Center for Humanities hosts third European author
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013 08:10
The Center for Humanities at Tufts (CHAT) yesterday afternoon hosted the third installment of the “European Writers on the Move” series, a program showcasing European authors and thinkers.
Yesterday’s lecture, titled “Spending Time or How I Won the Cold War: Reflections on Innocence and Revolution,” featured accomplished writer, poet, photographer, playwright and actor Péter Zilahy, who shared his insights on identity.
Zilahy, a Hungarian-born artist, has written four books to date, according to the CHAT website. His 1993 poem collection, “Statue Under a White Sheet Ready to Jump,” won the Móricz Zsigmond Prize. Zihahy also wrote a dictionary novel, The Last Window Giraffe, which won The Book of the Year Prize in Ukraine in 2003. This novel is said to have influenced the Orange Revolution, a series of protests and political events in Ukraine in 2004, as many activists at the time distributed pages of Zilahy’s novel to inspire change in a corrupted and repressive political system.
Due to illness, Zilahy chose to abandon his original lecture plan and instead talked freely about life behind the Iron Curtain.
In Hungary, Zilahy explained, it was only possible to vacation outside of the country every three years, since there was not enough hard currency in circulation to enable more frequent travel. The author was 13 when he first exited Hungary, he said.
“As soon as we arrived to Germany, there were American soldiers everywhere,” he said. “They had big bikes ... And we just panicked, me and my brother. We were begging our parents to go back behind the Iron Curtain, it was so scary.”
Growing up in Eastern Europe also gave Zilahy a unique perception of time, he said.
“You could visit your friends at 2 a.m. Pitch dark, no problem,” he said. “Do you know why? Because you were equally unimportant. When you are unimportant, you have all the time in the world.”
Zilahy believes time in the Western world, on the other hand, must be bought. He said it is an abstraction defined by appointments, schedules and previous obligations.
He also commented on the social differences between wealthy and poor countries.
“In the West ... everybody is so important,” he said. “In America, you can wish for everything, versus in Eastern Europe, where you can wish for very little. [In America], most people are interested in how much they have compared to their neighbors. In Hungary, people have just as little, or just as much. It’s so relative.”
Zilahy also spent time discussing the relativity of identity.
“You are defined from the outside,” he said. “Your identity is forged under pressure.”
Identity emerges when one is in a place that they do not belong to, as foreign environments demand classification and explanation, Zilahy said. People must remember, when making labels, that we all share a basic heritage, he added.
“I know I have left Europe when suddenly I am European,” he said. “First and foremost, I am a resident of Buda, then Hungarian, then European. But by and large, I am home anywhere on the planet. Though of course, some continents are more welcome than others.”