08. 10. 2017. 17:07

The author is the text is the body - an interview with Kinga Tóth

Author of poetry, prose, comics, visual poetry, sound poetry, music, in Hungarian, in German and now in English too. Explorer of diseases, bodies and machines. Winner of the 2017 Literary Hazai Attila Award. Writer in residence in Iowa. Introducing Kinga Tóth!

Kinga Tóth has been awarded the 2017 Literary Hazai Attila Award for her first prose work: Moonlight Faces ('Holdképűek'). The book explores new perspectives of disease and sickness as forms of mutation and as characer-defining traits of a body. She has previously published two collections of poetry, Party ('Zsúr', PRAE) and All Machine (Magvető). English translations of poems from Party have been published in Poetry magazine. Similar to Moonlight Faces, All Machine also explores melding the concepts of body, text and machine.

Besides defying genres and classical forms in her work, Tóth also defies her own language. Although she has primarily written and published in Hungarian, Tóth writes and publishes in German and English. She's attended writer's residencies in Germany, working in German, and has been invited to work at the writer's residency in Iowa in 2017, writing purely in English.

Besides writing, Tóth is the frontperson of the band Tóth Kína Hegyfalu, creating noise music and sound poetry. She's also a visual poet and illustrates all her books herself. She has been known to hold exhibitions and fashion shows.




In Moonlight Faces, you write about the relationship between ourselves, our bodies and sickness, sometimes in painful detail, and as a reader, there were moments I had to cringe, is that the reaction you wanted?

My aim with this book was to lead you into your body to help you understand and create-recreate it. To show you how it works, how it feels, how this amazing machine produces our moments day by day. I show this through immune and autoimmune diseases, where the bodily functions are different, where you are a tourist in your body; you have new characteristics and a new means to produce and create.

Besides that I want the stigmatisation of the ill (of people who live with bodily dysfunctions) to end. Raising the attention of these people’s daily lives and struggles but also their amazing characteristics, new functions and superpowers is very important to me. For example, is illness a metamorphosis to something new in evolution? What happens to us thanks to our diagnoses, allergies, mutations? What kind of new behaviour, identity, language (!!) is being born with these metamorphoses? What kind of powers and superpowers do we have?

You enjoy leaving deformities in your work; it's like all of your works are sick and deformed themselves, are you trying to create diseased pieces?

There are very interesting studies about disease or the monster in language in the text-body. Deformities (as I just wrote) are changes, and changes keep the living phenomena in movement and improvement. For me deformities are new codes to create new forms, new entities. Language must change in the same way that we ourselves change with our travels, illnesses, diagnoses, immersions. Otherwise there is no improvement. So are these creatures actually diseased, or simply new forms with new characteristics and catalysts?

Besides Hungarian, you write in German and are now writing in English, what do you enjoy about writing in languages that aren't your mother tongue?

I love playing and experimenting, entering new spaces, new rooms, such as a language, a country, another person, living phenomena. It's always a big test of your bravery, but I really find this important; to be open to and enjoy entering and exploring the new, the other, attempting to connect with that, communicating with it and forming your identity and other identities with the mishmash you cook from the ingredients you find. Of course, you don't use the foreign language like your mother tongue, that's the game, the challenge, your work will be different, you need to use new codes and you can gain a new perspective of your mother tongue or the way you think in your mother tongue. I have been writing in a combination of languages for a very long time and in the last 5-6 years I’ve been brave enough to show it, and to go further down this path of hybrid languages and organisms.

How does this process work, does someone help you?

First I made translations or adaptations. For example from my own book, PARTY we created a new adaptation with Rob Santaguida. This is going to be published by LCC Birds in the USA this year. I am completely convinced that these poems are 100% new, but even so they stay closer to the originals than a “regular translation”. In German I work with Sophia Matteikat, she is my proofreader and corrects my errors. Our first joint project Wir bauen eine Stadt was published last year by Parasitenpresse. In that work, you can find both hybrid texts (of both languages) and purely German texts. That book itself is a good example of this process. Starting from a thought in our mother tongue and adapting it into a hybrid text, where you use the most suitable form to describe regardless of which language gives you the best result. Then writing purely in the foreign language. It’s quite linear. Then again, it isn’t; there are gates between these levels or “layers” and you can always pass between them.

