Miklós Györffy: Clichés and Curiosities

Lajos Parti Nagy : Sárbogárdi Jolán: A test angyala
(Jolán Sárbogárdi: The Angel of the Body)
Lajos Parti Nagy's book Jolán Sárbogárdi: The Angel of the Body describes its genre under the title as a "Rasp-soda" (sic). Although it emulates a style of narrative wholly different from Márton's chronicle, the "reconstruction" of the linguistic, grammatical and spelling idiosyncrasies of his chosen language is even more essential to this book. The manner/style of The Angel of the Body does not really exist, at least not as a literary style. If we still insist on giving a loose definition of the model it follows, then the closest would be a romance for teenage girls, or an intimate girl's diary--as much as these can be regarded as a model. Naturally, it is a parody, but then the tendency to parody has always been an essential element in Parti Nagy's work in fiction. The language here plays on the adulterated and corrupted clichés used in uneducated speech today, elevating them to the realm of poetry, drawing inspiration from the chaotic admixture of various linguistic layers, as well as from the inorganic and incoherent blabbering of people without identity. Parti Nagy has an amazing ear for the typical forms of linguistic corruption, and is able to teaze new meaning from the mad proliferation of his formulae through his unrivalled linguistic creativity. All this is extremely funny, just like an actor, who is caricaturing the weaknesses of his fellow thespians, or those unguarded snapshots of our everyday lives.
The stupid story attributed to the fictitious writer Jolán Sárbogárdi is in fact just an excuse for profuse linguistic/stylistic virtuosity, yet it is also a caricature in itself. Edina Margittay, a virtuous young lady of a good family, who works in the marketing department of an export-import company, falls in love with Dénes Balajthy, a muscular television director, who himself is attracted to the girl. He asks her out on a date, but due to some misunderstanding the girl thinks that the director wants to meet her only because he is looking for an actress for his new film, obviously assuming that she is "that sort of a girl". Through relatives and friends, his motives are eventually clarified, and when he has an accident on the set, Edina visits him in hospital. Although the visit almost amounts to a confession of love, the director soon faces a new ordeal. He asks Edina to marry him, but the refined and unimpeachable girl reacts to this unexpected and precipitate proposal with a nervous breakdown. Finally, this obstacle, too, is removed from the path of true love, and Edina can turn into the Angel of the Body at Dénes's side.
Because of the demands of his story, and also because of the turn of phrases used, Parti Nagy precisely defines the sociological coordinates of his "Rasp-soda". Regardless of the exaggeration, in the background of the romance between Edina and Dénes there is an accurate picture of the life and the value system of the technocratic manager class in late-Kádárian society. As in the case of his other socio-linguistic diagnoses, Parti Nagy portrays a social formation which indiscriminately combines behaviour patterns of various origins. One of the patterns is the manners of the Hungarian gentry of the 1930s. This is confirmed by the genre of girl's story and the outmoded moral values. Another pattern is the lifestyle of the welfare states of western democracies--this is mostly presented in the story by way of its material requisites and outward manifestations. And then, of course, there is the Budapest elite of the late-Kádárian period, ignorant yet full of pretensions, with all their privileges and phony mannerisms.
It might seem a little odd that we take this hilarious comedy so seriously, reading into it such a multi-layered interpretation. Yet, The Angel of the Body is a genuine encyclopedia of clichés knocked together from heterogeneous parts, on which the morality and the culture of the political transition in Hungary was founded. It is the verbal clichés that are focused on, of course. (In this regard, Parti Nagy's book could well become a source for linguists one day.) It would be impossible to convey to a foreigner the total chaos of verbal communication with which Parti Nagy characterizes his social climbers of hybrid origin. His invention, Jolán Sárbogárdi, collects the linguistic material of her story from diverse sources, ranging from sentimental and kitschy fiction, and from the stereotypical phrases used in prize-winning school compositions, the mixed metaphors of the pretentious with poetic aspirations, the florid language of girls' diaries, from "on the job" witticism, drawing-room humour all the way to the commonplaces of television. She compiles these fragments in a slapdash way, often in violation of elementary rules of grammar. The result is an endless flow of ridi culous and at the same time horrifyingly monstrous sentences.
Although it is only 90 pages long, after a while the reader has had his fill of such dense lunacy. It is certainly not the story-line that keeps you reading the book to the end. And as to the total "communication breakdown" between the characters, it literally pains a reader, especially if, like myself, a teacher of Hungarian language and literature by profession, who knows that every single sentence in the book is taken from real life. This is really how people speak and write. One admires Parti Nagy for knowing them so intimately, and for being familiar with their thinking and manner of speech, but one also abhors the result. And, after a while, one feels that one cannot take more of the sheer nonsense: too much knowledge is abhorrent. Perhaps one will pick up this concatenated collection of curiosities at some other time to dip in it.