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András Kappanyos Interview

Dr. András Kappanyos is this year’s György Ránki Hungarian Chair Visiting Professor. Although Kappanyos has been to New York City in the past, this is his first time working and living in the US for a prolonged period of time.  The chair supports visiting professors from Hungary and rotates on a biannual basis. The 2014-15 Chair was János Kocsis, who has returned to his home institution in Budapest.

Kappanyos was born and raised in Budapest, where he also attended university.  He received both his master's degree and doctorate degree at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, where he focused on Hungarian Literature and Linguistics and Modern English Literature.  Since 2013, he has been the head of the Hungarian Institute of Literary Studies Department of Modern Literary History. In addition, he teaches literary theory as an associate professor at the University of Miskolc. His wife is a professor at the University of Film and Theatre Studies, Budapest, and they have two daughters; the elder has a degree in history from Oxford, and the younger studies medicine and plans to be a psychiatrist.

His research interests include Hungarian culture and the Avant-garde. This past semester, he taught a class entitled Modernist Art Culture in Hungary and Central Europe (CEUS-R 549).  Next semester, he plans to teach a follow-up course focusing on the avant-garde culture of totalitarian regimes in Europe.  He said the main idea for the spring course is to look at the avant-garde as a radical version of modernism.  “There is this very interesting but very clear confliction that totalitarian regimes, both fascist and communist, were modernist projects. It was about efficiency and equality, but obviously the ideas went wrong,” András said.  “The avant-garde is a core feature of modernist culture: It is always critical, it is always subversive and it is always autonomical, so when it loses its autonomy as it did in many of these regimes, it simply stops being modern.”  András said it is the common thread of examining the avant-garde that connects the two classes he will have taught at IU. He also hopes to make this the focus of the annual György Ránki Hungarian Chair Conference, which is scheduled for April.

Although he is not entirely sure what he will yet be presenting at the conference, András said he is leaning towards a presentation on Dadaism, because “That’s my favorite –ism,” he said with a laugh.  The Dada art movement was part of the 20th century European avant-garde that eventually spread across the western hemisphere. “It was very subversive, very much anti-establishment. I think a large part of American pop art of the 50s and 60s, for example, artists like Andy Warhol, had ideas that can be traced back to Dadaism,” András said.  “It was a great and very fruitful movement in the world of arts.”

In addition to teaching at IU, András’ main project is to rewrite into English his book Bajuszbögre, lefordítatlan. The title is an untranslatable pun, that surfaced during the recent re-translation of James Joyce’s Ulysses into Hungarian, a decade-long project that he carried out with three younger colleagues and former students. The title refers to a certain “moustache cup”, a drinking vessel that contains a semicircular ledge inside to keep the drinker’s mustache dry. In Joyce’s original text this item is “uninverted”, but in the translation this adjective takes on the secondary meaning “untranslated” – which is quite appropriate, as on the cultural level no one really understands what it is.

András’ book focuses on the relationship between the theory and practice of translation, including different problems that can arise when making a literal translation of prose from one language to another. Cultural references often have to be substituted, but its rules are different, depending on language-pairs. The references of dominant cultures, like quotes from Shakespeare, are recognized universally, while the cultural patterns of more peripheral languages have much smaller scope. It is for this reason that András is having to completely rewrite his book instead of simply translating it from Hungarian to English.  He is even struggling to create an adequate English title for the book. “Its title now, as far as I know, will be Untranslatable Pun, because the actual title in Hungarian is a pun that can’t be translated into English,” he explained.

When he’s not teaching or writing, András said he likes to take in the scenery of Bloomington and the IU campus. “There’s nothing to compare it to in Hungary,” he said.  He also runs at least twice a week, and has plans to volunteer at one of the local animal shelters.