Remembering Concerts

I don’t want to go to so many concerts and literary events that they start blending into each other or splintering into oblivion, but so far that hasn’t been a danger. Each one has stood out in a particular way. A few details can bring the whole evening back. Last night’s event (pictured to the left) at the MITZI café was one of my favorites here in Hungary so far. The event, hosted by the Juhász Anna Literary Salon, focused on the Partért kiáltó lyrics book but took this in many directions. Anna Juhász related it to Pilinszky (and led the discussion overall); Ákos Győrffy and Csaba Szendrői gave their thoughts, both about the book and music and about questions of language, creation, and more; Gyöngyi Hegedűs, Gergő’s mother, spoke about being a poet, doctor, and mother, and read one of her poems; and Gergely Balla played three songs and spoke about his music, influences, quests.

One of the most interesting ideas for me was the distinction between passzió (strong enthusiasm) and passió (holy passion, which is bound up in suffering). Another was Gergő’s story about how someone had said, after Partért kiáltó was released, that he didn’t think Gergő had quite found his voice yet. Gergő’s response was that he had no interest in finding his voice; to the contrary, he has been reaching for something beyond the “I.” Still another favorite part was when Ákos Győrffy told the story about how some of the lyrics of Partért kiáltó described exactly a dream that he had had, and Gergő read aloud Győrffy’s description of the dream. And Gyöngyi Hegedűs’s comments, humor, and poem. And Gergő’s exceptional humility toward the others: for instance, his deeply appreciative praise of Elefánt (Csaba Szendrői’s band). And Anna Juhász’s comment on the shortest song on the Partért kiáltó album, “Fagyott csontok,” and how its lyrics have the true density of poetry. There was much more that came up—and the music itself at the beginning and end said what the discussion could not. All of this took place in front of a hushed and densely seated audience. I had lots to think about on the train ride back home.

As for other recent concerts: Just last week, though it seems longer ago than that, I went to a terrific Cataflamingo show at the Szimpla Kert, a labyrinthine venue with colorful lamps, dark passageways, open-air places, wooden steps, mirrors, and at least two enclosed performance halls. This was only my third time hearing them in concert; this time I was blown away by their musicianship, the beauty of the songs, the transformations inside them. The audience reflected the excitement: listening intently, dancing along, somertimes singing along (there’s a song where the audience takes over the singing at one point), cheering at the end. Here is a video of one of the songs from the concert, “Nevess.”

The week before that, I went to two concerts: Cz.K. Sebő at the A38 Hajó, and then, the following day, Galaxisok at Budapest Park. The Cz.K. Sebő concert was a little difficult for me at first because of the noisy crowd (I think this has something to do with the acoustics of that particular hall at the A38); also, they played some of the songs slightly faster than I hear them in my mind. But the concert grew more and more beautiful and absorbing as it went along. I can still hear the sounds of “Interlude II” in my mind; “Fox in the Holt,” “Pure Sense,” “Keveset olvasok,” and “Papermache Dreams” were also highlights for me, and there was a new song too, which I am eager to hear again. It has been almost exactly a year since I first heard Cz.K. Sebő in concert, and I look forward to at least two more concerts in the next couple of months (one at Fishing on Orfű and one in the middle of July in Budapest). I am eager to see and hear how his capsule boy project develops; he is releasing a new song, “Fázom, ha nézel,” the first capsule boy non-remix single, this weekend!

As for Galaxisok, I hadn’t heard them in a while and was excited to hear them at Budapest Park, where they were playing for the first time. The sound was rich, the songs already familiar and evocative for me, the performance thrilling. It’s quite hard to describe them, because their songs take different directions without becoming a hodgepodge at all. There’s a whimsical coherence to them, a kind of worldly-wise melancholy mixed with zest. The best description I have seen so far is their own (for the upcoming concert at Müpa):

The singer-songwriter Benedek Szabó, who you may also recognise from his earlier band Zombie Girlfriend, founded the Galaxisok in 2013 under the name Szabó Benedek és a Galaxisok (Benedek Szabó and the Galaxies). They have released six major albums to date, ranging from chord-strumming hits inspired by Tamás Cseh to catchy guitar pop, end-of-the-world ballads on the piano and South American and African-influenced songs, creating a daring, ever-changing, unpredictable whole. What kind of music do they play? ‘Well-being polbeat’? Jangly guitar pop? Dreamlike piano ballads? The band, which is approaching its tenth birthday, has a meandering repertoire that means something different to every individual, depending on what age, place or given moment they hear it for the first time. But what is the essence of the Galaxisok, which has such a strong relationship with the public? Maybe the frontman has a radically different picture of the band from the guitarist, while the drummer thinks in another way entirely – and who knows what alternative production the bassist might have imagined? All our questions will be answered on the Müpa Budapest stage, as the Galaxisok play their favourite tunes.

