Interesting bio today on Peter Nadas, a Hungarian writer, in the New York Times. The article alludes to strange happenings in New Europe, as a result of memory and fear, or, from this observer, history and drink. Either way, the result is some form of trauma brought on by the memory and experience of the past, memories that Westerners were not largely privy to.
“For lack of something better to do, I resigned, walked out, and turned my back on the system to save my soul,” he wrote. The era of so-called peaceful coexistence, during the cold war, compromised everyone’s morals, and words — issued by Hungarian authorities, or shared among friends who couldn’t help suspecting one another of being informants, or coming from the West, which promised help but didn’t give it — no longer meant what they were supposed to.
Mr. Nadas recently reflected in a Hungarian newspaper, Elet es Irodalom, on the ambiguity of William Shirer’s reporting from Germany while trying to skirt Nazi censors. Under such circumstances, “an ambiguous sentence is a triumph,” Mr. Nadas noted. “The human spirit rejoices in single-handedly outsmarting the state police.”
But then, can someone in, say, Boston, “pouring sweet maple syrup over sizzling bacon” understand “from such ambiguous sentences how deformed the thoughts and actions of someone can become who for years has used their mother tongue for hiding thoughts rather than for expressing them?” he asked. “How meaning slips around in the shadow of words, hissing through the gaps in their definitions?”
How, indeed. These comments recall the pained tales of many artists whose time has not yet come in the West. They all seem to allude to some form of terror, following from the uprooting of meaningful, authentic human relations. I suspect that in the coming years we will be hearing a lot more of Nadas, Czeslaw Milosz, and even Vaclav Havel. They each write about how words can become twisted, intentions can become shadows, and people can become prisoners as much of their self-made purgatories as the state. And yet, for each of them, something remains immutable. It is not, as Minnie Driver would have it, love. Rather, it seems to be as Havel would have it:
If we start with the presupposition that art constitutes a distinctive way of seeking truth – truth in the broadest sense of the word, that is, chiefly the truth of the artist’s inner experience – then there is only one art, whose sole criterion is the power, the authenticity, the revelatory insight, the courage and suggestiveness with which it seeks its truth, or perhaps the urgency and profundity of this truth.
We must never go back to this place where the voice of the state drowned the voice of the people.