Hitet vallok

Mint tudjuk, a régi déliek különleges jelentőséget tulajdonítottak az olivafa bogyójának. Olyan életkörülményeket teremtett számukra, amely megengedte, hogy kevésbé gyakorlatias dolgokkal foglalkozzanak. Szerintük azonban ez elengedhetetelen volt ahhoz, hogy a gyakorlatias dolgokat is jobban végezzék. Engem azok érdekelnek, akik akarva-akaratlanul máig osztják ezt a nézetet.

2016. február 14., vasárnap

Arnold Hauser’s usual day

1. Text of an advert by Alfred A. Knopf Publishers from 1951 on the topic of Hauser’s Social History of Art. The label ‘Borzoi Books’ was A. Knopf’s idea of branding his enterprise, which also found its way to the logo of the Publishing House depicting a greyhound.

Collating unprocessed documents from the personal archives of internationally acknowledged scholars can lead to a serious academic headache. Why was he so serious in discussing those problems? Why wasn’t he able to formulate it comprehensively? Was he really replying those critiques or just exposing his personal biases? And the ultimate landmine nobody can sweep: did Dr. X influence Prof. Y? One should, although, find a remedy to fight this splitting headache of all archive researchers. The constitution of the fait divers folder has to be such a remedy. It would be a good escape routine if we digressed a little from the original plan. Great scholars are usually complicated figures, their warped life resembles their twisted mind, but regularly they also have a simple life of simple courses of action. Let us now reconstruct everyday rituals and recount a possible tale of the usual carried out on an average week.
Here I try to puzzle out how a normal week of the art theorist and sociologist Arnold Hauser (1892 – 1978) was spent. I rely exclusively on those materials found between his personal notes, loose pages and manuscripts kept by his family in Budapest. And, when needed, I won’t feel inhibited to use my historical imagination.
All documents are from 1951/1952, after Hauser submitted the manuscript of his book The Social History of Art (SHA) to the University of Leeds where he was afterwards appointed as visiting professor. Hauser lived in London and was a regular commuter for the next 9 years as he worked in Leeds finishing there his second book The Philosophy of Art History (first published in 1958). In those years the SHA was an international bestseller and earned him the status of an expert in interpretive Marxist theory of art and literature. His book, acclaimed as a considerable work for everybody interested in the social history of artistic activities, became a startling success after being in parallel printed at Routledge and at Alfred Knopf in November 1951 (fig.1). The public’s interest in reading a lucid and synthetic social history had been emphasized by the fact that, formerly, Anglo-Saxon scholars confined their methods mostly to the perspective of cultural history (an other London based Hungarian, Frederick Antal was one of the exceptions that proved the rule). Since they saw a menace in restricting art to the economic development and the upheaval of technical civilization. Hauser’s work appeared on a niche market for quality social theory which stood apart from reducing artistic value to a plunge in the Stock Exchange. An exhaustive synthesis in the social factors and changes behind art was even considered to be a desideratum of the field of art history. Hauser was the one being able to make it less exhaustive (better: fatiguing) and more accessible to the general reader (without entering the realm of popular culture) – even if he conceived his task considerably different as the leading art historians of that time. After his work concomitantly entered the book market in the USA and in Great Britain, Hauser became famous at one blow – also academically speaking. But he was nearly 60 years old and not a native English speaker willing to vanquish the difficulties of teaching in a language still not having a good command of. Hauser was still in a way wary of his chosen home and his surprisingly new career (he always wanted to follow).
2-3. Hauser had been working for United Artists’ movie distribution branch for several years. His SHA was written mostly on the weekends of the 1940s. He recycled the unused sheets received from his contractor to take notes for his books and future lectures.
The materials depicted here are documenting this very process. Hauser took the notes and terminological memos for his weekly teaching duty on slips of paper made out of United Artists’ sheets for the movie distribution catalogue (fig. 2-3), library book lone forms (fig. 4-5) and letter pads from his temporary home in a Leeds hotel (fig. 6-7) 

4-5. Loan form of Victoria and Albert Museum’s Library regularly used by Hauser to write his first book for a ten year long period of documentation in art history and theory (not to mention his daily work for United Artists). He even received the manifest ironic title of the “prodigious reader” from Ernst H. Gombrich in a 1953 review of SHA published by the Art Bulletin.

6-7. Notes taken on the printed paper of Mount Hotel in Leeds. Hauser regularly reserved a room there when he was teaching at the University.

just to go back afterwards to London and present his illustrated lectures to the checked-in paying audience at the Courtauld Institute (and to recycle those flyers he received there – fig. 8).

8. Advertisement of Hauser’s readings at the Courtauld Institute containing some administrative details and the syllabus of the lectures. The flyer has been reconstructed by rejoining two separate slips. According to the description, film age (having a pivotal role in the SHA) wasn’t then included as a distinct topic.

It must have been a weary year in the heart of England. And it culminated in a honorable mention from Thomas Mann, a new, but unexpected admirer of his 1000 pages long synthesis in the social history of art (fig. 9-10). It was, probably, after all a usually good year. For it was his first proper one in the academia it couldn’t have been better.

[All documents are reproduced with the kind permission of Prof. Hauser’s assigns]

9-10. Typewritten transcription of Thomas Mann’s letter to Albert Knopf (8th January 1952) praising SHA as a “cultural bible” recommended for each and every American household. It was found between Hauser’s collection of reviews, reports and radio talk transcriptions on his works (First published in The New York Times Book Review – 10th February 1952).