日曜日, 4月 01, 2018

CHAIN-LINKS by Frigyes Karinthy





 Frigyes Karinthy 

We were arguing energetically about whether the world is
actually evolving, headed in a particular direction, or whether the
entire universe is just a returning rhythm's game, a renewal of
eternity. "There has to be something of crucial importance," I
said in the middle of debate. l just don't quite know how to
express it in a new way; l hate repeating myself."

Let me put it this way: Planet Earth has never been as tiny as it is
now. lt shrunk ーrelatively speaking of course ー due to the
quickening pulse of both physical and verbal communication,
This topic has come up before, but we had never named it quite
this way. We never talked about the fact that anyone on Earth, at
my or anyone's will, can now learn in just a few minutes what I
think or do, and what l want or what l would like to do. If I 
wanted to convince myself of the above fact: in couple of days l
could be ー Hocus pocus! ー where l want to be.

Now we live in fairyland. The only slightly disappointing thing
about this land is that it is smaller than the real world has ever


Chesterton praised a tiny and intimate, small universe and found
it obtuse to portray the Cosmos as something very big. l think
this idea is peculiar to our age of transportation. While
Chesterton rejected technology and evolution, he was finally
forced to admit that the fairyland he dreamed of could only come
about through the scientific revolution he so vehemently

Everything returns and renews itself. The difference now is that
the rate of these returns has increased, in both space and time, in
an unheard-of fashion. Now my thoughts can circle the globe in
minutes. Entire passages of world history are played out in a
couple of years.

Something must result from this chain of thoughts. If only I knew
what! (l feel as if I knew the answer to all this,but I've forgotten
what it was or was overcome with doubt. Maybe I was too close
to the truth. Near the North Pole, they say, the needle of a
compass goes haywire, turning around in circles. It seems as if
the same thing happens to our beliefs when we get too close to

A fascinating game grew out of this discussion. One of us
suggested performing the following experiment to prove that the
population of the Earth is closer together now than they have
ever been before. We should select any person from the 1.5
billion inhabitants of the Earth ー anyone, anywhere at all. He bet
us that, using no more than five individuals, one of whom is a
personal acquaintance, he could contact the selected individual
using nothing except the network of personal acquaintances. For
example,“Look,you know Mr. X.Y.,please ask him to contact
his friend Mr.Q.Z.,whom he knows, and so forth.”
“An interesting idea!” ー someone said ー “Let’s give it a try,
How would you contact Selma Lagerof?”(1)


1 Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlof(1858ー1940),who received the Nobel
Prize for literature in 1909, was a champion of the retum or Swedish
romanticism with a mystical overtone. She also wrote novels for children.

3:27 午前

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“We!l now, Selma Lagerlof, " the proponent of the game replied,
“Nothing could be easier." And he reeled off a solution in two
seconds: “Selma Lagerlof just won the Nobel Prize for
Literature, so she's bound to know King Gustav of Sweden,
since, by rule, he's the one who would have handed her the Prize,
And it's well known that King Gustav loves to play tennis and
participates in international tennis tournaments. He has played
Mr. Kehrling(2) so they must be acquainted. And as it happens l
myself also know Mr. Kehrling quite well." (The proponent was
himself a good tennis player. “ All we needed this time was two
out of five links. That's not surprising since it's always easier to
find someone who knows a famous or popular figure than some
run-of-the-mill, insignificant person. Come on, give me a harder
one to solve!"

l proposed a more difficult problem: to find a chain of contacts
linking myself with an anonymous riveter at the Ford Motor
Company ー and l accomplished it in four steps. The worker
knows his foreman,who knows Mr. Ford himself, who, in turn,
is on good terms with the director general of the Hearst
publishing empire, l had a close friend, Mr. Arpad Pasztor, who
had recently struck up an acquaintance with the director of
Hearst publishing,It would take but one word to my friend to
send a cable to the general director of Hearst asking him to
contact Ford who could in turn contact the foreman, who could
then contact the riveter,who could then assemble a new
automobile for me, should l need one.

And so the game went on. Our friend was absolutely correct:
nobody from the group needed more than nve links in the chain
to reach, just by using the method of acquaintance, any inhabitant
of our Planet.


