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Something has happen’d as soon as Lóránt Kabdebó appeared

„’Death is nothing/ I just went to the other side./I am I, You are You/As we were to one another We will always be.’ (Augustinus) – Lóránt’s first message from the ‘other side’. While I was thinking about what to put on his obituary, this quot from Augustinus arrived from Lóránt” – writes Marianne Dobos, Lóránt Kabdebó’s life long creative partner. Did he choose this quote, or did the quote choose him? As was the case with Lőrinc Szabó, who was chosen for him by József Szauder, or as he chose an author for his students. For many young researchers, Lőrinc Szabó, for me János Arany, quite unexpectedly, in the middle of a conversation. In my enthusiasm for Derrida, I said no to his choice, because János Arany, like Lőrinc Szabó, requires a whole life, and I have only one life, and that was Derrida’s. We all have our personal memories of him, because he always addressed us personally, he was excellent at combining the professional and the personal, and his interest as a philologist was always matched by his innate curiosity about the individuality of the person he was talking to, whether he was talking to the most famous figures in contemporary literature or to his students.

His voice was recognizable from afar, the long, drawn-out, sustained sigh that echoed through Building B of the University Janus Pannonius. His figure was recognisable from afar as he appeared in the second floor hallway, his posture slightly forward, hat on his head, backpack on his back. Lőrincz Szabó’s walking library, familiar with all the philological and biographical details of his oeuvre, open to all new approaches, be it philosophy of language or hermeneutics or even deconstruction. His three volumes on the oeuvre of Lőrinc Szabó – Szabó Lőrinc lázadó évtizede (1970), Útkeresés és különbéke (1974), Az összegezés ideje (1980) – have made him known in professional circles. The bookedited by him Vers és valóság. Bizalmas adatok és megfigyelések (2001) gave a new direction to research on Lőrinc Szabó. The essays in the volume Valami történt. Szabó Lőrinc átváltozásai (Something has happen’d. Transfigurations of Lőrinc Szabó, 2023) may give new impetus to research on Lőrincz Szabó’s oeuvre in the context of European modern literature.

Something has happen’d as soon as Lóránt Kabdebó, invited by Tamás Bécsy,  arrived at the Janus Pannonius University in 1989 from the Petőfi Literary Museum, where he had been a senior research fellow in 1970, head of department from 1972 to 1989, and academic advisor from 1989 to 1991. From 1989 to 1993 he taught at the Department of Literary History in Pécs, where he was appointed head of the department and became a professor in 1991. This period was a decisive one in the history of Hungarian higher education and the University of Pécs, as the teacher training college was transformed into a university, and the teachers and students of the Hungarian Literature and Linguistics Departments, namely Özséb Horányi, György Szépe, Balázs Kézdi, Tamás Bécsy, Lóránt Kabdebó, Ernő Kulcsár Szabó, and I could go on and on, played a key role in this.  The professional discussions about university started at the Faculty Council, continued at the Makári restaurant and ended on the Pécs-Budapest train. It was a time of late-night discussions and in-depth conversations. At the country’s oldest university, the aim was to create the country’s youngest faculty of humanities: to develop a “Pécs model”, which would develop its own spirit, structure and curriculum, taking into account contemporary international research and university reorganisation experiments, where disciplinary boundaries could be crossed, where teachers and students learned from each other, where speakers from Hungary and abroad were giving lecture at the University Janus Pannonius.

Something has happen’d as soon as Lóránt Kabdebó and Ernő Kulcsár-Szabó initiated a series of conferences in Pécs. Literary theory has invited literary history into dialogue, the theoretical perspectives and interpretative procedures offered by the hermeneutics (Hans-Georg Gadamer), reception aesthetics (Hans-Robert Jauss, Wolfgang Iser, Renate Lachmann), post-structuralism (Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva), narratology (Gerard Genette, Paul Ricoeur), new historians (Stephen Greenblatt and Louis Montrose) have been combined with the philological and critical tradition in the texts of collegues interpreting modern Hungarian lyric and prose. The first three conferences took place in Pécs, in the House of Arts and Literature, and the papers have been published by Janus Pannonius University Press, edited by Lóránt Kabdebó and Ernő Kulcsár Szabó: “de nem felelnekúgy felelnek“. A magyar líra a húszas-harmincas évek fordulóján (1992), Szintézis nélküli évek. Nyelv, elbeszélés és világkép a harmincas évek epikájában (1993), Az irodalomértés horizontjai. Párbeszéd irodalomtudományunk modern hagyományával (1995).  These conferences marked the beginning of an era of rereadings, which continued in Miskolc, where Lóránt Kabdebó taught as a secondary school teacher between 1958 and 1970 and as a university professor between 1993 and 2006. He took with him from Pécs the experience of university organisation and played a decisive role in the establishment of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Miskolc, and in the founding of the departments of Hungarian literature, history and modern philology. From 1993 to 1997 he was Director of the Institute of Humanities at the University of Miskolc, from 1997 to 2006 Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Miskolc, until 2005 Head of the Doctoral School of Literature, and from 2006 Professor Emeritus of the University of Miskolc.

Something has happen’d as soon as Lóránt Kabdebó joined a literary society or a journal: as secretary general of the Hungarian Literary History Society (1990-1991), as editor-in-chief of Irodalomtörténet (1993-1998), as Magda Szabó (from 1998) and as Lőrinc Szabó expert (from 1999) expert of the Digital Literary Academy, he encouraged literary scholars from different theoretical backgrounds to engage in dialogue. He founded and led several journals and research groups, including the journal Irodalomtudomány (Literary Studies) and the series Szabó Lőrinc-füzetek (Lőrinc Szabó booklets). In 1997, he founded the Lőrinc Szabó Research Centre, also supported by the OTKA, where he encouraged young researchers and doctoral students to explore his oeuvre and to publish unpublished translations.

His scientific work, educational organization and teaching activities were recognized with numerous awards: in 1969 he received the Literary Award of the City of Miskolc. In 1989, he was awarded the Lőrinc Szabó Prize, and in 1990 the Literary Prize of the Art Fund of Miskolc. He was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 1998 and the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 2021.

The volumes, the interviews, the awards, the recognitions speak for themselves, testifying to the work of the literary historian, the researcher of Lőrinc Szabó, the editor, the educational and institutional organizer Lóránt Kabdebó.  They encourage us to read Lóránt Kabdebó’s volumes with the same love, openness and curiosity with which he read literature. By reading his texts, we can experience the secret of Kabdebó’s love of reading, his curiosity as a researcher, his passionate questioning as an interview maker. But for those of us who knew, respected and loved him as colleagues or students, we must bear witness to his personality. We miss his inspiring and encouraging presence, we miss the conversations with him starting with the most simple questions and lading to ever deeper and deeper professional and personal questions. We can still hear his voice, see his figure, quote his phrases that have become spoken. On this occasion, I would like to quote the headline of the interview on his 80th birthday: „I consider it a privilege when someone calls me Lóránt”.  It was a priviled for us to call you Lóránt, to teach together at the Janus Pannonius University, to hold conferences together in Pécs or Miskolc, to call you as you always call us – recalling the poem of Augustinus (Don’t Cry If You Love Me):

„Call me as you always call me.
Talk to me as you always did.
Don’t change the tone of your voice.
Don’t be sombre or sad.
Keep laughing at what we used to laugh together.”

Farewell, dear Professor Kabdebó! Lóránt will remain with us forever.

Jolán Orbán
Department of Modern Hungarian Literature and Literary Criticism 
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
University of Pécs
Department of Modern Literary History and Theory

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