Péter Hanák on Nyugat

In approaching the ideas, the intellectual content, of these years it becomes evident that the subjects of concern to Symbolism and the Sezession in Europe years earlier were dealt with in Hungary only in the decade preceding the war. Clearly the main theme here also was loneliness, chilling solitude, the severing of the communal transmission lines between communication and understanding—and along with that and from the same roots, the desire to escape, either into the self, the soul, the tower, or the Garden if you will, the harmony of the Garden before the Fall, and the adoration of beauty. Solitude, a lack of understanding, anxiety, the wish to escape—these might be seen as a legacy of Romanticism or a bohemian eccentricity, if only in the meantime there had not evolved a stratum from the urban intellectuals that, having lost its footing and become marginal, sustained this type of thinking. Creative solitude was making its way into the depths of the soul: Mihály Babits, Endre Ady, Dezső Kosztolányi, Frigyes Karinthy—all arrived at psychoanalysis, the recognition and acceptance of ambivalence as the modern form of existence. Resolve was sought in art, there was reverence for beauty. Out of this grew the Nyugat generation’s euphoria about language, their belief in the magic of the word; and this gave rise to the thesis of György Lukács and his circle that artwork is the primary reflection of reality. Now it became a constituent of literary taste to express amorous desires outright, whether that meant confessing to masochistic and autoerotic narcissism or the portrayal of sensuality in the nude.

With the decades-long delay of these subjects, their counterpoint came almost automatically. Ugliness, sin perishing, and death were expressed and made aesthetic. To Ady, Babits, and especially Kosztolányi, Gyula Juhász, and Árpád Tóth the prime mover of existence was a fear of death coupled with a desire for it.

Literature and art suddenly became colorful and polyphonic. In Babits’s words,

the old idea shall wear a thousand coats,
and the old form shall reappear
as the suit of the new idea.

Such was the renaissance of the capital and in part of the country at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Where there is such a polyphony of thought and form, there must be people with quite different views and from different subcultures, as was the case with this young generation. Temperament, tradition, and taste drew a chasm between, for example, Endre Ady and the young Mihály Babits and Dezső Kosztolányi, as they did between Zsigmond Móricz and Frigyes Karinthy and Milán Füst. Or taking the broader circle, it seems strange in retrospect how Oszkár Jászi and György Lukács could have been of one mind if only for a fleeting moment in history, or both of them with Dezső Szábó. How was the Nyugat able to embrace a man like Endre Ady, a scion of the arrogant gentry yet an heir of rebellious plebians, echoing such poets as Mihály Csokonai Vitéz, Sándor Petőfi, and János Vajda, to whom poetry was but a fancy lackey; and a man like Babits, who deferred to János Arany and continued that poet’s deliberate art, “objective poetry” with an aristocratic spirit, an erudite mastery of the humanities; and Kosztolányi, the clever artist of language, the generation’s most characteristically European and most subjective, narcissistically egocentric poet? And what was it that attracted to the capital’s intellectual elite the loners from Debrecen, Szeged, distant Fogaras, or faraway Székelyudvarhely? What was it that attracted, and what repelled them? Perhaps the promise of Europe and modernity; and then the spiritual emptiness of their environment that became animated only when it came to uttering curses.

SOURCE: Hanák, Péter. “The Garden and the Workshop: Reflections on Fin-de-Sičcle Culture in Vienna and Budapest” (1986), translated by Christina Rozsnyai, in The Garden and the Workshop: Essays on the Cultural History of Vienna and Budapest (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), pp. 81-83. Footnotes excised from this excerpt.

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

Hungara Antologio (1933) redaktis: Kálmán Kalocsay;
kunlaboris Julio Baghy, Károly Bodó, László Halka, Ferenc Szilágyi, Ludwig Totsche

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