Szentkuthy, in a prospectus for the work, writes: "...the work seeks to portray both European history and the vegetative world of nature from an essentially religious, supernatural viewpoint. Although both the lives of the saints, as well as the other figures, famous books, and cultural manifestations of history are, in point of fact, nothing more than different features of a lyrical self-portrait, the various roles and masks of the author as it were, the work is in essence 'religious', because from love to politics the emphasis throughout is on the battle of the body-politic of God and the body-politic of the world" (293, from the afterword by Maria Tompa). Szentkuthy writes further: "The aim of Orpheus is to find the human ideal and an acceptable lifestyle that a thinking cerebrum and a sentiment in search of happiness can wish for after the broadest possible circle of historical, the most universal religious, and the most profound natural historical experiences. The aim is thus an unmistakable humanist one; it seeks to find the man beyond every variant of cultures, all promise and failure of sciences and mythologies, the most distant periods and far-flung regions, the vast yet nevertheless finite shades of psychology. What remains of the masses of experience left behind? What can be utilized in the future? What is the play of time and what is the indispensable essence and possibly a permanent positive?"(294-5).
What Szentkuthyy does not prepare us for here is his use of language, his imagery, his style. It would be just as much a mistake to reduce him to a social commentator as it would to make Musil one. While Marginalia on Casanova is not a "novel" in any traditional sense, it is definitely a work of poetic force. He does say that in "its goal and method [the project] belongs to the old genre of the Bildungsroman, a novel of a person's formative years, uniting the leading genres of the present day, the essay, and the autobiography in a common big framework" (295), but that again neglects to mention the language itself, and even undercuts the experimental boldness of the non-linear and fragmentary structure of the massive work, which itself instantiates a powerful aesthetic experience . Here are a few of my favorite passages so far:
"19. Love is concealing oneself, secrets, lies, deception in civilization. From it a poet and moralist is able to coin for himself 'tragedy', which is Greek for dotage. For Casanova, however, it is the animating force, the very lifeblood.
At night, when one's fate hangs on whether or not someone left the key in the lock or hung it up on a nail; when three candles are burning or just one on a balcony; when one has to flatten against the wall in the stairwell and leave the stolen cloak of a stranger on the coat hook; when one has to creep from one room to another along deserted soul passages; well, that is the world where there are two dominants—the lie and the object. Never did lamp, handkerchief, key, candlestick, stocking, sword, hat, seat or plate hold so splendid a triumph as in this trick of atmosphere..."(60).
"One is well connected with Europe's frolicking twins, one of whom is customarily nicknamed 'this world,' the other as 'otherworld'. By 'this world' is understood Nature, stars, & flowers, the big furor of 'elan vital' and the black tic of enthusiastic death, Paracelsian grand demonism of existence— and by 'otherworld' religion, the great mythological review of the gods and their moral shades, the despairing heavenly masks of eternity.