24 October 2017 Welcome to the land of Unrest

We are opening the republic of literature to be with us for a week. A place for all those who want to think, to read and to talk about the contemporary world– in these words Grzegorz Jankowicz, the Programme Director of the Conrad Festival, opened the 9th edition of th

The leading theme of this year’s festival is Unrest. But at yesterday’s press conference the organisers explained that they did not intend to frighten the audience or to make it feel uncomfortable but rather to think about the human condition as it is today. – This emotion accompanied many characters in Conrad’s novels, and it accompanies now many citizens of Europe– explained Professor Michał Paweł Markowski, Artistic Director of the Festival. – We will examine our fears taking use of literature, because we believe it is the best instrument for talking about the contemporary world, added Director Jankowicz. 

The ”examination” will follow a specific plan. Each of the festival days will have its own leading theme: fear, anger, hope, hostility, humiliation, pride and dignity. The Heart of Darkness was the starting point for yesterday’s discussion. However, the organisers suggested that we might look at one of Conrad’s best known novels from another, less traditional angle.

The first festival meeting belonged to Catherine Anyango – a Swedish-Kenyan writer who created a graphic novel based on The Heart of Darkness. – Words focus on logic, but images deal with emotions, talk in a universal language, avoiding such traps as simplification or distortion in which the text often falls – explained the author, adding that Conrad’s pictorial, suggestive language was particularly suitable for graphic experiments.

Jacek Dukaj also experimented with Conrad’s language. He translated or rather, as he says himself, ”Polonised” The Heart of Darkness. – I wanted to reach the contemporary reader in the same way as Conrad reached his contemporaries – explained the writer. – Literature should not be translated word by word but rather at an emotional level. The author was not afraid to change the Polish title (to ”Serce ciemności” instead of ”Jądro ciemności”), to use abbreviations and to reach for various styles: from the pathos to the contemporary language (we will find such modern words as ”menadżment” or ”real” in the translation ). You will soon be able to judge the results of his experiment for yourself, because Serce ciemności will be on sale in bookshops on the 25th of October.

The Heart of Darkness we discussed yesterday is described as a novel about the hell of colonisation. Zapiski z domu wariatów, a small book by the late  Austrian author Christine Lavant, talking about her stay in the asylum also depicts hell. – This book of only a few dozen pages leads us in a daze – said Małgorzata Łukasiewicz who translated Zapiski... – It is a very energetic literature, in which Lavant changes the way of writing every now and them, passing from a neutral document style to intimate confession, and in this way describing a fluid border between sanity and madness.

The project which another guest, Dorota Masłowska, has continued for years might also seem crazy. In the years 2013 – 2016 the writer regularly watched Polish pop culture productions: TV series, talent shows and disco polo, then she analysed them in “Dwutygodnik” magazine in the series of her feature columns Jak przejąć kontrolę nad światem nie wychodząc z domu (How to take control of the world without going out). Today, as she jokingly explains, she still does it so as we could focus on watching Herzog and reading Herbert. Then, she adds, quite seriously, that “though this be madness, yet there is method in it”.  – The products of trash culture we sometimes even fear to approach, we prefer to turn a blind eye to, contain huge deposits of social knowledge – she said. – It is worth taking a look at it, even if this threatens with brain damage.

The last meeting of the first day of the festival was devoted to Zdzisława and Tomasz Beksiński. They could hardly be defined as pop culture figures. Magdalena Grzebałkowska, the author of the biography Beksińscy. Portret podwójny, describes them as ”pre-celebrities”. Their tragic fate has made them very popular. However, the participants in yesterday’s meeting noted that one can easily fall in the emotional trap when talking about this fascinating but disturbing family. – Placing the sentence “based on facts” at the beginning of your film is a great responsibility. These words suggest that those people were actually like that, that their lives were exactly as shown – said Katarzyna Łęcka, the director of a short film about the last years of Zdzisław Beksiński, Pars pro toto. – When creating a biography, the author must hide himself/herself and his/her emotions, to let the character speak – added Grzebałkowska.

The screening of Beksińscy. Album wideofoniczny, a documentary film by Marcin Borchardt (who also participated in yesterday’s discussion) at pod Baranami Cinema closed the day. If you preferred music than film, you could listen to a concert of Chango group with Jacek Szymkiewicz ( Budyń) – a multi-instrumentalist and a vocalist of Pogodno and Babu Król ensembles. The theatre was also present – the Whale. The Globe spectacle was given at Łaźnia Nowa – a great starting point for today’s discussion.

Also yesterday, a meeting with Maciej Świerkocki inaugurated the Reading Lessons, which will start every festival day from Monday through Friday. The meeting ”Refugees in Poland – unwanted and reluctant” opened the series of antidiscrimination workshops. 

What does the Conrad Festival have on offer? For details of the second day click: here.