28 October 2017 The dark side of culture

The loss of the meaning of life, discrimination, exclusion – we like to think that these problems will never affect us. On the day under the leading theme ”humiliation”, the Festival guests learned how much they are wrong to think so.

”The trial, the judgment, passing through the prison gate and this is the end of the problem. This is how we are used to think about the convicts. Few people wonder what happens behind the walls of correction facilities, and even less what will happen when the prisoners are released” – yesterday said Wojciech Brzoska, a poet and a musician who has for years promoted culture in remand facilities, and ,among other things, organised the Jean Genet poetry contest. Together with other participants in the debate ”Reading behind the bars”, step by step abolished myths about prisoners and culture. Contrary to stereotypical opinions, many of them are clearly interested in arts (readership in this group reaches the level of 80 percent), and the prisons are by no means an artistic desert: murals, poetry, newspapers and books are created there.”It is a duty of art to influence the society, and the convicts are part of the society” – said Maria Dąbrowska - Majewska, the president of the Zmiana Foundation that , among other activities, sends books to prison libraries.

We often turn a blind eye not only to contemporary problems. “ Usually when we think about  20th-century totalitarianisms, we mention Nazism and communism  , only rarely do we remember about European colonialism” – said the writer and journalist Adam Hochschild yesterday. In his Conrad Lecture he pointed out that, interestingly, Conrad was one of the few 19th-century writers who took up the issue of European imperialism. – It is like no German author had not written about the Holocaust in the 20th century – explained the lecturer. – I think had he lived in our times, he would appeal for admission of our brothers – refugees, said the lecturer.

Photo Wojciech Wandzel, www.wandzelphoto.com | Photo Hasenien Dousery, www.blackshadowstudio.com | Photo Wojtek Rojek


It seems that the tragic but the ultimate way to escape humiliation is taking one’s own life. “It is one of the most disturbing while at the same time the most fascinating acts a human being is up to” – said the host of the meeting “Anatomy of Suicide”, Arkadiusz Żychliński. His guests: Lukas Bärfuss, who devoted his prose story the suicidal death of his brother and Anna Kim – a reporter who wrote about suicides in  Greenland, discussed the circumstances in which people decide to took their own lives. ”We have functioned for centuries in Christian culture, in which life is but one step, so for centuries the only answer to the question : ”to be or not to be” was: “to be”. There was simply no other option” – they explained. Today religion does not play such an important role, so many people ask themselves “what for?” But asking this question, not considering life as a natural state, is the beginning of a slippery slope.

Is it so that the dark side of our nature, able to cause torment and self-destruction is a dark side of our culture? Sacha Batthyany and Monika Muskała, authors of books on the murder of Jewish forced labourers which was committed in 1945 at Rechnitz, Austria, tried to find an answer to that question. ”Sometimes when I look at the world today, I think that the tragedy of Rechnitz happens every day” – said Batthany. The text prepared by Elfriede Jelinek was also read during the discussion.

Yesterday’s talk with Willemijn Lamp, a co-creator of Amsterdam Read My World Festival, presenting literature from different parts of the world, was a getaway from the dark side of culture. Lamp has invented a special festival’s formula: the festival team consists of no more than three people, and curators from a country to which the upcoming edition is devoted are invited to create the programme. “Thanks to that we cerate not just a network of contacts but a literary community” – she explained.

As every day, discussions also continued outside the Czeczotka Mansion. In De Revolutionibus café Marcin Wilk and Konrad Kutt wondered what ecology has in common with readership, and Klementyna Suchanow talked about her work on a monumental biography of Witold Gombrowicz.

Yesterday the exhibition “A Long, Long Time Ago… the Bible According to Serge Bloch” opened, turning the Wyspiański Pavilion into the Tower of Babel. The exhibition consists of nine artistic installations. You can see the creation of the world in 3D or a fifty-metre-long mural. But it is only one festival exhibition: Günter Grass’ art in the Nuremberg House, the covers of ”Ryms” magazine (which celebrates its 10th anniversary) in  Księgarni Bona, and the interactive installation Dark Matters in the Czeczotka Mansion need tbe mentioned.

The concert of duo Brzoska/Marciniak and the show of the film I Am Not Your Negro. closed the day.

What can we expect today at the Conrad Festival? For detailed programme of the sixth day of the Festival click: here.