The Right to Sanity. A Victor Határ Reader

HATÁR Victor (Gyözö)

Victor Határ is a writer of a polymathic, entrepreneurial (commercially, philosophically and literarily) type that died out in English and American letters many years ago. This well-produced reader of his extensive work selects from fty years of writing spread across all literary (and some other) genres. It gives an insight into an adventurous, contrary mind that has doubtless developed with particular abandon and luxuriance partly from native exuberance of spirit and partly from the special conditions of being an exiled writer (in London) for much of his career, isolated from the literary machinations and constraints of the national capital, working, as his translator George Szirtes says, in his own ‘Nautilus, hidden under the English waves’. Jules Verne is an appropriate reference in that Határ too has a taste for producing half-realistic wholly tongue-in-cheek descriptions of ‘other’ worlds, in a kind of wayward, way-out form of social critique.

One form of this critique was to write a book (according to ‘My Dear Diary’ in this volume) pretending to be his own son, reasoning that he could thereby supply the trendy authorial youthfulness that he lacked and the market required.

There’s too much variety in his long career to pin down in a short review but some highlights here include the excerpt from ‘Archie Dumbarton — a metaphysical whodunit’ with its off-the-wall take on advertising’s exploitation of ‘the sexual revolution’:

Határ’s joyous and quite uninhibited use of language, his improvisation and inventiveness make him an extraordinary gure in Hungarian letters with its succession of dour political regimes and literary ‘standards’. He spells out his own philosophy of tolerance or the ‘Right to Sanity’ in an interesting piece entitled ‘Twilight of Erroneous Beliefs’ — a reection on the violent ideological transition from paganism to Christian supremacy in the Roman Empire, a reection only someone who had suffered the transition to Communism could have made in this way. There’s more of this too in the title piece ‘Right to Sanity’ where he pleads for both religious tolerance and for tolerance for the non-religious.

The collection includes a selection of Határ’s idiosyncratic poetry and a play (revived in English in London’s Hungarian Literature in Focus Festival in 2001) ‘The Chair-Lift’, a slangy, word-playing Magyar incarnation of the Theatre of the Absurd, in line with Határ’s long-established project of orchestrating a creative response to an absurd


age, at turns cruel and banal. RK Right after its conception, onto human blastula there will be implanted by genetic engineering a DNA spiral of receptor buds which, by being incorporated into the foetus, will make it capable of receiving and registering in its neuron certain radio waves

radio wave emissions will see to all innovations of consciousness and will marshal all brain activities; thus, the Central Ministry of Population Control will be in a position to download mood commands, shifts of temperament and drifts of thought onto the gray matter of the citizenry

not even a soupçon of coercion there won’t be any brutal commands the reex to which there

might be irritation, recalcitrancy, anger and sedition. Programming will be rather a gentle downloading of a physiologically active logos spermaticos that will pre-tune our frame of mind, render our being docile and serene, giving to our thoughts an appropriate direction and targeting-intentionality

thus, not only will our selective brainwaves be brought under central control at the source but even the ux of our discurrent ideas will be ltered and steered to the feel-good channels

to use a musical simile; apart from providing the leitmotiv by tele-suggestion — a theme supposedly of our own invention — even its treatments and all its variations will be composed under the benevolent inuence of the Central Ministry of Population Control. 193 from ‘Hallways of the Sky’