Latest Articles

Seyla Benhabib

Critique of humanitarian reason

Never have there been more refugees in the world as today: an estimated 45 million in total. So what's the current relationship between international law, emancipatory politics and the rights of the rightless? Seyla Benhabib on the urgent need to create new political vistas. [ more ]

Martina Mauer

Bayern, Berlin, Brussels

Derya Özkan

Gecekondu chic?

Eurozine Review

Courage of thought vs technocracy

New Issues

Eurozine Review

Eurozine Review

Courage of thought vs technocracy

"New Eastern Europe" speaks to Lech Walesa; "Res Publica Nowa" recalls that crises have always mobilized the European spirit; "La Revue nouvelle" warns against the xenophobia at Europe's heart; "Frakcjia" asks whether the immunity of art is merely an illusion; "Dialogi" debates the failures of the Slovenian uprisings; "Intellectum" reads Greece's most discussed book; "A2" champions Czech writers' rights; and "Dilema veche" speaks to acclaimed Romanian writer in exile, Norman Manea.

Eurozine Review

Every camera a surveillance camera

Eurozine Review

All about the beautiful game

Eurozine Review

New fascisms coated with sugar

Eurozine Review

Elections: The dilemma of the year

My Eurozine

If you want to be kept up to date, you can subscribe to Eurozine's rss-newsfeed or our Newsletter.

Share |

"Resting" by Attila Bartis

An introduction

Resting, the acclaimed third novel by Romanian-Hungarian author Attila Bartis, published in Hungarian in 2001 and in German in 2005, is simultaneously private psychodrama and portrait of the end of the Communist era. Reading it, "we arrive at ourselves, at our own obsessions, in our own silence", writes Ilma Rakusa.

Resting is a dark novel, one of the darkest to have emerged from contemporary Hungarian literature. And at the same time, as far as human psychology and political farce is concerned, it is one of the most illuminating. That's right: the drama – one of well-nigh classical (or at least Dostoyevskian) proportions – has many dimensions. And the "rest" of the title remains an unattainable topos of longing.

At the centre of the novel, which revolves around fear, violence, and madness, is the first-person narrator: Andor Weér, thirty-six, writer, and son of the eccentric actress Rebeka Weér, who not only tyrannizes his life, but has also destroyed it. Andor's meandering narrative tells of a hellish family drama that, because its devastating consequences cannot be eradicated, only apparently ends with the death of the mother. The text labours painfully back and forth in staggered flashbacks, until every detail, every emotion, is brought to light, until the rule of madness makes itself felt in every facet.

Rebeka Weér is a diva like Arcadina in Chekhov's The Seagulls: ambitious, egotistic, concerned only about her own success. She is flattered from all sides, maintains lovers constantly, and treats her two children – the twins Andor and Judit – like burdensome appendages. The children rebel: Andor, when, at the age of ten, in order to extort his mother's love, he pretends to have gone blind, and later seeks refuge in writing; Judit, in dedicating herself entirely to playing the violin. As an outstanding violinst, she one day takes the advantage of a guest performance in order to defect abroad. The mother must atone for the daughter's political "treachery": from now on the Communist cultural bureaucracy allocates her only minor roles. There follows a spectacular description of how she races through the streets of Budapest, a wailing fury who, on arriving home, seduces her consoling son.

From now on Rebeka swears revenge, above all on her daughter. Not only does she renounce her, she also seals the break with a staged-managed funeral. All Judit's belongings and mementoes are brought in a wooden coffin to the grave. A regular gravestone in the Kerepesi cemetery feigns her death. The matter comes to light, and from now on Rebeka is assured the hate not only of her children, but also of her patrons. After receiving notice of her own death, Judit stops writing letters, only sending money anonymously. It is her brother who, to calm the mother, fakes letters from Judit, giving them to friends travelling abroad to post. Only much later does the reader find out that Judit took her own life at twenty-five in Nice, as a renowned violinst, who, tellingly, had taken the name Rebecca Werkhard.

