08. 15. 2012. 11:40

Voyage to Kazohinia (excerpt)

Thus, as a humble student—or, as they termed me, a Belohin—I was, in spite of the medical degree I had obtained at Oxford University, assigned, to my shame, to a sort of elementary school.

This excerpt from Sándor Szathmári’s 1941 dystopian novel Voyage to Kazohinia (New Europe Books, 2012) is from the opening pages of Chapter 4. In the opening chapters, Gulliver, a patriotic British ship’s surgeon, is shipwrecked on the eve of World War II on an unchartered island in the Indian Ocean. There he finds himself in a futuristic civilization inhabited by a technologically advanced, albeit emotionless people called the Hins. His appointed mentor, Zatamon, explains to him that to the Hins, that which is in harmony with the natural order of things is “kazo,” and that which is disharmonious (a concept the Hins themselves find hard to grasp) is “kazi.”

*

The author is allowed into town, where he has some rather odd experiences. The Hins do not know money, and yet they are rich. The author engages in a debate on money and production. He comes to know the Hins’ streets, parks, restaurants, and library. He undertakes a fruitless investigation into the past and the morals of the Hins.

Thus, as a humble student—or, as they termed me, a Belohin—I was, in spite of the medical degree I had obtained at Oxford University, assigned, to my shame, to a sort of elementary school.


I had to admit that their knowledge of the natural sciences was more advanced, but as a loyal citizen of my country, I knew full well that there existed not only objective facts, but also patriotic duties. But I took care not to declare this in front of them, so as not to afford them fresh unfounded grounds for their own national pride to swell.
So, in order to avoid this slight, I tactfully mentioned my degree to Zatamon—a degree that, with all modesty, did show some degree of knowledge and education. I was not, however, able to resist remarking that its being taken for nothing would have meant the deprecation of my nation as well.

Zatamon, however, replied that life was everyone’s private affair; he himself knew best what kind of knowledge he lacked. My being a Belohin meant only that if I asked anybody a question he would reply.

Thus I came to know that in fact I was not actually confined to the hospital and was free to go into the town at any time. I had only to carry a certificate as evidence that I was a Belohin, for otherwise I would not receive answers to all my questions. This surprised me a bit, and put their politeness into a still stranger light—politeness that was, in any case, by no means overdone. As if to bear this out, Zatamon told me only that the  Behins were in the habit of making unnecessary inquiries, and an overly curious man might possibly be mistaken by the Hins for a Behin.

At this, I was even more astonished and asked why, but his response reassured me.

“The Behins,” he said, “often make passersby stop and begin to talk of the most diverse, nonexisting—that is, kazi—things.”

Here he took out his notes and read aloud some passages. “One of the Behins, for example, claimed that the plum was not to be eaten, but should be set aside and contemplated. When asked why, he replied, ‘Because it is blue.’ Another asserted that trees talked, and a third that people had to suffer because this would alleviate hunger. A fourth demanded that people who saw him should put their hands on their bellies, and a fifth put a wire ring on his head instead of a cap, and commenced explaining to everyone that this suited him better, as he was taller this way.”

This finally reassured me. I saw what he was hinting at, and I in turn reassured him that he did not need to fear mental disorder in my case.

He issued my certificate, however, and with it in hand I resolved to go out into the town. The first surprise of this excursion was that the Hins had no money. Although on my arrival I had already noticed that my guide did not pay anywhere, I could not imagine that money would be absent altogether. I realized this as soon as I entered the hospital subway station.

I took it for granted that the railways of such a developed town would accept foreign currency, so my eyes immediately sought a ticket window. As I did not see one anywhere, I wanted to ask the first Hin, but it was only then that I came to realize that in spite of my having studied thoroughly, I did not know what “money” and “ticket window” were called in their language. Interestingly enough, this deficiency had not hitherto occurred to me. I knew, however, that my own country had always played a prominent role in the dissemination of humanitarianism and culture—the most eloquent proof of which was our colonies and the international prevalence of such words as these. And stepping up to the first Hin, I said, “Money! Business!”
To my great amazement he did not understand. Taking out my wallet, I showed him some coins and explained in their language that I should like to change them into theirs. He, however, replied that they had nothing of the sort.

At this, I asked him how I could get into town by streetcar. He turned to leave without a word. I was about to express my indignation against such groundless haughtiness, the likes of which I had not experienced even in Spain, when Zatamon’s words came to my mind and, getting out my Belohin certificate, I showed it to him.

The Hin immediately changed his attitude toward me, relating in detail, almost verbosely, every technical particular of how to board a streetcar. When the door opened I was to enter, then I should sit down, and so on. I told him I was not an idiot but simply wanted to know whether I was supposed to give such pieces of metal to anybody so the streetcar would take me. He, however, retorted that whoever did not know the technical details of boarding a streetcar was not necessarily an idiot, but the sanity of anyone who wanted to use metal coins to start a streetcar when he knew perfectly well that it was operated by electricity was more justifiably to be called into doubt—which he was prevented from doing so solely by my Belohin certificate.

The frustrations continued to mount before I realized that they had no idea at all about money.

When the streetcar arrived and we got on, my first question was how they transacted the exchange of goods.

