Heresy and Heritage : Jan Patočka on Phi­lo­so­phy, Politics, and the Arts

The Writer and his Object”: Jan Patočka, Art and Engagment

Organizer : Centre d’Etudes Tchèques, Uni­ver­sité Libre de Bruxelles

 Friday, 5th May 2017
Venue : Maison des Arts, Campus de Solbosch de l’ULB, Avenue Jeanne 56, Brussels
9h – Opening of the confe­rence by Xavier Luffin, Director of the De­part­ment of Modern Languages and Li­te­ra­tures at ULB
Keynote : Jonathan Bolton (Harvard Uni­ver­sity, USA): A Guest from the Unknown : Jan Patočka, Antigone, and the Theater
PANEL I : Jan Patočka, Politics and Society

Tomáš Herrmann (Institute for Contem­po­rary History, Academy of Sciences, Prague): Patočka´s Platonism as the Key to his In­tel­lec­tual and Public Ac­ti­vi­ties
The paper concen­trates on the Patočka’s reception of Plato’s phi­lo­so­phy and Platonism. Patočka refers to Platonism as the base of European culture fre­quently in a specific situation when he has to leave the Uni­ver­sity and finds himself in certain isolation. It happens for the first time in the fifties during the project of so called “Negative Platonism” when he connects the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Platonism with problems of modern humanism. It happens for the second time in the seventies when he combines in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Plato with phe­no­me­no­logy and with central motives of “caring for the soul” and the so-called “post-European” era. In both cases, there are broadly outlined projects created that finally remain a torso. The paper touches on some factual bio­gra­phic and generally phi­lo­so­phic connec­tions of both projects and shows one of possible keys to Patočka’s in­tel­lec­tual biography.

Rajendra Chitnis (Uni­ver­sity of Bristol): The Politics of Trans­la­tion : Patočka and Durych’s God’s Rainbow
Trans­la­tions of ima­gi­na­tive li­te­ra­ture may be motivated not just by a vague desire to promote a national culture or contri­bute to world li­te­ra­ture, but in support of a more defined cultural-political end. In 1975, Patočka’s West German pu­bli­ca­tion of his own German trans­la­tion of Jaroslav Durych’s novel Boží duha (God’s Rainbow, 1969), with an essay focusing on the theme of re­pen­tance and re­con­ci­lia­tion, sought to provoke a shift in post-war Czech-German relations, away from mutual re­cri­mi­na­tion to mutual un­ders­tan­ding and for­gi­ve­ness. Though its impact at the time was minimal, the essay was included in the 1988 French trans­la­tion, both post-1989 Czech editions, and the 1999 German edition. Conser­va­tive Czech Roman Catholic critics, led by Durych’s son, Václav, have, however, always cri­ti­ci­zed the co-opting of the novel to this cause, and the in­se­pa­ra­bi­lity of Patočka’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of both the novel and its author imposed on sub­sequent editions. This paper will examine this reception in the light of enduring an­ti­pa­thies between Czech in­tel­lec­tuals iden­ti­fied with ‘Ma­sa­ry­kian humanism’ and Roman Ca­tho­li­cism, and pre­vai­ling views about the post-war ex­pul­sions of Germans from Cze­cho­slo­va­kia, and assess how far Patočka’s essay an­ti­ci­pates and seeks to overcome these ingrained attitudes in the interests of a new, shared national position on Czech-German relations. It will also consider the le­gi­ti­macy of Patočka’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the novel and his ex­ploi­ta­tion of it, with reference to Tilman Kasten’s account of Pavel/Paul Eisner’s similarly motivated 1933 German trans­la­tion of Durych’s Bloudění (in English as The Descent of the Idol, 1935)
Astrid Muls (Uni­ver­sité Libre de Bruxelles): Between Crisis and Identity Construc­tion. Ladislav Klíma and the Cze­cho­slo­vak Un­der­ground
A permanent struggle with the sur­roun­ding struc­tures, an identity built at odds with a certain reality which is a source of pain, a life lead on the margins of society, an absolute concep­tion of sub­jec­ti­vity ; these di­men­sions of Ladislav Klíma’s thought echoed within the Cze­cho­slo­vak un­der­ground of the 1970’s. Expelled from public life by the Nor­ma­li­za­tion au­tho­ri­ties in the end of the 1960’s, the members of the un­der­ground found in Klíma’s works a certain for­mu­la­tion of their own identity, of their own position within society, as well as a similar will to interlace the thought and the act, to live the thought with the body. In his essay about the key points of Klíma’s phi­lo­so­phy (“Pokus o rozbor klíčových tezí”, 1967), Jan Patočka es­ta­bli­shed a link between the philosopher’s personal ex­pe­rience and the violence of his re­la­tion­ship to the world. As it is the case for the Cze­cho­slo­vak un­der­ground, Klíma built his identity facing a state of crisis, taking on the harsh reality through his sub­ver­sion. Obsessed by the question of the praxis throu­ghout his life and unable to crys­tal­lize it, Klíma used his literary works to show the supremacy of the Absolute Sub­jec­ti­vity and engaged himself in some kind of “ex­pe­ri­men­tal” praxis. Shifting the praxis in the field of the fiction was also cha­rac­te­ris­tic of the Cze­cho­slo­vak un­der­ground community. As un­der­li­ned by Jonathan Bolton’s in his work Worlds of Dissent (2012), the un­der­ground had a si­gni­fi­cant tendency to “le­gen­da­rize” its actions, to give its existence a my­tho­lo­gi­cal dimension. Through those ob­ser­va­tions, a parallel between Klíma and the Cze­cho­slo­vak un­der­ground will be drawn.

