Friday, 25 September 2015


Not all sweetness and light

Over the summer I had cause to look again through Mária Hári's History of Conductive Pedagogy. Like much of what she wrote and said it is loosely structured and the line of argument can jump across suddenly to not obviously related topics. The host of minor jumps can then lull one into a certain mindset and as a result a major jump may pass unnoticed

This summer I noticed one such major jump for the first time. Starting on page 38 of the English edition of her history (readers of the German and Hungarian editions will have to hunt their respective pages in their own copies out for themselves but may rest assured that it is there too), Mária expresses something of the frustration and annoyance that she experienced from him over the years.

Under the misleading heading 'Pető's life and writings between 1945 and 1967', from page 18 to 36, she focusses upon correspondence and some personal contacts with people from outside his Institute. Except in the first three to four and the last two of these pages, all these people aeem to be from outside Hungary. The narrative takes the form of her own connective text around quotations (sometimes extensive) from correspondence with people in a number of countries. Very interesting this all is too, both for what is quoted and for how this adds a little to seeing some of the wider context of his life over the years 1945-1967. But Mária Hári offers no synthesising commentary or analysis. And she offers nothing of substance on his life and writings over these years, topics on which she could have made a considerable contribution from a unique perspective.

A touchy topic

Suddenly and unannounced, without linking text or new subheading, on page 36 Mária changes tack and for the next three pages focusses on how awkward and difficult Pető had been and, as much as would allow herself, how this affected her.

This passages (pp.36-39) is quoted here in its entirely, with my own interpolated comments and some explanatory footnotes) –
At home the Doctor got on best with books and newspapers. He received papers from the Israeli embassy, the Party central offices, and the Foreign Ministry. Two thick volumes of Goethe's life, dictionaries and a large pile of newspapers always lay on his desk. Over a whole day he would read something like 20 books. He was unique in his ability to assimilate the content of the newspapers in minute detail,. He was very systematic and arranged his books according to their content. From some books he only kept a few pages. He could locate precisely and pick out these and any other books even in the blackness resulting from a power cut.

So far no surprises, as here she looks to be starting something on how he lived his life, expressed with the conventional approval. As is often the case there are no dates but it seems likely from the circumstances that she is describing here that this paragraph refers to the closing years of his life, though of course who knows?)
The Doctor said that it was always those he loved whom he treated badly. It seems he liked those around him very much, because I can't say he was over-friendly to them. However, despite this, those around him were loyal to him. The Doctor said –
How nice when two people can be with each other and not get on each other's nerves – but he found it difficult to live with people without that happening.
Nobody in his immediate surroundings could be ill because he would get annoyed with them. He was universally querulous if he didn't get what he wanted immediately, This may be why I don't like being too close to anyone. Perhaps we love someone more from a distance than close to. He gave individuals an energising influence so they should have the vigour and self-confidence they needed to act, Despite everything this also applied to his home environment. Those at home also loved him unconditionally, even if they were ambivalent at times. Pető's personal traits influenced many people, and so many people were deeply loyal to him.

This is quite a critical, personal statement, a little sarcastic too, not only of how she saw him but also on how he affected others, including herself. It is not a unique such statement, and is certainly consistent with many small casual remarks that she made over the years that I knew her. It leads into a longer passage that I think is altogether unique in print, in which continues –
Given Pető's views on property, it was natural that as long as he had money he gave it away, and when he had none other people would give him some. It was on this principle that Edward VII and Gombricht's Weldgeschiste found their way from our home library into Pető's library and thus into the Institute. On the same principle he made use of other's people's capacity for work when his own was insufficient. He justified it by saying that he couldn't do without that person, and did everything in his power to ensure that the person wasn't ill and was free to act. He wasn't asking a favour: he thought other people were duty-bound to co-operate – not only for his benefit but also for a cause considered to be right. One of Pető's brothers lived in Amélie-les-Bains-Palada; the other, who was ten years younger and whom he loved very much, lived in Paris and ran the Tokaji restaurant. It was his brother who paid for and obtained the books and other books that he needed.
Again, this is wholly within the range of other remarks elsewhere about how András Pető used people instrumentally Here its context is within a mounting list of what one might almost call complaints –
Pető often said a sentence the meaning of which I only worked out 10-20 years later, or not at all, or perhaps I didn't always agree with him, though mostly it turned out that he had been right. For instance he told me that I am strong because I am a pessimist; optimism is a weakness. I still don't understand that as I don't understand many other things like:
If you say something untrue it comes from your imagination, but if you think something untrue it comes from a guilty conscience. 
He frequently used the phrase tvat tam asi [there you are] which is the basic principle of the Upanishads and Vedanta philosophy. Its meaning is unity with the absolute being, that man is an active participant in the events of the world. I never understood this. Pető said:
Everything good and bad, I am the same too. I am Engländer too, the Lord Jesus too, Hitler too; everything good and bad, I am the same too.
I still don't understand this and can't agree. 
I still don't understand why, when he phoned, he announced himself as Charlotte Corday.

He does not seem to have successfully shared much of his background thinking, with anyone, if it was ever his intention of doings so in the first place, including Mária.

