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Dream reconstructions

Zoltán Sebők: Towards a New Mysticism: In conversation with Miklós Erdély



Over the course of the summer, Miklós Erdély visited Yugoslavia as a guest of the Temerin Amateur Arts Meeting [in Voivodina, northern Serbia]. The conversation below took place in Kanizsa [Kanjiža, in Serbian] at this time, though not specifically for this occasion. Although it is true that we had promised each other for some time that we would make a recorded interview, the opportunity took me by surprise. I did not have any questions prepared, and I was only familiar with a portion of Erdély’s oeuvre; and so, I placed the microphone before him, not too well-prepared, but with great interest. Now that László Beke’s1 study has been published, I am truly free to dispense with an introduction to Erdély’s work. The subject of our discussion covered four primary zones of Miklós Erdély’s fields of interest: visual art, film, architecture, and literature, and their border zones.

Z.S.: Perhaps we might begin with what these have, or should have, in common: creativity. You led a creativity development group, didn’t you?

M.E.: Yes. The creativity group can be considered a part of my pedagogical activity through which I tried to capitalize on that context in which it was worthwhile to work at all. I thought that there should be an environment for what I am doing. I tried to impart and popularize that school of thought that I feel is essential. And this is only possible if others—the “students”—also try to do something. All of this developed nicely, becoming an authentic milieu, autonomous—it did not result in simple epigonism, but rather artists who felt that my work provided a good context for them, developed it. I might say that this context became the best critic of my activity.

Z.S.: There is an unresolved debate in psychology about whether creativity can be taught or developed. Teaching involves making one aware of things, but it is widely believed that awareness can easily kill creativity. I am thinking, for example, of the Far Eastern parable that has spread in many versions, about the centipede. The centipede was asked how he was able to move all his legs in such pure harmony, without ever mixing them up. The punch line of the story is that the centipede thought about this for so long—and became aware of things to such an extent—that he “forgot” how to walk. In other words, if one consciously tries to do something—in our case, to become creative—generally a bunch of disturbing circumstances will come into the picture. And so, my question is this: did you make these kids aware—or did they themselves become aware—that they should now become creative? Can this paralyzing quality that is widely attributed to consciousness, something so many believe in, be compatible with creative invention?

M.E.: When we began these exercises,2 we had no idea that we were hunting for creativity. It was only later that I read a book (Erika Landau: The Psychology of Creativity)3 and recognized that our activity is similar to what was called creativity in psychology. On the other hand, in the second or third year, during our Fantasy Developing Exercises, we definitely became aware of what might be referred to as a creative mental operation. Namely because what is generally called creative mental function are the narrow variations of a few mental processes. By becoming conscious of which they are, we attempted to rise above them. Thus, we wanted to do something that man had not been capable of up till that point. Or rather, they were capable of it, but only in an unconscious form: this is that certain inexplicable artistic activity in which an esoteric cerebral functioning manifests. Thus, if we discovered “standard-creative” mental procedures in a work, we immediately assumed it wasn’t good. These procedures are relatively simple. They include enhancement, translation, double translation, reduction, the tautological approach to things, etc. Ninety percent of the activity of the Avant-gardists was comprised of these. These are naturally not procedures of the highest order. There are also those which point beyond these, which are unfathomable, unable to be modeled. By making that layer aware, accessible to anyone, we opened it up and even made compulsory the field that is generally attainable by a select few. As a result, of course, this became not only a pedagogical activity, but rather a selective one. Those who could not cope with this dropped out, and a good group evolved with time. I did not consider it at all my duty to teach anyone creativity, like a standard educator. I rather sought out those individuals who are able to live and work in this spirit.

Creativity Exercises: “Horizontal–Vertical Drawing with Poles.” Performed at the opening of the exhibition Creativity and Visuality, Gallery of Józsefváros, Budapest, May 1976. Photo: Tamás Papp. © Heirs of Tamás Papp. Courtesy to the Miklós Erdély Foundation

Z.S.: You called the tautological approach to things standard-like.

M.E.: Yes.

Z.S.: Joseph Kosuth, on the other hand, radically cast a light on the tautological nature of art. He writes that art is a self-expanding tautological system. By the same token that there are multiple versions and meanings of “conceptual”, you are also generally referred to as conceptual. How compatible are the two; that is to say, how compatible are you and Kosuth?