12h30-14h30 LUNCH BREAK


PANEL II : Phi­lo­so­phy of Jan Patočka and the Arts

Jan Josl (Charles Uni­ver­sity, Prague): Art and Care of the Soul in Patočka’s Phi­lo­so­phy
The aim of this paper is to approach art from the pers­pec­tive of ‘care of the soul’. The concept of “care of the soul” along with a few others (natural world, phe­no­me­no­logy) expresses the essence of Patočka’s phi­lo­so­phy and it can offer more complex view on position and meaning of art in Patočka’s thinking.
Since soul consist for Patočka of freedom, krisis and fysis as its main features, it will be necessary to show that artistic ex­pe­rience includes all important features of ex­pe­rience of soul. The lecture will also de­mons­trate the boun­da­ries of art as only limited form of care of the soul compared to phi­lo­so­phy. Though phi­lo­so­phy seems to be in principle superior to art, in current situation it re­pre­sents in Patočka’s view the only way of care of the soul we have left.

Ondřej Sládek (Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic): Jan Patočka on Struc­tu­ra­lism
The aim of the lecture is to1) present Patočka’s views on struc­tu­ra­lism, in its Czech as well as French version ; 2) examine the re­la­tion­ship between phe­no­me­no­lo­gi­cal concep­tion and some of the theo­re­ti­cal-me­tho­do­lo­gi­cal prin­ciples of Czech struc­tu­ra­lism. Patočka wrote about struc­tu­ra­lism only rarely. Ne­ver­the­less, it is possible to form a re­la­ti­vely clear idea of his view on struc­tu­ra­lism from what he published on struc­tu­ra­lism and the comments he made on different occasions. Patočka knew the re­pre­sen­ta­tives of the Prague Lin­guis­tic Circle (V. Mathesius, R. Jakobson, J. Mu­kařovský and others) well ; together they organized Husserl’s stay in Prague, but they never es­ta­bli­shed a closer scholarly co­ope­ra­tion. However, we can find several connec­tions between Czech struc­tu­ra­lism and Patočka’s phe­no­me­no­logy. Some of these links are high­ligh­ted in my lecture.

Jan Tlustý (Masaryk Uni­ver­sity, Brno): Jan Patočka’s Phi­lo­so­phy and its Contri­bu­tion to Literary Studies
Patočka’s phi­lo­so­phi­cal thinking inspired reception ap­proaches in Czech literary studies, es­pe­cially Zdeněk Kožmín’s in­ter­pre­ta­tive approach and Milan Jankovič’s concept of a work of art as a “process of meaning“. These ap­proaches reflected upon the issue of meaning in both literary works and aesthetic ex­pe­rience. Kožmín and Jankovič derive their positions from Jan Mukařovský’s struc­tu­ra­lism, but they are further inspired by other schools of thought, namely Patočka’s phe­no­me­no­logy. The aim of my contri­bu­tion lies in outlining Patočka’s impact on Czech literary studies, while showing his aes­the­tics in a broader literary and phi­lo­so­phi­cal context. Spe­ci­fi­cally, I am going to point out the sur­pri­sing si­mi­la­rity between Patočka’s idea that a literary work points towards our “lifeworld” (Le­bens­welt) and Paul Ricoeur’s her­me­neu­tics.

Petra James (Uni­ver­sité Libre de Bruxelles): Art as Absolute Play : Jan Patočka as a Literary Critic
Jan Patočka dedicated numerous texts to the question of aes­the­tics. More par­ti­cu­larly, Patočka wrote essays on specific Czech writers and artists such as the poet Karel Hynek Mácha (1810 – 1836), Josef Čapek (1887 – 1945), Jaroslav Durych (1886 – 1962) and many others. In his studies and numerous reviews, he explored the frontiers and dif­fe­rences between li­te­ra­ture and phi­lo­so­phy and focused on phi­lo­so­phi­cal topics developed by artists. Moreover, we should note that these major texts re­flec­ting Patočka’s thinking on art were written at dramatic moments of Czech(oslovak) history – the first mentioned in 1969, the am­bi­va­lent year following the Warsaw Pact invasion of Cze­cho­slo­va­kia in August 1968 and the sub­sequent sup­pres­sion of the Prague Spring. The text was to be published in a volume of texts from 1968 – 1969 entitled The Struggle for the Meaning of the Present Time (O smysl dneška). In the end, due to political cir­cum­stances, the whole issue of the book was destroyed.
As for the text on Mácha, it was published in 1944, during WWII and the “Pro­tec­to­rate” imposed on Bohemia and Moravia. The prologue to his own German trans­la­tion of Durych’s novel The Rainbow of God (Boží duha) was published in 1975, in the middle of the « nor­ma­li­sa­tion » period (the Czech version of the novel was published for the first time in 1969, seven years after the author’s death). For all these reasons I suggest exploring in my paper this under-re­sear­ched topic of the po­ten­tially “engagé” dimension of Patočka’s writing on art.

16h30-17h30 – Closing dis­cus­sion