Monday, 28 December 2009

A wish for the new decade

Mondottam, Ember, küzdj, és bízva bízzál

Emma McDowell writes –

I find your new 'face', the Terracotta Warrior, very appropriate. Vigilance, endurance etc. Keep your magical hat (or hairpiece?) on!

Finally I have a little time for extra-curricular pursuits, such as reading. (Not to put myself to sleep, but to enjoy the intellectual activity.) So I read – on George’s repeated urging – the article in the Special Double Christmas Issue of The Economist, to which already the title page refers: “Onwards and upwards”, pp. 35-38.

It starts with a long, appreciative overview of one of our (Hungarians’) literary masterpieces, Imre Madách’s Az ember tragédiája [The Tragedy of Man] and – taking this as the backbone of the article – reflects on humanity’s progress right through history, as Madách did, in the middle of the 19th century in his isolated country-house, in sad, defeated Hungary. His, (and the Economist columnist’s) final saying is, however, NOT TRAGIC, in spite of everything that always went wrong with mankind. The Tragedy ends in the often quoted words (spoken by God):

Mondottam, Ember, küzdj, és bízva bízzál

Which equals my wish for you, and us, for the New Year and Decade!

Gee, thanks, Emma. Hungarian is hard enough in prose. In poetry, well... I think that what Madách’s God said was something like:

I have said unto you, Man, struggle on and rely on trust.

No doubt, you (and others) will correct me on this one! Stirring stoicism from Madách and his God, but I think that you know what I think of Hungarian history and its possible effects upon the Hungarian national psyche. That said, I am at an immediate loss of something to offer you in return, though the breech at Harfleur does rather come to mind.

Either way, and in whatever mood, let the watchword for the new decade now almost upon us indeed be 'onwards and upwards', előre!

Onwards and upwards

Thank you, George, for spotting this most excellent article (for which the illustrator receives a by-line and the author does not) and thank you Emma for drawing it to attention in this present, particular context.

– (2009) The idea of progress. Onwards and upwards. Why is the modern view of progress so impoverished? The Economist, 17 December. pp. 35-38

A new 'face'

Emma is referring to my new profile picture on Facebook.


  1. "People want to determine how the world works, not always be determined by it".

    An important quote in that Economist article about progress.

  2. The English word 'determine' is an awkward beast with too many shades of meaning not at times to be used (or at least be understood) ambiguously.

    Here for example, if it is used to mean something like 'ascertain' or 'find out', then I am afraid that the sentence quoted will not be taking anyone very far.

    Perhaps,though, what is meant here is more like 'influence' or 'bring about'. 'The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.'

    The concluding sentence of the article from the Economist implies that latter meaning is intended here.

    In such a case, I go with it. That is why the article is referred to here.

  3. This is also being chewed over across on Norman Perrin's blog:

  4. And in post-modernism, 'determine' and 'over-determine' are big words. I said a few months ago: 'I don't want to over-determine my Papa's childhood'.

    I understand 'determine' as an active word, one which makes things happen.

    I put in "control" instead of "determine" to get that meaning.

  5. Now that I remember, 'ascertain' can be active too (especially in the 'Papa's childhood' sentence).

    You might have a certain working model about how the world might work, and then reality gives you another. Another's perception gives you yet another.

    All might lead to progress.

  6. Are there no Hungarians around to take issue with your translation of the famous quotation? The Economist columnist obviously READ the “Tragedy” in English, - I only have it in the original.

    (The author of the article may be a Hungarian-speaker, or of Hungarian descent – who else would, in the English speaking world, realize the majesty and present actuality of Madách? It would be interesting to find out who the mysterious author is.)

    'Ember küzdj...': firstly it carries the meaning 'fight' (not physically, rather as 'strive' in this case… then, of course it also implies 'struggle.

    I remember my son George’s last meeting with Mária Hári at the Institute. We went and told her about George being admitted to University, how happy it made him, and he thanked the „Doktor néni” for all the help he got there.

    She said: 'Gyuri, az volt a legfontosabb, hogy te itt nálunk megtanultál KÜZDENI!' - I can only translate her words (to imply what she meant) as: 'The most important thing that you learned here was how to FIGHT'. George pulled himself up into his 'best' standing position. He managed to be taller than Hári when she shook his hand...