Section of Modern Hungarian Literature

History of the Section

The Section, which was originally called 20th-Century Section and organized to explore and analyse the history of 20th-century Hungarian literature, is of the same age as the Institute itself. Its first leader was Aladár Komlós, who was followed by Miklós Szabolcsi (from 1958), György Bodnár (from 1966), Miklós Béládi (from 1981), György Tverdota (from 1984). The work then was directed by Béla Pomogáts from September 1991, and Gergely Angyalosi from June 1992 to 2014. Since 2014, András Kappanyos has been the head of section.

This once populous (sometimes having more than twenty colleagues) but now reduced section devoted the first ten years of its activities to the preparation and then compilation of the two 20th-century volumes of the new manual on Hungarian literary history. The task, which gave work to all the researchers of the Institute, was especially difficult in respect of the 20th century, as there had never been written a comprehensive scientific synthesis on the literature of the first half of the century. This synthetic work was followed by another one: following years of preparatory discussions, in 1970 the colleagues of the section started to write the history of contemporary Hungarian literature, which – clearly – was an even more complicated task. Miklós Béládi and, following his death, László Rónay was leading the work in which numerous colleagues took part. Six volumes of it were published between 1981 and 1990 under the title The History of Hungarian Literature 1945-1975 (A magyar irodalom története 1945–1975). The next big enterprise, in which almost the complete Section participates, is the compilation of the history of Hungarian criticism and literary history. These collective tasks have always been completed by many individual pieces of works. The colleagues of the Section have written monographs on numerous Hungarian writers, trends and genres of the 20th century.

Following Miklós Szabolcsi’s initiative, a separate working team of the Section started to explore and analyze the pre-1945 socialist – especially emigrant – literature. The team was led by Farkas József and László Illés. To publish the results of this research area, the Section launched a series titled Literature – Socialism (Irodalom – Szocializmus). The start of socialist literature was strongly connected to the evolvement of Hungarian avant-garde – its research and “rehabilitation” was highly accelerated by the Section and especially Miklós Béládi’s studies. György Bodnár and Béla Pomogáts initiated the research of Hungarian-language literature in neighbouring countries, and – together with László Rónay – they published a survey titled Hungarian Literature in the Western World after 1945 (Nyugati magyar irodalom 1945 után, Budapest, 1986), which for the first time depicted the literary life of Hungarians living in the Western World.

In the field of source and text edition, work started right after the establishment of the Institute. The first volume of the series New Hungarian Museum (Új Magyar Múzeum), devoted to source and document publications, was issued in 1957; the third and fourth volume of Attila József’s critical edition, which had been started earlier, were completed (edited by Miklós Szabolcsi) and later two new magistral volumes of Attila József’s poems were also published (edited by Béla Stoll). The critical edition of Attila József’s prose writings is Iván Horváth and György Tverdota’s merit. The biggest textological enterprise of the Section is the critical edition of Mihály Babits’s poems, on which a separate team has been working since 1986 with József Láng’s guidance. The remarkable amount of preparatory work shows the significance and novelty of the project: the redaction of each volume was preceded by the preparation of the manuscript catalogue, the bibliography and the biographical chronology.

To critically deal with current literature and with the theoretical, ideological questions of contemporary literature is one of the most important tasks of the Section. In order to accomplish this, the colleagues of the Section continuously publish their writings in various literary and cultural periodicals. To serve the aim of presenting contemporary literature to the public, the Section has established a separate book series: the volumes of Our Contemporaries (Kortársaink), which have been issued since 1972, introduce the authors of post-1945 Hungarian literature in the form of short monographs.

In recent decades, the researches on criticism history, which had started in the Institute in the 1970s, had a significant role in the life of the 18th-Century and 19th-Century Sections, however, since the 1990s they have become more and more important elements of the activities of the Section of Modern Hungarian Literature, too. Discussions and conferences on criticism historical subjects are regular, besides, the Section has started to deal with the topic within the frameworks of a double duration HSRF-grant. During the time of these grants, several short monographs on criticism historical subjects have been written. Furthermore, two representative anthologies are under preparation, which present the history of criticism and the disputes related to criticismin the first half of the 20th century. Initiated by the Section (and with its cooperation), the Cult Researching Group, which represents a special branch of the research on criticism history, was also reorganized.

The Section has a wide network of international contacts. It has been successfully cooperating with the Centre for Hungarology in Novi Sad (Újvidéki Hungarológiai Központ), and organizes French-Hungarian, German-Hungarian and Croatian-Hungarian conferences with good results. Between 1979 and 1989, successful comparative conferences were organized in the United States and Hungary within the frameworks of the ACLS–IREX–MTA cooperation in the field of social science.

At present, the major task of the Section is to prepare the third volume of the manual on literary history. This is done in coordination with the Theoretical Section and the Eastern European Section with the help of external colleagues, too. Besides, the Corpus Alienum team also operates within the Section – it does researches in the fields of body poetics, corporeal narratology, xenology, theories on literary images.

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