Kolenič and His Inspirations

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Kolenič and His Inspirations

Half-way through, after seventy, eighty pages, the question was still open. Kolenič found a brilliant inspiration for his central plot. He imagined a mysterious disease which deprives all normal conventional people of their physical and mental capacities, leaving only the poet – along with the lowest rabble, to whom he belongs – immune. This is a very old, in fact an archaic theme: it’s the central theme of the old Irish epic Táin Bó Cuailnge. In the Táin the immune super-hero Cú Chulainn single-handedly defends the province of Ulster against the rest of Ireland, while the warriors of Ulster lie incapacitated by a kind of “labour pains”. Cú Chulainn, unlike the Accursed Poet, is by no means one of the rabble, but he too is an outsider. I have no idea how Kolenič came by this theme; for his purposes he revives it as something fresh and vital.
And yet, alas… our author‘s courage fails him in the end. His lyric despair lures him to a fatally easy solution. As I understand it, his poet surrenders the pride of the Accursed and collapses meanly into the (now incapacitated) conventional multitude. He ceases to be Accursed and becomes just normally, unpoetically, vicious… ordinarily, crassly obnoxious. By the end I felt disillusioned and angry.
And nevertheless I think this novel is an interesting literary experiment. I haven’t often found so much lyrical talent in the prose of our times.
Can something like that be translated, retaining the humour that belongs to it integrally? I made the attempt for the Slovak Literary Review (December 2004).
Afterwards a lady from a publishing house in Illinois, USA, who was interested in new authors from Central and Eastern Europe, wanted to know if there was anyone fit to publish in Slovakia. She was put in contact with me, and straightaway I sent her my ten pages from Kolenič. He genuinely was outstanding among those prose writers whom I’d translated and, aside from that, I was curious: what would they make of him in the land of Edgar Allen Poe? But immediately after sending my e-mail I regretted it. An inner voice was telling me, “You idiot! If she accepts it… that means translating one hundred and fifty pages of this phantasmagoria… including the parts you can’t stand!”
The lady from Illinois replied immediately, “Thank you very much for sending the prose extract by Ivan Kolenič. Once we’ve considered it I’ll be in touch right away.” Three weeks went by, a month; I imagined various conflicts in the literary community in Illinois. Finally the lady replied, “Thank you again for sending the prose extract by Ivan Kolenič. Unfortunately, in our opinion it is not suitable for the selection we intend to publish.” And she gave her reasons. “I never got into it at all. For me this author is unconvincing.” To be blunt, and putting it plainly: “It seems to me he’s got a bad attitude towards women…“
First of all, I breathed a sigh of relief: I’m free of those hundred and fifty pages! And secondly… well, why should I reproach the lady from Illinois for her incomprehension and prosy political correctness? – because surely she’s right after all: this author’s attitude to women leaves a certain room for improvement. Though mind you, this lady isn’t Kolenič’s mother, she’s a literary person judging him as an author. That might make a difference. The question will have to remain open, which of us is to blame: whether Kolenič, being unable to write convincingly, or myself, not being able to do a convincing English translation, or the lady from Illinois, who just might be a little bit lacking in the quality which we call humour. Be that as it may, this story of a Slovak literary foray into America has no happy ending.

AuthorJohn Minahane
2018-08-21T17:22:53+00:00 September 8th, 2010|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 74|0 Comments