"The Sukhum Photos" & "Why I Always Listen to Such Sad Music"

Music & Literature is a new journal dedicated to publishing literature on and by under-represented artists from around the world. Each issue assembles an international group of critics and writers in celebration of three featured artists whose work has yet to reach its deserved audience.

Their second issue (Spring 2013) honors artists László Krasznahorkai, Béla Tarr, and Max Neumann. The American Reader is pleased to feature two excerpts from the journal below.

From “The Sukhum Photos,” by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, trans. George Szirtes

To sit in a room on an evening and consider how to avoid thinking about madness, to sit for hours doing this, looking out of an old window not seeing anything because of the darkness of course, to look out not for that reason yet to continue looking and thinking further about how to avoid thinking about madness, about techniques of avoidance, or rather about whether the apparatus of such a technique might be inexhaustible, or rather about the possibility that the store of such techniques could be entirely exhausted, then to walk up and down in the room and, first, to consume what remains in the bottle of Unicum then to open one of beer, not thinking whether there might be another bottle of Unicum but to go on and on thinking with a glass of beer in one’s hand, sitting down in an armchair wondering whether avoiding madness might be like avoiding a heart attack and answering, yes, they are comparable…



From “Why I Always Listen to Such Sad Music,” by Stig Sæterbakken, trans. Stokes Schwartz

Maybe that is what is melancholic about music, this reminder of the other music, which would have fulfilled us completely, and which gives us that insatiable need, like an auditive abstinence: a need to hear more, hear more, and not the least: to hear it again and again, the same piece. Yes, I believe it is that which is the melancholic quality of music, and which can be experienced as a sweet, joyful disharmony: the inconsistency between what we hear and what we really would want to hear. Within each piece of music there is another piece of music, and that is the piece of music that we truly want to hear, and that is the piece of music we will never get to hear, and that is the piece of music that binds us to the music we hear, because it brings us into an unbearable almost-contact with what we yearn for, that which we, as we listen to the music which almost is, but which nevertheless is not, can’t bear the thought of being without.

In a rational world, these questions remain unanswered: How can it be that we are ready to enjoy something sad? How is it possible to delight in being in a state of melancholy? Why do we also see beauty in disharmony, not just in harmony, in asymmetry, not just symmetry, when it ought to be only the evenly balanced and harmoniously proportioned things that appeal to our aesthetic sense, when it is only the well-placed, not the ill-placed, that ought to awaken our satisfaction with form?

Because, I believe, disharmony and asymmetry correspond to a disharmony and an asymmetry within us, because we ourselves are not whole, or complete. Because we are never fully and completely ourselves. Because our lacks, our weaknesses, and our fears make up an essential dimension within us. Because our wounds are meant not only for healing, but also the opposite, to be kept open, as a part of our receptivity to that which is around us and within us. And because there is also relief in this, not to be healed, not to be cured, melancholia satisfies us by preventing us from reaching satisfaction, it calms us by keeping our anxiety alive, it gives us peace by prolonging the state of emergency, the state of emergency that answers to the name of Humankind.


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