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in search of a shared expression karel čapek’s travel writing and imaginative geography of europe Mirna Šolić

In Search of a Shared Expression

Karel Čapek’s Travel Writing and Imaginative Geography of Europe

Mirna Šolić

This book is published as an output of the Charles University (Faculty of Arts) research programme Progres Q12: Literature and Performativity.

This volume has been peer-reviewed by: prof. PhDr. Jiří Holý, DrSc. Mgr. Jiří Hrabal, Ph.D.

Author © Mirna Šolić, 2019 Copyright © Charles University, Faculty of Arts, 2019 Cover illustration © Karel Čapek, 1955 All rights reserved ISBN 978-80-7308-900-9 (print) ISBN 978-80-7308-901-6 (online : pdf )

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction: Karel Čapek’s Travels and the Idea of Traveling Travel Writing and Traveling Travel Writing and the Articulation of Cultural Identity The Theme of Travel and Interwar Czech Literature Travel Writing and Modernist Cross­‑Generic Experiments Karel Čapek and Popular Culture Karel Čapek’s Travel Writing: The Texts Chapter 1: Transduced Travel Apollinaire’s Journeys Apollinaire, Poetry and Čapek’s Understanding of Modernity “Zone” Between Exile and Travel “The Poetry of Today” Josef Čapek and Marginal Forms of the Visual Arts Chapter 2: Looking for an Audience Reaching out to an Audience Letters from Italy: In Search of a Culture Beyond Baedekers Letters from England: Visual Narration and the Failure of Domestication A Trip to Spain: Visual­‑Textual Perspectives of a Dream­‑Like Country Images from Holland: The Poetics of Mirroring A Journey to the North: Identity and the Supernatural World Chapter 3: Visual Travels Letters from Italy: A Journey Into Visuality Rethinking Tradition: Toward a New Aesthetics of Visual Arts Arriving at Dover: In the Land Without Arts In Search of “Englishness” Beyond England: An Exploration of Colours Moving Through and Within Space: Toward Cinematic Representations Movement, Everyday Life and a Return to “Primitivism” A Walk Between Dreams and Reality Mirroring: The World on Water Dutch Faces: In Search of “Typicalities” “Sedentary Art:” Painting from the Human Perspective Folklore and “Folklore” A Journey to the North: Abundance of Forms At the Beginnings of Europe: The Supernatural World of the North

7 7 16 21 23 27 35 37 37 39 44 55 59 63 63 67 77 84 95 99 109 109 112 119 124 129 131 134 138 142 144 147 149 150 158

Chapter 4: How to Narrate Discoveries. Representations of Travel in the Novel War with the Newts Newts and King Kong Misplaced within the genre: Captain J. van Toch and “his chapter” “Geography Triumphant” or the van Tochian Era First Travel: van Toch/Vantoch and Jan Welzl Second Travel: The Failure of Seeing and Visual Spectacles The Third Travel: Scientific Expeditions and Scientific Exhibits

167 167 170 180 183 191 199

Epilogue: The Return Home. Or how to make Čapek a Socialist Traveler? Return? Between Observing and Acting Edited Travels “Home” and Čapek’s Travel Poetics

205 205 209 212 217

Bibliography List of Illustrations Index Abstract

229 253 255 261

Introduction: Karel Čapek’s Travels and the Idea of Traveling

“A man should not wander around the world; he returns and then he is apprehensive and disgusted” (K. Čapek Cesty 36).

Travel Writing and Traveling Although in a letter to his close friend and fellow writer Fráňa Šrámek (1877−1952) Karel Čapek (1890−1938) expresses his disappointment with his experience of traveling, his bitter remark should only be taken as the literary caprice of a writer who had traveled through a world which, in all of its domains, had constantly captured his intellectual and literary imagination. It is less known that Čapek, the Nobel Prize nominee who “gave you [the] word robot”, the writer of Rossum’s Universal Robots (Rossumovi univerzální roboti, 1920), The Insect Play (Ze života hmyzu, 1921), and the novel The War With the Newts (Válka s mloky, 1936), represented “the voice in which [the newly established] Czecho­‑Slovakia spoke to the world” (“A Playwright”), incorporating the theme of travel, as well as the travel genre, into his opus. Čapek endowed the interwar period with an innovative and unique approach to the travel genre. Further to this, he ensured that the theme and poetics of travel writing became central to an understanding of the literary and cultural identity of a  small and new, largely unknown country, namely the First Czechoslovak Republic; Čapek was, consequently, instrumental in placing Czechoslovakia on to the new map of Europe.1 One of the main features of Čapek’s  own journeys was the articulation of the Czech interwar (1918−1938) cultural identity, focusing on what 1 On Čapek’s role in the cultural and political circles of the First Czechoslovak Repub­ lic see Orzoff Battle and Orzoff  “Husbandman.”

