On the one hand, our project is simple and straightforward: it presents in short, recorded doses a long text that recalls another difficult moment in history. On the other hand, the daily readings build up an unexpectedly complex and multileveled structure. Passing from one person to another, from one place on the globe to another, the vibrant words weave a network of connections: across oceans, through generations, over differing political affinities, and amidst a multiplicity of backgrounds.
Exactly a year ago, excited about a new musical that the PTI team created for our youthful audiences, we were suddenly stopped in our tracks, silenced and horrified – like the entire city on March 13, 2020, and soon like the entire country. In the autumn, with the continued closure of schools and of all cultural institutions, the mood of disorientation and helplessness threatened to squash the spirit of the bravest. Unable to perform live, we decided to seek recourse in one of the oldest traditions, storytelling. Let’s try audio, someone suggested. Let the words reach across the sad silence that envelopes us.
For a while we discussed various options; played with the idea of different selections of poems; considered “Myśli nieuczesane,” the aphorisms of Stanisław Jerzy Lec; reread the splendid stories by Stanisław Lem; were tempted by Sławomir Mrożek’s “The Elephant” or “Emigrants”… All seemed worthy of attention, competing with each other, with various pro and con arguments. Then, unobtrusively, as if from the sideline, a new title emerged, Szkice piórkiem by Andrzej Bobkowski, and we knew immediately that we found a perfect match for the gloom of our times.
Bobkowski’s Wartime Notebooks (the imperfect English version of the untranslatable Polish title) stand at the crossing of literary non-fiction and fiction, literature of fact and of creative transformation. Rooted in the historical reality of World War II, they offer a subjective vision of that reality, observed with a sharply critical eye and filtered through personal experience. The content is rich; the themes addressed in the book are multiple and diverse. The form is highly original. The style extraordinarily attractive: direct and engaging. The language vibrates with life in the voice of every reader.
Bobkowski’s book is appealing on two levels as a compelling literary text and poignant social critique. Perhaps this dual appeal is especially important at the present moment. Bobkowski stubbornly warns, again and again, against the seductive powers of "German fascism" and "Soviet communism,” against any ideology that offers sweeping solutions to all problems while blaming the Other for all ills.
With persistence and passion equal to that of his warnings against such reckless simplifications, Bobkowski evokes the beauty of ordinary existence. He celebrates small, simple pleasures: a good book, a glass of wine, a talk with a friend, the fatigue after miles clocked on a bike, a slanting sunray in the late afternoon… It is in this ordinary that we can taste the extraordinary gift of life itself.
We hope you’ll join us in this new adventure.
With my best,
New York, Tuesday, March 16, 2021