Follow by Email

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Prague, Athens of the Centre; Greek Revival Architecture and the Promise of Freedom; Bohumil Hrabal.

I keep re-reading this wonderful passage from Bohumil Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude (Příliš hlučná samota, 1976), in the English translation by Michael Henry Heim (1991):

“Wandering through the streets of Prague…I noticed something I had never noticed before, namely that the facades, the fronts of all the buildings, public and residential - and I could see them all the way up to the drainpipes – were a reflection of everything Hegel and Goethe had dreamed of and aspired to, to the Greece in us, the beautiful Hellenic model and goal. I saw Doric columns and frieze-covered gutters, I saw Corinthian columns with florid leafage, I saw Ionic columns with volutes and shapely shafts, I saw garlanded cornices, templelike vestibules, caryatids and balustrades reaching to the roofs of the buildings – and I walked in their shadows. I had seen it all in the poorer sections of town, too, Greece plastered over the most ordinary buildings, their portals adorned with naked men and naked women and the boughs and buds of alien flora. Anyway, on I walked, thinking about what the boilerman with the university education had told me, that Eastern Europe doesn’t start outside the gates of Prague, it starts at the last Empire-style railroad station somewhere in Galicia, at the outer limits of the Greek tympanum, and Prague’s involvement with the Greek spirit goes deeper than the facades of its buildings, it goes straight into the heads of the populace, because classical gymnasia and humanistic universities have stuffed millions of Czech heads full of Greece and Rome. And while the sewers of Prague provide the scene for a senseless war between two armies of rats, the cellars are headquarters for Prague’s fallen angels, university-educated men who have lost a battle they never fought, yet continue to work toward a clearer image of the world”.

Thanks to Dr. Flavio Andreis for bringing this quirky classic Czech novella (about life in a police state, and much more) to my attention. I'd somehow missed it (although a huge fan of Closely Observed Trains). I'm not sure I really liked the book, or empathized with the narrator, apart from a few passages:

"If I could go to Greece, I said to myself, I'd make a pilgrimage to Stagira, the birthplace of Aristotle, I'd run around the track at Olympia...If I could go to Greece with that Brigade of Socialist Labour, I'd lecture to them on all the suicides, on Demosthenes, on Plato, on Socrates, if I could go to Greece with the Brigade of Socialist Labour. But they belonged to a new era, a new world, it would all go right over their heads...Instead of compacting clean paper in the Melantrich cellar I will follow Seneca, I will follow Socrates, and here, in my press, in my cellar, choose my own fall, which is ascension..."

Listening to Hrabal (on the right)

The Prague Winter

Příliš hlučná samota, samizdat 1976; first official publication 1989

"Bohumil Hrabal suffered a fatal fall from the fifth floor of a hospital while feeding pigeons. Suicide from the fifth floor can be found in his stories and he wrote letters in which he admires certain people who had chosen that particular method to end their lives" (Wikipedia).

Hrabal: The View from the fifth floor, James Hopkin, TLS

Obituary, The Independent

Radio Praha on the literary legend

How many of its readers truly appreciated this grimly philosophical novella, Too Loud a Solitude? Perhaps the majority of them, at least in Socialist Czechoslovakia, and not just the censors, had "no feeling for what the book might mean".

"Somebody had to decide that the book was unfit to read, and someone had to order it pulped", as Hrabal describes the complicated life-cycle of a book and the skills of many skilled individuals that go into its production, and its ultimate destruction.

No comments:

Post a Comment