Those who transmitted and disseminated these books did not always — some in fact not at all — draw directly on the unabridged originals. A Hungarian translation of Utopia appeared not long ago, and Gulliver had been well known to Hungarian readers through adaptations for young people before the complete translation was dashed off with careless genius fifty years ago by Frigyes Karinthy, Swift's alter ego in Hungarian literature.
Even the greatest luminaries of Hungarian literature have always been tinged by some national form of romanticism, and as a result the Hungarian public has had to suffer and assimilate the effects of the series of earthquakes that began around 1900 and have continued to this day before it could adapt itself to receive and reflect on the universal and philosophical implications of the two works.
One of those who knew how to receive and develop these implications is a rather isolated figure among Hungarian writers, but nevertheless increasingly popular with a growing section of the reading public. He was Sándor Szathmári, the author of Kazohinia. The story of the novel is a novel in itself. The book has been published four times in Hungarian. The title of the first version was Gulliver utazása Kazohiniában (Gulliver's Travels in Kazohinia). The author then realized he had no need to make use of Gulliver's name in the title; it would in fact lead to misunderstandings for the novel deals with something quite different, or-at least-with something different as well.
Kazohinia is about the travels of a modem Gulliver. An English ship's surgeon finds himself in an unknown island, in a country which, it appears, has reached the apex of technical civilization. Its inhabitants, the Hins, live a perfectly ordered existence, without emotions, desires, arts, politics or the other stimuli of ordinary people. Gulliver is soon unhappy in the bleak perfection of this way of life — as he sees it — and asks to be admitted to the closed settlement of the Behins, beings with souls and human atavistic traits. There he realizes that he has passed from the vacuum of an ordered existence without soul — as he saw it — to the suffocating fumes of a hell of lunatics teeming with obsessions, who had created gods, laws and rules for the destruction of their own lives. Fleeing from the Behins, he escapes from the island and returns home.
So at first sight Kazohinia is another Gulliver's Travels. Contemporary critics unanimously took it for a Hungarian version of the literature of social criticism which has spawned all over the world in the wake of Swift's work. This is of course only of interest from the point of view of literary history, but at the same time it is a merit of the book. Not many have followed Swift's path in Hungary. After Karinthy's Faremido and Capillaria, Kazohinia is the most important example of Hungarian utopian-satirical literature to follow in the footsteps of More and Swift.
It first appeared in 1941, more than thirty years ago. The critics reviewed it without much comprehension, but Karinthy himself declared that he would give all his works to have written Kazohinia. Mihály Babits, a leading Hungarian writer of the period, thought it excitingly interesting; it was his death that prevented him from awarding it the Baumgarten Prize — the most important Hungarian literary prize of the time. But the work emerged only slowly from the semi-obscurity of literary life. This was partly due to the fact that the author was not interested in producing a work of fiction as such, and took no part in literary movements. The name Szathmári was in fact believed for long to be a pen-name, even by readers in touch with the ins and outs of literary life.
The author was born in a small Hungarian town, Gyula, in 1897 and died in 1974. He studied engineering in Budapest under the extremely difficult circumstances of the period following the First World War, and began his career in a large state-owned factory as an engineer simply paid by the hour. During the years of his university studies, and later in the rare breaks from daily work, he continued his investigations into the natural and social sciences with stubborn persistence. He had every opportunity of observing the beggarly but arrogant, duel-conscious but cowardly monocled gentry, with their lacquered but leaking shoes; the thousand and one rules of genteel life which prescribed how large a parcel could be carried by a man of fashion without shame, with whom he could be on familiar terms, how to sit at a table, or reveal his opinion on matters of literature and politics. He became acquainted with the taboos of public life, lived through the world war and the world crisis. By 1930 his views on the world had reached such a stage of maturity and intensity that he felt compelled to put them on paper. Between 1930 to 1934 he wrote a trilogy called Hiába (In Vain), in which he attempted to point out how modem forms of society were leading it to a dead end. The work has never been published. By the time it was finished the author had outgrown it, in both content and form.
