Wandering-Standing by László Krasznahorkai

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Congratulations to our friend László Krasznahorkai whose story collection The World Goes On—translated by John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet, and George Szirtes—has been shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize!


I have to leave this place, because this is not where anyone can be, or where it would be worthwhile to remain, because this is the place— with its intolerable, cold, sad, bleak, and deadly weight—from where I must escape, to take my suitcase, before everything else the suitcase, two suitcases will be precisely enough, to stuff everything into two suitcases, then click the lock shut so I can dash to the shoemakers, and resoling—I have resoled, and resoled again, boots are needed, a good pair of boots—in any event one good pair of boots and two suitcases are enough, and with these things we can set off already, inasmuch as we can determine—because this is the first step—exactly where we are right now; well, so a kind of ability is required, practical knowledge is required so we can decide where we are exactly—not just some kind of sense of direction, or some mysterious thing residing in the depths of the heart—so that in relation to this knowledge, we can then choose the right direction; we need a sense, as if we were grasping some particular sort of orientation device in our hands, a device to help us state: at this point in time, we are here and here in this point in space, located, as it happens, at an intersection that is particularly intolerable, cold, sad, bleak, and deadly, an intersection from which one must leave, because this is not where a person can be, or can remain, a person—in this swampy, disconcertingly dark point in space—can’t do anything else besides say: leave, and leave right now, leave at once without even thinking about it, and don’t look back, just follow the route determined in advance, with one’s gaze fixed firmly ahead, one’s gaze fixed, of course, on the right direction, the choice of which doesn’t seem so agonizingly difficult, unless, of course, it becomes clear that this practical knowledge, this particular sense—as it manages to identify the coordinates of the points extending through sadness and mortality—suddenly states: under “ordinary circumstances” what normally happens is that we say that from here, we have to go in this or that direction, in other words, we say this direction is the right direction, or the complete opposite direction is the correct direction: but there are certain instances, so-called “unordinary circumstances,” when this sense, this practical knowledge, justifiably highly valued, announces that the direction we have chosen is good, it tells us: go right ahead, that’ll be it, this way, fine—and that same sense also simultaneously tells us that the opposite direction is good too, well, and that’s when the state known as wandering-standing sets in, because here is this person, with two heavy suitcases in his hands and a pair of excellently resoled boots, and he can go to the right, and he wouldn’t be making a mistake, and he can go to the left, and in that he certainly wouldn’t be making any kind of mistake either, so that both of these directions, diametrically opposed to each other, are judged as perfectly fine by this practical sense within us, and there is every good reason for this, because that practical knowledge, indicating two diametrically opposed directions, operates by now within a framework adjudicated by desire, namely that “go to the right” is just as good as “go to the left,” because both of these directions, in terms of our desires, point to the most distant place, the place farthest away from here; the point to be reached in any given direction, then, is no longer decided by practical knowledge, sense, or ability, but by desire, and desire alone—the yearning of a person not only to be transported to the greatest distance from his present position, but to the place of greatest promise, where he may be tranquil, for surely that is the main thing, tranquility, this is what this person seeks in the desired distance, some tranquility from the unspeakably oppressive, painful, insane disquiet that seizes him whenever he happens to think of his current situation, when he happens to think of his starting point, that infinitely foreign land where he is now, and from where he must leave, because everything here is intolerable, cold, sad, bleak, and deadly, but from where, in the very first moment, he can hardly bear to move from the shock when he realizes—and he really is consternated—as he realizes that his hands and feet are essentially bound fast, namely it’s because of his faultless practical sense that his hands and feet are bound fast, because that practical sense points in two opposite directions simultaneously, telling him: just leave already, that’s the right way, but how can anyone leave in two opposite directions at once, that is the question, and so the question remains, he stands as if he were anchored here like a ramshackle boat, he stands hunched beneath the weight of the heavy suitcases, he stands, he doesn’t move, and like that, standing, he motionlessly starts off into the untamed world, in a direction—it doesn’t matter which, it could be any direction—and he doesn’t budge even an inch, already he has gone very far, and his wanderings in the untamed world have begun, because while in reality he is motionless, his hunched form, almost like a statue, engraves itself into an inability to be left behind here; he appears on every route: he is seen in the north by day, he is known in America and he is known in Asia, he’s recognized in Europe and he’s recognized in Africa, he traverses the mountains, and he traverses the river valleys, he goes and he goes and he doesn’t leave off wandering for even a single night, he rests only now and then for one hour, but even then he sleeps like an animal, like a soldier, he doesn’t ask anything, and he doesn’t stare after anyone for a long time; people inquire of him: so what are you doing, you crazy person, where are you going with that obsessed look in your eyes? sit down and have a rest, close your eyes and stay here for the night; but this person doesn’t sit down and he doesn’t rest, he doesn’t close his eyes, he doesn’t stay there for the night, because he doesn’t stay for long, because he says—if he says anything at all—he must be on his way, and it’s