Budapest & Hungary

Budapest & Hungary

Lonely Planet – £14.99

There have been some good, bad and ugly developments here recently. A national election has returned the old guard with more power than ever. The economy splutters along but there have been some improvements. And the country has unveiled a series of new attractions – from an ambitious contemporary art museum in Debrecen to a restored synagogue in Szeged and mosque in Esztergom. And then there’s Budapest’s ambitious bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

(‘Budapest & Hungary Today’).

Even if the above, along with the country’s relentlessly unpleasant leaders do leave rather a lot to be desired, there is still something to be gleaned from paying Hungary a visit.

For a start, there’s: ‘’Stunning architecture, vital folk art, thermal spas and Europe’s most exciting city after dark.’’ which, according to one of Budapest & Hungary’s prime writers, Steve Fallon, remains one of its major drawcards.

Divided into five distinct parts that equate with the country’s four prime areas and it’s capital city (The Danube Bend & Western Transdanubia, Lake Balaton & Southern Transdanubia, The Great Plain, Northern Hungary and of course, Budapest), these 310 pages – excluding Behind the Scenes, Acknowledgements and Index – clearly bequeath the travelling reader with nigh everything one needs to know with regards this fascinating, Central European nation.

Alas, hideous Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, aside, there really is an abundance to learn about, understand and essentially come to terms with so far as all things Hungarian are concerned.

The first might well be it’s cultural allure, which is somewhat brought to the fore by Fallon when he writes: ‘’I love both Budapest and Hungary for so many reasons that it’s impossible to put them into any order. Is it the capital’s art nouveau architecture or the Turkish-era baths that are God-given cures for too much palinka (fruit brandy)? Is it the gentle landscape, the rolling hills of the north or the sight-and fun-filled cities like Budapest, Szeged and Debrecen? Maybe it’s the Jokai-style bean soup… But taking pride of place with all those reasons is Hungarian itself. When I sing a song of Hungary today it may be in a beautiful language that I once considered impenetrable, but no longer do’’ (‘Why I Love Budapest & Hungary’).

As always, what fundamentally attracts me to Lonely Planet, is it’s paramount/blatant honesty, of which the following is a more than resonant example: ‘’Himnusz, Hungary’s national anthem, describes Hungarians as a people ‘long torn by ill fate,’ and the overall mood here is one of honfbu, literally ‘patriotic sorrow,’ but with a penchant for the blues with just enough hope to keep most people going. This mood certainly predates communism. In the early 1930s a song called Szomoru Vasarnap (Gloomy Sunday) reportedly so depressed many ordinary Budapesters, that whenever it was played, they would rush to jump off a nearby bridge. Also called ‘the Suicide Song,’ it has been covered in English by many artists, including Billie Holiday, Sinead O’Connor, Marianne Faithful and Bjork. It is a real downer’’ (‘Penchant for the Blues – The Hungarian People’).

The truth, the blues, and nothing other than both – pick up a copy of Budapest & Hungary today and find out more of what this wholly unpredictable country has to offer.

It’s about as far removed from Planet Obvious as it’s possible to get.

David Marx



By Johann Gottfried Herder

Translated, edited, and Introduced by Gregory Moore

Shakespeare’s plays are history itself; or at least the vehicle through which history comes alive.


‘’How, and by what art and manner of creation, was Shakespeare able to transform some worthless romance, tale, or fabulous history into such a living whole? What laws of historical, philosophical, or dramatic art are revealed in every step he takes, in every device he employs?’’ What an enquiry that would be!


[…] the justification of God is at the art of Herder’s project.


It has been said that without Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), we simply would not understand Shakespeare in the way we do. This premise alone, underlines the necessity of this thesis, simply entitled Shakespeare. A small, rather compact. book, translated, edited and introduced by Gregory Moore – himself a lecturer in German at the University of St. Andrews.

Making for a read that is more than accessible – especially given both the time it was written and the subject matter – wherein the latter stages, Herder adroitly entices unequivocal food for thought by pronouncing: ‘’The Greeks, with a degree of illusion almost beyond our conception, whose stage was a public institution and was rightly regarded with religious devotion, never gave the unities a single thought.’’

In and of itself, this could well end with that most infamous of academic words: Discuss.

