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Fathers and Sons

IN the postmodern world of Peter Esterhazy, nothing remains the same for more than a few moments. Time ebbs and flows in a sluggish tide; characters dissolve into one another; events occur, retreat and reappear in different guises. The author plays deftly on our assumptions and expectations, undermining them and thumbing his nose -- at them, or at us?

His latest work comes laden with encomiums. After all, its author is the scion of an ancient line of Hungarian noblemen, and ''Celestial Harmonies'' sets out to tell the family story through blood-spattered centuries. In her introduction, the translator, Judith Sollosy, promises that the book is a magnificently orchestrated masterwork, adding that it would take a lifetime to unravel its complexities.

Her graceful, fluid translation lends credence to her intimations of genius, but can any writer live up to this billing? Esterhazy, the author of ''The Book of Hrabal,'' ''A Little Hungarian Pornography'' and ''She Loves Me,'' is bound simply to subvert it and turn it back on the reader. ''Celestial Harmonies,'' not surprisingly, is less a novel than an agglomeration of anecdotes, hundreds of them, ranging from poignantly conveyed memories to bawdy and sometimes shopworn jokes.

''Numbered Sentences From the Lives of the Esterhazy Family'' -- the opening section of the book -- rolls over centuries of Esterhazy history, its episodes (the ''sentences'') linked loosely by associations in the author's memory. Each ''sentence'' focuses on a character named ''my father'' and, with increasing frequency, the circuitously named ''my father's son.'' Since the vignettes cover so long a span, and the characters can be noblemen (frequently), merchants and civil servants (sometimes), peasants and workers (not infrequently), pederasts and wife beaters (occasionally) or Princess Diana doubles (once), this genealogical excursion is a meditation on fatherhood, or the relations between fathers and sons, rather than a history.

''Who is my father to me?'' Esterhazy asks in Sentence 288, launching into a two-page description: ''A friend. A great man ('with whom I was nearly identical'). A. P. Chekhov (et cetera). A sparrow (my father is thrashing about by his son's shoes as they cross the square, following in tow, not flying away). A woman he'd seen for an instant only when they placed the tin lid on top, then led her away.'' Or, as Esterhazy expresses it more tersely eight pages earlier, ''My father is just like Piero della Francesca's father: metaphorical.''

Without the conventional support of plot and character or the unifying guidelines of time and place, the reader is on shaky ground, easy prey for Esterhazy's encyclopedic target practice. He peppers us with a barrage of unexplained historical references, and countless names whiz past us, never connected by the author to one another, or to his narrative. The fact that many of these people have identical names and that detail stacks up like clouds has a mesmerizing effect. A reader's defense is to look away from the narrative and spy out the novel's larger themes.

The Esterhazys in the 20th century come into focus in the second half -- from World War I through World War II to Communist and post-Communist times. From this perspective, the earlier section metamorphoses into a hypertrophic preamble and advance apology for the self-indulgence of writing the story of one's childhood. The lives of his immediate clan were not unique, Esterhazy seems to say now; this family survived crueler periods and worse peril, and its story is only a tiny part of the vast canvas of human atrocity and absurdity.

There are hints that several of these chapters are extracts from memoirs of Esterhazy's grandfather, a prominent figure in interwar Hungary and a highly placed operator in the wartime puppet state. Events of that period, and the people who shaped and experienced them, haunt every line. But many readers, having been buffeted by 500 pages of relativism, will be wary. Is this more recent story reliable? Invented? Embellished? Does it matter?

That said, there are acutely observed moments from the author's childhood that neatly interweave the surrealism of life under Communism with the development of his own creative urge. Recalling the notorious practice of self-denunciation in that era, Esterhazy writes: ''I took my life apart into little pieces with relish, flinging the bits about helter-skelter, aggrandizing some, reducing others, making still others disappear, mixing the real with the imaginary, treating the imaginary as real and the real as imaginary, and vice versa; I embedded sincere confessions inside wholly fallacious frames, and padded white lies with events anyone could safely confirm.''

AT the end, especially in an afterword called ''Comments,'' Esterhazy compensates for the discontinuities of his narrative with a thumping great list of acknowledgments. He thanks by name many of the greats and almost-greats of world literature for inspiration, and then pays homage to the ones he has quoted in his novel by listing the ''sentences'' where they can be found. (Of course, the list is also sprinkled with names of his relatives and his favorite cook.)

By highlighting these allusions, Esterhazy shows how his text is derailed, distorted or even shaped by his own literary gourmandism. Can we compete with his prodigious appetite? No matter; the epilogue encourages us to try. Spot a literary allusion and you run scurrying in Pavlovian fashion to it, anxious for Esterhazy's confirmation -- perhaps, to our slight distress, for his approval. Despite myself, I felt a glow of satisfaction at spotting the reference to ''Moscow to the End of the Line,'' the fantastic 1969 literary concoction by the Russian writer Venedikt Erofeev, or even the more obvious citation from Frank McCourt's ''Angela's Ashes.'' The epilogue plays on our pride, rewarding us in conspiratorial fashion for our own literariness. ''Celestial Harmonies,'' then, in spite of -- or, one suspects, in defiance of -- its title, transcends and resonates deliberately only with enormous effort on the reader's part. Is it merely our own struggle to make sense of it that ennobles us and makes us feel virtuous? If so, then Esterhazy truly has had the last laugh.

