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The Diary of Géza Csáth

Géza Csáth
Querido, Amsterdam, 2004
translation: Peter Reich

originally appeared as:
Naplo 1912-1913
1989, publisher: Babits Kiado



refered to by:
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the ledge - flash version*

*
English

THE DIARY OF GéZA CSáTH — GéZA CSáTH

Preface

We meet Géza Csáth (the pen name of József Brenner) in the fall of 1912, age 25, in the grips of writer’s block, which he is determined to defeat by writing a season’s worth of autobiography. He proceeds to reminisce over the summer just past, a memoir that appears at first to be a candid private recollection of almost ceaseless promiscuity and very occasional medical practice in the spa town of Stubnyafürdő.

We should know, however, that this man who claims to be “inhibited” from writing has recently produced a medical text, a volume of fiction, and the German translation of his monograph on Puccini. However serious his inability to produce more, we are certainly justified in taking his complaint with a grain of salt, and, sure enough, a paragraph later, he writes sixty pages of deft, funny, shocking, psychologically astute memoir. The writer’s block doesn’t seem terribly serious. Did he talk himself through it, or was he merely softening up his readership?

That is the question, because, though the “Notes on the Summer of 1912” compose part of the author’s diaries, it is worth asking whether they weren’t intended to be read by us, whether we are diary voyeurs or invited audience.
1.

 
THE DIARY OF GéZA CSáTH — GéZA CSáTH

First, the Notes seem to be rewritten, a summation after the fact, leavened with a degree of detail implying a pre-existing diary. (Such a daily diary seems likely, considering the astounding statistical summaries Csáth produces for himself at the end of 1912.) Further, in this retrospective composition, I felt a literary stage-craft, a polished performance, and a full presentation of characters (including the leading man), that Csáth’s “real-time” diaries from later in the year do not display. What’s more, on page one, he is already hiding something; we learn only much, much later that at the time of composing this bawdy memoir, Csáth was suffering from something far more serious and intractable than writer’s block. In other words, considering his admitted desire for literary fame, it is by no means implausible that he expected his journals would outlast him and would find a readership—admirers like you and me. He may indeed be performing for us, so beware his apparently perfect candor.

With that in mind, we proceed to the performance, the adventures of Dr. József Brenner, spa doctor and boiling Don Juan-nabe. Make no mistake, this character, this Géza Csáth /József Brenner is an unredeemed bastard.
2.

 
THE DIARY OF GéZA CSáTH — GéZA CSáTH

Most obviously he is a philanderer with vast appetites of such untamable ferocity they call to mind the modern notion of sexual addiction. He has betrayed his fiancée, Olga Jonás, within a week or so of arrival. He collects chambermaids, patients, his patients’ daughters, and local peasant women at a pace that would exhaust most men not also fending off tuberculosis and opium addiction. His heartlessness in these love affairs is presented starkly, without apologies. When one of his women loses her job for stealing a shirt to try to please him, he is unaffected to a degree that is almost comical, and perhaps he intends this.

Csáth’s is an extraordinary self-portrait, one that is simultaneously introspective and self-deluding. This is a neat trick. (It also calls into question the idea that even the most careful observer can successfully observe himself.) The doctor is sensitive to slights and suspicious of others. He is highly analytical of himself, but uncomfortable with some of the most basic social interactions (shaking hands, determining his social position). He obsessively catalogues his peccadilloes (four bouts of "onania") and his victories (stop-watched kisses, the ranking of orgasm quality, his sexual recovery time as a function of his current level of “training”).
3.

 
THE DIARY OF GéZA CSáTH — GéZA CSáTH

He loathes self-pity, self-justification, and defense mechanisms in those around him, but his own writing is full of self-pity, self-justification, and defense mechanisms.

He is an insecure but also happy-go-lucky rapist, faithless lover and would-be Casanova. He is apparently without redeeming virtues, unless brutal candor and persistently unsuccessful self-inquiry count. Misogynistic and misanthropic, faithless, vain, manic-depressive, arrogant, self-consciously self-loathing and self-admiring, doctor and quack, he is also very entertaining, especially when hypocritical to hilarious extremes. Of a woman he has just kissed immediately after she has come from intercourse with her now-dozing husband, he notes: “All Jewish women…were…entirely without a sense of responsibility and moral taste.” This from a man who has enjoyed a “cruel trio”, in which he has sex with one woman in earshot of his heart-broken previous lover. Later, he writes of another love, “I saw how much this woman enjoyed humiliation, so I gave her her share.” (By the way, this busy summer, it turns out, was a period of which he was proud for having tamed his tendency to introduce sexual complications into his life.
4.

 
THE DIARY OF GéZA CSáTH — GéZA CSáTH

)

For all his fondness for Casanova, his idolatry of his fiancée, and his evident delight at his successes (over women and over impotence), for all the connoisseur’s lip-smacking (his admiration of the “formation of the hips, their transition to the back”), this lover often doesn’t seem to like the women themselves very much. They are “dolts,” “tasteless,” “incapable of moral judgment.” Except for his fiancée, he holds them in supreme contempt for that most unforgivable act, falling in love with him.

At other times, there is an air of irony in his tone, an amusement at his wicked appetites that almost excuses them. It is a very wispy irony and may in fact be a lie, but still, it is difficult not to feel a certain fondness for a man who blames an unwanted second act with one lover on “the unparalleled weakness of human nature.”

Of course, this cad, this hypocrite is something far more. He does not mention it, perhaps out of false modesty, counting on Posterity to have told us before we had ever read the Notes. In case you don’t already know, I will play the role of Posterity: This “villain” is a man of vast gifts. He is a neurologist, painter, composer and music critic, pianist and violinist, playwright, journalist, short-story writer, and a man of superhuman ambition and energy.
5.

 
THE DIARY OF GéZA CSáTH — GéZA CSáTH



He is a bastard, of course, but so are a lot of people with nothing else to be said for them.

- Arthur Phillips
6.


     
The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht, info@the-ledge.com
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
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Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
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