In looking back on that distant time and place it has also to be remarked how so much of what he said could have been considered dangerously subjective and ideologically unsound by the Hungarian authorities. Announcing himself on the telephone as Charlotte Corday (the aristocratic assassin of French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat) was certainly a strange thing to do in edgy Communist Hungary. Mária seems to have found him frustrating, even irritating. Somehow or other he got away with expressing himself in the ways that he did. To Mária some of this may have sounded very risky, not just for him but for those round him too.
There were things that I felt I understood and I could agree with, for instance his statement that there is no I only This. Only the work counts. From a certain viewpoint this seems impersonality. I think about a question that the Boss asked me once: whether I would stay with him if he suddenly became a foundry worker. How can this question be reconciled with impersionality? I think I stayed unconditionally loyal to him because of the Cause and would have had nothing to do with the foundry worker, but is this true? The others who were loyal to him had no such Cause.
It is a great shame that, as far as I know, nothing explicit has emerged to indicate what 'the Cause' was, either to her or to András Pető. I am not aware of her having mentioned it in these terms in any other context. Yet another reason to deplore that her papers remain unresearched.
The Doctor wanted me to go to the outpatient groups too. In addition to going to the hemiplegic group and the resident groups, I had to make notes, allocate duties, study and read, and also work with the Doctor every morning and on evening and on Sundays. This made it difficult for me to perform my best in every area, and I wasn't happy about that. But I had to do it because someone had too. Someone had to build the pyramids. People are capable of building something as big as a pyramid. There were times when I didn't feel very good about this, and once I wrote :
Uncertain, distorted, in an obstinate whirlpool everything infinite comes to an end. The current steers me to finite, correct actions with no desire, and the place where I belong becomes clear without my intervention but not without pain.
As usual Mária gives no citation. Where did she write such a thing? Under what circumstances? Laid out differently on the page, the words can look like poetry.

Whatever... confused, not in control of her own destiny, and distressed. Poor Mária.
Verkedy expressed the same thing differently:
In the end I didn't go to work with Pető. His personality attracted me – but I was afraid for myself I felt that the Institute would suck me in and destroy me, destroy my personal life. And maybe this was true He wanted me either completely or not at all.
This was Tamás Vekerdy, now a respected elder psychologist, reflecting in 1993 upon an invitation made to him when he was young, soon before Pető's death.

(Earlier this year Tamás Vekerdy spoke at the public launch of the Mária's Hári's Memorial Book. What he said has not been reported.)
I adopted may things naturally, or rather wanted to adopt them. Pető's day finished at night when the gates were locked, and every night we made masses of notes. I would go home at 11 or later. For instance, I adopted the practice of writing down points every day, and also certain details of how he arranged things. Someone once asked me whether I had taught the Doctor or the Doctor had taught me how to arrange things, because my desk looked like his. However, the truth is that my order and the Doctor's order are completely different. His order was constant, it never stopped for a moment, even by chance, while mine was exceptional and achieved through great efforts. Returning to writing down points: on one side of the paper he would group tasks or lists of people with whom he had some business or whom he wanted to remember, on the other side he wrote L/T (life and death) by all the things he had to do.

Presumably the gruelling daily routine referred to here did not continue into his later years.

L/T – Leben/Tot (German, as this was important to him).
There was no explanation for this, and I didn't ask for one. Clearly it must have meant that if we are not ill then we should give out our energy, because we could fall ill and then it will be too late, we must always be ready for the final reckoning with death Pető died having left everything in perfect order, and would have noted with satisfaction that he had prepared the ground perfectly for his successor.

Mária had understood and internalised what she could, emulated what she was able, and however difficult and trying the preparation for this, she was ready to step in to his shoes.

A night at the theatre...

Reported five years ago on Conductive World was a night out in which András Pető took and Mária Hári and Ily Szekély to the theatre – the outing being pure theatre in itself:

There are some other scattered observations on the two of them together, and probably others waiting to be found, but how did they really get on together? What did they really think of each other? Who knows?

There was one, however, who was sure that he did.

Another viewpoint

The following is taken from my unpublished fieldwork notes on one of several visits to Károly and Magda Ákos, this one in late October 1992 –
...they assert very strongly that Hári hated Pető. He treated her abominably, for which she never forgave him, and she has compensated by running off with his system.

(They said a lot else too, about her and about the direction taken by the Institute, of which most can stay under wraps, for the time being.

Whatever relationships might have been between Károly and Mária years before, when they collaborated to write that well-known book, by the mid-eighties these were not warm. Bitter and mutually dismissive might be a better way of putting it. The Akoses' remarks as reported here are to be viewed in this light.

A footnote: No I, only This

What did András Pető mean by this? Perhaps it helps (a little) to think in the terms of the conventional terminology of English translations of Freud. 

There is no Ego, only Id.

Or perhaps this only confuses things further!


Hári, M. (2001) The History of Conductive Pedagogy, Budapest, IPI

Sutton, A. (1992) Unpublished fieldnotes, Hungary, October-November

Sutton, A. (2011) Háriana III – a night at the theatre, Conductive World, 8 October

Vekerdy, T. (2012) András Pető The chárisma of a maverick healer: memories of András Pető. In G. Maguire and Andrew Sutton (eds) András Pető, Birmingham, CEP, pp. 107-113

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