There are few countries whose literature cannot boast of an enfant terrible, a professional wit whose sayings are the delight of anthologist and of gossip columnist alike. In time almost every bon mot or pithy jest is, with or without justification, ascribed to such eccentrics; they become the catalytic agents for the scattered particles of satire and irreverent humour. For many years Tristan Bernard filled this role to perfection in France; Peter Altenberg, Armin Berg and Karl Kraus shared the part in Austria; and Oscar Wilde or the ‘incomparable Max’ in England and Alexander Woolcott in America have at one time or other been saddled with every true or half-baked witticism of their age. In Hungary, especially after Ferenc Molnár left his native country for ever, such a professional wit, the producer of verbal fireworks, the hero of countless anecdotes was that strangely protean writer Frigyes Karinthy.
Comparatively little of his work has been translated into English; yet his oeuvre fills more than twenty volumes. Only his mordant and brilliant Journey Around My Skull enjoyed any measure of success in Britain and America. Together with one or two collections of his shorter pieces and a few appearances in magazines, this is all the West has been privileged to read of his writings. This despite the fact that he can be translated more easily (and more profitably) than most East European authors; for Karinthy is not a typical Hungarian writer, and, apart from his coruscating puns and local references, many of his books would fit well into the garb of another language.
As a small boy, I spent during the short Communist regime of Béla Kun a few summer weeks in 1919 on Lake Balaton. It was there that Karinthy, after much pleading and pestering by me, filled two pages of my autograph book. The first part was a long introduction to an epic. In it he explained his poetic ideals, his long and arduous courting of the Muse and thanked me for “being an unmitigated nuisance” in forcing him to complete his magnum opus. He continued in this strain for several hundred words. Then came the epic itself. Very freely translated, it ran like this:
He gave me two slaps on the face
While I got one flap in that space.
Not a major poetic achievement, I'll admit. But it showed Karinthy’s sense of fun, his kindness to the young ‘nuisance’ and his delight in semantic games. The above specimen belonged to his ‘goat rhyme’ period, though in translation it has lost most of its essence. ‘Goat rhymes,’ invented by him, were rhymes in which the initial letters of the last two Hungarian words had to be identical in a couplet; but their order was reversed (slaps on the face; flap in that space). It must sound slightly mad and a bit too complicated; but he loved such games. Acrostics, cross-word puzzles, various parlour games with new twists—he invented and practised hundreds of new varieties and combinations. During the First World War he worked on the same newspaper as my father. I remember one riotous afternoon I spent in that office (without permission; I had been strictly forbidden to go near the place and was playing truant), during which Karinthy and the great poet Dezső Kosztolányi acted out a revolution. They drew up prononciamentos, elected Committees of National Security, sentenced one another to death several times over. Their fertile brains produced a brilliant parody of all revolutions and especially the tragically ineffective putsches of Central Europe.
Years later I translated some of his short stories into German and sold one to that excellent Berlin magazine Der Querschnitt whose ideas and innovations are still being plagiarized by editors all over the world. I collected the money (several hundred marks), and the next time I was in Budapest, I took the cash to the Café Hadik, Karinthy’s favourite haunt. (He could rarely write at home; he seemed to need a table with a marble top.) He sat there, surrounded by half-a-dozen admiring ladies, among them his second wife, a brilliant, dark-haired woman doctor. He greeted me kindly, asked about my travels and discussed his forthcoming journey on the dirigible Graf Zeppelin about which he was to write a memorable series of articles.
During a lull in the conversation I produced the envelope with the money.
“I brought you the fee from the Querschnitt,” I began. “It’s exactly. . .”
Karinthy kicked me under the table—hard. He hissed:
“Not in front of my wife, you fool!”
Five minutes later we both left for the gentlemen’s lavatory, where I handed over the cash.
“I’m sorry if I was rude,” he apologized. “But a man needn’t tell his wife about all the money he makes. . .”
