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Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Philosophy of Wine

A new book by the Hungarian essayist Béla Hamvas (1897-1968) is now available in English translation. The Philosophy of Wine, written in 1945, has been published by Media Kiadó in Budapest, finely printed and bound.

Hamvas was primarily a literary figure, but was also a Traditionalist, introducing Guénon and Evola to certain Hungarian circles during the interwar period. His Scientia Sacra (1943-44) is his most Traditionalist work.

The Philosophy of Wine is the only work by a Traditionalist I have yet read that has made me laugh aloud. Traditionalists tend to treat serious topics seriously, but Hamvas uses humor, and uses it well. Wine, he explains in the book's introduction, actually stands for the divine, and philosophy for metaphysics, but a book about the metaphysics of the divine would not go down well, so he has written about wine instead. And the book is indeed about wine, and the pull-out map of wine regions in Hungary is very useful. But the book is not only about wine. It is also about modernity and esotericism and the One, and it is an attack on modernity's representatives--atheists and scientists--and also on pietists and puritans. A puritan, Hamvas explains, is "a pietist turned terrorist," a phrase that must have carried special meaning as Communist puritans tightened their grip over Hungary, forcing Hamvas out of literary life into a job as a warehouseman.

The strength of The Philosophy of Wine is its humor and its elegance. It is an extended essay with short chapters. It also advances an interesting idea at a theoretical level, however: that "the golden age is not a historical period but a condition."

The Philosophy of Wine is available from Bookline for 2,550 HUF ($9) plus postage.

My thanks to JM for providing me with a copy of the translation and of related material.

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