May 6, 2009

Gustaw Herling on Konstanty Jelenski


Not very long ago I was present when a well-known Paris publisher proposed publishing a volume of his essays in French. He shrugged his shoulders and received the offer with a conventional expression of thanks but was not interested in the slightest. Later the two of us went to a café and I tried to persuade him to reconsider the offer. He laughed: “Too much is written and published now, we could drown in a sea of printed paper.” And yet… in the “symposium of polygots” organized by Stempowski in 1961 in Kultura, this is what Kot said: “Why doesn’t the polygot-writer in exile always decide to do his writing in one language? It happens occasionally – and the results are often excellent: Pietrkieiwicz in English and Cioran and Ionesco in French. In my case, that of the ‘critic’ or ‘journalist,’ it is rather a different matter. My greatest satisfaction comes from writing in Polish for Kultura, for the simple reason that my articles evoke some response from a circle of friends, however small... I may have more French or English readers, but for them I am just one of a thousand anonymous hacks.” He had a cult of friendship, he was lavish with it, sometimes even extravagant.

I also remember the day I brought him the author’s copies of his Zbiegowie okolicznosci [Coincidences]. He barely gave them a glance, but when he accompanied me to the bus stop after tea, I watched from the window of the bus and saw him draw out a copy from under his raincoat; he avidly leafed through the pages as he walked, closed the book, opened it again, weighted it in his hands and smoothed it out. If he had looked up for a moment, I am sure I would have seen totally unbridled joy.

If I had to tell what the world is for me
I would take a hamster or a hedgehog or a mole
and place him in a theater seat one evening
and, bringing my ear close to his humid snout
would listen to what he says about the spotlights
sounds of the music, and movements of the dance

These were probably his favorite lines of Milosz. And this is what he had to say about the verse: “No one has expressed more beautifully the sole philosophical revolutions of our times (compared with which neo-Marxism, existentialsim, and structuralism are the equivalent of shorter or longer skirts in women’s fashions) – arising from the conviction that man is neither the ‘lord of all he surveys’ nor the centre of the universe, so that any ‘humanism’ is now impossible."

- Gustaw Herling on Konstanty Jelenski


No comments: