Materiality and Making Meaning

The Publication History of Mihály Babits’s Poem “Fortissimo”




historical bibliography, materiality, material context, making meaning, Mihály Babits, censorship


In recent decades, scholars working in the realm of the metaphilology have focused increasingly on the materiality of texts; that is, the material aspect of texts in the making of meaning (cf.  Jerome McGann’s “bibliographic code”). This article sets out by clarifying what we mean by the materiality of a text; it does so by outlining and discussing the ideas advanced by George Bornstein. Applying the methodology of historical bibliography, it then examines how the changing material context of the poem “Fortissimo,” by one of Hungary’s towering early twentieth-century literary figures, Mihály Babits, influenced that poem’s interpretability from the first stage of its existence to its multiple republications. This poem’s publication history is exceptional from several perspectives. The March 1, 1917, issue of the journal Nyugat was confiscated because of the poem, and its author was prosecuted for blasphemy. But the poem was published in French the same year, and in two anthologies in German the following year. “Fortissimo” became available in Hungarian again only after the Aster Revolution of 1918, in the volume A diadalmas forradalom könyve (The Book of the Triumphant Revolution), alongside works by many other authors, and, within days, once again in Nyugat.


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Babits, Mihály. 2011. Levelezése [Correspondece], 1916–1918. Ed. Mária Szőke and Lajos Sipos, Budapest: Argumentum.

Benjamin, Walter. 2007. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn, New York: Schocken Books, 217–51.

Boka, László, and Rózsafalvi, Zsuzsanna. 2016. “The War of Words”. In Propaganda Az I. Világháborúban: Propaganda in World War I. Trans. Boldizsár Fejérvári. Budapest: Országos Széchényi Könyvtár, 97–118.

Bornstein, George. 2001. “How to Read a Page?: Mondernism and Textuality”. In Material Modernism: The Politics of the Page. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 5–31.

Boros, Ferenc. “Beszélgetések Babits Mihállyal” [Conversation with Mihály Babits]. Élet, 10: 1105–06.

Grigely, Joseph. 1995. “Textual Space”. In Textualterity: Art Theory, and Textual Criticism. Ann Arbor: Univerity of Michigan Press, 1995, p. 121153.

Hatvany, Lajos. 1917a. “A költő a bíróság előtt” [The poet in court]. Pesti Napló 1917. 03. 07., 4.

Hatvany, Lajos. 1917b. “Az elkobzott koboz” [The confiscated lute]. Pesti Napló 1917. 03. 05., 5.

Horvát, Henrik (trans.) 1918 Neue ungarische Lyrik in Nachdichtungen [New Hungarian Lyric]. Munich: Georg Müller Verlag.

Hume, Robert D. 2005. “The Aims and Uses of ‘Textual Studies’”. The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 99: 197–230.

Kenyeres, Zoltán. 2004. "A Nyugat periódusai" [Periods of Nyugat]. In Kenyeres, Zoltán. Korok, pályák, művek: Válogatott tanulmányok [Ages, careers, works: Selected studies]. Budapest: Akadémiai, 58–83.

McGann, Jerome J. 1991. The Textual Condition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

McKenzie, Donald Francis. 1999. Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

McKenzie, Donald Francis. 2002. “’What’s Past Is Prologue’: The Bibliographical Society and History of the Book’. In McKenzie, Donald Francis. Making Meaning: Printers of the Mind and Other Essays. Amherst: Univerity of Massachusetts Press, 2002, pp. 259–75.

Pfemfert, Franz (ed.). 1917. Das Aktionsbuch. Berlin: Die Aktion, 1917.

Rába, György. 1981. Babits Mihály költészete: 1903–1920 [Poetry of Mihály Babits: 1903–1920]. Budapest: Szépirodalmi.

Szegedy-Maszák, Mihály. 2007. “Világirodalmi távlat megteremtése” [Creating a world literary perspective]. In A magyar irodalom történetei: 1800-tól 1919-ig [Histories of the Hungarian literature]. Ed. Mihály Szegedy-Maszák and András Veres (Vol. 2) Budapest: Gondolat, 704–22.

Tverdota, György. 2016. “Babits, az írástudó” [Babits the literate]. In Értelmiségi karriertörténetek, kapcsolathálók, írócsoportosulások [Intellectual career stories, networks, writers' groups]. Ed. Annamária Biró and László Boka (Vol. 2), Budapest–Nagyvárad: Partium–Reciti, 227–39.

Visy, Beatrix. “A vers mint antipropaganda. Babits Mihály: Fortissimo” [The poem as antipropaganda. Babits Mihály: Fortissimo]. Irodalomtörténet, 97: 339–49.






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