Thursday, July 28, 2005

a conversation with jachym topol

Poet and fiction writer Jachym Topol was another Prague interview in July of 1998. The interview was conducted in English, in a classroom at Charles University.
Unlike Michal Viewegh, Topol, at the time, functioned as a national literary darling. His father, Josef, is a renowned Czech playwright and poet, while his brother Filip is the frontman for the band Dog Soldiers, a group for which Jachym Topol often provided lyrics.
Topol's first work of fiction, published in the Czech Republic as Sestra (Sister), won the Egon Hostovsky Prize as Czech book of the year in 1994. It appeared in English in 2000 as City Sister Silver.

Q: With your family history, did you always know that you would be a writer?

A: Never. I started out writing lyrics for rock bands and I never thought or dreamt about writing novels.
I don’t know what to say. I woke up at six this morning. I’m writing a script for a movie and today from seven until twelve-thirty I was meeting with the producer and the director to talk about it, so I’ve been talking for six hours.

Q: Is the script finished?

A: Not exactly. A year ago or two years ago I published a novel entitled Angel and they want to make a movie from the book so it’s very new for me, to rewrite it, but it’s interesting.

Q: I assume this is something that you wanted to do.

A: It was my idea before but some people tried to write it and failed so now I’m trying. It’s interesting. It’s a new activity in my life.

Q: You went from writing song lyrics, which you still do, and moved on to poetry?

A: I don’t even remember the chronology. It’s mixed. For some feelings it’s okay to write a poem. For some things it’s better to do a script.

Q: But you published two collections of poetry before the first novel, Sister, appeared.

A: Yes. I wrote a short story before I wrote Sister but it was published after.

Q: So now you work and one idea might be a song and another might be a poem or a story?

A: Exactly. And sometimes it’s mixed. You know, sometimes the poets say to me, You are not a poet, and the novelists say to me, You are not a novelist, but, you know, I don’t care. I know that the form is very important but I hate the theories about what a poem is, what a novel is or what a short story is. That’s for theorists or critics to decide.

Q: I’m not sure that they mean it well when poets say that you’re not a poet but I do mean it well when I say that I can understand the confusion.

A: It’s all so very different. And now I’ve written a script and I also write lyrics for rock bands which is also very different from my poetry.

Q: But the language of your fiction is very thick and dense.

A: My language is changing. Now I’m in the middle of a very serious change, because before, for all my books, the poems and stories and novels, the biggest inspiration was life in the city. Before it was like an injection of inspiration for me and now I hate it. I hate the city. Now I’m sick of it. I must change it. I don’t know how but I hate to live in the city now. It’s too stressful for me. Before it was perfect.

Q: When you say that you’re going through a change in your language, what kind of change is it? Your fiction, sometimes, is like poetry. You have very long lines.

A: In Sister I have long lines but they’re shorter in Angel.

Q: That’s true, but you understand what I’m saying when I say that there’s a thickness, a denseness to your fiction.

A: The hero of Sister is a dancer and an actor so the language of this book is a little bit different from the other books. The life of the writer is something very strange. Imagine it. You publish a few books and you are thinking that you’ve found your own rhythm, that you know what to do, and from this point to the end of your life you are writing similar books with similar language. I would like to escape that.

Q: So your style, the rhythm of the language is changing?

A: Yes. The language changes depending on the subject.

Q: Just like the language for a song lyric would be different from the language for a short story, you’re changing your language to fit the particular subject or character?

A: Yes. I’m thinking a lot about how the characters are talking and my dream is, one day, to write a book where the heroes will be children. They won’t be na├»ve children or some innocent kids. My heroes were from the city. They were twenty or thirty years old, living very hard and fast. Partly they were gangsters. And now I want to change it. I don’t know why. Maybe because I have a kid now, a one-year-old daughter, and that’s very important.

Q: Of course. Children will change your life.

A: These are questions I ask myself everyday and I have no answer. I don’t know what the future will bring.
And movies, of course, I’m also doing the script for money because you don’t earn enough to live just from books. Maybe when the books are translated into six or ten languages it will be enough to live on but my language is difficult to translate.

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

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