Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Book excerpt, Metropole

For Our first project we are creating 3 concept paintings from a book except that we had to pick out of a hat. At first I was really hoping that I would get something like "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" or "20 Thousand Leagues under the Sea" as I love creating fantasy type worlds, But I ended up with "Metropole", I wasn't excited about at all since it was all about a city, but then I read my excerpt and I realized just how amazing it was, so descriptive and it wasn't the boring city scenes that I thought it would be, and Now I'm really excited about it and I'm so glad that we didn't pick our own books other wise I would never get the chance to create the environments I will be in this project. Metropole, Ferenc Karinthy, 1970

Ferenc Karinthy was born in Budapest in 1921. He obtained a PhD in linguistics and went on to be a translator and editor, as well as an award-winning novelist, playwright, journalist and water polo champion. He is the author of over a dozen novels. Metropole is the first to be translated into English.

"Budai (in Hungarian, a native of Buda) is a Hungarian linguist attending a conference in Helsinki, but at the airport in Budapest he goes through the wrong gate, gets on the wrong plane and arrives in a city where no one understands him, despite the impressive array of languages he brings to bear. Driven along by what seems an endless, incessant rush throughout the city, he finds himself at a hotel and is given a room. He needs to return to the airport. He has to phone his family and colleagues to tell them what has happened. He is hungry. Queues are everywhere and people routinely push one another aside. Even if he reaches the head of a line, he cannot make himself understood.
He spends days trying to make sense of their language, because he knows if he cannot make himself understood, he will not be able to leave. At one point, he dials phone numbers at random, hoping to find someone whose language he recognizes. What someone said yesterday does not seem to mean the same thing today (the rationale of totalitarian regimes). He learns the names of fruits and vegetables in groceries by putting labels together with produce. At his insistence, the elevator operator in the hotel, who is the only one in the city who shows some interest in him, teaches him numbers. He does not understand why. Perhaps she sees him to be as unhappy as she is. Everyone he sees is distraught, anxious, frenzied.
His disorientation does not lessen. How does one live when every day is strange and the strange everyday? His encyclopedic knowledge has been rendered useless. When he runs out of money, he gets work only illegal migrants can, his only option since he has no visa and the hotel has taken his passport. When he can no longer afford the hotel, he sleeps at the market where he stocks produce and roams the city in search of contact of some kind, a sense that he is not alone. One day he finds himself stripping naked at some kind of religious ceremony just to be doing what others are doing.
Only the elevator operator—Bebe, Tyetye, Epepe, Etete, Ebebe, Djedje, Tete, he is never certain of her name—sustains him. She talks to him, though they cannot understand one another. They become lovers, and lovers do not need words. (You understand? he asks her. You understand, she answers. No, you don't, he says. You understand, she repeats.) Love is inherently subversive—it calls the everyday into question and can be a form of resistance against it. By the end of the novel, Epepe has given him hope, even if none is possible ("That there was nothing that was not them").
That he has become invisible, like most of the working class, has made the middle-class Budai a member of the proletariat, whose anger is directed against the totalitarian rule of the government. ("The violence of the violated," as Isabel Fonseca writes.) Revolution breaks out and the normally pacifist Budai joins the revolutionaries, pistol in hand, only to see it defeated quickly by the government. He escapes capture (and execution) and sees a brook that he knows, just knows, will become a stream, the stream a river, and the river a sea, where he will find a harbor, a ship. "God be with you, Epepe," he thinks. "He was full of confidence. He would soon be home."

The part of the book that I got follows Budai through the city of Metropolis as he tries to find a train or airport. I have chose three passages that I really like and find particularly descriptive. The first passage is when Budai stumbles upon a cattle slaughter house, the second is when he walks into a church and there is a crowd of people all worshipping, and the last is when he is swept up into the top of the church where he sees an entire panoramic view of the city. 


  1. Hi Kym,

    As you may or may not know, Phil usually assigns someone to look over a first year blog to make sure in the early days your blogging and CG experience is as pain-free and seamless as possible.

    I've been assigned to you! In short, I'll drop in every now and then to offer technical, creative and academic advice where appropriate.

    I've been reliably informed you've moved over from Photography to CG, which is a pretty interesting and unusual change of direction. Luckily, as you'll find out, having a photographers eye is going to help you a lot with how you visualise this project and many more to come. I've never been big on photography, but recently I dug out an old 1980's SLR just so I can get a better grasp of the technicalities of shot composition and so on, which are as valid in Maya as they are on film.

    I've never read Metropole, so I'm looking forward to seeing what it's all about via some hopefully well executed concept art. Looking forward to it! :-)

    my blog is at Feel free to contact me, or find me round the university if I'm on one of residence days.

  2. Hi, great to hear from you :). Yea Photography was a bit of a phase for me I think, drawing has always been my main interest so I'm really looking forward to the course and learning everything.
    It seems like a really interesting book a little worried about trying to captivate the passages I chose as their pretty ambitious but hopefully it'll turn out well.

  3. Hey Kym - great, you've broken the blogging ice - and I'm pleased that your initial qualms about this book have evolved into enthusiasm. Certainly, this book absolutely captures a kind of nightmarish version of 'modernity' - of the city as some kind of unknowable labyrinth. Some ideas for visual influence and influence maps; artists have always been fascinated by the city as a subject, trying to capture the energy and violence and disorientation of the urban 'millieu' -

    Check out the futurists - who loved the city, machines and factories etc; also, check out the paintings of Fernand Leger and Charles Sheeler too :)