Ernő Kállai’s (under the pen name Péter Mátyás’) “Lajos Kassák” (1921)

Translated from the Hungarian by John Bátki.

From Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes,

1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).

• • •

All collective art has two poles.  One of these expands with the faculty for the representation of bodies, until it enfolds the entire world.  At the other extreme the will to [426] create a social and intellectual community erects a monument to itself out of its own building blocks.

The former is to a certain extent realistic observation focused on an object, while the latter is pure spirit and ethics embodied as non-objective form in space.

And since the collective spirit implies law and logic, collective form always builds upon the order of articulated parts.

It creates architecture even while painting a picture or modeling a sculpture.  Architectonic articulation is all the more severe, and its forms all the more abstract and simple, the less personal freedom the social and economic order of the collective spirit allows.  For every new collective signals the elevation of a victorious, objective historical will into an accomplished fact.  The launching of every collective involves the welding together of various forces into the most solid agglomeration of power — thus it is a construction, in the most inexorable sense of the word.

Regarding Lajos Kassák’s woodcuts that proclaim the collective man, many viewers (even some belonging to the revolutionary youth) are likely to mention the absence of representation, and the regrettable fact that these graphics are not easily comprehensible.  Granted that Kassák’s graphics, with their vertical, horizontal and diagonal force lines, planes and arches that articulate into structures, do not readily lend themselves for purposes of direct political agitation.  But this is the only drawback that burdens them as a result of their incomprehensibility for the masses.  For any representative art, especially in the vein of new realism, executed to be readily accessible for the proletariat, can only end up as illustration for the arithmetics of politics and economy in our days.  And this kind of realism, unless it is content with being a more or less Dadaist critique of bourgeois society and culture (in the sense of, say, the George Grosz of old), will come into inevitable conflict with even the most humble Constructivist experimentation.  (The new George Grosz!).  However, without construction it is impossible to create an image of the positive values of the man and society of tomorrow.  Not to mention that the shrinking of space and its relegation to a minor role through the use of illusionistic perspective may be interpreted as the small-minded moral philosophy of individual shares of the patrimony.

Nonetheless, even if the truths demonstrable through realism prove to be a thousand times unavoidable as stepping stones toward social revolution, they still do not constitute the alpha and omega of collective man.

The question of pure human spirit, transcending short-term political agitation, is a matter of life and death.  This spirit confronts us in the endless and universal front of workers maintained in every civilization, with regard to which the remote, receding perspective of individual sentimentality and rationality is reduced to nothing.  It is the spirit of frontality that commands an egolessness that transcends the differentiations of an objective view, to construct a monument out of its own inner world.

In Kassák’s picture architecture, the essence of collective civilization asserts itself with a severe sovereignty.  Rising above the chaos of today’s unbridled emotions, the future is upheld by the simple clarity of formal and spatial relationships.

The fatalism of such a faith and will discredits regarding the lack of pictorial representation.  In this case non-objectivity does not imply a romantic evasion of the world, even less a mystical dematerialization, but the declaration of a new law and new way of life by an inexorably revolutionary will.

This is art that reduced to the most concentrated and basic form: action. It is creation, the triumphant forecast of the future collective, charting its course through an infinite and inchoate space.  It sets a framework for all of the objects and meanings yet to come.

It does not bother with details, the relative light-, color-, and form-refractions of the one and only ultimate truth.  This is why it does not depict people, whether proletarian [427] or capitalist, or whatever else is demanded by the realism of political comprehensibility.  This is why it insists on always constructing.  But its constructions offer a thousand possibilities of objective views for the future, and not even the most tangible realism of the future can be anything other than the radiant forms of a collective reality that has arrived at its own architecture.

[Originally published as “Lajos Kassák,” in Ma vol. 9 (September 15, 1921)]

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~ by Ross Wolfe on October 22, 2010.

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