Karinthy mocks Lukács



Incontestably, Lukács’s generation plowed deep furrows with Nietzsche in the Magyar wasteland. However, the Hungarian Mencken, Frigyes Karinthy (1887‑1938), parodied the attachment of Lukács and his circle to Nietzsche. In his brilliant “Zarathustra Notes” (1912), Karinthy laid an axe to all their intellectual conceit and posturing:

I came to ask you, may we not speak Hungarian? Verily, I tell you, there are many who love Béla Balázs . . . and in time Ferenc Molnár will listen to Lukács’s free lecture on normative pathos. Verily, I have come to reconcile those who complain that the Hungarian drama is going to pot because it no longer expresses absolute values. I say unto you, Georg Lukács and you Zarathustra, listen to the smart kids and consider what they are saying. And unto you, smart kids, I say listen to the old Zarathustra and consider what he says. But, to accomplish it, I implore you, old Zarathustra, keep your mouth shut. You cannot illuminate darkness with darkness. You persist, Zarathustra, in speaking to the people even though they only want entertainment. The role of the theater is to entertain. Verily, they call Zarathustra heavy and German, for he is deep and expects the same from others. He demands great thoughts, new ideas, and new inspiration. But what is one to do when all this depth, new faith, and new inspiration makes one laugh?. . . [108]

This parody resounds with plaudite amici — Applaud, friends! And many people in Budapest laughed with him. The fate of Socrates was decided on Aristophanes’ comic stage; Lukács drew on himself the bitter, brilliant enmity of Karinthy. This comparison suggests that the supreme duty of “tending the soul,” whether in Athens or Budapest, is never without its humorous or ironic side. Socrates defended himself in court against misrepresentation; Lukács remained silent, his loneliness deepening.


108 See Esztendö 1918, pp. 147‑50.




[On Lukács’ Béla Balázs and His Detractors (1918), attacking Nyugat for allegedly slighting Balázs]

What is of interest here is not Lukács’s view of Balázs the poet and dramatist. Defending Balázs’s “ethical concept” of the world, Lukács said that it would amount to “suicide” for him to acknowledge that Balázs’s detractors were right. [95] One of the literati said bluntly: “Balázs is not a sympathetic figure. His egocentrism and posturing offend people. His literary characters are parched for sympathy, understanding, and friendship. Lukács’s Béla Balázs is angry, militant, and arrogantly condescending.” [96] Thus, embracing Balázs’s art as “our cause,” Lukács widened the rift between his sect and society. The satirist Frigyes Karinthy, mimicking Lukács’s grave style, also sprang to Balázs’s defense:

Can it be tolerated that prejudice and mean-spirited opposition are about to triumph? If we do not speak up in defense of proclaimed truth, then what can a mother say to her child lisping at her knee, “Mama, tell me, is Balázs’s autobiographical [play] Deadly Youth a tragedy or not?” One day, the child is bound to ask the question. Oh, mercy on those who hesitate to answer this. This modest and thick book [of Lukács’s] fights for the future. [97]

This biting parody already indicates Lukács’s growing isolation by late 1918.


95 Lukács, Balázs Béla, p. 10.

96 Kornel Sztankovics, “Balázs Béla,” Hét 57 (1918), p. 315.

97 Frigyes Karinthy, Így írtok ti (Athenaeum, Budapest, n.d.), p. 128.


SOURCE: Kadarkay, Arpad. Georg Lukács: Life, Thought, and Politics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), Chapter 4 (The Nietzschean Moment), p. 85, 480; Chapter 8 (Leap of Faith), p. 198, 490.


Arpad Kadarkay on Lukács on Madách

Lukács in Moscow: RAPP, Mór Jókai, Socialist Realism

Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English

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

Georg Lukács’ The Destruction of Reason: Selected Bibliography

Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
Select Bibliography


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