Neil Bermel

— New York Times

Kornél Esti’s Bicycle Or: The Structure Of The World

As a rule, Esti looked up to his father as he did to God, but when he bought him that certain bicycle, that clinched it. The way an atheist looks up to God. Easily gliding similes never give the fate (or destiny? or is that the same?) of the world a satisfactory design, for there are atheists by the dozen, martial-like, resigned, terrified, curious, just like God, who is martial-like, resigned, terrified, curious. Possibly, God should be written with a small g here, but the truth, primitive as it may seem, is that I have always suspected some commie trickery in it, and could never shake the thought that they made that small g compulsory, thus proving (!) the nonexistence of God. Gagarin didn’t see him either, did he? That’s what I like about grammar, it thumbs its nose at the commies and all things related to them. Esti must have been around ten years of age, his father a bit older, I should think.

The Good Lord enjoyed observing Esti around this time; or to put it another way, it was around this time that he felt the urge once more; and this time (thanks to some unexpectedly discovered old photographs) to his utmost satisfaction, for Esti’s sober and wild features reminded him of his own. I am proud that I resemble you, he announced (or put forth?) pedantically to his son, and the way Esti responded, slowly, deliberately and generously arranging his lips into a grin as wide, or nearly, as that American actress Julia Roberts’s, there was something highly reassuring, even encouraging in it, as if all were right with the world, and not only the two of them understand each other, and not only do they understand each other as father and son, going in the face of custom, Oedipus, and this whole rigmarole by now no stranger to either of them (or is it pickle?, or mess?, that’s it, mess), but . . . I don’t even know, possibly they were just overwhelmed by a fever pitch of love, and being bashful by nature, they lost no time in projecting this onto the world, as if the world also understood itself.

But what I said just now is not right; the purchase of the bicycle did not help and possibly it did not hurt Esti’s judgment of Esti’s father. For one thing, Esti did not judge his father, he paid him little heed, he was too busy discovering the world, something he’d do repeatedly in his life, he discovered the world repeatedly, but in this particular instance his father was not, strictly speaking, part of the world; but wait, I’m not putting this right either, he was part of the world, but was not part of the things waiting to be discovered; he felt that everything was as right with his father as with the garden gate, except the hinges could use a bit of grease because, like this, even when it’s not creaking, yet it’s as if something were not fully ideal; in short, he didn’t have to concern himself with his father, unless with the whimsical outbreak of some new initiative; these had to be nipped in the bud, but this, this nipping, was easily and consistently accomplished by the attractive grin on his face, his enchanting grin; besides, Esti didn’t regard this bicycle thing as such a big deal, an etwas, as I myself like to say.

Of course he knew perfectly well that for once this was an expensive purchase, for he studied the leaflets, procured from at least two independent sources, the folders, fliers, catalogs, advertisements and brochures at length and in great detail, considering in the process possible cheaper, alternative solutions with respect to the rear light, the pump, and the varnish, I think—considerable savings from a moral point of view only (good intentions!), but I fear that Esti had other considerations unknown to me, principles, bicycle principles; he had strict bicycle principles on which . . . to say that he insisted would not be felicitous, for he saw to their enforcement with the sort of offhandedness that made you think they were the laws of Nature; after all, it would be foolhardy to blame the force of gravity for the broken china or, on the contrary, to derive perverse pleasure from doing so, and it would be even more foolhardy because, to put it tactfully, it would be based on a misunderstanding to say that we, for our part, that as far as we’re concerned, we side with the gravitation. Esti wanted something. He wanted the bicycle, this particular bicycle, and what fell outside its scope was beyond his field of vision. The circumstances, the conditions and repercussion of his wanting it left him cold. We might call the bicycle the non plus ultra of his dreams, and in fact, nothing was more ultra, and so Esti was not particularly awed when his dream, the dream of his dreams, was made flesh. He must’ve felt about this, and excuse me for the frivolous, fickle and foolhardy, careless and reckless, whimsically inappropriate to its subject, but not irresponsible parallel, like the young hero of that certain novel felt about the concentration camp, to wit, they were just familiarizing themselves with the world, and since they were unbiased in their innocence and attentive (not in the sense of obliging, but like someone paying attention, who is careful, vigilant, attentive and alert), they saw that the world is the way it is, and as a result of their lack of bias and quiet attentiveness it never occurred to either of them to be surprised or perplexed by anything, not a muscle on their faces stirred; after all, they had no expectations, they had no wishes, they took seriously what they were just learning, and their joy (or let’s call it happiness) was rooted in this seriously, the way mine is rooted in this frivolity: The world, concluded one of them, is such that sooner or later you’re taken to a camp, it’s the way of the world, it’s the universal order, or to put it another way, and here Esti nodded thoughtfully, the world is such . . .—this sentence is more difficult to finish aphoristically—in short, the world is such that this bicycle in it is a possibility. That the story of this bicycle—with respect to Esti—is possible in it.

