Richard Weiner (Czech writer)
Richard Weiner (6 November 1884 – 3 January 1937) was a Czech journalist and writer. He is generally considered to be one of the most important Czech writers of the twentieth century, since he influenced many of his own and later generations of writers. Yet he is little known outside the Czech Republic. Because of his enigmatic writings he has often been likened to Franz Kafka, although mutual influences can be ruled out with near certainty. He has been called "the poet of anxiety", others spoke of him as "the Odd-man out" of Czech literature. His contemporary Karel Čapek named him "the man of pain."
Weiner was born in Písek, South Bohemian Region, Austria-Hungary (now the Czech Republic). His parents ran a distillery and confectionery and Richard, the oldest of five children, was destined to take over the family's business. He studied chemistry at the Technical University in Prague and after graduating in 1906 with a degree in Chemical engineering he went on to take further studies in Zurich and Aachen. In 1908 he served in the military and in 1909 he began working as a chemist in Pardubice, Freising and Allach (near Munich).
In 1911, however, and after many sleepless nights, Weiner determined that he would rather try to make his living as an independent journalist and writer. The following year he moved to Paris and started writing as a correspondent for the Czech daily newspaper Samostatnost. Beginning in 1913 he primarily worked for Lidové noviny and published his first volume of poetry. While he was on vacation in Prague in the summer of 1914 World War I broke out. He was conscripted for military service and served at the Serbian front. In January 1915 he suffered a nervous breakdown and was discharged from the army. For the rest of the war he worked for various Prague newspapers and published three collections of short stories, among them Lítice (Furies, 1916), one of the first Czech books dealing with World War I.
In 1919 Weiner returned to Paris once again as a correspondent for Lidové noviny. He was to stay in Paris for nearly the rest of his life, only returning to Prague in 1936 when he had fallen seriously ill with stomach cancer. He died in a Prague sanatorium on 3 January 1937. He was buried at the Jewish cemetery of his hometown. His tomb was wrecked in a pogrom shortly before the outbreak of World War II.
Weiner's journalistic work focused on French and particularly Parisian politics and culture, but covered everyday life and sensational crimes as well. He reviewed plays, literature, and exhibitions and even wrote a regular column on fashion under a female pseudonym. His style has been described as "impressionist" by contemporaries. For this reason his work may be difficult to understand now, because Weiner presupposed familiarity with the news of his day. "But is not his journalistic writing of that time a wonderful source of study of this time-period?" his friend and fellow correspondent Gustav Winter asked in his obituary of 1937. "This time period with its special fragrance Weiner perceived and interpreted however more by an intuition than hard study. He was proud of it - and rightly so." In her study of Weiner's work, Marie Langerová has characterized Weiner's quest as a journalist as that of a "destroyer of national myths".
Weiner's literary work is generally divided into two distinct phases. His first poems and short stories appear to be influenced by the modernist literature of the early 20th century. At the same time he developed his own new poetics under the influence of Charles Vildrac and Georges Duhamel. Whereas Weiner did not publish any literary works for several years after 1919, he started writing prose and poetry once again when he met a group of French surrealists, including Roger Vailland, René Daumal and Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, who called themselves Le Grand Jeu (The Big Game). Between 1927 and 1933 Weiner published three more volumes of poetry, the prose work Lazebník (The Barber; 1929) and the novel Hra doopravdy (A Game for Real; 1933).
Weiner used literature as a means to explore the depths of being, while at the same time consciously reflecting the limits of language as a means of communication. Alfred Thomas argues: "Weiner's subtle fiction exposes – not the defunct status of language per se – but the fragmentation of a unified discourse subtended by a monistic, morally unambiguous truth." Referring to Weiner's homosexuality Thomas has also stressed, that Weiner's language is not emptied of meaning as some critics had insisted, but that his stories "explore the relationship between identity understood in terms of social morality and identity conceived in the subjective terms of sexuality."
With his prose Weiner reached an extreme degree of abstraction. Taking Hra doopravdy for an example, Walter Schamschula has pointed out that this novel consists of two distinct parts which are seemingly not connected to each other. But whereas the content of the first part might be accessible to the reader by viewing it as a dream, the plot is increasingly atomized in the second part. According to Schamschula critics have argued that a rational understanding of this novel is not possible, but he claims that it can nonetheless be accessed by recognizing its elaborate stage of abstraction. In particular, Schamschula stresses Weiner's commitment to the optical and to geometrical structures. Weiner's philosophy might be described as existentialism.
In his lifetime, Weiner was already viewed as a literary outsider. His works did not sell at all and after his death he fell almost into oblivion. With the exception of a small volume by Jindřich Chalupecký, founder of the Group 42, he became recognized as an important author only in the wake of the Prague spring and particularly after 1989. Until recently, he has not been translated into English. In 2015, an English translation (by Benjamin Paloff) of Hra doopravdy (as The Game For Real) appeared on Two Lines Press.
- Netečný divák a jiné prósy. Fr. Borový, V Praze 1917.
- Rozcestí. Básně. Fr. Borový, V Praze 1918.
