"There are plenty of motivations
to justify the destruction of this civilization"
Michael March for Právo, April 2002
You have dedicated this years Festival to the French author Jean Genet (1910 - 1986) a his warning Beware of pure concepts. Why Genet and why such a motto?
We have chosen Genet as a genius writer and a knight of beauty and revolution. Like Rimbaud, he also stood on the barricades. He was on the side of Black Panthers and Palestinians, but he warned: "The artist must be humble, and artistic work will become more and more an experience of humility. I do not say stupidity, but humility. Whereas at present, whether in the bourgeois world or in the revolution, it is an instrument of power." We have chosen Genet to bring forward the question of the sense and the idea of revolution. Your recent experience here also has a sort of double-meaning and some people consider the velvet revolution to be a velvet suicide. We have also chosen Genet to present French literature on the Festival, and also Alain Robbe-Grillet, the father of nouveu roman. He also belongs to revolutionary themes and he can participate in our discussions.
In your opinion, is our present era ripe for thinking about revolution? Prague, the official scene and its social, political and cultural top, but also the unofficial spheres, at home in front of television, is not very revolutionary. I would say the contrary.
But the most interesting writers are those who provoke and come with the new ideas. And new ideas are revolutionary. That is one point. And the second is that right now we are in the state of economic war started by the tragic events in New York. In my opinion it is similar to the shots in Sarajevo nearly ninety years ago. Since than the whole world is in conflicts and we do not know how to solve them. It is about ideas and I consider revolution as a basis for our Festival debates.
Revolution or the word revolution?
Both. The theme of revolution is a tool how to look at the society, and those writers who come here, are exactly such radical personalities and perceive the society from the angle of the need to change it - that is revolution. We want to set them next to writers who in the Czech society come from the similar background.
It all goes back to Hérakleitos and his panta rhei - everything changes. Everything changes, and ideas also change. Revolution is just another word for change. We still have a sparkle of hope, and it is hidden in literature. Writers and their view of the society offer sort of a generalization of how the society perceives itself. It is a view from a certain platform. And our Festival is Festival of ideas.
So our conservatives at home and in the Parliament need not be afraid that when writers, who have various forms of revolution in their program, come to Prague, they will encourage people to the building of barricades and class struggle?
They should be trembling and fear their end. We have to remember that e.g. Hitler was a conservative. And Hitler said the he is a revolutionary against revolution. This is an extreme example, but the truth is that all governments are very nervous when faced with revolutionary ideas, and that is why they usurp the right to define what is revolution. And writers have to find out about these practices, they have to protect the language against misuse. Kafka, for example, used his a sort of parody of the language of bureaucracy. Every power creates its own "kitch" language, such as has been ironized by e.g. Kundera.
The language of bureaucracy and politics is used in such a structure that goes against people. And for example the language that is used the Czech Republic is very much influenced by the Habsburg bureaucratic structure. This old structure was also used by the Communist power, it helped it to hold on to power. And the power helped the language. That is something that the Czechs can feel very intensely. And they fight against this language - by humour, irony.
So, when I say that we will speak about revolution, I do not mean to encourage a new French revolution. We are trying to find our place in this present state of immobility and to find a way towards something new, which people can work with and which could be useful.
Do you consider culture, literature, to be a phenomenon able to change the world? Or at least to change the routine order?
Sure. Without culture there is no civilization. Imagine that culture would be substituted by commerce. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz says that "people without culture would be unusable creatures with a few instincts, simple feelings and no intellect."
Is it possible that culture can mislead you, can give you a false image of the world?
There are no false texts in literature, if it is written truthfully. Lautréamont knew that "right is only that who is not human." Jean Genet said that "mastery is in the art of understanding the meaning of words".
Do you think that a writer should sometimes sacrifice his art for the service of the public?
Everybody has to decide for themselves. You cannot generalize a personal decision. Take e.g. the Indian writer Arundhati Roy, who will also come to Prague. She is very active in protesting against the project of dams in India, where hundreds of thousands of people would loose their homes. She has been sentenced to a symbolic one day in prison and a fine of 2000 rupees (1500 Kč), and if she would not have paid, she would stay in jail for another 30 days. She accepted the sentence, because she does not see her case as a conflict with the Supreme Court, but she puts emphasis of the freedom of speech. And she has chosen to bring this freedom to Prague.
And what about you? Are you not tired preparing the Festival?
Beyond words. (Laughs). My own life is parallel to the Festival and sometimes we meet. The Festival takes part in Prague, but it gets a very strong response in the world, mainly thanks to the Internet and our link to The Guardian web pages. Prague becomes sort of joint, and everything that meets here goes out into the world again. This helps me to feel new energy.
Do you feel changed by living in Prague? Richer? Disillusioned?
I feel a great burden. But nothing inside me is changed, only the focus of my perspective and sometimes the perception of how things are interconnected.
You have managed to stay here for a long time; does it mean you can breathe comfortably here?
Prague is my home, I live here, have my family here, and the city is as natural and sometimes as unbearable to me as every home.