21 July 08 | Chad W. Post

Literary Saloon pointed this out over the weekend, but coming on the heels of the bit we wrote about Peter Esterhazy’s Celestial Harmonies Hungarian Literature Online has a long piece on the “sequel” to CE entitled Revised Edition:

Revised Edition was published in 2002, shortly after Celestial Harmonies, and this latter magnum opus provides the broader context for Revised Edition. In the centre of Celestial Harmonies Esterházy placed a figure he terms ‘my father’, fully exploiting both the pseudo-realistic and the metaphoric potentials of the term. An important milestone, this novel, written over nine years, opened a new epoch in Esterházy’s writing after he had concluded the cycle summarily referred to as Introduction to Literature, created little by little over the 1980’s and forged into one grand structure at the end of the decade. In Celestial Harmonies Esterházy deployed, and at the same time superseded, the full arsenal he had developed in reconstructing Hungarian prose – post-modernist poetical devices polished to the absolute, relying chiefly on inter- and para-textuality. In the first part of the novel the signifier ‘my father’ has a relevance in every situation, testifying to a language which is omnipotent yet ironic, frivolous and yet of sacred power. In the anecdotal second part, however, woven through and through with auto-biographic reference and citations from other works, ‘my father’ is a flesh-and-blood creature unfolding before us in his historical embeddedness. In the interplay of the two parts there pulses a dynamic of permanent echoes, of deconstruction and reconstruction, adding up to a cosmic and panoramic tableau of the age, while the encyclopaedic aspirations of European thinking are built up and demolished before our very eyes.

In Revised Edition the main thread is still the figure of the father. But this time we are not seeing a literary trick: reality, which Esterházy had always treated so ironically, becomes the main character of the novel. The plotline is ‘simple.’ Driven by curiosity plain and simple, the author, entitled as any other Hungarian citizen so to do, is searching in the archives of the Hungarian State Security for reports possibly written about him. Upon receiving him, the director of the archives explains that besides the reports written about him they have found some documents which are far more sensitive and may affect Esterházy more closely. These documents are none other than files comprising the work that his father, the late Mátyás Esterházy had done as an informer. Revised Edition starts in the moments just before and just after the author receives the documents in question. This time Esterházy, clearly much impacted by the experience, opts for linear narration – that of reading and commenting on reports made by his father. He copies entire sections from the reports, returns to some crucial sections, inserts the list of persons executed at the time of the report written during the retaliations following the 1956 revolution and quotes sentences from Celestial Harmonies which juxtapose the father figure, the grandiose aristocrat there with the character who transpires from these documents, not unlike a skeleton falling out of the family cupboard.


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