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Lapidarium II

(A Selection)

Abu Dhabi   

The way children teased a gorilla in the zoo (it is new, built outside the city, in the desert). At first the gorilla got angry, it ran back and forth on the concrete stage, it threatened the little aggressors. Finally tired the gorilla sat down in the middle of the cage and started crying. And then—exactly at that moment (what an extraordinary coincidence!)—a sandstorm started. A sudden, violent, powerful storm that covered the sky with clouds of gray dust and threw in our eyes a hot blizzard of sand. Everyone started running, children screamed, grownups followed children, the wind tossed and blew about clouds of dust, terrified women ran through the swirling, burning fog of the sandstorm like frightened, black birds.

Running, I glanced for a moment behind me: through the dust, through the whirling cloud, in the surrounding semi-darkness I saw the gorilla sitting stooped in the cage, as if half-broken, sitting, looking after us, and sobbing.  [191]

To write a history of "One day of the World":

- how the sun rises over Tibet, over Sahara, over Florence and Lima,
- how children wake up, how women wake up,
- how workers wake up,
- how warriors wake up,
- how the smell of coffee spreads, of tea, of scrambled eggs, of the blood of freshly slaughtered chickens, of casawa,
- how peasants go to work,
- how mules get on the way,
- how trains get on the way,
- tanks,
- how women standing on the riverbank start the washing,
- then comes the noon and life dies (in the tropics—in Chad, in Mali, in the sands of Atakama, Gobi, Kara-Kum, etc.),
- how they sculpt in clay, how they hammer in stone, in metal, how they cut the diamond,
- how they grind manioc, earth up potatoes, how they steer a ship and pilot an airplane,
- how everywhere you can hear an engine,
- then the end of work, return from work,
- how everything is starting to slow down,
- dusk approaches,
- the evening,
- how fires are lit, lights in windows, street lights and neon lights, coats of fireflies, eyes of the boa constrictor,
- how savannah burns, how a village burns, a city after a bombing;
- how in Chernobyl open the gates of hell,
- how we sit to supper, watch television,
- how the little one (baby, cutie, sweetie) wants (doesn't want) to sleep,
- but in sum—general, slow falling asleep,
- before that—the drawing near of bodies,
- how you can hear it,
- whispers, voices, calls, cries (the whole tower of Babel of tongues, tones, sounds, rings, incantations, B minors and C majors,
- slow entrance into the dark, into the night,
- into the torment of sleeplessness, into visions and nightmares or into peaceful snoring, into forgetfulness, into dreams,
- how the earth falls into nonexistence and how it returns in a few hours, with the dawn. [193-94]

It is difficult to write in a world of such a violent and deep transformation. Everything slips from underneath the feet, the symbols change, signs are reversed, orientation points no longer have places of permanence. The vision of the writer wanders over ever new and unknown landscapes, and his voice is lost in the roar of the running avalanche of history.  [195]

More and more often a literary work (and a work of art in general) becomes a collective creation. We gather in our memory a growing store of information, our mind absorbs more and more data, collecting and transforming it, often without our conscious participation, until finally it is difficult for us to determine what is our own and what we have acquired from others. Of course I am not thinking about vulgar, insolent plagiarism.  These interdependencies, relations, influences and connections are deeper, more direct, barely perceptible, refined.

Today an author writes after having read many books, after having assimilated and analyzed countless diverse opinions. Separating one's own thinking from that which one has absorbed from the outside is becoming ever more difficult. In this unintended way our visions of the world take on a cubist shape. Unconsciously we become participants in a collective process of creation. It is almost impossible to establish who is truly writing from within their authentic inner self.  [207]

I need poetry as a linguistic exercise; I cannot give up poetry. Poetry requires a deep concentration on the language, and that is good for the prose. Prose has to have music, and poetry is rhythm. When I begin to write, I must find a rhythm. It carries me like a river. If I cannot create a rhythmical quality in a sentence, I discard it. First the sentence has to find its inner rhythm, then the passage, and finally the whole chapter.  [211]

On television I watched Andrzej Wajda’s production of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Two weeks earlier I saw the same production in the Old Theatre in Kraków.

