Counting elegies

One of the most shocking, penetrating and devastating poems ever written comes from the Nobel prize winner Wislawa Szymborska. Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh translated it as Elegiac calculation. It’s pretty audacious of me to suggest an alternative translation. Yet I feel compelled to seek feedback on my own version of the entire poem, posted below:

Counting elegies

How many of those I knew
(if indeed I knew them)
men, women
(if this separation stands)
have passed over this threshold
(if it’s a threshold)
have run over this bridge
(if it’s a bridge)

How many, after a shorter or longer life
(if it still makes any difference for them)
good, because it has started
bad, because it has ended
(unless they would have preferred to say otherwise)
have found themselves on the other shore
(if they got there
and the other shore exists)

I’ve not been granted the certainty
of their fate
(even if it’s at least one common fate
and still fate)

(if with this word I don't restrict)
is behind them now
(if not in front)

How many of them have jumped out of the speeding time
and is sweetly vanishing in the distance
(if the perspective is to be trusted)

How many
(if that’s a sensible question,
if it’s possible to reach the final sum
until he who counts won’t add up himself)
have plummeted into that deepest sleep
(unless the deeper one exists)

See you,
Till tomorrow,
Till the next meeting.
They don’t want,
(if they don’t) to repeat this.
Subjected to the endless
(unless otherwise) silence.
Preoccupied only with that
(if only that)
which is forced by their absence.

The poem by Wislawa Szymborska
Translation by Pawel Kuczynski


Who sees the farthest?

24th of November. A screening of 22 min. from
“1 Lawnswood Gardens: the world according to Zygmunt Bauman”
Directed by Paweł Kuczyński,
written by Paweł Kuczyński and Anna Zeidler-Janiszewska

After the screening Zygmunt Bauman entered the hall to meet the crowd. The discussion, including Anna Zeidler-Janiszewska and Tomasz Majewski, was devoted to the Bauman's just published book "Between moment and beauty. About art in the racing world" (in Polish). The panelists agreed that the artists are like army forerunners while philosophers are the troops who come afterward when the field has been scanned and recognized. I kept silent on the issue however would like to ad here my two cents:

Bauman himself with the visceral, emotional reaction that his work produces proves that the rational observation and reasoning can be emotionally satisfying and a true forerunner of the approaching times, a profound opener of meaning and sense. (Which are the qualities of great art.)

Secondly, perhaps the pre-visual and pre-conceptual domain is the common source of power and creativity in any discipline. Perhaps the veil from which true talent gets its flow is common to sculptures, philosophers, musicians, dancers, writers etc. Those who are able to drink from it directly and who have the capabilities to pass it to us use specific of “art” or “thinking”, or “life”. Perhaps the source is the primary and the same to all, while the language via which it gets communicated is secondary.

And so one more time (at least in my mind) it turns out that it is not "what tools" but "who" that's the most important when seeking meaning, sense and comfort in our common journeys on this planet.

Photos by PK.


A Zygmunt Bauman documentary film update

Prof. Zygmunt Bauman during the Gloria Artis Medal ceremony.
Photo by Pawel Kuczynski

On November 19th. Bogdan Zdrojewski, the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Poland presented prof. Zygmunt Bauman with a Gloria Artis Golden Medal. The ceremony included a 22 min. of selected scenes from a documentary “1 Lawnswood Gardens: the world according to Zygmunt Bauman”, the project produced and directed by yours truly.

The same selection from the film will be included in two public appearances by prof. Bauman during his stay in Poland:

22 of November, Monday. Poznań. Teatr Ósmego Dnia

24 of November, Wednesday. Łódź. Muzeum Sztuki MS2


How deep is the surface?

“The truth is always on the surface”
says Prof. Lewinsky (Christopher Janczar) in
“Phenomenology of Truth”.
Written/directed by Pawel Kuczynski

Q&A. PK and prof. Agnieszka Kozyra, the moderator.
Behind - the final frame of the film.

