2 November 2011 A journey with Conrad

Once more, for a few days Krakow becomes the capital of world’s literature. The third edition of the Conrad Festival, which begins today, is a festive time not only for artists working with words, image, sound and the stage, but above all, for readers. It is reading culture – on various levels – that is the basic method used in the literary event, which this time revolves around the search for lost worlds.

Prominent guests from across the globe will descend upon Krakow to participate in the Festival. Many people will be delighted to hear that one of them will be the unpredictable, but also dangerously magnetic, Michel Houellebecq. The Map and the Territory, a novel which earned him the 2010 Goncourt Prize, has recently been published in Poland. Fleur Jaeggy, in turn, is a brilliant Italian writer and wordsmith, fine-tuning her texts even during her author’s meetings – live and with the public in attendance. And if Jaeggy is there, so too will Roberto Calasso, an Italian writer and essayist, head of the Adelphi publishing house. Finally, Steven Sem-Sandberg – another important guest and the Swedish author of an inspiring trilogy narrating the lives of three women: Milena Jesenska, Ulrike Meinhof and Lou Andreas Salome.

The list of guests coming to Krakow for the Conrad Festival also includes David Grossman, an Israeli writer, journalist and author of children’s books, as well as of novels already known in Poland, such as See Under: Love. Today, Grossman will be a special guest – together with Yoni Rechter – in the opera entitled Itamar meets a Rabbit. This will also be the highlight of the first day of the festival.

The list of foreign guests is long, but many readers are equally looking forward to meeting the Polish writers. Suffice it to mention such names as Andrzej Stasiuk, Janusz Głowacki and Marek Bieńczyk; Manuela Gretkowska, Agnieszka Drotkiewicz and Marta Dzido; and last but not least: Michał Olszewski, Ignacy Karpowicz and Jerzy Franczak. And these are only some of the names on the long list of Polish festival guests!

There will also be brilliant critics, historians and columnists who will help the authors/characters to look for lost worlds, and also guide the readers themselves, for example as part of the Reading Lessons project.

The Conrad Festival is meant as a platform for dialogue at many different but interconnecting levels, hence the presence of images and sounds as well as words. Accordingly, the Festival’s events are being held in cinemas, theatres and at the opera house.

When we look at the Festival’s programme, we immediately notice its precise composition. Each day is dedicated to something different. It begins with the Imagined, then turns to the Glocal and Recorded, and finally to the Transferred and the Experienced.

“What does literature talk about? What do you mean? It talks about loss. About losing a world which was or is; about losing the ability to express experience, whatever it is (marvellous or horrific, lofty or tragic); about losing the ones close to you, and those a bit further away; about losing yourself. Literature celebrates loss, because it cannot do anything else: the world seems not to fit into words, the dead only come if summoned by our spells, the things that were will never return as we imagine them. The present changes into the past with the sound of things falling apart. The angel of the future leaves piles of debris in his wake, the eternal return once more turns out to be the consolation of a man suffering from migraine, and the snows of yesteryear only survive in the quote itself. When words escape the mouth or turn into stone in the public space, unceasing lament erupts all around us and the inevitable labour of mourning begins.” So write the organisers of the Conrad Festival.

We are in for a real festive time over the next few days – a time of fascinating adventures and bold explorations of the perilous realm of world’s literature. Let’s go!
Marcin Wilk