Zsuzsa Sütő is a PhD student at the University of Szeged. Her fields of research are postmodern and contemporary English literature and literary memory. Email:
Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies Volume XXI Number 1.
Edited by Donald E. Morse
Debrecen: University of Debrecen, 2015.
The twentieth issue of the Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies is a real milestone in its history; but what is even more admirable is that in these past twenty years it has maintained its prestige as a continuously published journal with a wide readership of enthusiastic scholars and researchers on an international scale. In the preface, after the editor Donald E. Morse expresses his excitement and gratitude for all the writers and editors who have worked for this journal, he commemorates the journal’s predecessor edited by László Országh and enumerates its various achievements. The contributors and editors have been working relentlessly on further improving the journal’s quality to provide essays about intriguing and manifold topics. The authors of the current volume invite every reader to read different texts ranging from American multiculturalism to Hungarian political and domestic issues, from the criticism of works of well-known literary figures to essays about Alaskan grizzly bears.
Zoltán Abádi-Nagy, the widely recognized Hungarian literary historian and translator and a professor at the University of Debrecen and the University of Eszterházy Károly, circumscribes the meaning of borderland in the bildungsroman Bless Me, Ultima (1972), written by Rudolfo A. Anaya. Abádi-Nagy believes that the La Frontera region on the borderlines of Southwest America and Northern Mexico creates a multicultural environment, and consequently an intercultural competence is developed in its inhabitants, which is faithfully maintained by the novel. Besides discussing the controlling value system in connection with space, Abádi-Nagy unveils how the concept of border-crossing pertains to Antonio, the main character and the narrative agent of the novel, as well as the narrative levels. The diversities of race, class, religion, ethics, language, age and life philosophy are all part of the conflict, as they determine the existence of epistemological, social, generational and communication borderlines. In Abádi-Nagy’s understanding, with the aim of transcending borderlines, the novel provides the possibility of building up cultural knowledge, which, through monitoring and processing information, has the power to position the self into collective thinking where the self can consciously overcome stereotypes and discrimination.
In the second essay, Don Gifford, the late Joyce scholar, writes about the way popular and critical tastes define American sentimental novels and their improbable realities, and about how high literature is indebted to popular literature. In his disentanglement of the issue, he analyzes carefully chosen examples of the genre from the 17th to 20th century separately, texts which only seem to satisfy taste and imagination as they refuse conformity. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), a popular fiction in its time, a so-called sentimental-didactic novel, reverses the gender roles of seducer and seduced established through the genre created by Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740). Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900), a sentimental-domestic novel, refuses to conform to fictional moralities as Dreiser recreates the Cinderella-type plot from a documentary perspective. The third novel Gifford discusses is An American Tragedy (1925), also by Dreiser, in which he characterizes the anti-Alger hero whose moralities and restored fortune are not connected, as would be the case in sentimental novels of popular literature.
In the next essay of the volume, Erika Mihálycsa, a scholar of Irish literature and translator from the University of Babes-Bolyai, Kolozsvár, unveils the relation between Samuel Beckett’s ars poetica and his written letters. In her understanding, Beckett’s correspondence can be divided into different phases, as they reflect two distinct states of mind of the artist. In his earliest letters, Beckett reveals himself as the young artist or scholar in becoming, while in the second stage, he turns into Beckett, the reader. Mihálycsa emphasizes the importance of his admiration of Ionesco, Adamov, Camus, Cioran, Dante, Schubert and Bartók. According to his correspondence, these artists highly influenced his perspective on art and gave a devious source of inspiration to him. He felt the closest resemblance to Kafka and Joyce. From the letters we can also learn how he corrected doctoral theses and how he translated and wrote studies and essays on avant-garde art, especially on abstract paintings. His artistic aspirations were mainly shared with Georges Duluit, to whom he expressed his dream of creating the impossible literature of ignorance and impotence. Beckett was meticulous in everything he did: writing, directing, and translating. Due to his unmatched fidelity to his craft, he was terribly afraid of misunderstanding or oversimplifying the meaning of his original works. His last letters are thus written by a depressed Beckett whose love affair and sick brother resulted in writer’s block.
