Géza Csáth's stories often feature a mix of cruelly demented characters and morbid atmosphere associated with the tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Csáth was addicted to morphine, opium, and sex




Géza Csáth, Opium and Other  Stories, Various translators, 
1983

story Little Emma



The Magician’s Garden, and Other Stories (also published as Opium, and Other Stories) by Géza Csáth (Among his other accomplishments, Csáth was a short story writer and a psychiatrist. His stories often feature a similar mix of cruelly demented characters and morbid atmosphere associated with the tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Csáth was addicted to morphine, opium, and sex. He committed suicide by taking poison not long after he shot and killed his wife.) - Thomas Ligotti


In the Mid 80's, I was attending a typical English suburban comprehensive school, when a schoolfriend of mine gave me a book of short stories to read. Something about this book “Opium and Other Stories” really grabbed me, I was fascinated by what little I knew about the life and works of this little known (in my part of the world at least) author.
After reading and returning the book, I tried for a long time to buy a copy for myself, but without the now ubiquitous internet back then, I was unsuccessful.
Last year, I was finally able to track down a copy of the long out of print “Opium...” and read it again, along with the authors' own diary, “The Diary of Geza Csath”.
The author was born Josef Brenner and lived in the early part of the 20th Century in Hungary. He was an author, playwright, violinist, music critic and physician. Evidently an intelligent, articulate, literate and well educated man. He studied medicine and became a doctor, and his access to various substances led him to experiment with drugs, something which undoubtedly led to his premature demise, more on that in a minute....
Anyway, rewind to me aged 16 or so; I was enthralled then to be able read something which seemed to me to come from such a distant and very foreign time and place, the likes of Geza Csath weren't exactly on the UK school curriculum. Nor will they probably ever be, come to think of it.
Back in the 1980's, Hungary, along with a lot of other Eastern European countries, was somewhere completely unknown to me and I guess most other people in the UK, being part of the now “Lost World of Communism”. All very different now, and all very different before then too, in the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during Csath/Brenner's own lifetime.
Csath's life shares some similarities with the later, and considerably more well known 20th century author William S. Burroughs. Both came from well heeled backgrounds, both were drug addicts and both also shot their wives. But there are plenty of differences too.
Especially, Burroughs was a homosexual, whilst Csath was most decidedly hetero, and logs his sexual activities with various women - including his own patients - in detail in his diaries. At times, he comes across as almost a borderline sexual predator. Although living in a time before Rock and Roll, evidently, there was no shortage of sex and drugs.
Knowing about his work as a junior doctor, I can well imagine his experiences with disturbed patients influencing the subject matter of his stories.
The tales are often extremely dark and pessimistic, perhaps even depressing, sometimes even a little bit unresolved. One of my favourites is “The Surgeon”.
The original title of Csath's collection of stories translates as “Tales Which End Unhappily”.
Sadly, Geza Csath's life also ended unhappily. His drug experiments turned to addiction, and as is often the case, it all basically overtook and destroyed him. Eventually, after killing his wife (in front of their young daughter according to one account), and a failed suicide attempt, he escaped from a hospital and ended up committing suicide in front of border police who had apprehended him attempting to get into Serbia in order to check himself into a mental hospital. He was 31 years old.
Csath's diaries are as absorbing to read as his stories, and document his ever increasing need and obsession for morphine, whilst at the same time his ever-lessening enjoyment of it and eventually his self loathing and descent into the hell of addiction.
I will reprint below an excerpt from his diaries dealing with this, which has stayed with me since I first read it years ago:
In combating myself I can only report one bloody defeat after another. Not even in this respect is fortune willing to smile at me. The week started well with daily quantities of 0.044 and 0.046 which I divided into 3-4 portions. But yesterday and today I reached again that awful vicious circle which is the source of the most shameful remorse. The trouble always starts with not having the strength to wait for my mid-morning stool. Because when I succeed in doing this and the morphine leaves the intestines, then it is followed by a pleasant, all-day-long hunger which can be satisfied with the regular amount. But if the first sin takes place in the morning, still in bed or before the bowel movements, the same amount doesn't work properly, and causes no euphoria. To commit sin, to harm myself without enjoying it, this is the bitter thought tormenting me. If I had a gun near me, at times like this, I would blow my brains out, right away.
What do I do instead? Usually before the time is up, 3–4 hours after the first portion, I take the next one. This usually gives euphoric feelings lasting 20–30 minutes, followed by the most miserable, pitiful low, during which:
1. All human endeavours, industriousness, diligence, work, seem to be ridiculous and only hate-provoking.
2. All talk is tiring and stupid.
3. All plans are unrealizable and terrible.
4. All great, beautiful, and noble things are unattainable and futile.
At times like this I smoke one cigarette after another until I no longer feel the taste of the smoke. I eat oranges till I get tired of them. Disgusted, I play the piano. I wash. Visit Olga. Find life insufferable. I make an effort to entertain her, but I lack the true sexual interest, and, therefore, I am just getting bored there. To make my stay bearable I put in 0.02–0.03 in the toilet, hating it. This is followed after dinner by 0.02, then 0.01 and 0.01 again. The last one under the pretext that it already belongs to tomorrow's portion.... This is an immeasurably loathsome and despicable life. I am so disgusting, weak, and pitiful that I have to wonder why Olga still loves me, and hasn't become unfaithful to me. That my weak and forever veiled voice, my steady staring in the mirror, my cynical and shrunken penis, my drawn face, my witless conversation, my impotent, lazy life, my suspicious behaviour, my insolence with which I lengthily disappear into the WC, my stupidity haven't disgusted her yet, for ever and ever. I also think that I stink, because with my sense of smell impaired I can no longer smell the stench of my poorly-wiped asshole or the mouth-odor caused by my rotting teeth.
The above is one of the most articulate anti-drug statements I've ever read, nothing glamourous about drug use there. Perhaps he should be on the curriculum after all.
His text “Opium” from 1909 reads almost like a hedonistic drug explorer's mission statement, with it's promise that one can escape the everyday drudgery and “...live five thousand years in a day”, but the above, written a few years later, eloquently expresses the reality of his miserable addiction.
If you've read up to this point, you might be wondering “Why on Earth is Colin writing all this stuff about some obscure, long dead Hungarian author??”
....I thought a bit of background information might arouse curiosity before I talk about my next solo release entitled “PVZ”, named after an acronym Csath used in his diaries as a coded initialism for morphine. 
“PVZ” will be my first solo album since  Third Vessel. I guess it's fair to say the initial impetus for the album was my interest in his stories and diary. I have no idea why some things “speak” to me, as it were, but I found the stories and the facts behind Geza Csath's life a source of inspiration, and it all got me thinking about lots of other subjects...
It's not necessary to know anything about Csath or any of his stories to listen to the tracks of course, the music will either resonate with you, or not, but I am posting this for those interested.
“PVZ” is not a concept album as such, there are no rock opera style characters, no messages nor any type of storyline, instead I have tried to distill certain moods, feelings and ideas and to express the contradictions of a divided character across the album's 11 tracks, alluding to some of Csath's writings along the way. I have imagined the sequencing of the album tracks almost as the arc of his life, referencing “Opium” and following on to more melancholic atmospheres. In places, it's certainly dark in mood, but I hope the overall effect and is both absorbing and engrossing for the listener, perhaps thought provoking also...
“PVZ” will be available as a download, and also in a strictly limited edition physical format early next year, depending on a few factors out of my control at the moment. I will be posting more details here when I have them. -  






