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the Complete Review
the complete review - non/fiction

Towards the
One and Only Metaphor

Szentkuthy Miklós

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To purchase Towards the One and Only Metaphor

Title: Towards the One and Only Metaphor
Author: Szentkuthy Miklós
Genre: Non/fiction
Written: 1935 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 340 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: Towards the One and Only Metaphor - US
Towards the One and Only Metaphor - UK
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Towards the One and Only Metaphor - India
Vers l'unique métaphore - France
  • Hungarian title: Az egyetlen metafora felé
  • Translated by Tim Wilkinson
  • With an Introduction by Rainer J. Hanshe

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fascinating catalogue of reflections

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 7/2/2014 David Van

  From the Reviews:
  • "Szentkuthy’s title promises a reduction -- a reductio ad unicam formulam, in his Latin phrase -- but he delivers a series of experiments. (...) If the extreme hybridity of the modernist novel is held in view, "novels in parentheses" is a passable description of what we see in many of Szentkuthy’s entries. (...) Szentkuthy is a refractory, unassimilated figure, but he appears to be a modernist -- or as he put it, a "hyper-Baroque" -- of the first rank. He mocks himself as a bourgeois loafer with "a certain amount of haphazard cultivation", but his erudition is astonishing." - David Van, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       With this, the second of Szentkuthy's works made available in English by Contra Mundum Press, after Marginalia on Casanova, the author begins to take on more of a shape. Towards the One and Only Metaphor (1935) pre-dates the Marginalia -- itself only the first volume in the larger-scale project of the St. Orpheus Breviary -- and in his Introduction Rainer J. Hanshe notes it is, in part: "a response to criticisms directed against Prae", Szentkuthy's first novel -- a volume not yet available to English-speaking readers (though it is expected soon); the bigger picture will require more patience, but like the Marginalia this volume stands strongly on its own, too.
       Towards the One and Only Metaphor consists of 112 chapters/sections of varying length, ranging from personal, philosophical, and literary reflections to pieces closer to actual fiction (realized and planned). Rather late in the day -- in the book's closing lines, in fact -- Szentkuthy acknowledges that the title might have suggested a misleading progression, or a blind alley:

Towards the one & only metaphor ? I wonder if my own fate will not be precisely the opposite: out of a million metaphors towards the one and only -- person ?
       Metaphors are central to his undertaking, but hardly the sole focus; "metaphors are the tadpole form of reason", he suggests, and his interest is as much in their outgrowths.
       Fundamental, too, is "the question of questions": "should I be a life or a work ?" -- even as he finds: "'Vita' & 'fictio' are equally suspect". Dualities abound -- with Szentkuthy dithering (as he puts it) between them --, including in an almost Wittgensteinian obsession with (living-)space (and his uncertainty whether his: "terrible spatial torments are torments of my bourgeois or artistic side"). This collection is certainly a manifestation of another duality, that:
Two things excite my interest: the most subjective epic details and ephemeral trivialities of my most subjective life, in their own factual, unstylized individuality -- and the world's big facts, in all their allegorical Standbild-like greatness: death, summer, sea, love, gods, flowers.
       Szentkuthy is trying to find himself, as person and, especially as writer -- to see what he is capable of writing, and how, the approaches to take. He considers his limitations, as well as his obsession (particularly with language itself). He diagnoses:
I am dramatic by nature, which is to say, a human mixture of mendacity & primitive facts of life, flashy prose and tragic ever more predestination; to be a great actor was my family's pride and joy; my imagined heroes were all actors -- why don't I write plays ?


Playwrighting: for me that is in point of fact self-contradictory nonsense -- it's either writing or a play; the two exclude each other in my life.
       He also realizes:
In recent times there has been no literature for me, only language -- every book is inundated, drenched, destryed as a 'work' by the language in which it is written. (That's why Joyce's Work in Progress is important above all others: here the writer only wants, or only knows, first and foremost language -- though of course such only-language-language is no longer language but something else).
       Impressively, Tim Wilkinson's translation manages to retain and convey much of the sense of language(-play) here -- with English-in-the-original words and phrases printed in a different font, helpful in a text that effortlessly traverses languages. So, also, for example, Szentkuthy suggests:
Philomèle und 'shorts'": a good title, don't you think ? Let the lamenting songbird of impressions be French, the coordinating conjunction German, and the garment English.
       Szentkuthy's world is entirely Euro-centric here, but deeply and broadly rooted in continental and English culture (and languages), an impressive example of the Central European intellectual melting pot of which he is clearly one of the last, great exponents. As his embrace of Joyce's most radical work suggests, he's not stodgily anchored in the classical (though Sir Thomas Browne is equally inspiring to him -- and, he suggests: "Browne is more Joycean than Joyce"); there are also nice pop-cultural bits, Szentkuthy not shying away from, for example, a clever mention of "the bangs on Katharine Hepburn's forehead" (a good catch (for Hunagry, 1935 !)).
       Rich in allusion and reference, the useful endnotes provide most of the necessary information. [The only major slip comes in fn.163: when Szentkuthy compares Browne to: "the far madder and precisely on that account much more monotonous Burton" he surely meant The Anatomy of Melancholy-author, and not polylinguist and explorer: "Sir Richard Burton (1821-90)" (a figure who no doubt would also have fascinated Szentkuthy but whose focus on India and Africa is too far afield for this work).] Despite the far-flung references, Towards the One and Only Metaphor isn't overwhelmingly dense; if anything, Szentkuthy's work can feel flighty, as it jumps from one idea to the next -- a great part of its charm, but also what makes the book as a whole ... difficult to see and digest in any 'whole' way (part of his point, too, no doubt).
       As noted, Tim Wilkinson's translation manages Szentkuthy's (different-)language fascination particularly well, but is also impressive on the more basic level -- and includes some inspired and appealing turns of phrases (such as: "Under your white skin lay a lurking freckliness"). There's an (intellectual) playfulness to both subject and style here, and Wilkinson captures both near-ideally.
       While there's very much a sense of this being one building-block of a larger œuvre -- far too much of which remains, as yet, inaccessible to English-reading audiences -- Towards the One and Only Metaphor is nevertheless a rewarding text on its own, a fascinating and diverse personal catalogue from the pen of an exceptionally cultured writer (which manifests itself both in his style, and in the substance of his writing).

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 August 2014

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Towards the One and Only Metaphor: Szentkuthy Miklós: Other books by Szentkuthy Miklós under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hungarian author Szentkuthy Miklós lived 1908 to 1988.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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