Imre Kertész

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I believe in writing — nothing else; just writing. Man may live like a worm, but he writes like a god. There was a time when that secret was known, but now it has been forgotten; the world is composed of disintegrating fragments, an incoherent dark chaos, sustained by writing alone.

Imre Kertész (born November 9, 1929) is a Hungarian Jewish author, Holocaust concentration camp survivor, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002.

Quotes[edit]

What is really irrational and what truly cannot be explained is not evil but, contrarily, the good.

Kaddish for a Child Not Born (1990)[edit]

Kaddis a meg nem született gyermekért as translated by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson (1999)
The only facts that cannot be explained are those that don’t or didn’t exist.
The world is not our imagination but our nightmare, full of inconceivable surprises.
  • If one takes the path of success, then one ends up either successful or unsuccessful, there is no third alternative.
  • I read somewhere; while God still existed one sustained a dialogue with God, and now that He no longer exists one has to sustain a dialogue with other people, I guess, or, better still, with oneself, that is to say, one talks or mumbles to oneself.
  • I do what I have to do, although I don’t know why I have to.
  • I am still here, although I don’t know why; accidentally, I guess, as I was born; I am as much or as little accomplice to my staying alive as I was to my birth.
  • Man is always a little at fault, that’s all.
  • I stayed alive therefore I am.
  • At any rate I found myself writing because I had to write, although I didn’t know why.
  • For me this is a fact, writing is necessity, I don’t know why, but it seems it was the only solution offered to me, even if it doesn’t solve anything; still it doesn't leave me…
  • What we usually mean by fate is what we least understand, that is to say, ourselves, that subversive, unknown individual constantly plotting against us, whom , estranged and alienated but still bowing with disgust before his might, we call, for the of simplicity, fate.
  • To live and to write, it's all the same, both together, for the pen is my spade; when I look ahead I only look back, when I stare at the paper I only see the past: she crossed that bluish green carpet as if she were crossing the sea because she wanted to talk to me, for she found out that I was "B.", author and literary translator, one of whose "works" had read, and which she definitely wanted to discuss with me, she said, and we talked and talked until we talked ourselves into bed — Good God! — and continued to talk even then, uninterrupted.
  • "Auschwitz cannot be explained." And yet, it doesn’t take a Wittgenstein to notice that the sentence is faulty even from the point of pure linguistic logic;
  • I live and occasionally I look up at the glorious air or the clouds into which I keep digging my grave with my pen, diligently, like a forced laborer, whom they order every day to dig deeper with his spade…
  • The sentence "Auschwitz cannot be explained" is faulty simply from a formal point of view, for anything that is has an explanation, even if by necessity a merely self-serving faulty, so so explanation.
  • By way of that wretched sentence "Auschwitz cannot be explained" is the wretched author explaining that we should be silent concerning Auschwitz, that Auschwitz doesn’t exist, or, rather, that it didn’t, for the only facts that cannot be explained are those that don’t or didn’t exist.
  • ... mert ami valóban irracionális, az nem a rossz, ellenkezőleg: a jó.
    • On the other hand, what is really irrational and what truly cannot be explained is not evil but, contrarily, the good.
  • Failure alone remains as the one single accomplishable experience;
  • The world is not our imagination but our nightmare, full of inconceivable surprises.
  • Nothing upsets me as much as a shop window jammed full of objects; such windows literally depress, sadden, even demoralize me.
  • My body is foreign to me that body that sustains me and will, ultimately, kill me.
  • Cognitively we don’t know and will never discover what occasions the cause of our existence, we don’t know the purpose of our existence and we don’t know why we have to disappear from here once we have been placed here, I don’t know, why I have to live this fragmentary existence, which happened to be my lot, instead of a life that perhaps does exist somewhere. Why did I get this lot? This sex, this body, this awareness, this geographic setting, this fate, this language, this history, this rented room?
  • I have felt that some sort of awful shame is attached to my name and that I have somehow brought this shame along from somewhere I have never been, and that I have carried this sin as my sin even though I have never committed it; this sin pursues me all my life, which life is undoubtedly not my own even thought I live it , I suffer from it die of it.
  • "No" — I could never be another person’s father, fate, god,
    "No" — it should never happen to another child, what happened to me; my childhood. (Auschwitz).
  • How can we do justice even when it concerns truth itself, since for me only one truth exists, my truth, even if it is a delusion, yes, my delusion; my delusion.
  • Auschwitz, I told her, appears to me in the image of a father; yes, the two terms, Auschwitz, and father, resonate the same echoes in me, and if the observation is that God is an exalted father, then God, too is revealed to me in the image of Auschwitz.

