2014. május 20., kedd

In Mixed Lands / For a backround of Psalms 102-103

Norman Adams, The Golden Crucifixion (1993)
I have not yet decided in which language to stay. Living abroad, option one is to lay myself down day by day into a language which makes me handicapped compared with what and how I can express in my native language. I am about to stay and speak and work in this second language. I am well aware of, with years of experience that I have, that living abroad can be painful and at stages is indeed painful. I do not know, will have to ask my friends who spent a lifetime here, if the originating centre of our consciousness can ever be forgotten. For someone like me whose primary medium of expression is language, it seems difficult. My instrument is language. That language, which like a faithful sea with its energy and riches, gives a continuous support to be interested in naming the new shores of my life. Language − Hungarian − prompts me to think and order the complex experiences of this world of constant expansion.
Tens of thousands have left Hungary and came to work in the United Kingdom. Sooner or later they will undergo the same initial birth-pangs of being born, however temporarily, into a new language. You cannot exist in your old identity here. It must undergo an expansion, a fermentation.
It would be interesting to know and share: is it indeed happening to all of us here that the mother culture inside starts a strange 'dying' in us. What normally would remain hidden, here, without words, without any conscious deliberation, starts echoing. All the classics of literature, our national thinkers, past generations embracing the identity of being a 'magyar' (Hungarian) − start whispering like will-o'-the-wisp (lidércfények). And all this whispering is underneath the present. (In a sense, Bartok's homesickness was similar and different. He has chosen the state of exile as a protest against Nazism. Yet, there was a constant yearning for return. He died from an unquenchable desire to be reborn in the mother culture and language he left behind. His leukaemia manifested this underlying pain of being cut off so dramatically from the centres from which his music developed from and wished to serve.)
I have been thinking a lot about this experience of becoming decentred. This experience is hardly named. Sporadically, I follow the programmes of the Hungarian Cultural Centre (Balassi Institute, London). They offer excellent events where the continuity with the mother culture can be cultivated. Yet, this new type of silence, the 'migrant's passion', even there remains unnamed.
It would be worth to develop a culture of sharing this specific experience. Being magyars in a global world − how does it feel? This is a specific knowledge. Not only of ourselves, not only of the host culture which offers hospitality. But first of all, this, potentially, is a very specific self-knowledge of us, as Hungary. There are two options. We came here, work here, earn money, passively, suffering all the pains of an economic migrant. At the end of which journey one usually returns to his or her country. I firmly believe that there is a second option. When identity is actively developed, and the old and the new identities, are integrated. This can be a time of cultural creation and of moral growth. When the consciousness of the migrant becomes an active cell of one's nation's cultural memory. Yes, it is possible, to become a specific, almost autonomous local culture, which can contribute to a redefinition of what a 'nation' is. Still we do knot know what this new voice can and will say. All I sense is, at the moment, that this identity should not be a passive one, which is either the victim of the pain of nostalgic yearning for 'home' or a submission to the economic coercions. Economic migrants will never attain the dignity of a 'free citizen'.
Thinking about what it means to be a Hungarian − surely will differ from the routinely reflections with which we are familiar at home. Perhaps, this is my expectation, the cultural canon may come alive an a new way. Perhaps, if I start writing this London Diary again, I will have to explore this positive direction.
Without this positive rethinking of one's identity, I fear that one can only be locked in a permanent mourning. Which is, a natural reaction of the psyche. I myself has been making attempts to overcome this wounding nostalgia. Pain must be named; think of the unredeemed pain of the exiled Kelemen Mikes of Zagon from Turkey. This pain is not a shame, it is a state, and also, a lack of a supportive fellowship who share your local experience of 'exile'. However, this pain (let us call it the pain of Bartok) is the very ground upon which a new reflective culture can be erected. There must be a point when pain does not speak any longer - but a joyful solidarity and renewed openness to existence. Of which significant fruit is the renewed openness to the 'sending culture' and all its dying forms (in us, at home, and here).
In the Book of Common Prayer, for the 20th day of the month Psalms 102 Domine, Exaudi and 103, Benedic, anima mea, are thematically arranged. They perfectly express the dynamic of 'mourning' of old, and being reborn in a new identity. This is a powerful honesty which describes both states. 'Hear my prayer, O Lord: and let my crying come onto thee. Hide not your face from me in the time of my trouble.' This is the story of our migrant self, the story of our exile. A beautiful world of pain, which, has produced many 'Hungarian divines', wounded thinkers of outstanding quality from Ady and Márai (ongoing line).
However, the world of Psalm 103, is our redemptive, cultural archetype. 'Praise the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me praise his holy name...Look how high the heaven is in comparison of the earth: so great is his mercy also toward them that fear him. Look how wide also the east from the west: so far hath he set our sins from us.' Without this ascension to renewal there is no cultural creation. There is no home-coming. The Psalms, with their deep humanism, are indeed a guidance for our cultural condition − for that of our split and splitting presence. Psalm 103 confirms four us that, indeed, there is a 'new earth and new heaven', when our mother culture, through and in our fragile present, is being reborn.
It is also archetypal how Pilinszky lived the birth-pangs and passion of being a migrant of today. As if he was thinking in advance, anticipating, the wounds and missions of our postmodern fragmentation. His poetry − again an existential metaphor − is like Ikaros, staggering undecidedly between the worlds of psalms 102 and 103. A painful equilibrium, indeed. It is the task our generation to redeem his experience of exile expressed in the poem, On a Forbidden Star.

