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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Róbert Gál

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To purchase Agnomia

Title: Agnomia
Author: Róbert Gál
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 79 pages
Original in: Slovak
Availability: Agnomia - US
Agnomia - UK
Agnomia - Canada
  • Slovak title: Agnómia
  • Translated by David Short

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Our Assessment:

B : solid meandering personal tour and reflection

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Agnomia is the companion-volume to Gál's On Wing, but takes a different approach. Whereas On Wing was a mix of short narratives, dream-accounts, free-standing words and sentences, and reflections, Agnomia is just one burst of narrative: a single-paragraph first-person account.
       At one point the narrator writes:

Transforming form through content is not just playing with language. It is about the necessity of preserving form and thereby displaying the content.
       This applies as much to On Wing, where the reader is repeatedly and more obviously challenged by the form of the writing, but it's a principle to keep in mind here too, even as Gál suggests a more controlled approach. His concerns and interests remain much the same: he is still exploring the same world -- and, in its introspection, the same person, still also trying to get at the root of himself, with an even greater reliance here on reminiscence and accounts of personal experience.
       On Wing was a work filled with neologisms, often left just standing alone. Agnomia comes with its title-neologism -- suggesting a holy or spiritual sort of anomie ? -- but otherwise does not resort anywhere near as much to them, Gál relying instead mainly on familiarly-circulating language -- dictionary vocabulary. The exceptions are revealing however -- 'fanatality', for example. Gál's fascination with contradictions inherent in meaning -- an inadequacy of words and concepts, as we see and use them -- is also fundamental in his vision here -- as with his observation (cum complaint) that: "Objectivity is never objective".
       Language remains a fundamental issue -- even (or specifically a) stumbling block. The narrator observes:
For one does have a need to say something, but words get in the way. Words have no need to say anything. That's the problem. The problem of the whole of literature.
       The narrator of Agnomia draws on personal experience, including time spent in locales abroad -- stations that are already familiar from mentions in On Wing: New York, Jerusalem, Prague (as well as, second hand, Japan). Slovak identity -- and specifically the inferiority-complex-like sense of it being too small be a place of accomplishment (i.e. to accomplish anything there), as well as not being taken seriously abroad because of its perceived small size (which apparently translates into insignificance) -- is also one of the issues that crops up repeatedly.
       There are some nicely observed scenes, such as the gathering where the narrator reports:
As for me, I'm on form. I'm typing this nonsense into my head while ignoring the people I'm talking about.
       Showing this character-as-writer as someone perceiving and capturing what is actually going on around him as 'typing in his head' -- not just a putting-in-words of what he sees and hears, but doing so in an authorial-manual way (typing) -- suggests the pure writer, oblivious to what's around him beyond as subject-matter, inhabiting an alter-world that ultimately only exists as text-on-page.
       Fundamental, too, is the belief:
that reality shouldn't be artistically reproduced, but produced
       Indeed, much of Gál's effort -- the different approaches he takes -- suggests an attempt to find the, or a, way of producing, rather than attempting to reproduce reality; it is, again, a particular way of seeing what the writer should be and what s/he should do. So also, near the conclusion of this work, he offers readers something of a guide to what's behind his philosophy and approach, acknowledging:
For many years there have been three men in particular who have inspired me and helped me refine my faculty (and aptitude) for a critical awareness of reality. Thomas Bernhard, the master of tautology; Georges Bataille, the master of metaphysical excess; and the master of hysterico-ontological, postmodern manipulation, John Zorn.
       Meandering some -- but very differently from the more scattershot On Wing -- Agnomia is, and very much feels like, another installment of Róbert Gál's personal reflections -- part of a very much still in progress (one assumes) larger project, but one that can stand quite comfortably alone, too. Still, one can see the case for publishing it together with On Wing -- and the earlier text is certainly a helpful complement to this one(and vice versa).

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 January 2019

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Agnomia: 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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