Indeed, discuss, but before doing so, one might want to take the following literary parameters into consideration: ‘’Where the drama of the ancients became more intricate over time – within self- imposed constraints – Shakespeare, as the exemplary poet, creates uniformity out of multiplicity. He cannot very well put the entire world on the stage, so he must compress it into a single, awesome event.’’

Yet, ‘’even where Shakespeare seems to take too many liberties, with his telescoping of time and abrupt accelerations of action, it turns out that he is being faithful to ordinary human experience. Time and space, as Herder reminds us, are not absolute. The internal clock ticking as the drama unfolds may not be synchronized with the watches we wear as we sit in the playhouse – but Shakespeare is able thereby to convey a deeper psychological truth (Introduction).

Although this particular Shakespeare by Herder is crisp and (as preciously mentioned) compact, it still transcends.

And in so doing, packs a mighty historical, as well as philosophical, punch; a punch rather reminiscent of such previous critical Shakespeareans as Hazlitt, Dr. Johnson and Coleridge.

David Marx

A Ballet Of Lepers

A Ballet Of Lepers –

A Novel & Stories

By Leonard Cohen

Canongate – £20.00

What do I know of words anyhow? I have fled them as though they were a sentence of bondage, I have never been able to utter them with courage. Later, on that same night, we were walking down Mountain Street to get something to eat. I showed her a lovely iron fence which had its calligraphy silhouettes of swallows, rabbits, chipmunks.

(‘The Jukebox Heart – Excerpt from a Journal’).

‘’You are beautiful,’’ I lied compassionately. ‘’You will always be beautiful.’’

(‘A Ballet Of Lepers’).

We spoke so that we could become tender. It was not the kind of tenderness which follows passion, but the kind which follows failure.

(‘The Jukebox Heart – Excerpt form a Journal’).

With the exception of Bob Dylan, there aren’t many writers whose lyricism readily crosses over into poetry and the sort of idiosyncratically inventive story telling as that of Leonard Cohen. The sort of which remains at the full-on vanguard of being able to fully punctuate the dry and dull, disputatious sort of writing that remains horribly harried and insistent and prevalent amid so many of today’s (so-called) writers.

Alas, ye Robbie ideology, whose putrid excuse of lyricism has since gone on to spawn the horrific likes of Ed Sheeran, along with an entire stable of like-minded, benevolent beige bollocks.

For clarification, one need merely traipse through any random number of the pages of this quintessentially essential book.

Although where A Ballet Of Lepers – A Novel & Stories truly shines, is within the altogether regal register of having set the bar so undeniably and incredibly high: ‘’I knew the shame, I knew the humiliation, I had felt it, it had raged within me. An old shame, an old guilt, an old humiliation, older than my body and his body, older than words and worlds, older than God himself. The creation was the beginning of shame. The birth of God, the birth of the first star, the violence of creation, the vicious stab into nothingness that brought forth rock and water and flesh; before the stab, the motion of the stab began the shame; the idea of the stab brought forth shame. Shame turned the space into air and light into rock. Sometimes, I would think a prayer to myself. A prayer full of those paradoxes which have meaning only to the obsessed. A prayer, of old words and old ambiguities, which meant nothing but the music, the rhythm of dedication and purity (‘A Ballet of Lepers’).

So where to start? Or even comprehend starting (older than words and worlds, older than God himself. The creation was the beginning of shame. The birth of God, the birth of the first star, the violence of creation)?

For such is the depth of clarity and imagination along with true vivacious verse, that the most eloquent of revision does nothing other equate repetition with redundancy.

Indeed, to quote The Guardian: ‘’The blending of the earthy with the spiritual would give John Donne and Marvin Gaye a run for their money.’’

That it would!

Simultaneously imaginative and intense.

Brutal and beautiful.

David Marx

Brief Homage To Pluto

Brief Homage To Pluto –

And Other Poems

By Fabio Pusterla

Selected & Translated by Will Schutt

Princeton University Press – £8.50

‘’They’ve forgotten how to laugh.

They don’t laugh the way we did, always moping,

mopey as the weather

and that sky’’

(‘Woman at Cafe’)

I’m doing, you see, what I usually prohibit myself from doing: writing freely, following no logic, letting the words emerge on their own, almost free, almost beyond my control.

