By the Author at the Request of the Publisher

Sándor Szathmári
Translated from Esperanto by Ralph Dumain

My Life and Work

I was born in the year 1897 in the Hungarian town of Gyula. My father had a law degree and was an official in the state financial directorate. In his post he was transferred from place to place. So I went to school beginning in Alsókubin (now Dolny Kubin, Czechoslovakia), then a middle school in Lugos (Now Lugoj, Romania), and I had to recognize the national antagonisms which I never understood and considered from the start a senseless complication of life. Those experiences gave me my first impetus to become an Esperantist. I started learning the language at the age of 14. In this linguistic movement I saw the embodiment of my humanistic ideas more and more bubbling to the surface.

One time “Papa” (Julio Baghy) asked me when I became an Esperantist. I replied: “I am an Esperantist from birth.” And then we both recognized that being an Esperantist possesses a higher, richer sense than being an adept of an international language; it is a destiny, a mission.

In 1915 I arrived in Budapest, at the Polytechnic, where I studied in the mechanical engineering department. After receiving my degree, I became an engineer for the manufacturer MÁVAG, which had various factories in heavy industry with 30,000 workers, and where I was employed in machine design.

The world’s sufferings during World War I filled me with despair and made me think about the fate of humanity. After the war, the establishment of the League of Nations seemingly cast a ray of hope toward a sunnier future, but in a few years the global economic crisis and the more and more visible germination of the Second World War convinced me of the hopeless state of the human race.

In my innermost self the correctness of Mádach’s work, The Tragedy of Man, shone ever more clearly, that man incessantly struggles and hopes for a better future, which nevertheless never arrives. The human race will always make itself suffer.

I was similarly enlightened by the grand intellectual meaning of Swift’s Gulliver: the human soul has an internal structural defect which makes it impossible for us to live a perfect life.

In 1931 Péter Illéssy, an eminent painter and a clear-thinking philosopher, said to me:

“I have an idea for a painting: above sits the Buddha in a lotus position, and raising his index finger, is teaching. Next to him is Jesus preaching with outstretched arms. In the central section of the picture lies a Sphinx, half-covered with dust, and below a waning Moon. What sort of title would you propose for this picture?”

After ruminating on this a bit, I said:

“Let the title be: ‘In Vain’.”

That same year I attempted to describe my experiences in literary form. I wrote a fictional trilogy with the title: In Vain. The three parts took place in three epochs: in the past, present, and future. The characters were the same people, the same social types, only in different environments, conforming to the different epochs. Their fates were also the same: the hero’s enthusiasm is suffocated and the world continues to turn in its everlasting, monotonous sameness. The slogans, the conventions are different, but essentially nothing changes.

My trilogy was never published. When I finished the novel, I was already discontented with it, because while writing it I had thought through the implications of my ideas.

So in 1935 I started writing a new novel. That was Voyage to Kazohinia (Hungarian title: Utazás Kazohiniába). It was a Gulliverian adventure novel.

I intended this novel—for its very cosmopolitan tendency—to be published in Esperanto. The then-extant Budapest publisher Literatura Mondo [Literary World] accepted it for publication, which in the meantime was made impossible by the growth of Hitlerism. Literatura Mondo ceased to operate.

Then I prepared a Hungarian edition.

In 1941 Hungary remained outside of the maelstrom of war, and I succeeded in getting a Hungarian edition published, but only in a crippled form due to military censorship that excised the best parts. In spite of this compromised edition, its success exceeded my expectations, and the book soon sold out, but a second edition was only possible after the war, in 1946.  That edition also quickly sold out, but the times darkened again and a third edition was possibly only in 1957.

I sent the Esperanto text to SAT [Sennacieca Tutmonda Asocio = World Anationalist Association] in 1939, but the war intercepted that edition as well, and finally in 1958 the Esperanto edition—the original—was published.

I don’t have to introduce that work to the Esperanto readership. All the more so because Kalocsay wrote a brilliant introduction, illuminating the novel’s tendency: technology has totally transformed our environment, but could not transform our instincts, which are still suited to a primeval environment, to a once bestial life, to the state of the “struggle for existence,” instead of the present mandate for “peaceful coexistence.” Now we find ourselves in a grave crisis. If we cannot accommodate our instincts to our mechanized environment—like the Hins in the novel—sooner or later we will exterminate ourselves with our very own machinery.

It’s not flattering, not even a palatable prophecy, but the times have more and more confirmed the principles I worked out in 1935.

Is it a pessimistic world view? Yes. But it points the way: we must at least bridle our instincts, recognize them and trap the tiger in the cage. We cannot alter our nature, but raising our consciousness maybe could reign it in. And the aim of the book was only this.

As with virtually every symbolic work, Kazohinia was also misunderstood by many readers. Therefore I must point out, that the meaning of the title story of this book, Machine World [Maŝinmondo], is almost the same: technological evolution is an unstoppable process, which drives the arms race to the stage when the human race will either adapt to the demands of its new environment or perish.

But this new environment demands a new set of mores, a new aesthetics, even a new array of instincts, which are still foreign and untenable to us, disjoint from our organism as it is, given by nature.

We have hit upon a grave dilemma, which becomes more and more acute, but we can neither adapt to nor halt the process. It is dragging us step by step to the abyss.

Another purpose of the story is to show that every process evolving to its extreme finally morphs into its opposite, like two arcs of a circle going in opposite directions. In this case, the unlimited perfection of matter encounters its antipode: the purely immaterial world of the ultrasubstances.

I must also point out that the story about the composing machine [kompofono = compose-ophone] was written in January 1957, thus at a time when experiments in automated composition had not yet transpired. I read articles a few years later about such research projects.

I wrote my first article in Esperanto in 1932: Emba, the poet who died not long ago, sent it off and got it published in Sennaciulo [Anationalist]. I was able to write for the Esperanto press only after World War II. My stories were published in Norda Prismo [Northern Prism], Esperanto magazine, La Nica Literatura Revuo [The Nice (France) Literary Review], Belarto [Fine Art], Monda Kulturo [World Culture], Progreso [Progress], etc.

I must give special thanks to my eminent friends Messrs. Albault, Auld, Bartelmes, Lagrange, Régulo Pérez, Sadler, Szilágyi, Waringhien, whose assistance and understanding support gave me incalculable encouragement in my work.

And last, but not least, I must thank Kalocsay not only for his help, but mainly for his brilliant translation of the story “Vincenzo”, by which he showed me the way, how I should write, if I wanted to be not only a writer, but also a maestro of our language. Namely, I wrote that story in Hungarian and only afterwards Esperantized it. The story pleased Kalocsay, and he too translated it, incomparably better.

©2012 Ralph Dumain. All rights reserved.

SOURCE: Szathmári, Sándor. “Epilogo de la Aŭtoro je Peto de la Eldonisto” (Mia Vivo kaj Verkado), in Maŝinmondo kaj Aliaj Noveloj (La Laguna: J. Régulo [Stafeto], 1964), p. 177-181. Translated by Ralph Dumain, 5 May 2012.

Epilogo de la Aŭtoro je Peto de la Eldonisto
de Sándor Szathmári

Vincent” by Sándor Szathmári, translated by Ralph Dumain

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

Esperanto & Interlinguistics Study Guide / Retgvidilo pri Esperanto & Interlingvistiko


Sándor Szathmári @ Ĝirafo

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