13 August 07 | Chad W. Post

The Lucerne Festival started over the weekend, and Hungarian author Peter Esterhazy gave the opening speech. (Warning—link is to a pdf document.)

Like Esterhazy’s books, the speech is playful and intelligent, and engaged with ideas of History. Here’s a sample of an interesting bit from the end:

Europe is the land of variety – of various people, various languages, various traditions. Today’s individual sees a lot of the world, and when he does, he sees that his domestic customs, habits, ideals and myths are not necessarily superior to the others. As Henry James said, a person turns into a citizen of the world when all manner of customs appear equally shallow in his eyes. On the other hand, a tourist – and most of us are tourists – is not suited for getting to know things; a tourist is a man wedded to superficiality; a tourist sees only clichés: the Italians are loud and eat cats, the French are arrogant and eat snails, the Germans are fat and eat cabbage, and the Hungarians… but let’s not go into that, plus they eat gulyás. As for the Swiss, they don’t even exist.

The one thing that definitely exists is fiction. Only the implausible is real. A novel, words. A world made up of words says more about ourselves and others than all the accurate information gathered by a conscientious tourist. The real accuracy is the novel’s accuracy; it is knowledge that can be put to good use, the knowledge of the Dutch horsts and the knowledge of the Swiss plains. Writing a Hungarian novel about these things this could be the so-called Lucerne Plan, to look at the world with this lack of constraint, this freedom, and with this constraint and boundary. – with this beautiful European complexity.

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