Ralph Dumain leads seminar on "Voyage to Kazohinia" at CUNY (2)

Under the auspices of the Center for the Humanities of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, I was invited to lead a seminar on Voyage to Kazohinia, a unique utopian / dystopian novel by Hungarian Esperantist Sándor Szathmári, as part of the seminar series Possible Worlds, Alternative Futures.

The seminar took place on 7 March 2013. I began with a ten-minute introduction, which I will convert into a publishable piece. The discussion that followed took up the balance of the two-hour seminar. The dozen attendees all contributed the most stimulating ideas. I have summarized a number of the most important of these ideas in a guest blog post:

Ralph Dumain Guest Blog Post: Reflections on Voyage to Kazohinia Seminar


Ralph Dumain leads seminar on "Voyage to Kazohinia" at CUNY (1)

Above is the poster for my seminar.

Below are the various announcements on CUNY (City University of New York) blogs:

Ralph Dumain on "Voyage to Kazohinia"

CUNY Academic Commons: Possible Worlds, Alternative Futures: The Utopian Studies Seminar of CUNY
March 7: Seminar with Ralph Dumain on Voyage to Kazohinia

Some Resources in Preparation for Thursday’s seminar

Podcast by Ralph Dumain
The Center for the Humanities:Possible Worlds, Alternative Futures: Utopianism in Theory and Practice
Ralph Dumain on "Voyage to Kazohinia"
Here is a quick snapshot of an electronic bulletin board (posted at various places in the building) advertising the event:

Here is a photograph taken at the seminar, courtesy of Neil Blonstein:

I began with a 10-minute introduction. A lively discussion followed, the attendees, consisting mostly of professors and graduate students, all of whom asked key questions and contributed important thoughts on the subject. The event was a smashing success. I will write up a full report.


Magritte, ars combinatoria, Borges

Les affinités électives (1933)
Written 5 September 2011:

One should not be hasty in assuming that all surrealists held to the party line of the movement. Magritte was more circumspect about the arbitrary juxtapositions that Breton celebrated in Lautréamont. Here's an excerpt from a piece [On “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” by Jorge Luis Borges] I wrote recently on Borges & his tacit attitude towards surrealism:
I mentioned the propensity of surrealism to capitalize on exotic juxtapositions. Shock effects can easily be produced by juxtaposing two incongruous objects. But how original is this? René Magritte had caveats about such casual juxtapositions, and he considered his artworks exercises in problem-solving, exemplified in his Les affinités électives (1933). In addition to how he solved the particular problem of this work, Magritte in a lecture of February 1937 contrasts arbitrary and essential juxtapositions:
There is a secret affinity between certain images; it is equally valid for the objects which those images represent . . . We are familiar with birds in cages; interest is awakened more readily if the bird is replaced by a fish or a shoe; but though these images are strange they are unhappily accidental, arbitrary. It is possible to obtain a new image which will stand up to examination through having something final, something right about it: it’s the image showing an egg in the cage.


Sándor Szathmári on the limitations of sages

I re-read Sándor Szathmári's classic Voyage to Kazohinia a few days ago, savoring it afresh. Kazohinia consists of two societies: the extreme rationalists the Hins, and the extreme irrationalists the Behins. Twice Gulliver's Hin advisor Zatamon explains the dysfunction that is subjectivity in the brain's reception of the sun's cosmic rays, in chapter 8 while Gulliver resides among the Hins and in chapter 18 after Gulliver is rescued from the Behins.

I am presenting a priceless passage which I highlighted in my previous reading and in this one. The bikru are the rare prophets and sages among the Behins who are routinely martyred, deified, and whose wisdom is ignored or violated. But Zatamon finds a fatal flaw in them:
"The Behin' s brain doesn't separate self-radiation from the cosmic rays and that the receiver distorts in a complicated manner only confirms the fact of distortion. The more they know the more foolishly they will think; the hungrier they are the more food they will throw out; the less struggle required to produce our daily bread, the more they will kill each other for it; and when they writhe hungrily, sick and suffering they will hope to regain their strength through the "breath" of the mufruk, the kipu, the boeto, the yellow pebble or the salvation of the knife."

"There were also quite sensible Behins," I put in. "I heard of some bikru..."

"Yes, there are ones whose intellect understands the necessity of the kazo but their being is still Behin and this renders their way of thinking imperfect and prevents them from achieving full perception."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Their obsessions are characteristic of the Behins. The imagined misbeliefs."

"And what of the bikru?"

"Don't speak of 'the' bikru. You shouldn't think that they had only one bikru. There were several. Perhaps, you, too, might have become one of them."

"Indeed?!" I looked at him flabbergasted.

"Yes. They burn every bikru first. Later they recognize him because, as you yourself have seen, they have minds but the self-radiation doesn't allow them to dominate clearly and as soon as it comes to words, to say nothing of deeds, everything becomes reversed. The bikrus, however, have the ability to manifest their intelligence but, as I have said, in their being they are Behins and they are not free of imperfections and fixed ideas."

"Of fixed ideas? What is this fixed idea?"

"To be a bikru is also in fact a monomania; the erroneous belief that with the Behins there is a connection between the heard word and the brain. A bikru is a Behin whose only Behinity is that he doesn't realize among whom he lives; for it could not be imagined, could it, that somebody who was aware of the Behinic disease would still want to explain reality to them."