Esti was not spoiled, and if a grain of sand happened to land in the great pedagogical machinery, he even resisted being spoiled, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he respected money (a circumstance in which his parents set a bad example, they couldn’t hide properly and in accordance with pedagogical principles that they didn’t care about money as such, nor the acquisition of money, nor the lack of money, and since they were not entirely without money, though he tactfully looked the other away, Esti couldn’t help noticing that almost none of their actions were financially motivated); in short, he had no respect for money, but he didn’t squander it either, not that there was anything to squander thanks to the strictures pertaining to the doling-out of his pocket money, which at times fell prey to forgetfulness, which strictures he accepted without a word of complaint, even when they manifested themselves in the guise of disorder. He was a puritan child. He would have also accepted without a word of complaint had his father made it a condition that, let’s say, he earn part of the price of the bicycle, maybe not half, but maybe a third, through summer work. Still, his happiness did not go so far that he should make this proposal himself, for the simple reason that it never occurred to him. He felt rather than knew that his parents did not make decisions about so-called pedagogical questions on the basis of principles but, first and foremost (and naturally, not independent of said principles), in accordance with their own best feelings, with what made them happy, and yes, with what brought them joy. It was these sudden attacks of joy- gathering that Esti’s above-mentioned grins were meant to moderate.

Esti cared only about the bicycle and couldn’t have cared less about the purchase of the bicycle, and shoved the fifty thousand forints his father had ceremoniously handed to him under ceremonious circumstances into his pockets like so many half-used hankies; if anything, he was surprised only that his father was not coming with him to the bicycle shop to effectuate the purchase. For his part, Esti’s father couldn’t have cared less about the bicycle, he couldn’t tell one from the other, and so had no considerations; in this bicycle purchase, too, it wasn’t the concrete purchase, the buying that was important to him, and so it never occurred to him to go along with his son (besides, in this heat?).

On the other hand, ever since, dispensing with the usual childish wiles, to wit, caution, circumspection, and ingratiation, Esti did not bring up or hint at the question of the bicycle but confronted his parents with it as a problem in need of a solution, and did so with such disarming impertinence or innocence that they nearly forgot the obligatory lamentations and the shilly-shallying—nearly, because then they remembered and out of a sense of duty put up a fight, but were too lazy to provide reasons (in short, their resistance was meaningless and therefore useless), but without lowering themselves onto that bleak, alkali landscape where good grades become the pawns for the purchase, the pettiness of if-you-do-this-we’ll-do-that, in short, from that moment on, Esti’s father thought of the “father is buying a major present for his son” project with grand and noble emotions. Present is not the right word, because it’s not the thing that counts but the gesture, though the bicycle happened to be a fortunate choice, to start someone off on his path, isn’t that right? There won’t be many such occasions in their lives; besides, he couldn’t be put upon to buy such outrageously expensive things just like that; it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to regard it (the outrageous expense) outrageous in earnest, though could someone please tell him why, in a city, on flat terrain, anyone would need twenty-seven (!) gears? And that’s just the beginning. He’s not saying there shouldn’t be progress, though his own R26 would satisfy all requirements even today, it would be more than adequate with its three gears, three gears, not too much, not too little, just as much as is needed, these modern “in” bicycles are not the product of organic technological development but fashion and frivolity, excess, frippery, happenstance, but never mind, this is not about the bicycle anyhow, it’s merely the humble expression of a symbolic paternal gesture, I should know!, expressing yourself humbly for fifty grand!, something that not only he but his son, too, will not soon forget.

Though he did his best, Esti’s father often fell into the (classical) trap of considering Esti not only his equal, but a grown-up as well. Still, back then, at the age of ten, Esti was a ten-year-old in every sense, who would embrace his father with such unlooked-for vehemence, kissing his neck, that they (father and neck) turned crimson; be that as it may, he was to blame for the mistake, for he was fond of grown-up gestures; he didn’t say, like the other children, I kiss your hand, but how do you do, a Hungarian child doesn’t do that; his thinking, guided not only by consistent but veritably dogmatic principles also bolstered this mistake, as did his gift for argumentation with which he protected the untenable consequences of his stubborn insistence on principles, and his general meticulousness, too, which was not without a trace of squeamishness, and which stretched from attention to the color harmony of his clothes to the over-scrupulous choice of TV channels. (His father didn’t even know what he had on, much less the color, or that colors stood in a relationship to each other. Also, it would never happen with Esti that he’d turn on the TV first and only then check the TV guide, that was his father’s usual practice; except for Mezzo and Spektrum, Esti hardly watched anything else, films never, and if he found his father watching a “crimi” (Columbo, Petrocelli), his silence was as contemptuous as that of fathers with a perennial chip on their shoulders—how or why they do it, we shall never know.)[...]

— Words without Borders

“Sou a minha ficção”

Péter Esterházy fala do romance que vai lançar na Flip em julho

Convidado da próxima edição da Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty (Flip), em julho, Péter Esterházy (1950) é descendente de uma família aristocrática húngara. Debruçou -se sobre sua genealogia em Harmonia Caelestis (2000).

Em seguida, ao descobrir o envolvimento de seu pai com a polícia secreta durante o regime soviético, voltou-se para a autobiografia com Revised Edition [Edição Revisada].

No Brasil, lançará outro romance de tintas bem pessoais, Os Verbos Auxiliares do Coração, em que fala da morte da mãe.

