Thursday, July 28, 2005

a conversation with jachym topol - part three

Q: I haven’t read all of your reviews, of course, but I get the feeling that you’re being overly modest about your critical reception. When I ask the older writers, Who’s the best among the younger writers, they’re all telling me, Topol.

A: It’s because this is a small country and there are not a lot of people who write books.

Q: But even if there’s only three writers in the whole country, if they’re all saying, Topol, then it must mean something. I get the sense that you are very well accepted, that people are impressed with your work.

A: That’s only another type of trap.

Q: If you start believing the good things that people say about you, then sometimes they change their opinion?

A: Yes. For example, there are some young writers and they think, You know, Topol, he’s published six books so he must be great, but before I published these books I didn’t know anything. The books I’ve published so far have brought me some sort of happiness or fortune but I also feel like my life is like a ball and chain on my foot, sort of dragging me down.

Q: Once you published Sister, then writing became a job?

A: Yes, but it takes many other jobs to make a living.

Q: But being a writer is part of your identity now.

A: I have to get used to it.

Q: Once there’s that expectation does writing become more of a wife than a mistress?

A: According to Jung, first it’s a passion, then it’s a duty and finally it’s a vampire.

Q: Where are you now? Are you at the duty stage? You’re awfully young to be at the vampire stage.

A: This is a question I’m asking myself everyday.

Q: But you still have some passion left, don’t you?

A: Yes, it’s a mix of these three things. Maybe I’m young for a writer, but I am old enough to remember how great it was to be unknown, to sit in the pub and drink with my friends. Now there are pubs that I can’t go to because young female poets bring me their work to judge and it’s a drag. Their work is not good. And there are other small problems. In some ways, Prague is a small town and your neighbors know everything.

Q: Who has a worse problem with attention, you or your brother? In America, most writers, unless they are very, very popular, are ignored, but even the singers and guitarists of local bands get lots of attention. Is his band popular enough for him to be bothered?

A: The band is really popular and my brother, as the singer, gets a lot of attention but I think he probably handles it better because he’s a performer. I think he needs it. He likes it. He’s enjoying it.
I don’t want to complain, but it’s a new situation for me and I haven’t gotten used to it yet. My idea has always been to be at the margin, on the edge, because I come from the underground and so this is different. And the position at the edge has its charm.

Q: But you’re married now, and you have a child, so my guess would be that you don’t take as many risks as you used to because now you have people dependent upon you.

A: This is the biggest risk.

Q: Can you be on the edge as a writer and responsible as a person?

A: I’m undergoing a period of adjustment. Also, thanks to people like you, newspaper people and journalists, I’ve gained more attention and this causes me to have to adjust. It’s sort of profitable for the writer to be on the margin, not to be so well-known.

Q: Profitable in what way?

A: Advantageous. There’s also the desire to escape from the very heavy writer’s tradition in this small area, because traditionally writers have always been fighters for a high standard of the language. And since 1989, the writer, finally, has been able to be an individual, independent. I don’t like the fact that newspaper people and others keep asking about politics and other problems, as if the writer has to speak for others rather than just for himself. Ever since the National Revival at the end of the eighteenth century, the writer has had to speak for the nation. When I was in the underground, I had to speak for the nation because it was expected. The public thinks that you’re not doing your job if you are not speaking for others. It doesn’t matter who you are - a model, an athlete, a writer. You’re simply famous. You’re in the media.

a conversation with jachym topol - part one
a conversation with jachym topol - part two
a conversation with jachym topol - part four
a conversation with jachym topol - part five

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