Some of my favorites from the concert were “Elaludtam az Ikeában,” their new song “Ez a nyár,” “Húsvéti reggeli a Sátánnal,” “Mondo Bizarro,” and “Középsulis szerelmes szám,” but the one playing in my mind right now, “Sandy View,” stands out among them all. In any case, I think Galaxisok will be the subject of my next “Listen Up” post, because there’s so much there to listen to and reflect on.

To take in a concert fully, I need to not go to concerts now and then. Especially with the train rides from Szolnok, I would wear myself out if I went to them all. Also, I have large ongoing projects and a need for sustained quiet time. So, for instance, I am not going to the Platon Karataev duo concert this evening, although I would have loved to, since I am attending the Grand Bleu/Cappuccino projekt concert tomorrow and a Platon Karataev (Gergely Balla) discussion and brunch on Sunday. The upcoming weeks are dense; I have to check my calendar frequently to make sure I’m not forgetting something.

But that’s the gift of it: holding back from concerts just enough that when I do go, it’s with full joy. Joy not in the sense of glee and cheer, necessarily; there’s melancholic and sad joy too. But treasuring the notes as they fly by, wrapping myself in them, carrying them for days and weeks and sometimes much longer. Even when the memories of the concerts fade, they have made some kind of mark on my life, and though I can’t pinpoint it and don’t need to, I know it’s there. There’s a new resonance in the air.

First photo (of last night’s event) by Kriszta Lettner; more photos here. Second photo (of the May 12 Cz.K. Sebő concert) by me.

I made a few small edits to this piece after posting it.

Thoughts on Cancelling Russia

Not too long ago, during a train ride, someone asked me what I thought about cancelling Russia. I said I considered absolute cancellation a mistake. She looked disappointed, so I listened to what she had to say. She considered cancellation—by which she meant refusal to engage with Russian people, things, and culture—absolutely necessary for the time being. She emphasized that it should be temporary but strong.

I thought about it over the following weeks and came to agree with her more than before. Still, I see many dangers in cancellation overall. My views are less about Ukraine in particular and more about cancellation itself.

First, “cancellation” is difficult to define; there are so many different kinds, ranging from economic boycotts to actual cancellation of events to a cutting of ties with individuals. So-called “cancel culture” can even take the form of brutal online attacks, destruction of people’s careers and personal lives, etc. So it’s important to be precise about what kind is at stake and why.

In a war like this one, economic boycotts are justifiable and may convey strong messages. Their effects aren’t always fair—they can hurt people who have nothing to do with the war and don’t support it in any way—but then, no powerful response is fair. During World War II, many German bakeries in NYC went out of business because people stopped buying from them. This was unfair on the bakeries themselves (in many cases humble businesses with no ties to Nazis), but understandable in context.

I also see reason at times to cancel (or simply stay out of) high-profile cultural events, especially those that celebrate an aggressor country and its achievements. I was sad for the pianist himself when Alexander Malofeev’s concerts with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra were cancelled, but at least the orchestra made clear that this was not directed at him personally.

There are thorny questions aroud “Russian-ness” itself. The Yale Russian Chorus, as far as I know, is still considering a Russia tour in August. They have stated that they will include more Ukrainian songs in their repertoire. However, that hardly makes things better; according to Oleksii Antoniuk, if they sing Ukrainian songs, they should change their name from the Yale Russian Chorus to something else. If they do not, they are implying that Ukrainians are just “small” Russians. I see the point there and believe that this all needs to be sorted out.

But boycotts and large cultural events aside, what kinds of cancellation are appropriate? I don’t have an answer; the answer will vary from person to person, situation to situation. But I see dangers in knee-jerk cancellation.

If those doing the “cancelling” know what they are cancelling and why, then there might be some principle involved. But if they don’t, their actions will come out of ignorance and generate more of the same. If, say, people were to refuse to read Russian literature because it’s Russian, they would only be limiting their own education and that of others. If this kind of action spread, anyone could refuse to learn about anything at all. Not only that, but the refusal would come with a self-righteous attitude.

