Dearest Mr. Chalupecký,
First of all, how could I be angry?! That would really be awful of me. Believe it or not, I think of you more often than you think – and with genuine, sincere friendship. After all, you just might be the only person in Czechoslovakia who really understands me and thinks about my work, which means also about me. These are not just idle words when I tell you that I appreciate it and recall and think about it at times when I feel that it would be best if I were no longer around – when I feel completely alone, and all my efforts seem to me to be merely castles in the air. But that is all part of that Flaubertian world, if I may use his name.
In the other one, however, it’s different: I moved there, first looked for a flat and had as busy a life as the circumstances would allow. America is a great country and it’s the same here as everywhere in the world, though it was paradise for Columbus, who is in the soul of every person. It’s an adventure to take the subway, to see the Atlantic Ocean at any moment, to meet people who know nothing, absolutely nothing about what makes up your old world, etc. Imagine that Mark Twain lived in the “village” of Redding where my relatives live. His house and library are there, and I feel that it’s a sign from the god of art, that perhaps I am a writer after all. There are also blood roots in Redding in the spring. These are plants whose juice the Indians used to paint their bodies when they went to war. And then I saw a fox and fox cub in the forest, and it seemed just as amazing to me as to see Chaplin’s last film on Broadway. I immediately started writing when I came here, but then I stopped. I hope someday to write something about it.
I could go on and on, but don’t know if I should. First, I didn’t write you at all since Christmas and now, suddenly, I’d be writing so much. I’m having a “good day” today and it has unbound my mouth. Now let’s get back to things that really interest you:
I would really like to translate Gertrude Stein’s Brewsie and Willie for you. It consists of dialogues of American soldiers in Europe, the problems of contemporary man are expressed very simply. Though Stein’s old form is clearly recognizable, it is an artistically mature work that could not have been created in its purity and conclusiveness without the “madness” that everyone basically scorned, without those endless experiments. And yes, it was them that gave rise to this book that is pure and human, deeply human. It’s a small book, you could publish it in instalments; it would work well that way since there are short chapters that are easily separated. The only problem concerns authorization and what you would have to pay for it. Or perhaps just a few chapters could be translated? Maybe that would be acceptable? But probably not. Please let me know.
I will send you poems, but I have to work on them, and they may not turn out the way I would like. But I will certainly send something as soon as possible, at least as a sample. That would be the main thing. I find translating this Stein work very smooth, and by some miracle it almost reads (no, it does read) like an original. If you had me
Oh, dear Chalupecký, I have a difficult life here, dealing with issues related to my colleague and other similar matters. It’s beautiful because it’s interesting. I also had and still have problems with my eyes since I’ve overworked them. I also had some excitement in my personal life, both from the old and new world. I’m only telling you this to explain why I haven’t written in so long.
But now I will fix everything. Please keep me as your friend, even though I have not held up my end. Nobody has held up his end with me, and I am gradually acquiring this vice and am assuming that this is the way things work in general. And yet I’m still waiting for someone to hold up his end and ask me to do the same.
Another thing I must tell you is that Jakobson is making a great career for himself here. He will probably be a Harvard professor and head of the Slavic Department, which means a high position both morally and financially. He can’t go any higher. Yet he is hesitant (yesterday) and they might want to keep him at Columbia, though with the same high conditions. He is, however, still nostalgic for Europe, which I really can’t understand. He’s more than kind to me, does everything he can for me, and will include my work in his lecture at Columbia in a Czech literature course, and will read my writings. He’ll invite me to attend and won’t say who I am so I can see how the students react. They apparently laughed during a reading of Šrámek’s poems (Rozsévač (The Sower)). So we’ll see, maybe they’ll roar with laughter at mine. Jakobson and Münzer are both very decent people and will do anything for you. Yet sometimes they have their moments, minor vanities and the like, which I try in vain to free their minds of. It’s incomprehensible to me how people of their stature can sometimes be pettily vain and touchy. Maybe it’s due to the emigration, or because they’re from a different generation, although they’re not that much older than me, or I don’t know.
Enough already. I’m writing during office hours, towards the end of the week there are always fewer pressing tasks. Actually, today I’m supposed to be at Lake Success. Full stop.