The Double Entendre of Sex: Pornographies of Body and Society in Péter Esterházy’s Fiction


  • Enikő Bollobás



Péter Esterházy, double entendre, literary pornography, sexual politics, patriarchy, communism, male gaze


Informed by feminist theory on the one hand and thematic and rhetorical criticism on the other, this article examines the components of discourse in two books by Péter Esterházy that share an emphatic attention to sexuality. The author interprets Esterházy’s discourse of sex as grounded in the figure of the double entendre, with a different function in each work. In Kis magyar pornográfia [‘A Little Hungarian Pornography’], vulgar corporeality and communist politics are shown as commensurate; both have a double meaning, with sex and politics referring both to themselves and to each other. In using one discourse as a cover for another, Esterházy continues the Central European Witz [‘joke’] tradition, giving a particular twist to it by making the transference of meaning two-directional, thereby assigning double meanings to sex and politics alike. In Egy nő [‘She Loves Me’], Esterházy attaches a double meaning to sex in a different manner; here sex is not a cover for something else but is shown to be reduced to itself, with a double meaning attached to its internal power relations. Sex is presented as a power game, in which man is repulsed by women yet is hopelessly attracted to them. Moreover, sex acts as the only tellable story taking the place of the untellable story of love. In this piece of postmodern fiction, the multiple perspectives bring about an interpretational uncertainty on the part of the reader as to whether sexist discourse is legitimized or subverted, and whether this legitimization and/or subversion is carried out by the narrator and/or by the implied author.






Thematic Cluster: On Hungarian Historical, Literary and Filmic Constructions of Gender. Guest Editor: Enikő Bollobás