Friday, November 10, 2017

The Last Wolf

The third and last story in the László Krasznahorkai collection that I've been reading is quite different from the others but continues on the same theme. It was first published in 2009 and is stylistically postmodern, consisting of one long run-on sentence, in which a failed German philosophy professor sitting at an empty bar in Berlin recounts a story to the Hungarian bartender regarding an assignment he had received to write an article. Having little income, he had accepted an offer from an obscure foundation that had requested him to visit a remote region in Spain and describe the circumstances of the death of the last wolf to be found there. All of his expenses were covered, including a driver and a translator. The narrative is dotted with elements of farce, absurdity and despair. The bartender barely pays attention to him and at one point falls asleep. His translator in Spain considers him an idiot. The professor, who is the narrator describing himself in the third person, exhibits a mental state that can hardly be called upbeat:

...how could he describe what so weighed him down, how could he explain how long ago he had given up the idea of thought, the point at which he first understood the way things were and knew that any sense we had of existence was merely a reminder of the incomprehensible futility of existence, a futility that would repeat itself ad infinitum, to the end of time...

As the story unfolds, there is confusion about the actual moment and location of the death of the last wolf. Finally it is determined that the remaining pack of wolves had been hunted by a lobero, or wolf-hunter, until there were only two wolves left, a young male and female. As in the other stories, the lobero becomes a wolf-sympathizer and begins protecting them from farmers rather than hunting them. However, the female wolf, which became pregnant and was consequently slowed down, was hit by a car and died. The male wolf was not seen for some time and was thought to have fled to Portugal, but was later found and shot, never having left the area. The narrator's guide, José Miguel, a local warden, says that a shepherd, Alexandro, came across the last wolf and shot it. At the end, José Miguel contritely attempts to confess something in private to the professor, but he is rebuffed: perhaps he was the driver who hit the female wolf, perhaps he was the one who shot the last wolf, or perhaps it was something else. Krasznahorkai leaves this open to interpretation, and, as in other writings of his that I've read, he seems to prefer an element of uncertainty in his stories. The narrator never writes the article and continues to meditate on the events. Perhaps this is his report.

Unlike the "Herman" stories, The Last Wolf displays sympathy for the hunted animals by several characters, including the lobero, José Miguel and the translator. The nature of the narrator's sympathy is ambiguous, though he is deeply affected and becomes anxious. There is a greater sense than in the other stories of the injustice associated with man's alteration of the environment to suit his preferences, but Krasznahorkai doesn't clearly evoke an environmentalist's sentiment. The last two wolves are portrayed in a heroic, noble and tragic light. Possibly, besides the wildlife motif, Krasznahorkai is highlighting the absurd situation in which a writer is hired as a journalist under the auspices of a literary organization. No doubt he has been in this situation himself: he may be commenting on the absurdity of the expectations that are placed on artists, or perhaps this is an allegory about the diminished role of the artist in the modern world. Since the narrator seems to identify with the last wolf, artists, one might say, are being driven to extinction. At first I wasn't sure whether I would appreciate Krasznahorkai's chosen style, but I found the narrative very well-executed and satisfying in the end. Because the three stories are included in the same volume, it is tempting to think of them as variations on a theme, in which the author experiments with a subject in much the same manner that a composer might. The style of this one evokes a visceral feeling of stream-of-consciousness to capture the state of mind of the narrator, whereas the other two are more conventional "tales." Although I don't think I'll ever like short stories as much as novels, Krasznahorkai is such a good writer that anything written by him is worth a try. The Last Wolf is easily one of the best short stories I've ever read. If you want to read Krasznahorkai without committing much time, this would be a good choice, and if you like short stories, I doubt you'll find one much better than this.

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