Géza Csáth, The Diary of Geza Csath, Angelusz & Gold Publishing, 2004.


An acclaimed neurologist widely viewed as Hungary's first contemporary author, Geza Csath was also a morphine addict who shot and killed his wife before killing himself. The diary begins as a clinically graphic depiction of Csath's conquest of dozens of women - from chambermaids to aristocrats - during his tenure as a doctor at a Slovakian health spa in 1912.

Angelusz & Gold announces the publication of The Diary of Geza Csath. (1887-1919), with an introduction by Arthur Phillips. An acclaimed neurologist widely viewed as Hungary's first contemporary author, Csath was also a morphine addict who shot and killed his wife before doing away with himself. The Diary begins as a clinically graphic depiction of Csath's conquest of dozens of women â€" from chambermaids to aristocrats â€" during his tenure as a doctor at a Slovakian health spa in 1912. All the while, he is engaged to Olga Jonas, a Jewish girl he places above all other women in sensuality but considers "entirely without moral taste". Csath regularly injects morphine and opium to increase his enjoyment of certain events and lessen the discomfort of others. The second half of the diary is his harrowing descent into hopeless narcotic addiction. The effect is heightened by Csath's unsparing honesty and acute powers of self-observation. The Diary of Geza! Csath is introduced by Arthur Phillips and includes an essay by Dezso Kosztolanyi, summarizing Csath's strange, unfinished life.