The life of mother and son more and more resembles a nightmare. The former actress no longer leaves her flat. For a whole fifteen years she is supposed to have lived in voluntary incarceration, surrounded by nothing but theatre props, watching jealously over the life of her son, without contact to the outside world, behind locked doors, succumbing to the rapid advance of madness. Sartre's dictum (in Huis Clos) that "Hell is the other" becomes reality. Relentless are the everyday rituals, cruel the verbal interrogations (introduced by "Where-were-you-son?"), the threats, curses, interdependencies. The mood sometimes reminds the reader of Elfriede Jelinek's The Piano Teacher. Here there are also escape attempts. The sensitive writer-son not only becomes a regular customer of bars: one of his planned escapades ends in the dismal bed of a washed-up old prostitute, who later poisons pigeons and then herself; meanwhile, his mother's tyranny and his own psychological impairment threaten to derail his love for Eszter Fehér.

Eszter is damaged like Andor: her parents were killed in Romania by the secret police, and she herself was abused by a carer. Sure enough, the unhappiness continues with Andor: abortion, mental hospital, suicide attempt; verbal and physical violence pollute the relationship, whose outcome remains open. Nevertheless, there is something fateful in it. Thanks to Eszter, Andor makes the acquaintance of the editor Eva Jordán, who not only publishes his book but also shamelessly seduces him, in doing so revealing herself as the former lover of his father, a spy who defected to America. Also thanks to Eszter, or her temporarily empty flat, Andor performs the monumental feat of not showing up at his mother's for a fortnight. When he returns, she is dead. (A post-mortem is dispensed with in order to avoid suspicion).

Attila Bartis narrates with cold precision, in tense meanderings, without sentimentality, full of inner fury – and here and there with a dose of sarcastic humour. Bit by bit, the chronologically broken narrative coheres into a plot, into a portrait of a person who, torn between Oedipal complex and artistic sublimation, says of himself at the end: "Of course I'm afraid. But as long as the stove is warm, I still have human features. If I were sitting out in the open, let's say in the yard of a house at the side of a lake, somewhere in some godforsaken region, in the Carpathian Mountains, I could also just write that there's one thing that fills me with awe: the firmament above me. And that's still very little."

The little transcendence admitted by this dark, ironic novel shimmers through in sentences like this. Perhaps, in distant galaxies, a better, more beautiful world conceals itself (astronomy is often alluded to) – our world down below offers no cause for hope. Bartis shows this, not only with his grandiose "psychodrama" (without striving explicitly towards psychology), but also as observer of his times. Because Resting is not least also the portrait of an epoch: of the late Kádár era and the collapse of Communism in Hungary. Brilliant is the mockery Bartis directs – once from the child's perspective, then as an adult – at the officially sanctioned stage appearances of Rebeka Weér, or the milieu of the bar, through which the voice of the people resounds: anti-Semitic outbursts or idiotic pleas for a "racially pure Hungary". The reader wanders with Andor through the courtyards, cheap hotels, parks, and cemeteries of Budapest; accompanies him on reading tours through the Hungarian provinces, where he meets gypsies and village priests, station masters and the disabled, repelled by the banality of the general greed. Whereby his disillusion leaves nothing to be desired: freedom, according to Andor, is a condition not suited to humans. As regards his own writing – which is dark like Resting itself – he does not delude himself. However, this much he does know: "My stories were good for at least one thing: that every person, in this or that comma or full stop, could sound out his own silence."

A poetic acknowledgement that could come from Bartis himself. In fact, despite everything, this highly dramatic novel gives space to silence. In the same way that it allows space to breathe. Unlike Bartis's ambitious debut, The Stroll, with its many eclectic sideways glances at literary history, Resting follows a broad, vortex-like rhythm, and an utterly coherent inner dramaturgy. It is beyond doubt that we as readers arrive at ourselves. At our own obsessions, in our own silence.

Transcript of a speech held at the Alte Schmiede, Vienna, November 2005.

Read an excerpt from the novel Resting by Attila Bartis.


