Let’s hope creative fervour doesn’t wane

Journalist Michal Procházka interviews the Dutch Bohemist Kees Mercks


Kees Mercks

Kees Mercks

These days, Czech art theory grapples with how to study Czech culture in general. The concept of a nation-state was actually first coined by the Communists who simultaneously plunged the country into subjugation by a foreign power. Shall we examine Czech literature within the scope of postcolonial studies because we were shaped by German and Russian language to such an extent? Or rather refer to the historical realm of Central Europe where Czechs, Germans, Jews and others lived side by side?
You’re currently in the midst of a complex situation – stuck between the past and the future. I’ve been to Prague recently and once again I’ve witnessed the city’s transformation inflicted by globalization. You’re probably not going to find so many shops selling tourist trash in any other city – if at least it was original Czech stuff. Almost everything is in the hands of foreigners – money is what counts. It’s hardly Czech culture; oh well… Europe is collapsing and our identity is receding. It’s even more disheartening considering the fact that the Czechs fought so hard to preserve their own language and culture.

Dissidents of the 1970s were impassioned about what they were doing and for what they were sacrificing themselves, and you could sense that. Despite being forced to live in difficult conditions, they resisted oppression with remarkable creativity with which foreigners associated Central Europe. These days, however, I fear that it might disappear.

A while ago, I read an interview with Ivan Vyskočil who said that Czech culture boomed in the late fifties and in the beginning of the following decade because people had to reflect on something substantial. They had no other choice. Today, he feels being surrounded by superficiality. I don’t dare to say if he’s right. Nevertheless, I get the impression that the culture of the new era is still in its infancy and it struggles to speak to contemporary Dutch readers.

For instance, in Topol’s works, old national traumas resurface in new guises. Urban tries his hand at new genres, borrowing elements from marginal literature that is sort of known here. If this guarantees success abroad or if it remains too “Czech”, I don’t know. What pertains latest Czech literature, I’ll gladly pass the flag to younger generation of translators.


Excerpt from an interview published on literarni.cz.