Monday, 11 November 2013

It exceeds the imagination

This piece was written by the literary scholar Tibor Keresztúry and appeared today on the Hungarian literary website Litera. I give a quick, almost complete translation. The reader will get the gist.

There are times a man thinks: surely we cannot sink any further, there is no lower depth, but then life produces something new, something extra, that exceeds the imagination. This time it is a fellow human being, a certain G Fodor Gábor, the strategic director of the Századvég (Century’s End) Foundation who, on his blog, suggests that a notable Hungarian writer should shoot himself in the head. The author, who describes himself not as ‘a literary scholar’ but ‘a political thinker’ doesn’t bother offering reasons, doesn’t say what books, what pieces of writing, in what manner forced him to conclude that László Krasznahorkai should shoot himself; it is enough, the political thinker decides, that his vision is too bleak. He accuses the writer of self-pity and concludes he must find the country unbearable, that he regards its citizens  as pigs wallowing in mud, and that he doesn’t even have a longing for life elsewhere because he feels dreadful wherever he is. G Fodor Gábor further predicts that the writer will leave nothing [of value] behind him.
The works of László Krasznahorkai - very like the works of other successful Hungarian writers with an international reputation - are naturally a subject of literary debate. It is possible, however, to suggest that his name - much like the names of other internationally prominent Hungarian writers - will be remembered after the names of many political figures and  thinkers are long forgotten. It is also worth adding that Krasznahorkai - much like other internationally prominent Hungarian writers - has never in fact compared the Hungarian people to pigs wallowing in mud and that the purpose of his work is not to condemn ‘Hungarians’,  his actual purpose being - like the purpose of other internationally prominent Hungarian writers - to write novels rather than to blacken the reputation of his native country. Those who regularly report writers for crimes such as this to the - so far only virtual - Bureau of Hungarian Identity, do of course know that all this is nonsense but they like to remind us now and then who really runs the country and where the God of the Hungarians has his true dwelling. This time it is this political thinker, of whom I have never heard, who has taken on this popular role and one wouldn’t even notice he had done so had the idea of the gun not appeared as a new element in literary discourse.
It is an old demand that those dissatisfied with things should get out of the country, but the suggestion that they should shoot themselves because they are ‘solitaries’ or because their vision is bleak is so far unprecedented. What’s next? Will they provide the gun?

This gives a rough idea of what constitutes 'political thinking' in leading Hungarian circles. It amazes me how writers such as Fodor have no recollection of the Stalinist period they truly claim to hate, which the last time optimism was a duty and when a major Hungarian classic like Imre Madách's epic verse play, The Tragedy of Man could be savaged for not being cheery enough about human prospects (and indeed about socialism). 

It's Orwell's animals and farmers again. The totalitarian instinct is the same whether it comes from the far right or the far left.

Fodor's political organisation, according to sources, gets huge commissions from the government. 


Gwil W said...

I am sharply reminded of the unfolding case of the Munich art dealer Gurlitt and 'his' 1406 artworks by 'degenerate' artists such as Kokoshka and Picasso most of which were classified as 'degenerate art' and therefore seized by the Nazis from various museums in the Reich as being unsuitable for public taste. And of course the bonfires of 'degenerate' books, included for example all works by George Orwell, even Animal Farm, on the Nazi's lists.

Brian Kirk said...

Reading this I am also reminded of Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern's 2008 public statement to the effect that anyone who talks down the Irish economy should "go and commit suicide." Within months the economy had collapsed while he resigned with a huge state pension.

George S said...

There are parallels it is true, none of them good. The two rival academies of the arts in Hungary are divided. One has the outstanding writers, poets, architects, film directors and so forth: the other has the money and the patriotic agenda.