The television program seemed to me better, more suggestive, more moving, stronger. Why? Because on television one mostly watches faces—their close-ups, their expression, their mood. And the effect is stronger! The big scene distracts after all—despite ourselves we look at dozens of insignificant details, objects, lines and colors. And on television our attention is focused on what is most important—on the portrait and the human personality speaking through it.  [240]

Two different types of humans, on the opposite poles of mankind. Homo informaticus created by the electronic revolution. It's a new form in history, a creation of the second half of the twentieth century. He lives in a world of computers, information superhighways, internets, databases, multimedia, video conferences, servers and decoders.

At the same time as I travel in the countries of the Third World, the type I meet most frequently is the opposite of homo informaticus­—homo penuriosus, a poor man, a large category (and ever growing), easily identified and defined. A poor man not only has never touched a computer but he doesn’t even have electric light, more, he can’t even afford a flashlight. He is born, lives and dies poor. All the achievements of electronics are out of his reach, are not even known to him. The life he lives is not much different from the lives of his remote ancestors. His working tools are the same as a thousand years ago. And yet those with a wooden hoe in hand are also our sisters and brothers, just like those who at this moment send an urgent fax to the other side the planet. Yet there is no contact between them, no language. More than that—the difference, the alienation seems to be deepening. Perhaps it’s a confirmation of the view that the human evolution is not finished, that it continues on creating diametrically different types of people—or even different species.  [242-43]

We are rooted in tribalism. Despite the existence of world cosmopolitism, pluralism, globalism, universalism, tribal structures proved to be alive, indeed, increasingly alive.  And the fact that the highest, the most intensive and spectacular population growth is taking place in the countries of the Third World, where tribal structures are particularly prevalent and vital, means that as the world population grows, it propagates and strengthens the clan connections and the tribal character of societies.  [247]

The most common procedure in operating on the past, on history is performing a reduction. The image is cleared of all half-tones and shades, of all the richness of colors only black and white are left—a sharp, ruthless counterpoint. There is a climat of stife. People are either heroes or traitors. Everywhere you can hear clanging weapons, running feet, warriors breathing fast.  [247]

A heroic stance is always a rarity, is an exception. But since those who emerge from the past, from the so-called pages of history, are heroes, they create the impression that most of humanity is just like that—heroic. In reality, however, we are mostly common, down-to-earth, weak, preocupied only with the thought of survival, grayfeathered birds with short wings.

The same is true in architecture. What has survived are fortresses, cathedrals, palaces, but these were exceptional buildings—the majority lived in mud huts, simple houses, shelters of which nothing remains.          Ordinariness, commonness—are quickly forgotten, disappear. Only that which is exceptional is left. Only that can survive.  [247-48]

A generation is more than a biological tie, an identity of age. It is also a similar sensibility, a shared type of imagination. That is why contact among people of different, distant generations requires renouncing oneself—a natural transformation, an adaptation to someone who because of the difference in age, sensibility, and also life-goals is different and often—strange.  [260]

 Many idle days, wasted. Many days which left no mark on the memory. Hours, whole days and nights that fell into the black hole of time. Glancing at the clock—it’s after ten already, it’s already three o’clock, it’s already seven. The restless regular march of seconds and minutes, like that of an endless column of ants which appears out of nowhere and after a moment disappears from sight forever. A fear that something is slipping out of our hands, that we cannot stop it. And a feeling of ourselves diminishing, a feeling that the space we fill is getting smaller, less visible.  [273]

What is most important in what is most personal—we hide. Our first instinct will always be to conceal. Later, even if we do get something out, it is difficult, sometimes—painful. Usually we take these secrets with us to the grave. Hence in the cemetary soil are burried not only the bodies of the deceased but also their greatest, deepest, and often the most terrible secrets. The truths about a person that are open to us are only the tip of the iceberg. The truths that are most essential, that are real, are beyond our reach.  [275]