Introduction: Karel Čapek’s Travels and the Idea of Traveling


will be described in this work as “becoming European through being Czech,” following the emergence of the First Czechoslovak Republic as an independent country after the disintegration of Austria­‑Hungary in 1918.2 Following this crucial historical moment of the fall of the Austro­ ‑Hungarian Empire, which, in its own right, contributed to the “sudden redrawing of the map of Europe” and the “post­‑imperial character of modernism” (P. Lewis The Cambridge Companion 6), questions of cultural and political identity became popular intellectual topics of the interwar era, just as the new Czechoslovak society was “confronted with the task of defining its own identity as a nation state” (Lass 46). Similar to other newly established countries, The First Republic argued its belonging to Europe by leading “interwar campaigns of cultural diplomacy [which] rested on a discourse of Europe and Europeanness” (Orzoff Battle 9).3 It aspired “to represent to the world, in the best possible light, its science and culture, to integrate it within existing supranational structures and, with their assistance, participate in the creation of new structures” (“Čas optimismu” 5). These attempts included the commemoration of certain historical events (Lass 57), state­‑funded international exhibitions, congresses and publications of different periodicals, whose aim was to promote the new country abroad (“Čas optimismu” 6).4 While Čapek was intellectually invested in promotion, as well as the myth­‑making about the identity of the new country,5 when it comes to travel writing as a literary and artistic articulation of identity and belonging, his travel narratives demonstrate that he did not feel that politically he had anything to prove. Instead of being overtly political in expressing importance of travel, he toyed with its aesthetic concept, drawing heavily on the cosmopolitan poetics of travel of his time. As this book dem2 On the Czech interwar ideas of belonging to Europe see for instance Hroch, Bugge, and Lemmen. On the historical development of the idea of belonging to Europe see Wolff. 3 On the myth of belonging and identity see also Orzoff “Husbandman,” Williams, Macura Sen and Macura Znamení.

4 On early attempts to build Czechoslovak identity after the dissolution of Austria­ ‑Hungary see Paces and Wingfield, Judson and Rozenblit, Orzoff Battle; on the aftermath of the dissolution of the Habsburg Empire see Spector, even though non­‑German speak­ ing cultures were given very brief consideration. In the same volume see also Shore. 5 On Čapek’s intellectual role in promotion and mythologisation of the identity see for instance Orzoff Battle 179−89.


In Search of a Shared Expression

onstrates, even though during the 1930s he traveled through Europe as a “Czechoslovak cultural diplomat,” and translations and promotion of his travel pieces – along with his other works – were generously funded by the Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Orzoff Battle 189), the fact that his travel narration is imbued with the awareness of cultural equality, his Czechness, and a strong sense of belonging to Europe had more to do with artistic rather than political identity and belonging. His sense of artistic equality stood in opposition to 19th and early 20th century Czech travel writing, mainly constructed in relation to other European cultures, especially Italian, in terms of their cultural advancement and conquest over often unfavorable conditions “at home.”6 In lieu of modernist tendencies of the period, especially transnational character of modernism,7 in his travel writing Čapek sought to overcome the opposition between home and abroad, suggesting an equal and shared “Europeanness,” based on artistic identity. Čapek’s idea of travel was to find a cultural undercurrent, a cultural identity common to all European countries he had visited (including his own). His search for the shared cultural undercurrent  – based on aesthetic expression – is what makes his travel writing “a self­‑reflexive exercise in geography” (Huggan 333), and, in the context of Central and East European travel writing in general, a contribution to “a new imaginative geography […], in which Europe was less a matter of physical geography than a qualitative assessment” (Bracewell “Europe” 343), and “a bridge between travel writing and fiction” (Kelley 358). Čapek’s construction of imaginative geography is not based on Said’s understanding of imaginative geography as a product of highly ideological Orientalist discourses,8 or on 6 For an overview of Czech travel tradition to Italy see Mlsová. For the history of the Czech 19th and the 20th century visual representations of Italy and the European South see Kroutvor. For discussion of Karel Čapek’s Letters from Italy within the Czech tradition of traveling to Italy see Chapter One of my doctoral dissertation “Establishing Conventions: Czech Travels to Italy“ in Solic “Karel Čapek’s Travels”. On the historical development of the idea of belonging to Europe and its symbolic geography for East European travelers see for instance Wolff and Bracewell and Drace­‑Francis, especially Bracewell “The Limits.”