His domestic life was somewhat chaotic. He earned a lot, compared to the average income of writers in Hungary; but when he died, all he left was a mass of debts, and he owed advances to half-a-dozen publishers. The same publishers made huge profits on his books, so they deserved little pity.
His first wife, a plump and beautiful actress, had died in the Spanish ’flu epidemic that swept over Europe in the last year of the First World War. He was deeply in love with her, and her death was probably the greatest sorrow of his life. He alluded to her in his poems and in some of his short stories; but he never spoke of her. They had a son. A few years later he married his second wife, then a young medical student. She, too, had been married before and brought her own son into the Karinthy family. Then a third child, another boy (and today himself a successful writer) was born to them. It was not uncommon to hear the warning cry in the Karinthy home: “Aranka!” (this was his wife’s name), “hurry! We need you! Your son and my son are beating our son again!”
Like most Hungarian writers, Karinthy had perforce to be a journalist half the time. He wrote regularly for a popular theatrical weekly, and he contributed two or three articles a week to an influential group of dailies. His scattered pieces, stories, articles, occasional contributions appeared in other magazines. He seldom had time to sit down and write at greater length; and, although he had a hundred plans for large-scale works, none of these materialized. He poked cruel fun at himself in a short story in which he described a writer who had a stupendous idea. The author planned to develop it in a five-volume saga; but gradually he became less and less ambitious, passing from the million-word novel to the five-act tragedy, from the epic poem to the series of short stories—until, in the end, needing a pittance for a meal, he wasted
it on a two-line epigram. It was something Karinthy did often enough himself; but his collected works show that in spite of the daily grind he found time and energy to produce much that was enduring and important.
Though he was by no means a handsome man with his pendulous underlip and misshapen, fleshy nose, he exerted a considerable attraction towards women. He loved chess. He was a brilliant talker and an excellent lecturer, and he sponsored strange causes like the protection of snails or the use of Esperanto at international political meetings. He had a boundless curiosity and a tremendous zest for life. Most of all he was, Re all good writers, interested in himself. When he developed a brain tumour, he had ample opportunity to follow the tortuous ways of self-analysis. The famous Journey Around My Skull is a unique book—a highly intelligent and sensitive man watching the gradual deterioration of his own brain, following the various stages of hope and despair. The operation itself that restored his sanity was described by the patient—surely the first time in medical history—up to and including the stage when his skull was gaping open and his brain exposed and pulsating. The book was far more than a medico-literary curiosity; it was the triumph of mind over matter, a document of the victory of indestructible intelligence over pain and death.
In mid-1938 Karinthy died. His end had nothing or very little to do with his operation—yet it was, to a certain extent, a fitting end for a humorist. One of his most endearing short pieces was written about a man whose shoe-laces wear out. Too lazy to buy new ones, he resorts to desperate stratagems to make the old pair do and invents ever-new methods for a makeshift solution. He has to devise increasingly complex systems. Dogged and defiant, he will now do almost anything except buy a new pair. The brief sketch ends with the break-down of the latest and most complicated system; the torn shoe-laces trip him up, and he breaks his neck.
On that hot summer day Karinthy was dressing in his hotel room at the same watering-place on Lake Balaton where he had written the ‘epic poem’ for me almost twenty years before. He bent down to tie his shoe-laces—and a tiny vein burst in his brain, causing a haemorrhage. He was dead within a few minutes.
In some ways he was lucky to have died before the evil tide of war and Nazism drowned Hungary. For he was of Jewish descent and would have suffered with countless other Jewish writers and artists who disappeared in the concentration camps or were massacred in Budapest. His wife was deported and died, very horribly, in Auschwitz. But his two sons survived, and the youngest, Ferenc, has inherited much of his father’s talent even though his writing is markedly individual and contemporary.
Karinthy began as a humorist; he rose to fame as a fun-maker and parodist. The two volumes of parodies he published under the title That’s How You Write! made him respected and feared almost overnight. He also published innumerable short sketches and provided the Budapest cabarets (modelled on the famous Munich Elf Scharfrichter and the later Viennese Kellerbühnen, and originally inspired by Montmartre) with some of their best pieces.