We meet Géza Csáth (the pen name of József Brenner) in the fall of 1912, age 25, in the grips of writer’s block, which he is determined to defeat by writing a season’s worth of autobiography. He proceeds to reminisce over the summer just past, a memoir that appears at first to be a candid private recollection of almost ceaseless promiscuity and very occasional medical practice in the spa town of Stubnyafürdõ.
We should know, however, that this man who claims to be “inhibited” from writing has recently produced a medical text, a volume of fiction, and the German translation of his monograph on Puccini. However serious his inability to produce more, we are certainly justified in taking his complaint with a grain of salt, and, sure enough, a paragraph later, he writes sixty pages of deft, funny, shocking, psychologically astute memoir. The writer’s block doesn’t seem terribly serious. Did he talk himself through it, or was he merely softening up his readership?
That is the question, because, though the “Notes on the Summer of 1912” compose part of the author’s diaries, it is worth asking whether they weren’t intended to be read by us, whether we are diary voyeurs or invited audience.
First, the Notes seem to be rewritten, a summation after the fact, leavened with a degree of detail implying a pre-existing diary. (Such a daily diary seems likely, considering the astounding statistical summaries Csáth produces for himself at the end of 1912.) Further, in this retrospective composition, I felt a literary stage-craft, a polished performance, and a full presentation of characters (including the leading man), that Csáth’s “real-time” diaries from later in the year do not display. What’s more, on page one, he is already hiding something; we learn only much, much later that at the time of composing this bawdy memoir, Csáth was suffering from something far more serious and intractable than writer’s block. In other words, considering his admitted desire for literary fame, it is by no means implausible that he expected his journals would outlast him and would find a readership—admirers like you and me. He may indeed be performing for us, so beware his apparently perfect candor.
With that in mind, we proceed to the performance, the adventures of Dr. József Brenner, spa doctor and boiling Don Juan-nabe. Make no mistake, this character, this Géza Csáth /József Brenner is an unredeemed bastard.
Most obviously he is a philanderer with vast appetites of such untamable ferocity they call to mind the modern notion of sexual addiction. He has betrayed his fiancée, Olga Jonás, within a week or so of arrival. He collects chambermaids, patients, his patients’ daughters, and local peasant women at a pace that would exhaust most men not also fending off tuberculosis and opium addiction. His heartlessness in these love affairs is presented starkly, without apologies. When one of his women loses her job for stealing a shirt to try to please him, he is unaffected to a degree that is almost comical, and perhaps he intends this.
Csáth’s is an extraordinary self-portrait, one that is simultaneously introspective and self-deluding. This is a neat trick. (It also calls into question the idea that even the most careful observer can successfully observe himself.) The doctor is sensitive to slights and suspicious of others. He is highly analytical of himself, but uncomfortable with some of the most basic social interactions (shaking hands, determining his social position). He obsessively catalogues his peccadilloes (four bouts of "onania") and his victories (stop-watched kisses, the ranking of orgasm quality, his sexual recovery time as a function of his current level of “training”).
He loathes self-pity, self-justification, and defense mechanisms in those around him, but his own writing is full of self-pity, self-justification, and defense mechanisms.
He is an insecure but also happy-go-lucky rapist, faithless lover and would-be Casanova. He is apparently without redeeming virtues, unless brutal candor and persistently unsuccessful self-inquiry count. Misogynistic and misanthropic, faithless, vain, manic-depressive, arrogant, self-consciously self-loathing and self-admiring, doctor and quack, he is also very entertaining, especially when hypocritical to hilarious extremes. Of a woman he has just kissed immediately after she has come from intercourse with her now-dozing husband, he notes: “All Jewish women…were…entirely without a sense of responsibility and moral taste.” This from a man who has enjoyed a “cruel trio”, in which he has sex with one woman in earshot of his heart-broken previous lover. Later, he writes of another love, “I saw how much this woman enjoyed humiliation, so I gave her her share.” (By the way, this busy summer, it turns out, was a period of which he was proud for having tamed his tendency to introduce sexual complications into his life. )
For all his fondness for Casanova, his idolatry of his fiancée, and his evident delight at his successes (over women and over impotence), for all the connoisseur’s lip-smacking (his admiration of the “formation of the hips, their transition to the back”), this lover often doesn’t seem to like the women themselves very much. They are “dolts,” “tasteless,” “incapable of moral judgment.” Except for his fiancée, he holds them in supreme contempt for that most unforgivable act, falling in love with him.
At other times, there is an air of irony in his tone, an amusement at his wicked appetites that almost excuses them. It is a very wispy irony and may in fact be a lie, but still, it is difficult not to feel a certain fondness for a man who blames an unwanted second act with one lover on “the unparalleled weakness of human nature.”
Of course, this cad, this hypocrite is something far more. He does not mention it, perhaps out of false modesty, counting on Posterity to have told us before we had ever read the Notes. In case you don’t already know, I will play the role of Posterity: This “villain” is a man of vast gifts. He is a neurologist, painter, composer and music critic, pianist and violinist, playwright, journalist, short-story writer, and a man of superhuman ambition and energy.
He is a bastard, of course, but so are a lot of people with nothing else to be said for them.- Arthur Phillips  


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  1. I got my first electronic cigarette kit on VistaVapors, and I love it very much.

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