obviously a waste of time to ask him where to, he will never betray to anyone where he is headed on this forced march, because he himself doesn’t even know what he possibly knew at one point earlier, when, still standing with these two heavy suitcases in his hands, he set off for the untamed world; he set off, but his journey, as a matter of fact, wasn’t a journey, along the way it couldn’t even have been a journey, he seemed instead like a kind of pitiful phantom of whom no one was afraid, no one tried to frighten children with him, his name wasn’t murmured in the temples so that he would steer clear of the cities, so if he turned up here or there everyone just brushed him off: oh, it’s him again, because he turned up again and again in America and in Asia, he turned up again and again in Europe and Africa, and people began to get the impression that he really was just circling around, circling all around the globe like the second hand of a watch, and if in the beginning there was something noteworthy about his presence here or there, as there might even be in the aspect of a pitiful phantom, when he turned up for the second time, or the third time, or the fourth time, they just waved him off, and really, nobody was interested, so that there were fewer and fewer occasions when people tried to ask him something or offer him a place to stay, fewer and fewer occasions when food was placed in front of him, just as with the passage of time no one was really happy to have him in the house, because who knows—they noted amongst themselves—what’s really going on here, although it was obvious that they had just lost interest already, they had definitively lost interest, because he, unlike the hand of a watch, didn’t indicate anything, he didn’t signify anything, and what bothered the world most—if anything at all could be said to bother this world—it was first and foremost that this person was worthless, he just went and he had no value in the world at all, so that the time came when he moved about in this world and in point of fact nobody noticed him, he disappeared, on a material level he practically evaporated, as far as the world was concerned he became nothing; namely: they forgot about him, which of course doesn’t mean he was absent from reality, because he remained there as well, as he went indefatigably between America and Asia, Africa and Europe, it’s just that the connection between him and the world was broken, and he became, in this manner, forgotten, invisible, and with this he remained once and for all completely solitary, and from that point on he began to notice, at the individual stations of his wandering, that there were other figures, exact replicas of himself: from time to time he found himself face-to-face with such figures exactly replicating him, as if he were looking into a mirror; at first he was startled and quickly left that city or that region, but then from time to time he already would forget the glance of these strange figures and begin to examine them, he began to seek the differences between his own physiognomy and theirs, and as time went on and fate brought him together ever more with these exact replicas, it became ever more clear that their suitcases were the same, the hunched back was the same, everything, how they held themselves beneath the weight, how they dragged themselves onward along this or that road, everything was the same, namely it wasn’t just a likeness, but an exact replica, and the boots were the same too, with the exact same expert resoling, he noticed that too as he entered once into some larger hall to drink some water, the resoling on their boots was just as good as his, and the blood in his veins ran cold, he saw that the entire hall was completely filled with people who were exactly the same as him, he quickly drank up and hurriedly left that city and that land, and from then on he didn’t even set foot in any place where he hypothesized, or felt, that he might encounter such wanderers; from that point on accordingly he began to avoid them, so he remained definitively alone, and his wanderings lost their own fanatic contingency; but he went on indefatigably, and then an entire new phase of his wanderings commenced, because he was convinced that it was only through his decision to confine himself to a labyrinth that he could avoid, inasmuch as possible, all of these exact replicas, so that it was only from this point on that those dreams began, that is to say that he slept in completely accidental places, and at completely accidental hours, briefly and lightly, and during some of these infrequent periods of brief and light sleep, he began to dream as never before: namely he dreamt the exact same dream, in hairsbreadth detail, over and over again, he dreamt that his wanderings had come to an end—and he now sees before him some kind of huge clock, or wheel, or some kind of rotating workshop, after waking he is never able to identify it with certainty, and in any event he is in front of something like this, or some sort of grouping of these things—he steps into the clock, or the wheel, or the workshop, he stands in the middle, and in that unspeakable fatigue in which he has spent his entire life, he crumples onto the ground as if he’d been shot, he topples over like a tower collapsing into itself, falling onto his side, he lies down so that he can finally sleep like an animal exhausted onto death, and the dream continually repeats itself, whenever he turns his head down in some corner, or gets some kind of bunk to lie down on, he sees that dream, with hairsbreadth accuracy, again and again—he, though, should have seen something completely different, if he had raised his glance, if he had just once—in the course of his wanderings seemingly lasting hundreds and hundreds of years—just raised his head, eternally hanging down, just once, he should have seen that he was still standing there, with two suitcases in his hands, the expertly resoled boots on his feet, and there he is rooted to that shoe-sized piece of earth upon which he stands, so that there is no hope whatsoever anymore that he can possibly move from there, for he must stand there until the end of time, his hands and feet bound in two simultaneously correct directions, he must stand there until the very end of time, because that place is his home, that place is exactly where he was born, and that is where he will have to die one day, there at home, where everything is cold and sad.

Translated by Ottilie Mulzet