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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

On Wing

Róbert Gál

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To purchase On Wing

Title: On Wing
Author: Róbert Gál
Genre: Fiction
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 109 pages
Original in: Slovak
Availability: On Wing - US
On Wing - UK
On Wing - Canada
  • Slovak title: Krídlovanie
  • Translated by Mark Kanak

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Our Assessment:

B : quite intense piece of personal, philosophical, and linguistic reflection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
3:AM . 15/6/2015 J.D.Fagen

  From the Reviews:
  • "On Wing ponders the nature of thinking, the choice of contemplation rather than action, the absurdity of hope, and bears life only with glances. (...) On Wing is hollow, is not a servant to the engines of humanity, contains nothing and gives nothing in return. (...) On Wing is a book of opaque beauty. A coda of what gives us comfort. A reimagining of silence. A book that breathes, that lives and dies but never ends, meant to be read without expectation, and read over again." - Jared Daniel Fagen, 3:AM

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       On Wing is an unusual personal work of reflection, the variety of pieces -- aphorisms, neologisms, dream-accounts, reminiscences, and more -- not forming much of a story but giving the sense of some larger whole, stabs at a (carefully limited) biography in the seeking and attempt to mold and fashion some sort of life-philosophy (not that he ever necessarily gets all too close to achieving that). A half dozen or so of the pieces are dated, and presented in order, suggesting at least a chronological progression (if not necessarily growth and advancement). Early on, the narrator does mention trying to impress on a younger cousin who reads his texts that they shouldn't be misconceived as "all too instructive, or, put another way, he shouldn't consider them as my advice for his life". Meanwhile, the opening 'epigraffiti'-epigraph -- apparently from an earlier work by Gál -- suggests: "The magic of fiction lies in deluding reason that it is fiction" -- presumably also to be taken as a reminder to the reader on how to approach what lies ahead.
       The narrator makes some claims with would be-authority, such as: "Individuals write in order not to forget, and through writing they summon memory"; while certainly far from a universal rule -- individuals surely write for many other reasons as well -- it seems to apply to this particular individual, as suggested also by the number of reminiscences presented, often at some length. He dredges up memories -- scenes from a life -- though what is striking is how indistinct parts are: they generally blur suddenly at the edges -- "What happened then I can only recall vaguely", for example. He also recounts dreams -- which even more naturally are hazy. This approach -- this looking inwards, to the lived-through past, and to dreams ("Memories and dreams are one and the same", Gál writes in Agnomia) -- does suggest an investigation that is very much founded on the personal, even as he elsewhere reaches for the more abstract and universal.
       Finding language and expression is central to his exercise, and so On Wing is full of neologisms -- not so much words use in contexts, though there is some of that, but stand-alones, drawing all attention just to the coinage and its implied meaning. His (presented-on-their-own) words include: holocasts, retrospectrum, pleonazism, eruptionality, preversion, endlessification, wonderguilt, intermittentthrough. Often they are counter-words in how they alter the more familiar concept he changes: antiretouching, overreduction, uninfinity, deshadowing, exunwinding. With concepts such as 'unexfermenting' Gál seems to want to suggest several layers of undoing.
       While there are extended passages of longer narration, there are also repeatedly sequences of just sentences and words -- statements, claims, expressions, ideas. It is narrative reduced to building blocks, thoughts -- even just words -- plucked from the mind and offered in quick but unstructured succession:


Is infinity the antithesis of finitude ?


Unshifts. When needing to share, do we need to share stability, progress, or stagnation ?

Neurotic wings.


So many words, so many languages.

Value-added story.


Complete isolation from the reality that is completely cut-off from reality.

The luxury of emotional tension ?

       Found in one such chain is the observation: "The fetish of language". It is one of many such statements that is offered without comment or reflection -- but, like many of these elementary units (words, sentences), clearly interrelates with the larger, language-(in/adequacy-)obsessed text.
       There's a dark sense of isolation across much of On Wing -- as observations such as: "Between loneliness and estrangement" also suggest. In a switch to the second person -- a change of perspective to allow a closer look -- he writes how: "As the embodiment of suicide you glide through life".
       Near the conclusion, the narrator notes:
And the mistakes of self-examination, the distancing of ourselves from them meant contradictize them completely; for what else is absolute questioning than fully exhausting contradiction.
       Gál wrings as much as he can from turning words and concepts on themselves -- "There is no solution. It is the solution" -- and it is an interesting exercise -- and quick, creative, and varied enough not to bog down in its own conceits. Obviously, however, readers should be aware of what they're in for here; this isn't the kind of thing that appeals to everybody, and readers who prefer everything spelled out for them, or need a story to follow will likely find this enervating and baffling.
       Gál's later Agnomia is a companion-text to On Wing; elsewhere, they've also been published together (and the original publicity copy for the Dalkey Archive edition suggests the original plan was also to publish them together in one volume). It is an interesting next step, on the one hand clearly a continuation but also a much more traditional/neatly structured narrative; On Wing is certainly a useful stepping-stone to it, but also intriguing enough to stand on its own.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 January 2019

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On Wing: Reviews: Róbert Gál: Other books by Róbert Gál under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Slovak author Róbert Gál was born in 1968.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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