7 On the transnational character of modernism of the period see for instance Huys­ sen and Benson “CE Modernisms.” 8 See for instance Said 71, where he discusses the use of vocabulary in the creation of imagined Orient and Orientalist discourse. On reverberations of Edward Said’s imag­ inative geography see for instance Gregory “Imaginative Geographies” and Frank.

Introduction: Karel Čapek’s Travels and the Idea of Traveling


various other practices of othering and “different imaginative practices of foreignness” (Chard 9), which are frequently mirrored in travel writing,9 and especially travel writing to and from Central and Eastern Europe. Instead, it was based on, to borrow the formulation from Chloe Chard, “the task of finding the forms of language to translate the topography into discourse” as “a recurrent object of discussion” (9) in which the aim was to find elements unifying Czech and European identity. In order to explore this, he used distinctive ways of addressing his domestic audience, involving them in the active construction of the travel experience. He also sought to find common cultural undercurrents in the artistic heritage and expression of the countries he visited and the way the identity of the places he visited was artistically expressed. As this book demonstrates, Čapek’s travel writing opus should be read in the context of discussions on aesthetic tendencies of the period, which are closely related to the modernist poetic(s) of visual arts and literary genres. While traveling through different countries, Čapek not only observes their respective artistic traditions, but also polemicises with tendencies of visual arts back home. The idea which frequently resonates in this book is that for Čapek, creativity often had to do with his understanding of popular culture, literature and folklore, especially the understanding of the “folkloristic” which he considered beyond the borders of static traditions frozen in the past. This was Čapek’s specific return and response to the articulation of the complex modernist “primitive”10 as a “search for original form and the deep sources of art” (Pečinková “Josef Čapek” 76), one of the quests of the Czech prewar modernism and interwar artistic movements. As this book demonstrates, Čapek’s narrative search for the “primitive” is evident in various forms, predominantly in reference to different visual aspects: in the traveler’s frequent reflections on the essence of art, the use of “natural” colors, and the significance of these colors for the Primitivist poetics of 9 On imaginative geography and travel writing see for instance G. Duncan, Gregory “Scripting,” Tavares and Brosseau, Tavares and Le Bel, Kelley.

10 On modernist constructions of the primitive see Bell; on cultural implications of the notion of “the primitive” in 20th century art see Hiller The Myth of Primitivism. About the overview of the Primitivist tendencies see also a subchapter “Primitivists” 70–79 in P. Lewis “Primitivists”. On visual creations of the primitive see Hodeir and Landau and Kaspin. On primitivism in the Czech context see Winter Palmy, Winter “Fascination”, Winter “Group”, Lahoda, Srp “Tvrdošíjní”, and Srp “The Obstinates”.


In Search of a Shared Expression

artists such as Italian Giotto di Bondone or Czech interwar primitivist painter Václav Špála, whose aesthetics will be touched upon in the course of the book, or the simplicity and playfulness of Čapek’s own illustrations, which represent an important semantic part of his travel writing. In his letter to Šrámek, Čapek implies that he longs to return to his own culture and the comfort of his own language, following his travels through England in 1924. He praises Šrámek’s collection of lyrical prose about the Great War, An Astonished Soldier (Žasnoucí voják, 1924), which the writer dedicated to him, as “a truly masculine work, and not some kind of profound impotence” (Cesty 58). Those unfamiliar with Čapek’s  work might find his response gender­‑biased; however, this was Čapek’s  way of calling for diligence and preciseness when dealing with words, and for understanding the practice of writing as a painstakingly difficult but rewarding work with language, which, in accord with the poetics of the period, should have tested the limits and possibilities of expression. For Čapek, a  creative approach to words was exactly equal to the exploration of one’s literary and cultural identity, a perpetual re­‑examination of the literary tradition, and experiments with its conventions. Such tendencies are particularly visible in his treatment of the theme of travel, which, as we shall see, is equally concerned with writing about traveling: Čapek’s  famous “how­‑to” approach humorously deconstructs the mechanisms of the production of different genres and human activities, embodied in the titles of some of his works11 his intellectual and artistic understanding of the theme, and the travel practice itself. Throughout Karel Čapek’s  diverse output, the theme of travel was a  constant source of inspiration for his versatile intellectual and artistic interests. He tackled this theme not only as a writer, but also as a journalist and visual artist who, with practical and aesthetic interests in the visual arts  – photography and film  – played with the flexibility of the travel writing genre and its “dauntingly heterogeneous character” (Kowaleski 7), frequently crossing narrative and artistic borders.12 11 For instance in his humoristic feuilletons about theatre, newspaper and film pro­ duction collected in How They Do It (Jak se co dělá, 1938; English translation 1945), or A Calendar: How Long Is a Year (Kalendář: Jak je rok dlouhý; posthumously published 1940). 12 On the intergeneric nature of travel writing see also Borm, Raban, Bishop, Holland and Huggan, and Korte English travel writing. On the heterogeneous character of the met­ aphor of journey see Todorov.