Nesta entrevista à CULT, Esterházy revela que encara a si mesmo como matéria de sua ficção e diz não ver esgotamento na literatura autobiográfica.

CULT – Em seus primeiros trabalhos, o senhor lidou com temas autobiográficos. Eles ainda são matéria para seus livros?

Péter Esterházy – Todo escritor pode repetir a famosa frase: “Madame Bovary sou eu”. Dito de outra forma, eu me encaro como material para a escrita. Acredito que isso está mudando agora – meu livro Keine Kunst [Nenhuma Arte] demonstra tal coisa –, mas isso me parece ser um processo lento.

O que significa confrontar-se com sua própria biografia? Os temas são apenas matéria para a ficção?

A sua formulação está exata: matéria para ficção. Portanto, não se trata de um processo de autoconhecimento. Não quero saber “quem eu sou”, mas sim, por meio do “eu”, representar algo, criar. Não faço diferença entre ficcional e não ficcional, entre realidade e invenção. O fato de que isso não é bem assim veio à tona ao escrever Edição Revisada. Constatei que existe, sim, uma realidade, e não apenas palavras, como eu sempre gostava de afirmar. Mas esse livro tem um status diferente de todos os outros. Ao escrevê-lo, tive a sensação de que não tinha escolha, tinha de escrever aquilo que vivenciei à época, os documentos estavam lá e comprovavam que meu pai havia colaborado com a polícia ou com a Stasi [polícia secreta da Alemanha Oriental].

O escritor português Lobo Antunes disse que uma pessoa nasce com um “número limitado de livros”. Não é também esse o caso de livros que partem da autobiografia? Sim e não. Depende do autor. Por exemplo, Proust atravessou razoavelmente bem uma vida inteira com sua minguada matéria autobiográfica. Acho que não depende da matéria em si, mas sim do olhar que com que a pessoa a contempla. Algumas obras são, de fato, apenas, uma forma de repetição de anteriores, mas outras se tornam interessantes justamente por isso, porque a mesma coisa é dita de outra maneira, com a sabedoria da idade. E aqui não falo de mim – ainda não percebo qualquer sabedoria em mim!

O senhor menciona o pontilhismo das artes plásticas para descrever a fragmentação de algumas de suas obras. Trata-se aí de distintas vozes narrativas que “contracenam” em seus livros? Um exemplo ideal de tal fragmentação seria seu livro Uma mulher, recém-lançado no Brasil?

Pensei assim ao escrever Uma mulher. Que cada fragmento de texto isolado, portanto, seria um quadro, uma vida, um ponto. Mas o conjunto provê, então, um quadro maior. Meu primeiro livro, Harmonia caelestis, também trabalhou com esse efeito.

Na Hungria, o senhor vivenciou uma ditadura. Como observa os últimos acontecimentos no Egito, Líbia e Costa do Marfim? Quando se vive em uma ditadura, sabe-se que elas serão eternas. Mas aí, como por um milagre, sempre resulta não serem eternas. Um milagre assim está acontecendo agora nesses países. O mundo está mudando neste momento.

Como avalia o papel da Hungria, visto como um dos “tigres do Leste” na Europa?

Como um tigre inofensivo. Ou um tigre com dívidas internas muito elevadas.

Como vê as relações entre Rússia e Hungria, após todos os anos em que seu país foi um satélite da União Soviética? Espero que se tornem cada vez mais normais e pragmáticas. Acredito que o ódio natural que se tinha contra a União Soviética agora já passou.

Alguns críticos afirmam que não há mais literaturas nacionais, e sim uma literatura influenciada pela globalização. Como avalia a literatura hoje?

Eu a vejo do ponto de vista da língua. E a língua não é global. Em português, eu escreveria livros completamente diferentes dos que escrevo agora. E uma frase em português escrita agora tem muito a ver com frases em português escritas em séculos passados. Chamo isso de literatura nacional, que vai permanecer. Todo o resto é verdade: há poucos leitores, ou os leitores leem outras coisas, muita coisa em inglês etc. É preciso pensar no leitor, mas nem tanto.

Como avalia a obra de autores húngaros, como o veterano Imre Kertesz e a “novata” Teresia Mora, que traduz seus livros para o alemão?

Kertész é não apenas meu amigo, mas um autor muito importante para mim – também por sermos tão diferentes. Escrevemos um livro a quatro mãos, Eine Geschichte, Zwei Geschichten (uma história, duas histórias, de 1994), que demonstra essa profunda ligação. E Mora é não somente uma genial tradutora dos meus romances, como uma colega de primeira categoria. É especialmente interessante para nós, húngaros, porque é alemã, escreve em alemão, mas também é húngara, viveu na Hungria até os 19 anos, e a matéria com que trabalha nos é muito conhecida.

O escritor húngaro Sándor Márai se tornou cult no Brasil por sua ligação com a cultura brasileira, que lhe rendeu o livro Veredito em Canudos. Há influência dele em suas obras?

A grandeza de Márai me aparece mais em seus diários. E acho muito bom que, ainda que tardiamente, seus livros tenham chegado ao mundo tão bem. Era uma escritor muito inteligente, refinado. Talvez não haja influência direta, mas o universo de seu pensamento se aproxima do meu, e também gosto de citá-lo.