M.E.: Kosuth indicated certain tautological forms, but unless I am mistaken, he also pointed them out in order to transcend them. This is how I interpret his work, One and Three Chairs. This was a simple work of disclosure: he cast a light on how there have always been tautological elements in art, but that was not a part of their essence.4 For instance, portrayal itself is a tautology; furthermore, as Wittgenstein also demonstrated, logic itself is also a tautology. The task of the artist is precisely to break free from this—like a fish out of water—and in this way it will become a creature that can live on dry land, which naturally is only possible for a moment.

Z.S.: Yes, Kosuth also said that art is a system that expands itself. And this is easy to misunderstand: more than once I have encountered the analogy that modern art is a system that self-expands in its technical methods. As they say, a new washing machine can replace, substitute, or render all the older models “obsolete”...

M.E.: By no means. With washing machines, we are talking about a concrete function—an increasing number of functions. This is a quantitative factor, while in art, we can only think of a qualitatively new strike when a new concept of art is constituted. On the other hand, it is characteristic of the complexity of art that if one succeeds in constructing a new concept of art, then we suddenly discover that this new concept of art was already present in the Old Masters, and moreover, as one of its essential aspects. Thus we will be able to suddenly re-classify all of art history. As opposed to techniques, whenever a new concept comes to the fore, the older works emerge triumphant. Because they possess a high degree of complexity.

Z.S.: Yet it seems to me that the early adoption of conceptual art in Hungary was not characterized by such a healthy approach...

M.E.: This tautology-affair was a symptomatic case of the epigonic storm that made my hair stand on end. When word of Kosuth’s chair-piece spread, everyone began doing tautological works. This was the concept then. I cried out in vain that this was a method, that this was the how and why of things, and not their essence. Epigones typically never get the essence of things, but just the hows and whys. The way I approached this was that the subject of art is concern with art, in other words the way Kosuth visualized this. Since it is rare to see the depicted and the depiction simultaneously, this had its own disorienting effect. In 1970, perhaps not in such a pregnant form, but I also produced a work of similar intent. At the R exhibition,5 I displayed a vase of flowers, and I wrote on it: “Vase with flowers.” It was an allusion to this old theme of painting—I wanted this old theme to appear as itself. And then I had not even heard of Kosuth in this world. In any case, when did he produce this chair work?

Vase with flowers
Miklós Erdély. Vase with Flowers. Pictured at the exhibition R. 1970. Photo: Estate of Miklós Erdély. © Heirs of Miklós Erdély. Courtesy to the Miklós Erdély Foundation

Z.S.: I believe in 1965.

M.E.: That’s possible. But I had not seen a sign of it yet.

Z.S.: Ben Vautier was the one who later put himself on display.

M.E.: This gesture aims to deepen one strand of art history, namely Expressionism. In Expressionism, one agenda of art was brought into consciousness: how the artist expresses him/herself. If they express themselves, then the best way to do it is for her/him to stand there her/himself... This carries one strand of older art ad absurdum. Since the 1960s, every artwork has in fact been a proposal for a re-definition of art. Everyone has been engaged in this semi-consciously, but in Kosuth’s case, he was fully conscious, and he made it his agenda.

Z.S.: Then we might say that older art was also implicitly self-reflexive. It was about art itself, too. What kind of significance would you attribute to the fact that this movement became explicit?

M.E.: The model is approximately the same as what I said about creativity before. We can only transcend something if we make ourselves aware of the mental-spiritual demands working within it. Then we know this is it... and what happens afterwards? Until they become conscious, explicit, it is very difficult to transcend them.

Z.S.: Now one of Leszek Kolakowszki’s observations comes to mind: the task of the bird to just sing and not to focus on its own song. About the same thing is expressed in Intuitionism—especially with Benedetto Croce—whereby there is a deep chasm between intuition and intellect. Art is pure intuition, and the strike of the intellect can only be disorienting—they say—tampering with, perverting the spontaneous, pure song of the bird...