Introduction: Karel Čapek’s Travels and the Idea of Traveling


In the narrow sense of the word “travel,” Čapek’s highly experimental travelogues focus on this concept. These works include Letters from Italy (Italské listy, 1923), Letters from England (Anglické listy, 1924), A Trip to Spain (Výlet do Španěl, 1930), Images from Holland (Obrázky z Holandska, 1932), Travels in the North (Cesta na sever, 1936), and the posthumously published Images from Homeland (Obrázky z domova, 1953), all of which amount to a  collection of travel sketches from his home country as well as sketches written during his travels abroad. Although travelogues are an obvious source of travel­‑themed writing, the topic wends its way through most of the genres in which Čapek worked, and in this way becomes heuristic for an understanding of his work. Travel factors in Čapek’s selection French Poetry of the New Era (Fran‑ couzská poezie nové doby, 1920; republished as French Poetry [Francouzská poezie] in 1936), and his translation of Guillaume Apollinaire’s “Zone,” first published in 1919 in the literary journal June (Červen). A separate publication was released later that year, illustrated by his brother Josef, and finally in 1936 it was included in the collection French Poetry. The chronotope of travel, various traveling figures, and intertextual references/allusions to the preceding travelogues occur time and again in his fiction, offering a  new, intertextual way of reading his prose and plays (Šolićová). The travel theme occurred even before the travelogues were written  – in story collections Wayside Crosses (Boží muka, 1917), The Garden of Krakonoš (Krakonošova zahrada, 1918), which was co­‑authored with his brother, Josef; and Painful Tales (Trapné povídky, 1921). Subsequent to this, the theme of travel began to appear in print: in The Tales from Two Pockets (Povídky z jedné kapsy, Povídky z druhé kapsy, 1929); Hordubal (1933), Meteor (Povětroň, 1934); An Ordinary Life (Obyčejný život, 1934); and War With the Newts (Válka s mloky, 1936). Further to this, travel took on an important role in the plays: The Insect Play (Ze života hmyzu, 1921); The Makropulos Case (Věc Makropulos, 1922); The Mother (Matka, 1938). Due to the predominance of the notion of travel in Karel Čapek’s opus, which, in fact, crosses the borders of the travel genre, this work is informed by different articulations of this notion within and beyond his travel narratives. My investigation will begin with a  reading of Čapek’s 1919 translation of Apollinaire’s “Zone” released four years before the publication of Letters from Italy. In this book I consider Čapek’s transla-


In Search of a Shared Expression

tion of Apollinaire’s work a transcultural adaptation, a “transduction”13 rather than simply an act of translation. Čapek’s interpretation of “Zone” inaugurates the cosmopolitan theme of travel into the Czech context,14 and at the same time presents a journey into the translator’s own literary heritage in search of semantic solutions, including the articulation of the travel theme, which makes “Zone” a truly Czech cultural and poetic construct. In other words, it was not the work of Apollinaire himself that inaugurated the modern theme of travel in Czech literature, but Čapek’s act of translation. While Chapter One of this work establishes the wider poetic context for consideration of the theme of travel in Čapek’s work within contemporary travel poetics, Chapter Two and Chapter Three examine the experimental nature of Čapek’s  travel opus from two different, albeit interconnected and mutually complementary perspectives: the verbal and the visual. Chapter Two investigates how, in contrast to the flourishing industry of travel guides and travel books, Čapek’s  twentieth­‑century traveler goes beyond his informative function in order to deconstruct the way in which travel experiences are structured within the story. As the chapter demonstrates, this was possible because, as an influence of the experimental character of modernist prose, and in opposition to the 19th century premise that “[travel] narrative can represent peoples and places with unsurpassed fidelity” (Burton 27) and that a traveler’s  task is to “write down, what I saw” (Miňovská­‑Pickettová 372), Čapek turned his narrators into performers, and readers/audience into active collaborators in the construction of travel experience. In the chapter, the investigation of Čapek’s construction of travel experience starts not only chronologically, but also metaphorically with his journey to Italy, traditionally considered the source and the “repository of Europe’s heritage” (Cavaliero 2).15 Travelogues which follow then map a trajectory towards the North, which, in opposition to the traditionally established and my13 Transduction is a term used by Lubomír Doležel in order to define a “transmission from the authorial to the receiving subject” (Occidental 167–68) that not only makes a text a part of a different linguistic environment, but significantly transforms it.

