09. 28. 2007. 09:06

Constant self-therapy

On the death of Alaine Polcz

Alaine Polcz, writer, founder of the Hungarian Hospice Movement, psychologist, thanatologist and widow of Miklós Mészöly, has died at the age of 85.

She lived in a twilight zone. As if she were leaning on a fine sword with a broken blade: this was the motto of a book by her husband, Miklós Mészöly. When he wrote it, he probably did not think of his wife, Alaine Polcz, though Akutagawa's sentence rings true for her as well.

The fine sword with a broken blade stands there in the epic space of Alaine Polcz's great Wartime Memoir (see our review) with a solid insistence. This documentary novel, in which she evokes her memories of World War II, is an imprint of unrequited love, emotional defencelessness, rape and mental annihilation, one of the most staggering Hungarian literary documents of the war. The fitting place for this book, an experiment in the vivisection of the female soul stripped naked, is next to Sándor Márai's 1945 novel, Szabadulás (Liberation). Yet while she wrote dozens of books, she never regarded herself as a writer.
 
Her acts were heroic because she lived in constant self-therapy. And she wanted to be solidary with everyone, even though she knew that this was an illusion, the greatest of all existentialist illusions, the utopia of utopias. Perhaps this is why she needed to remain in a twilight zone.
 
Alaine Polcz founded the Hungarian Hospice Movement, perhaps because she had been preparing for death ever since she finished her Wartime Memoir. She worked for a long time in a children's hospital in Budapest where she closed the eyelids of many children who had died of cancer. Perhaps the reason why she was able to give a final, warm touch to so many dying children was that, as a result of being raped by Soviet soldiers during the war, she became sterile. ”Death is part of human life”, she repeated the well-known, banal phrase over and over, touching me from time to time, during our shameless conversations about death. She usually touched my hand or my shoulder in moments when we were supposed to be sad. Yet this was not a female touch, nor one of consolation springing from melancholy, but a touch of life. And of the blind hope that living is worth it, after all. She wrote many books about the culture of agony, of passing away, of saying goodbye. About the decline of the dignity of mourning. She was a pioneer in that field in Hungary – a pioneer of a death that would be worthy of a human being, of the ritual of passing away.
 
She also wrote a culinary book entitled Fozzünk örömmel (Cooking with Joy). It is not a gem of gastronomy, nor did she intend it to be one – it is a gesture of solidarity. 
 
Alaine Polcz was a child of her age, yet she was also very much a lady of olden times. A doctor, and a permanent patient. The handmaid of a great writer, and a grande dame. Few people know that the basic material of the greatest 20th century Hungarian novel about Transylvania, Miklós Mészöly's Pontos történetek, útközben (Precise Stories along the Way), was handed down to Mészöly by her.
 
Two fine swords with broken blades. Now both of them are gone.
 
László Szigeti

Tags: On the death of Alaine Polcz