M.E.: I am only able to liberate intuition when I have become conscious of what exists. I do not exclude intuition. Once we have become aware of what sort of neurological or mental operations are performed by the “creative” person, and when we have cast these off due to their very conventionality, then we will stand face to face with empty nothingness. And this is where intuition comes in—in a pure state, and not mixed up with any old interferences. We are made aware of what is there, or from which aspect there is no longer any need of us. The intellect does not play a creative role, but rather a selective one.

Z.S.: I have noticed that in your Marly Theses6 there are a few Eastern strands. We have already discussed this. I am thinking particularly of Eugen Herrigel’s book on Zen archery,7 which you also read. I’m sure you will remember that he was successful in shooting the arrow when he was exasperated, when he saw everything as unnecessary—i.e., when he felt empty. In this, which you just said...

M.E.: ...there is a similar line. Somehow, I envision this as if one lives their life as a charmed Frog Prince. Sometimes, however, the original Prince flashes into the life of the Frog: we might say that this flash could be called intuition. There is a repressed, obstructed capacity in man that needs to be liberated. The artist is concerned with this, as is science. This is truly creativity, as opposed to what is generally understood as creativity: performing the same types of spiritual/mental procedures within various contexts, according to certain cliché patterns. Zen Buddhism is already clear about this: one must think of nothing at all, in order for intuition, inspiration, or enlightenment to arrive. We initiated this in an intellectual way. We expelled everything that could be known, in order to make space for that which could not be known.

Z.S.: In the creativity exercises, you engaged with Zen koans, too.

M.E.: Yes, but this was already towards the end. For one month, we did nothing other than trying to produce koans. I read aloud a couple of koans, and I asked everyone to please try to make something similar. Quite a lot emerged in which something glinted here and there. The mechanism of the koans represents in the purest way that certain artistic essence. Because these are sentences that cancel each other out, extinguish themselves and each other. This also becomes apparent in my Marly Theses that their meanings should be grouped so that they extinguish each other. And then that certain inspiration can break in or break out. For this, in effect, any kind of engagement with any sort of material will serve—and we also know this from Zen. We pursued this; even today, I still pursue this: I turn the bitumen and the glass this way and that, until suddenly something appears that points beyond what I know. Sometimes I don’t even like it, and yet I have to tolerate seeing a quality that doesn’t suit my taste at all. And I wait for the eye that will discern the new value in this. All I see in it is that there is a new quality—and my taste objects to it. But my taste is determined by my past, and thus, I must strictly endure this small discomfort. New eyes arrive regularly, and they recognize the value in this. These are chiefly epigones, and they do all of this in a much more appealing way. And then it appeals to me, too, when someone else does it. So long as I am doing it, I don’t like it. I have to endure as an ascetic that I have made something ugly—and this is a mental exercise.

Z.S.: While reading the Zen koans, I have experienced that a question is raised and the answer is none other than the demonstration of the unanswerable quality of the question.

M.E.: As a rule, it is not that the question is unanswerable. The answer is just waffling. One might interpret this as the question being unanswerable, but it could also be that this waffling puts a screw on the question, giving it torque, and when the question turns, it is also its answer. The mechanism of the koans is that the question in itself is fair if it doesn’t stand statically, but is in motion.

Z.S.: What you just said, it seems, could also be applied to contemporary art.

M.E.: It is clear that this is the case in every good work of art. Not only in contemporary art, but also in older art. But it is perhaps now that we can truly speak of genuine artistic development—though it is not the art, but rather man’s relationship to art that develops. This relationship is increasingly conscious, eliminating an increasing number of things that do not appertain to the essence of art. That incomprehensible transcendent capacity, however, which has always been necessary for art, is still just as crucial. But I think now, after eliminating so many collateral factors, it is easier to determine who is a good artist and who is not. It is easier for me to assess a contemporary work, for instance, than one of the last century [the 19th century]. Because then there was so much that could obscure the adroitness of the imagery—the treatment of color and other collateral factors, which, while they relate to the essence of art, are nevertheless secondary. We might say that good treatment of color is not something in the abstract, but derives from a deeper layer. It takes a highly sensitive eye to discern whether the given color treatment is superficial or rather springs from something more profound.

Z.S.: With the elimination of collateral factors, art becomes increasingly provocative...

