Charles River

Charles River
Upper Limit Cloud/Lower Limit Sail


"Messianicity is not messianism ... even though this distinction remains fragile and enigmatic." (Jacques Derrida)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

In Memoriam Imre Kertesz

Perhaps what is most curious about Fateless, Imre Kertesz’s deadpan tour de force, is its insistence on the quotidian details of life in the camps, above all, on the purely subjective relationship to time as duration that the narrator, Georg, must adopt in order to survive. The novel’s minute, almost obsessive, and at times seemingly microscopic, but at any rate, purely local, devotion to the passage of time, to the deployment of one moment after another, in a strictly phenomenological way, not only accounts for the dry, almost austere, yet deeply compelling quality of a narrative determined to treat the worst sort of horrors; it also generates what might best be described as the outline for a rather startling species of clinical, situationist ethics.

Georg’s almost willfully indifferent, near-sublime, detachment from his surroundings, from his Jewishness, and finally from the notion of fate itself marks him initially as someone in the grip of the most profound alienation even before his arrival at Auschwitz. It is not mere adolescent anomie, however, but something more perturbing, and yet at the same, redemptive, if that is not too theological a term to use for a book so deliberately at pains to remove itself from even the hint of such attributions.

His stubborn persistence in not identifying himself as Jewish and his rejection by both Jews and his fellow Hungarians place him in a kind of ontological limbo which, far from being terrifying, actually endows him with a na├»ve resourcefulness nearly equal to his catastrophe. His assertion that “we ourselves are fate,” and his insistence that any moment could have brought about a change in conditions are expressions of a kind of instinctual messianism, one that is animated from the ceaseless and unpredictable recombination of events rather than through divine incursion.

Like Kafka, Georg’s secret is his avid embrace of a poetics of failure; a stance before events that does not inquire after a reason as to their cause, but only how best to get through them. This is fatelessness, and for Georg it is equivalent to a narrow, but nevertheless very real, form of freedom.