After eighteen months of preparation, drafting and re-drafting our plans, discussing, debating, changing our minds, having to change the whole concept of our project because of my move to Prague, we have finally done it: we are open to submissions for our online literary blog.
We have received many submissions, including some proposals for books, and one of the things that is obvious – there are many incredibly talented people worldwide. The standard of writing is very high, so consequently, it is sometimes difficult to decide why we accept some contributions, whereas in other instances they get rejected. Sometimes the reason for rejection is as simple as the author not reading the profile of our small print properly therefore his writing is not a good match for us. In other words, rejection is not always a reflection on the quality of the work but it is still hard. We both recognise it as we both have suffered many rejections. They hurt even if at the same time on your desk you have a pile of successful publications and awards in literary competitions.
I thought it was important to mention it as we try to give every author the attention they deserve and the space they need.
It brings me to another idea that came to me in December when I was in bed with beautiful hallucinations caused by endless fevers. Only the third sort of antibiotics worked on my bacterial infection (a worrying trend these days), I was hours away from being hospitalised. Although not catastrophic, it was pretty bad. The upside was that when I was in my unconscious state, I had superpowers. I could fly and hover over the meadow full of blossoms. The sun was shining. I was also a figure skater, jumping salchows and axels. Fact check: I am a miserable skater.
One day, I even held a lecture in English on the topic of what makes a writer timeless. I was so brilliant! I had never been so clever, so witty, so knowledgeable! In my real life, I am full of self-doubt and only through a lot of self-training did I learn how to speak publicly without having a nervous breakdown each time. My recall is rubbish so oral exams or quizzes are a no-no. I usually get myself into a state when I don’t remember my own name.
However, in this dream-like, fever-induced state, I was so good with my arguments! Sadly, I can only remember mentioning Chekhov. Which brings me to my final point. We cannot do anything about the fact that the language mutates and changes. Our “normal” expressions will sound archaic in twenty or thirty years. Yet, someone like Chekhov seems timeless despite that. He is utterly modern, like he wrote his stories yesterday. I always learn something new from him.
Then you have another very good writer called Karel Čapek. I devoured every single published book of his writing when I was a teenager – his columns for newspapers, his short stories, his plays, his Letters from England. He was an exceptional person, too. He was a convinced democrat, a defender of democracy, hounded by the nazis in the late thirties to his untimely death in 1938.
Many of his ideas put in his writing are still valid – his satirical novel The War with the Salamanders was mocking the ascend of fascism but in many ways could be transposed to today. The search for eternal youth in the drama The Makropulos Affair reflects today’s cult of perfection, plastic surgery obsession, filtered Instagram images we have to wrestle with; the representation of an ideal unachievable in the real life. He gave the world one new word – a robot. He was nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature many times but never received it. Yet, when you open his books today, yes, they have valid ideas but are heavily overwritten to the point when it is difficult to enjoy them.
Another example: whenever I happen to read some of the campus fiction created in the past forty years, I cringe. Yes, they are clever, the authors are skilled but they feel dated, slightly patronising towards the reader, which was presumably thought of acceptable and perhaps even funny at the time. Today, opening those books is like walking into one of those village or town museu
ms where everyone is dressed in Victorian costumes. They feel more like a memorial that has been built to testify about the long-gone era than literature that can inspire.
So what is it that makes an author, poet or artist timeless? I am sorry but I cannot remember the clever and confident answer I gave in my dream. Over to you. Happy New Year!