Noémi Kiss (HUN): Pop-Rhetorics vs. Literature

Noémi Kiss is a literary woman voice from Hungary whose works are direct, confrontational and critical. By her stories about her travels and about woman specific experiences like pregnancy she developed a rich style and at the same time can address and reveal political in an uncompomising way. 

(Julia Schiefer/JS): As a Hungarian woman writer you write about the position of women in modern day society in your home country. I gathered some quotes from you about Eastern Europe society that indicate that the situation, as you see it, is urgent and needs to be changed. You said that people in Eastern Europe define themselves in categories of nationality and origin without a check on reality or even a plan for the future. At the same time you said that Orbáns government is anti-urban and anti-intellectual. That is a dark image. Do you think anything has changed since you claimed that?

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]There is no new right-wing populist turn in the political language.[/pullquote]

(Noémi Kiss/ NK): You are right, there is a gap in modern discourse all over Europe at the moment, a discrepancy between intellectual thinking and political slogans. In other words: short and clear sentences reign our everyday lives. Especially the governmental media world is dominated by it. In Hungary nothing has changed, it even seems to go backwards. As I see it, the problem has even intensified. What is of strong importance to me, and what I fear, is, that I notice this certain kind of changes in political language. Also in Germany, France and Poland. Reflectiveness, discussion, listening is what is missing – there is seemingly no room for talking. But there are blogs, brief (hostile, cynical) comments and short and clear answers. This kind of tagging is new and it is part of your own publicity. For my part, I do not like this culture of discussion. It annoys me, it hurts. There is no new right-wing populist turn in the political language. A policy of power – no encounter with the opponent or foreign countries based on solidarity – there is no Europe with a future. It is a strong fragility of shared characteristics, and the common ideas and values actually diminish. In the end the individual is left alone – there is no unity of a nation or nations – is has become a war of rhetorics.

Erschienen bei Europa Verlag Berlin 2015.
Erschienen bei Europa Verlag Berlin 2015.

(JS:) According to the OECD people in Hungary are more involved in civil engagement with a rate of 2.4. This is quite a low rank, though, but still better than in Germany. In the light of recent events concerning the stream of refugees from middle east I would be interested in how people of Hungary discern the crises?

(NS:) This crisis was detected at a very early stage here by my friends and also in Hungarian media. Civil activists and journalists have warned people already in May – in German newspaper and Western media there was nothing, not a word about refugees, immigrants, migrants or illegal human trafficking at that time. The willingness to help was very big. But there was another society within society: the government with its rhetorics of hate and a proliferated campaign against foreign people. “Economical immigrants” is what Orbán called them. And in September, when 71 people died in a truck – public discourse overturned. Austria has introduced border controls in Hegyeshalom. People were left behind in Keleti-pályaudvar – and then the discussions about refugees started. But unfortunately it was too late. Europe has not found a way to cope with the situation. People are now suffering in camps in different places. They carry hope for a better life. Like so many other people in Ukraine, in Eastern Europe. There are so many, one cannot imagine the sheer number of them. Those who were invisible in past days, today they raise their voice and suddenly become visible – and disappear from the media discourse, went missing in the language of the politicians. And let me add: That is the raison-d´étre of literature since it bears more continuity about invisible problems in our society.

Published at Matthes und Seitz, Belrin, 2009.
Published at Matthes und Seitz, Belrin, 2009.

(JS:) You wrote a book about your travels to Eastern Europe called Tattered Jewel Box, a compendium of essays that deal with historical developments in different regions of Ukraine, Romania and Hungary questioning national and cultural boundaries and heritages of areas like Galicia or Bukovina. There are also stories that are fictional that never took place. This is in my eyes an ironic statement to the touristic eye.

(NK:) Yes and no. I consciously try to develop an own way of telling about the geographical field of Eastern Europe which is skeptical and euphoric at the same time. I love these countries and people. I have spent my most beautiful travels and days in Bukovina and Galicia. After my travels I was always a bit sad, even melancholic. There are too many cemeteries on the way, you know.

These regions could be a paramount example of how many ethnicities are able to live together and develop economically rich under one rule, that was the Habsburger family. Migrants like Jews, Armenians, Lipovans, Ruthenians, Germans, Hungarians and Polish – from Mideast, Caucasus, Russia – up to the USSR and Stalin and until the outbreak of World War II – which ruined everything. The demolishing rhetoric of the Third Reich had spread a lot of hate – Holocaust, concentration camps and labour camps – that is the face of history in the regions today. And now again a populist rhetoric.

Published by Magvető Könyvkiadó és Kereskedelmi Kft, 2013.
Published by Magvető Könyvkiadó és Kereskedelmi Kft, 2013.

(JS:) What do you have in mind when you hear „literary activist“ which is a key word of CROWD?

(NK:) It is more a mere word and has nothing to do with my own life and writing. I called myself from the beginning a feminist – I have to add here that in Hungary “feminism” is up until today an insult and invective in some quarters. I always had my own opinion and have always possibly avoided prejudices and political slogans. That makes my having not a lot in common with good paid politicians today. But this stereotypes “activist” or “feminist” irritate me, provoke me, if they are uttered with a negative tenor: See, your writing is not art, you are not autonomous, because you yourself are already stereotyped. No, I am a writer and I have my own themes, people and geographical places that touch me, that I want to write about. And I love readings, participate in discussions and if I am needed, I go and help others.

(JS:) What are you currently working on?

(NK:) I have just recently published a novel. I am pretty much exhausted, I worked on it for six years. In the near future I go for St. Gallen, Vienna, Frankfurt, Ulm, Stuttgart, Zürich to do readings there. I have also started working on a children book about Budapest. We are writing the dialogs together with the children and it is really exciting.

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