Journal Article

Not Fade Away: Adapting History and Trauma in László Krasznahorkai's <i>The Melancholy of Resistance</i> and Béla Tarr's <i>Werckmeister Harmonies</i>

John Hodgkins

in Adaptation

Volume 2, issue 1, pages 49-64
Published in print March 2009 | ISSN: 1755-0637
Published online March 2009 | e-ISSN: 1755-0645 | DOI:
Not Fade Away: Adapting History and Trauma in László Krasznahorkai's The Melancholy of Resistance and Béla Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies

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In his 1989 novel The Melancholy of Resistance, Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai deploys postmodernist techniques to relate the tale of a small Hungarian town that falls briefly under the spell of a mysterious circus performer known as The Prince, only to have that spell broken in brutal fashion by a newly reconstituted town government. While many have interpreted the novel simply as a fable addressing humankind’s frailties and susceptibility to manipulation, I propose to read the text in a new way: as an allusive and slyly allegorical attempt to contend with the twin specters haunting modern Hungarian history, those being complicity with Nazi Germany during World War II and the subsequent capitulation to/collaboration with the Soviet Union. Through suggestive and symbolically freighted language, Krasznahorkai is able to reflect on these “unrepresentable” traumas and begin the process of healing Hungary's psychic scars. Filmmaker Béla Tarr, in his 2000 cinematic adaptation of the novel entitled Werckmeister Harmonies, continues the process begun by Krasznahorkai, concentrating in particular on the role played by Hungary in the Holocaust. Infusing Krasznahorkai's story with the kind of visceral and affective impact only film can provide, Tarr takes another step toward the “mourning work” necessary for Hungary to overcome its past and move into the future free from history's debilitating effects.

Keywords: Adaptation; trauma; history

Journal Article.  7730 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film ; Television ; Literature

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