M.E.: The artist wants to stir up a disturbance in people’s consciousness. His/her point of departure is that people can only think about rubbish, as they are full of conventions, random contingencies—which have neither aesthetic, nor ethical, nor any sort of value. The artist’s impact is none other than the disturbance of this. The artist cannot offer an agenda; s/he can only stir up this rubbish. As far as I am concerned, the power of an artwork to disturb is a typical, absolute category of value. Because we can only possess a bad consciousness. How can I imagine where there is a good conscience? Perhaps for a hermit in a forest. My conscience is not good either—but if I can disturb or if I am disturbed, that is very good. In other words, a good work of art definitively has the capacity of disturbing or subverting consciousness: it makes space for that which one really has a great need for.

Z.S.: I think this is the right occasion for us to switch over to architecture from this perspective.

M.E.: In this era, architecture, taking into consideration even the best creations, only has space for movement on the level of applied arts. It has a determination of usage, and usage is not of a transcendent nature, as it once was in temple or church architecture. It serves the framework of the materialization of a form of consciousness that is not at all transcendent.

Z.S.: And what about the disturbance of consciousness in this sphere? Is it possible to design or construct buildings that disturb consciousness?

M.E.: Because architecture is so materially defined, it can only be realized on the level of a design plan, and that has very little power of disturbance. There is such a tendency—fantastic or Utopian architecture—which prepares designs for a Utopian world. Architecture can be good applied art in three forms. The first is the Utopian quality just mentioned. The second is kitsch architecture, which manifests in individual constructions: everyone builds his/her own mania. I would like to see villages full of dilettantish buildings. People’s rather distorted and abbreviated functioning of hope could be expressed in this. There would be a need for this, in order to see what sorts of demands and desires appear in architecture. If I were to continue my architectural practice—though I don’t know if it’s possible to continue architectural practice here for much longer—I would set off in the third possible direction: I would attempt to express the existing distorted form of consciousness even more powerfully, more provocatively. I would design even more bleak and desolate residential edifices, so that the barrenness of the entirety of social existence would be traced out. We should not try to paper over this desolation in a petty way—placing a little flower trough at the entrance, or a colorful curtain in the window, perhaps painting the façade of the housing estate purple! There are such fumbling attempts, which are also good from the perspective that, if possible, you should make even smaller-minded things. This should be exaggerated a bit ironically. The existing residential buildings are almost good as they are for this objective. Only a bit is needed to make this conscious nature felt. Merely a small accent has to be placed on these monster-buildings, and already you can call them artistic. Of course, if the authorities realize that someone is ironically building housing estates here, s/he would be kicked out so quickly that her/his legs wouldn’t hit the ground. This has to be proposed with conviction. The reason I moved away from architecture was that none of these three strategies was viable in practice. Makovecz’s8 oeuvre from this perspective is a real miracle. Of these three tendencies, he belongs to the kitsch category. He cultivates a hybrid of Betyár9-Romanticism, Gentry-ism, and Ibusz10-kitsch. He has basically done the same thing that Jancsó11 has done in his films. Jancsó, too, mixed up a similar sort of Ibusz-kitsch from Betyár-Romanticism... This is like the Hungarian paprika potatoes12... These two oeuvres are quite similar. I consider Makovecz’s works an accomplishment, as his entire oeuvre is an absolute materialization: his is the only mania to have been realized other than the standard.

Z.S.: What is your opinion about the initiative of Imre Harkai13? You had the occasion to become acquainted with his activity at the Temerin meeting.

M.E.: I don’t have anything to say about this. This school of thought in the study of folk architecture is still taking baby-steps, and is still so unclear, that I cannot say anything about it. Harkai has taken the first steps here, but he is still terribly far from drawing any final conclusions. In any case, it is also conspicuous in Harkai’s oeuvre that what architects—and everyone—considered kitsch fifty years ago, now features as a value.

Z.S.: Kitsch has become increasingly interesting and increasingly intrinsic from an artistic standpoint.

