Museum of Literature "Petőfi"

Ilona H. Bagó


Museum of Literature "Petőfi"

Károlyi Mihály u. 16 H – 1053 Budapest Hungary

Consciousness - Attila Joacute;zsef (1905-1937)


In 1954, a Council of Ministers order founded the Museum of Literature Petőfi with the aim of collecting and preserving records of Hungarian literature. The name of the Museum presented itself naturally, since the poesy of Saacute;ndor Petőfi, who died young in the 1848-49 War of independence, symbolises Hungarian poetry to the general reader both within and beyond the borders of the country. With the establishment of the new, national institution, an important consideration was that the Museum should - as the legal successor of the Petőfi House, protector of the Petőfi legacy - continue and, at the same time, operate on a new basis.


"It isn''t necessary for me to write poems, but it seems
necessary for poems to be written otherwise the
diamond axis of the world would go bent."

Hungary is the nation of poets. It belongs to those cultures where lyrical poetry in their esthetic value accomplished much more then prose and drama. Since poetry is closer to the language in which it was born then any other work of art these cultures have a more difficult time to make their national treasures known on the stages of world literature then those cultures that have the luxury to boast about the oeuvre of great novelists and playwrights.
For Hungarian readers Attila Joacute;zsef is among the greatest. His name is mentioned together with the names of Baacute;lint Balassi, Mihaacute;ly Vouml;rouml;smarty, Saacute;ndor Petőfi, Jaacute;nos Arany and Endre Ady who are regarded as the leading poets of Hungary. For foreign readers these poets are absolutely not more familiar then Attila Joacute;zsef himself. This is why it's probably not considered prejudice if we measure this not well known Hungarian lyricist with other, great, well known European poets of his era. The names of Apollinaire, Paul Valery, Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gottfried Benn and Rilke come to mind if we wish to suggest the order of magnitude where Attila Joacute;zsef belongs to. However, these analogies don''t say much about the peculiar characteristics of his poetry.

Attila Joacute;zsef was representing modern poetry in an era which began in the second half of the nineteen twenties after the decline of the avant-garde. He belonged to those poets who were able to harmonize the most modern endeavors of the era, the notions of existentialist philosophy, the formula of the self designed by the psychoanalysis, the human consequences of the Einsteinian world perception and with regard to forms, the inheritance of the avant-garde with forms derived from tradition, the acceptance of the deepest layers of folklore, the poetry of Villon, the genres of antiquity and with the requirements of metrics.
During his short, tragically broken career his genius displayed itself in versatile poems written in many different ways always at a high aesthetic level. In the beginning of his mature era from 1927 until his suicide in 1937 he had a short "Mallarme moment" when he became the devotee of poesie pure and attempted to create concentrated poems resembling to fine Japanese ink drawings. He considered the work of art a miniature replica of the universe and wrote poems he considered models of the universe.
He very soon abandoned this program, realizing its barriers and difficulties, but he kept the demand of absolute poetry throughout his entire career. The situation of Hungarian history promised a radical historical - social transformation to the writers of the era. Attila Joacute;zsef wished to serve this historical action with his poetry. The promotion of action and consciousness brought hard core reality and dynamic rhetorics aimed at conviction back to his poetry, therefore his poems written in the beginning of the thirties most resemble the works of Mayakovsky and Brecht in their thematic and intonations, but from the viewpoint of poetics he can also be considered the descendant of Petőfi, Victor Hugo or the French - Belgian Emile Verhaeren and even can be related to Eacute;luard who emerged from surrealism.
History didn''t fulfil expectations. Attila Joacute;zsef''s career was taken over by involuntary passiveness, solitude, melancholy and intellectual contemplation Pathos disappeared, personality lost importance. Harrowing compositions of tragic recognition of the self, responsibility and coping with the difficulties of life were born one after another in his atelier. In his last years injuries he suffered and his guilty conscience took over the self having lost its balance and led to the unfolding of a self-analytical, confessional lyricism. Sin, loneliness, the problem of defenselessness, the struggle with the memory of the lost mother and father, the trouble with the trauma of his childhood received dominant parts in his late poetry with less lyrical parallels, bearing more resemblance to the prose of the era, to Franz Kafka or Albert Camus. And if we are looking for a more familiar Hungarian analog for the world to describe him, then his poetry is particularly comparable to the music of Beacute;la Bartoacute;k.


