Author's page

János SZÉKELY
( 1929 - 1992 )

Biography

1929 born in Torda (Turda, Romania)
1940's attends military academy in Marosvásárhely (Tîrgu Mireº)
1944 sent to the front lines
1945 prisoner of war in Germany
1948 finishes school
1952 receives degree in Philosophy at the University of Kolozsvár
1953 editor of the Kolozsvár branch of the Bucharest Literary Publishing House
1956-89 poetry reviewer of the Igaz Szó literary journal
1992 dies in Marosvásárhely

He was consistent in refusing all the prizes awarded to him.

Starlight
1955

1955 Csillagfényben (Starlight) Székely’s first book of poems had a disastrous reception, all in all due to the political circumstances in communist Romania. He was criticised for ideological mistakes and was accused in particular of neglecting the ideals of the working class. As a poet, he was always a lonely thinker, never willing to serve the pressing needs of his country or community, at the same time suffering for his attitude.

On the Bank of Deep Waters
1957

1957 Mélyvizek partján (On the Bank of Deep Waters) In his second volume of poetry, Székely proved to be a stoic and was not at all convinced that progress existed. He wanted to be a philosopher, but was more interested in the realities of the world than the current ideology designated “philosophy” at the time. Thus he became a writer and explained his own philosophy in his works. He was soon pressed to write a self-critical article about his poems, but in a way this was more daring than the poetry itself, for it restated his views in an ironical manner.

Dózsa
1964

1964 Dózsa (Dózsa) This is a long poem or rather dramatic monologue about the martyred Hungarian peasant leader, György Dózsa: “I did not choose my fate. Fate has chosen me. And if it must be, then I must accept.” Székely’s aim is to examine the ethical dimensions of leadership. The structure is classical and firm and is also suitable for dramatic presentation. The text has been presented on stage with great success.

The Sorrow of Péter Soó – The Shadow
1972

1972 Soó Péter bánata – Az árnyék (The Sorrow of Péter Soó – The Shadow) Székely’s prose is neither lyrical nor philosophical; it is clear, straightforward and perfectly structured. Moral questions are again important here. The first story is about a young man suffering from terrible loneliness. The second is an absurd tale based on Albert von Chamisso’s story “Peter Schlemihl”, about a shadow without a man, longing for love. The story is told in a traditional-ironical narrative style.

Illustrated Chronicle
1979

1979 Képes krónika (Illustrated Chronicle) The majority of this collection of dramatic works was banned before the fall of the dictatorship in Romania. The plays are written in classical forms, using Biblical and historical themes, always having some ethical and moral question at their core. “Caligula helytartója” (Caligula’s Proconsul), for example, deals with an absurd situation between the powerful Romans and God-fearing Jews, who are being forced to place the statue of the mad Caligula in their sacred temple. These plays are absurd metaphors of Eastern-European existence, and also show how the Hungarian minority can survive in the “provinces”.

The Western Corps
1979

1979 A nyugati hadtest (The Western Corps) “If something can be forgotten, then let’s forget it. Our only chance is the unforgettable.” This is the epigraph of the short story sequence, a moving and precise account of the author’s experiences as a very young man in the Second World War. The order of the stories indicates a slowly evolving novel. The story begins with the hero as an adolescent member of a cavalry regiment at the beginning of its training, continues with his terrifying observations of war and ends with his experiences in a prison camp in Scotland. The book concludes with a long poem entitled “The Defeated”, a summary evaluation of lost war. In the first story, “Pálinkás”, we get an emblematic account of an ugly horse and a young soldier trying to ride it. The dreamy and slow youngster chose a career in the cavalry without realising what he was doing; he was driven by ambition alone. Each and every riding lesson for him is a complete failure; Pálinkás, his horse, will not let anyone ride him, tossing off of his back all who attempt. The boy is terrified of him, but still tries to befriend him, and succeeds—but only inside the stable. He hates the obstinate horse until one of his companions, outraged by Pálinkás’ behaviour, beats him to death. The autopsy revealed that the poor horse must have had terrible pain when ridden, and his behaviour was due to an anatomical problem. The story is a appropriate introduction to the following war stories, in which people with terrible pain and sufferings do things which they are totally unfit for. The second and the third story concern the narrator’s experiences in cadet school. He is humiliated for answering a teacher’s question (he is labelled an eager-beaver), but his appointed protégée, “the cripple”, comes out even worse; he is constantly beaten up and abased (just like Pálinkás, the horse). The stories show the instinctive cruelty of man and society and the painful cowardice of the good. The fourth story is an ethical parable that shows an impossible situation; a squad is ordered to kill one of their colleagues, a deserter. They disobey, meaning they must be decimated on the spot. Their commander, a teacher in civilian life, must quickly decide what to do in this absurd and tragic situation—he shoots the man to save his squad. After the war he confesses what he has done and goes to prison as a war criminal. The fifth story is about the retreat of the defeated army. The young Hungarian soldier rides for his life from the Russians in freezing cold in open country. On the way, he and his comrades see dead men and women on the wayside, later meet a group of marching prisoners, surrounded by their German guards, and witness the cruelty and efficiency of a soldier with a German shepherd, who kills those fallen by the roadside. The next story describes an air raid and observes another convoy of prisoners, this time arriving at the annihilation camp of Bergen-Belsen. The seventh story relates the narrator’s experiences in a Scottish prisoners’ camp (by giving a detailed account of a card game), while the last story—unforgettable in its tragic irony—searches for the meaning of his personal sufferings and life in general, meditating on the possibility of providence. The book can only be compared to such great Hungarian novels as Géza Ottlik’s Iskola a határon (School at the Frontier) or Imre Kertész’ Sorstalanság (Fateless).

The Real World
1995

1995 A valódi világ (The Real World) An essayistic summary of his philosophical views, this book, written in the last years of Székely’s life, appeared only after his death. His pessimistic, or rather stoical wisdom is based on the realities of the world, using biology and genetics to confront philosophy and politics. His main aim is to find a way of life without any communal, religious, historical, cultural or other illusions, accepting the fact that moral law must confront natural law. Székely is firm in his belief that philosophy itself is a linguistic construction which is not suitable to describe reality. Natural sciences, especially mathematics, are the only means to describe truth.

Download contents in PDF!