Tanto o húngaro quanto o português são idiomas estrangeiros “difíceis” para a literatura mundial. Há relativamente poucos tradutores. Em português, fala-se sempre que trair e traduzir têm as mesmas raízes etimológicas. Como isso lhe soa?

A mesma relação existe em húngaro: “fordítani” (traduzir), “ferdíteni” (algo como mentir). Sim, pode-se dizer que algo se perde, mas não se pode fazer nada em relação a isso. Pode-se apenas ter a esperança de que aquilo que permanece seja interessante. Porém, às vezes a tradução também é um enriquecimento, o livro mostra uma cara em uma língua estrangeira que, “em casa”, não é conhecida.

Qual o papel da matemática, que o senhor estudou e com que trabalhou, em seu processo de trabalho?

Difícil dizer. Talvez uma determinada ordem em meu caos venha daí. Eu escrevi uma peça musicial sobre [o pintor flamengo] Rubens, cujo título não existiria sem o estudo da matemática.

O que tem em mente para sua participação na Flip? Dizem que o senhor faz fantásticas leituras a partir de suas obras…

Já estive na América do Sul, mas não no Brasil. Não sei exatamente o que me espera. Quanto às minhas habilidades como leitor, receio que não possa brilhar no Brasil. Tentarei silenciar-me de maneira inteligente.

O que conhece da literatura brasileira?

Não conheço nada da literatura brasileira contemporânea. Li Jorge Amado – Dona Flor e seus dois maridos e Jubiabá.

Em 1985, o senhor viu as seleções de futebol do Brasil e da Hungria jogarem. Vários autores buscam identificar no esporte aspectos das sociedades. Em seus livros, o futebol tem algum papel?

Como assim, “viu jogarem”? Vamos deixar algo bem claro: a Hungria ganhou de 3 a 0 do Brasil, e meu irmão caçula, que na época jogava para a seleção húngara, fez o terceiro gol. Já escrevi bastante sobre futebol, porque eu mesmo jogava (há pessoas sérias que dizem que eu teria sido melhor jogador do que meu irmão, o que naturalmente não é verdade, mas eu gosto de ouvir isso). Tudo que eu sei sobre a seriedade e dignidade do jogo em si, eu aprendi com o futebol. Mas ver o futebol como metáfora… Na maioria das vezes considero um exagero. Não escrevo sobre futebol como escritor, mas como jogador, de quarta categoria, mas jogador… No Brasil, quero ver uma partida sem falta. Para alguém que joga, o Brasil é o paraíso. Ouve-se falar tanto dos jogadores geniais, anônimos, que jogam na praia da Copacabana… Talvez eu vá ver. E, se uma bola rolar até os meus pés, então… Então eu não vou fazer nada, não vou me mexer, vou apenas olhar.

— Revista Cult

Harmonia caelestis

Harmonia cælestis, parodique roman familial, est une odyssée bouffonne à travers les siècles et les styles.

L'histoire familiale constitue la matière première de ce livre. Pour ne point périr étouffé par la poussière échappée d'archives séculaires ou écrasé par la dégringolade d'innombrables grimoires, l'écrivain s'en remet d'emblée à des procédés déjà éprouvés. Le contraste entre les deux parties du livre (d'ailleurs chacune confiée à une traductrice différente) évoque Trois Anges me surveillent, les paragraphes numérotés ne manqueront pas de rappeler aux aficionados les quatre-vingt dix-sept fragments d'Une femme. Pour le reste, Harmonia cælestis présente les dehors d'un diptyque, dont le premier panneau consisterait en une évocation de la figure paternelle, et le second en une classique autobiographie.

Mais à la manière dont vers et souris menacent les authentiques documents sur lesquels Péter Esterházy s'est appuyé pour reconstituer l'histoire de sa prestigieuse dynastie, un mal étrange ronge bientôt cette double entreprise de l'intérieur. "Mon père", expression qui ponctue le texte à la manière d'une ritournelle (tout comme "Il existe une femme" dans Une Femme), en vient très vite à désigner indifféremment, outre le géniteur de l'écrivain, quantité de personnes des plus diverses, tandis que le livre des riches heures du clan Esterházy se transforme en une odyssée bouffonne à travers les siècles.

La rencontre entre les parents de l'auteur, pour s'en tenir à ce point précis, fait ainsi l'objet de plusieurs versions fort contradictoires d'un fragment à l'autre. Le no93 établit (très provisoirement) les faits suivants: "À Ozd, une pompiste âgée de cinquante-six ans, travaillant à la station service MOL, située rue Köalja, a fait fuir ses agresseurs, deux mon père cagoulés qui, tard dans la soirée de mardi, ont braqué sur elle un revolver en exigeant la recette. La courageuse pompiste a hurlé au secours -hé-hé!-, sur quoi les deux mon père ont pris la tangente, ou bien le large, si vous préférez. C'est ainsi que ma mère fit la connaissance de mon père, qui plus tard ne se souvenait plus de rien, ne voulait pas se souvenir, pas même du prix de l'essence sans plomb (95)." À comparer utilement, surtout pour les amateurs du Jeu des sept erreurs, au no169: "À la question réputée futile quelle est ton héroïne de roman préférée, mon père écrivit sans aucune hésitation le nom de ma mère, mais le jury, la rédaction, la vie littéraire, la bourgeoisie arriviste, le comité central du Parti, le chapitre d'Eger, la cour de Vienne ainsi que ma mère considérèrent la réponse irrecevable. C'est ainsi qu'ils firent connaissance, par écrit." Déluge d'invraisemblances, carambolage d'anachronismes, le tout assaisonné d'anecdotes véritables et de documents du même métal reproduits in extenso, tel cet interminable inventaire en hongrois médiéval des biens familiaux -lors des soirées de présentation du livre, Péter Esterházy demande ordinairement à quelques spectateurs de donner un chiffre au hasard puis entreprend de lire le fragment correspondant. Si d'aventure tombe le no 22, il s'engouffre alors dans un tunnel de vingt-cinq minutes.