On a Forbidden Star

I was born on a forbidden star. From there
driven ashore, I trudge along the sand.
The surf of celestial nothingness takes me up,
and plays with me, then casts me on the land.

Why I repent I do not even know.
It is a puzzle buzzing in my ear.
If any of you should find me on this beach,
this sunken beach, don't run away, stay here.

And don't be scared. Don't run away. Just try
to mitigate the suffering in my life.
Shut your eyes and press me to yourself.
Press me boldly, as you would a knife.

Be reckless too: look on me as the dead
look on the night, seeing it s their own,
your shoulder there to aid my weaker one.
I can no longer bear to be alone.

I never wanted to be born. It was nothingness
Who bore and suckled me; with her I started.
So love me darkly. Love me cruelly. Love me
like the one left behind by the departed.

Translated from Hungarian by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri (In: Janos Pilinszky: Passio, Worple Press 2011)

Tilos csillag

Én tiltott csillagon születtem,
a partra űzve ballagok,
az égi semmi habja elkap,
játszik velem és visszadob.

Nem is tudom, miért vezeklek?
Itt minden szisszenő talány,
ne fusson el, ki lenn a parton,
e süppedt parton rámtalál.

S ne félj te sem, ne fuss előlem,
inkább csittítsd a szenvedést,
csukott szemmel szoríts magadhoz,
szorits merészen, mint a kést.

Légy vakmerő, itélj tiédnek,
mint holtak lenn az éjszakát,
vállad segítse gyenge vállam,
magam már nem birom tovább!

Én nem kivántam megszületni,
a semmi szült és szoptatott,
szeress sötéten és kegyetlen,
mint halottját az itthagyott.

20.19.2014, London, South Kensington.

