Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. August 2006

9.5. Recycling Culture. Ancient and Sacral Texts in (Post)Modern Literature and Art
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Gabriella Hima (Budapest)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

"Path of the elders vs. Path of the gods" in Gyula Krúdy’s Sindbad novels

Ferenc Váradi (Károli University)


In my essay I’ll confront myself and yourself with a couple of problems concerning to our aesthetical approach to the nineteenth and twentieth century. One of our keys will be the relatively early work of the Hungarian philosopher and essayist Béla Hamvas titled "The Path of the Elders and the Path of the Gods"(1). He wrote this long essay in 1943.

The another subject of our research will be the huge textual corpus of shorter and longer stories and novels written by Gyula Krúdy’s in the first decades of the twentieth Century.(2) This corpus of partially posthumously collected texts has a few common aspects, above all the name of their protagonist: Sindbad. This collection of texts is the canonical centre of the Krúdy-oeuvre, and now we will use it to approach the aesthetical reality-forming processes and techniques of our writer.

At first, however, we have to understand the main goals and arguments of the combative and vitriolic essay of Hamvas.

In his early works, the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche is still very strong. Because of the paradox nature of the logical and ethical systems of Nietzsche(3) - together with the considerable distance in time between the two philosophers - Hamvas does not adopt his theories and methods to his era at all. Instead of doing this he tries to follow the revolutionary steps of Nietzsche by himself, as a philosopher, and he starts to work out his own terminology and his special point of view. This attitude is very similar to his contemporary, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger(4). Like Heidegger, the innovative usage of the national language was also essential to Hamvas, but he didn’t try to use the basic signing processes of the linguistic system as a base of his philosophy, like Heidegger. His interest - in the first approach - was much more social than abstract.

Similarly to Heidegger, Ortega or Evola, he treated all the contemporary problems of the human life as symptoms of a total and universal crisis. So - in his early works(5) - his most important goal was to define the most important aspects of this crisis and - simultaneously - define the possible ways of living a human life in these circumstances. In his contemporary essay titled "The Hungarian Hyperion"(6) he describes an advanced and in certain points very antinomian figure of the Hungarian "Übermensch".

In his essay titled "The Path of the Elders and the Path of the Gods" according to the Eastern tradition - in which he was an expert like Evola - he demarcates two different ways or paths of living a human life. In this point we will find help to approach the topic of our conference in a surprisingly new way.

The first - "Path of the elders" is the path of reproduction. The man who walks the path of the elders is a self-conscious member of his family, he lives as a descendant of his ancestors, and as an ancestor of his future descendants. He is a man of tradition, a member of the community. He doesn’t have to solve his material, spiritual and existential problems all alone. His failures aren’t determinate too: his descendants have the chance to find a solution. The problem is: if the descendants walk forward on this path, finding real solutions become almost impossible.

The other path, the Path of the Gods could be the path of innovation if innovation is equal to some kind of spiritual rebirth, the Vita Nuova. The man of this path is desperately searching the connection between his own life and the supernatural. He is ready to break his connections to this world - this is the archetype of the monk, the pilgrim or the alchemist.

According to Hamvas, the problem is that in the age of tradition the two ways were at least parallel, but in some cases almost totally the same. There were no antagonism between following your ancestors and living your life traditionally and in the same time advancing step-by-step to the direction of your spiritual rebirth - because the essence of tradition was this very process.

With the end of this era, the two paths have bisected. In the modern age - according to Hamvas - it’s impossible to live a full life as a member of the society, fulfilling the roles and positions of the life of a citizen and in the same time walking the "path of the gods" - fulfilling your spiritual destiny, etc.

Hamvas says that in the modern society everybody has to choose between the two paths - it’s impossible to walk both of them in the same time. And if you have to choose, it’s evident that - since you are a human being - you have to choose the "path of the gods" - since there is no other way or other chance to reach the metaphysical goals of your life.

It means that you have to leave the "path of the elders" - you’ll become an outsider, without a chance of integrating yourself to the society, or following its rules.

Hamvas suggests that in these circumstances only the "path of the gods" can be acceptable ethically. According to his precept, all artists and the real intellectual and spiritual elite of the modern age should follow this path; the others are traitors of the "Brahman caste".

According to his ideas the modern "Path of the elders" is equal to the "path of prosperity", the aspect in which everything can be described and defined by its material aspects and by its relation to power.

Hamvas makes a clear distinction: the artist, the man of the "path of the gods" is always looking at the current state of humankind and his own social surroundings with strong and positive criticism. It’s their main goal: to be an outsider, and help the community to face the problematic nature of their path. He suggests that the majority of the Hungarian writers and poets left this path after the 30’s of the nineteenth century - and, according to him their literary behaviour became totally corrupted since they became driven by the possibilities and "meal-tickets" of the current social and political circumstances. The ethical base - the knowledge that can be reached by walking the Path of the gods - has been lost, so positive criticism became impossible. For example, he mentions the mainstream Hungarian writer of the late 19 th Century, Kálmán Mikszáth as the worst example of the politically affected and laicized artist.

