Archive for November, 2009

Massolit Literary Evening – 28.11.2009

Thank you for joining Patrycja Gierat, Joanna Kita and myself tonight, at Massolit!

It was a pleasure to navigate through various constellation of readers with you!

Special thanks to David Miller and the Massolit staff!

Behind Curtains: David Miller

The conditions at take off were promising,

and everyone found themselves landing  safely by the end of the journey.

We hope we’ve managed to bring a little sparkle and wind to your wings!

Thank you for flying with us!

The story is open, and we welcome you aboard, again!

Thank you for your smile!

Thank you for your questions, interest and support!

Alina Alens

E. JUNGER: JCJ Glass Bees Riddle – A Case of Iconic Irreverence


Ernst Junger


Does it seem possible for someone to make out the greater picture, the universe of a book, after reading only a few fragments from it? Which fragments should these be? The last or the beginning? Whatever the answer, I chose to use The Glass Bees as a testing ground. My idea was to hand out to my students excerpts from the last eight chapters of this book. I limited their “reading-at-first-sight” perspective to a maximum of two chapters and handed out different chapters to four groups of readers. The first task set: summarise the chapters after reading.

In doing this I meant for synthesis to precede analysis, for summarizing to precede indepth thinking.

Did it work? In the very beginning, the readers found the summarising rather challenging. Summarising a fragment from The Glass Bees is not an easy task. In the chapters chosen, the flood of memories washes out the happenings and events of the present and manages to carry characters and readers alike into a realm of implausibility. I made sure, though, to drop a key. It’s nothing more than a man waiting in the garden for a possible employer to finish interviewing him for a job, I told them. The interviewee, Richard, the mighty and mysterious interviewer, Zapparoni.

What is plausible, and what is implausible for you in the chapters you just read? was my second question. It’s not at all easy to discern what is real from what is artificially constructed in this superbly written novel. Cut-off ears, transparent glass bees, surveillance cameras hidden inside tiny, bee-like automatons, thorough descriptions of  feelers quivering or delicate calyces are all confusing and charming the reader.

If you were to use this story for a movie, this movie would be… A science-fiction movie or a thriller with cut-off ears swimming in a bloody pond were the answers from some. For others the answer was silence. We have no problem understanding the words or the plot. The underlying meaning, however, eludes us, they concluded. Bees and glass bees – possibly a symbol for work or a working class… were some of the hypotheses, but the ideas seemed to stop there.

Let’s meditate on this for a while, shall we? I suggested. But what is the meaning for you, they insisted. I started then by laying out some reference points from the author’s life and the beginning chapters. Junger was a paradoxical personality, a brilliant military man  and a renown entomologist. A man at times on a war path, carrying a gun  while collecting rare flowers and bugs. The character in his book, Richard, is a man who knew and lived in two worlds: the “shining armour” time of  his youth, when he was an atypical soldier in the midst of heroes and foes, and the present time of need – a kind of  belated maturity, when he has to turn his weakness into strength, his defeatism into another kind of victory. The book witnesses the struggle within the character before he turns his weaknesses into the strength  to be harnessed by the responsibilities and tasks of  a certain type of work. This is where I stopped at the time.

I would like this blog to be a continuation of my own meditation on The Glass Bees. Give me a moment. I’ll be right back.

Alright. Thank you!

Two ages are facing each other in the two species of bees. Unlike their natural counterparts, the glass bees are perfect workers. Sexless, they need no sleep, no food, they can work without interruption. Their flight back to the hive which they never enter is a mere reminiscence of  the “homecoming” instinct of most living creatures.  This association is striking. All the more so, considering the fact that their glass, probe-like, tubular tongues collect almost all the pollen during one stop around a flower, leaving none, or close to none, for the rest of the bees. How generous is nature? we may ask. Can “its plan” accommodate the artificial,  man-created automatic bees? Is the honey produced by them as good as the natural honey?  Richard is asking himself similar questions. He mentions that “[b]ees are not just workers in a honey factory. Ignoring their self-sufficiency for a moment, their work – far beyond its tangible utility – plays an important part in the cosmic plan […]”

“As messengers of love, their duty is to pollinate, to fertilize the flowers,” he continues. (p.98)

What is man’s part in the cosmic plan? Is it to “push the developments of these automatons ahead […], manufacturing them in series,” in the manner of Zapparoni? (p. 104) Will man be superseded by his mechanised replica, by his  automatic alter ego?

