Claudio Magris in Budapest

The eclecticism of Budapest, its mixture of styles, evokes, like every Babel of today, a possible future swarming with the survivors of some catastrophe. Every heir of the Hapsburg era is a true man of the future, because he learnt, earlier than most others, to live without a future, in the absence of any historical continuity; and that is, not to live but to survive. But along these splendid boulevards, in a world as lively and elegant as this, a world which does not display the melancholy of the Eastern Bloc countries, even survival is charming and seductive, magnanimous and maybe, at times, almost happy.

Danube (page 266)

Claudio Magris on irony and the Central European mind

Here the Danube is young, and Austria is still far off, but clearly the river is already a sinuous master of irony, of that irony which created the greatness of Central European culture, the art of outflanking one’s own barrenness and checkmating one’s own weakness; the sense of the duplicity of things, and at the same time the truth of them, hidden but single. Irony taught respect for the misunderstandings and contradictions of life, the disjunction between the recto and the verso of a page that never meet even though they are the selfsame thing between time and eternity, between language and reality … Tolerance of the imbalances and deformities of the world, of its parallel lines that never meet, does not diminish our faith that those parallels meet at infinity, but it does not force them into meeting any earlier.

Danube (1986/89), p. 58
Translated by Patrick Creagh