Where would it stop? No country, no entity is exempt from blame. For instance, what if people in the U.S. started cancelling all things Hungarian because of Orbán’s illiberal populism? This would just spread illiberalism. If you write off an entire country just because you disagree with its leader, you give the leader more power and credence than he already has. Anyone can do the same back to you and yours.

What about personal cancelling—the targeting or absolute cutting off of someone you know? I would reserve that for the most extreme circumstances, where you have really tried and failed to hear the person out, or where your safety is at risk. Yet personal cancellation remains in vogue: “freeing yourself of toxic people.” People who cut others off may pride themselves on their social justice or sense of personal liberation. But there is no social justice or liberation involved here, no willingness to find out what the person really thinks, or at least offer the benefit of the doubt. I realize that I am wandering into somewhat different territory here, yet it all falls within the larger concept of cancelling.

In short, I understand that certain kinds of cancelling have their place, especially during this war. But when it comes to the larger question of cancellation, I would say: define what you are doing and why, keep it to a minimum, keep it as humane as possible, remember that you do not know everything about another person or place, and follow your own conscience and knowledge. Because in wartime (or any time, really) these are among the few things you can keep.

Image: Anton Chekhov, by Osip Braz (1898).

Setting Poetry to Music (25th ALSCW Conference seminar, October 2022)

In October 2022, at the 25th ALSCW Conference at Yale, I will hold a seminar on “Setting Poetry to Music.” Paper proposals have been coming in; for those still hoping to participate, the deadline for proposals is June 10 (please follow the instructions in the Call for Papers)! So far, the seminar participants include three invitees from Hungary and a number of other presenters (from both Hungary and the U.S.). The full roster will be established by the end of June.

The seminar description is as follows:

What questions and problems do composers encounter when setting poetry to music? How can music enhance, transform, or distract from a poem that already stands on its own? How might the music follow or depart from the poem’s inherent rhythms and tones? How might the musical rendition become an artistic creation in its own right? This seminar will explore these and other questions in relation to a wide variety of poems and music. Papers may take one of two directions. Those analyzing others’ musical renditions of poetry should plan to present a short paper (5–10 pages), possibly with an accompanying sound recording. Those presenting their own musical renditions or poetry should play it (through or a recording or on an acoustic instrument) and then comment on it briefly. The poems considered may be in any language, but any poem not in English should be accompanied with at least a basic translation or summary. The presentations should be prepared with a general audience in mind. Composers, songwriters, musicians, poets, scholars, teachers, students, and others interested in the subject are welcome to submit proposals. (Note: This seminar is not about songwriting or poetic song verse in general; it focuses specifically on poetry set to music.)

This seminar will differ in some ways from a literature seminar in that we will spend some time listening to the musical renditions of poems (which participants will either perform or play through a recording). Also, the topic is flexible; some presenters might take it in visual and other directions. I am eager to see what proposals come in.

I am honored that the three featured guests at the Pilinszky event in March will be the featured guests in the seminar as well! Csenger Kertai, Gergely Balla, and Sebestyén Czakó-Kuraly will all be presenting; they all won Petőfi Literary Fund grants to cover the trip. In addition, Gergő and Sebő (the Platon Karataev duo) will be performing at Cafe Nine in New Haven on October 23. We also plan to hold an event in NYC featuring Csenger as well as the duo. (We will have more details once they exist.)

The ALSCW (Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers) “seeks to promote excellence in literary criticism and scholarship, and works to ensure that literature thrives in both scholarly and creative environments. We encourage the reading and writing of literature, criticism, and scholarship, as well as wide-ranging discussions among those committed to the reading and study of literary works.”

I have attended ALSCW annual conferences in Worcester, Nashville, Dallas, and DC. They are not only interesting but lots of fun. I have held and participated in numerous seminars (sometimes three different seminars in a given conference) and especially love the rich range of topics, the geniality, the participants’ willingness to hear contrasting views and approaches. Also, the ALSCW supports poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers through grants, prizes, and publications; the poetry and other readings at the conferences are generally superb. And let us not forget the Saturday night banquet, where the conference comes to a jovial close (there is an ALSCW Council meeting on Sunday morning, but otherwise no conference activities). I am especially excited about this year’s location, since Yale is my triple alma mater (B.A., M.A., Ph.D.), and I spent about fifteen years in New Haven all together (including two years from 2019 to 2011, when I wrote my first book, Republic of Noise).