As a parodist he was without peer. I love Stephen Leacock’s Literary Lapses and respect Robert Neumann's vitriolically accurate work in this field. I know a good many other writers who have dabbled in this particular literary form—yet I have no hesitation in saying that none of them could touch Karinthy. He had a wonderful ability of grasping the essential quality, the basic nature of any writer, Hungarian or foreign. His parodies could be wild and mad exercises of the imagination running amuck (Perelman is perhaps the closest in this respect); but in most cases they were of high literary quality in themselves. Whether it was Ibsen or Conan Doyle, Dickens or Zola, the Hungarian Endre Ady or Ferenc Molnár whom he picked for his victim, the persiflage and satire were pin-pointed brilliantly, showing up the faults or exaggerations of the most eminent authors. He was like a master taxidermist; his stuffed animals were so life-like that they almost moved. Because his hits were so palpable, he made quite a few enemies; but even those who suffered the most cruel punishment at the point of his pen yielded in the end to the power of his heroic laughter. It became quite an honour, at least in Hungary, to be parodied by Karinthy.
But his mind was too sturdy and independent to be content with basing his work on the creations of others. His own original humour was abundant and irresistible; he must have written a couple of thousand ‘funny pieces,’ not counting his stage sketches. He usually started from an everyday premise, carrying it to its witty absurd extreme. A commonplace problem, a humdrum situation blossomed magically into a boisterous farrago of nonsense in his hands. Nothing is more difficult and futile than to analyze humour, and long studies have been devoted to the difference in the sense of the ridiculous between various nations and ages. But Karinthy’s pieces, I believe, have a universal appeal. Whether he writes about a school-boy explaining his bad school report (and telling his father that he cannot call on the headmaster as the front-door of the school has been removed for an indefinite period) or the effete young poet complaining bitterly that his own mother didn’t know him (only to discover in the end that the woman was not his mother at all); whether he traces the gradual development of murderous rage in a man longing to make a pet of a rabbit but being foiled by the animal’s stupidity; or whether he relates his own adventures in trying to educate his children—he has the rare talent of provoking belly-laugh and happy chuckle alike. That is, his wit is both robust and subtle; and it has a slight bitter taste that is thought-provoking.
A good example of Karinthy’s biting humour is his one-act play, The Magic Chair, of which he has written two or three versions, one considerably longer than the others. It is the story of the inventor, Dr. Genius who has been kept kicking his heels in a Minister’s anteroom for years. In the meantime he has invented perpetual motion, split the atom and found the formula for eternal youth—but the Minister is far more interested in a match-box that plays the National Anthem whenever a match is struck and in a picture frame that lights up when the sun sets. Years of frustration have embittered Dr. Genius. The moment of his revenge has now arrived. For he has invented a chair which is a kind of automatic lie-detector that will make everybody who sits in it speak nothing but the absolute truth. The one-act play shows him smuggling his invention into the Minister’s room—and the chair doing its work only too well. The chair shows up the politician for the ridiculous windbag he is; the private secretary as a corrupt lickspittle;
the wife as a hysterical and cheap tart; the best friend, a “sensitive poet,” as a vulgar and vain publicity hunter; the doctor a humbug who lives off the ignorance of his patients. The revenge of the inventor is complete; and though the fun becomes fast and furious, it is also in a way quite terrifying. This short play contains a modicum of Swift’s fearful and majestic misanthropy. The laughter it awakens is mixed with the humble realization how little integrity the human race possesses. It was Karinthy’s delight in many of his works to pierce inflated balloons and to show up the pretensions, frailties and contemptible vices of his fellow-men. As a good humorist he did not spare himself either. Bureaucrats, warmongers, pompous office-seekers, money-bags were all fair game to him. One of his most amusing pieces describes an interview with “the Bank.” He applies for a small loan but “the Bank” spins him such a moving hard luck story that in the end it is he who hands over his last banknote. With all his flights of fancy, with all his absurdity, there is a deep layer of social criticism even in his lightest and most frivolous writing.