It came to light that everything took place entirely without money. Factories turned out goods but nobody received payment. Goods, on the other hand, lay in warehouses for one and all, and indeed everyone took as much as they wished. I could not imagine how maintaining order was possible in this chaos. Just imagine what would happen if, for instance, our railways were to carry passengers with neither conductors nor tickets—free of charge. Apart from the inevitable bankruptcy, there would not be enough of a fleet to cope with the increased traffic. So I asked him whether it sometimes occurred that people traveled about aimlessly and unnecessarily by streetcar.

“No,” said he. “That would be kazi.”

“But, even so without a conductor, it might still easily happen.”

Naturally I had to explain what a conductor was, to which he replied that it would be really kazi if a person were on a streetcar just to travel about aimlessly and unnecessarily while the streetcar could go quite as well without him.

I had to explain anew that the conductor was to prevent aimless and unnecessary traveling about, to which people were otherwise rather inclined.

“But why would a person do that,” he asked. “when everyone has the opportunity to spend his time in a useful occupation?”

“Well, let us say instead of going to work, he might go to the mountains, where he could sit down and take in the gratifying sight.” I wanted to say “beautiful,” but they have no word for it, just as there is none for “tourism.”

“How could it be gratifying,” he answered, “for someone with rested muscles to sit idly in the forest? Anyone who does not work will not find resting pleasant, either.”

“Not to sit down but, say, to go up to the mountains to find gratification in seeing the environment and the flowers.” They have no expression for taking delight in something. He did not understand, so I informed him that among us there were people who did not work but, rather, exercised their slack muscles in sport. From this he concluded that surely they performed strenuous intellectual work, and announced that for such people they, too, maintained standard gymnasiums and forest resorts. He by no means understood, however, why someone who did not carry out even intellectual work did not instead operate a machine or push a barrow, when it was much more sensible and interesting since it was useful work, grounded in “reality,” while sport pursued for its own sake was no more than imaginary work, a pale substitute for life, in which the unfortunate athlete did not participate.

I remarked that it was precisely those whom we call the rich who partake of the pleasures of life, and not the poor, and that rich people did not work.

“And whom do you call rich, and whom poor?”

“These words express the distribution of money. Those to whom a lot of money has fallen are rich; those who have only a little are poor.”

“And on what basis is the money distributed?”

“If somebody has a lot of money, he is rich. Such a man will establish a factory or start a business. Accordingly, he earns more money than the poor man, whose money is not enough for this.”

This he found somewhat confusing, and vaguely demanded some “natural starting point”; and even after a lengthy explanation he understood no more than that some people have a great deal of money and others very little. Then, after giving the matter due thought, he exclaimed, “But then according to this, money does not exist!”

“Of course it does!” I said in astonishment.

“What does not exist in nature does not exist at all.”

I showed him my money in vain; what he saw only confirmed his assertion since, he said, whenever he asked me for money I could show him only paper, gold, or silver, but no money. I had never been fond of empty word play and it was only my politeness that prevented me from telling him so. Thus instead I asked him how they transacted the exchange of goods.

To this he replied that although he did not know why it should be necessary to exchange, say, our coats when his fitted him as well as mine fitted me, but were it nevertheless necessary for some reason, he did not understand even then what money had to do with it.

“Money facilitates the exchange,” I said, “and so furthers economic development.”
At this his expression changed at once, he produced a notebook from his pocket, and he asked me to expound on the matter in greater detail because he wished to communicate any useful information to the manufacturing parties concerned.

I was delighted to be at his disposal, all the more so as I knew that by acquainting them with our more developed institutions I should enhance the glory of my country. I related in full detail that money is issued by a central bank in various denominations, from which everyone receives according to his merits, and that it is at the same time a license enabling its owner to take his due share of the fruits of common work. I explained the advantages of money; that it can be exchanged for anything, thus ensuring a free choice of goods; and that through money it is possible to convert the countervalue of the articles we sell, at any time in a lump sum or in installments, to other articles, and so on.

He expressed the view that exchange could not be easier, after all, if we doubled the work by involving the exchange of money. But, he added, clarifying this was not so important, either. Instead he preferred to know how money furthered production.
I explained that money made it possible for many people with small resources to join forces and establish a factory by purchasing shares.

“What are these shares?” he asked.

“Another wonderful invention of the human mind. Another type of paper, which is given in exchange for money.”

“And if you thus triple the effort devoted to the exchange, how have things become simpler?”

“That these papers enable work to start.”

He looked at me with suspicion.

“What would you say,” he asked, “if I told you that I can get up from this seat only after handing over a page of my notebook to you? It has nothing to do with reality—it is a nonexistent thing, isn’t it?”

I was astonished by this naïveté but tried to stifle my laughter. In vain I explained how money sets work in motion. He stubbornly replied that he understood this, but it seemed that we did not understand at all, since according to anyone with any sense, the starting of work had only one prerequisite, the starting of work itself, and not the exchanging of papers, which did not even exist in reality and  whose invention was a pity.

I asserted that money did exist, and that an eloquent proof of how true this was had been the world crisis that had almost blocked production.

“And why?” he asked.

“Because there was no money.”

At that he asked again why we had invented such a thing that did not exist.

Translated by: Inez Kemenes

Tags: Sándor Szathmári