Presentation on theme: "Tibor Fischer. born in 1959 in Stockport (soon moved to South London) son of emigrant Hungarian basketball players educated at Cambridge (Latin and French);"— Presentation transcript:
born in 1959 in Stockport (soon moved to South London) son of emigrant Hungarian basketball players educated at Cambridge (Latin and French); journalist 1988-90: Daily Telegraphs correspondent in Hungary (big changes) returns to England and writes Under the Frog rejected 58 (!) times, yet first debut novel ever shortlisted for Man Booker Prize
Novels Under the Frog (1992) The Thought Gang (1994) The Collector Collector (1997) Voyage to the End of the Room (2003) Good to be God (2008) Collections Don't Read This Book If You're Stupid (2000) (US title I Like Being Killed) Crushed Mexican Spiders (2011)
Hungarian as mothertongue, dropped at school "One of my proudest achievements is that when an authoritative book about Hungarian literature came out about a decade ago, there was a little article about me which said I was a Hungarian writer but pretending not to be. Bearing in mind I can hardly write a cheque in Hungarian, I was delighted to be included in the pantheon of Hungarian writers. The simple answer is, though, that I am delighted to be me." http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/ha y-festival/9239196/Hay-Budapest- Tibor-Fischer-just-delighted-to-be- himself.html
Under the Frog (1992) written for an English speaking audience (Zrínyi, Petőfi etc. explained) yet based on Hungarian stories (heard from relatives and friends) Hungarian diacritical marks (Róka, Ladányi, Üllői út) mirror translations (cf. title; mothering) occasional Hungarian words: pálinka, csárda (cf. Rushdie) I went to a British Council event a while back and there were lots of German professors of literature. About half of them were convinced I had a German sense of humour and the other half were sure it was British. They are probably still arguing about it now."
major writers crossing language boundaries: Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett [Agota Kristof] post-colonial? I was born in England; I grew up there, I was educated there, so it's a completely different thing. I mean, it's possible that a Hungarian influence is lurking, or was lurking, there in my subconscious somewhere. […] I had to sort of relearn Hungarian later on, to an extent, when I was working as a journalist. I think studying anything can have some influence on your outlook and writing, so it's possible that that coloured my work slightly, but it's not something I'm aware of, something I could consciously point out. http://webdoc.gwdg.de/edoc/ia/eese/artic97/bayer/9_97.html
I am very British. You can't grow up in a country, go through the educational system and so on without having been affected by it. I'm very keen on tea and Shakespeare. But at the same time I suppose the family is a very important influence and both my parents came from Hungary. So, I suppose, in some senses that makes me a bit of an outsider. Gerd Bayer: Is there any biographical information that you think readers should know in order to be able to understand or have access to your books? TF: No.
immigrant mentality? rootless drifting as a general symptom of a globalised, postcolonial, post- communist, migrant age home not a place? It was true that at the age of twenty- five he had never left the country, that he had never got more than three days march from his birthplace […] On the other hand, Gyuri mused, how many people could say they had travelled the length and breadth of Hungary naked?
a historical novel, set in a fixed period essentially documentary Human nature under a rather absurd and pointless political system Integrates a defining event of Hungarian history into the common cultural tradition available in English national epic in English? comic and irreverent tone private view apocriphal / profane / carnivalesque version welcome change or sacrilege? cf. Judit Friedrich: Variations on the Theme of Cultural Memory in Tibor Fischers Fiction
The life of both those Hungarians who left and those who stayed were defined by the revolution. a series of losses Gyuri suffers: hopes for a decent life in Hungary his mother, his friend, his lover (a foreigner, the Polish Jadwiga) and, finally, his country. cf. Saleem SinaiHe gains his freedom through these losses in the sense of being free to leave Hungary, and having nothing but his life to take along. Freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose (Janis Joplin)
12 chapters (frame: Nov 1955 – Oct 23rd, 1956) otherwise straight chronology, ca. one chapter per year Hungarians as the victims of history Fischer, Fischer, this is deplorable. You cant let a little war interfere with serious scholarship. You know our history. As a Hungarian you should be prepared for the odd cataclysm. It was like Hungary being between Germany and the Soviet Union. What sort of choice was that? Which language would you like your firing squad to speak? In these circumstances, of course, a brilliant Cardinal might not be any more useful. Being clever and far-sighted wasnt always of use. Does it help being the clever pig on the way to the abattoir?
narrator: self-conscious metropolitan youth Going back to his origins didnt seem to excite Ladányi greatly, but as Gyuri surveyed the territory, where the shoe was still seen as a daring new fashion idea, where only the sound of crops growing disturbed the peace, he could comprehend the lack of enthusiasm. There was nothing to be said about the landscape apart from that it started where the sky finished.
He could see the title of his autobiography: Women I almost slept with. […] 1950 was a good year, I almost slept with four women: a heroic production increase, under strict Marxist-Leninist principles, from 1949, when I almost slept with two women. Gyuri found Gombáss office to be vacated. He stared at Gombáss black telephone. The idea of picking up the receiver and putting a call through to abroad, somewhere, anywhere West, sneaked into his mind. He toyed with the idea of just doing it, of placing a call, just to hear them say Hello or Good morning, just to hear the sound of abroad, the crackle of free air, the ineffable language of out.
Progressive intellectuals from all over Europe had sent telegrams of protest to Hungarian Consuls. Gyuri had seen one from the West Hull Branch of the Friends of the Soviet Union in an exhibition about Rákosis life. The telegram had spoken of their emphatic disgust at Rákosis conviction. Gyuri had reflected that he might well feel more friendly towards the Soviet Union if he lived in West Hull. [...] Odd that the progressive intellectuals were so silent about the abounding convictions in Hungary now.
If the Lieutenant-Colonel took this seriously, if he believed what he was saying, Gyuri pondered, it was sad. If he didnt believe the nonsense he was spouting, like a parrot or a khaki gramophone player, that was sad too. Which was sadder? cf. Orwells laringal speech or human gramophone Strange that I had to wait twenty-two years to see someone saying what they thought in public; there was something almost improper about it. That was one of the worst things: the boredom. Dictatorship of the proletariat, apart from the abrasive and brutal nature of its despotism, was terribly dull. It wasnt the sort of tyranny youd want to invite to a party. […] Not only do I get a dictatorship, fumed Gyuri, but I get a tatty dictatorship, a third rate, a boring dictatorship.
a comic book (cf. Orwells Nineteen Eighty-Four in Anthony Burgesss opinion) "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen" fireworks of humour and comedy, achingly funny seriocomic (Rushdie): humour to introduce tragedy: Gyuri leaving AVO (also: dictatorship involved in his love-life) Looking back, Gyuri could see that they were out, because of a faraway row of guard-towers behind them. He was out. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he started to cry. tragedy: short, factual description (cf. Jadwigas death)
Other works puns, linguistic brilliance, grotesque details Plots are not obviously there focus on something memorable from Western culture: History, freedom and basketball; philosophy, France and food/drinks; (The Thought Gang) art, originality and categories; (The Collector Collector) faith, religion, false preachers, real help (Good to be God). These novels seem to suggest that whatever exists should be recorded and catalogued while they are still there – as if we sensing the imminent danger that all Western culture is about to disappear.