Karinthy was also a poet of considerable depth and originality. He wrote comparatively little verse; his whole life’s output amounts only to a couple of volumes entitled Message in the Bottle and I Cannot Tell it to a Soul. But he was a master of rhyme and rhythm, and he stood quite alone in Hungarian poetry, without ancestors, companions or followers. In the introductory poem of his first volume he sums up his ars poetica; the following free translation may give an idea, however faint, of his poetic gifts.
THE MESSAGE IN THE BOTTLE
(The poet is asked why he no longer writes poems.)
(A few lines illegible, then . . .)
. . . my fingers
are frozen. This bottle in my left. The right
holds the joystick. It has grown very stiff.
Thick ice on the wings. I don’t
know whether the engine can take it. Queer
snoring noises it makes, in here. It's terribly cold.
I don’t know how high I am
(or how deep? or how far?).
Nearness and distance, all empty. And all
my instruments are frozen. The scales
of Lessing and the compressometer of the Academy;
the Marinetti altimeter, too. I think
I must be high enough because the penguins
no longer lift their heads as my propeller
drones above them, cutting across
the Northern Lights. They no longer hear me. Here are
no signs to see. Down there some rocky land. New land?
Unknown? Ever explored before? By whom? Perhaps
by Scott? Strindberg? Byron, Leopardi?
I don’t know. And I confess
I don’t care. I’m cold, the taste
of this thin air is bitter, horribly bitter . . .
Perhaps my nose has started to bleed.
I’m hungry . . . I’ve eaten all my biscuits.
Some unknown star is blinking
at the point where I gaze. The pemmican
has gone maggoty. What star can that be?
Perhaps already . . . from the Beyond? . . . What is the date?
Wednesday? Thursday? Or New Year’s Eve? Around
the homely hearth who sits now? Little brothers,
beside the anxiously guarded hearth
of petty feelings; brother birds, in the depths
of the human heart’s jungle . . . Hullo! hullo!
Does no one hear this exiled fellow-crow, myself?
A little while ago
something crackled through the rusty antenna of my radio . . .
I hear that Mr. D has found a fine adjective
in Banality Harbour,
while C has discovered a new metaphor
between two rhymes in Love Canal.
The Society reports it. Congratulations!
I’ll . . . tell you all . . . that I . . .
. . . when I get home. . . and land . . .
. . . all that I . . . felt here . . . only when
he escapes . . . can . . . the traveller . . . relate it . . .
But does he ever escape to return?
Now I put these few confused lines
into the empty wine bottle
and drop it through the hatch. Like rolling dice!
If an uncouth pearl-diver finds it, let him
throw it away, a broken oyster,
but should a literate sailor find it,
I send the message through him:
Here I am, at the Thirteenth Latitude of Desolation,
the Hundredth Longitude of Shame,
the Utmost Altitude of teeth-gnashing Defiance,
somewhere far out, at the point of the Ultimate,
and I still wonder whether it is possible to go any farther . . .
“And I still wonder whether it is possible to go any farther . . .” That was, in a sense, the basic idea of all Karinthy’s poetry. Whether he re-told the Parable of Talents or sang of the Invisible Prison that enfolded all men, he was on a quest, and his unquenchable curiosity accompanied him to the very end of his life.
In 1927-28, for the sake of a girl, whose favourite poet he was, I translated a book of sonnets (Sonette an Ead) by the Austrian playwright Anton Wildgans and published it at my own expense. Karinthy contributed a preface in which he wrote:
My dear young friend, with you beside me in a café comer, withdrawn from the company, seeking seclusion, I read the thirty sonnets of Anton Wildgans in your translation and then in the original. I read them, moved and pensive. Afterwards we exchanged a few clumsy words about the poems, in a low voice, embarrassed, looking around uneasily. Now that you remind me of my words, it is this strange manner that strikes me. Don’t you find it highly characteristic of the ‘spirit of the age’ as you might call it? I do.