Since I’m doing research on the Hungarian writer Gyula Krúdy I was fascinated by the argumentation of Hamvas. I thought that the special attributes and poetic techniques of the Krúdy-texts could be approached and analyzed as some kind of re-unifying of the two paths - since the main problem with the Krúdy-texts is their strong integrality containing both lyric and prosaic narrative structures and at the same time merging very profane, sensual matters with obscure, sometimes almost mythical elements.

The problem is the following: by his canonical position and the partially self-constructed image of the writer - the "Krúdy-phenomenon" is in strong contrast with the idealistic outsider image drawn by Hamvas. He was not only the opposite of the outsider-role, but - by some aspects of his life and oeuvre he was - and by some other aspects he is - the embodiment and symbol of the peaceful era of Austro-Hungary.

The spiritual, political, social and aesthetic atmosphere of this era is the most unacceptable phenomenon judging by the Hamvas-text.

To - at least partially - solve our problem we have to make a strong distinction between the three levels of our study:

The first level is textual material of the Krúdy-oeuvre. Different kinds of analyses can be carried out on this material - for example by the methods of formalism, structuralism, by a hermeneutic or deconstructive approach.

The second level is the level of the methods and processes used by the story-teller of the texts for creating his own identity, and we can mix and merge it with the biographical life of the once-living human being called Gyula Krúdy. These methods can be described as the methods of self-narration widely used for creating texts like letters, diaries and autobiographies.

The third - and seemingly the most complex - level is constructed by the secondary narratives based on the oeuvre. It contains biographies, commentaries and other kinds of scientific works as well as aesthetically formed reflections of contemporary and non-contemporary artists. It encompasses all the intertextual and intermedial reactions based on the material of the first two levels.

Because of its philosophical nature we have to understand, that the Hamvas-text has the aim to develop arguments which will be valid and applicable on all possible levels of reality with which the text is concerned. But in our case this theory by its primary subject can be applied on the third level.

Why? Because the text of Hamvas is concerned with the processes and phenomena of the so-called "reality". Reality can not be imagined without the dimension of time. The path as a metaphor symbolizes this strong and eternal bind between human life and time.

But the first mentioned level - the level of texts - is surely free from the affects of time (excluding the changes of a philological nature).

So there can be a fair number of parallel interpretations of the Krúdy-texts or their figures. Some can read these texts as pure documentary of those times, some of them can read them as an apotheosis of the secession, the sensual delights of eating and loving, and can handle the oriental and mythical contents of the texts as romantic or secessionist ornaments.(7)

These two ways were - and are the mainstream interpreting strategies the Krúdy-texts, and these are the basis of the effort to keep the Sindbad-corpus in the centre of interest.

But surely among the almost limitless possibilities of interpretation we can read these texts as results of a very positive attitude, full of criticism - mainly self-criticism, which attitude can be equal with the attitude walking "The path of the Gods". In this case we have to accept that the second level, the contemporary construction of an alter-ego "Sindbad" in-between the world of the texts and the "real world" is a sophisticated technique to manipulate the reception of the future readers and everybody else who gets into touch with the "world of Krúdy". By this approach we can search for the antagonisms between the stories, as told, and the archetypical or mythological structures behind them and the other tensional points of the texts.

I hope that after these few attempts of reading and re-reading the Krúdy-corpus, especially the Sindbad novels, everybody who knows these texts a little got new ideas and a motivation to re-think some aspects of the popular image of Gyula Krúdy and Sindbad.

© Ferenc Váradi (Károli University)


(1) HAMVAS Béla: Az ősök útja és az istenek útja. In: A magyar Hüperion I. Medio Kiadó, s. n.

(2) The largest collection of Sindbad-stories is available in Hungarian: KRÚDY Gyula: Szindbád. Magyar Helikon, 1973.
For English readers I recommend: KRUDY Gyula: Adventures of Sindbad (Central European Classics). Central European University Press, 1998.

(3) Contemporary editions of two main works of greater influence of Hamvas’s filosophy:
Nietzsche, Friedrich: A történelem hasznáról és káráról. Akadémiai, Budapest, 1995.
Nietzsche, Friedrich: Így szólott Zarathustra. Osiris, Budapest, 2001.
Look also in József Fülöp’s essay in FÜLÖP József: Önismeret és önazonosság Hamvas Béla Karneváljában. In: HIMA Gabriella (ed.): Ami a kultúrákat összeköti. Károli Gáspár Református Egyetem, Bölcsészettudományi Kar, Irodalomtudományi Doktori Iskola, Budapest, 2004.

(4) For example: Heidegger Martin: Lét és idő, [ford. Vajda Mihály et al.]. Budapest, Osiris, 2004.

(5) Collected in: Hamvas Béla: A világválság. Budapest, Magvető Könyvkiadó, 1983.

(6) HAMVAS Béla: A Magyar Hüperion. (1936) In: A magyar Hüperion I. Medio Kiadó, s. n.

(7) Váradi Ferenc: Nostalgia as Virtual Reality in Gyula Krúdy’s Post-Monarchic Works. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW: ../../../index.htmtrans/15Nr/05_12/varady15.htm

9.5. Recycling Culture. Ancient and Sacral Texts in (Post)Modern Literature and Art

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  16 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Ferenc Váradi (Károli University): "Path of the elders vs. Path of the gods" in Gyula Krúdy’s Sindbad novels. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW: ../../../index.htmtrans/16Nr/09_5/varadi16.htm

Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 14.8.2006     INST