being was filled with excitement; she felt her skin pimpling over, scraps of thought swirling chaotically in her head, so she grabbed the edge of the table with her left hand in case she should betray herself in this great rush of happiness. She still had to pick her own things out of the big military chest, consider what she would need and what not, if, tomorrow morning – or perhaps this very night – they were to set off, because she was not in any doubt whatsoever that the unusual – unusual? Fantastic rather! – visit of Irimias (how like him! she proudly thought) could be no accident. She herself remembered his words to the letter… ah, could they ever be forgotten? And all this now, at the last possible moment! These last few months since the terrible moment she had first heard the news of his death had completely destroyed her faith: she had given up all hope, abandoned her best loved plans, and would have resigned herself to a kind of poverty-stricken – and preposterous – moonlight flit, if only to escape this place. Ah, ye stupid ones, ye of little faith! Hadn’t she always known that this miserable existence owed her something? There was after all something to hope for, to wait for! Now at last, there would be an end to her sufferings, her agonies! How often had she dreamed of it, imagined it? And now here it was. Here! The greatest moment of her life! Her eyes shone with hatred and an all-but-undirected contempt as she gazed at the shadowy faces around her. She was almost bursting with happiness. ‘I’m leaving! Drop dead the lot of you, just the way you are. I hope you get struck by lightning. Why don’t you all just kick the bucket. Drop dead right now!’ She was suddenly full of big, indefinite (but chiefly big) plans: she saw lights; rows of illuminated shops with the latest music, expensive slips, stockings and hats (‘Hats!’) floated before her; soft furs cool to the touch, brilliantly lit hotels, lavish breakfasts, grand shopping trips and nights, the NIGHTS, dancing… she closed her eyes so that she might hear the rustling, the wild hubbub, the immeasurably joyful clamour. And, beneath her closed eyelids, there appeared to her the jealously guarded dream of her childhood, the dream that had been driven into exile (the dream relived a hundred, no a thousand times, of ‘afternoon tea at the salon'…) but her wildly beating heart was, at the same time, beset by the same old despair at all those delights – all those many delights – that she had already missed! How would she now – at this stage of her life – cope in entirely new circumstances? What was she to do in the ‘real life’ about to break in on her? She was still just about able to use a knife and fork for eating, but how to manage those thousands of items of make-up, the paints, the powders, the lotions? how should she respond ‘when acquaintances greeted her’? how to receive a compliment? how to choose or wear her clothes? and should they – God forbid – have a car as well, then what was she to do? She decided to pay heed only to her first instinct and in any case, she would just keep her eyes carefully peeled. If she could bear to live with a man as repulsive as that beetroot-faced halfwit Schmidt, why worry about the hazards of life with someone like Irimiás?! There was only one man she knew – Irimiás - who could thrill her so deeply in both bed and life; Irimiás who had more virtue in his little finger than all the men in the world put together, who word was worth more than all the gold…. In any case, men?!... Where were the men round here, except him? Schmidt with his stinking feet? Futaki with his gammy leg and soaked trousers? The innkeeper? This thing here, with his potbelly, rotten teeth and foul breath? She was familiar with ‘all the filthy beds in the district’ but she had never met one to compare with Irimiás, before or since. ‘These miserable faces! What are they doing here? The same piercing, unbearable stench everywhere, even in the walls. How come I’m here? In this fetid swamp. What a dump it is! What a bunch of filthy polecats!’ Ah well,’ sighed Halics, ‘what can you do, that Schmidt is one lucky son of a bitch.’


I plough on with this whenever I am not actually in transit or at the university, or, as today, at the art school. Tomorrow I'll get back to my father's recollections.


Kathleen Jones said...

I'm fascinated by this - I watched the film but hadn't realised that it was also a novel. When is your translation likely to be published? My favourite Bela Tarr sequence is the arrival of the whale in the Werckmeister Harmonies - it's enthralling. I find the way he uses narrative utterly brilliant. Does the novel use the tango structure too? Or is that Tarr?
looking forward to reading more.

George S said...

Kathleen - The Werckmeister Harmonies is based on another novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, The Melancholy of Resistance, which I translated a few years ago. The film takes a particular part of the book and develops it. The whale is the key sequence in the book too.

Satantango as a book is no longer than The Melancholy of Resistance but the film is much longer. I'm not sure about the tango structure of the book yet. I just take it piece by piece then hope to re-read it, see the shapes and give them some critical clarity.

It's interesting to me that whenever I imagine a small space in the writing, Tarr renders it much larger. The inn, as I saw it was rather small. It's rather cavernous in the film, and much better lit.

I hope to finish the translation of Satantango by the end of the summer. I think that is feasible, but it is grindingly slow work.