Les perturbations, pour reprendre un titre de Thomas Bernhard (auteur cher à notre homme), ne s'arrêtent pas là. Citations et faits historiques se confondent, échangent leurs statuts : lorsque Béla Kun survole le "Champ des Martyrs" et perd dans sa fuite une gourmette frappée des armoiries de la famille Esterházy, si bien qu'un vieux monsieur la rapporte à ses propriétaires, s'agit-il d'une péripétie négligée par les livres d'histoire ou d'une variation imaginaire sur la scène inaugurale de Anna la douce, roman de Dezsö Kosztolányi (1885-1936), compatriote et autre auteur de chevet du maître hongrois? Les deux parties du livre nouent de singulières relations. Tel exploit attribué dans la deuxième partie à un certain Huszár ("Pour 50 fillérs, il avalait une mouche, pour 1 forint, on pouvait le prendre en photo avec le cadavre sur la langue, pour 5 forints et une pomme (starking), il croquait en deux une souris.") ne l'est-il pas à "mon père" dans la première? L'histoire, qu'on l'affuble ou pas d'une majuscule, ressemble à un croupier qui bat les cartes avant de les redistribuer. L'harmonie céleste détermine un mouvement d'écriture perpétuel. À la faveur de cet état de grâce littéraire, Péter Esterházy baisse la garde comme jamais, brise la carapace, sonde ses gouffres intimes, revient sur les périodes noires des persécutions communistes, l'aube de ses carrières d'écrivain et de footballeur, enchante, déchante, mais chante et chante encore. Son stylo s'est fait baguette de sourcier, l'inspiration jaillit à gros bouillons -un autre livre va bientôt naître de la même veine, Harmonia cælestis a ouvert les vannes, Harmonia cælestis a tout changé, son créateur l'affirme, il peut maintenant écrire "normalement".
Voilà qui promet.

Eric Naulleau

— Le Matricule des Anges

Le fils blessé

PÉTER ESTERHAZY, l’un des plus célèbres écrivains hongrois issu d’une grande famille de la noblesse magyare, a découvert que son père avait été un informateur de la police politique sous le communisme. Dans Édition corrigée, il raconte cette trahison, version moderne d’une tragédie grecque. Les Hongrois s’arrachent le livre qui, depuis sa sortie il y a deux semaines, est en tête des ventes en librairie.

Dans Harmonia Caelestis publié en 2000 (paru en français chez Gallimard), Péter Esterhazy campait dans un style fantasmagorique ses relations au père chéri et admiré, décédé deux ans plus tôt, et relatait l’histoire de sa famille, l’une des plus anciennes de l’aristocratie magyare. Persécutés sous le communisme, les Esterhazy virent leurs biens confisqués et furent contraints à la «déportation interne», c’est-à-dire assignés dans un village éloigné de la capitale. Matyas, le père, fut cantonné à des tâches humiliantes: ouvrier aux champs et à l’usine, avant de vivoter de traductions.

Mai 2002: le tout dernier livre d’Esterhazy sort en librairie et fait l’effet d’une bombe. L’écrivain hongrois a découvert dans les archives du communisme que le père adulé avait été un informateur de la police politique communiste pendant plus de vingt ans. Péter déchiffre tous les rapports écrits par Matyas Esterhazy, et tient son journal en parallèle dans le plus grand secret. Ainsi naît Édition corrigée, annexe à Harmonia Caelestis, une fugue littéraire composée d’extraits des rapports à la police politique –imprimés en brun– et des commentaires –en noir– de Péter, teintés de dégoût cynique, d’ironie désespérée mais aussi d’une infinie tendresse. Si Harmonia Caelestis était un hymne d’amour filial, Édition corrigée est l’histoire d’une douloureuse trahison, «le livre le plus bouleversant de ces dernières années» selon le quotidien Népszabadsag.

C’est au moment où il rédige Harmonia Caelestis que l’auteur demande à consulter les archives de l’Office historique, espérant y glaner quelques documents sur l’histoire familiale. Contrairement à l’Allemagne de l’est, les archives du communisme ne sont pas ouvertes au public; l’autorisation de les consulter est délivrée au compte-gouttes et lorsque Péter Esterhazy l’obtient, son manuscrit Harmonia est déjà bouclé. En ouvrant les dossiers, l’auteur manque de se trouver mal. Un archiviste lui dit gentiment: «ces rapports ne sont pas aussi horribles que ça, il y a pire». «Je voulais disparaître pour que personne ne voie mon visage… Dans un roman policier, on ne découvre le meurtrier qu’à la fin du livre. J’ai tout de suite reconnu l’écriture de mon père» note Esterhazy. Comment Matyas, héritier de la grande noblesse magyare, a-t-il pu céder au diable?