Dangerous game, vain maybe, which the fog itself, occluding things, invites me to play. A way of summoning what is absent, or, more likely, of deceiving oneself.


How sadly they resemble us in their affliction.


As the above three quotations might/partially indicate, the forty-four poems of Brief Homage To Pluto – And Other Poems, immerse the reader within the acutely singular, yet internationalist world of Fabio Pusterla. The Italian poet, who, as Will Schutt both adroitly and deftly makes clear in the Translator’s Introduction, writes: ‘’Pusteria is drawn to the natural spectacles of the world when they ‘’appear on a border or a rift zone: when their presence is situated on the visible edge of the presence or absence of humankind, creating a kind of intermediary zone, a disquieting or interstitial zone, in which ‘nature’ cannot fully be itself, and human presence/absence seems to reach a limit, a point of collapse.’’

Said ‘’point of collapse’’ is hinted at in the first of the above three quotations, while an ‘’absence of humankind’’ lurks within that of the second. Indeed, a continuation of a ‘’Dangerous game,’’ which in itself, is unaccountably ‘’vain maybe.’’

There again, ‘’to call Pusteria a nature poet is to limit him,’’ as is more than overtly substantiated in the fourth section of the aforementioned poem, ‘Dogs’:

The last Kantian in the Reich

was a mutt named Bobby who would howl

every morning from Hannover to Osnabück,

and wag his tail when roll call

summoned those broken, degraded men

into the ashy morning light

and howl in the evening at the scent of ghosts

trembling on their return,

at the cruel acts of his friends,

at the smell of bread and brothers, Later, chased off

Oddly intriguing and beguiling, the poetry of Fabio Pusterla was perhaps always destined to be finely nuanced betwixt that shimmering fine-line of poignancy and possibility.

Just as Mark Jarman – author of The Heronry: Poems and Dailiness: Essays on Poetry – has since written: ‘’Pusteria’s vision is like mountain air. That way of seeing, neither sentimental nor heartless, comes across in Schutt’s clear-eyed translations of Pusteria’s masterful and often intricately detailed poems.’’

Altogether unlike scagliola, or ‘’poor man’s marble.’’

David Marx

Adam Smith Reconsidered

Adam Smith Reconsidered –

History, Liberty, and the Foundations of Modern Politics

By Paul Sagar

Princeton University Press – £30.00

It’s now commonplace for work on Adam Smith to begin by remarking that there was once believed to be such a thing as ‘Das Adam Smith Problem,’ but this has now happily been overcome. In turn (we are standardly told) the door has been opened to more fruitful investigations, and a fuller picture of Smith as first-rank moral, political, and economic, thinker – who else had important things to say about the origins of language, rhetoric, the philosophy of science, and religious belief – has duly emerged. As a result (the story usually concludes) the crude popular caricature of Smith as an advocate of narrow self-interest, with a Panglossian attitude towards markets and 1980s Chicago-style suspicion of government has been firmly discredited.


The above quotation might be construed as being the most readable amid this book’s 219 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Abbreviations To Adam Smith’s Works and Index).

Reason being, the very style of language used throughout Adam Smith Reconsidered – History, Liberty, and the Foundations of Modern Politics, is, I (don’t) hasten to add, a tad off-putting. For one, I found myself having to read so many segments up to two or three times to fully understand the gist; where I really ought to have only read once (and come away with the essence of explanation).

This may in part be – directly – due to the relatively dry nature of the subject matter, admittedly. Although in truth, this book has essentially been written in such a way that one won’t want particularly want to read it.

Again, this is not due to the subject matter itself, but rather, the way said subject matter has been conveyed.

Even the very first gambit of Chapter One reads: ’’ADAM SMITH is now ubiquitously referred to as a theorist of ‘commercial society.’ Unfortunately this term is used by commentators in a variety of different ways, many of which are, when applied to Smith, deeply misleading. In part this is a function of a lack of attention paid to Smith’s own technical, and highly specified, understanding of ‘commercial society,’ one that we must grasp precisely if we are to make proper sense of his wider political thought. Yet it is also because of a persistent mistake about the relationship of ‘commercial society’ to Smith’s so-called ‘four stages’ account of economic and political development, as well as his use of ‘conjectural history.’ For contrary to received wisdom, ‘commercial society’ is not the fourth and final stage of Smith’s stadial account. (That is something subtly, but importantly, different: a ‘commercial age.’). And also contrary to received wisdom, Smith’s ‘four stages’ theory is not a historical account, and not even a ‘conjectural’ history – but something else. Such polemical claims will appear outlandish at this early stage […].