2014. május 19., hétfő

On Pilinszky's Poetic Attention

Churchill-house (Chartwell, United Kingdom, f: bbeckett)
The world of the Psalmist is an intriguing one. Suspended between his life, which is in need of healing, and the desired state of recovery, the Psalmist becomes a migrant of prayer. His language can never be 'normal' again, ruled by the norms of this world's observation. The language of the Psalm is one that is always requesting a liberation from the calamities of the present, or it is always in the state of praise and thanksgiving. Here, or there, unredeemed or fully redeemed - but never in a blind state again. (I have been reading the Psalms these days, this time from the Book of Common Prayer, in the old language. Just to explain my opening metaphor, 'the Psalmist'.)
However, the spirituality of the Psalmist is much more about than being a pious wanderer journeying between his world and that of God. The spirituality of the psalms is the school of attention. The spiritual space, as if an aura, surrounds the Psalmist. Indeed, the 'person in prayer' who wrote the Psalms is a master of intense attention. There is no other explanation that the words of these ancient prayers have become so valid. And what is the scope of this masterly attention? It is cosmic. It embraces everything what can be observed in the encounter between the human and the divine worlds. What our world can learn from the Psalmist (and from  his God who sustains their conversation) is the quality-attention paid to all what surrounds us within and without. For it is this passionate embrace and gentile touches through which the world will feel it again that it belongs to someone.
And this 'belonging' is the key in understanding that the 'secular world', from the religious point of view, should never be used in terms of a negative value judgement. With the Psalmist, if we genuinely enter his spirituality, the 'secular' is never a 'godless' state. Not only for the reason being that first we, the 'religious', have abandoned God and it is we who have created this vacuum. Sadly, 'religion' tends to put the blame on the 'secular' environment. Instead of a 'secular world', with the Psalmist, it is better to speak of a world abandoned by our attention first.
Janos Pilinszky's short essays are master classes of this type of intention. These days of the Easter season, side by side with the Psalms, I am reading his short prosaic writings. I am dwelling particularly on the short essays written in the 1950s in Communist Hungary. He published them in the Catholic weekly, Új Ember. This journal offered Pilinszky an intellectual and spiritual refuge when he was silenced in the years following the 1956 Revolution. One can see Pilinszky as a late victim of the 'Zdhanov doctrine', which silenced the 'decadent' music of Bartok just a few years earlier. This mutilated aesthetics (hijacked by totalitarian politics) condemned all forms of 'bourgeois' art which were not praising the 'harmonious' achievements of the Communist regime − in a language easily accessible to the people. This type of 'outdated' art was pigeonholed as 'formalist' and condemned ideologically as dangerous. It was accused of abandoning the glorious Revolution.
In fact, the apocalyptic attention which Pilinszky's poetry exhibits was all but a servile idealisation of the Communist present. First, for Pilinszky the body of history exists in a continuity which is governed by inertia since the Fall. Its wounds are neither old, nor new since losing Paradise. For Pilinszky, there is only one proper way of approaching to this wounded history, through a universal and unconditional compassion. The categorical imperative of this poetry is to observe the smallest fragments in this apocalyptic landscape, remembering the painful memories of the victims. In this poetic anamnesis, the world exists either in an apocalyptic captivity − or comes alive, potentially, in love. In Pilinszky, the most this world can achieve is not a spectacular renewal but a precious inner purification. This revolution is an arrival to the threshold of hope for Resurrection. For this poetry, and this is its substance, the language of responding to the unconditional embrace by God needs to be re-learnt. Poetry and life reflected upon is our long purgatory.
Reading Pilinszky goes not simply against the taste of our age. The intensity of this poetic attention is a judgement on culture's superficiality which refuses entering our truer selves. Though his essays and poems will never ever be consumable for consumerist cultures, our postmodern present, if it makes the effort, can have access into Pilinszky's purifying world. When he examines and revaluates the facts of our abandoned history (abandoned by human care, abandoned by us!) he detects an all penetrating goodness beyond the limits of our perception. As if a cosmic radiation of an un-faced Beauty would slip through the matter of our existence. Tiny dots and sparkles of this unseen splendour break free from the beyond. The world is under judgement, it is true, in this poetry. This judgement, if the human eye surrenders to it, is experienced as mercy. This invisible light, however week it may be − it is only on the surface that Pilinszky's poetry reads pessimist −, is gathering among us and waiting for its 'weight' to have been full regained. This is the same tone of warmness that Bartok's Concerto radiates (from 1943, also written in exile, in the United States).
The poem Van Gogh's Prayer shows this light, patiently gathering at, and washing humbly, our thresholds. For me, this poem is a perfect illustration of what this type of poetic attentiveness is capable of observing. The unsurpassable attention of this apocalyptic Psalmist penetrates, literally, into the unreachable. This untameable poetry invites the invisible Angel of History to come among us stepping over the (invisible) thresholds of our exit-less postmodern present.   

