Péter Esterházy: Pancreas Diary

I browse through the reviews, „the difficulty of the enterprise is indicated by the agony at the outset”, I see now and again, yes, this method works too, criticism replaced by ample quotes, what’s more, quoting a quote quoted by Esterházy. REVIEW BY GÁBOR NÉMETH.

I get an e-mail saying „To write a review of it, or not to write anything – both are impossible”. Makes me think. No doubt, in order to aesthetically judge a text self-identifying as a diary, certain criteria would be necessary, but these are unavailable. What could one base an aesthetical judgment on? Is there a minimal consensus regarding the qualities of a good (beautiful, true, etc.) diary? The concept of authenticity seems to be barging in, but as we know, that is not saying much, it is not enough to be authentic, one has to look authentic too, more accurately, it is not necessary to be authentic, it is enough to look authentic, for authenticity, although it defies a robust definition, is a category of aesthetics after all, not of epistemology or ethics – a text is a text is a text. There is nothing beyond the text, this is probably the tragic and at the same time comic experience of the author of the diary. Text is a form of life. My goal is not to dodge it, but to immerse into it.

Reading Diary

June 9th–21st, 2016


„The yoke of sentences – makes the trouble apparent”. Uncontrollability as such, well, putting it mildly, he had no experience in it so far. And it has not been brought about by it, but because control is forbidden by the rule. The rule he himself made at his leisure (?). Not to make corrections, or rather, to disclose corrections in the open, that is, to err in the open.

“What is all?” – This is all, this constraint, writing about it according to his own conditions, so all is everything that has to do with it, and is there anything that has nothing to do with it? Quod erat to be demonstrated, too late were the demons treated.

“Tragedy seepage” – the real drama (tragedy) is not the possible option of death, but that his life (so far) – at the end of the day – has been one with writing.

“To say whatever is in the gap between the existing and the non-existing God.” – to which Kertész replies: “Whether there is a God is beside the point. Man must live as if there was one no matter what.” Not that this makes said gap lacking messages.

Actually, from the start I’ve been waiting to see if language allows the word pancreative to be born. Well, maybe bouncing off the rails. – Behold, near death the centipede loses its taste. – This sentence for instance is truly beautiful, at least it suits my taste perfectly, the beauty is in the mind working in it, in the old-fashioned way in which its bites its own tail, in the acknowledgment that the doubting taste is unable to judge even itself.

At 2 o’clock the body awakes, and with it, so do I. Somehow we know, the illness did not bring about this dichotomization, it only made it obvious. Hedonism objectified. The own body objectified. Everything objectified. The question is clearly whether the I, awakening with the body and objectifying everything, can itself be objectified. Can it objectify itself? And what action would it require? Exiting or further retreat?

So what is the plunder (!) ? What is it that we want to depict? Let us for once not beat around the bush: the beauty of life. – Were it not for the baroque (catholic) hedonism of his entire corpus, we might believe – horribile dictu – based solely on his capacity (love) of work, that Esterházy, God forbid, is protestant after all. That would be a disaster.

There is no such a thing as an invisible real self within me, brought out by this extremism growing in me, by my relationship to it, by our mutual relationship. I am this undefined state. – In my reading this is the most profound part of the diary. When he has to realize that his life (the text) is not more than the surface it seems, that his babbling is silence itself, and there is no depth beyond or under. That the essence of authorship (not only his, everyone’s) is this undefined state, it is what makes it possible in the first place, this withdrawal from everything.

Everything is translation. It would be nice to know, to finally know, what my writings are translations of. – When earlier he talks with his son Miklós about whether a happening or an emotion can exist purely in itself without verbal presentation, before their articulation – in essence this is the same thing. The answer it seems has preceded the question. Can any text be seen as the translation of existence? The translation of the fear of death? Or the fear of life?

This dawn I was woken up, miss, I tell you, by something clenching my breast, my throat, that I could hardly breathe, breathe in order to sob. It was a single sentence essentially. A one sentence feeling. I felt that my life was a mistake. A mistake.

This is translation is well, something very different, a dark pitch, but in this case, if ever so remotely, I think I recognize the original. Daybreak Sobriety. Because unfortunately you need daylight to hope that it was drunkenness.

One starts to suspect that every word is a step mine due to the one and only great topic, and nothing can refer to anything else, although not even the author notices each and every mine. For example in two more bottles, he spots “tumour”, but luckily sidesteps bottles.

The mill does not matter. The miller does not matter. Only the flour matters. – I hear that in the radio, this could be my motto, my life’s motto. – he writes during the final draft of the Jan Covalent short story. It seems true enough. But what happens, what is it that matters, when the miller mills himself? Will he, can he start to matter? After a time we run out of layups, and we are left with the increasingly drabber facts of life. And I went to bed. And I got up. Fucking awesome.

The darkness of phrasal hell. But not without a silver lining: we have that certain ontological cheerfulness. It is what seems to be at stake here. Esterházy’s work up till now has shown that the ontological cheerfulness condemned by Mészöly is a form of faith. Not that he did not have to work hard for it. And yet, in this book, this faith seems to be tested by something. Like biting a gold coin. It is as if he needed to preserve not merely his faith, but specifically its certain (here and now) Mozartian version of it. He knows that „Confronting God in matters of bodily suffering we are always right.” But he does not want to win rock-paper-and-scissors so easily. He wants something more elegant. Not to shy away from anything. To have an old trick up his sleeve, and to produce a new trump card with it: the oncological cheerfulness. It would be wrong to equate cheerful with funny. I am allowed to be cheerful, but only incidentally. Knowing it doesn’t matter. To be cheerful just for the sake of it – if I can. By the end of the book it is all the more difficult. According to the etymological dictionary, the word cheerful comes from the word for face. Language is under the impression that our joy is best expressed by our countenance. Can we speak of joy when the countenance is woeful?
(Translated by Péter Papolczy.)