14 On cosmopolitanism and the significance of Apollinaire and French culture, see for instance Kuhlman. 15 On significance of Italy for construction of identity in European travel writing see for instance also Luzzi and Pfister.

Introduction: Karel Čapek’s Travels and the Idea of Traveling


thologized significance of Italy, Čapek rediscovers as the source of authentic European identity. Following the same trajectory, Chapter Three expands on the interactive nature of the travelogues by examining the function of different visual elements, such as illustrations, in the creation of intermedial narratives. Modernism in literature “went hand in hand with modern art” (P. Lewis Cambridge Modernism xviii), promoted “a  culture of experiment” (Cambridge Modernism xx), and radically altered the means of representation (Cambridge Modernism 3). As Glen MacLeod argues, “modernist writers often patterned their literary experiments on parallels drawn from the visual arts” (MacLeod 245).16 Also, even though intermediality is now receiving significant scholarly attention, it was one of the core interests of the Prague Linguistic Circle, whose representatives Čapek befriended.17 Even though reliance on visual arts is one of the key elements of modernist prose, its impact on travel writing has so far remained insufficiently explored (Youngs “Travelling” 274). Visual elements are used when travelers feel the limitation of verbal expression or seek to challenge it; the traveler seeks to experience foreign cultures through his experience with the visual arts, imagined as an inherent part of the other culture’s identity. Finally, they are also used as an explicit indicator of the fictional nature of the travel writing genre. An examination of visual elements addresses Čapek’s function as a visual artist, an interest which he shared with many other modernist writers, who were painters themselves, or openly admitted the influence of visual arts on their work, writers such as D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, W.  H. Auden or Wyndham Lewis.18 Ernest Hemingway for instance openly admitted the influence of impressionist painters on his prose style, especially praising Cézanne, 16 See also Pericles Lewis who claims that “modernism called attention to the medi­ um of the literary and artistic work, defined itself in contrast to convention, and radi­ cally altered the means of representation” (P. Lewis Cambridge Modernism 3). 17 See for instance Roman Jakobson’s  “Puškin,” “Poetry,” “Relation,” and Jan Mukařovský’s key studies, such as “Dialectic,” Aesthetic Function, “Umění,” and “Essence,” can also be read from the point of view of intermediality. On relationship between Prague Linguistic Circle and interwar avant­‑garde movement Poetism see for instance Winner. 18


On visual elements in works of modernist travel writers see Youngs “Travelling.”

In Search of a Shared Expression

Monet, and Manet, whose works he saw in the Art Institute in Chicago (“Travelling” 274).19 An exploration of the travel theme in Čapek’s work then expands to his fictional opus, namely his internationally renowned novel War With the Newts (1936). While scholarship predominantly treats this work as a science­‑fiction or dystopian narrative (e.g. Suvin; Klíma), I consider the novel, especially the first part, to be a  reflection of the writer’s  immersion into the non­‑Czech popular adventure genre, an exploration into the travel narratives and practices of the period. Similar to “Zone,” War With the Newts introduces selected elements of international travel poetics into the Czech context. While in the transduction of “Zone”, Čapek the translator could rely on some already existing aspects of the theme of travel in the Czech literary tradition, in War With the Newts Čapek the writer introduces certain travel writing traditions to his own literary context, so to say, from scratch. In this way he expanded the Czech literary canon with new transcultural and transliterary idioms, but also – as an outsider to the tradition of the imperial and the colonialist discourse of travel and exploration – he contributed to modernist articulations of culture, race and identity. It should be taken into consideration here that not all travel accounts enforce imperialistic discourses (e.g. Byrne). However, an examination of Čapek’s novel against this tradition does open up opportunities for its novel interpretation. Finally, in lieu of a  conclusion, the epilogue explores Čapek’s  travel writing legacy in the first decades of the postwar era, marked by a sharp turn from the artistic experiments of the interwar period toward the political and ideological function of travel as prescribed by Socialist Realist poetics. At this point, special consideration is allocated to his Images from the Homeland (Obrázky z domova, 1953), a posthumously published and edited collection of smaller travel pieces. While indirectly re­‑introducing elements of the complex and highly experimental interwar poetics of travel within the rigid poetic constraints of the postwar years, the collection remains an interesting case study of reception based on the editorial interpretation of the writer’s “intentions” and an echo of his work in official criticism and popular culture. 19

For more on influence of visual arts on Hemingway’s work see Narbeshuber.

