1965: Struggling from Darkness


If we approach the novel with one eye on the natural sciences today, we may say that it assembles its structure from…models of existence or reality in a manner that will hopefully be more true and more real than the various models on their own. Let me give an example. Let’s call R1– that veritably hand-me-down, agreed-upon model of reality produced by mankind to date which we may rather crudely characterize by saying that we are born, we live, we die, generations succeed each other on the earth, and they have brought about a culture we might call Cartesian, Euclidean, Aristotelian, Newtonian: the individual is only one of many, though beyond his moral obligations, he also strives to achieve his own happiness and salvation. This way of looking at things has withstood the test of time and is practical to boot. That is why it was developed. It has space, absolute cause, bivalent logic, continuity, psychology, a system of ethics and even aesthetics. We all accept it and use it for what it was meant. This R1 —from where the reader is attending to it, who (according to our definition) sees just about everything from this vantage point—almost inevitably means one aspect of the novel,  its second plane, so to speak, the median perspective of Newtonian mechanics: and the novel is threatened by the possibility of this finished model of reality carried by language swallowing it up in its entirety. Yet the novel cannot be contained in another system of reality; the order imposed by R1 is a fallacious and flat generalization, its light a cheap imitation, its confines narrow. So the novel searches for another model of reality in order to expand—more precisely, to correct, the former within wider confines, within what we may call the metamodel.

R1 says more or less that reality is what we call reality. Let R0 be the solipsist theory that nothing exists or is real but the self. At least, this resolves the untenable contradiction which makes R1 a model of catastrophe, so to speak, i.e., that it has incorporated the I which gave existence and stability to the model into the model itself. It comes to grief in the space and irreversible time of R1. It dies as it was born, its only petty consolation being that through the generations that come and  go, some slight traces of its short material existence remain, some minuscule memory of it, some slight effect: worse than nothing. For, compared to the real intensity and unimpaired entirety of its existence, these are merely pale abstractions. Luckily, through the R0 it also says that not only the line of short-lived generations, the futility of glory, work and morals, not only the lack of absolutes, the irreversibility of time, but the entirety of R1, together with its birth and death, are not reality, but only a model of reality they themselves produced, and the fact that you were born in it and I die in it, this is merely the way the subject sees it within R1.

Nevertheless, it would be a trivial solution for us to use R0 only to eradicate R1 along with death and other much more serious aspects of its deficiencies. The novel does not do this; it never eradicates anything whatsoever. Nor could we use R0 by itself. It is too up close—barely a concept at all. That is it must pay too high a price for its relative freedom from contradiction. If we want to expand it into a functional model, we come up against insurmountable obstacles. Yet, though somewhat empty, it is nevertheless an inevitable component of the novel.

We might imagine — still without too much discomfort, if we start from R0, which is too up close—a kind of infinitely expandible view which instead of saying “I am,” says only “Something is.”  It constructs its model with the utmost objectivity towards the characteristics and interconnections of things as seen according to R1, in its own sovereign manner: on a kind of musical, painterly, or mathematical basis. We could call it R-infinite or R-alpha, though to be honest, the undefined one per zero would suit it better, because we have cheated just a bit for the sake of the game. So let’s just call it R2. In the novel, R2 appears as the distant view of things. The movement, the recurrent and modified surges of the various elements of the sentences, and even more so of the paragraphs and chapters, imitate R2, and perhaps even the tectonics, dynamics or tonality of the entirety of the novel’s viewpoint—or else what we usually call style, or what, from this cosmic distance survives of the novel: perhaps no more than a sound, or the data about a wave-length picked up by the unknown spectroscope of R2.

If we assemble these independent, openly contradictory models and hold them in the palm of the hand simultaneously, a new model is born of their interaction with a higher reality value and a striving toward an integrity with a higher register. Together, these perhaps shaky Rs of ours constitute a certain elemental novelistic structure.  A novel can almost live off them. But even if we were to suppose for the sake of the game that everything that already exists can fit into these ready-made models of reality, the novel would still stand need of at least one more R for the things that are as yet incomplete. Let’s use a different index and call it Rr, because it says neither that “What exists is what we call reality,” along with R1, nor that “I am,” as does R0, not even that “something is.”

The motto of Rr would be: “Something is becoming.” Here, the subject is neither the point or line enclosed by the time and space of R1, nor is it the universal vacuum of R0; rather it moves about freely in the network of the models, and it has dimension, depth, width. This is why we needed Rr to crowd and edit into it in the (ambulando) manner of the poets, that which cannot fit into the others—the dimensions of the “I” for example. And the novel itself—in process, of course, perhaps as it is struggling from darkness to light, from the chaos of existence towards order.

It is with the addition of such an Rr model that something begins that we may truly call a novel. And with it ends the possibility of us talking about it any further.

—Géza Ottlik, “On the Novel” (1965)

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