I feel angst, just by thinking of writing a review of Gergely Nagy‘s Angst – A városi harcos kézikönyve (“Angst – The Handbook Of The Urban Guerilla”). It is a such a multi-layered book, packed with so many ideas worthy to analyze that I know I cannot take the time to do it all. Here are some bullet points of random thoughts.
- If the the objective of the book was to induce angst it succeeded. The clever use of language to describe the dark cityscape created a kind of depressive feeling where you could not exactly pinpoint the possible cause of fear, but it sure lingered around the heroes and me, the reader.
- Being socialized through the 1980’s underground music subculture of Budapest I appreciated the frequent references and quotes of the era. The text was peppered with cited and uncited quotes from the lyrics of Neurotic (what an apt band name for this book). I also recognized unattributed quotes from URH and Bizottsag, which were built in to the text. This reinforced my belief that many of those texts survived the test of times and are still adequate to describe suffocating angst of a new era.
- The decidely post-modern message was reminiscent to Camus’. Both authors focused on the individual’s place in and fight with society.
- The subtitle of the book (“The Handbook Of The Urban Guerilla”) is a reference to Carlos Marighella’s “Minimanual of the Urban Guerilla.” Why Nagy chose to include this becomes clear only in the second half of the book, if ever. Sure, there is a character who reads the Marighella’s tome, but we learn only towards the end that our hero turns from a spectator to a participant.
- I am a big fan of dystopia, but I utterly enjoyed that this book had a positive image of Budapest’s future. It is set in 10-20 years from now, after the city became chic and got integrated into the capitalist world. It is perfectly possible to live the high-life in this city and the lowlife got decimated. The wealth trickled down in this vision to almost every level of society. This aspect was taken for granted in the book’s narrative, which slowly uncovered the price for being part of the globalized world.
- I read maybe 3 graphic novels in my life, but the process of coming up with one and the actual excerpt of the fictional graphic novel the heroes worked on was fascinating. I would probably read the full version with pictures, and not just the textual description – if they ever decide to move beyond the fictional version.
The main reason I liked the book was that it was jampacked with zillions of ideas that could be expounded. There are lots of quotes that would be worthy for analysis on their own. Here are some of my favorites.
- If there was anything I was sorry that disappeared with the bygone system, it was the occasional selflessness. And the somehow slower life. Where you didn’t have to earn money, what for, you couldn’t spend it. You didn’t need profit as you could never gain it anyway. The real change was the debut of money. (Middle of page 122).
- It’s real simple. What happens when corporations gain the rights of a natural person? They start become pathological individuals. The result is a machine striving for maximizing profits and necessarily for power, lacking morals. If a human being would behave this way he would be treated as a mentally damaged person. (First paragraph of page 246)
- The only way to live, to prevail here-it doesn’t mean self-actualization, only survival-is to step over everybody without sympathy. Because the whole system is like this. Power relations. Every conversation, interaction, reminds you of this; every speech is power speech, or subjugated talk; every action is suppression, crime, or desperation, pauperization. (Middle of page 31)
All of these and many more are meaningful to me, and more thought provoking than a single storyline could be. There are hundreds of paragraphs like the above in the book. Which means I should and will go back to find them and think to what extent I agree with them.
Here are related links about the book. All links lead to Hungarian text, unless otherwise noted.
- The book has its own home page with a long excerpt: angst.hu.
- It also has a MySpace page, with 115 friends and an English description.
- Hungarian Literature Online (HLO) has a longer segment in English.
- The publisher, Ulpius, has only a few short lines about the book on its site.
- Some reviews: Magyar Narancs, Gothic.hu, Litera,