Introduction: Karel Čapek’s Travels and the Idea of Traveling


Travel Writing and the Articulation of Cultural Identity Čapek wrote in the period when the travel writing genre, as well as the theme and cultural significance of travel, became the center of interest for many European and North American writers. As Tim Youngs argues, “modernism was built on travel, its ideas and aesthetics across cultures” (“Travelling” 267)20 and, similar to Čapek, “many of the best known examples of the genre were constructed by writers equally or better known for their fiction or poetry” (Carr 75). The activity of writing was often inspired by the activity of travel, and the genre of travel writing was suitable for expressing not only the dissolution of political, but also of metaphorical borders, such as “the merging of the internal and external under the influence of Freud; the conflicting views of the relationship between the individual and the state; and the combination of perspectives in avant­ ‑garde visual art” (Youngs “Travelling” 270).21 The travel writing genre was subject to experimental changes visible in other genres and across arts, especially fragmented narration, intermedial experiments and the disputed role of the traveler­‑narrator.22 But even if the writer’s opus was not based on travel, interwar literature developed an experimental approach to representation and the meaning of space and geography, with overlaps of different spaces and time, subversion of geographical coordinates, and links between geography and identity, all typical of the travel writing genre.23 20 For more on the importance of the travel writing and modernism, see Fussell, Hynes, Dodd, on travel writing of the 1930s and a critical approach to Fussell see Sch­ weizer and Hynes. On modernist travel writing see also Smith, Piette, Carr, Burdett and Duncan Cultural Encounters, Korte “Western Travel,” Farley “Modernist Travel,” and Farley Modernist Travel. On generic issues and transformations in modernist travel writing on the example of English travel writing see Burton. 21 However, as Helen Carr notes, in consideration of travel writing, it is important to distinguish between “travelling writers” and “travel writers” (73).

22 On the experimental character of interwar modernist travel writing, see for in­ stance Farley “Modernist Travel” 279–80 and Farley Modernist Travel.

23 This idea will be discussed in connection with Čapek’s fiction in the chapter on War With the Newts. When it comes to the experiments with representation and meaning of space and identity in interwar fiction, see for instance Berman’s notion of “modernist geography” in her article “Modernismʼs Possible Geographies.”


In Search of a Shared Expression

The interwar era was the period when the travel genre gained some of its most prominent artistic and narrative features. Due to the significant inclination of its authors toward fiction, travel writing became “the more literary and autonomous genre that we understand it to be today” (Carr 74). As Chapter Two and Chapter Three demonstrate, Čapek contributed to a unique travel writing legacy founded on textual and visual experiments with the traditional generic conventions. However, the travel narratives are based on the different historical and cultural experiences of their writer, as well as his sense of belonging and identity, making his approach to travel writing significantly different not only from his Western European and American counterparts, but also from Central European and Czech travel writing of the period. Sam Smith’s  statement about Wystan Hugh Auden’s  and Louis MacNeice’s  Letters from Ice‑ land (1937) also resonate with Čapek’s travel writing opus: it (Auden’s and MacNeice’s Letters from Iceland) “plays games with the travelogue format” (Smith 6). Although the two travel writing approaches are significantly different, they are highly experimental in their specific ways. Certain similarities between them will be discussed in Chapters Two and Three. This distinction from Western travel writing poetics lies in the articulation of the physical and metaphorical notion of home as dominant points of reference in the travel writing genre. Even though Čapek lived in the period when, as James Clifford argues, in opposition to today, home is still “a stable place to tell one’s story, show one’s photos, get one’s knighthood” (19), in the West, the meaning and localization of home was problematized due to a growing sense of spiritual displacement caused by the trauma of the Great War, which consequently led to the creation of literary diasporas. As Sarah Victoria Turner writes, “Modernism has long been recognized as being shaped by the experiences of travel, exile, and migrations – journeys characterized by new beginnings and of ruptures with old ways of life” (553). Writers such as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway, and many others wrote outside of their home cultures (Fussell 11), and looked for solace outside of the Western world, such as Graham Greene or Robert Byron.24 As Adam Piette argues, “by the 1930s mobility through acts of expatriation, explo24 For discussion of subversion of the imperial discourse see Piette, Berman, and Youngs “Travelling.”

