02. 20. 2014. 13:07

Szilárd Borbély 1964–2014

One of the most important authors of the mid-generation, poet, writer and literary historian Szilárd Borbély died on Wednesday in tragic circumstances.

Borbély's first novel The Dispossessed (2013) was generally considered by critics as well as readers as the best book of the year. Borbély, who was also a literary scholar and an associate professor at the University of Debrecen, had about twenty volumes to his name, and was awarded several prizes, including the Attila József Prize.

Berlin-Hamlet (2003) is his only volume available so far in English translation, by Ottilie Mulzet. In the 2000s, Borbély steadily published a volume, sometimes two volumes, each year. Most of these were centred, in one way or another, around the tragic fate of his parents, who were victims of a brutal robbery. These include Splendours of Death (2004), later published in an expanded form, with a third section entitled 'Hassidic Sequences,' and a volume of essays entitled The Secondary Threads of a Crime (2008).

Talking about The Splendours of Death, Borbély said in an interview:"I felt all through that it was not me writing but a larger force; I merely noted down some things. Writing is basically a gift, like any talent. We can see all those instances when someone becomes a servant of their own talent, because talent is selfish and cruel. This is also a manifestation of that larger force which guides the hand, which guides a human being. So this is how it happened that I unwittingly gave out the bloody tragedy of my parents, and that I could seem like someone who is begging for sympathy. Basically, I do not like to show off my wounds. And the only way to achieve this is to reveal wounds that are not genuine; like beggars do: passersby see wounds that are not real but painted."

In 2009, he told Litera.hu: "We take for granted whatever is laid in front of us. For me, it was a natural given that there are murderers and there are victims. But I am hardly alone in that, there is nothing extraordinary about this. It is the opposite that is false; as if the world was full of peace and love. Whether man is originally good or evil: that is a false base, and it gives rise to erronous speculations. Moral ideas are speculative, and they create an untruthful world. Creation is terrible and indifferent; it is prior to ideas. Language also has such a layer or such a use, where words are no longer objects or instruments that serve communication. There, metaphors crash under the weight, and new meanings are born where the mediator speaks, whether we call him/her Christ, Messiah, Muse, or Spirit; that is where something happens between man and the world. But this is perhaps not the mysterious force of poetry or prose, but that of language."

In To the Body. Legends of the Transhuman (2010) Borbély draws on female conversational narratives, relating stories surrounding a mother’s experience with pregnancy and birth.

"Unfortunately, everything I have written so far happens to be too gloomy and too sad. This is not how I wanted it though. This is not how I imagined it, not at all. But unfortunately, I was not given an easy fate, even though that was what I always aspired to", Borbély said in an interview given to Litera.hu in 2011. "No, I cannot see a way out. But who am I? Nobody. Just someone trying to stay alive."

See interview with Szilárd Borbély
An excerpt from The Dispossessed in The White Review
Excerpts from 'Hassidic Sequences' in Asymptote Journal
Excerpts from Splendours of Death

Tags: Szilárd Borbély

ottilie ottilie 2014-02-24 12:27


Thank you for this tribute to perhaps the most important Hungarian poet of the early millennium. Borbély, sadly, did suffer from serious depression, as perhaps was inevitable, given the very difficult circumstances of his life. What this tribute unfortunately omits, however, is that he also found life in Hungary to be increasingly untenable, particularly since the rise to power of Viktor Orbán in 2010, and the attendant increasing tolerance of hate speech and the highly disturbing spread of extreme far-right tendencies in Hungary. These factors must be mentioned in connection with Borbély's tragic and untimely death. Not to do so is ,in my view, a grave omission.