- Lítice. 2nd edition, Praha 1928.
- Mnoho nocí. Básně. Vydal Ot. Štorch-Marien, Praha 1928.
- Hra doopravdy. New edition, Mladá Fronta, Praha 1967.
- Lazebník Hra doopravdy. Odeon, Praha 1974.
- Sluncem svržený sok. Československý spisovatel, Praha 1989, ISBN 80-202-0092-4.
- Škleb. ARGO, Praha 1993, ISBN 80-85794-03-9.
- Spisy. (Works). 5 Vols., ed. by Zina Trochová. Torst, Praha 1996ff.
(from Many nights)
Broken where the rainbow spans
O´er blissfulness itself,
there is a wondrous country
where divine courtiers dwell
For who else would in a realm reside
Which only those can reach
Who know to erase the border
That divides good deeds and guilt?
They see no shining star to light
The way to Bethlehem.
(A rhyme would say: a blind bird sings
To those who are blind as well.
The true rhyme claims: a strangely aware
vexation in me stays,
Here starts the abrupt journey
To heights of insanity.)
Accomplished leaders, beware!
Your lore inspires my fears.
You would infuse a poison
Into my nourishment.
No longer would I comprehend
Why all – as it is said -
Those dwellers leave their destiny
The moment it is known
And blinding themselves willfully
Attempt on waters to walk,
while avoiding all the landmass
in the search for a walking shore.
And why the cosiest shelter
Is gained through a heart which burst,
the one who thirsts for comfort most
Is the counselor best.
Why pain is there the landlord,
The greatest charity,
The timeless wakefulness of God,
The breathing space, respite.
Like the pipes of an organ, roars
The sculptured coral grove,
The commotion of anthems
tear down the azure vault.
Smoke belligerent soars and spirals
From pregnant, fertile soil,
warmhearted angels whirl around
like tempests transfigured.
In fits of fury flashes write
The eternal chronicle
Of fateful tragedies that have
No actors or observers.
Of fateful tragedies that hold
The crushed ones unrelieved,
that live on darkness doggedly,
Where they cast the beastly claw.
Of the unforgiving being
Which Minerva cursed in vain.
Oh, you clarity wrongly dimmed
of the untruly denied word.
By opening of a heavy gate
(whose rusty doorposts screeched)
White water rushes fast into
the judgement-storing granaries.
The Lamb´s fleece is the water,
then at the crack of dawn
Some men are rushing forward
And collecting up the foam.
And conscientious women
Woke at the break of day
To spin the wool magical
With their selfless hands.
And who has donned that garment
No longer suffers pain,
And who has donned that garment
Is with fatigue aflame.
There mother nurses baby
And knows the beloved child,
Whose closed, slumbering eyelids
Are scorched by spike of creation´s fire,
Won´t recognize her at waking,
Nor she her offspring know,
So she cuddles it still tighter,
victorious, joyful seven times,
And with a face of marble
Invokes the reptile’s blissful bite
That welds the hearts of people
In one, in hardness angel-like.
There in the coral country,
The crazy land, the bluish dome,
Where on the serene waters
Float uprooted weeds of hope.
Translation Jan Dobiáš
- Jindřich Chalupecký: Richard Weiner. Aventinum, V Praze 1947.
- Lubomír Doležel: Radical Semantics. Franz Kafka and Richard Weiner. In: Jürgen Esser; Vilém Fried; Axel Hübler (1981). Forms and functions: papers in general, English, and applied linguistics : presented to Vilém Fried on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday. Gunter Narr Verlag. ISBN 978-3-87808-149-4. Retrieved 16 July 2011., pp. 225–230.
- Jindřich Chalupecký: Expresionisté. Richard Weiner, Jakub Deml, Ladislav Klíma, Podivný Hašek. Torst, Praha 1992, ISBN 80-85639-00-9.
- Alfred Thomas: The Labyrinth of the Word: Truth and Representation in Czech Literature. Oldenburg, Munich 1995.
- Marie Langerova: The Ideology, Politics and Autonomous Art of Richard Weiner. (An Event in Discourse), 31 July 1998. (PDF in Czech)
- Marie Langerová: Weiner. Host, Brno 2000, ISBN 80-86055-97-3.
- Karel Srp: Nepovědomé body. Josef Šíma, Richard Weiner a skupina Le grand jeu. In: Umění.52, Nr. 1 2004, pp. 11–36.
- Filip Charvát: Richard Weiner oder Die Kunst zu scheitern. Interpretationen zum Erzählwerk ; mit einer vergleichenden Studie zu Franz Kafka.Univ. Jana Evangelisty Purkyně, Ústí nad Labem 2006, ISBN 978-80-7044-766-6.
- Vanda Pickett (2006). Consciousness of fiction: structures of narrative uncertainty in the prose of Richard Weiner. Linacre College (University of Oxford).: D.Phil. thesis, degree awarded 2006.
- Dobrava Moldanová: České příběhy. Univ. U. E. Purkyně, Ústí nad Labem 2007, ISBN 978-80-7044-846-5.
