Symposium on Sándor Szathmári: videos revisited (1)

The symposium on Hungarian Esperantist author Sándor Szathmári that took place on 6 June 2012 at the Hungarian Consulate in Manhattan was conducted entirely in English, but my most complete report on it was written in Esperanto:

Simpozio pri Sándor Szathmári

The entire proceedings were videorecorded. Segments of the raw footage were posted at the sites of New Europe Books web site and Facebook page and on YouTube. I reported on this in my Esperanto post, with direct embedding of the two videos in which I appear. It turns out that you will find that the available footage is more reliably to be found on YouTube, so I am going to review these video segments now.

Anna North claims that direct social criticism is so costly that communicating one's critique in the form of parables allows much more latitude in criticizing one's society.

Benjamin Hale highlights the political context of the time (Mussolini, Hitler) but also suggests that Szathmári offers a mechanical engineer's seemingly favorable view of a harmonious society, and then offers the Behins, a parody of normal human culture, which leads to the melancholy conclusion that while Szathmári is disturbed by irrational human behavior, he recognizes that as a human he belongs among the Behins.

Francesco Crocco says that this novel will blow away utopian scholarship, viz. the relation to ideas of harmony in relation to technocracy and futurology. Szathmári's scenario of the harmony of machine and nature is quite at odds with our contemporary perspective of machine civilization as dysfunctional with respect to nature. In the novel culture is seen as a physical dysfunction in which the brain is a disordered machine that gets distorted by the impact of cosmic rays. The society of the Hins can be read as a critique of socialist and communist utilitarian perfectionism, but this projection of such an order as utopian runs against the grain.

Prof. Crocco has made some important observations here, and let us hope that the impact on utopian scholarship becomes realized.  I disagree only that Hin society should be considered as socialist or communist, at least without qualification. This sort of beehive/anthill/mechanical society that is anathema to us (think of Star Trek's Borg, among countless examples) really has nothing to do with socialism; it's a common nightmare scenario of the ultimately dehumanized, robotized, totalitarian society prevalent in the 20th century irrespective of the concept of what political/economic form it takes.

Gregory Moynahan provides one of the most interesting perspectives to come out of this symposium. The novel begins with the very contemporary international political situation, but turns into two Swiftian parodies: hyperrealism and hyperconventionalism. The novel is dark, thematizing modern technological murder, bifurcated into hyperrealism (advanced science and technology, a strictly physicalist perspective of reality) and hyperconventionalism (in which meaning is chaotic and oblivious to referential reality). 

I find this perspective quite exciting and also refer you to Prof. Moynahan's new book Ernst Cassirer and the Critical Science of Germany, 1899–1919 (London: Anthem Press, 2013). Philosophy of science and notions about language are major concerns of Prof. Moynahan, which in his view could illuminate the background set of philosophical notions of the time to which Szathmári reacted.

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