January 27 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – and the death of Hungarian writer Antal Szerb. It’s the dark irony of fate that on the same day Allied troops entered the death camp, Szerb was beaten to death by Hungarian Nazis (calling themselves ‘Hungarists’ or those of the ‘Arrow-Cross’) in a forced-labor camp in Balf, Hungary.
Szerb was of Jewish descent, but at the same time he was a Hungarian literary scholar through and through. The blackguards who did the beating were not men of culture – how could they know that the man they killed had done more than anyone else to spread and promote Hungarian literature?
Amazon was kind enough to deliver The Book (aka The Third Tower — Journeys in Italy by Antal Szerb) on the first working day of 2015. Here’s proof:
In the first post, I promised I would update the text I quoted once I receive this book. Then I thought that, instead of simply changing the original post, the text would stand out better in a separate article — and readers have the benefit of better understanding from two different translations.
“The tower stands apart, at the far corner of the mountain top, on an inaccessible cliff, very steep on both sides. The town doesn’t extend this far, and as you pick your way to the end of the crest you are made giddy by the height. […] There, at the foot of the Third Tower, I understood everything. My restlessness — […] during the entire journey I had been forced into contact with that collectivity of the lonely, the euphoric Italian collectivity. I shielded my solitariness from them, and from the European future that they represented for me. I felt my solitary happiness threatened by their happiness of the herd because they were stronger than I was. […] The happiness I feel here at the foot of the Third Tower is something I must not give up for anyone: for anyone, or anything. I cannot surrender my soul to any nation state, or to any set of beliefs.”
(Translated by Len Rix, 2014. Pushkin Press: London.)
This blog is my refuge – an intellectual refuge, so to speak. The title comes from Hungarian writer Antal Szerb, who wrote about his Italian travels in 1936 under this title. Szerb’s literal third tower is in San Marino, where you can see three towers (ubiquitous in Italy) on the mountain just above the city. (The towers shown at the header of this blog are in San Gimignano, Tuscany.)
Why a refuge, and why the Third Tower? Let me quote Szerb here:
“The third tower stands at a distance, in a remote corner of one of those mountains, on top of steep, insurmountable rocks on both sides. The city doesn’t reach up here, and as you walk along the ridge, you get dizzy by the height. […] There, right below the Third Tower, I came to understand my notorious anxiety: […] everywhere, through the entire journey, I had to deal with the happy Italian collectivism. I felt I had to protect my solitude from that, and the common European future it represented. I felt that my solitary happiness was threatened by their herd-like happiness, because they were stronger than me. […] I cannot share this happiness that I feel here at the foot of the Third Tower. Likewise, I’m unable to give myself up to anyone and anything, not to any government or any idea.”