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Responses • Kafka's Prague

Jiří Kolář

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To purchase Responses • Kafka's Prague

Title: Responses • Kafka's Prague
Author: Jiří Kolář
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1984) (Eng. 2021)
Length: 133 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: Responses • Kafka's Prague - US
Responses • Kafka's Prague - UK
Responses • Kafka's Prague - Canada
Jiří Kolář, l'œil de Prague - France
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Twisted Spoon Press
  • Czech title: Odpovědi
  • Originally published in 1984, but the Responses were compiled in 1973 and Kafka's Prague dates to 1977-8
  • Translated and with a Note by Ryan Scott
  • Translations of the Kafka-quotes by Kevin Blahut
  • With illustrations by the author

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Our Assessment:

B+ : neat double-work, in a lovely edition

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Dublin Rev. of Books . 12/2021 Alena Dvořáková

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ryan Scott, who has translated Responses from Kolář’s Czech into English and who also wrote the brief but informative translator’s note which places the poet and artist in the wider Czech and European cultural context, has on the whole done an admirable job, in spite of some inaccuracies and even mistranslations of Kolář’s tricky prose. His rendition of Kolář’s voice in prose manages to capture the originality of the artist’s perspective as well as the occasional strangeness of his formulations. (...) Putting the two halves of the book together, one could say that Responses introduces the reader to a theory of poetry and art in interaction, at least insofar as anything like a theory can be abstracted from Kolář’s fragmented commentary. Subsequently, in Kafka’s Prague, we are offered the chance to see that theory put into practice by a master practitioner using one of his favourite techniques. The book as a whole seems to invite its readers to judge for themselves not just how effective such juxtaposition of word and image may be but also what kind of effects it might generate when transposed into a different cultural context." - Alena Dvořáková, Dublin Review of Books

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The two parts of Responses • Kafka's Prague are very different. Translator Ryan Scott describes Responses in his Note as:

Comprising seventy-one responses of varying length with no questions, the individual texts range across biographical details, descriptions of techniques, and reflections on the artists and writers who influenced him.
       The responses-without-questions (yet still framed as responses) approach is an interesting one and works quite well. It allows Kolář the range a traditional in-depth Q & A might offer -- but without the bother of an interlocutor. Kolář can have his say on a wide variety of topics -- retaining also a slight sense of vagueness that framing something as a response can offer.
       Responses offers quite a bit of insight into the artist and what drives him. If there is some politics, Kolář nevertheless presents himself primarily as artist, rather than specifically someone living in Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia. (Born in 1914, he was already long past any formative years by the time of the Communist takeover, and already had an established artistic identity -- and he does also mention some of those influences and experiences from the pre-Communist eras.)
       Much here is revealing -- even if some of it perhaps shouldn't be unexpected, such as the confession that:
Perhaps its a form of mania, but Balzac's emendations and Dostoevsky's manuscripts always excited me more than the printed book. All of it affected me more powerfully than the actual reading of the work. The main thing for me was to get inside the author. I was always more interested in the process than the outcome -- the final version.
       Some of the personal detail is surprising, such as his fascination with American poetry, as he writes of what an impression it made on him during World War II:
When I first read Sandburg, under the sway of this scenery, he at once became my native poet. The transformations of men at that time into outlaws brought me closer to Edgar Lee Masters, and I even called him the new Ovid, author of a new Metamorphoses. He taught me to take notice of human destinies, the destinies of each and every person I met. He taught me to see, hear, and feel differently, as if he had transformed all my senses. And because I had admired Whitman since I was a boy, I dove into his polyphony and almost drowned in it.
       Kolář's ambition of striving for the new, especially new ways of doing and seeing things, is made very clear throughout -- most explicitly in the response that
From the beginning my ideal way of working has been not to persist in something discovered. Not to be a craftsman of a single work. Artists post-Joyce must be interested in everything and realize that the history of the world commands them to do things differently -- and to flee from what they already know how to do.
       Interesting also then how he describes his late-life experience:
Having to relearn everything from the beginning after my stroke in 1970 also forced me to learn to think anew. What often required my stubborn persistence and what had been hard for me to work out now was coming to me all at once on its own. The past merged with the present, fiction with reality, fantasy with consciousness.
       Kolář also explains that: "My interest from the beginning has been to locate the points of friction between visual arts and literature", and Kafka's Prague is one such experiment. In this section he presents thrity-four 'crumplages' (muchláže) -- "a portmanteau word combining "crumple" and "collage"", as Ryan Scott explains -- each paired with a quote from Kafka (presented both in the original and an English translation). The crumplages are full-page, full-color plates, most of them of Prague-buildings, as well as some other Prague scenes, jarring fragment-wholes. So, for example, the Loreta -- paired with the Kafka-quote: "'How will it be ?' all of us ask. 'How long will we tolerate this burden and torment ?'":

Jiri Kolar - The Loreta

       As he notes in the Responses:
I said before that I didn't feel as if tearing, crumpling, and cutting reproductions and texts were acts of destruction. It felt more like a kind of interrogation, as though I were constantly querying something, or something were querying me.
       Striking though they are, there is a bit of sameness to the crumplages; closer familiarity with the buildings and scenes likely adds to the appreciation of their distortion -- likely more than just their coupling with Kafka's words, as thought-provoking as these are. As re(-)vision(ing) of the familiar, the pictures certainly impress, Kolář here presenting Prague as it is and yet also going far beyond that; coupling the pictures with Kafka's words, which themselves evoke a lost and warped past, brings an alter-Prague -- hidden in the folds of the present-day one -- nicely to the fore.
       It all makes for a quite fascinating double-work, Responses • Kafka's Prague offering insight into a remarkable artist as well as a striking set of examples of his visual work. The Twisted Spoon Press edition is, like all their books, a beautiful volume, too -- this is a lovely book.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 February 2022

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Responses • Kafka's Prague: Reviews: Other books by Jiří Kolář under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Czech artist and author Jiří Kolář lived 1914 to 2002.

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© 2022 the complete review

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