- スラヴ研究 (ISSN:05626579)
- vol.50, pp.1-31, 2003
Hourglass (1972) is the last book of the autobiographical trilogy of Yugoslav writer Danilo Kiš (1935-1989). This novel is based on a real letter that Kiš's father wrote to his sister Olga on April 5th 1942. Kiš puts it in the last chapter of the novel as "Letter or Contents." Though the letter (which is full of complaints and grudges against relatives) illustrates the agony of the Jews in those times, for the son it is a precious "document" of his father who disappeared in Auschwitz. The novel Hourglass reconstructs the father's psychology and his acts, attempting to recreate his world. Examining the structure of the novel, its technical aspects and the hero, this paper focuses on how Hourglass fulfills the task of modern novels, which is, according to Milan Kundera, to present a new cognition of human existence. This paper starts by pointing out the differences between Halics and the other two books from the trilogy, Garden, Ashes (1965) and Early Sorrows (1969). The trilogy shares the same background -- Hungary and Vojvodina (a northern area in the former Yugoslavia) during World War II. In contrast to the first two books, where the main character is a boy named Andy, Hourglass has only one protagonist, E.S., who is that boy's father. The most important difference is the divergence of the narratives' viewpoint. In Hourglass, "objective narration" becomes an aim of the novel, as the narrator disappears. The paper further discusses some autobiographical facts about the author. The novel, which consists of 67 segments, is built upon four chapters "Travel Scenes" (20 segments), "Notes of a Madman" (34 segments), "Criminal Investigation" (9 segments), "A Witness Interrogated" (2 segments), as well as the two segments "Prologue" and "Letter or Contents." It is evident that this novel is a variation of a poetic form "Glosa," and that "Notes of a Madman" could be considered as a leitmotiv with its substitution of letters for chapters. Furthermore, by examining a chronology of "Letter or Contents" and the text, it turns out that all the events took place in the hero's consciousness during the single night of April 4th to April 5th, 1942. The number of the segments of text is equal to the Bible's 66 books, suggesting that the book could be considered as "a Holy Book". All the chapters could be read as if they had been written from the hero's viewpoint. In other words, the whole story is made up of E. S.'s experiences or delusions. Even the third person narration in "Prologue" and "Travel Scenes" expresses E. S.'s internal images. Furthermore, the paper emphasises that in Hourglass, the story is subdivided in order to reject the reader's empathy. This style could be described as "disnarrative." The paper also examines a number of techniques used for the segmentation: exaggeration of details, usage of images, enumeration, and recursive structure. The text of the "Novel in a Novel" suggests that the novel Hourglass is based upon an original recursive structure. The character of the hero is analyzed, especially from the perspective of his religion. The fact that he is a Jew is not presented at the beginning but emerges thoughout the story. E. S. is not an Orthodox Jew, nor has he completely assimilated into European society. In Hourglass, at the moment he reveals his Star of David, he accepts himself as a Jew, thus becoming subject to forced labour, only to face an even more horrible experience, the Massacre of Novi Sad. Under severe political and social pressure, through agony, hallucination, and a crisis of self-division, E. S. deepens his speculation concerning God, Humanity, and Nature. E. S.'s "real self" becomes a complete existence at the moment his own internal religion harmonizes with the appearance of God. In the last segment of the text, E. S. tries to accept his death with a calm equanimity, just as Noah accepted the destiny of the world and the human race. In the conclusion, the paper discusses Hourglass as the book of the world. Kiš describes his father's book Guidebook in his short autobiography as a "literal heritage," and in Garden, Ashes as "a Holy Book" or "Apocrypha." As a starting point when writing Hourglass, Kiš used the idea of a
book as a metaphore for the world, which has a fertile tradition in European literature. To escape the deluge of the Pannonian Sea, E. S., as Noah himself, tries to load the ark with human beings, flora and fauna, all creatures and their experiences. In other words, at night, under the oil lamp, hearing the waves of history, with a pen, by writing letters, he tries to create a book or an ark, which carries the whole world. Hourglass is a true novel which is the reproduction of Noah's attempt to recreate the world and human beings, by the act of writing about one era and the world, through recording one man's entire experiences and emotions, without missing any details. Id est, Hourglass is the book of the world. For this recreation, Kiš concentrates on such structural aspects of the novel of
such as the arrangement of chapters, disnarration, fragmentation of timeflow, etc. But the book could have never been written without the symbiosis of Kiš's and his father Eduard's character - E. S. Through this figure, Kiš finally reaches his aim - objective narration. Hourglass fulfills the task of modern novels, telling us that the book, as a metaphor for the world, even now can become an ark for the regenesis of all creatures, who resist death with all their might.