Friday, September 22, 2006

Day #6: Friday, Sep. 22: Long Live East European Intellectualism!

The good news is: It's still alive! Yes, young, thin, angry Slavs still read complex poetry to adoring fans in trendy run-down bars about (according to the woman sitting next to me, who claimed to understand a few phrases) young, thin, angry Slavs who refuse to join the rat-race and express their rebellion by sitting around drinking beer all day.

I felt like the guy who walks into a meeting of the Jehovah's Witnesses as an atheist and walks out a beleiver. Coming from the West, where young writers know about getting an agent and selling film rights before they have something to write about, I was ready to roll my eyes at this kind of writer. "Posing" is what I would call it. And in a bar in New York it would be true. In the US, the age of Beat is over, and now all that's left are writers who strike the angry-young-artist pose until the Hollywood scout shows up.

Serhij (Sergei) Zadan, a young (30-ish), hip Ukrainian writer and poet, had a reading in the Jewish Quarter tonight, in a club called the Lokator. The Krakau Jewish Quarter is not very Jewish nowadays. It would be more correctly named The Trendy Quarter. It is filled with young, slightly run-down but exceedingly hip bar and clubs. There were about 20 or 30 of us in the Lokator. Serhij read for several books and a manuscript, including his first book, called Depeche Mode after the popular pop group, and he was translated.

(Photo above: On the left in the ironically retro green sweater and fetchingly strict bangs you see the Polish host and co-reader [I stand corrected - see Katja's comment]; on the right is the aloof Polish translator; in the middle is Serhij, prolific writer, Ukrainian intellectual and, apparently in his country, rock star.)

Serhij is a proto-East European intellectual the way they're supposed to be: thin, scruffy, serious, slightly greasy hair, white-skinned with a light black scruff about the chin and cheeks. He read standing, banging out his words like bullets, loudly, quickly, each sentence a little rant. The audience was with him all the way, silent when it got serious, chuckling at the jokes.

It's amazing how unimportant it is to understand the language at a reading. It was a real joy to watch him, no matter that the only works I picked up were Johnson & Johnson, Jesus, prostitute, marijuana and "fucking" (as an adjective).

While we would roll our eyes at him in the West and say "Is this cosmic Weltschmerz or should he just grow up?", here they appear to take this seriously. Being taken seriously is a terrific freedom for a young writer. Why are the creative writing classes of America producing so much artificial, soulless word-prettiness? Because young writers are seeing their work through the eyes of adults: their teachers, critics... and Hollywood scouts. It is cynicism that keeps youth from being young.

Serhij made a believer out of me.

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