M.E.: Kitsch, and especially collective kitsch, always has that attribute that with time, it is vindicated. The embroidered wall-coverings are like this, too. These wall-coverings are now being shown at exhibitions one after the other, and these were the very definition of kitsch! It has become clear that these wall-coverings are an autonomous genre that is extremely pure in style. They are sincere, refined, and also Conceptual, as the text and the visuality are so readily and gracefully united. Many artists would be envious! It seems as if they were made ironically in the first place. For instance: “I am happy that my husband drinks water.” Clearly, such maxims were inscribed a bit playfully, and not as literal truths. There is a smidgen of sweet self-ironic humor in these; they are not a demonstration of phony consciousness. They ironically reflect on themselves. In so-called folk kitsch, there is always a lightness with a smile that points beyond itself.

Z.S.: Let’s move on to film.

M.E.: My connection with film began on the basis of a rational deliberation. I was engaged with music, literature, and visual art with a practically identical level of intensity. I sought a medium in which I could engage with all of this simultaneously. The warnings had an impact on me: “Don’t deal with everything, because you will end up in splinters!” And then I realized that the reason that I deal with so many things is precisely so that I don’t end up split into splinters. When one sharpens oneself towards a particular focus, they cannot avoid chipping off an enormous amount of capacities. In film, one must understand everything all at once, and yet I have observed that film directors generally understand nothing. As I couldn’t bear to watch this, I was forced to begin to deal with film. And I might say that filming for me is almost like relaxation. It is much easier to make a film than a picture. The effects reflect with frantic speed, no matter what you do. If I make a picture or a visual composition, I have to wait for two weeks, until one morning I can perceive where the mistake is. This running the gauntlet is constant. Film, on the other hand, immediately delivers its own intellectual, moral, and aesthetic level. Which makes it all the more surprising how many lousy films are made. Perhaps because the guys who deal with film are not very concerned about art. From this aspect, I don’t think even Antonioni or Bergman are exceptions. It is only with Godard that I have felt that he truly deals with film itself.

Z.S.: Thus, you feel that it is easy to work in film. On the other hand, the line... you have a true magic of the line.

M.E.: Yes, it was exactly in connection with film that I got an idea for a line. You’re familiar with my work in which I wrote “Pista.”14 I was arguing with Bódy15 in a bar about what an obscene material film is. In fact, I wasn’t even really arguing, because he pretty much admitted it. I was explaining how much more valuable the concrete meeting of graphite on paper was. About what an unworldly moment it is when one places a graphite pencil onto a clean white sheet of paper, no matter what you do. For instance, if I simply write: “Pista”... Fortunately, I had enough presence of mind to pick up on my idea. Ana Lupas,16 the outstanding Romanian artist, said that this drawing was the best that she had ever seen, in all of art history, from Dürer up to today. And then I began to think about how I could render this even more ethereal. And then I devised the “sacred line” business: I placed a piece of lead onto a pencil, tying a string to its end, and I drew the line this way. And truly, this is an absolute moment of leaving a trace, such a noble compromise between this intervention and the autonomous behavior of the material: perhaps somewhere in the divine world there might be something like this. To leave the material somewhat on its own, so that it will do what it wants, but still to guide it. Sometimes I feel that with such a method, it is not possible to draw a bad line. And it is exactly for this reason that there is no aesthetic value, for instance, in children’s drawings. Because there is only aesthetic value in things that can also be ugly. I don’t like folk art because I have never found, for instance, an ugly old jug. And this is why I have spelled out that artists must refrain from three things: children’s drawings, folk art, and old photographs. These are all automatically beautiful. The avant-gardist must delimit him/herself from this.

Miklós Erdély. Context I. 1980. 70 x 100 cm. Estate of Miklós Erdély. Photo: László Lugosi Lugo. © Heirs of Miklós Erdély. Courtesy to the Miklós Erdély Foundation

Z.S.: Of your films, I have only seen Dream Reconstructions.17 What would you say: what are you using film for?

