Sunday, 15 February 2015

Reading in the winter on the tram

'A glance out of the window as I read', Winter 2014

One of the things that I enjoy most about the winter is tucking my bike up for hibernation and buying a public transport ticket for the cold icy months. I enjoy doing this because it means I get ¾ hour in the morning and another ¾ of an hour in the evening to read!

With my Chekhov finished and the next book not yet begun, on Friday I had my current copy of Time magazine with me where I read about Carl Djerassi who died at the end of January, aged 91.

Reading his biography, where he is described as a Renaisance man – ‘an eminent professor, chemist and pioneering bio-medical entrepreneur … ‘he also wrote poetry, plays, and novels, collected important art, started a cattle range and established an artist’s residency program’, I thought about András Pető.

At only sixteen years of age Carl Djerassi emigrated from Austria to the USA where he wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt for help. It was her intervention that allowed him to attend university and begin on his successful journey through life.

What I wondered as I sat on the tram on Friday reading about some of the things that Carl Djerassi has given the world during his lifetime was – what if AP had chosen to emigrate to the USA from Austria rather than to return to his homeland of Hungary? What if AP had lived in America and had had someone intervene to help him start his journey through life in his chosen country? How would Conductive Education have developed had AP been in America with the support of grants and scholarships?

Who knows, but it could have been a different story.

You can read about Carl Djerassi here –

1 comment:

Andrew Sutton said...

What-if, counterfactual history is great fun but by definition it must not be teleological.

In AP's case, this surely means that, just because his real-life 'destiny' in Hungary saw him fetch up making a living working with sick and disabled people, this does not mean that in a different world he would not have followed very different stars.

Had he gone to the United States (or even to England) as did so many others, then he might have been tempted to realise and develop his publishing interests. Or he might have gone to Hollywood. Or whatever.

But whatever he might have done in America he would hardly found the strange concatenation of circumstances that awaited him in Budapest, for example a situation where for a time anyway innovation + hard work was almost demanded even to survive, a polio epidemic played out politically in a small country, contacts in the Party, and – paradoxically – little opportunity for free literary expression as poet, playwright or publisher.

What if... yes, what a surprise it might be to us if only we could know. But perhaps no more of a surprise than it may have been to him in reality to turn out as he actually did!

And I wonder what might have happened had he gone to Western Germany...