Yesterday prof. Lewinsky via his screen appearance met with a group of academicians and students during the Japan Days at Warsaw University. The ensuing discussion posed a question about the connections between the phenomenology of truth and the Kyoto school of philosophy.

According to prof. Kozyra the Kyoto school stresses the affirmation of our sensual experience of reality. Such experience should not be thrown away even when we attain enlightenment. The newly acquired understanding does not invalidate the sensual knowledge nor does it make it something of a lesser value or transitory. In Buddhism there is no escape from the real world and there is no need for such escape. Each moment even the most ordinary is as important as the eternity, or simply is the eternity. Such mind frame was for example behind the evolution of the tea ceremony - which developed from ordinary to celebratory.

If so, a possible similarity between the Kyoto thinkers and Lewinsky is most likely only a skin deep. Or “only on the surface” if one could quip about the Lewinsky’s pet intellectual project. Would the sophistication of the Kyoto school be something that Lewinsky could endorse? Not really, I would venture to say.

Lewinsky is much simpler in his approach. The Kyoto sages cherish the reality of the now because of its context in the much greater whole. For them the big endorses the small. “Each moment is the eternity” validates one by the other. For Lewinsky such distinction would be another philosophical disgrace. He avoids metaphysical or transcendental undertones of any kind. There is only the surface.

In a synchronistic follow up, the next evening I watched “A room and a half’, an absolutely superb creative biography/fantasy of Joseph Brodsky. Afterwards, I found an interview with Brodsky conducted by Nick Watson and placed in the archives of The Argotist magazine. Here is a quote:

“Nick Watson: "Appearances are all there is" (Less Than One). David Hockney has said "all art is surface" and that surface is "the first reality". Are you talking about the same thing and what depths are negated by privileging surface?

Joseph Brodsky: There are no depths. Appearance is the summary of phenomena.”

This is the gist of Lewinsky’s thought! I wish him and Brodsky could get a chance to hang out together. In Kyoto perhaps. Because the question of the nature of surface is still unanswered.


Thickness of time

Warsaw. Claude Lanzmann promotes his just published autobiography “Le Lièvre de Patagonie” (The Patagonian Hare). Somebody asks about his former leftist political views. He explains the war and post war realities and then adds that when talking about the past “one cannot forget about the thickness of time”, that back then not everything was obvious. (This reminds me of Kierkegaard’s “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”)

Flipping trough the book I find a scene during a high school lesson on Rabelais. Young Lanzmann unwisely brings up Bergson. His favorite teacher cuts him with “Boy, Rabelais did not read Bergson”. (This has cured Lanzmann from comparativeness.)

Both insights fit with his documentary style in “Shoah”, the film that seems the end result of an almost alchemical process of entering “thickness of time” while avoiding any external, that is comparative, yearnings. Sticking to the subject matter no matter what. No matter the pain. Early on in “Shoah” after one of the survivors tells a particularly shocking horror story, the director asks off screen - why do you talk about it. Because you Mr. Lanzmann insist, comes the replay.

It took Lanzmann 12 years to make the film. He says that that during those years “the time has stopped”, for him and afterward he had to “reconstruct the time”. Yet even now his relation to time is skewed because of that experience. (Something was off with the translation so I suspect that in French Lanzmann articulated it clearer) Still, that his directorial alchemy involves time becomes apparent from the very first reel of “Shoah”.

Lanzmann in person is remarkably sharp, honest and upfront in his controversial opinions. He is also warm and with a healthy distance to himself. The Q&A is conducted by surprisingly aggressive interviewer who does not always sound smart. A few times Lanzmann boils (“with all due respect Anna, that’s a dumb thing to say”). Yet afterward he reaches out and squeezes her hand in a gesture of (?) reconciliation or forgiveness. I am almost shocked by this small, fast and spontaneous looking action. Yet, after a few seconds it all becomes clear. Of course he won’t hold any grudges. He knows that it’s OK. He has pierced through the thickness of time.