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1897 born in Eperjes (today Pre¹ov, Slovakia); family later moves to Pozsony (now Bratislava)
1915-17 wounded twice in WWI on the Eastern front
1919 father refuses to take the oath for Slovakian citizenship; family, expelled from Slovakia, moves to Budapest
1919-23 studies in German and Hungarian Philology at the Pázmány Péter University, Budapest
1923-26 journalist for the Budapesti Hírlap and Szózat
1927-48 librarian in Fővárosi Könyvtár
1935-36 together with Károly Kerényi, founds the Sziget journal and intellectual circle
1937 marries the writer Katalin Kemény
1940-44 drafted into military service; posted to the Russian front in 1942 but manages to escape
1945 home hit by a bomb, library and manuscripts destroyed
1945-48 editor of Egyetemi nyomda kis füzetei (Leaflets of the University Press)
1948 blacklisted, forced to quit his job, works on building sites
1948-51 officially classified a labourer
1951-64 interned, unskilled labourer in factories at Bokod, Inota and Tiszapalkonya
1964 retires from work at the age of 67
1968 dies; buried in Szentendre

Scientia Sacra

Scientia Sacra: az őskori emberiség szellemi hagyománya I. rész (1942 43, Scientia Sacra Mankind s Spiritual Heritage, vol.s 1-6); II. rész: A kereszténység (1960 64, part II. Christianity, published in 1988) Analysing the spiritual crisis of an age, Hamvas read himself into the metaphysical tradition, the collective spiritual knowledge of humanity conveyed by the sacred texts. His collection served to direct the attention of the age towards the philosophy of the Far East (The Upanishads, Tao Te King, The Tibetan Book of the Dead and others) and European mysticism. Part two is concerned with Christianity.

Revolution in Art: Abstraction and Surrealism in Hungary

His essays, written together with his wife on the history of art, survey Hungarian art from Károly Ferenczy, Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka and Lajos Gulácsy up to the activity of the "European School"; Hamvas saw in surrealism and abstract art an heir to magic, the "tremendous presence of a higher existence", as opposed to "realistic" and "abstrast" art. This concept of modern art was attacked by the Marxist ideologist George Lukács, and Hamvas was dismissed from the library and silenced for the rest of his life. His writings were published in samizdat.


Written alongside the above essays, Hamvas s great novel, his Opus Magnum, was published in 1985. It has been called a catalogue of fate , a human comedy , an inventory of mankind spanning continents and ages, Heaven and Hell. Hamvas s novel is in a sense a deconstruction of the genre of the novel. The plot is difficult to distinguish, as all the seven books have dozens of characters and only some of them return. They are preceded and interrupted by introductory chapters, somewhat in the manner of Fielding s Tom Jones (a novel referred to early on), except, as the reader comes to learn, Hamvas s work lacks a fixed point from which either the writer or the reader could view the novel. In these essayistic dialogues a Voice is narrating a mock-learned, mock-arrogant conversation between the protagonist, Mihály Bormester (Michael Winemaster) and himself, who claims to be an agent spirituel in telling Bormester s story. If we can believe the Voice, Bormester would find this narration three times silly, foolus termaximus, first of all that it should have happened, second that someone should be telling it, and finally that someone else should be taking it down. Later the reader-critic is invited into the foolery. The novel describes the development and the spreading of madness in a completely original way , explains novelist György Spiró. [It] was born as a gesture of rejection of omniscience, and hence it is occasionally a stinging satire on the human consciousness and soul, occasionally a parody of all possible (past and future) theories, including all rational and irrational philosophies, religions, aesthetics and theories of everyday existence. In the first book a red-haired assistant-draftsman travels on a train to an unidentified town, where he meets as many people as there are attitudes or masks. All these characters are prismatic caricatures, and some of them have more than one identity, such as the school principal Alajos Schoen, who becomes Szelenár Turcsika every second day and Edelény Bajnád every third. The community is shaping and reshaping the story of a foundling, who turns out to be the red-haired assistant-draftsman, the father of Mihály Bormester (as we are to learn later on). The adult Bormester is convicted for allegedly killing a non-existent person in a non-existent village. In the second book most of the characters return, but they have changed their distinctive monomanias. The hero, Bormester, is mixed up with another baby at birth, and in the books to come he saves and marries a hysterical woman, develops a double identity, strangles his wife, receives a spiritual leader and survives the war. Countless other characters turn up, every time in another environment, as the novel goes from the 1880s to WWII. In the seventh book a new character arrives: his name is Vidal ( the one who can see ), and he is ready to rid himself of his mask and glimpse the Land of Promise. The narrator and the Voice discuss each part and almost each character of the book. They comment on the difficulties of narration, talk about time, reality, probability, style, common sense and the imagination, women, the body, misunderstandings, the masks that are worn in human society, and more. The whole novel is crafted to justify Hamvas s stated belief: We are all suffering under a curse, and this curse is called mask. I am unable to reach out for the others, their sickness, sin and madness thickens into a form. A fake-form. In most cases this fake-form will take over the existence of the human being and attempts to lead his life. This is the mask, the larva. This is madness. The mask is the devil. This is why the devil is always the third. The devil s existence consists of taking over the life-force of others; it has no reality of its own. As György Spiró puts it, Hamvas is not simply a caricaturist with wide intellectual horizons, because caricature is limited by the subject it distorts. He makes a parody of the whole of human existence and we have the feeling that he is most probably the freest of Hungarian writers. But he is not so free, however, as not to be a Hungarian writer because his work was made in this language, in an original and varied language abundant in the possibilities of linguistic innovation, and he is not concerned for one moment by the spasmodic efforts often found in Eastern Europe to achieve European culture from an undeveloped marginal land. On the contrary, he has no inferiority complex, because he sits in a watch-tower from which East and West can be equally surveyed, that East and West which are not able to understand each other.

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