“I was like a man of a former civilization who stands at a traffic intersection” Richard finds himself thinking. (p. 105)

Just like “the first automobiles which made the horses shy,” the existence of the glass bees marks the beginning of change. “The horses sensed what was in store for them. Since then the world has changed.” (p. 34) At the moment when Richard discovers the glass bees, and later on the cut-off ears floating in the pond, he senses that the world has undergone yet another change. He senses all too well that he does not want to be a part of this changed world. He’d rather stick to his own defeatism, go home to his Teresa, and look for another job. When Zapparoni reveals to him the story behind the cut-off ears, and welcomes him aboard the new establishment as an arbiter of change, he reconsiders his options.

“I might now conclude my story as in those novels where one presses on to a happy ending.

Other principles hold good here. Today, only the person who no longer believes in a happy ending, only he who has consciously renounced it, is able to live. A happy century does not exist; but there are moments of happiness, and there is freedom in the moment. […]

Soon perhaps, I shall describe in detail the consequences which my position as an arbitrator involved, and my experiences within the Zapparoni’s domain. (Until now I had been only in the outer courts.) Only a person who does not know the force of destiny will assume that my evil star faded out. We do not escape our boundaries or our innermost being. We do not change. It is true we may be transformed, but we always walk within our boundaries, within the marked-off circle. […]

There were rooms into which I had never looked before, and there were also great temptations; until finally my evil star triumphed again. Who knows, however, if my evil star might not be my lucky star? Only the end will tell.

But that evening, driving back to the plant in the little underground train, I firmly believed that my bad luck was over. One of the cars which I admired that morning took me back to the city. Fortunately some shops were still open here and there; I could buy myself a new suit. For Teresa I bought a nice summer dress with red stripes, which reminded me of the one in which I had seen her for the first time. It fitted to perfection – I knew her measurements. She had shared many hours with me, mainly the bitter ones.

We went out for dinner; it was one of the day one never forgets. Quite soon the happenings at Zapparoni’s garden began to fade in my memory. There is much that is illusory in techniques. But I never forgot Teresa’s words, and her smile when she spoke. Now she was happy about me. This smile was more powerful than all the automatons – it was a ray of reality.” (last chapter, pp. 148-149)

Can this be made into a thriller, a horror, or a science-fiction movie?

To me it is “a ray of reality.” It is the book or the movie in which man is wandering through the convoluted maze of his thoughts and recollections while being confronted with the genius, the middle- and master-minds of the present.  The fact that he finds his way back home does not exclude the possibilities of getting lost again in the future. However, there is a ray of light that pierces through defeat, loss and disappointment, and this is love. Whoever follows it is led on, safely, home.

In the darkness of today or tomorrow, one only has to follow the light.

Young Poets of Krakow – The Joyful Irreverence of Youthful Thinking

Together at a drink in Dynia, celebrating the young Krakow poets new book

Ladies and gentlemen, on Thursday, November 19th,  I had the pleasure of meeting the young Krakow poets (whether Krakowians by birth or spiritual affiliation is only for them to decide), and of celebrating the publication of their poetry anthology,
. . . wszystko razem z niebem na osciez rozdarte.
This is the fifth consecutive year in which the WBP (the Voivodeship Library in Krakow) and The Youth Education Centre Henryk Jordan have selected the best poems to be included in an anthology after a literary competition.
The warmth of their welcome added to the subtlety of the tongue-untying effect of the drinks and out of hidden, inner Slavic resources I found myself  articulating in Polish.
There has to be a start at some point, I thought, so what better opportunity than that?
I have to mention that my motivation was supported throughout the evening by the familiarity and openness of Katarzyna Grzesiak who, a poet herself, could write indefinitely about love.

Dominika (first left), Katarzyna (second left) and the young poets

Even though we met only days before, we embarked on a common territory of faith where the belief in trans-linguistic communication is an acknowledged rule of law.
Poets of different expression will find a way to communicate. That’s what we thought, and that’s what we did, as I discovered yet another proving ground for using Polish. It was, I think, the best thing that could have happened to my Polish, and I have to thank everyone present there for their great support!
Looking back on that evening, I’m wondering whether, in terms of wisdom, the youthful thinking differs from the more experienced, knowledgeable thinking.
What do you think about it?
The answer doesn’t have to be either yes or no, as any larger concept of thinking rejects simplistic tailoring.In truth, we are all suspended, at different points, in thinking. Young and old, citizens of one country and foreigners, such distinctions disappear, as thinking breaks free and we see ourselves living our inner lives on the edges and rifts of our lonesome individualities, as we see ourselves as children sharing one huge sandbox and playing games of life under the same blue.
Should you, the reader, see in what you’ve read so far a sign of youthful irreverent thinking on my part, I confess to it: I am guilty as charged, and I am going to put it in writing, just as before, so keep on reading!

Maksymilian Novak-Zemplinski – AGITABILIS – The Irreverence of Floating

Wyspianski Pavillon, Krakow, November 6 - 7, 2009

Wyspianski Pavilion, Krakow, November 6 - 7, 2009



What is the artist’s eye meant to encompass within its gaze?

