12. 19. 2011. 13:50

Close contacts: Miklós Mészöly

“We should not for a moment turn our back on the blazing sun, the present.” This is Mészöly’s torch that should be handed on. - Iván Sándor on Miklós Mészöly.

I had been acquainted with Mészöly before, but my first memorable encounter was close to 50 years ago, at the first night of his play Az ablakmosó (The Windscreen Washer, 1977). The play was banned after two performances, and reviews of it were also banned and Tibor Tüskés, the editor in chief of the literary journal Jelenkor was dismissed for publishing the text. I myself wrote about the first night but all I got by way of a response was a brief period of silence. The handshake I was given by him after that appeared was the above-said encounter.
    The Windscreen Washer had been put on in France earlier on in the Seventies, but French translations of his first novels had already begun earlier with the publication of Mort d’un athlète, 1965 (Az atléta halála; Hungarian, 1966) and Saulus (Hungarian, 1968; French and German, 1970) and had been received with a strong political response as it was initially embargoed in Hungary and only published hastily here after the French edition had appeared, both novels having been translated by the distinguished linguist and translator Georges Kassai.
    He is currently translating my novel Követés. Egy nyomozás krónikája (Following Up: Chronicle of a Legacy, 2006). In one of his most recent e-mail messages he reported that the editing at the publisher L’Harmattan will be attended to by Jérôme Martin, one of whose grandfathers was executed for acting as Minister of Culture for the French resistance’s underground government by Nazi collaborators in 1944.
    One wonders what M. Martin will make of it when he reads about the Russian siege of Budapest at the end of 1944 and a 14-year-old boy (the author of the novel today) who was escaping bullets at the same time as that grandfather was put in front of a firing squad.
    “Art in essence is also nothing more than a school of spaciousness…” (Mészöly, 1963; a volume of essays with this title—A tágasság iskolája—was published in 1977).
    Four years ago Georges Kassai sent me a copy of a valuable essay published in Revue d’Études Françaises about the role light plays in the work of Mészöly and Camus.
    Following that it is not uninstructive to compare the interpretations that those two writers gave to the function played by light in their novels with the lumière characteristic of the humanist cultural epoch about the extinction of which I wrote in connection with Péter Nádas’s Parallel Stories.
    Kassai dissects that with Camus the blade-edge invasion of illumination not only points to the cruel and murderous reality of L’Étranger (1942; English transl. The Stranger/The Outsider, 1943) but also to the illumination of explicit moderation in L'Homme révolté (1951; English transl. The Rebel, 1953).
    With Mészöly, he writes, the light in his short novel Magasiskola (High School, 1956) is revelatory; in Death of an Athlete it compels a person to consummate a life lived at full intensity.
    The Camusian light illuminates a cruel, absurd world but one that has to be accepted. Or in other words calls upon one to revolt. The object of that revolt is not historical but ontological. In Mészöly’s Saulus the blinding light calls upon one to convert; in Death of an Athlete it compels a record of one’s existence, Kassai notes.
    Does a writer see, can he see, light on this side of the aforesaid gulf of our zone? That is not the same as the matter of what and how a writer would “use” the light is his epic in order to illuminate the “situation”. Blinding light can in fact reveal precisely the disappearance of light.
    Mészöly compares the end of Endgame with Imre Madách’s play Az ember tragédiája (The Tragedy of Man, 1860). The Beckettian apparition, he wrote, corresponds to the end of the penultimate (‘Eskimo world’) Scene 14 of The Tragedy of Man: “right up to the last moment Hamm analyses and maps his own decomposition; he does not await, but nor does he receive, any Voice from outside. Adam (in Tragedy) and Hamm are two extremely different catalysers and endurers of the scandal of being.”
    To me it is a question why did the huge critical reception given to Beckett not notice (at least to my knowledge) that Beckett, who never, by so much as a single sentence,  designated any specific historical time, at one point broke with that conviction?
    According to recent historical-philosophical approaches, the ”dreadful 20th century” which persists to the present day started with the first world war, or the years which led to that outburst.
    In Waiting for Godot, written in the middle of that century (1951), looking both backwards and ahead, Vladimir says: “…You’d be nothing more than a little heap of bones at the present minute… It’s too much for one man…We should have thought of it a million years ago, in the nineties.”
    Mészöly’s recognition of Vladimir (Beckett), approached in more than one of his fragments, were of assistance to me when in surveying the present I made a start on my novel in progress, set in the first world war.
    L’Étranger (Hungarian transl. Közöny = Aloofness, 1948)—a novel to which he (we) repeatedly return.
    An awareness of life which today permeates the body, the soul, the consciousness.
    It is no easy matter to persuade people who have experienced and understood that everything depends on the present time to console themselves with the past and to try to soothe themselves with the future.
    “We should not for a moment turn our back on the blazing sun, the present.” This is Mészöly’s torch that should be handed on.
    It is already being carried in the dark arena of the recent times by the likes of poet János Térey. To quote from a poem of his entitled Magyar közöny (Magyar Aloofness):
    Peppered and misled, my people.
    By whatever master is to your taste,
    If you read, then you misread,
    And toll the alarm bell by broad daylight;
    I reached your incipient inhibition…
    Dismissive gestures all round and without number,

    Good humour prevails. Lackey culture rages,
    Pedlars at the nabob’s door…
    The blessed dominion blushes
    In the downpouring red mud…

So, ten years ago Miklós Mészöly died.

Translated by: Tim Wilkinson

Tags: Miklós Mészöly, Iván Sándor