Languages of Exile and Community in Dezső Kosztolányi's Esti Kornél Cycles

Adriana Varga


An avid translator, the poet, novelist, essayist and journalist, Dezső Kosztolányi believed in linguistic relativism, the uniqueness of each language-created world view, and the impossibility of translation. Paradoxically, one of his main concerns was to express in fiction various encounters between individuals belonging to different linguistic and cultural communities, and to explore whether communication between them was at all possible. It is exactly this double bind—this status of finding oneself between two or more cultures and languages—that the Hungarian novelist explored in many of his works, particularly in his last fictional writings, the Esti Kornél cycles: Esti Kornél (1933) and Esti Kornél Kalandjai (The Adventures of Kornél Esti, 1936). Several of the Esti Kornél episodes are linguistic explorations of the encounter between “self” and “other,” when these two often belong to different cultural and linguistic communities. The result of estranging language during such encounters leads to a better understanding of language and the context that created it—just as, in translation, the loss and, therefore, the presence of the original’s linguistic form is most acutely felt and understood by the translator.


Kosztolányi, modernism in Hungary, narrative theory, translation theory, culture and language, Esti Kornél

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