You've published work in German, which you never want to translate to Hungarian, why?

At the moment I don’t feel it’s necessary, this book Wir bauen explains the process of entering a foreign country, the language, the culture, the creation of a new identity (in language, too). It doesn’t make sense for me at the moment to recreate this process, I think it’ll lose its essence, its reason. But everything is worth a shot for the sake of fun. Besides the story you want to tell, fun is the other super important thing, did I say that already☺?!

With this book it’s also interesting that I wrote it in Jena. I was the first international, but German-speaking, person to be awarded the title of ‘City-writer’ of Jena. Then I spent three months researching in Bosch next to Stuttgart. So the book contains their marvellous code-languages, secrets, items, materials, machines – like the traditions and the communication of Jena.

Of course, it’s not only about my adventures within the languages, it’s also a big question of identity. I come from eastern Europe (I mean, central Europe!) from a system which forgot democracy. Imagine feeling like you’re a foreigner at home and in your mother tongue, and then you arrive to the West where you have to prove you don’t identify with the political system of your homeland (!!). You adjust and learn how to behave – so a new identity is born. You end up with complete schizophrenia. Your host organism also doesn’t know what to expect and you’ve no idea how to access it. On top of that, there’s the fact that you like your language and your culture, you want to preserve it (for yourself) while melting into the new one – such a sociological love story, isn’t it?

You're not someone who shies away from any medium: you've created exhibitions, fashion shows, you're the frontperson of a band, you create sound poetry and visual poetry, you're a multi-linguist poet and now an author too. Do all of your art forms interrelate?

To have an effect on all the senses, that’s how I understand »text«. For me text is alive, an organism, which has different forms, like written letters, visual contours, sounds, and a live existence – for example a performance. The sounds that I produce sometimes hurt, it’s about opening the body for the right sound, reaching and communicating with the other. In my concepts and projects I try to show different worlds, and this requires a different “behavior” from the author; a different function. Each of my texts/products has a typed text format, a sound and a visual format and me as an author or a channel. But each project requires a different effort and poses different questions.

In my performances I present the layers of the text and its circulation. »Living text bodies« bound to technology. The human (the author=the presenter) is securely fixed to machines. Mechanical functions present his/her organs and monitor their condition. It features colours, textures, sounds; inner and outer control and the human are linked.

My novel Moonlight Faces deals with modification of the body; illness as metamorphosis. Here, the illness is the basis of the development, mentally as well as physically. Does survival depend upon mutation (i.e. departing from the »norm«), madness or just adjustment? Illness, diagnosis itself and the process of deformation are a starting point. How can the text as a body adjust to these constantly changing circumstances?

The author is the text is the body. So the text goes through a metamorphosis, a mutation to survive, to develop. For this development it’s necessary to change on all levels, which means, while the author is changing, his/her text-body is changing, the whole “book” (the human body) follows this movement. Topics and motifs circulate and return but always in a new form which should be visible in the text, too. On the visual level there are pictures presenting the changing form with printed text and “made up” body parts, maybe forming a whole new text. On the aural level I’m still researching how to measure the sound of the body, how to show the change.

Were there any major influences on your work, be they author, poet, musician, TV show?

It’s not easy to talk about influences, because for me it is most important to find your own voice. Naturally I use my experience from work and study (factories, machines, function, noise and experimental music, classical music, languages etc. biology, language and communication theories, body and illness theories). I love experimental and noise music, this inspires me a lot, and I always travel with my double Bs: Barthes and Batman. They contain everything I need on my journeys and hopefully keeps my brain in working modus☺

Most of this year I spent in Germany, so the new German literature, the Anthology of Antropozän Lyrik, all dies hier, Majestät (KOOKbooks), gives a great view of what is going on in German poetry. From Hungary if I need to say something in 5 seconds: I’m a huge fan of Katalin Ladik’s work, and am really looking forward to Orsolya Fenyvesi’s new book whose manuscript I read recently; a phantastic dialogue-essay-poetry book!

Owen Good