László Krasznahorkai’s “The World Goes On”

Saul Anton in 4 Columns:

Anton_WorldGoesOn_CoverWhen the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to go to space in April 1961, he reportedly said the following words to his ground control as he looked out his capsule’s small window: “I see Earth. It is so beautiful.” Less than seven years later, he died in a plane crash on a routine flight near Moscow.

In “That Gagarin,” one of many richly suggestive pieces in The World Goes On, the Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai invokes the moment more than once as he deftly combines a reflection on the meaning of the cosmonaut’s words with an exploration of how a story like Gagarin’s attracts the conspiracy-minded. His narrator, a cagey double of the author himself, is an asylum patient who obsesses over why Gagarin started to drink heavily and why the Soviet authorities kept him away from his adoring public. What’s perhaps most astonishing, however, is that the thirty-seven-page story is composed as a single sentence.

In fact, seven of the twenty pieces (and a coda) in The World Goes On are single-sentence works, accounting for nearly two hundred of the book’s three hundred and eleven pages. The sixty-three-year-old winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize is on record arguing that the short sentence and the paragraph break are artificial constraints.

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