Palmy za polárním kruhem : O nesamozřejmosti samizdatu v Ledererových Českých rozhovorech
Palm trees above the Arctic circle : The uncertainty of samizdat in Jiří Lederer’s Czech Conversations
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This article looks at uses of the word “samizdat” in the mid-1970s, focusing on České rozhovory (Czech Conversations), a book of interviews that journalist Jiří Lederer conducted with other banned writers (such as Ludvík Vaculík, Václav Havel, Jiří Gruša, Aleksandr Kliment and others) in 1975 and 1976. The author carries out a “thick description” (in the tradition of Clifford Geertz) of the word “samizdat”, uncovering a range of connotations tied to the inadequacy of unofficial culture. Rather than constituting a fully functioning alternative culture, samizdat was often seen as inadequate and artificial (like “palm trees above the arctic circle,” in the words of writer Jaroslav Putík); it was a mere substitute for genuine cultural production, operating in a minimal communications network and preserving a finite, even tiny number of material copies for future generations. The article thus proposes an alternative to a common scholarly reading of Czech unofficial cultural activity in the 1970s, in which samizdat is seen as part of a systematic, well-organized effort to create an alternative culture and thereby to undermine the Communist regime. In fact, as the author suggests through a brief reading of Havel’s “Six Asides About Culture” (1984), “samizdat” acquired these connotations only later – to some extent this happened in the framework of Charter 77 and the whole theory of a “parallel polis,” although the process of “re-reading” samizdat as a widespread and effective communications network continues after 1989 and through to the present day.
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