Absolutely correct: it does appear (horribly) outlandish.

So why claim and write it in such an unreadable, didactic manner?

When Barry. R. Weigast of Stanford University states that Adam Smith Reconsidered is: ‘’provocative and carefully reasoned,’’ I absolutely couldn’t disagree more.

It is only partially ‘’provocative’’ because it is nigh impossible to ascertain what the dickens is going on. As such, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference betwixt ‘’carefully reasoned’ and carefully seasoned by way cryptic annihilation.

David Marx

Love, Poverty and War

Love, Poverty and War –

Journeys and Essays

By Christopher Hitchens

Atlantic Books – £12.99

Cant is so much stronger than Cunt.

(Byron – ‘The Misfortune Of Poetry’)

For love unsatisfied the world is a mystery, a mystery which satisfied love appears to understand.

(‘The Immortal’).

The unmentionable odour of death/Offends the September night.

(Auden – ‘The Patriot Dreams’)

One can literally open this unquestionably tremendous book on any of its 475 pages, and find oneself wholeheartedly drawn unto its compelling voluptuous vortex of wit induced fecundity.

There again, we are talking about The National Book Award nominee (for God Is Not Great), Christopher Hitchens; a writer of such suave social and political beauty, that it really is hard to put his work aside, without wanting to reach out for yet more.

There again, he is, according to the New Statesman, ‘’just too damn good.’’

And that, he undoubtely remains.

Hitchens may have passed away in 2011, but his legacy of literary brilliance remains – for all of us to enjoy and perhaps forever ponder upon. As well as embrace and be thoroughly entertained by. Love, Poverty and War – Journeys and Essays being a perfect example. Admittedly, ‘entertained’ may be too flippant, if not light-hearted a word to associate with a lot of his work. Especially such a chapter as the above mentioned ‘The Patriot Dreams,’ wherein the tragedy of 9/11 is harrowingly addressed full-on:

‘’I took the groaning subway underneath Chambers Street, as it slowed to the pace of a funeral cortege (whether out of respect for the dead or out of respect to the mountain of hell above, I don’t know). I got out at the Broadway-Nassau station and paced the streets until my clothes reeked and until another evacuation was called because of the toxic material in the hideous core. And I swore a small oath. One has to be capable of knowing when something is worth fighting for. One has to be capable of knowing an enemy when one sees one.

That enemy, let us never forget, had hoped for far, far worse. Limited only by schedules and booking of civilian aviation, the airborne death squads could have counted on packed planes and, with a slight flight delay, on much more densely crowded towers. They could also have hoped to bring the towers down sideways – each of them a quarter of a mile high – across streets. A toll of more than 50,000 was possible, and – as was doubtless fantasized at many a sniggering and giggling secret meeting – a body count of 100,000 could have been seriouisly aimed at. This would not have been – in the stalest phrases of the crisis – a ‘’Pearl Habor.’’ It would have been the Dresden of the Taliban.’’

Such honest telling, written in such a translucent and semi-tortuous manner, is again, what accounts for Christopher Hitchens being such a formidable and brilliant writer.

A writer of acute panache and observation, who isn’t in the least afraid to write about life more often than not being (unswervingly) anchored ‘’down at the end of lonely street.’’

A quintessentially eloquent and nigh priceless quality, which, given the current spate of ghastly Love Island ideology and Tory temerity, both the literary and the real world really, really, really needs right now.

David Marx

Time Out Of Mind

Time Out Of Mind –

The Rising Of An Old Master

By Jochen Markhorst

Independtly Published – £13.15

More moving than all the visions of Ezekiel put together.

(‘Million Miles’)

There’s always going to be a sense of discovery with Bob because at the last second, without warning and as the ‘’record’’ button is pressed, he’ll change the key and time signature! Then musicians will just look at themselves and dribble in and often Bob will say ‘’that’s it.’’ That happened in at least half the tracks on this album, which I loved and still miss. It was quicker and more stripped down and then, in the studio, he changed it into a civil war ballad.