Liquidation (2003)[edit]

If you have a concept of the world, if you have not yet forgotten all that has happened, that you have a world at all, it is writing that has created that for you, and ceaselessly goes on creating it; Logos, the invisible spider’s thread that holds our lives together.
Writers sometimes cast themselves into the most profound depths of despair in order to master it and move on.
If people had understood the greatness of those works, they would have destroyed them long ago.
People have lost their flair for greatness and only their flair for murder has persisted, though undoubtedly they have refined the latter, their flair for murder, to an art, almost to point of greatness…
Felszámolás (2003)
  • Let us call our man, the hero of this story, Kingbitter. We imagine a man, and a name to go with him. Or conversely, let us imagine the name, and the man to go with it.
  • For Kingbitter the Hamlet question did not run “To be or not to be?” but “Am I or am I not?”
  • Boredom. He takes it with him everywhere, like an angry shaggy terrier that he sets on others from time to time.
  • You just sit here and tolerate it, the same way everything in this country is tolerated. Every deception, every lie, every bullet in the brains. Just as you are already tolerating bullets in the brains that will be implemented only after the bullet is put in your brains.
  • The state is always the same. The only reason it financed literature up till now was in order to liquidate it. Giving state support to literature is the state's sneaky way for the state liquidation of literature.
  • He himself had said near enough exactly what was in the play. The only snag was that by the time that scene was played out in reality, almost word for word, the person who had written the play, and that scene in it, was no longer alive.
    He had committed suicide.
  • Thereafter, the scenes had succeeded one another, turn and turn about, in the drama as in reality, to the point that, in the end, Kingbitter did not know what to admire more: the author's-his dead friend's-crystal-clear foresight or his own, so to say, remorseful determination to identify with his prescribed role and stick to the story.
    Nowadays, though, with the lapse of nine years, Kingbitter was interested in something else. His story had reached an end, but he himself was still here, posing a problem for which he more and more put off finding a solution. He would either have to carry on his story, which had proved impossible, or else start a new story, which had proved equally impossible. Kingbitter undoubtedly could see solutions to hand, both better ones and worse; indeed, if he reflected more deeply, solutions were all he could see, rather than lives.
  • The régime was overthrown, and I'm not going to pretend it was me who overthrew it. A general liquidation is in full swing, and I'm not going to join in. I've become a spectator. And I'm not even spectating from the front rows in the stalls but from somewhere up in the gods. Maybe I'm worn out, but it could be that I never truly believed in what I believed. That would be the unseemlier alternative, because then they would have smashed my ear in for no reason at all. That is the assumption I'm inclining to these days. (He breaks off and ponders, book in hand.) I did time for no reason, dragged the millstone of a police record around for no reason, was on probation for years for no reason, and I'm no hero, I merely botched up my life.
  • Everyone here makes a botch of his life. That's the local specialty, the genius loci. Anyone who doesn't botch up his life here simply has no talent.
  • He liked the style, that wry gallows humor armed with the semblance of omniscience; a most serviceable style it was, the dialect of the initiated, protecting them from their disillusionments, their fears, their well-concealed childish hopes.
  • True, he had been living a lively interior life today: he had dreamed something, he had awoken with an erection, and while shaving he had been dogged by a feeling that today he needed to decide, though he could not see clearly what it was he needed to decide, besides which he was all too aware of his own inability to make any decisions.
    Despite that, the thought did cross Kingbitter's mind that he ought to do something about finding a theater to do the play, the comedy (or tragedy?) "Liquidation."
    He was now in the ninth year of considering that.
    Indeed, Kingbitter was now in the ninth year of considering whether he was handling the literary estate with due diligence.
  • Man, when reduced to nothing, or in other words a survivor, is not tragic but comic, because he has no fate.
  • Survivors represent a separate species, just like an animal species. We are all survivors, that is what determines our perverse and degenerate mental world. Auschwitz.
  • Only from our stories can we discover that our stories have come to an end, otherwise we would go on living as if there were still something for us to continue (our stories, for example); that is, we would go on living in error.
  • Writers complete their works, whether those be thousands of pages long or just a few laconic lines.
  • Good can be done in a life in which Evil is the life principle, but only at the cost of the doer’s sacrificing his life.
  • If you’re a revolutionary, you shouldn’t have started a family.
  • I had gotten into the habit of sleeping late because I had started to see that this was the only sensible way I could kill time.
  • But I believe in writing — nothing else; just writing. Man may live like a worm, but he writes like a god. There was a time when that secret was known, but now it has been forgotten; the world is composed of disintegrating fragments, an incoherent dark chaos, sustained by writing alone. If you have a concept of the world, if you have not yet forgotten all that has happened, that you have a world at all, it is writing that has created that for you, and ceaselessly goes on creating it; Logos, the invisible spider’s thread that holds our lives together.
  • Writers sometimes cast themselves into the most profound depths of despair in order to master it and move on.
  • A person’s true means of expression is his life. Living the shame of life and maintaining silence, that was the greatest accomplishment of all.
  • That evening he talked about Leonardo and Michelangelo. It is impossible to place them in the human world, he said. It is impossible to comprehend how anything that attests to greatness has survived; it is obviously a result of innumerable chance events and of human incomprehension, he said. If people had understood the greatness of those works, they would have destroyed them long ago. Fortunately, people have lost their flair for greatness and only their flair for murder has persisted, though undoubtedly they have refined the latter, their flair for murder, to an art, almost to point of greatness, he said.