He settled down to his next novel in 1935. Having rewritten it several times, he eventually decided it was fit to be submitted to the master he had admired from afar. "Karinthy was a spiritual father to me," he wrote of this meeting. "The only Hungarian writer for whom writing was not just telling a story, but a means of drawing the reality embedded and entangled in a seaweed of lies to the surface... He was the first man who fully and thoroughly understood Kazohinia. When he spoke I felt as if it were I myself speaking; his words sounded as if they came from the innermost cells of my brain. I have never had such a perfect spiritual connection with anyone as with him."
The fact that Karinthy found the novel good had little effect on the censors' opinion. In the mounting insanity of the Second World War the hope that it would ever appear steadily decreased. After the censors' thorough scrutiny and the inevitable revisions, it was published at last by favour of an offended, snobbish censor.
Reviewers immediately started to talk about predecessors. Any Hungarian antecedents — apart from Karinthy — were practically out of the question. An important predecessor appeared to be Huxley's Brave New World. "I wrote Kazohinia two years before Brave New World appeared," wrote Szathmári, "I could not have imitated it more perfectly if I had tried. Anyway, it was my good fortune that it was conceived two years earlier, because there are so many similarities between the two that I would never have made so bold as to write Kazohinia had I read Brave New World first." Obviously the resemblance is due to the intellectual law by which in the same historical moment and the same circumstances, essentially similar phenomena appear in the various fields of European culture independently of one another.
There were also critics who misinterpreted the book. The worst distortion of the meaning was that the author had depicted the social world of the Hins' society as a horrible phalanstery and that the work was written to warn the readers against a technocratic, collective civilization, as terrible and unbearable to live in.
The first edition (Gulliver's Travels in Kazohinia) was very quickly exhausted, but the strict war-time censorship prevented its re-publication, and the second version (Utazás Kazohinicban — Travel in Kazohinia) only appeared in 1946. This was much fuller than the first edition; it contained the parts censored out during the fascist period, included new adventures and was augmented with a postscript to explain — unfortunately in a rather unhappy manner — the philosophical purport of the work. This edition was also snapped up by the public; those copies which still crop up from time to time sell at high prices to a growing band of enthusiasts. The third (1957) and fourth editions (Kazohinia) appeared without any cosmetic attempt to touch up the meaning; they are almost completely identical with the second. The author made only a few insignificant stylistic corrections, added a short dialogue on the aims of medicine and left out the postscript A szegény csepürágó dala (The poor barnstormer's song).
The root, of the misunderstanding over the novel was that it was unanimously taken as a social satire, whereas its principal formal interest lies in the fact that it weds two basically related forms which nonetheless usually take different directions: utopia and satire. As if Thomas More shook hands in it with Swift. Kazohinia is not a caricature of the phalanstery, but a prophetic image of the perfect life Szathmári holds up to a healthy mankind as an example. And as to the vision of the Behin settlemeat — very few authors have ever pictured the perversities of human life in a bitterer satire — its purpose was to lay additional emphasis on the beauty and truth of the Hins' perfect way of life.
Looking at the novel in the light of its own intentions it is immediately clear that this adventure story, this satire on the social environment long ago overtaken by science fiction and superseded by the changes in modern life, is not primarily designed to serve the purposes of the novel. The book is designed to be the picture of a basic philosophical idea presented symbolically, and it is this which the author is trying to convey to people untutored in abstract concepts of philosophy in a manner they can understand, or which at least leads them to reflect. According to Szathmári, man in contemporary life is a distorted being. He has lost contact with the impersonal — and consequently with the maintenance of the unchanging and eternal laws that govern the equilibrium of existence. He has become a "soulful" being desirous of transforming the realities of life to his own image, in compliance with his desires, demands and, above all, obsessions. What distorts his life and embitters his existence is, consequently, the soul. It is the soul that leads to culture, stimulates illimitable and unappeasable demands and makes people unhappy.