(‘Not Dark Yet,’ Daniel Lanois – The Irish Times, October 1997).

Dylan has transcended criticism.

(‘Things Have Changed’).

It might be said that Jochen Markhorst is w-a-y beyond that of a mere Dylanologist.

Armed with an exemplary, not to mention overtly cohesive knowledge of modern day music, the Dutch writer’s mighty well-informed and nigh sublime synthesis of facts’n’figures, detail’n’description, does indeed account for an altogether unquestionable palette of (what appears to be) painstaking investigation.

However, upon close(r) reading and Dylanesque induced investigation, it very soon becomes acutely apparent that Markhorst remains first and foremost, the archetypal fan.

Quite possibly, one of the most inspired and quintessential, ambidextrous, fool-proof-fans’ of Ye Bard’s every collective/chronological lyrical persuasion as well as musical pronouncement, this side of Robert Shelton meets Clinton Heylin meets an unexpected Expecting Rain scenario of the most rampant clarification. And that really is saying something – as all three are up there with the toppermost of the poppermost of intrinsic, Dylan saturated, concerted cognition.

To be sure, along with countless other examples throughout this book’s 332 pages, it is perhaps the following excerpt from the chapter, ‘Not Dark Yet,’ which positively exemplifies Markhorst’s all circumnavigating comprehension of all things Dylan:

‘’[…] the kinship is at least as demonstrable and just as remarkable; with the Austrian poet Georg Trakl (1887 – 1914), one of the most important poets of Expressionism. Immortalized by his last poem, the terrifying war memorial ‘’Grodek,’’ which he wrote just before his (presumed) suicide, but the congeniality with Dylan is evident in many more of his works. The majestic ‘’Psalm’’ (1912) for example, which in itself already looks like a preliminary study for ‘’A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,’’ and of which on a detailed level the synesthetic images, the melancholic tone and the trench jargon echo in songs like ‘’Gates Of Eden,’’ ‘’Jokerman’’ and ‘’Not Dark Yet’’:

Auf silbernen Sohlen gleiten frühere Leben vorbei

Und die Schatten der Verdammten steigen zu den seufzenden

Wassern nieder

Former lives glide past on silver feet

And the shadows of the damned descend to sighing waters.

‘’Former lives glide past on silver feet’’… the beauty, visual power and autumnal melancholy of such a verse paints in seven words the same Great Emotion as Dylan’s ‘’Not Dark Yet’;’’ the cocktail of feelings, insights and stillness on the threshold of death, the musings of an old man at the end of his life. As Traki’s next line, ‘’And the shadows of the damned descend to sighing waters,’’ summarizes in one line the content of Dylan’s masterpiece.’’

To arrive at such an idiosyncratically well informed angle with regards Dylan’s colossal catalogue of masterly tinged persuasion, is just one of the many variant aspects which account for Time Out Of Mind – The Rising Of An Old Master being such an indelible read. A read, which for all intents and somewhat highly imaginative purposes, provides for a more than kaleidoscopic knowledge of unquestionable colour, along with sparkling particles of philosophical va-va-voom: ‘’’’Million Miles’’ is not really a Very Great Dylan Song, but it does have, like many Very Great Dylan Songs, a somewhat alienating ending. We’ve had seven verses of lament, the wail of an abandoned lover mourning the loss of his beloved. Autobiographical interpreters with crypto-analytical ambitions might see something like ‘Dylan seeks his inspiration,’’ the incorrigibly sentimental ones search in the Bard’s love life, and stubborn Christian fans might put an evangelical spin on it (‘’Dylan suffers from a crisis of faith and seeks his God,’’ or something like that), and sure enough, with some creative acrobatics many verses and images can be turned into metaphors supporting one interpretation or the other’’ (‘Million Miles’).

As with all of Markhorst’s fifteen books on Sir Bob (and counting), one never fails to come away without an effervescently uplifted and equally enhanced feeling of inspired ingenuity.

And what more can one possibly ask of a book?

Especially one so enticing, so well-informed, so buy it.

David Marx