20 May 2013 Between the real and the imagined

Celan in the biography footnotes, hopes and fears with respect to Russia, and the true face of the empire – those were just a couple of the subjects touched upon during the last day of the 3rd Miłosz Festival.

During his meeting, Gary Snyder, an outstanding American poet, writer, translator, and environmental activist, talked a lot about nature and – perhaps more importantly in the context of the Land of Ulro – about where to put humans in all of this. ‘Working in a remote location gave me a lot of satisfaction,’ he said in reference to his experiences as a fire-fighter.

Explaining the difference between nature, wild and wilderness, Snyder made references to physics and the place of humans in all of that. He uses nature to talk about the phenomenon of the universe. Physics and its laws are of major importance in defining nature. Wild means undomesticated and everything that’s related to that. Wilderness means remote areas that however show signs of human activity. ‘Apart from that, there is also the supernatural,’ Snyder said, stating, however, what some thinkers have also expressed: ‘But there is no place in the world free of carbon dioxide, which, in fact, means human impact.’

The American poet also referred to the Empire debate following his meeting. ‘As far as I know, this discussion is to be about the influence of Russia. I would like to say that today, we live in the shadow of a much more evil empire. It’s the global capitalism. It’s important that we ask ourselves about the sources of energy that sustain this empire. In my opinion, they are about to run out,’ Snyder said.

The tension during the Empire debate (as suggested by Snyder: Empire meaning Russia) was all too easy to feel. Adam Pomorski spoke about what is really happening beyond the eastern border of Poland. ‘The Russian Internet can be a rich and valuable source of information here,’ Pomorski remarked, ‘as its cultural and historical content is very extensive.’

Speaking of Russia, Pomorski pointed to several particular phenomena. He also admitted that instead of speaking about Russia, we often speak about out impressions of her. ‘The recurring headlines of ‘We know nothing about Russia’, ‘Russia, where are you going?’ and so on is in fact information about us,’ the translator concluded.

The many burning issues raised during the discussion included the cult of Putin (‘An image is being dismantled here, just as in the case of some politicians in Poland,’ Pomorski said), the crash of the virtual economy (‘A crisis is usually combated with the development of the economy, but this one is strengthened by production, which, in turn, is caused by arms’) and, finally, Evgeny Messner, whose ideas, in particular those about a military conflict of a new type, sounded quite ominous.

Richard Lourie was more optimistic about what is going on in Russia. The essayist and translator (including works by Gorbechev) listed the ‘moving hopes’: the human rights movement ideas embodied by Andrei Sakharov, freedom or religion, or the development of private entrepreneurship. Lourie, commenting on the local revival of fascism, said that even though Russia may give birth to something new and evil, it will certainly ‘not wear a black shirt’.

Norman Davies positioned himself halfway between Lourie’s hopes and Pomorski’s moderate and realistic enthusiasm – the historian pointed to the fact that sometimes things look very strong from the outside, but are very weak on the inside. In this context, he spoke of the fall of the USSR. ‘For many Russians, this is still the greatest disaster in history. From their perspective it may look completely different than from ours,’ Davies said.

The imagined and the real – this was one of the resurfacing subjects of the entire 3rd Miłosz Festival. Ryszard Krynicki spoke of it, as well. The Krakow-based A5 publishing house published a thick volume of Paul Celan’s works, Psalm i inne wiersze, as translated by Krynicki. The publication was a reason for a discussion on the links between artistic work and experience. ‘Celan’s biography was little known. What is more, a lot has been mythicised. For instance, that he avoided the Holocaust by running to the Red Army,’ Krynicki said. The most difficult thing for the editor was to produce a solid calendar of events and a chronological biography. ‘The more so that several hundred, if not thousand, books have been published on Celan,’ Krynicki said. He also admitted that reading Celan without knowing his biography may not be possible at all. ‘Every poem carries a piece of his internal or spiritual biography, the things that happened to him,’ Krynicki said.

The comment on the impact of the poet’s biography sounded like a call for a new, better reading of Czesław Miłosz’s texts. The Festival guests, after the events of the recent days, completed the poetry feast with Kari Amirian. The artist presented some new material during the concert. One could not have imagined a more magical finale.