Ady would call it the age of ‘songless hearts’—if he had lived long enough to experience it. As for myself, I feel this simile too weak to-day. Our ‘spirit of the age’ not only fails to understand but unashamedly persecutes and murders poetry. And those who still and once again believe in poems, if they sometimes meet, hide their secret as if they were conspirators—looking even at each other in shame and suspicion whether they do or do not face traitors? For the true believers meet in dungeons like revolutionaries.
And thus, all that used to be the ‘eternal theme’ of poetry, happiness
and love, appears almost revolutionary to-day. I cite as proof the thirty smooth and polished poems of Wildgans. They are revolutionary because they are religious poems—they proclaim the forbidden and persecuted faith of happiness. Its emblems and relics are the sweet laughter and the curling hair of a distant, exotic girl—and these have become sacraments and dogmas. They must not be seen by the new Caesars—they can only hide in the crypts of sonnets, lurking underground.
This world is ruled by terror and terrorists. We hardly dare to speak of those who have the courage to show the other side of the medal of panic fear—panic joy. And they themselves, like Wildgans, cover it up quickly again, turning the marble stone of the crypt, with a final, resigned and yet hopeful sigh: ‘She wasn’t Ead—but I’m Pan again . . .’
A poet’s credo and one to which Karinthy remained faithful in every line he wrote.
It was his deep curiosity that left him discontented with past and present and turned him into a writer of utopias, a very early but breathtakingly prophetic practitioner of science fiction. Many people familiar with his oeuvre agree that some of his most important ideas were embedded in the two short novels contained in this present volume, the sequels to Swift’s Gulliver's Travels. Faremido and Capillaria, I feel, combine Karinthy’s qualities and interests as poet, humorist, philosopher, scientist and visionary. The first was written in 1917, the second, in 1921—and these dates are important. When he published Faremido, Čapek’s R.U.R. with the first appearance of the robots had not yet been seen on any stage or printed in any book. Automation was something no one even dreamt of; cybernetics was far in the future and in the mind of Dr. Norbert Wiener. If ever a man was ahead of his time, the author of Faremido could be said to have marched in the distant vanguard. The point needs no labouring. The reader, if he keeps the date of the book’s original appearance in mind, will find proof of this startling prophetic power on every page. Karinthy’s utopias owe nothing to any predecessor; to Swift himself he owes only his framework, and even the character of Gulliver becomes transmuted through his magic.
Faremido was in a certain sense a prologue to the longer and more complex Capillaria. Basically both have the same theme: the utter inadequacy of Man, the futility of all our endeavours, the ridiculous pretence that we are sentient beings capable of progress. In Faremido Karinthy contrasted Man and Machine; in Capillaria he juxtaposed Man and Woman. The latter is a tale that would have delighted Schopenhauer or that Prince of Misogynists, Otto Weininger.