Detective Story (2008)[edit]

As translated by Tim Wilkinson (2008)
It seems that only one philosophy can succeed the philosophy of existentialism: nonexistentialism, the philosophy of nonexistent existence.
Talking is not enough; words don’t clarify anything. I’ll have to hit upon something, but what?
  • Anyone who wants something else is Jewish.
    • p. 13
  • There’s just one revolution that I can take seriously, and that’s a police revolution.
    • p. 15
  • I exist. Is this a life still? No, just vegetating. It seems that only one philosophy can succeed the philosophy of existentialism: nonexistentialism, the philosophy of nonexistent existence.
    • p. 30
  • Nonexistence. The society of the nonexistent. In the street yesterday a nonexistent person trod on my foot with his nonexistent foot.
    • p. 30
  • I took a stroll in the city. It was infernally hot. The usual evening hubbub around me. Lovers on the pavements, hurrying to cinemas and other places of amusement as if nothing had happened, nothing. Living their nonexistent lives. Or do they exit, and it’s me who doesn’t.
    • p. 31
  • Of course, living is another way of killing oneself: its drawback is that it takes so horribly long.
    • p. 35
  • I am sick of atrocities, though these are now the natural order of our world. And I would still like to act!
    • p. 37
  • Talking is not enough; words don’t clarify anything. I’ll have to hit upon something, but what?
    • p. 49
  • "But there are times when being happy — just happy, nothing else — is simply vile."
    "Why?" Jill inquired.
    "Because," Enrique reasoned, "one cant be happy in a place where everybody is unhappy."
    • p. 55
  • "You mustn’t forget about your future, Enrique."
    "I’m living for the present, Dad."
    "Ah!" he waved that aside. "The present is just temporary."
    ‘ I boiled up. "I know," I burst out. ‘It only has to be accepted temporarily — temporarily, but every day afresh. And every day ever more. Temporarily. Until we have lived to the end of our temporary lives, and one fine day we temporarily die.
    • p. 66
  • If a person resolves to fight, he ought to know what he is fighting for. Otherwise it makes no sense. A person usually fights against a power in order to gain power himself. Or else because the power in question is threatening his life.
    • p. 69
  • There was truth in Diaz’s logic, yes: our line of work is like that. Once you have started, the only way back is to go forward.
    • p. 91

Quotes about Kertész[edit]

One's religious duty, totally independent of the crippling religions of crippling churches, is . . . understanding the world.
  • Kertész has his eyes on the 20th century's varied efforts toward the liquidation of anything recognizable as human personality. "We are living in an age of disaster; each of us is a carrier of the disease," B. decrees in one of many flashbacks. "Disaster man has no fate, no qualities, no character." … Fatelessness is an eerie and painful novel, shocking not for its by-now familiar subject matter, but for the tone of earnest goodwill with which the young narrator attempts to understand his situation. (In one passage he discovers fleas feasting on his open wounds and, despite his horror, considers the insects' hunger and concludes that, "taking everything into account, I could see it their way.") In 1990's excellent Kaddish for an Unborn Child — which, sadly, completes the slim triad of Kertész's works available in English — he explains (via B.) that "one's religious duty, totally independent of the crippling religions of crippling churches, is . . . understanding the world."
    And with brutal intellectual rigor, Kertész does his best, refusing to let the Holocaust be sacralized as some mythical exception that stands outside of history, or as an untouchable sinkhole of meaning. The Nazi genocide is not an inexplicable catastrophe for Kertész, it's a given, the channel through which the world must be understood. … Liquidation is a profoundly melancholy book, wrestling not just with the legacy of the Holocaust, but with the decades of authoritarianism and disappointment that followed. … Liquidation is at its core a book about writing, about trying to tell stories that resist being told.

External links[edit]

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