- Walter Schamschula: Geschichte der tschechischen Literatur. Von der Gründung der Republik bis zur Gegenwart. Köln 2004, pp. 305–310.
- Alfred Thomas: The Bohemian Body. Gender and Sexuality in Modern Czech Culture. Univ. of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI 2007.
- Lubomír Doležel: Studie z české literatury a poetiky. Torst, Brno 2008, ISBN 978-80-7215-337-4.
- Josef Hrdlička: Obrazy světa v české literatuře. Studie o způsobech celku ; Komenský, Mácha, Šlejhar, Weiner. 1. Auflage. Malvern, Praha 2008, ISBN 978-80-86702-41-4.
- Petr Málek: Melancholie moderny. Alegorie, vypravěč, smrt. Dauphin, Praha 2008, ISBN 978-80-7272-167-2.
- Alfred Thomas (2007). The Bohemian body: gender and sexuality in modern Czech culture. Univ of Wisconsin Press. pp. 97–8. ISBN 978-0-299-22280-2. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- Jindřich Chalupecký: Richard Weiner. Aventinum, V Praze 1947; F. Kautmann: Franz Kafka a česká literatura (Franz Kafka and the Czech literature). In: E. Goldstücker, F. Kautmann & P. Reiman (eds.): Franz Kafka, Liblická konference 1963. Prague 1963, p. 63; Cf. Heinz Politzer (June 1966). Franz Kafka: parable and paradox. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 366. Retrieved 19 July 2011.; Lubomír Doležel: Radical Semantics. Franz Kafka and Richard Weiner. In: Jürgen Esser; Vilém Fried; Axel Hübler (1981). Forms and functions: papers in general, English, and applied linguistics : presented to Vilém Fried on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday. Gunter Narr Verlag. ISBN 978-3-87808-149-4. Retrieved 16 July 2011., pp. 225–230; Steffi Widera (2001). Richard Weiner. Munich: Verlag O. Sander. p. 213. Retrieved 19 July 2011.; Filip Charvát (2006). Richard Weiner oder Die Kunst zu scheitern: Interpretationen zum Erzählwerk : mit einer vergleichenden Studie zu Franz Kafka. Univerzita J.E. Purkyně v Ústí nad Labem. ISBN 978-80-7044-766-6. Retrieved 19 July 2011.;
- Walter Schamschula (2004). Geschichte der tschechischen Literatur: Von der Gründung der Republik bis zur Gegenwart. Böhlau Verlag Köln Weimar. pp. 305–310. ISBN 978-3-412-07495-1. Retrieved 16 July 2011.
- Hans Dieter Zimmermann: "Ein tschechischer Kafka? Zur Prosa Richard Weiners". Vortrag auf der Konferenz Kafka und Prag zum 80. Geburtstag von Kurt Krolop im Goethe-Institut Prag am 29. Mai 2010. (19 July 2011)
- Jiri Holy (2011), Writers Under Siege: Czech Literature Since 1945 (2 ed.), Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, p. 14, ISBN 978-1-84519-440-6, retrieved 19 July 2011
- Alfred Thomas (1995). The labyrinth of the word: truth and representation in Czech literature. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag. p. 105. ISBN 978-3-486-55997-2. Retrieved 16 July 2011.
- Vanda Pickett: "In Between Reality and Literature. Reflections on the Creation of National Identity in The Journalistic Writing of Richard Weiner". p. 2 (Paper presented at the Postgraduate Conference The Contours of Legitimacy in Central Europe. St. Antony's College, Oxford, 24–26 May 2002.)
- William E. Harkins: War in the Stories of Richard Weiner. In: Kosmas 1 (1982), pp. 67-71.
- Jonathan Bolton: Weiner, Richard. YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. (11 July 2011).
- Peter Urban: Biobibliografische Notiz In:Richard Weiner (1991). Der Bader: Eine Poetik. Friedenauer Presse. p. 165. ISBN 978-3-921592-67-0. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
- Pickett: "In Between Reality and Literature", pp. 6-7.
- Pickett: "In Between Reality and Literature", p.4.
- Widera, Richard Weiner, p. 56.
- Literatur im Kontext - Richard Weiner (in English)
- Thomas: Labyrinth, p. 106
- Alfred Thomas (2007), The Bohemian body: gender and sexuality in modern Czech culture, Madison, WI: Univ of Wisconsin Press, p. 103, ISBN 978-0-299-22280-2, retrieved 19 July 2011
- Schamschula, Geschichte, p. 305.
- Thomas: Labyrinth, pp. 105-6
- Jiri Holy (2011), Writers Under Siege: Czech Literature Since 1945 (2 ed.), Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, pp. 75, 93, 98, 113, 206, 213, ISBN 978-1-84519-440-6, retrieved 19 July 2011
- Richard Weiner: a European mind
- "The Game for Real by Richard Weiner". Two Lines Press.
- Broadcast Richard Weiner: a European mind
- Jonathan Bolton: Weiner, Richard. YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. (11 July 2011).
- Literatur im Kontext – Richard Weiner (English)
- Richard Weiner at Czechoslovak book network Baila.net