“This place of quiet fixity”

Nicole Waldner’s tribute to János Pilinszky, published in Agenda Poetry in April 2022, deserves to be read far and wide: as the tribute that it is, as an introduction to Pilinszky and his translators, as a bracing commentary for those more familiar with his work, and as a piece of outstanding and urgent writing. With the author’s permission, I uploaded it to the “Straight Labyrinth” Pilinszky event website.

I don’t want to summarize it; it’s short enough that it can be read on its own terms without any preludes. I quoted from it a few days ago and am still thinking about that quote. But I do want to reflect a little on the phrase “a place of quiet fixity” (which appears in the final sentence of the first paragraph). Here is some of the larger context:

It was not Pilinszky’s anti-fascist stance to which the Communists objected; it was his Catholicism. Born and raised in a middle-class, intellectual, religious family, Pilinszky retained a lifelong relationship with the church, writing and editing for the small Catholic periodicals that just barely managed to survive the Communist era. Pilinszky’s Catholicism was both intimate and intimately bound up in sacrifice, suffering, responsibility and atonement. It is from this place of quiet fixity that Pilinszky’s poetry was born, and it influenced all of his existential and poetic choices.

“Quiet fixity,” in Pilinszky’s case, is anything but static; with its focus on the motions of the soul, it allows those motions to occur in the first place. (These are my thoughts, not those of the article.) Such fixity challenges and threatens us today just as it did the Hungarian Communist government, though differently. In our everyday lives, we are told that we should be visible, public, bustling around, plugged in, doing this and that, reacting to everything around us, and responding immediately to messages—a state of being that prevents not only introspection, but a deeper questioning of the world itself. This lie has social, economic, technological, and political layers, which combine and twist around us. A “place of quiet fixity” breaks the rules and calls out the deception. It is also much harder than running around.

But the phrase can also be misunderstood (or at least taken in different ways). To understand what Waldner means by it in reference to Pilinszky, read the entire essay.

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  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

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    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

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