The art of critical thinking

“I inflect my life in the present tense,” Claudio Magris confessed. The meeting with him, just like the conversation about language with Tahar Ben Jelloun and the discussion about Kronos, attracted crowds of people. The Conrad Festival in Krakow definitely is an event to attend.

During the evening meeting at the International Cultural Centre, Claudio Magris talked to Grzegorz Jankowicz about fundamental issues: identity, descent, and literature. Among others, he talked about how at some point he simply “had to” leave his hometown, Trieste, not only because he was just moving to Turin to study there. Trieste still evokes strong emotions in the author of Microcosms and Danubio, although – as Magris said himself: “I did not have such an oedipal relationship with the city as Kafka did with Prague. You have to return to your home and family once in a while, after all. When you leave it, you cannot forget about it,” the writer said.

Asked about the sense of literature, Magris answered: “There is the kind of literature that admires the world and the kind that shows its horror, the kind that looks for the sense of life and the kind that comes face to face with a lack of sense.” Enquired about his attitude towards the past, he answered that we should not become too nostalgic. “I always inflect my life in the present tense,” he said. Among the many themes raised during the evening conversation, the one concerning culture was also interesting. Asked by Jankowicz about where to look for a cultural impulse and energy fuel for contemporary European world, Magris reminded that culture is not only literature, sculpture or music. “Culture is a way of life. It is not only the ability to write a nice book, but above all, the art of critical thinking,” the writer said.

Right before the conversation with Magris, a discussion about Gombrowicz’s Kronos took place at Pałac Pod Baranami. Published several months ago in a sound philological setting, the previously unpublished volume of notes by the author of Ferdydurke met with negative reception on the part of many readers at the time. Participants of the festival panel: Jerzy Franczak, Professor Michał Paweł Markowski, and Professor Ryszard Koziołek – in the presence of Rita Gombrowicz – agreed, however, that the publication of this text was a good idea. “What others do with Kronos is often more interesting than Kronos itself,“ Jerzy Franczak commented on the storm of criticism around Gombrowicz’s volume. “In my opinion, Kronos plays a role in Gombrowicz’s life similar to the role of Baltazar in Mrożek’s life. It makes it possible to reconstruct the past,” stated Professor Ryszard Koziołek. And Professor Michał Paweł Markowski regretted that no thematic index was compiled for Kronos. “We would find out that “boredom”, “emptiness”, and “nothingness” are the book’s most frequently used words.”

Words – the isolated ones and those penetrating the head and the imagination – were one of the topics of the meeting with Tahar Ben Jelloun.  The audience also did not disappoint – just like at the meeting with Magris and the discussion about Kronos. The award for the large audience was an interesting conversation conducted with Ben Jelloun by Małgorzata Szczurek. She asked him, among others, about his choice of language: why French, and not Arabic? “Initially, I was able to write in both,” Ben Jelloun said. “But one would have to be Beckett in order to write in two languages. I chose French. It was here that I found freedom.” One of the interesting themes provoked by a question from the audience was an attempt at referring to the situation of contemporary Morocco. “We talk straight out about schizophrenia,“ the writer said. “On Friday evenings many people go to the mosque in proper attire, only to consume forbidden alcohol the next day.”

Before the meeting with Ben Jelloun, the festival day included a discussion about extreme reporters. It was attended by war correspondent Andrzej Meller and traveller Mariusz Wilk. The meeting of the authors – each of them sharing different experiences in their own way – was hosted by Michał Olszewski.

Early in the afternoon, Andrzej Skrendo talked to Piotr Paziński about the memory of generations. The discussion was a kind of an introduction to the next meeting – about generations. It was hosted by Cezary Michalski and attended by: Jan Burzyński, Michał Sutowski, Maciej Urbanowski, and Seweryn Blumsztajn.

Two exhibitions were also opened yesterday. The first one, presenting Nicolas Presl’s works – at the Arteteka of the Regional Public Library in Krakow. We encourage all the good comic book enthusiasts to see it. The second vernissage took place at Bunkier Sztuki, and its central figure was Bohdan Butenko, whom one may easily call the legend of Polish graphic arts. The exhibition of the Master’s works will remain open until the 10th of November – you just have to see it.

Today at the Festival: to begin with, at 10 a.m. – A Reading Lesson with… Piotr Paziński, and at 12 p.m. – Iran: the Possibility of Literature, i.e. a meeting with Houshang Asadi. At 2 p.m. – a discussion: From Literature to a Letter with the participation of Krzysztof Bartnicki, Jerzy Jarniewicz, and Magda Heydel, and at 4 p.m. – two events:  a lecture of W.J.T. Mitchell, outstanding professor of English Studies and Art History at the University of Chicago, taking place at the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art, and a meeting with Timothy D. Snyder concerning Joseph Conrad’s prose in the eyes of the American historian at Pałac Pod Baranami. At 4:30 p.m. – the long-awaited meeting with the queen of Scandinavian crime novels, Åsa Larsson; at 6:30 p.m. – a meeting with the Brothers Quay, and at 8:30 p.m. – a meeting with Cees Nooteboom. At 7 p.m. in turn, we would like to invite you to the seat of Radio Kraków (al. Słowackiego 22) for a radio drama entitled Radio behind the Iron Curtain with the participation of Anne Applebaum. We would also like to invite all cinema enthusiasts to the Kino Pod Baranami cinema for the third evening with the works of the Brothers Quay. The screening begins at 9.30 p.m.

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