L’écrivain Arpad Göncz, ancien président de la République, qui purgea de longues années en prison, explique: «Je n’ai connu qu’une seule personne qui ait volontairement choisi d’être un informateur; les autres y ont été contraints, parfois sous la menace, afin d’épargner leur famille». L’ancien dissident Férenc Köszeg souligne que «Matyas Esterhazy a été arrêté et tabassé à plusieurs reprises; personne n’a le droit de le juger».

Informations à la petite semaine

Recruté par la police politique en 1957 sous le nom de code de Csanadi, Matyas recueille des renseignements sur d’anciens aristocrates, se rend à des parties de bridge, enregistre les rumeurs circulant au café. Les premiers rapports sont ternes, ennuyeux, des informations à la petite semaine. Il note «Au bistrot du village, un inconnu m’a parlé de l’existence d’une liste de personnes à abattre...» Péter commente, sarcastique: «Dans un bistrot de village, tout le monde se connaît!», avant d’ajouter: «jusqu’ici il n’est pas dangereux, il se cantonne scrupuleusement à des banalités». D’ailleurs un agent de liaison note, mécontent: «Il n’a pas vraiment exécuté nos ordres». Mais peu à peu Matyas-Csanadi s’améliore. Il est chargé de surveiller un ancien collègue, T…, traducteur, qui a passé huit ans en prison après la révolution de 1956. Pour ce faire il lui propose des traductions et note dans son rapport:«Il m’a plusieurs fois remercié de lui donner du travail. D’abord par intérêt financier, et aussi par snobisme». A cette lecture, Péter explose: «Je lutte contre l’envie de dégueuler. Comment peut-on traiter de snob un homme qui, au sortir de la prison, se débat pour élever quatre enfants, quand on est en train de le trahir? Espèce de merde d’aristocrate!».

Toute la mécanique d’un régime kafkaïen apparaît à travers ce dialogue posthume qui prend aussi la couleur d'une révolte contre le père, «pourri de l’intérieur». D’un seul élan, Péter note sur plusieurs pages tous les synonymes du mot ignoble, navigant entre amour et haine. «Pathologique, pervers, anormal, paradoxal, invraisemblable, illusionniste, le père de mes contes…» De temps à autre, la lettre «l» comme larme s’égrène telle une goutte d’encre au fil du texte. Le 13 juin 2000, Esterhazy l’écrivain achève la lecture des rapports. «Je suis arrivé à bout de mon père» note-t-il à la fin de Édition corrigée. «Nous, ceux qu’il a trahis et même ceux qu’il n’a pas trahis ne pourront lui pardonner parce qu’il n’a pas reconnu son acte…On peut le plaindre, le haïr, se moquer de lui, cracher sur lui ou l’oublier (…) En dehors de ces options, moi j’aime cet homme dont je suis le fils aîné…»

Florence La Bruyère

— rfi

PÉTER ESTHERÀZY, formaliste hongrois revient aujourd'hui avec un livre sur sa mère, Pas question d'art. Il s'emporte ici contre les dérives fascistes d'Orbàn, parle de littérature, de l'histoire chaotique de son pays, de sa famille. Estheràzy, champion du monde de littérature!

Voici un homme capable d'écrire «l'Histoire a vraiment tout bouffé». Lorsqu'on s'appelle Esterházy, qu'on est né ruiné et ennemi de l'État hongrois, qu'on a vu sa mère humiliée, son père torturé, on peut dire qu'on s'est fait «bouffer» par l'histoire. Mais lorsqu'on est devenu l'un des plus grands écrivains européens en ne perdant ni son humour, ni sa passion du foot, on pourrait aussi croire que l'Histoire s'est rattrapée.

John Updike a fait l'apologie de son style, de sa vitalité, de «l'effet électrique» de sa langue. C'était il y a dix ans dans le New Yorker, l'Amérique découvrait le monumental Harmonia Cælestis, roman qui par son ambition ferait rougir d'envie la plupart des écrivains. Imaginez seulement six cents pages retraçant deux siècles de chute, celle de la dynastie des Esterházy, figures éclairées et puissantes de l'Autriche-Hongrie, confidentes des Habsbourg et protectrices de Haydn, devenues, sous l'ère stalinienne, travailleuses dans les champs de melon et dont le nom seul attire les crachats. Peter Esterházy ne joue pas les thuriféraires d'une grandeur perdue, il ne restitue pas l'Histoire, mais la réinvente. Là réside le talent inouï de l'écrivain, mélange de comique hérité de Bohumil Hrabal et de littérature réflexive, en proche contemporain de Kundera. «Éxister, c'est se fabriquer un passé», écrit-il. Dans tous ses livres, il disloque le temps, s'adresse à l'Esterházy de la cour impériale, comme à l'Esterházy ouvrier agricole de 1950. Car si Péter Esterházy écrit depuis toujours sur sa famille, il déteste la nostalgie. Il y a avec elle trop de mélancolie et de mensonge, deux sports que Péter Esterházy ne pratique pas. Il use de l'héritage comme un peintre contemporain de la galerie des glaces. Il reforge les ors du récit officiel. Alors qu'il aborde la soixantaine, la grande affaire de sa vie demeure en ces deux mots: père et mère.

