Dear Mr. Chalupecký,
Thank you for your letter. I received it upon returning from my so-called holiday. I was in Wellfleet, Cape Cod for two weeks, where I met with Weiskopf, and thus combined the pleasant with the useful. And it was really something more than pleasant. There was the ocean, such that I’d never seen before, and I also wrote a poem about it. I know that you’re not a big fan of nature, but what Zdenek said is true: Nature nursed all the great spirits. Though I may not be such a great spirit, that ocean was a great nurse, and I am beginning to somewhat grasp The Odyssey.
I also met interesting people there and there were also bays, lakes (freshwater), a forest almost like in Bechyně – so there was certainly in the Czech lands, if not a sea, then at least a coast, and Shakespeare was right, like any good writer, even when speaking nonsense. But I’m starting to be witty like Mr. Münzer, so that’s enough. And Mr. Münzer will provide you with all the magazines that you want, at least he promised to.
But I will write one big “city” poem in accordance with your taste and then I will send everything in one shipment for you to criticise. Please remember not to make public anything that you do not consider to be “very good”. It’s better to have less with higher quality. As for the negative criticism of my writing: there has been, there is and there will be. Maybe it’s for the best. But the view that my writings lack a “haze of mystery”, is just as stupid as the words that I used in parentheses. First of all, there is always mystery, even in the most precise work of art, a mystery in the sense that it is a bit like in a mathematical equation that even when it is solved, other formulations of its result and other mysteries that can be solved are possible. Baudelaire’s “amours décomposés” is an image demarcated precisely by the idea of a carcass in decay, the decay of emotion and the feeling of a personal and poetic relationship to the past. It’s as clear as a bell, not that I’d want to make the comparison.
As for your claim that a work of art must be as obvious as life, you’re right, but there must be – and always has been – the conscious effort of the artist, the idea of the format that he wants to achieve. Not as an artistic figure, but as the format of the work he has in mind. I know that Phidias only saw, for instance, in the Parthenon a good way to get rich, and he also had everything ready (which we are far from having, on the contrary), but nobody can convince me that when he made the statue of Athena, that along with the stolen gold he knew that he’s making a masterpiece, only that he didn’t call it that. But different people, different morals. The most beautiful are the women on the tympanum, and when he made those thighs for them and on them the fabric, which is like the Aegen Sea, and yet something much more that can’t be found anywhere in the world; he certainly didn’t have any scams in mind, nor did he think that it was obvious, but he knew that he was doing something – in short – something of which I would like to do at least an infinitesimal fraction. That’s it. But I live in such a time – what can I say? The other day I read in the Nation a report from the Writers’ Congress in Moscow, and that
I more hope that my relationship to these things is completely impersonal, that I am seeking neither profit nor fame – that would be only in the most lamentable corner of my soul. After all, I am only human. But my relationship to work, I repeat, and I hope you know, wants to remain anonymous. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t long to write a masterpiece. This is clearly the wrong word, but I used it deliberately so that you understand it.
I would like to tell you all about my experiences here, but there is no room for that. I’m very sad when I think about my position. But there’s great opportunity here and there’s still hope that someday I will do something.
As for Weiner, I will try. But the publishers here are as idiotic as they are in our country. Kafka is the latest fashion here and they’re going to publish his works until there’s nothing left of him, although very sensible criticism of this snobbery has already appeared in the American press. Nevertheless, Kafka will be published until the last drop and nothing else.
I will have my story in one anthology of Christmas stories and an article in “Books Abroad” published.
So, dear Mr. Chalupecký, I told you all this to the best of my ability. So as not to forget, not far from that town of Wellfleet in Cape Cod is the town of Provincetown, the landing spot of the first pilgrims who wrote there the basic ideas of the American Constitution. But the reason I’m telling you this is that there is a theatre that you enter from a dock, a wooden hut where O’Neill’s first plays were rehearsed and are still played there in the summer.
Now that really is everything, in fact it is nothing.
Wishing you the best of health, the most important of all.
Send Listy and write me!