Ralph Dumain

Studies in a Dying Culture
Radio program / podcast series (5/10/10 - )
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Studies in a Dying Culture
Podcast series under the auspices of
Think Twice Radio

7 May 2016

Frigyes Karinthy: the Hungarian Swift & his musical robots

Frigyes Karinthy (1887-1938), known in our English-speaking world as the creator of the concept of "six degrees of separation" in 1929, was one of the great innovative geniuses of modern Hungarian literature, as a translator and original writer of literary parodies, poems, plays, stories, novels, and essays with a satirical bent and a penchant for fantasy. Out of over 20 volumes of original works in Hungarian only a small fraction have been published in English and/or Esperanto translation. (Karinthy himself was an Esperantist.) This year marks the centennial of Karinthy's 1916 utopian novella Voyage to Faremido, in which Jonathan Swift's Gulliver undergoes his fifth fantastic voyage, this time to a realm of intelligent robots that speak or sing a language based on musical notes and from their vantage point of greater perfection present a counter-narrative of humanity's flawed evolution. I review Karinthy's life, work, ideas, and influence, with emphasis on Voyage to Faremido and its evident influence on Sándor Szathmári's Voyage to Kazohinia.

To listen (offsite) click here.

Karinthy's short story The Circus (A cirkusz), translated by György Welsburg, is discussed at the 24-28 min. mark. The story's conclusion, recited, is excerpted from the recording and can be found below.

The Circus

by Frigyes Karinthy

translated by György Welsburg

Concluding paragraph, recited

There I stood, all alone, on the carpet in the broad, white light of the stage. I ran to the centre with noiseless steps, the cone of the searchlight following me everywhere. With snakelike movements I bowed repeatedly towards the boxes, on either side. Then I got the ladder and quickly, without making a sound, and so easily that I did not even feel my body, I climbed to a height of four storeys. Up there I cautiously crawled still higher up a single thin pole, swaying a bit, until I got my equilibrium. Next, a table with iron feet, placed on the end of a pole, was reached up to me. I grabbed the table and supported two of its legs on the top rung of the ladder. Then climbing upon the table, I stood up straight, carefully keeping my balance. Now three chairs were set one above the other, and I could hear a contented murmur from below as I climbed up the structure. The legs of the last chair pointed upward, they quietly swayed to and fro, as with bated breath I set an enormous cube point downward on the end of one of the legs. The whole construction was lightly throbbing under me as if the beating of my pulse were running right down to the lowest rung of the ladder. Then slowly I crawled up it. I reached the pinnacle and relaxed. Hot drops of sweat slid slowly down my face. All my muscles were taut as a bowstring, and trembling. I waited till the structure stopped swaying, then, in a deadly silence, I straightened out, opened my robe, and drew out the violin … With a tremulous hand I laid the bow across the strings … now, groping with my foot, I cautiously let go of the pole … bent forward … balanced for a few moments … and, making use of the silence of terror, which tore open the mouths and gripped the hearts in the depths below me, slowly and quiveringly I began to play the melody, which long, long ago had resounded and sobbed in my heart.

Sound file: recital of this paragraph by R. Dumain (4 minutes).

Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English

Frigyes (Frederiko) Karinthy (1887-1938) en Esperanto

Sándor Szathmári (1897–1974): Bibliografio & Retgvidilo / Bibliography & Web Guide


Frigyes Karinthy @ Ĝirafo

Frigyes Karinthy @ 50 watts

The Circus by Frigyes Karinthy,
translated by György Welsburg

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