Just as samizdat, Yoga is like a gateway drug. At least it was for me. One day I was opening my arms and the next thing I knew I was opening my mind…
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It is said that writers are people who, as children, did not receive sufficient rejection either from adults or peers and so are compelled to seek it relentlessly in later life. Jozef Imrich has written the War and Peace of escapes. Havel tackled free will, Tolstoy the meaning of life, Imrich practiced what they preached ... Citizen journalist's job is like a baker's work -- his rolls are tasty as long as they're fresh; after two days they're stale; after a week, they're covered with mould and fit only to be thrown out
Samizdat explores how these seemingly small acts of opposition played a crucial role in resisting the totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia, which was eventually displaced by the leaders of underground culture-including such producers of samizdat as writer and first president of Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel.
Cover of the samizdat edition of Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark
There are many special books in the British Library collections. However, for me there is one which evokes the very feeling of joy I felt as a child visiting a bookshop or a library. It is Vaclav Havel’s Pokouseni (‘Temptation’). Havel, Czech writer, dissident and former president, who passed away ten years ago this month, wrote this play inspired by the story of Dr Faust…
Eda Kriseova in her authorised biography of the Czech writer describes the creative process that lead to the birth of Temptation. It took Havel ten nights to finish the work. He was physically and mentally exhausted and ended up falling down the stairs and hurting his head. He was staying in his country house in Hradecko at the time. Feverish, hurt, trembling the playwright was cut from the world by a sudden snow storm without any food and no way out. Once Havel came back to the world he felt like he had got away from the devil himself. This strenuous yet cathartic creation process resulted in a play that many found disturbing. Presenting the clash of a metaphysical view of the world with a rational one – inflated to surreal and absurd – the play reflected a contemporary Czechoslovakian existence…
It is actually fitting that the literary work whose conception took such a toll on Havel’s body and mind was published as samizdat. The physicality of the copy we are lucky to have almost mirrors the process the writer went through to create it. It is not the clinical, perfectly cut and immaculately bound product of a mass manufacturer, but rather a raw body of paper turned with love and care into an artefact testifying to the tender effort of a craftsman. Every little detail adds to the story. Were it not for it, the book would look like a plain, boring file folder. Original and unique tape binding has the author’s name typed directly into the fabric before it was closed. What makes this edition exceptional is a collage on the cover and hand-printed linocut illustrations by another Czech dissident Viktor Karlik
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done,” Sydney Carton thinks on his way to the guillotine. That far better thing is dying tragically, for many reasons: to save an innocent man, to fulfill his own redemption, and—of course—to make us cry at the end of A Tale of Two Cities. The death scene is one of the sharpest tools in a writer’s toolbox, as likely to wound the writer themself as the reader—for if a well-written death scene can be thrilling, terrifying, or filled with despair, so can a poorly written one be bathetic, stupid, and eye-rolling.
? And can 2,500 years of them be distilled into a top 50 list? Dan Kois gives it a shot
Artemis is with us London Review of Books