2 Bel Kehrling, (1891-1937)was a noted Hungarian sportsman, soccer,
ping-pong and tennis player. In tennis, he emerged victorious in l923 in
Gothenberg,Sweden,both indoors and in the open; he placed third in the
Wimbledon doubles. He also played soccer and ice hockey.

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And this leads us to another question: Was there ever a time in
human history when this would have been impossible? Julius
Caesar,for instance, was a popular man, but if he had got it into
his head to try and contact a priest from one of the Mayan or
Aztec tribes that lived in the Americas at that time, he could not
have succeeded ー not in five steps, not even in three hundred.
Europeans in those days knew less about America and its
inhabitants than we now know about Mars and its inhabitants.

So something is going on here, a process of contraction and
expansion which is beyond rhythms and waves. Something
coalesces,shrinks in size, while something else flows outward
and grows. How is it possible that all this expansion and material
growth can have started with a tiny, glittering speck that flared
up millions of years ago in the mass of nerves in a primitive
human's head? And how is it possible that by now, this
continuous growth has the inundating ability to reduce the entire
physical world to ashes? ls it possible that power can conquer
matter, that the soul makes a mightier truth than the body, that
life has a meaning that survives life itself; that good survives evil
as life survives death, that God, after all, is more powerful than
the Devil?

l am embarrassed to admit ー since it would look foolish ? that
l often catch myself playing our well-connected game not only
with human beings, but with objects as weII. l have become very
good at it. lt's a useless game, of course, but l think I'm addicted
to it,like a gambler who, having lost all of his money, plays for
dried beans without any hope of real gain ーjust to see the four
colors ofthe cards. The strange mind-game that clatters in me all
the time goes like this: how can l link, with three, four, or at most
five links of the chain, trivial,everyday things of life. How can I
link one phenomenon to another? How can I join the relative and
the ephemeral with steady, permanent things ー how can l tie up
the part with the whole?

It would be nice to just live, have fun, and take notice only of the
utility of things: how much pleasure or pain they cause me. Alas,
it's not possible. I hope that this game will help me find

3:28 午前

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something else in the eyes that smile at me or the fist that strikes
me, something beyond the urge to draw near to the former and
shy away from the latter, One person loves me, another hates me,
Why? Why the love and the hatred?

There are two people who do not understand one another, but I'm
supposed to understand both. How? Someone is selling grapes in
the street while my young son is crying in the other room,An
acquaintance's wife has cheated on him while a crowd of
hundred and fifty thousand watches the Dempsey match, Romain
Roland's (3) last novel bombed while my friend Q changes his
mind about Mr. Y. Ring-a-ring o' roses, a pocketful of posies.
How can one possibly construct any chain of connections
between these random things, without filling thirty volumes of
philosophy, making only reasonable suppositions. The chain
starts with the matter, and its last link leads to me, as the source
of everything.

Well, just like this gentleman, who stepped up to my table in the
cafe where l am now writing,He walked up to me and
interrupted my thoughts with some trifling, insignificant problem
and made me forget what l was going to say. Why did he come
here and disturb me? The first link: he doesn't think much of
people he finds scribbling, The second link: this world doesn't
value scribbling nearly as much as it used to just a quarter of a
century ago, The famous world-views and thoughts that marked
the end of the 19th century are to no avail today. Now we disdain
the intellect. The third link: this disdain is the source of the
hysteria of fear and terror that grips Europe today, And so to the
fourth link: the order of the world has been destroyed,

Well,then,let a New World order appear! Let the new Messiah
of the world come! Let the God of the universe show himself
once more through the burning rosehip-bush! Let there be peace,
let there be war, let there be revolutions, so that ー and here is


3 Romain Roland, the noted French novelist, lived from 1866 until 1944. He
was awarded the NobeI Prize for literature in 1915, Nearly all of his works
were translated into Hungarian, just as in the case of Selma Lagerlof.


the fifth link ー it cannot happen again that someone should dare
disturb me when I am at play. when set free the phantoms of
my imagination, when I think !

         Translated from Hungarian and annotated by
                 Adam Makkai
               Edited by Eniko Janko