This year’s conference has many other exciting seminars and panels as well, on topics ranging from Proust to Ulysses to “General Education and the Idea of a Common Culture” to “Figures of Civil War” to “The Art of Confession” to “Aesthetics of the Sublime in Japanese Literary Arts.” And it will be our first conference since 2019, since we had to cancel twice because of Covid. Many thanks to David Bromwich, the president of the ALSCW; Ernie Suarez, the executive director; conference committee member Rosanna Warren, and others for bringing this to pass. While nothing is certain until it actually happens, this conference will take place unless a large and unforeseen obstacle arises. It is now only five months away.

Photo of Yale’s Harkness Tower by Chris Randall.

Folyosó, Contrariwise, and Whimsy

In the Second Anniversary Issue of Folyosó, which came out yesterday, there is a section of short pieces inspired by Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America (an excerpt of which the students read in class). That is, the pieces use the phrase “trout fishing in America” in any way they please: to refer to an object, an action, a place, a person, a concept, or something indeterminate. It’s one of the most peculiar assignments I have given, but the results are delightful. The students understood the possibilities and took them in all sorts of directions.

Here is Hédi Szabó’s “A Good Feeling” in full:

The sunshine was lighting up the whole coffee shop. Delightful weather like this brings an awesome mood to everyone. This morning, our coffee shop was completely full of people who just wanted to enjoy what a lovely time we were having. Everyone was sitting outside the cafe bar. We had a busy morning. Just brew and brew the dark caffeine-full drink, we haven’t got a calm three minutes. But of course this is what we love the most. For a minute I just thought about how I’m living the life that I’ve always imagined for myself. I was deep in my thoughts when suddenly I realized somebody had come up to the counter. For a moment I felt a bit embarrassed, because I didn’t know how long she had been waiting for me. With a smile, I asked what she wanted to drink. She told me she wanted to order a drink which was suitable for “trout fishing in America.” At first, I thought I had heard it incorrectly. But she repeated it. I started to panic a little because I started to overthink it. Is this a phrase that I don’t know? Is she kidding me? Is she just bad at English? Everyone could have easily said about me that I was really confused. So fortunately, she quickly explained it to me. Trout fishing in America is a feeling you get when you are happy for no reason. Nothing special has happened to you, you just have the feeling your life is good the way it is. You can literally smile because you are satisfied with things around you at the moment you are in. After that guest, my life changed, to put it bluntly. Every time I feel unreasonably happy, I say I’m feeling “trout fishing in America.” I wish for everyone to feel “trout fishing in America” more often.

I think back on Contrariwise and its beginnings. Eight years ago we celebrated the first issue with a whimsical event at Word Up Community Books in Washington Heights, NYC; the celebration included readings, “empirical Shakespearean experiments,” spontaneous jokes, surprises, moments of solemnity, a song, and even a cake with the image of the journal on its surface.

Perhaps there’s a common thread here. I think most people would call me a serious person, but I never saw a contradiction between seriousness and playfulness. Or rather, I think they need each other. One of the reasons that I didn’t go into academia was that in academic settings, playfulness, when it did occur, was so contained, cautious, and tame (with just a few exceptions). People weren’t willing to risk their professional image by being wholeheartedly silly. But silliness requires full spirit. It loses life when reduced to a limp chuckle. Now, I am not silly most of the time, nor is Folyosó. But Folyosó makes room for silliness, and I hope it always will. The same goes for Contrariwise.

Silliness of a certain kind can make room for a greater seriousness. Letting yourself play with possibilities, you sometimes hit upon something nontrivial.

There is so much unstated pressure, not only in academia but elsewhere, to be one thing or another: silly or serious, academic or non-academic, happy or sad, progressive or conservative, etc. I have never fit, or wanted to fit, such limiting classifications, and I challenge them without even thinking about it. It’s important to know that you don’t have to be or do just one thing.

As so often happens in the morning, I suddenly have to hurry, so that will be all.

“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.

As in a Dream

Do you know the kind of dream where you realize that you know exactly how things will unfold, because you have already lived them? The poems of Always Different (my translation of Gyula Jenei’s Mindig más) have this kind of dream-insight, but they are not dreams. Or rather, the memory they play with resembles certain dreams. We go back in time to look forward again and see things happen just as we know they will, except that nothing is certain, some key facts get lost along the way, and even verb tenses and moods start to wobble. The poems are surreal and real at once: familiar, reminding me of things, but shifting under my gaze and thoughts. I am proud beyond thoughts that this book has come out and that I can now hold it in my hands.