This wisdom has the advantage that it is as simple as a syllogism. The only purpose a syllogism serves however, is to encourage the lucid arrangement of our thoughts; it is not a suitable instrument for the interpretation of life as a whole. In the same way Kazohinia is remarkable both as a construction of the intellect and a work of literature, but not as an interpretation of life. Both Kazohinia and the Behin settlement reveal only one aspect of our place and role within the world of nature. This is the reason why Szathmári uses invented names and words — sometimes portmanteau words — for concepts, words which are not common, not Hungarian, not even like words in any European language. Naturally the atmosphere and the associations of these words in the Hungarian fail to convey the same implications in English; still, it is right that they have remained unchanged. What is important is that of all the names of the characters only Gulliver's name is familiar. He is the man living in his own reality between the two worlds of the novel, unhappy and lost in both the natural perfection of the Hins and the complete insanity of the Behins. And Szathmári, unconsciously and ironically subjective, has painted himself in his Gulliver so effectively that we can all recognize ourselves in him.
An ironic twist that frequently occurs in literature occurs here as well. The work slides away from the intentions of its author, it grows and develops into a whole according to its own laws. The author meant to make a philosophical thesis accessible by expressing it in pictures; the pictures, however, have become more interesting, more colourful and significant than the thesis. The novel,. without its philosophical intent, as in Swift's case — even in spite of it — is very amusing and fascinating to read. The picture of the Behin settlement, revealing the grotesque, tragicomical. reverse of our lives, connects more easily with the personal experiences of the reader and is consequently more popular. It is also more vivid than the other half describing with solemnity the Hins' world with somewhat of the clichés known from films about Utopia. Szathmári was not at all afraid of using the common approach, nor of borrowing from the penny dreadful. One of the main characteristics of his writing is precisely this somewhat awkward and prosaic style; the casual lack of concern of the average man writing up his diary, the writing of a man more intent on impressing on his reader the importance of what he has to say than the eloquence with which he says it.
Incidentally, he wanted to characterize the Hins' technical civilization in 1935 as being at a stage more advanced than ours by about a century. The forty years or so that have elapsed since then have overtaken all the innovations in the novel. The multiple-stage moving pavement, the door that opens by itself, the stereoscopic film, the telephone recording its message on a tape, the utility clothing seamed and joined by glue — have all come true today. The antibiotic ray oven in the different cillins and mycins, and the video telephone are nearing realization. And the fact that in the meanwhile man has stepped on the Moon, orbits research laboratories in space and with all his atomic weapons is preparing to destroy himself, is well known to each of us.
I should never dream of setting Kazohinia alongside the masterpieces of More and Swift, nor should I claim Szathmári as the father of science fiction. I only use them as coordinate points to chart its place in the system of world literature. For — as I have already mentioned — Szathmári was not a typically Hungarian writer; in his country he was a fairly isolated phenomenon, and it might be worth mentioning that outside his own country it was the Esperantists who first turned their attention to him. Kazohinia and his other principal work, Gépvilág (Machine-world), are ranked with the classics of Esperanto literature. And not without reason. The literature generated by Utopia, by Gulliver's Travels and science fiction generally would fill libraries. The main feature of Szathmári's novel is that it fused these three literary genres into one vision, a vision not carefully devised but, rather inspired. The story of Kazohinia is also set in an island, but in an island where the most positive and most negative possibilities of human existence are unfolded before the average man in a symbolic and imaginative panorama usually only accessible to poets and philosophers wrestling with the basic problems of existence. That his reverence and respect are reserved for the Hins' idealized, superhuman mode of existence, and his bitter satire for the distorted, subhuman chaos of the Behins, is natural. That he had to signal himself as an alien in both worlds is proof of his resigned knowledge of the human character.
Kazohinia is an important piece of writing, reaching beyond the limits of a national literature. I think that now, almost fifty years after its birth, in all the apocalyptic dangers of our days, it is time for it to be accessible in a world language as well.