M.E.: Because film is a device of such great impact, I employ it—just as Lenin advised—for the stirring up and resolution of social problems. Every manifestation that one makes on film is inevitably of a political tint. Even if you do nothing—that is, too. At the start of Dream Reconstructions, for instance, all there is, is people traveling in a car and talking. The film moves back and forth, and you can hear and see the same thing over and over. This is a gross atrocity perpetrated on the audience. In effect, with film, the situation is that a bunch of people go sit in the dark, everyone stares at one point, and I can do with these people what I like. Even for me, I derive enormous rapture from this. And I would like to enjoy this to the very last drop: here, kids, I will do my things, and you can watch… “like at the movies.” Even popular idioms have recognized that this is a state of stupid passivity. For instance, in my film, Partita,18 there is a dirty joke that relates somewhat to music: “A guy says to the drummer, do you know your dick and balls are hanging out of your shorts? And he says: Of course, I know it. I’ll play it for you.” And then we hear the first movement of Haydn’s Symphony in C Major, and for a full eight minutes that is the only sound in the dark movie theater. Eight minutes within such circumstances is an unbelievably long period of time. With this, I was able to express the absolute domination that the film director holds over the audience. Of course, at the premiere at the Ministry, this was not appreciated at all, because there they knew that they are the ones dominating me. Many were outraged, indignant about how audacious this was. Well, that was exactly the point, that this is audacity!

Dream reconstructions
Miklós Erdély. Detail fromDream Reconstructions. 1977. 16 mm, black and white, 78 min. Camera: Gábor Dobos. Produced by Béla Balázs Studio. © Heirs of Miklós Erdély. Courtesy to the Miklós Erdély Foundation

Z.S.: In 1974 you received the Kassák Prize19 for your poetry.

M.E.: For 15 years, I wrote without showing any of it to anyone, not even my wife. I filled reams of notebooks, and I finally plowed through every sphere of language. And with this, let’s say, I arrived at the end of language. This was when I felt that it would be worthwhile for me to bring my literary work into the public realm. It was at this time that I devised the so-called categorical poetry, which manifests not on the level of language, but rather on the level of utterance.

Z.S.: On a conceptual level?

M.E.: Let’s say yes, but it might be better to say on the level of gesture. Utterance as an act is interesting. There is a bit of this in rallying words or a battle cry. A well-chosen battle cry becomes an act. I stand up and I say that you, sir, are a dummy—let’s say, during a lecture. This is a categorical poem. It can hold great truth value in a given context. And this is where I came upon real inspiration in the natural sciences of the twentieth century. I became aware that science has very powerful morals. In science, what is the truth is somehow more important than who is right. I really liked this kind of morals from the outset. This intense concentration on the truth has led in the second half of the twentieth century to a world-view that has begun leaning towards being anti-science. I think that it is only possible to reach a state of self-extinction with very high morals. And science appears to be navigating this route. Its own pure methods are leading to its own annihilation. The assertions of science manifest an incredibly deep mysticism, which I am not familiar with either from anthroposophy, or from any other ancient school of mysticism. These truths have gained formulation in the ancient mystic tenets, but naïvely, and with not enough depth of meaning to satisfy modern man. I fell under their influence, and I recognized that the writings of the great theoretical physicists and mathematicians of the century tower above the literary style. They simply write with more beauty. Precisely because style is equal to morals, just as, I believe, André Gide said.

And so, I read quite a lot of the theoretical and philosophical writings of the physicists of our century, and I saw that this stood high above every school of thought that I am familiar with. They represent a mutant brain in this century. I think it was Jenő Wigner20 who said that when he spoke with János Neumann,21 he always felt as if he was in a state of semi-consciousness, and only János Neumann was completely awake. It is this utter wakefulness that is so thrilling to me. And this type of poetry is not lesser, but of a much higher standard to my mind, than, for instance, that of James Joyce. They have to formulate truths or models that fall so far from being interpretable, that no one else has ever yet had to. They are compelled to linguistic bravura. Of course, the first half of my volume of poetry22 rather relates more to Joyce, as I explored the manifestations tied to the depth psychology of language. In the second half, however, I tried to make the kind of assertions that would set off the type of brain-work necessary in order to insinuate ourselves into the proximity of these new approaches.

Z.S.: Where does the linguistic bravura of science manifest?