In the present edition of Capillaria we have omitted the long introductory letter which Karinthy addressed to H. G. Wells whom he called “the poet of A Short History of the World and the scientist of The First Men in the Moon.” Much of that prefatory letter has lost its topicality, and it was felt that Capillaria could stand alone. Yet one passage remains worth quoting—a few sentences about pre-First-World-War English literature:
“. . . there is one territory, one category of phenomena,” Karinthy addressed his fellow-writers, “where you English writers—and I do mean English, not Scottish or Irish—are simply lost like fish out of water; where you have no true perception, no eyes, no heart—and no realization that you lack these talents. Any suffering and uneasiness caused by these phenomena you consider madness, a pathological preoccupation or phantasmagoria—as the people of Diderot’s Country of the Blind regarded the causes of light and colour impressions. It may be that the cause of your blindness lies in the climate or in a certain temperament or in the suppression by special and lofty political and social legislation of these interests . . . or even in the proverbial English hypocrisy so often denounced by Scotsmen and Irishmen. I do not know . . . Let me take some English books at random—two or three of the best, outstanding and representative works or novels. In the first I delight in the quiet, deep wisdom, the sensitive understanding of all that is human—the second enchants me with its courage in facing the cruel truths of life—the third fires me, shakes my imagination with a dazzlingly sharp picture of miraculous possibilities and even more wonderful realities, with its riches of association and enlightenment. I read and enjoy these books—and suddenly I come upon the blind spot. In all three, at the same time and in connection with the same phenomenon. For in each novel—a woman appears. And at that moment the English writer starts making goat-like sounds; his serious, thoughtful, pleasant face twists into a strange grimace; he sways his hips, becomes deaf and blind, tells smutty stories, dances like a bear. You can hardly believe your eyes;
you turn a page, and instead of the landscape of grim beauty painted, say, by a jack London, you stare at an oleograph, a cheap Christmas card or a chocolate box top. And the author is apologetic—all this is due to the magic smile of a pretty girl. . .”
Were the charges true? One would be sticking out one’s neck if one tried to support or refute Karinthy. Certainly, no Englishman could have written Capillaria—or would have dared or wanted to. It is a book that delves deeper into the relationship of man and woman, focuses a sharper spotlight on the inequality and heart-breaking tug-of-war between the sexes than any other book I know, not excepting Lolita or Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Basically Karinthy was much more than a humorist, parodist, writer of utopias, poet or philosopher. As a Hungarian critic and biographer points out in a brief study, Karinthy was really an encyclopaedist in the truest sense of this almost forgotten word All his life he fought against the barriers to social progress, against prejudice and superstition, against power-myths and false legends. “He was a fighter . . . and a forlorn hope. He was a champion of the Rule of Reason and of the Government by Intellect.”
More than twenty-five years after his death his work is just as alive in his native country as it has been for many years. Hardly a day passes without a Karinthy sketch being produced in some literary cabaret or on the radio; hardly an hour goes by without someone quoting one of his famous bons mots. But his greatest, most original achievements are still lacking general acknowledgment. Many collections of his stories and sketches are being published. Even his early diaries and notes, his correspondence and his translations are printed—but his popularity, as it was in his lifetime, remains one-sided. Fundamentally he hated to be considered the eternal clown, a ‘real card,’ a ‘scream.’ Those of us who knew him well, to whom he talked of his real purpose and hope, knew well enough that he was annoyed whenever he was classified as a light-weight funny man. Most publishers, magazines, dailies, for which he worked, demanded ‘something amusing’ from him; no wonder that he was for so long misunderstood by his compa-
triots. Yet Mihály Babits, the great Hungarian poet, translator and critic, wrote in 1926 in answer to the enquiry of a foreign publisher:
If someone asked me who was the Hungarian writer with the most to say to Europe, beyond the frontiers of Hungary and independently of our tragic problems, I would name Frigyes Karinthy without the slightest hesitation. His work carries the most universal message about our deepest common human problems. We have great writers beside him whom Europe does not know or knows insufficiently, and whom it would be well worth for the whole world to know; for they have created pictures of the life and emotions of a much-suffered and amazingly complex nation. In the colours of these pictures you will discover the basic elements of all that is eternally human. But in Karinthy’s work these elements are not presented in Hungarian colours, through Hungarian problems. In his writing the people are not wearing Magyar garments—no, I’m tempted to say, they wear no clothes at all. They are completely and unashamedly naked. . .
To be sure, Karinthy has always tried to present the very essence of people and events. Where he has succeeded in his quest, he has sought the simplest manner to express the basic ideas so that all men could understand him.