A senior lecturer and film critic of the University of Debrecen, Zsolt Győri, writes about the conflicting narrative voices of Werner Herzog and Timothy Treadwell in the film Grizzly Man (2005). The documentary depicts the well-known sorrowful tragedy of the bear fanatic who was eaten in Alaska while bonding with the beasts. In his essay, Győri outlines Herzog’s cinematic poetics, which is an amalgamation of observational cinema based on positivist philosophy. He interprets the film on the basis of the concept of hybrid authorship and its self-reflexivity rooting in Treadwell’s video recordings, which provide the enigmatic flavour of the documentary, and Herzog’s comments, which maintain the consciously constructed omnipotent voice in the movie. With the use of the two voices, two perspectives are formed. Treadwell’s is metaphysical: he romanticizes nature and expresses a moral commitment to the wilderness; while Herzog’s is about survival: he describes objectively the difference between human and animal, disregarding both science and ethics. Győri’s conclusion is that Treadwell identified with his recorded image and lost his responsibility to his physical body. After his death, the grizzly for which he sacrificed his life was shot as its existence was deemed to be dangerous to other people.
Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927) is analysed by Gabriella Moise, a scholar of visual culture and modernist English literature at the University of Debrecen. Moise, in her essay, approaches the theme of reflection and internal mirroring through the interaction between the perceiving subject and perceived object, through the usage of language and alternative modes of communication, and through the mise-en-abyme of the verbal and the visual. She argues that the abysmal characteristic of mirroring can be felt in Carmichael’s poetry, which she interprets as the disruption of narrative through mastery of language, in Mr Ramsay’s recitation as the denaturalization of language, and in Mrs Ramsay’s communicative activities as narration within narration. Moise recognizes the most salient abysmal characteristic of mirroring in Lily’s paintings, in which she sees a reflection transcending the novel and having autobiographical motifs of its own. Moise thus discovers how the narrative dimension created by Lily and Mrs Ramsay is connected to the lives of Virginia Woolf, Julia Stephen and Vanessa Bell.
Marianna Gula, a scholar of Irish literature at the University of Debrecen, details her scientific experience and observations in connection with her significant role in the translation and canonization of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). In the introduction she summarizes the history, canonization and reception of preceding translations and retranslations. In her essay she mainly concentrates on Miklós Szentkuthy’s translation from 1974, which had to be retranslated due to the misinterpretation of certain phrases. The main issues that triggered the retranslation were the changes that occurred in the Hungarian language, the changed position and prestige of Joyce in world literature, the universal message of his narrative in terms of technical innovation, and a more deliberate consciousness about what Irishness and Irish culture mean. Although Gula points out numerous concrete errors made by Szentkuthy, she still praises some of his ingenious translations of other sections and sentences. Throughout the retranslation, Gula’s group tried to avoid the homogenization and universalization of different concepts, to give a better translation of puns and Irish folk rhymes and to pay more attention to the details of topography, history and cultural allusions. Despite the density of intertextual references, the new brigade managed to replace the old translations with canonical ones which were not yet available in 1974. Even the new translation of Hiberno-English sentences is closer to the frame of mind Joyce presumably wanted to create.
Lenke Németh, a scholar of American drama from the University of Debrecen, defines a new concept emerging in sociology and cultural studies, the cultural mulatto, through two plays. The term refers to the permanently shifting cultural identity of the dynamic country of America. Németh prefers the idea behind the notion as she argues that it obliterates all boundaries and stereotypes; presupposes a multicultural territory, in other words a contact space between different cultures and through the identity in flux; and defines non-essentialism and self-respect. The two dramas in which Németh circumscribes the embodiment of cultural mulattos are Suzan-Lori Parks’_Topdog/ Underdog_ (2001) and David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face (2007). Parks’ play presents the everyday life of two African-American brothers whose tragic destinies are historically inscribed in their names. Hwang’s craft is based on real events regarding the debate about the casting for Miss Saigon (1991) when they chose a white actor for an Asian role. According to Németh, the plays challenge stereotypical characteristics, display clashes between ethnicities, and evoke awareness to historical, political and cultural issues.