M.E.: The new discoveries of science have taken an unbelievable distance from naïve realism. Language, on the other hand, has evolved to serve exactly this everyday naïve realism. Let me give an example. Language, by using subject and predicate, models for eternity the Aristotelian theorem, according to which motion cannot be imagined without a vehicle. And so, something is always moving. In microphysics, however, this has become completely impossible. This is why the facts of microphysics cannot even be stated in our language. I ruminated, is there any word in our vernacular that could be subject and predicate at once? I found one: the word havazik [it’s snowing], but perhaps hajnalodik [dawn is breaking]23 is also adequate. I have a manifesto, in which I urge for language to be adapted so that we can never distinguish between that which does something, and that which is done. For I feel that in our language, one can only err. This is why the destruction of language was necessary for modern poetry—which naturally proceeded unconsciously. The disorientation of consciousness can occur by way of the disorientation of language. While it is not conscious among modern poets why they need to shatter language, I feel that in my case, it is conscious. Because language is inadequate, and it is unable to absorb those truths that, for instance, mathematics could absorb long ago. The challenge of the poet is to loosen the encumbrances of language, in order to make space for the new.

Translated by Adèle Eisenstein

*Zoltán Sebők (b. 1958, Subotica, Voividina, northern Serbia, living in Hungary since 1991) is a philosopher, writer, and translator, who has published widely on the (neo-)avant-garde. He made the interview after Erdély gave a lecture, entitled Hangkulisszák a filmben és a valóságban [Sound-coulisses, in film and in reality], in Temerin in the summer of 1981. The interview was published in the journal for literature, arts and social sciences of Novi Sad, Voivodina, entitled Híd [Bridge], 1982/3, pp. 366–376. The footnotes to the text have been prepared by Annamária Szőke and the translator. We have written out the first names of those figures which were not included in the original transcription. We only wrote footnotes for those figures who might not be familiar to the English-language reader, or at least not by their Hungarian names.

© Heirs of Miklós Erdély, the translators, the Miklós Erdély Foundation

The original Hungarian text has been published by the Artpool Art Research Center and can be accessed online here.


László Beke (b. 1944) is an art historian and curator who has been a leading figure in the Hungarian art field since the 1960s, and was an active contributor to the (neo-)avantgarde and Conceptual Art in Hungary. The study referred to was also published in the same issue of Híd [Bridge], 1982/3, pp.377–391. Expanded version: “Miklós Erdély’s Activities. A chrono-logical sketch with pictures up to 1985.” In: Erdély Miklós kiállítása [Exhibition of Miklós Erdély]. Catalogue. Ed. László Beke, Annamária Szőke, Tamás Török. Published by Budapest Galéria and the Soros Foundation Art Documentation Center at the Műcsarnok/Kunsthalle, Budapest, 1986, pp.2-29. Revised version: “The work of Miklós Erdély, a chrono-logical sketch with pictures up to 1985.” In: Miklós Erdély. Ed. Annamária Szőke. Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna – Kisterem, Budapest – tranzit.hu, Budapest – Miklós Erdély Foundation (EMA), Budapest, 2008, pp.5-47. It can be downloaded from here: http://arthist.elte.hu/Tanarok/SzoekeA/EM/Idegennyelven/2008_EM_Katalog_Kisterem-Kargl_last_pdf


On the exercises, and on Erdély’s art pedagogical activity, see: Creativity Exercises, Fantasy Developing Exercises (FAFEJ) and Inter-Disciplinary-Thinking (InDiGo). Miklós Erdély’s art pedagogical activity, 1975–1986. Written and compiled by Sándor Hornyik and Annamária Szőke. It can be downloaded from the site dedicated to the Indigo Group, on Monoskop.org: https://monoskop.org/The_Indigo_Group


Translated into Hungarian by Dr. Sándor Illyés in 1974. Originally published in German as: Die Psychologie der Kreativität. Ernst Reinhardt Verlag, Munich–Basel, 1971. For more on Erika Landau, see: http://talentcenterbudapest.eu/content/erika-landau-1931-2013-0


Erdély uses the word “essence” (lényeg in Hungarian) in a similar way as Joseph Kosuth uses the term “the nature of art” in his Art After Philosophy. Kosuth’s essay was published in Hungarian only much later, and the word “nature” was translated either as “lényeg”, or as “természet” (the literal translation of “nature”). See: Joseph Kosuth, Filozófia utáni művészet [Art After Philosophy]. Trans.: Dezső Bánki. In: Joseph Kosuth: Művészeti tanulmányok / Texte über Kunst. Knoll Galerie, Vienna & Budapest, 1992, pp.107-130.


