Slogan of the 11th edition

The idea behind the programme of this year’s edition of Conrad Festival can be explained using two sentences constituting the extremes of an axis, along which we are going to slide during our October debates.

“We have different views on reality” and “There are many realities.”

The former envisions presenting reality in different ways, a situation in which everybody thinks about it in a slightly different manner, voicing diverging opinions. These images cannot be summed up, nor combined into a single, coherent whole. We can only negotiate them with each other, translate our visions into a common language understood by others, agree on our positions and point out what we have in common, hoping that the differences will not turn out to be an insurmountable obstacle. The latter, on the other hand, claims that there is no single reality to which we all refer in a variety of ways, but instead there are many different realities. Some of them easily accessible, while the borders of the remaining ones are – temporarily or permanently – closed.

Literature makes use of both these thoughts. On the one hand, it continuously presents reality and shows it from different points of view, pointing our attention to its various aspects. Poems, novels, short stories and essays not only provide us with new views on reality, but they also create a space for the aforementioned negotiations. One could even say that literature differentiates while trying to overcome the differences, it divides people while trying to bring them together, it tears the fabric of reality into small pieces, and then meticulously sews it back together.

On the other hand, every novel is a journey towards a social, political, economic, religious or other land. Throughout the journey, all that matters is the difference of views, perspectives, languages, styles and genres, as well as the multiplicity of realities themselves. Is it possible to reach them in any other way, without using poems or short stories? Maybe. However, literature is not an impartial medium, which enables us to get into one of many spaces. Its major advantage lies in the fact that it also creates these spaces by itself. It’s never a given whether a novel shows us the way to a real place, or whether it conjures up a path leading to said place and the destination before our very eyes.

The titles of subsequent days of the Festival – Things, Words, Images, Ideas, Relations, Places and Characters – refer to the most important elements of reality. We also think of them as strands that intertwine and at the same time connect different spaces. We understand things as the material basis of the world, but also as the essence of our emotional experience and, finally, as the products of the language we speak and tell stories with. Words are a tool of understanding, as well as an instrument used for creating worlds. Images give us an insight into reality and at the same time, they attract the eye of the viewer to their surface, inviting us to a play of mirror images, the multiplication of which makes the surrounding space unreal. Ideas are concepts that determine our views on reality. Relations can be defined as relationships and ties between words, things and other beings, as well as tools used for organising the world and sending certain beings to certain places. Places can be understood as certain points in reality, as well as literary topoi. Characters, on the other hands, are for us forms of presentation, subjects living in different realities and literary protagonists.

The participants in individual discussions will consider these concepts, but they are not going to be limited by them. Need some examples? We will talk about home mythologies with OLGA DRENDRA and MARCIN NAPIÓRKOWSKI. The concept of “myth” has several meanings. According to the most popular definition, a myth is a fictitious story about someone or something, constituting an opinion, circulated among the members of a given community, largely determining its way of functioning. What myths influence our way of thinking, acting, as well as individual and collective lives these days?

ALMUDENA GRANDES will tell the story of her protagonists living at a time of crisis. On the surface, nothing threatens them. They believe that they will avoid clashing with great history, hide from its destructive waltz in one of the secluded homes in the suburbs. The calm in the eye of the cyclone is easy to mistake for security, but it is enough for the tornado of history to change direction and everything will be destroyed. How are they supposed to deal with this reality?

We will ask MONA CHOLLET about violence, to which one can get accustomed, even to its most extreme forms. It is not enough to point it out and condemn it, because even when exposed and criticised, it can return, re-emerge in new forms and strike where we expect it the least. How to fight it? What should we do and say to make sure it never becomes commonplace?

CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE will reflect on the extent of freedom of a writer. Is literature a way of creating that allows you to say anything? And if not, who should draw the line? Who should be able to speak on this matter? Is it possible to work out a universal position, binding for all people representing different cultures and traditions? How to avoid censorship?

No authority can exist without a language formatted to its needs. No authority can be opposed without the right words. The most important – though often ignored – political struggles encompasses control over grammar, style, even spelling. DMITRY BYKOV’S characters convince us that defending a single letter can change the fate of an entire society. Is this just fiction or an important warning for all of us?

In the world of novels by RADKA DENEMARKOVA, happiness is possible – but it’s not given for free, nor for good. Feeling and enjoying it sometimes requires paying the highest price. However, nobody tries to convince anyone that greater or lesser difficulties mean that one should give up happiness altogether and choose another foundation for their existence – such as sadness. The writer will talk about how literature deals with social emotions.

DIDIER ERIBON will talk about escaping – something that many of us have done in our lives. Place of birth, closest family who raised us, school and our former companions. In retrospect, our roots appear to be a despised obstacle, a trap from which one must escape in order to be able to build one’s own life. But is there a way to get rid of one’s past in its entirety? Does literature help us form stronger bonds with the past, or help us free ourselves?

This year’s edition of Conrad Festival will be a meeting of people coming from different worlds and representing drastically diverging views.

We will all be connected by two impulses: passion for literature and the need to talk about reality.

An immense passion and unwavering need to talk about literature and the world, which would be incomplete without you – our festival audience.

Grzegorz Jankowicz

Programming Director of Conrad Festival.