Van Gogh's Prayer

A battle lost in the cornfields
and in the sky a victory.
Birds, the sun and birds again.
By night, what will be left of me?

By night, only a row of lamps,
a wall of yellow clay that shines,
and down the garden, through the trees,
like candles in a row, the panes;

there I dwelt once and dwell no longer −
I can't live where I once lived, through
the roof there used to cover me.
Lord, you covered me long ago.

Translated from Hungarian by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri (In: Janos Pilinszky: Passio, Worple Press 2011)

Van Gogh imája

Csatavesztés a földeken.
Honfoglalás a levegőben.
Madarak, nap és megint madarak.
Estére mi marad belőlem?

Estére csak a lámpasor,
a sárga vályogfal ragyog,
s a kert alól, a fákon át,
mint gyertyasor, az ablakok;

hol én is laktam, s nem lakom,
a ház, hol éltem, és nem élek,
a tető, amely betakart.
Istenem, betakartál régen.

19.05.2014 London

2014. május 12., hétfő

Thoughts on history / Gondolatok a történelemről

Dialógus (foto: Balintbeckett)
A párbeszédek fontosak az életünkben. Személy és személy között. Ember és Isten (avagy jobbik énünk) között. Ám felnőttségünk valódi jele, amikor felismerjük egy "harmadik" párbeszéd megjelenését. Ez a párbeszed lelkünk és a történelem között. Valójában értelmünk és a külső történelem közötti, őszinte beszélgetés ez. Belül történik, hangosan kiejtett szavak nélkül: belső reflexióban. Ezért a "lélek" beszél, értelmünk figyelmes megszólalása.
S muszáj belépnünk ebbe a belső tengerbe.  Egyszerűen nincs más lehetőségünk: hisz a magunk mögött hagyott út terhével, mint a Nagytörténelem bennünk nehezedő súlyával, szembe kell néznünk. Felnőtté válásunk elkerülhetetlen.

This is just like becoming a reflective eye between two languages. Living abroad and writing in both languages, in English and in Hungarian, is not a mere switching between the two. This is not like existing and using one language at one time, and using the other at another. It is much more like the aforementioned dialogue between the self and History.

My impression is that being an observer of both cultures, of what is left behind and that of the new acquired one in which personal existence at present unfolds, is itself that situation which makes this historical dialogue  necessary.

Usually, living only in one single language does not create this sense of being in a permanent Exodus. A "nemzeti nyelv", a nemzeti kultúra kizáróagos dominanciája, talán eleve predestináló oka is, hogy eleddig érzéketlenek voltunk a zsidóság történelmi tapasztalatára. Nevezetesen, hogy elönt bennünket, teljes súlyával, hőmérséklet- és állagváltozásával a történelem tengere. Ez a különös médium. However, now, when our pluralistic world is expanding into thousand - and less and less controllable - new directions, this sense of Exodus becomes the core of our existence. First, we sense this new world as something like a border. In the beginning it is a borderline phenomenon. In the outskirts of our observation. Then, slowly, this periphery grows into our very centre. And then, the "two languages", a két nyelv, merge. Egyesül. And this throws us onto the shores of this new existence.

Évekkel ezelőtt csak látogató voltam Angliában. Londonban. Semmi sem változott. Hazulról, a nemzeti kultúrából és nyelvből jöttem, s időről-időre ebbe az emlékezetbe tértem vissza. Abba a kollektív tudatba, mely önhivatkozó. Egyetlen viszonyítási pontja önmaga. S mely nemzeti kultúra határvédői, kerubokként, a magyar-angol és angol-magyar szótárak. Zárt szárnyú angyalok.

