Friday, June 17, 2016

If you were to visit Prague, and you were to meet Olga and Olga were to fall in love with you ... She loves love. She does anything for love.

2016.06.16-DSC06738"If you were to visit Prague, and you were to meet Olga and Olga were to fall in love with you ... She loves love. She does anything for love." - Philip Roth, The Prague Orgy
The Prague Orgy (1985) is a novella by Philip Roth. The short book is the epilogue to his trilogy Zuckerman Bound. The story follows Roth's alter ego Nathan Zuckerman, on a journey to Communist Prague in 1976 seeking the unpublished manuscripts of a Yiddish writer. The book, presented as journal entries by Zuckerman, details the struggle of demoralized artists in a totalitarian society. (Wikipedia)
I traveled to post-Velvet Revolution Prague in 2016, many a year after Zuckerman in search, not of Yiddish manuscripts, but advancement of the Biodiversity Heritage Library ... I did feel I should read Roth's Prague Orgy, even in my different circumstances. Here are some highlights:

“Please,” he says, “I don’t wish to compare our two books. Yours is a work of genius, and mine is nothing. When I studied Kafka, the fate of his books in the hands of the Kafkologists seemed to me to be more grotesque than the fate of Josef K. I feel this is true also with you. This scandalous response gives another grotesque dimension, and belongs now to your book as Kafkologine stupidities belong to Kafka. Even as the banning of my own little book creates a dimension not at all intended by me.”

“He leaves you alone too,” she says. “Zdenek, why do you persecute me? I do not care to be an ironical Czech character in an ironical Czech story. Everything that happens in Czechoslovakia, they shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Pure Schweik, pure Kafka.’ I am sick of them both.”

If you were to visit Prague, and you were to meet Olga and Olga were to fall in love with you, she would even give you my father’s stories, if you were to go about it the right way. She loves love. She does anything for love. An American writer, a famous, attractive, American genius who does not practice the American innocence to a shameless degree—if he were to ask for my father’s stories, Olga would give them to him, I am sure of it. The only thing is not to lay her too soon.”

Klenek’s is a small seventeenth-century palazzo on the Kampa, a little residential island we reach by descending a long wet stairway from the Charles Bridge. Standing in the cobbled square outside of Klenek’s, I hear the Vltava churning past the deep stone embankment.

“Why are you in Prague? Are you looking for Kafka? The intellectuals all come here looking for Kafka. Kafka is dead.

“If it weren’t for sentiment, Zuckerman, one person would not pass another person a glass of water.”

Mightier than the sword? This place is proof that a book isn’t as mighty as the mind of its most benighted reader.

Anything you want to do in Prague, anything you want to see in Prague, anyone you want to fuck in Prague, you tell me and I arrange it. There is still some pleasure for a stranger in Mitteleuropa. I hesitate to say Prague is ‘gay,’ but sometimes these days it can be very amusing.”

Well, the ordinary hardworking Czech who wants a better life for himself and his family is not so thrilled. He considers them malcontents and parasites and outcasts. At least their blessed Kafka knew he was a freak, recognized that he was a misfit who could never enter into a healthy, ordinary existence alongside his countrymen. But these people? Incorrigible deviants who propose to make their moral outlook the norm.

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