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Journalism or Surrealism?

October 16, 2007


Photo by Chad Evans WyattThe author of the renowned Czech novel City Sister Silver, Jachym Topol, came into my Reporting the Arts class last Monday evening to discuss life as a journalist and writer here in the Czech Republic. The above links are reviews of his book and his biography. They sum the details of his life up fairly well. I’m only going to write bits and pieces of the conversation and advice he gave our class because it was nothing but really bizarre and funny.

On the weather and Kafka:

“Sometimes I have a feeling to disappear,” Topol said. In the winter the cold brings a sort of soft depression to him that he enjoys in a way. He told us that he is upset by this year’s warm fall weather.

“Five years ago everyone was shaking (in the cold),” he said. This October is too hot for him. I thought silently to myself, “Holy crap!” It’s so cold already and it’s only mid-October.

Without any transition from his thoughts on the weather he continued by calling Franz Kafka “the god of all writers.”

He wants that bitter, depressing Prague winter badly and Kafka glorified the cold and he glorifies Kafka, so it all makes some sort of sense I suppose.

On wildlife:

“How many bears are in Slovakia, you think?” he asked us later in the class.

A long silence was finally broken when someone answered warily, “Ten-thousand?”

“Ten-thousand bears! No! Jesus! One-thousand!

“And wolves? How many do you think?”



“There are twenty wolves in the Czech Republic and we are very proud of them.”

Ah… okay.

On writing:

Finally we got on to topics that are relevant to a journalism class. He told us that he doesn’t like calling himself a writer because there is an intellectual and historical burden (think of Milan Kundera) in the Czech Republic to say that you are a writer. He prefers to call himself a journalist.

His advice to us as growing writers and journalists (whatever we want to consider ourselves) that it is important to have some sort of ritual when we write. Hemingway always sharpened five pencils before he sat down to write. He recommended drinking to us instead. Being alone and a little bit drunk helped him concentrate on writing and promoted the sense of isolation that fostered good ideas. However, he followed this hilarious bit of advice by telling us that he can only write soberly now.

I am still trying to figure out if this is a journalism class or a course on surrealism.

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