The title of the exhibition organized on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the poet's birth is Consciousness. In the oeuvre of Attila Joacute;zsef, which is unusually rich in motifs and images and contains complex emotional and philosophical ruminations, this poem best represents the emotional world of 20th century man with the conveyance of the temporal frames of the state of being cast into existence (Heidegger's notion of Geworfenheit). At the same time it represents the deportment, so characteristic of Attila Joacute;zsef, with which he investigated the nature of this world and man's place within it, as well as the courage with which he confronted experiences that bore existential consequences.
The creation and development of an interactive, multimedia exhibition was a serious challenge from a professional point of view, as the audience had for the most part been reared on traditional museums in which the visitor is usually confronted by a multitude of objects jumbled together in glass cabinets. On this occasion the visitor was welcomed merely by five large-screen monitors placed next to one another, two touch-screen computers, and six sound booths. The travelling exhibition Consciousness was radically multimedia: it presented the life, the material legacy, and the poetry of Attila Joacute;zsef with the help of new technology (synchronized digital audio and video recordings, an interactive multimedia program). When the program is launched the main title appears on the screens to the music of Beacute;la Bartoacute;k. The synchronized screens merge into one image, a single caption - CONSCIOUSNESS. The picture then splits into five parts and five thirteen-minute-long films are shown, each to the same music. The film program then automatically restarts, allowing newly arrived visitors to tune in easily. Though the films diverge from one another thematically they are nevertheless similar in style. The documents, photographs, details of manuscripts, and sometimes objects, books, archival film recordings, and associative sequences of images of nature merge into a flow to music by Bartoacute;k with the aid of a series of fadings-in and fadings-out. Attila Joacute;zsef was captivated by the music of Bartoacute;k. In 1936 he planned on writing an extensive essay on Bartoacute;k. A fragment from the third movement of his work entitled Music for String Instruments, Percussion and Celesta accompanies the signed photograph of the animation opening the exhibition, on which is written: "One who here attains even half salvation, / because his sins are great: Flung here / From among the people of the future, / Who see even as made seen." As an image, the drop of water dispersing in concentric circles expresses this well, while the sound of the celesta expresses it musically. Hereafter the slow rhythm of the second movement of the 3. piano concerto becomes the meditative accompaniment to the process of reception. The connection between the two brilliant artists of the twentieth century prompts us to profound emotional receptiveness: with unbelievable intensity the music gives rise to the series of pictures, and the pictures always place the music in a different light.
We situated six booths with ear phones in front of the screens. One can listen to ten poems in each of them in any order while gazing at one of the films on the screens. The simultaneous reception of image and sound (music and verse) offers possibilities for interesting associations, making a visit to see the exhibition an experience indeed.

We assembled the menu items on the computers so that the visitor would be free to decide precisely where he might want to begin. There are several levels to the information that is accessible. The visitor does not receive any guidance or information. He is only called upon to take part as one coming to awareness. He himself must decide precisely how much of what has been offered he wants to acquaint himself with. He can follow biographical events in parallel with the formation of Attila Joacute;zsef's poetry and his relationships with others. He can familiarize himself with the poet's material bequest (his books, manuscripts, watch, pipe, typewriter, pen, and cigarettes) and hear the poems as read by fine actors and singers. He can contrast new findings with old and can in the end perhaps modify any image he might have formed earlier of Attila Joacute;zsef. The visitor can choose from the following options:
Films: the material of the exhibition seen on the plasma screens can be viewed again. The films can be stopped and the viewer can acquaint himself with the data, names, dates, titles of works, descriptions of localities, and maps concerning the images that happen to be playing at that moment. We offer, in addition to the explanatory texts, considerable supplementary documents, and in most cases there are opportunities to hear the verses recited. We also compiled studies on Attila Joacute;zsef memorial sites in order to nurture enthusiasm for the exhibition among those who may not yet have travelled to these places. Photographs, maps (photos of Attila Joacute;zsef, Ferencvaacute;ros in pictures, Attila Joacute;zsef's places of dwelling with maps); Consciousness (the manuscripts can be viewed), Curriculum vitae (the manuscripts can be viewed), Attila Joacute;zsef Volumes (one can leaf through the seven volumes and the poems themselves can be heard), the library of Attila Joacute;zsef (here we show the poet's books from the collection of the Petőfi Literary Museum).
The exhibition was made possible through the cooperation of the Museum of Ethnography. It was supported by the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage and the Attila Joacute;zsef Memorial Year.

Consciousness. DVD-ROM - The materials of the interactive, multimedia travelling exhibition on Attila Joacute;zsef of the Museum of Literature "Petőfi". In Hungarian, English, German, and French. Published by the Museum of Literature "Petőfi", 2005.


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