14 July 2011 Calasso and Manguel: a conflict between guests’ wishes at the 3rd Conrad Festival

The latest Conrad supplement to Tygodnik Powszechny features four articles on the guests of this year’s Conrad Festival. In the article Trauma, tajemnica, translacja (Trauma, Secret,Ttranslation) Tomasz Bilczewski discloses the figure of Eva Hoffman, while Michał Olszewski’s Nieludzko czyści (The Inhumanly Clean) is devoted to Maciej Zaremba. The supplement also features an interesting comparison between Roberto Calasso and Alberto Manguel in articles of Dariusz Czaja (Słowa, błyski, drżenie) and Grzegorz Jankowicz (Czytelnik w bezimiennym lesie).

In Dariusz Czaja’s text, Roberto Calasso, a guest of Festival’s fourth day comes not only as an eccentric writer but, above all, a responsible, demanding and erudite reader. Author of Literature and the Gods (an outcome of lectures delivered at Oxford, also published this year in Polish), Calasso puts forth a concept of absolute literature. His argument is related to writing being a kind of totally unique form of knowledge and consciousness that aspires to encompass – nomen omen – absolutely everything. The Italian writer argues that the aspiration to achieve this metaphysical desire will allow summoning of the gods to books, and the unveiling of a reality other than that experienced sensually. Readers, thus, have a right, or even an obligation, to expect literature to provide... epiphany! Roberto Calasso, as argues Czaja in his article, unveils literature as a space of astonishing tensions, peculiar harmonious combinations and virtually electrical discharges that are capable of causing an ecstatic quiver in us. Calasso unveils literature as a wonderful dance of letters striking divine sparks between which, at times, sacred shivering flashes out. The eccentric writer and erudite reader turns out to be a literary guiding spirit.

For Alberto Manguel, a guest of the Festival’s second and third day, reading is a principle of existing here and now, and, as argues Grzegorz Jankowicz, a form of dialogue enabling a relationship with the universe to be established. The act of reading, then, does not consist in summoning a metaphysical realm, yet experiencing a reality given to us in a direct fashion. Reading allows us to read this world’s signs and can constitute a remedy to its chaos; it shapes our identity but, first of all, remains pleasant and disinterested celebration. Jankowicz traces the reading biography of the author of A History of Reading: from his work at the famous Pygmalion book store and the job as an official reader for Jorge Luis Borges, through the influence of Rivadavia, a mysterious teacher of literature, and the need for later coming to terms with his dark secret, to Manguel’s becoming aware of his own fluid Protean and transgressive identity. All of this is accompanied by books: the only reliable signposts in the nameless forest of the contemporary world. (IK)