He made no secret that he wanted to be considered one of Diderot’s successors; if he had had his way, he claimed, he would have devoted all his time and ingenuity to create a new encyclopaedia. By this he meant nothing as simple and ordinary as a series of illustrated and morocco-bound volumes to grace a glass-fronted book-case. Even in his bondage of having to write too much and too fast, he retained a deep nostalgia for his original conception. Although he was unable to work systematically on the new definition of ideas, he did at least produce many scattered, occasional pieces under the various headings of his imaginary New Encyclopaedia. He used quite often the sub-heading “an article in the New Encyclopaedia” for his essays; even his humorous pieces, sketches, short stories, novels were all part of a great comprehensive plan. His only full-length play, Tomorrow Morning, was also conceived as a link in this encyclopaedic chain—it served to give an entirely new interpretation to the problems of fear and courage.
Nor can one exclude from his basic design the parodies of That’s
How You Write!. In a preface he wrote to the third or fourth edition of this collection, Karinthy emphasized that he was not trying to produce simple parodies, travesties or mere banter but literary caricatures, to show up sharply and faithfully the basic qualities of his victims. If he had been aiming at easy laughs, he would have chosen bad or second-rate writers and their most vulnerable works—Pinero instead of Wilde, Ohnet instead of Proust. But he parodied the best writers and their finest work; in his caricatures he reduced them to their essence, to nudity—and created further headings for his New Encyclopaedia.
In his introductory letter to Capillaria, Karinthy explained forcefully why he considered the French encyclopaedists, Diderot and the other liberal humanists, his models and forerunners. They “called themselves encyclopaedists deliberately and consciously,” he wrote, “they already knew that analysis was the basis of the great work of enlightenment. The terribly confused complex of ideas, whose mistaken association is shown by their practical result, the frightful state of the world, must be unravelled, taken apart, broken up if there is no other way; we must find the pure, simple elements of ideas so that we can reassemble them in a natural, healthy way.”
Some of his critics have compared him to Swift (and Swift was perhaps the strongest influence upon the encyclopaedists), yet the two sequels to Gulliver’s Travels show how different Karinthy was from his great predecessor. While Dean Swift disliked (and even hated) humanity, condemning all men because of their sins, Karinthy loved human beings and loved life. In his eyes man was not essentially bad; he needed help just as social reforms had to be achieved in order to cure the malaise of the world.
In some ways, Swift considered individual and collective faults almost original sins. In the same mistakes and crimes Karinthy saw errors of education and the failings of social institutions. In the preface to Capillaria he explained that the anomalies in the relations of the sexes were due not to inborn viciousness but to a faulty social system—a system that accepted the idiotic premise
that a woman’s love should require other rewards and returns than the love of a man. He urged a revolution, to put an end to sexual misery; but he knew that in order to achieve this, its economic causes must be also removed. “After the revolution of our everyday bread,” he wrote, “we must start the revolution of everyday happiness, of everyday love. . .”
He was a pacifist with a searing hatred of war; but he hated inequality and injustice just as deeply. “. . . there is a greater crime than murder, there is something worse than death—it is slavery,” he wrote. “And war means slavery. If man lived for ever and not for just the biblical three-score-and-ten, then indeed the supreme treasure of which he could be robbed would be his life and killing the supreme sin. But as we all have to die sooner or later, he who robs me of the meaning of my life commits a graver sin than a murderer. And the meaning of life is freedom. War is the destroyer of human liberties. The antithesis of war is not peace but the revolution of ideas. . .”
I am happy and proud to present in English what I believe to be the most important work of the man who was my friend, teacher and guide, and whose entry into world literature has been long overdue.
SOURCE: Tabori, Paul. Introduction(1964) in Voyage to Faremido. Capillaria; by Frigyes Karinthy, introduced and translated by Paul Tabori (Budapest: Corvina Press, 1965; New York: Living Books, 1966), pp. vii-xxi.
The Message in the Bottle by Frigyes Karinthy
Frigyes Karinthy: philosophical fragments / filozofiaj fragmentoj
Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English
Frigyes (Frederiko) Karinthy (1887-1938) en Esperanto
Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
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