Published 2006-02-27

Original in German
Translation by Simon Garnett
© Ilma Rakusa
© Eurozine

Eurozine BLOG

On the Eurozine BLOG you can follow and comment on all coverage of the Kyiv conference, "Ukraine: Thinking together", including daily updates from Eurozine editors.
Thinking in times of change
There are both differences and similarities between the current events in Ukraine and the revolutions of 1989. In fact, the conference "Ukraine: Thinking Together" does have a predecessor: a meeting of eastern European intellectuals with their western counterparts that took place in Vienna in 1990. [more]

Focal points     click for more

Ukraine in focus
Ten years after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine is in the throes of yet another major struggle. Eurozine provides commentary on events as they unfold and further articles from the archive providing background to the situation in today's Ukraine. [more]

The ends of democracy
At a time when the global pull of democracy has never been stronger, the crisis of democracy has become acute. Eurozine has collected articles that make the problems of democracy so tangible that one starts to wonder if it has a future at all, as well as those that return to the very basis of the principle of democracy. [more]

Russia in global dialogue
In the two decades after the end of the Cold War, intellectual interaction between Russia and Europe has intensified. It has not, however, prompted a common conversation. The focal point "Russia in global dialogue" seeks to fuel debate on democracy, society and the legacy of empire. [more]

The EU: Broken or just broke?
Brought on by the global economic recession, the eurocrisis has been exacerbated by serious faults built into the monetary union. Contributors discuss whether the EU is not only broke, but also broken -- and if so, whether Europe's leaders are up to the task of fixing it. [more]

Time to Talk     click for more

Time to Talk, a network of European Houses of Debate, has partnered up with Eurozine to launch an online platform. Here you can watch video highlights from all TTT events, anytime, anywhere.
George Pagoulatos, Philippe Legrain
In the EU we (mis)trust: On the road to the EU elections
On 10 April, De Balie and the ECF jointly organized a public debate in Amsterdam entitled "In the EU we (mis)trust: On the road to the EU elections". Some of the questions raised: Which challenges does Europe face today? Which strategic choices need to be made? [more]

Support Eurozine     click for more

If you appreciate Eurozine's work and would like to support our contribution to the establishment of a European public sphere, see information about making a donation.

Vacancies at Eurozine     click for more

There are currently no positions available.

Editor's choice     click for more

Dipesh Chakrabarty
The climate of history: Four theses
Freedom has been the most important motif of accounts of human history since the Enlightenment. Yet, only with the planetary crisis of climate change is an awareness now emerging of the geological agency human beings gained through processes linked to their acquisition of freedom. [more]

Literature     click for more

Olga Tokarczuk
A finger pointing at the moon
Our language is our literary destiny, writes Olga Tokarczuk. And "minority" languages provide a special kind of sanctuary too, inaccessible to the rest of the world. But, there again, language is at its most powerful when it reaches beyond itself and starts to create an alternative world. [more]

Piotr Kiezun, Jaroslaw Kuisz
Literary perspectives special: Witold Gombrowicz
The recent publication of the private diary of Witold Gombrowicz provides unparalleled insight into the life of one of Poland's great twentieth-century novelists and dramatists. But this is not literature. Instead: here he is, completely naked. [more]

Literary perspectives
The re-transnationalization of literary criticism
Eurozine's series of essays aims to provide an overview of diverse literary landscapes in Europe. Covered so far: Croatia, Sweden, Austria, Estonia, Ukraine, Northern Ireland, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Hungary. [more]

Debate series     click for more

Europe talks to Europe
Nationalism in Belgium might be different from nationalism in Ukraine, but if we want to understand the current European crisis and how to overcome it we need to take both into account. The debate series "Europe talks to Europe" is an attempt to turn European intellectual debate into a two-way street. [more]

Conferences     click for more

Eurozine emerged from an informal network dating back to 1983. Since then, European cultural magazines have met annually in European cities to exchange ideas and experiences. Around 100 journals from almost every European country are now regularly involved in these meetings.
Making a difference. Opinion, debate and activism in the public sphere
The 25th European Meeting of Cultural Journals
Oslo, 29 November - 2 December 2013
Under the heading "Making a difference. Opinion, debate and activism in the public sphere", the 2013 Eurozine conference focused on cultural and intellectual debate and the production of the public sphere. [more]

Multimedia     click for more
Multimedia section including videos of past Eurozine conferences in Vilnius (2009) and Sibiu (2007). [more]

powered by