The R exhibition was the defining exhibition of (neo-)avant-garde artists in Hungary, at the end of 1970, displayed in the R Building of the Budapest Technical University (BME). Erdély confused the year in the interview (1971), and we have corrected it.


See: “Theses for the Marly Conference of 1980.” Trans.: John Bátki. In: Primary Documents. A Sourcebook for Eastern and Central European Art since the 1950s. Eds. Laura Hoptman and Tomás Pospiszyl, with the assistance of Majlena Braun and Clay Tarica. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002, pp.99-101.


Herrigel’s book was published in Hungarian under the title: Az íj és a nyíl ösvénye. Buddhista Misszió [Buddhist Mission], Budapest, 1981. In English, see: Zen in the Art of Archery. Translated into English from the German by R.F.C. Hull. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London; Pantheon, New York, 1953.


Imre Makovecz (1935–2011) was one of the most prominent proponents worldwide of organic architecture, active from the 1950s until his death. Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolf Steiner were important influences, as was Hungarian folk art. In his early years, he had a good relationship with Erdély.


The Hungarian highwaymen of the 18th to 19th centuries; so-called Social Bandits, dressing in an ornamental style.


The Hungarian travel and tourism agency since 1902, with a distinct graphic style.


Miklós Jancsó (1921–2014) was one of the most important and internationally prominent Hungarian filmmakers. He is best known for The Round-Up (1965), The Red and the White (1967), and Red Psalm (1971).


Typical Hungarian peasant dish.


Imre Harkai (1952–2004) was an architect and ethnographer. He lived and worked in Topolya (Bačka Topola in Serbian, in Voivodina). He wrote a number of books, including Folk Architecture of Temerin (1983), Thoughts on Living Space (1986), and The Architecture of Topolya, 1750-1941 (1991).


Nickname for István, or Stephen, in Hungarian. The above-mentioned work was entitled Kontextus I [Context I], 1980.


Gábor Bódy (1946–1985) was a pioneer of experimental filmmaking and filmic language. He is known for his almost cult feature films, Narcissus and Psyche (1980), The Dog’s Night Song (1983), and American Postcard, also known as American Torso (1975).


Ana Lupas (b. 1940) lives and works in Cluj (Transylvania, Romania).


The film was finished in 1977, produced by the Béla Balázs Studio (BBS). See: http://bbsarchiv.hu/en/movie/dream-reconstructions-17. On the BBS, and on Erdély’s films, see in English: BBS: Twenty Years of Hungarian Experimental Film. Catalogue, New York, 1985, p.28; Jim Hoberman: “Welcome to My Nightmare.” The Village Voice, February 4, 1986, p.60.; Beke, László: “Film on Moebius Strip.” In: Free Worlds: Metaphors and Realities in Contemporary Hungarian Art. Exhibition catalogue: Roald Nasgaard, Clara Hargittay. Contributors: Katalin Néray, Lóránd Hegyi, László Beke. Art Gallery of Ontario / Musée des Beaux-Arts de l’Ontario, Toronto, 1991, pp.59–68.


On Partita (1974, BBS) see: http://bbsarchiv.hu/en/movie/partita-374 .


The Lajos Kassák Award (abbreviated: Kassák Prize) is the literary award established by the widow of Lajos Kassák and Miklós / Nicolas Schöffer, under the auspices of the journal for literature, art and criticism of Hungarian emigrants, Magyar Műhely [Hungarian Atelier], originally based in Paris. The prize is awarded to both talented young authors and those who are older but undeservedly ignored, who carry out their work in the spirit of Lajos Kassák, and who have shown outstanding achievements in literature and the arts. See Wikipedia (In Hungarian, with the names of the honored artists): https://www.wikiwand.com/hu/Kass%C3%A1k_Lajos-d%C3%ADj


The Hungarian name of Eugene Paul Wigner (1902–1995), the Hungarian-American theoretical physicist, engineer and mathematician.


The Hungarian name of John von Neumann (1903–1957), the Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, inventor, computer scientist, and polymath.


Erdély, Miklós: Kollapszus orv. [Collapsus med.]. Magyar Műhely [Hungarian Atelier], Paris, 1974; reprinted in Paris, Vienna, Budapest, 1991.


Both of these verbs are one word in Hungarian, and the noun is the root of the verb.

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