The project began in the fall of 2018. I had figured out that my colleague Gyula Jenei was a poet and his wife, Marianna Fekete, a literary critic (as well as a teacher of English and biology). My first conversation with Gyula wasn’t a conversation at all. I walked up to him out of the blue and recited one of his poems from memory. I am pretty sure he wasn’t expecting anything like this, but he took it in good cheer.

Soon after that, I found Marianna Fekete’s essay on Béla Markó’s haiku poems. I thought that it would be great to translate that essay and the many haiku poems within it. I began translating Gyula’s work and hers, and we began talking about them. At first, my spoken Hungarian (as well as my Hungarian overall) was very tentative, but over time it grew and relaxed.

Then Literary Matters published five of Gyula’s poems (in the original and in my translation) as well as my translation of Marianna’s essay. (The Massachusetts Review later published a translation as well.) Then the extraordinary happened: the Cowan Center at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture invited us to be the featured guests at their 2019 Education Forum. Little did we know that Covid was a few months around the corner; we went to Dallas in October 2019 and had a glorious autumn week filled with events, conversations, and long walks around the city. Thank you, Claudia MacMillan, Larry Allums, the I.M. Terrell Academy (which we visited), the Dallas Institute, and everyone who was part of this.

One of the Dallas Institute events that week was a private luncheon with guests, including Will Evans, the founder and owner of Deep Vellum Publishing. He was excited about Gyula’s poetry and suggested publishing a book. This book came out in April 2022 and reached me (60 copies) in a big box today.

In the interim between October 2019 and today, there were stretches of industry: completion of the translations, preparation of the manuscript, reponses to the poetry editor’s many comments and queries, review of the proofs, and so forth. There were slight delays because of Covid—but only very slight. The Deep Vellum editors and other staff were committed and helpful all along the way.

All of this sounds spectacular but basic too. The book would not exist, were it not for these people and events. The joy, goodwill, and sheer surprise of the week in Dallas comes back again and again, as do the long conversations with Marianna and Gyula. But for me the best part of all was the translating itself: the long, quiet stretches at home or in a deserted café, with hours ahead and behind, the poems in front of me, and coffee and big dictionaries nearby. I remember translating a poem during a long break in the school day and thinking, how do I return to the world after this? The poems are not removed from the world, but they differ from the hecticness that we wrap ourselves in. Hecticness is only one way of considering time. The book offers something else, something different from anything I have read or lived before.

The Shakespeare Festival

It was a great success. Above, you can see the group that came all the way from the Kossuth Lajos Gimnázium in Tiszafüred. There were groups from Karcag and Törökszentmiklós as well, and several groups from Varga, as well as the wonderful Híd Színház in Szolnok and students of József Rigó (who was there as well). The day was filled with performances (of scenes, sonnets, songs), lectures, a workshop, a few introductory remarks, remarks from the jury, and gift bags for the participants.

I was so eager to get to school early (I wanted to be there by 7:00, but arrived at 7:15) that I rushed out the door and forgot my glasses. Once I realized this, there was no time to go back for them, since I had gone to school on foot, with cello. I printed out my introductory remarks (that I had written in Hungarian) in very large font, but even so, I stumbled over a few words. However, that didn’t affect things; once the performances began, everything flew.

The Hamlet scene (which I had helped my students prepare, along with sonnets and songs—but which they prepared entirely by themselves in the end) was intense and beautiful from start to finish.

The pieces were traditional, experimental, or both, in Hungarian or English; they contrasted enough with each other to keep the whole day interesting. The feeling in the room (both rooms, both parts of the day) was warm and lively; we had a substantial audience, including former Varga students (Zalán and Petra, thank you for coming!), and the performers and their teachers seemed to enjoy the whole event.

There will be more pictures, videos, interviews, and thoughts—so I will leave off here with just a few more photos. Thanks to everyone who helped bring this into being and who helped out in any way. Thanks especially to the Verseghy Ferenc Könyvtár and to my colleagues at Varga, who carried this from an idea into an actual occasion.

Update: Here is the SzolnokTV report on the festival!

Happy Passover!

This evening the rabbi and I are leading the Szim Salom community seder at the Hotel Benczúr in Budapest. I am busy preparing, and leave Szolnok in just a few hours, so this will be short.

It is our first seder in person since 2019, so I am grateful for that! Lots of people will be there, from around the world, and we will hold a Pesach seder according to our Haggadah, along with feasting, songs, and stories.