Maksymilian Novak-Zemplinski’s eye encompasses the past and the future, the mysteries of civilizations past and upcoming, in a realm of fantasy and awe.

The force of insight blares out of solid frames. It blows into the sails of flying objects of the past and future, and in this blowing it alerts the gazer of an emergent mystery.

The revered motion in Zemplinski’s universe is flying, floating in a wind of unpredictability,

as well as resting, resting on doubt, resting against reason, logic or physical precepts, resting on the edge of faith.

                                 Inside A G I T A B I L I S

Inside A G I T A B I L I S

The spaciousness of vision allows the eye to relax. The paradox occurs when the eye brushes past encrypted symbols

and equilibrium challenges.

In this universe, man’s presence is not denied. Ghostlike figures accompany huge flying objects, together with stray beasts or stone-carved faces.

In a painting man’s presence is elevated to myth – undeniably a self-portrait.

Maksimilian Novak-Zemplinski, Alina Alens, and "The Incomplete Fantasy We Call Love"

Maksimilian Novak-Zemplinski, Alina Alens, and "The Incomplete Fantasy We Call Love"

The journey is ongoing, and this is maybe the most important:

being in motion, floating, flying, escaping into wonder and mystery.

Follow the eye of the mind

and step into a parallel, magical side of life!

Be sure to enjoy the ride, apart from solving its riddles!

Ingrid Ledent – The Irreverence of Time

5 November, 5pm – The International Cultural Centre in Krakow,

The Ravens Hall

I had been listening to Ingrid Ledent speaking about “litho” in a self-revealing speech.

Within an hour and some minutes, a transparent channel was forged as speech travelled into sight and hearing could envision the larger context of  what it was, back then, the art and life in Belgium, Prague or the US. From mere coincidences to serendipity – the smart use of coincidences, art influences the artist just as much as the artist is trying to influence it in return. True art is self-revealing, true art is honest. “I have always been in my art” each of her works  seems to say about Ledent. There was a time for struggle, for fighting the inadequacy of expression, and this time has been included in all her works, until it was refined to invisibility. This is how the initial struggle, the dissatisfaction with “lotography,” gave way to lithography. Ledent’s “loto” led her to integrate the concepts of “communication” and “reproducibility,” to “incorporate the body in the artistic work.” In time, the accidental, pure “litho” has given way to a mixture of “litho”  and new media. If, in recent years, technology may have caught up with craftsmanship, the value of intuition has always been at work in what Ingrid Ledent has created.

Thus, following an intuitive and self-revealing trail, the alphabet of the artist was made clear for the rest of us. Admirable truths were shared, and a spell of magic inherent to gist and focus, to Ledent’s art, was spread. The art is in “me” and the “me” is in art. Here we are offered a perfect example of time’s irreverence: the duration of “me” in what the artist calls her art.

Ingrid Ledent, Alina Alens and "The Incomplete Fantasy We Call Love"

Ingrid Ledent, Alina Alens, and "The Incomplete Fantasy We Call Love"

As a continuation of Ingrid Ledent’s discourse about duration and time, I proceeded by asking her about the way ahead. The channel previously forged was fortified, and, between eyes reaching far into the horizon of the same metaphors, the flow was re-directed between a “you” and an “I” caught in the same stream of consciousness.

I found it fascinating to watch the making of a “litho” video.  It reminded me of the sawdust story a student of mine had shared at one of my classes, but I’ll have to tell you this story another time.

What is Ingrid Ledent’s secret? some may ask. To me the answer is simple: her desire to reveal the secret of her art.

We have to thank her for that!

Per Olov Enquist – The Irreverence of Transparency

Aula of Collegium Novum UJ, Krakow

Per Olov Quist at the meeting "Inne zycie" during the 1st edition of the Conrad Festival

November 4, the Aula of Collegium Novum. Per Olov Enquist on life, writing, and the future of literature.

“If everything started so well, how could it end so badly?”

The writer writes with low intermissions, filling the thought-rigged frame with life. His life? His long dead father’s life? Your life? My life?

Life floats in and out of hard covers. It permeates the print, and in its overflow it even gives you a lesson in diving.

A Romanian writer once said all valuable work  is perfused with autobiography. What is autobiography, I ask, other than our answer to the questions of Life?

The journey out of the Islandic night brought out the gestures of surrender and irreverence: the surrender to the grip of creative writing and the irreverence of transparency.

The reality in the book is different from and, yet, it is indeed related to the reality as you and I know it.

The work as a period (“.”) is meant to bring closure. Before writing, the period awaits. It settles in the memory after the ink dries out.

“Here’s a question I cannot answer: What next?” More transparency…