The World Goes On

Image of The World Goes On
Release Date: 
November 27, 2017
New Directions
Reviewed by: 

“appealing to those individuals who enjoy having the limits of language tested and like their philosophy served with a tinge of existentialism.”

Laslo Krasznahorkai is not a simple author. In fact, he can easily be considered one of the most complex authors of our time as his works border on Joyceian intricacies. His most recent short story collection—if it can be called that—is no exception.

To expect an author such as Krasznahorkai to adhere to the traditional rules of storytelling would be nonsensical. This is why one should not be surprised that the book begins not with stories but with with nine bizarre monologues. It’s possible to interpret some of these monologues as short stories in and of themselves.

For instance one could definitely make such a case for the opening monologue which is about a man circling the globe or the subsequent piece about trying to outrun the world. But the first person, “you’re-in-my-head-as-I-think-these-mad-thoughts” narrative and the bizarre logic that arises from it make it difficult for the reader to twist these almost ramblings into stories. It’s a bit like trying to give direction to smoke. One could briefly make the fumes part by waving one’s hand through but only very briefly. It is inevitable for the smoke to gather together again until it decides to disperse of its own volition.

Once again, this is exactly what happens in The World Goes On. The first part of the collection, entitled “Speaks,” comes to a close after a final monologue on the idea of possession. Then the reader embarks on the second part, “Narrates,” which really is made up of eleven different stories.

But in typical Krasznahorkai-fashion these aren’t your classic, action driven stories. It’s difficult to even call them character driven stories. What they are instead are stories that embody a sense of madness and futiliy. The madness and futility of language, being, existence, reality, history, imprisonment, freedom, humanity . . . The inadequecy of language comes to the forefront all too often and the meaninglessness of world is put before the reader in all its brutal nakedness. And yet the world goes on.

The characters in each of the stories take the reader all over the world, from China to Portugal and to Istanbul. Each character becomes embroideled in more and more enigmatic situations. One character loses himself in Shanghai and becomes trapped in the Nine Dragon Crossing though that’s clearly not the only way in which he’s trapped. Another meets with Buddha on the banks of the Ganges. Yet another witnesses a murderer be sentenced to death and is forced to conclude that “they all seem to be monsters.” No matter what situation these characters find themselves in though, one feeling reigns true in all stories: that of being lost in a maze.

In some cases, such as the case of the man lost in Shanghai, this very feeling is one experienced by the characters of The World Goes On. But the main person who’s irrevocably, inescapably, and inevitably trapped in this maze is the reader.

Following Krasznahorkai’s almost rambling yet somehow logical, mad yet sane narrative, the reader becomes lost in the book’s language. The circular narrative’s convoluted twists and turns and the weight of its philosophy leaves the reader dizzy and exhilarated, so much so that putting the book down every once in a while—perhaps between monologues or stories—becomes necessary for the reader’s own sanity.

Between the compex nature of the “stories,” the extreme intricacies of the often lengthy sentences, and the scattered passages that read like poetry, it’s easy to become winded.

Given this structure, The World Goes On is not the kind of book that would be appealing to everyone. Odds are it would only be appealing to those individuals who enjoy having the limits of language tested and like their philosophy served with a tinge of existentialism. Everyone else would probably be better off rediscovering their fondness of traditional classics.