Frigyes Karinthy

The Beauty of the Body

Two days after my death I was served with a summons calling on me to appear at the Other World Heavenly Host Draft Centre. There I was posted to a certain place where, together with other conscripts, I waited to be transferred to Mars somewhere, in the Fourth Augmented Dimension. I was terribly bored. On the fifth day I stumbled across my friend Dezső, who had also been seconded for service in that place.

“How are you?” I asked him. “Going to be here long?”

“I’ve no idea. All I know is that I’m getting bored to death. You know, one gets into lazy habits in the Other World. Nothing is urgent, one has time on one’s hands—well, one can afford time in eternity. Have you been called up for eternity, too?”

“Yes, I have. Is it such an awful bore all the time?”

“Yes. One gradually loses interest in everything. The day before yesterday, for instance, it suddenly came over me that I had missed an appointment. Before I was called up I’d promised a lady that I’d pay her a visit the second night after my death. Now that it came back to me, why not go down, I thought, and have a chat with her, as I had nothing in particular to do.”

“Well and? What did she say?”

“I arrived a little before twelve and found her still asleep. I thought I’d let her sleep on, poor thing, so I went through the wall and sat in the mirror and looked at her. You know this state of bodilessness is quite an advantage in some ways. My body was a bit on the fat side and I used to sweat a lot. Nothing of that kind here.”

“Yes, that’s true enough.”

“Well, you see, I was keen enough to see what it would be like to meet her again. I may add that I’d previously written her an interminable and impossibly sentimental letter in which I’d said that we’d meet again in the other world.”

Dezső thought for a while.

“I can’t understand why I wanted to meet her in the other world of all places. It seems I had something or other to tell her, but upon my word I’d clean forgotten it. I sat in the mirror in her room, as I say, and racked my brains to remember what on earth I wanted to tell her. And how urgent it had seemed at the time! I had shot myself through the head specifically for the purpose of meeting her. And now, just fancy, there I was, and try as I would I couldn’t recall it!”

He was once more lost in meditation.

“Is she beautiful?” I asked at last.

Dezső shrugged his shoulders.

“God knows. I’d rather liked her before. Then I looked at her more closely while she slept. Now please tell me, has it ever occurred to you, since you came here, how fantastically odd a thing the human body is?”

“Odd, did you say?”

“Yes. I should say, comical. It struck me as rather strange that all the people down there were still wearing a body which I’d long discarded. It’s such a... such an old-fashioned thing... like cast-off clothes... The soul casts off the body and they go on wearing it...”

“There’s something in your point of view. But the different parts. . .”

“Well, my dear boy, I had a look at those too. I used to be madly in love with her legs, for instance. Now if you don’t mind my asking you, what does a human foot look like? Well, quite plainly, it’s like a crippled hand. And in point of fact it was a hand when man was still one of the monkeys. The fingers have been distorted and the palm has turned into a thick, formless, fleshy growth. It seems inconceivable to me now that I hadn’t noticed it then.”

“And her lips?”

“Two red blobs of flesh. The upper opening of the alimentary canal. It’s grown into a bulge from too much eating. Just inside there are tiny bones of an irregular sort. And then the nose! ... Well, I ask you, what sort of a shapeless thing is that! It has two holes in it. But the most ludicrous and pathetic of all are the two ears. And to think I never noticed it! Two left-over, pitiful morsels of tattered flesh, shrivelled and crumpled like bits of crackling. And these little protuberances hang on either side of the head, and I was infatuated by them! And wanted to kiss them! Grr!. . .”

“Odd, very odd. There’s some truth in what you say.”

“Well, I went on looking for a while. And all of it was like that. Then I started racking my brains again about what actually I’d come about and why I wanted to see her. Well, shameful as it may seem, I couldn’t remember, so in the end I took myself off as quietly as possible before she woke. I wouldn’t go back again, I don’t know why.”

“Haven’t you thought of her since?”

He meditated:

“No, I haven’t. I can’t help it, I suppose. But I haven’t overexerted myself, to be truthful. There’s plenty of time. What’s eternity good for? Give me a cigarette, will you?”

“I would, but what shall we smoke it with, with no mouths left?”

“That’s true. That’s the only thing I regret.”

SOURCE: Karinthy, Frigyes. “The Beauty of the Body” (Testi szépség), translated by László András T., in Grave and Gay: Selections from His Work, selected by István Kerékgyárto, afterword by Károly Szalay, binding and jacket by István Bányai, 2nd ed., (Budapest: Corvina Press, 1973), pp. 171-173.

Frigyes Karinthy, Humorist and Thinker” by Miklós Vajda

Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English

Frigyes (Frederiko) Karinthy (1887-1938) en Esperanto

Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
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Sándor Szathmári (1897-1974): Bibliografio & Retgvidilo / Bibliography & Web Guide

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