Le père devient la figure de l'homme brisé dans le territoire littéraire d'Esterházy : «Il se traîne presque derrière lui-même. Plié, comme un saxophone redressé. (...) Et il courbe la tête, pour ne pas heurter la voûte céleste», écrit-il dans «Harmonia Cælestis». Jusqu'en 2000, il est ce fils qui tente de rendre au père la puissance perdue. Il suffira de quelques semaines pour que la victime se transforme en criminel ; le père torturé par les services secrets soviétiques, en agent au service de l'État de terreur. Péter Esterházy découvre, lors de l'ouverture des archives soviétiques de Budapest, que son père n'était pas seulement une victime des communistes, mais aussi un de leurs employés secrets. C'est la grande rupture de sa vie : son père est mort, il ne peut plus lui demander des comptes. Alors, il écrit un livre sobre: Revu et Corrigé. On y reconnaît à peine l'auteur de l'étincelant Harmonia Cælestis, l'humour a déserté, l'écriture, à l'os, déroule le journal de bord d'un homme qui cherche à comprendre la trahison de son père. Deux langues s'y affrontent, la parole effrayée de l'écrivain, la langue intransigeante des rapports paternels. Par ce livre, Esterházy devient un autre, le maître d'oeuvre confie sa difficulté à comprendre le basculement du père du côté de la terreur, jusqu'à l'écriture de cette ligne: «Dieu lui-même n'est-il pas un traître? (Auschwitz)». Deux parenthèses pour accomplir sa phrase, le minimalisme bouscule le style Esterházy, lui soumet un nouveau rapport au réel. On se demandait alors si, après un livre comme Revu et Corrigé, Peter Esterházy pourrait encore écrire. Aujourd'hui, il revient avec ce livre, Pas question d'art, consacré à sa mère. On y retrouve l'humour et la verve. Il hésita à intituler ce roman, Intrigue, Amour, règles du hors-jeu, tant y domine le burlesque enfantin. Après le devoir de lucidité paternel, le roman de la mère invite à l'évasion, comme l'écrit vite Esterházy : «On peut dire que tout au long de sa vie, ma mère n'a cessé de fuir. Et on peut également dire qu'elle a été continuellement heureuse.»

La mère du narrateur se révèle tour à tour passionnée de football (réservée sur Zidane mais vénérant le grand Pelé) et femme inaccessible pour l'enfant qu'Esterházy demeure auprès de sa mère malade. Il dialogue avec elle jusqu'à l'épuisement. Même après sa mort, elle n'hésite pas à lui lancer : «Je ne mourrai jamais ? Autant me demander si je te laisserai jamais tranquille. Jamais.»

Pas question d'art nous place dans les gradins d'un monde divisé entre les arrières, nombreux et terrorisés, les gardiens de but, rares et libres et les buteurs, héros solitaires... Et Péter Esterházy, où est-il sur la pelouse ? Arrière gauche, le sensible qui ne lâche pas des yeux la tribune où siège une mère disparue.

Oriane Jeancourt Galignani

— Transfuge Littérature&Cinéma


Major works
1976 Fancsikó és Pinta (Fantsiko and Pinta, short stories)
1977 Pápai vizeken ne kalózkodj (Do Not Make Piratery on Papal Waters, short stories)
1979 Termelési-regény. Kisssregény (Novel of Production, novel)
1981 Függő (Indirect or Suspended, novel)
1982 Ki szavatol a lady biztonságáért? (Who Grants the Security of the Lady?, novel)
1983 Fuharosok (The Transporters, novel)
1984 Kis magyar pornográfia (Little Hungarian Pornography, novel)
1984 Daisy. (Opera semiseria in a single act)
1985 A szív segédigéi (Helping Verbs of the Heart, novel)
1986 Bevezetés a szépirodalomba (An Introduction to Literature, novel)
1987 [Csokonai Lili]: Tizenhét hattyúk (Seventeen Swans, novel)
1988 A kitömött hattyú (The .. Swan, essays)
1990 Hrabal könyve (The Book of Hrabal, novel)
1991 Hahn-Hahn grófnő pillantása. Lefelé a Dunán (The Glance of Countess Hahn-Hahn. Down the Danube, novel)
1991 Az elefántcsonttoronyból (From the Ivory-Tower, journalism)
1991 A halacska csodálatos élete (The Wonderful Life of Little Fishy, journalism)
1994 Egy kékharisnya följegyzéseiből (selected journalism)
1994 Búcsúszimfónia (Farewell Symphony, play)
1995 Egy nő (A Woman or She Loves Me, novel)
1996 Egy kék haris (journalism)
2000 Harmonia Caelestis (novel)
2002 Javított kiadás (Revised Edition, novel)
2003 A szavak csodálatos életéből (From the Wonderful Life of Words, journalism)
2003 A szabadság nehéz mámora (Essays)
2006 Utazás a 16-os mélyére (short stories-football)
2006 Rubens és a nemeuklideszi asszonyok (play)
2008 Semmi művészet (No Great Art, novel)

— Hungarian Literature