Introduction: Karel Čapek’s Travels and the Idea of Traveling


ration, and repatriation had become definitely politicized” (53).25 At the same time, travel was a practice enacted by those less privileged, who “were forced to travel for political or economic reasons, [as well as] others [who] chose to travel for pleasure, adventure or profit” (Burdett and Duncan “Encounters” 5–6). A sense of displacement, a result of the flourishing tourist industry which advertised travel as an escape from a feeling of alienation: Baedekers and other guide books promised that “the average man could repeat Moses’ failed journey to Canaan, but this time with success” (Zilcosky 7). Even though the memory of the Great War remained present throughout Čapek’s  work,26 such feelings of physical and metaphorical uprootedness, alienation or any kind or displacement, were not the motivation for his travels, neither were they articulated in his travel writing. As it has been already argued, his understanding of identity and the aim of his travel writing is based on the idea of a shared European aesthetic and cultural heritage, also founded on a strong belief of belonging to his own cultural and artistic tradition. It was not so much the establishment of the political borders drawn after the fall of Austria­‑Hungary, pejoratively called the imperial “prison of a nation,” that influenced Čapek, as it was his own understanding of what constitutes cultural identity. Čapek was able to travel with the awareness of cultural equality not only because he as a Czech was finally privileged to enjoy the cultural and political independence of his own country, but primarily because of his understanding of what makes a national literature, especially a small one like Czech, “worldly.” As he commented, English literature was at the same time national and cosmopolitan because it depicted the “Englishness” of England in such a way that the reader was no longer sure “if it is the English climate that has such an influence on English literature, or, in contrast, if English literature is the cause of the English climate and habits” (Čapek qtd. in: Vočadlo 230). For Čapek, the visibility of the new country and its promotion in the European cultural context has more to do with its literary, artistic – in other words its creative – Czechness, his aforementioned quest for diligent work with one’s native language and literature, a reassessment of 25 26


On political aspects of travel writing see also Schweizer.

See for instance his early work, especially An Insect Play (Ze života hmyzu, 1921).

In Search of a Shared Expression

its conventions, rather than a Czechness defined and recognized by its administrative and political borders. Čapek’s  idea of “world literature,” and the way he articulates it through travel writing – focusing on the aesthetic rather than the political aspect – is what makes his travel opus distinctive to interwar Central European travel writing. Similar to the First Czechoslovak Republic, debates around national and cultural identity, as well as one’s position in relation to and within the imagined European identity, also took place in other successor countries of what once was Austria­‑Hungary. Diana Georgescu’s remark about the Romanian interwar perception of Europe, that “far from receding to the background, the idea of Europe was still invoked in interwar travel accounts as an ideal image against which Romanian intellectuals measure both their peripheral society and the West itself” (Georgescu 294) could to a certain extent be applied to other Central European societies. In general, many writers who left travel accounts, such as Hungarian Dezső Kosztolányi (1885–1936), Polish Czesław Miłosz (1911–2004) and Croatian Miroslav Krleža (1893–1981), articulated their cultural belonging at the edges or in the mythologized space of yet another unknown “Europe.” These writers acknowledge a discord regarding the intellectual advancement of their own culture and imagined – or real – Western European ideals. In 1914, four years before the dissolution of Austria­‑Hungary, Kosztolányi noticed a change in the use of a French word “autrichien” – an Austrian – which had been used as an ethnically neutralizing common denominator for all of the country’s nationals. While the name had to an extent provided Austrians with a “respectable identity abroad” (Kosztolányi 232), now, in 1914, because of the looming Great War, “those calling themselves ‘autrichien’ were almost worse off than the Hungarians” (232). However, the geographical, cultural, and historical position of Hungary remained a grey area for Western Europeans “In the Central Congo… Almost next door to Australia… On the romantic peaks of the Danube” (232). For Miroslav Krleža, Croatian fate remains on the periphery of European culture. In his analogy Croatia represents the end of the Southern Railway, one of the main rail routes of Austria­‑Hungary whose original role had been to connect imperial Vienna with Trieste as the main seaport of the monarchy. Yet his discourse becomes a  metaphor for a  one­ ‑way journey to the periphery of Europe: “we are all living in a provincial Introduction: Karel Čapek’s Travels and the Idea of Traveling