A scholar of American and Hungarian relationships at the University of Debrecen, Éva Mathey reveals her findings regarding Senator William Edgar Borah’s political perspectives on the Treaty of Trianon. In times of war and revolution, Hungary has always considered America the country of freedom, and, especially after the Treaty of Trianon, people were hoping that America would show empathy and give aid. America remained generally isolated, except for Senator Borah of the Foreign Committee and Foreign Relations between 1924 and 1933, who thought that the treaty should be reconsidered due to moral, political and economic issues. According to Mathey’s findings, Borah gave comforting speeches in which he did not promise anything but still made Hungarian people feel optimistic about the future. Due to his sympathetic behaviour, he became very popular, and he corresponded with many different people from Hungary. In Mathey’s opinion, Borah never withheld his personal opinions in any situation, not even when they were in contrast with his party’s or government’s position. Despite this fact, however, he had limited power, and he did not have a say in European politics.
Mrs Mária Mocsári was not the first nor the only Hungarian female traveller in America in her age, but she was certainly the most famous, as Balázs Venkovits, assistant lecturer of the University of Debrecen, states in the next essay. The aim of Venkovits’s essay is to denote the characteristics of travelogues written by women and to point out the differences in how women and men experience the world while travelling. Due to the development of modes of transportation, the growing popularity of tourism, safety and comfort, and her husband’s death, Mrs Mocsári confronted prejudice, embraced emancipation, and travelled Europe, Africa, Asia and North America on her own. She recorded her experiences and photographs of her journey in travelogues, which were later published. These books and articles were different from those written by men as they did not contain any social, political, economic, racial or ethnic issues. According to Venkovits, they are similar to the travel guides we use nowadays, as they are primarily about the pleasures of travelling, and they contain information about accommodation, restaurants, trips around areas, means of transport and available social programs.
The last essay of the volume was written by the editor, Donald E. Morse, whose research is concerned with the maintenance of cultural memory through literature. More specifically, in his study of the journal, Morse refers to the Great Depression, World War II and the Vietnam War represented from the perspective of the witness. In the preservation of these memories, Morse considers Kurt Vonnegut special and original in literary history. In Morse’s words, “Vonnegut’s dissenting unofficial stories treat the great moral, social and political issues of his time, so he assails genocide, scorns racism, and denounces the destruction of nature; he defends first amendment rights and the sacredness of all life; advocates viable forms of human community; and accepts inevitable loss” (198). Proceeding from Vonnegut’s writings, Morse also discusses cultural differences between generations, such as trauma and pessimism, which stand in the way of propagating inner values. Morse, at the end of his essay, also laments how the media destroys collective memory as it turns an active audience into passive consumers, providing them with ready-made images and simulacra which lead to the loss of imagination.
The volume concludes with the reviews of five books: A Tale of a Pub: Re-Reading the “Cyclops” Episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses in the Context of Irish Cultural Nationalism (2012) written by Marianna Gula, Irish Theatre in Transition: From the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century (2015) edited by Donald E. Morse, All Dressed Up: Modern Irish Historical Pageantry (2014) written by Joan FitzPatrick Dean, Narrative Care: Biopolitics and the Novel (2014) by Arne De Boever and Perforating the Iron Curtain: European Détente, Transatlantic Relations, and the Cold War, 1965-1985 (2010) edited by Poul Villaume and Odd Arne Westad. These detailed, informative, and critical reviews were written by Ákos Farkas, Ildikó Limpár, Finian O’Gorman, Eszter Ureczky, and Máté Gergely Balogh, respectively. The twentieth issue of the Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies ends with the abstracts of the essays and biographical notes on the contributors.
Many of the authors of the twentieth issue of the Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies discuss immortal literary figures and pieces of literature from new perspectives, bringing new findings and approaches to zealous readers. To sum up, I believe that this volume is worthy of celebration not only because of the twentieth birthday of the journal, but also because the variety of topics presented guarantee that every reader will find something connected to his or her field of research, or simply enjoy all of them as a gourmet of a literary and cultural line-up.