Written on the Body by Zsolt Láng translated by Erika Mihálycsa

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Beginning with the Voyager space launch and moving through explorations of touch, Hungarian writer Zsolt Láng examines his relationships to music, books, and art.   Reblogged from World Literature Today.com

When the two Voyager space probes were launched in 1977, I was 170cm tall and weighed 68 kg. I was not planning to write books; in fact I never even scribbled in the margins of books. Having passed the successful entrance exam and nine months of compulsory military service, I was preparing for my first year at university. I was solving math problems as a pastime and wearing an A-shirt and cotton Y-fronts all the time, although underwear was a rarity then, just like pork.By now space probes have traveled farther than twelve times Earth’s distance from Pluto—their speed 20,000km/h (within two seconds they would complete an orbit of the Earth)—I am fifty-one years old, 171cm tall, and 74kg in weight, I scribble all over my books and wear no underwear, although after the fall of the Communist regime the shops are nearly choked with lingerie brands of every conceivable denomination.

One of the spacecrafts is headed toward the Centaurus constellation, the other toward Orion, and, if all goes well, in forty-five thousand years they may reach “inhabited planetary systems with intelligent life-forms.” For this eventuality they carry a message. The “letter” made of sounds and images of the Earth is engraved on a gold-plated copper disc 30cm in diameter; all in all there are 115 photos, 21 kinds of voices from the Earth, and 27 musical recordings on it, as well as greetings in 54 languages. The Hungarian-language greeting goes as follows: “We send greetings in the Hungarian language to all peace-loving beings at Universe” (in a sentence that happens to be patently wrong; if it were correct, there should be something called “Outer University”).

In my childhood I threw several sealed-up bottles into the Szamos with my name, address, and a short but carefully crafted letter inside. I kept waiting full of excitement and apprehension. I imagined the lonely wanderer floundering up and down on the river’s waves between unknown banks. I imagined myself in its place: the mere thought gave me goose bumps. I even experienced the solemn moment of the bottle’s opening but had my misgivings if that moment was indeed solemn. How will the unknown reader respond to my letter? What will he think of me? I was already looking at myself with foreign eyes: as if it was I whom they extracted from the dripping bottle and inspected to see if I was worth anything. I had to face the possibility that I would not please the bottle’s opener and that, disgusted, he would throw me back into the water.

In Montaigne’s three-volume Essais, published between 1580 and 1588, there is only one piece dedicated to friendship. But the way he writes about the beloved friend, Étienne de la Boétie, allows us to surmise that all the pieces in the collection were written under the inspiration of this friendship. This is corroborated by the Latinpensée in the study among whose book-covered walls these works were written, dedicated to the most beloved, closest and dearest, the best, most accomplished, wisest and most perfect friend, the likes of whom could not be met in their century, to his never-ending remembrance. In Montaigne’s essay, friendship is a dialogue: to get lost, to lose oneself in the other, not to hold onto anything that is only one’s own or only of the other, but to share. Die-hard Montaigne scholars consider this statement completely foreign from the oeuvre and would be all too happy to uncover that it originates not in Montaigne himself, while another group of researchers would assign the same importance in the glaring light surrounding the oeuvre’s summits, to gestures of self-effacement, of relinquishing the “self,” as they would to intentions of delineating that “I.”

In the midst of the loudest triumphal march of the Nazis (this being still before Stalingrad) angels writhe on the cobblestones, their wings trampled underfoot by gangs of men swarming out of the pubs, who shake their fists at the sky as a sign of victory, and yet, and yet it is revealed that the tortuous convulsions of the defeated are more human than the drunken apogee.

By now space probes have traveled farther than twelve times Earth’s distance from Pluto—their speed 20,000km/h (within two seconds they would complete an orbit of the Earth)—I am fifty-one years old, 171cm tall, and 74kg in weight, I scribble all over my books and wear no underwear, although after the fall of the Communist regime the shops are nearly choked with lingerie brands of every conceivable denomination. One of the spacecrafts is headed toward the Centaurus constellation, the other toward Orion, and, if all goes well, in forty-five thousand years they may reach “inhabited planetary systems with intelligent life-forms.” For this eventuality they carry a message. The “letter” made of sounds and images of the Earth is engraved on a gold-plated copper disc 30cm in diameter; all in all there are 115 photos, 21 kinds of voices from the Earth, and 27 musical recordings on it, as well as greetings in 54 languages. The Hungarian-language greeting goes as follows: “We send greetings in the Hungarian language to all peace-loving beings at Universe” (in a sentence that happens to be patently wrong; if it were correct, there should be something called “Outer University”).

In my childhood I threw several sealed-up bottles into the Szamos with my name, address, and a short but carefully crafted letter inside. I kept waiting full of excitement and apprehension. I imagined the lonely wanderer floundering up and down on the river’s waves between unknown banks. I imagined myself in its place: the mere thought gave me goose bumps. I even experienced the solemn moment of the bottle’s opening but had my misgivings if that moment was indeed solemn. How will the unknown reader respond to my letter? What will he think of me? I was already looking at myself with foreign eyes: as if it was I whom they extracted from the dripping bottle and inspected to see if I was worth anything. I had to face the possibility that I would not please the bottle’s opener and that, disgusted, he would throw me back into the water.

In Montaigne’s three-volume Essais, published between 1580 and 1588, there is only one piece dedicated to friendship. But the way he writes about the beloved friend, Étienne de la Boétie, allows us to surmise that all the pieces in the collection were written under the inspiration of this friendship. This is corroborated by the Latinpensée in the study among whose book-covered walls these works were written, dedicated to the most beloved, closest and dearest, the best, most accomplished, wisest and perfect friend, the likes of whom could not be met in their century, to his never-ending remembrance. In Montaigne’s essay, friendship is a dialogue: to get lost, to lose oneself in the other, not to hold onto anything that is only one’s own or only of the other, but to share. Die-hard Montaigne scholars consider this statement completely foreign from the oeuvre and would be all too happy to uncover that it originates not in Montaigne himself, while another group of researchers would assign the same importance in the glaring light surrounding the oeuvre’s summits, to gestures of self-effacement, of relinquishing the “self,” as they would to intentions of delineating that “I.”

In the midst of the loudest triumphal march of the Nazis (this being still before Stalingrad) angels writhe on the cobblestones, their wings trampled underfoot by gangs of men swarming out of the pubs, who shake their fists at the sky as a sign of victory, and yet, and yet it is revealed that the tortuous convulsions of the defeated are more human than the drunken a

Go to http://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/2015/september/doppelganger-dipika-mukherjee to see the rest of the interesting article.

2 thoughts on “Written on the Body by Zsolt Láng translated by Erika Mihálycsa

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