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Fri, 07 Sep 2012 11:51:53 EDT by admin, 117556 views
Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies, Northwestern University
Language and Literature paper by Allen, Marguerite (all papers)
Initiation into a World with no Future: Ferenc Barnás's The Ninth (A Kilencedik) and Görgy Dragomán's The White Knight (Fehér Király)
Two contemporary novels, published within a year of each other, transport us back to life under Soviet control in Kádár's Hungary and Ceauşescu's Romania. Ferenc Barnás's The Ninth (A Kilencedik) and György Dragomán's The White King (A Fehér Király), published in 2006 and 2005 respectively and rendered into English by the gifted translator Paul Olchváry, are initiation or coming-of-age novels that can also be classified as trauma literature. Since the novels are semi-autobiographical with narrators about the same age as their authors were at the time the stories take place, they are historically important as literary forms of “bearing witness”. The narrator protagonists of these novels are young boys, aged 9 and 11. They are “outsiders”, not because of anything they have done, but simply because of who they are: sons of fathers deemed “unreliable” by the all-powerful Communist Party. Thus, their crises have existential dimensions. If they are literally going to survive, they must find some way to adapt. However, their environment offers little in the way of acceptable options. How are they to cope in a world which seems to offer them no viable future?
Basic to their predicament is an unjust legal and social system, based not on “the communal establishment of universal values”, but on the will of a small group of Party members whose chief function is to promote themselves and perpetuate the system. To keep the Party in power, it doles out perks and privileges to the Party faithful and terrorizes anyone who might object. Long gone is the world of the classic education novel (Bildungsroman) Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre), where the process of maturation leads to a more or less harmonious integration into society. Instead, these protagonists live in a post-Nietzschean world of lost values that has more in common with the experience of the Absurd in Camus's The Outsider (L'Étranger)or Beckett's Waiting for Godot than the more harmonious world of Goethe's masterpiece.
Brief Professional Bio:
Marguerite Allen has a Ph.D. in Comparative Studies in Literature from the University of Chicago, where she was a Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation Dissertation Fellow. In 2008 she conducted research as a Fulbright Scholar in Hungary and was a Visiting Scholar at the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies at Northwestern University. She has written about her Hungarian family: a memoir about her uncle and an article about her father's work as a Counter Intelligence Corps officer in the U.S. Army and his arrests of Arrow Crossers in Austria, as recorded in his private diary. She had a scholarship in 2007 to attend the Holocaust Educational Foundation Summer Institute. She has published a book on the 1587 Faust chapbook and Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus, The Faust Leg end: Popular Formula and Modern Novel, as well as articles in major academic journals. Most recently, Marguerite wrote a chapter in The Faustian Century: German Literature and Culture in the Age of Luther and Faustus (Camden House, February 2013). After receiving her Ph.D., Marguerite taught German courses at Princeton University and World Literature at Loyola University of Chicago. She also won a National Endowment for the Humanities travel grant to conduct research at the Thomas Mann archives in Zurich, Switzerland.