Saturday, September 3, 2011

Animalinside by Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Max Neumann, and Why Your E-Reader Can't Touch This

Images by Max Neumann
Translation from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet

Sure, you could probably read the text of this on a Kindle or Nook.  But you'd be missing everything, and I don't just mean the Neumann images.  This book actually smells good!  It feels good.  It's a tactile experience that engages your eyes and other senses, while your brain tries to solve the mystery of who is the Animalinside.

First off, this is a novella that started with a Neumann painting that inspired Krasznahorai's text about a creature that defies easy description.  After that, Neumann provided more images with the same dog-like beast, to inspire further chapters from the Hungarian author.  Prefaced by Colm Toibin, who states that the author "stands closer to Kafka than to Beckett, but he is close to neither in his interest and delight in verbal pyrotechnics, in allowing the sheer energy of his long exciting sentences full sway."

The monster of the story, if indeed that is what it is, is trapped in a place where he is excluded and in pain.  "...I don't even exist, I only howl, and howling is not identical with existence, on the contrary howling is despair, the horror of that instance of awakening when the condemned--myself--comes to realize that he has been excluded from existence and there is no way back..."

The words of the beast, shown in the images as a sort of fierce two-legged dog, are almost always horrifying...caged, it waits for release to wreak havoc and battle for kingship over a wasteland of earth.  At lighter moments, though, it speaks almost in a panic over the search for its food dish, but the threats he makes about its loss are nothing adorable.

Much of the imagery and words confuse me...I sense that a deeper measure of the meaning involves the ugly results of binding the voices of small, defenseless peoples until their defense is their only option.  Their obsession. 

And about that, "smells good" remark?  New Directions designed this as part of their Cahiers series, #14, and it's designed in a seven step printing process that makes for thick, waxy pages, with layers of thick inks and contrasting textures.  Maybe it's all the chemicals involved, but it smells and feels amazing.  Heirloom-quality, if that's possible for a novella.

Special thanks to New Directions for the Review Copy.


  1. This is such an interesting review, Amy. Some books do feel better than others, but I never really thought about the process that might go into that. The novella sounds a bit bleak, though. But in the right mood it would be pretty interesting!

  2. Perhaps the sensory aspect is a huge reason why my Nook sits unopened and unappreciated while I continue to overload my house with printed books!