It is customary in many Jewish communities, around this holiday, to think about what enslavement and liberation means to each of us, and what it means in the world. As far as the world is concerned, war is analogous to enslavement (though not the same thing), because if you are caught in it, you lose the ability to direct your own life. Some choices you still can make, but other choices, including whether to make it to the next day or whether to keep your dog, are made for you. It is not going to be easy to bring the war in Ukraine to an end; the Russian government seems bent on continuing, and many countries opposed to the war are trying to play it safe. But if somehow this could be halted permanently, then that would be liberation, though not the end of the problems. Millions have seen their lives upended, and thousands have not lived to see it. Others, whose lives are relatively stable, still feel the anxiety of a possible terrible turn.

As for enslavement in my country of origin, I hope that discussions of racism in the U.S. will come to balance confrontation with humanity, so that people can boldly look at history and the current situation—in classrooms, in private conversation, in the media, in introspection—while also respecting the dignity and infinity of others, no matter what their race or background. These two truths can be held at once: that there are many deep-rooted problems to address, and that no one can sum up another, no one knows entirely what another person has gone through or thinks or feels.

As for personal liberation, I have been leaving years of fears behind, even recently: fears of failure and disappointment, fears that things important to me would go wrong. It puzzles me that it took so long. Still I know that life doesn’t always go the way I wish, or the way anyone wishes. Disappointments happen for all sorts of reasons, but they aren’t inevitable. That’s a big shift for me: knowing that things I care about can go well, and taking part in them with that calm knowledge.

Chág Peszách Száméách! And happy Easter! And to those celebrating neither, have a nice long weekend, if indeed your weekend is long! And if it isn’t, may it still have some restfulness and cheer.

An essay in The Continental Literary Magazine (online)

I am proud and honored that my essay “To Crave the Edges of Speech“—about Cz.K. Sebő’s 2021 album, How could I show you the beauty of a life in vain?—has been published in the online version of The Continental Literary Magazine, an international journal launched last October by the Petőfi Cultural Agency and led by editor in chief Sándor Jászberényi, with Eszter Jászberényi as online editor and social media manager (and a number of others serving in editorial and other capacities). From what I have read in it so far, I admire its quality, its liveliness, and its inclusion of contrasting, sometimes even opposite viewpoints. I wrote the essay specifically for the second issue, whose theme is craving. I am grateful that The Continental appreciated and accepted it. The essay is important to me in different ways and on several levels, but I will say just the following and let the rest speak for itself.

I have had many essays published (in addition to books, poetry translations, etc.), but this is the first one on music that has been printed anywhere besides my blog (except that the Budapest Symphony Orchestra translated my piece about their Don Giovanni performance in New York and posted it on their website). Two of my interviews with musicians (The Breeders and Belly) were published long ago in the Yale Herald, I wrote a series of satirical music reviews (of imaginary bands) for Warped Reality, and a chapter of my second book discusses Hebrew cantillation; but other than that, my musical writings have appeared only here (and on past blog sites), and quite often, for that matter. I don’t write music reviews, and wouldn’t want to; the essays take their own shape and content. This is my favorite one so far.

Many thanks to Sándor and Eszter Jászberényi, and to the entire Continental staff, for making this possible and real. And thanks to Cz.K. Sebő for his music.

Non-backpack day

Today was the day before our short spring break, and the overall spirit in the school was exceptional. It went in two directions, silly and solemn. I will take up the silly here. The solemn part will be in the next blog post.

The student government had declared this day a non-backpack day. That is, students were to bring their books and supplies to school in anything but a backpack. This was the most joyously outrageous and bizarre event I have witnessed at Varga so far. As far as containers go, I saw a birdcage, a fishing net, a shopping cart (above), a trash bag, cat carriers, a cooler, baskets, a desktop PC case, a chest of drawers, hangers with clothespins, various outlandish bags, a front-pack, a cardboard file cabinet, a toolbox, a hanging organizer, and all sorts of other things.

I hope we do this (or something comparable) next year. Thanks to all the students for their inspiration and sense of fun.

I participated too, though by accident! I left my backpack at home today because I was bringing my cello in for our Shakespeare rehearsal. So I was carrying the big cello case around for a good part of the day and getting some good-hearted laughs. But the cello was actually inside it. I arrived at the school before 7 a.m. and went to the drama room to warm up and practice. That was a beautiful half hour or so, followed by an even more beautiful day. More about the day in the next post.

  • “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

  • Always Different

  • Pilinszky Event (3/20/2022)

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    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.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

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

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

  • ABOUT THIS BLOG

    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

  • Recent Posts

  • ARCHIVES

  • Categories