The Czech Centre, together with the Cardiff University, Oxford University and UCL, and in collaboration with the Václav Havel Library, organises the second annual symposium celebrating the legacy of Václav Havel. Starting in Cardiff on 10th of October, the event will then move to Oxford on 11th October and finish at London’s UCL on 12th of October.
Following a word of welcome from Přemysl Pela (Czech Centre London) we feature a discussion with celebrated Czech author Jáchym Topol, author of i.a. A Sensitive Person (Eng. trans., Yale, 2023); Angel Station (Eng. trans., Dalkey Archive, 2017); The Devil’s Workshop (Eng. trans., Portobello, 2013); Gargling With Tar (Eng. trans., Portobello, 2010); and City/Sister/Silver (Eng. trans. Catbird, 2000), who will talk about practicing creative literature in the final years of Czechoslovak Communism and the early years thereafter.
Followed by a roundtable discussion:
‘Gaming the System: Language, Conformism, and Breaking Conventions, From Václav Havel’s Absurdism to the Age of X’
2023 marks the 60th anniversary of The Garden Party, one of Havel’s most famous plays. Often understood as an Absurdist critique of modern bureaucracy, the play is also a tale about an ambitious young man who becomes a master of ‘gaming the system’. Havel’s protagonist Hugo thus embodies a paradox: he shows the extraordinary social pressure placed on people to conform to social expectations if they are to get ahead in life, but he simultaneously demonstrates the enormous creativity through which they find ways to ‘game the system’ and break the rules. This round-table discussion will explore this curious dynamic of conformism and unconventionality, of obedience and rule-bending, of socialization and sabotage, and will consider how far Havel’s mid-20th-century example of formalized bureaucratic communication (and the implicit parallel to authoritarian power structures) holds for early 21st-century culture and in particular for the ways social media have changed the way we interact for better and for ill.
Tim Beasley-Murray is Associate Professor of European thought and Culture at UCL and works on literature, politics and ideas in English, French, German and sometimes Czech and Slovak. He has written a book on games (and how they can be serious) that will come out later this year.
Barbara Day arrived as a student in Prague in 1965, just in time to see the original productions of Havel’s plays and to experience the great surge of theatre activity. She maintained her connections with Czechoslovakia through the years of the Soviet occupation and consequent ‘Normalisation’. In 1985 she created the Bristol Czech Fest and the same year began to work with the ‘underground university’, through the Oxford-based Jan Hus Educational Foundation. In 1999 she published The Velvet Philosophers and in 2019 Trial by Theatre: Reports on the Czech Drama.
Erin Plunkett is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Hertfordshire. She is co-editor with Ivan Chvatík of the Selected Writings of Jan Patočka: Care for the Soul (Bloomsbury, 2022), and author of A Philosophy of the Essay: Scepticism, Experience and Style (Bloomsbury, 2020).
David S. Danaher is a Professor of and Program Head for Slavic Studies in the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His two most recent books are Reading Václav Havel (University of Toronto Press, 2015) and, co-edited with Kieran Williams, Václav Havel’s Meanings: His Key Words, Their Context and Legacy (Karolinum Press and University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2023). He has taught a monograph course on Havel’s writing to undergraduates from all disciplines since 2002.
Peter Zusi, Associate Professor of Czech and Comparative Literature, UCL.
The roundtable discussion will be followed by a wine reception.
The 2023 Václav Havel European Dialogues are supported by the Sekyra Foundation and are an initiative of the Václav Havel Library.