21 October 2015 Olga Tokarczuk, Hooman Majd - 2nd day of Conrad Festival
For the second day, we have been swimming “against the current” here at the Conrad Festival. And although the meeting with a Nobelist is already behind us, there was nothing to complain about on Tuesday, which was full of exceptional meetings.
Yesterday, we met with Olga Tokarczuk, two-time Nike Literary Award winner and Hooman Majd, an American-Iranian writer, who has in-depth knowledge of the problems in the Middle East. The enthusiasm of the participants does not cease to amaze us, as they follow festival events with great interest. Tuesday evening, they filled the Pałac Pod Baranami.
In moments like that, the coming together of the literary community is palpable. Olga Tokarczuk brought this fact up during the “Missing worlds” meeting, speaking about the ties formed with readers through books. Although, as she admitted, her books (not only the award-winning Books of Jacob) clearly exhibit a rebellious spirit, she tries to use her resistance to help build understanding – as well as a deeper understanding of oneself. This is a difficult proposition, especially in the case of group memory, which is why Tokarczuk tries to bring back to the readers the feeling of the complexity of the world, especially the historical one.
During the “Translator of cultures” meeting with Hooman Majd, we had the opportunity to look at Iran from the point of view of a resident of the country, deeply rooted in its culture, but at the same time remaining at the boundary between the worlds of the West and the East. The writer spoke not only about his difficult experiences and living in the state of constant surveillance and control, but also about hope for change, tied especially to generational changes. As we found out, Majd is a writer who is also very interested in our country – especially thanks to diplomatic friendships.
Leonidas Donskis and Tomas Venclova’s discussion “Violence and imagination”, part of the festival’s Lithuanian programme, was an opportunity to consider the dangers of totalitarianism in a part of the world that is much closer to home. Once again, literary tropes were helpful – especially Huxley’s and Orwell’s dystopias, as well as Houellebecq’s work – and they became the central point for the commentaries about the political changes in Europe.