This Rumbling World

Just when you think you have it together, the world starts to shake around you. Covid, a teachers’ strike, an impending war in Ukraine. And more, depending on where you are. For me, these three are already a lot to reckon with. With Covid, it seems we’re almost in the clear, and then people get sick, events get cancelled, reports of new variants arise. With the teachers’ strike, so many questions come up at once: what kind of strike this is, what the demands are, what different stances a person might take toward any given action, what lies ahead in the coming months. As for the possible war, if it does happen, it’s unclear how far and long it will reach.

With all that, we have a four-day semi-weekend (two pedagogical days, which we may spend at home catching up on grading and such, combined with the regular weekend). Last night I treated myself to a special event in Budapest: a “songwriters’ circle” at the Magyar Zene Háza in the Zugló district. The whole trip was exciting. I had never walked around in Zugló before and was delighted with the hole-in-the-wall restaurants (I had a gyros pita for dinner) and the park.

The “songwriters’ circle,” the first in a new series, featured Dávid Szesztay (replacing Gergely Balla, who had to cancel because of Covid), Noémi Barkóczi, Vera Jonás and Henri Gonzo (of Fran Palermo). It was fantastic. They played new and not-so-new songs, talked about them, entertained questions from the audience (or not, as the case might be). Gonzo was a rather prickly character, but I found that refreshing. He mocked some of the questions (from the current audience, and from audiences of yore) but then turned around and discussed them seriously: for instance, the question of writing songs in English (or Spanish) or Hungarian.

This was my first introduction to both Gonzo and Jonás, and I’m eager to hear much more from both of them. I have had an ongoing dream of hearing Szesztay and Barkóczi in concert together; this took the dream in a surprising direction. I was very sorry that Balla could not be there—I missed his presence and wished I could have heard him speak and sing—but was glad that of all possible people, they invited Szesztay to step in. The picture I took (at the top) came out blurry, but I like the effect, and you can barely see each of them: Szesztay, then Barkóczi, then Jonás, then Gonzo.

So that was rather thrilling. Then this morning I had a knock on the door from a canvasser asking me to sign a petition. First I thought: what is this? And then he explained: he was gathering petitions for a humorous political party, the Magyar Kétfarkú Kutya Párt (the Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party), so that it could be represented in Parliament. I don’t usually sign petitions, but I asked for the brochure and told him I’d have to think about it. The brochure was so funny that I ran back out into the hallway to say, yes, I’ll sign. Here’s an excerpt (in my translation):

Hungary can handle the immigration issue fairly simply, since no one actually wants to come here. We only have to make sure to keep salaries sufficiently low. We see that instead of a fence, it would be enough
to write the average salaries and hospital statistics onto the border.

But if we really want to build something, then, instead of a fence, it would make more sense to build an overpass over the country.

Another approach would be to constantly change the borders. If you don’t know where the border is, then it will be hard for you to migrate across it.

This made my day.

Back to the shaking of the world. Is it legitimate to be content (in some way) with life when things are crumbling and raging around you? Or rather, to have your own rhythm of contentment, sadness, and turbulence? I think it is, because reality has many strands and layers. No matter what seems to be happening, there is always more.

  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different



    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.


    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.


    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.

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