Belépni a Történelem (mint második anyanyelv?) és énünk közötti dialógusba, új felelősségbe helyez. Hiperérzékenyít a Nagytörténet iránti felelősségre. Indeed, it sensitises us for a much wider self-reflection. Hirtelen látni kezdjük mennyire a Nagytörténet részei vagyunk. Hogy, például (ma Pimlico-beli sietésem a St. Gabriel's be szülte gondolat), vajon megfordul-e fejünkben, személyes konfliktusaink közepette: a hirtelen nézeteltérések, a két ember között megemelt szó, vagy családi vita nem csupán egyéni seb. Hanem olyen felszínre bukó krízis, melynek kiváltója a Nagytörténet dagadó passiója. Sebeinkbe, személyességeinke tapadva.

That is why it is vital to undertake this conversation. Becoming fully human entails taking responsibility for these wounds. For the burdens and unresolved conflicts, often marginalised by us as careless bystanders. We need to become translators between our and 'his' wounds; or 'her' wounds. Who knows, perhaps this role of the translator, the facilitator of the Dialogue - makes God solely visible. Our taking responsibility for the wounds which we cause to the 'Nagytörténet' or History, in the end, exclusively, makes visible God's wounds. It seems that outside the dialogue between 'us' and the Angel of History, there is no perception of God. There is no visibility for Him/Her/(as bleeding) History whatsoever. If there is no attentive and responsible eye opened up in us onto the grand-narrative of history: there is no perception of salvation. We ourselves remain invisible to ourselves. Then, only blind 'English', 'Germans', 'Hungarians' and 'French' (etc,) will write their own stories obsessively and will see only themselves, narcissistically.

A zsoltárok világa ezért új szótáram és Bibliám. Exodusben született szem a zsoltárosé. Aki szüntelen képes két világ határán élni. Két világa határán. Nem két külön világén, hanem két világa (kinn és benn) határán, s ezért egyszerre közepén mintként történetnek. S amikor sikerül teljesen szolidárissá és eggyé válnunk emberi és emberen kívüli (s ebben az értelemben is isteni) világunkkal - nos, ez az a bizonyos "új ég és új föld" ami teremtetik. Csakis ebben a médiumban gondolkodva tudunk kinyílni egy olyan egyetemes szolidaritásba, melyből világunk sebének bekötözése megtörtéhet. Csakis zsoltárosként, a két világot beszélve, válthatjuk meg világunkat; avagy nyílhatunk meg a megváltásnak.

Usually, an emigrant is defined by the loss of their mother culture and language. One becomes a migrant or a refugee by an external necessity. Uprootedness is taking place owing to political, economical or cultural conflicts. The dialogue between the self and History is not taking place. Sadly, this seems to be our general (self-generated) destiny and condition. There is no other dialogue but that of the wounded migrants. 'Me' or 'us' with our wounds (or pleasures). My hope is to stay connected with what is left behind. This is the Psalmist's hope. My desire is to rebuild the unbuilt bridges of reflexivity. My hope is to become responsible for personal and collective pasts. Thus, through this Dialogue, I hope, this is my conviction with the Psalmist, we can continue a dialogue with our rejuvenated Present. When the unsung songs of history, the unsung Psalms, will be sung again. And I just wonder how it feels like being a Hungarian in this Psalmody. How does it feel being a European?

Also, it seems, that the question is not if there is a God or not. Statements on the existence of the deity are questions raised outside our non-existent Dialogue. The question of God (in the old sense) is almost secondary. The core problem, which should not leave rest for us, is as to whether we have the conversation between our true self and History, or not. In other words, is there a border (a penetrable one) between Exodus and our present history? Are we translating the wounds of History into our lifegiving hopes or the reverse is taking place?