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by Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Max Neumann

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


© New Directions/Sylph Editions
New Directions/Sylph Editions, June 2011

Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Max Neumann's Animalinside is the fourteenth installment of the Cahiers Series, a series of short, intellectual pamphlets published originally by Sylph Editions in conjunction with the American University of Paris. Translated from the Hungarian, Animalinside is the first piece written specifically for the project, a task that has allowed Krasznahorkai to fully embrace (and effectively manipulate) the format and constraints of the series. Colm Toibin introduces Animalnside with an exceptionally well-spoken and succinct preface, one that provides readers with the footing necessary to fully appreciate the text without getting irrevocably overwhelmed. Without Toibin's anchoring, Animalinside has great potential to confound those readers who open its pages unprepared.

Animalinside consists of fourteen page-long sections of Krasznahorkai's text, each of which is paired with a single frame of Neumann's enigmatic artwork. The artwork here looks like a cross between shadow puppetry and cave paintings; each panel features the silhouette of an armless dog, layered over a murkily colored background wash. As Animalinside progresses, these dogs seem to grow more aggressive in their presence. What begins as a fairly familiar but perplexing icon grows into something almost upsetting and inescapable.
Considering that Krasznahorkai wrote predominantly in response to Neumann's artwork, it's fitting that text is equally maddening. Animalinside reads like a fever, frenetically running together chain after chain of caustic, metastasizing fragments. Toibin gives readers fair warning of the text's lack of convention:

"Language for Krasznahorkai is a force struggling against the domination of cliche and easy consumption, offering small, well-organized revolts, plotting in upstairs rooms for plentitude and jagged rhythm, arming itself with clauses, sub-clauses and asides, preparing high-voltage assaults on the reader's nervous system."

And assault it does. In Animalinside's opening, Krasznahorkai addresses with barreling intensity the animal trapped inside of Neumann's artwork. In just a few pages, this sentiment mutates towards the metaphorical animal trapped within each of us. But instead of grappling with how to free and tame this beast, Krasznahorkai quickly explains that this animal is very much in control of its host, and its strength is rapidly growing:

"And I am strong. Too strong. So strong that I break a knife in two with my teeth, that I break a sword in two with my teeth, that I break a house in two, that I break a hundred houses in two, one after the other..."

The text blitzes forward in Animalinside with a similar exaggerated aggression. Yet, somehow Krasznahorkai steers from bombast and settles into a genuinely vicious pace:
"...because you comprehend annihilation and that is why I'm coming, so there will be some meaning to the very fears, the many terrors, and anxieties and worries, which are yourselves, and there will be meaning, let there be no doubt again about that, because I am coming, one day I will be here, maybe not in one form, but immediately in two or three, or in four, one day I shall come, and I shall lacerate your faces, because I am ruin."

And then, before you can realize you've actually started reading these verbal sprints aloud, Animalinside is over. You've fallen into each of Krasznahorkai carefully lain traps, his experiments in repetition and cyclical tirades. Animalinside is left to slowly sink in like the angry blur that it is, unless you fall for further bait and re-read the piece to try to better understand.

Perhaps Animalinside is not the best introduction to Krasznahorkai's writing. It's a stunning work in both its printing and peculiarity, but the text is so confounding that only the truly devoted will attempt to fully extrapolate Krasznahorkai's philosophy and cadence. Many readers will instead opt to back away slowly from Animalinside, and leave its serpentine pages in the coil in which they were found, slithering, mouth over tail.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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