Krakow – City of Literature

A confirmation of the information that Krakow has officially joined the exclusive circle of UNESCO Cities of Literature, as well as meetings with Joanna Bator and Peter Sloterdijk are undoubtedly the most important events of the first day of the 5th edition of the Conrad Festival.

The letter sent from Paris by Francesco Bandarin – UNESCO Assistant Director-General – dated the 18th of October 2013, leaves no doubt. After three years of efforts and preparations, Krakow has joined the Creative Cities Network in the area of literature as the seventh city in the world and the first in this part of Europe to be granted this honourable title. “The title of UNESCO City of Literature will open new possibilities for obtaining additional funds and set a direction of the development of literature in the city,” said Magdalena Sroka, Deputy Mayor of the City of Krakow for Culture and the Promotion of the City during yesterday’s briefing, during which this happy news was announced.

The fact that Krakow is indeed a city of literature and literature is the perfect medium has been emphasised by the organisers of the Conrad Festival for years. “Literature mediates between readers, writers, and at the same time between various worlds” – this is how the festival’s artistic director, Professor Michał Paweł Markowski, explained the idea of this year’s edition of the event. “Krakow is becoming a global city. It lives and breathes questions asked in various places on earth,” he added.

This year’s festival guests have also come from various places on earth. During yesterday’s press conference inaugurating the festival, Grzegorz Jankowicz, the festival’s executive director, encouraged everyone to take part in meetings with the Brothers Quay, for whom literature is “something like a trampoline”, and reminded about the meeting with outstanding Italian writer, essayist, and translator Claudio Magris, and the sure candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Cees Nooteboom. He also invited to the meeting with Kiran Desai and Sławomir Zubrzycki. The latter is a virtuoso on the viola organista – an instrument invented and designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Zubrzycki himself managed to construct the viola only several years ago. The author of the reconstruction presented its sound last night during a concert at Saint Peter and Paul’s Church.

Joanna Bator also gave an unusual concert, but performed with the use of different notation –
a concert of thought and reconstruction of the past. Winner of this year’s Nike Award for Ciemno, prawie noc (Dark, Almost Night) talked about how Japan came into her life and how she left the mythical – also for her writing – city of Wałbrzych. “When I completed my doctorate and was staying in New York, I had no idea what to do next,” Bator confessed. “One day, almost by accident, a friend sent me a form concerning a scholarship in Japan. I had one night to write a project and find a host. And I did. I sent my application at dawn. I soon found out that I am supposed to go to a foreign country for two years,” said the writer. “I had never been so lonely in my life as I was there.”

But it was in this loneliness that Joanna Bator – the writer was born. The Nike-winner admitted that she initially sent Piaskowa Góra (Sandy Mountain) to the publishing house under a pen name. She was convinced to publish it under her real name by Beata Stasińska, editor-in-chief at W.A.B., the publishing company which published Bator’s successive novels. The author of Dark, Almost Night explained that she associates Wałbrzych with a terrible and horrifying place, but also a place one keeps wanting to visit, explore, and see. “I spent 18 years there and left without looking back. I never returned there and probably never will. But when I write any narration, Wałbrzych often appears there.”

For Bator, the ideal novel is a two-code book. In practice, this means a text that engrosses thanks to the story itself, but at the same time includes a subtext, a hidden agenda. This ideal is put into practice by one of Bator’s favourite writers – Haruki Murakami. “Writing Dark, Almost Night left me ravaged for several months,” said the writer. “I began to write again only quite recently. In July, a character spoke, and with time, it began to flow. But the chaos after receiving the Nike Award does not favour creative work,” Bator admitted.

What favours and what hinders creative work – broadly defined, also philosophical – is what Professor Michał Paweł Markowski and outstanding thinker Peter Sloterdijk talked about in the evening. The meeting began with a commentary on three points in the philosopher’s biography: the Indian experience, professorship, and writing a libretto for an opera. Sloterdijk talked about the former two in a particularly vivid way, stating that it was the experiences of the 1960s and 1970s that sent him to the East, when as a 20- and 30-something, he was fascinated by alternative movements, psychotherapy, and ecology. “So we are talking about Hesse’s classic journey to the East filtered through a hippie experience,” Markowski responded. But the recipe for a philosophical life only seemed to be simple. The conversation between the philosopher and the literary scholar quickly moved to the key topic for the entire festival: the media. The thinkers quoted classical and modern media theories and referring to them, they talked, among others, about the philosopher as the one who reacts to what society lives and breathes, but at the same time one who resists the world. Their philosophical dialogue, dense with footnotes, also concerned the media diagnosis of the present. “We live in the times of iconic revolution,” Sloterdijk said, and added: “We are not able to create appropriate relations and interrelationships.” At the request for commentary on McLuhan’s thesis, according to which “the media are an extension of ourselves”, the philosopher referred to the theory of organ extension. According to this theory, a tank is an extension of a soldier, and a shoe an extension of the foot.

Today at the Festival: at 11:30 a.m. – A Reading Lesson with… Jerzy Franczak; at 2:00 p.m. – Not Like in Paradise, i.e. a meeting with Agnieszka Taborska; and at 4:00 p.m., Dariusz Czaja, Krzysztof Środa, and Adam Wodnicki, led by Anna Arno, will take us on a journey Somewhere further, somewhere else. An hour later, Agnieszka Taborska will open the Conspirators of Imagination exhibition at the Szara Kamienica Gallery. At the same time, a meeting with Mostafa Zamaninja – writer, publisher, and expert in Iranian culture – has been planned. At 6:00 p.m., Wojciech Kłosowski and Paweł Potoroczyn will talk about A clerk after Work. And in the evening, Marek Bieńczyk, Filip Springer, and Ryszard Koziołek will take us on a fascinating journey streaked with melancholy. Film enthusiasts will also find something for themselves today. First, at 7:00 p.m. – The Past directed by Asghar Farhadi, and at 9:30 p.m. – the first part of the film series dedicated to the works of the Brothers Quay will be screened. The film events will take place at the Kino Pod Baranami cinema.

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