Prague Book Fair Panel: “Turning reality into fiction”

[from Greg]

Our apologies for not keeping up on the blog, but we have been busy with the anthology. Now that the manuscript is more or less completed, we will be finishing and posting some of the blog posts that we started but couldn’t find the time to finish, starting with the following:

At the Prague International Book Fair in May, I attended a discussion on the theme of “Turning reality into fiction.” There were three authors on the panel, Petra Hůlová, a Czech author, and two Romanian authors, Florin Lăzărescu and Adina Rosetti. The moderator was another Romanian author, Marius Chivu (Romania was the guest of honor at the book fair, and I had to rely on the Czech-language simultaneous translation of the proceedings). Since, as an irrealist, I find the question of how we turn “reality” into a fictional context to be a profound question, both philosophically and stylistically, I was curious as to how the subject would be presented at the panel. I knew little of the Romanian authors beyond the short excerpts of their work that I’d read in an excellent book, Romania: Discover the peaks of Romanian literature, which contained translations from the work of a number of contemporary Romanian writers and which the Romanian Ministry of Culture had made available for free. But these short excerpts and the descriptions of these authors’ other works showed them to be essentially writing within the parameters of realism; Hůlová was already known to me as major Czech author who, however, has so far written almost entirely within the tradition of realism. Given the number of outstanding non-realist authors writing in Czech and, based on the authors presented in Romania: Discover the peaks of Romanian literature, such as Petru Cimpoesu, in Romania as well, these were, from my point of view, surprising choices.

And so, not surprisingly given the background of the authors, the panel’s discussion of the rendering of reality into fiction took on a straightforward and practical quality–e.g., how the authors depict people or situations they have known or have experienced in their fiction—rather than a philosophical one. Mr. Lăzărescu was something of an exception to this, as he emphatically insisted that all fiction was just that, fiction, and not a vision of reality, and went so far as to dismiss the moderator’s interjection of one of his works seemingly depicting his childhood, insisting that the “mother” in that work was not, and could not be, a rendering of his actual mother.

Nonetheless, I found myself yearning for a more radical voice, meaning an author who might contend that the most effective way of turning reality into fiction (albeit, a “deeper” reality) into fiction could be done via non-realist fiction. There being no such voice on the panel, I decided that maybe I could take on the role. And so, as the presentation was coming to a conclusion, I prepared myself to argue that the most effective rendering of the uncertain, contingent reality that we must confront every minute of our lives could best be done (and yes, I was already translating in my mind the phrasing from our guidelines to this effect) by not portraying people and places realistically and by not giving a full resolution to the story, instead showing a reality constantly being undermined.

How this argument, stated in my second language and then translated into Rumanian, would have gone over with the panel will never, alas, be known. The moderator, apparently because the program was running over its allotted fifty minutes, ended the program without the members of the audience being given a chance to respond or ask any questions.