Balogh Magdolna

5/22 Text

Magdolna Balogh – What are you working on this week?

“What are you working on?” – a question both easy and difficult to answer: as it so often happens, I’m working on multiple things simultaneously. It’s a situation we all know; being allowed to focus on a single work or task is a rare privilege. On the other hand, I can say that all my tasks point in the same direction as I try to grasp and understand the different aspects and views of the same greater thing, this week and always. In short, borrowing the famous sentence of my mentor, Endre Bojtár,  and rephrasing it to fit the current terminology, I’m dealing with Central Europe.

            Back in the day, this “slapdash” statement had a provocative edge: dealing with Central Europe meant rejecting the artificial separation of Europe, the Iron Curtain, as we do not be long to the East, but rather Europe (ie. the West). For a short time, a decade and a half, one could hope that it would indeed be so, and we’d find a way out of our history’s dead end, along with the region’s other nations.

            Since the 1971 publication of the essay Accuracy of the Eastern European in the periodical Új Symposion (being published in a tome only in 1983), much has changed, and much remained the same. The decades following the regime change have essentially confirmed that what we had imagined in the ‘70s and ‘80s about the future of Central Europe has become politically untimely: the vision of a potential future that the region’s illustrious intellectuals (from Konrád, Michnik, Kundera, through Miłosz, Danilo Kiš, and Havel, to Rudolf Chmel and many others) once outlined has lost all its relevance. This vision – to put it in general, simplified terms here – presented the peaceful coexistence of democratic Central European nations as an ideal, but we have seen and still see, what emerged instead: destructive nationalisms, wars, and dictatorships among the décors and ruins of democracy. Unfortunately, little to no change came in the spread of a regional consciousness, and in the familiarization with neighboring cultures.

            I know that some believe that there is no use studying the region anymore. Is it possible that we, who still deal with Central Europe, are only wasting our energies on some outdated academic issue? I’d like to think that it isn’t so. Looking at all the works created in the spirit of a Central European conscience, the publication of numerous literary works, essays, translations, and historical studies from our neighbors’ cultures, the tireless labor of renowned publishers, periodicals, and workshops, aiding in getting to know each other’s cultural accomplishments better in the region, it becomes clear that these cultural products constitute an important part of the recent past’s cultural history, while their social effect is negligible. Therefore I believe that in a cultural sense, Central Europe remains relevant as a program of self-knowledge and as a task.

            And it’s relevant for me from one additional perspective. It poses an exciting task for me (having no previous experience in such endeavors) to present a comprehensible and intriguing account of this regional renaissance, from the 1980s until the 2000s, and to explain its importance – accounting for the fact that in order to be understood by a foreign reader, the cultural and historical contexts must also be introduced. It is thus a great pleasure for me to be able to take part in Bloomsbury’s Literatures as World Literature series, working on the tome on Hungarian Literature as World Literature. This exciting project aims to utilize the observations drawn from general comparative literary studies and national literary historiography’s theoretical concerns and methodological conclusions. The most important conclusion of this work so far has been the underlining of the regional characteristics of Hungarian literature.