‘The beer was better,’ he said finally. ‘And cheaper! When I was a young man, mild beer – wallop we used to call it – was fourpence a pint. That was before the war, of course.’
‘Which war was that?’ said Winston.
‘It’s all wars,’ said the old man vaguely.
(George Orwell, 1984, 1.8.)
The Hungarian term ántivilág – “ánti-world” – is a complex one, difficult to translate. It is used almost exclusively in the locative form: “in the ántivilág”, where the prefix is the abbreviation for ante bellum, “before the war”. But before which war? Because we have not been short of wars since 1914 when, as an old man told me in the Transylvanian Tibód, “they set ablaze the four corners of the world and it has been burning since ever”. With this term they usually refer to the “happy times of peace” before WWI, whose relative stability and prosperity has been long transcended into a Golden Age in the light – or rather darkness – of the continuous destruction, loss, insecurity, oppression and occupation since 1914. But every war embellishes the bygone peacetime, so the term is also used for the period between the two wars, and even – ironically – for the pre-1989 era of Socialism and Cold War.
And this already takes us to the other meaning of ántivilág, where the prefix is not interpreted as “ante” but rather as “anti-”, that is the opposite and negative mirror of our world, such as the antipodes living upside down in the southern hemisphere. Ántivilág is not only the world which perhaps was not even true, but also the one in which nothing was true, * the world of manipulation and propaganda. Indeed it is usually the propaganda that creates the anti-worlds proclaimed as the best of all existing worlds, and which at the same time – when looking back or from the outside – exposes in the most absurd way the futility of such efforts.
This concept with a double meaning which – like all past ages – raises nostalgia and aversion at the same time, is translated by us to English as “brave old world” which, besides the feeling of the “good old times” also implies the irony of Huxley’s “brave new world”. We are curious to know how our readers would translate it to other languages.