This year’s edition of the Conrad Festival is named after Joseph Conrad’s volume titled Tales of Unrest. It has been translated into Polish as Opowieści niepokojące, but the title seems not quite satisfactory. It should rather be something like doniesienia z krainy niepokoju (reports from the land of unrest), because the tales do not convey the feeling of unrest as such but rather try to diagnose, describe, explain and interpret unrest, to orient us in the growing chaos of information.
The threat comes from everywhere
It’s just like us: we want to talk about unrest in the modern world, about the unrest we can see in the movement of individuals and communities, about passionate emotions that need to be vented and anxieties about the uncertain future, which like a hundred years ago, in Conrad’s times, begins to cast a black shadow over us. The feeling that, as Conrad once put it, the threat comes from everywhere, overcomes us more and more often, so our mission – of artists, intellectuals, teachers, students and journalists is to understand what is coming, but only few of us can grasp. Widely understood literature has the privilege to be a probe inserted into the future, trying to tame the future.
The entire matrix of feelings raised by unrest cannot be contained in a single language, a single metaphor, a single concept. There is no way to describe all associations unrest brings to our minds in one week. This is why we have divided the seven days of the festival by emotions, affects or feelings – both positive and negative. It seems to us that they best describe humans and communities experiencing unrest, as a link between the individual and the collective, between passions and revolution, between worry and healing.
People experience unrest when they are afraid of something, when they feel insecure, humiliated or angry. By they also leave a peaceful zone if they see a hope for a better life, when their pride and honour do not let them agree with the situation, someone’s attitude, politics, or if they cannot stand the pressures anymore. Unrest is unfortunate (causing discomfort) or desirable (encouraging action). Unrest lies on a shadow line between what is and what might be, or between what shouldn’t be and what must be. However, only rarely is unrest an individual feeling unrelated with the life of others. On the contrary, all emotions that cause unrest — fear, anger, hostility, humiliation, hope, pride and dignity — refer to the life of a community, a common experience, as it seems to us, literature best describes and which we always discuss at the annual Conrad Festival.
Michał Paweł Markowski
The Festival Artistic Director