stop on Austria’s southern rail line” in “a black, muddy, sorry province!” (Krleža 276).27 In his short 1931 travel piece “Journey to the West,” which depicts his journey from what was at that time Lithuania through Czechoslovakia and Germany to the Colonial Exhibition in Paris, Miłosz writes that what he imagined as Western European culture represents the absence of what he had witnessed in his own homeland – “bad paving, dust, dirt, straw, and horse manure” – which he found almost immediately behind the borders of Poland – in Czechoslovakia (149). Yet his idealization of European culture seems to fade after visiting the 1931 Colonial Exhibition. What is supposed to be a grandiose cultural experience turns into utter disappointment, especially regarding how the non­‑Western world is represented and treated: That whole exhibit was actually outrageous, as if it had been an exten‑ sion of the Vincennes Zoological Gardens, in which it was held. After one being tired of looking at black, brown, or yellow people in their cages, one went to look at the monkeys, the lions and the giraffes. That, of course, did not bother the organizers of the exposition; perhaps they even chose the place for the very reason that the natives, the wild an‑ imals, and the palms went well together, just as they did on postage stamps (163).

Miłosz’ reflections on the erasure of difference between animal and human, as well as the representation of the non­‑Western world in general, evokes certain aspects of Čapek’s perception of the British Museum in Letters from England, which will be discussed in Chapter Three, and his adaptation of the theme of travel in his novel War With the Newts, to be discussed in Chapter Four. Čapek approaches this topic from an aesthetic rather than a  purely political perspective, often subtly combining the two of them, without establishing the difference between “them” and “us.” Moreover, he parodically refers to this difference as an adaptation of traditional conventions of the travel and exploration genre.



For more on Krleža and Croatian modernist travel writing see Duda.

In Search of a Shared Expression


Cestopisné dílo Karla Čapka vzniklo v době, kdy jak žánr cestopisu, tak i téma cestování získaly ten význam a uměleckou podobu, které jim připisujeme dodnes. Podobně jako řada jiných západoevropských spisovatelů, i  Karel Čapek sepsal svá cestopisná vyprávění zároveň s  průběžně vznikajícími fikčními díly a samotné cestování se jako motiv či téma promítlo i  do jeho románů a  povídek. Tato monografie se snaží doložit, že cestování a cestopisné psaní ve světě otřeseném 1. světovou válkou nejsou jen výrazem hledání domova či přináležitosti, ale lze je chápat také jako modernistický experiment se strukturou rozloženou napříč jednotlivými žánry a uměleckými druhy – jako hledání výrazu, který by umožnil vyjadřovat nové geografie, časy či skutečnosti. V  časech, kdy kulturní diplomacie nově vzniklého Československa měla za úkol šířit kulturní identitu založenou na politické i dějinné přináležitosti k Evropě, pojal Čapek pod vlivem modernistických tendencí tento úkol jako estetický fakt. S pomocí cestování zkonstruoval imaginativní zeměpis Evropy, jejíž součástí je i to, co je české, a této geografii dal podobu žánrovou i tematickou, v níž dominuje hledání sdílených kulturních proudů a sdíleného estetického výrazu. Daný projekt není tematizován pouze v Čapkových cestopisech, tedy v dílech Italské listy (1923), Anglické listy (1924), Výlet do Španěl (1930), Obrázky z Ho‑ landska (1932), Cesta na sever (1936) a v posmrtném souboru Obrázky z domova (1953); jeho umělecké ztvárnění lze spatřovat i v Čapkových překladech či v jeho vlastní prozaické tvorbě. Proto je tato monografie založena na tezi, že téma cestování je stěžejní pro porozumění celému Čapkovu dílu. Výklad tématu cestování začíná analýzou Čapkova českého překladu Apollinairova Pásma; tento tvůrčí čin je zde vykládán spíše jako transkulturní přisvojení kosmopolitní poetiky cestování než jako pouhý překlad. Rozbor ukazuje, jak Čapek při překladu mísí prvky experimentace, jež téma cestování skýtá, s již existujícími prvky cestopisného psaní v české literární tradici. Poté se výklad zaměřuje na vliv postupů využitých při adaptaci Pásma na Čapkovo vlastní cestopisné psaní s  důrazem na jeho performativní charakter, projevující se ve dvou perspektivách  – verbálAbstract


ní a vizuální  – a  v  jejich vzájemném prolínání. Druhá kapitola zkoumá experimentální a performativní charakter Čapkova modernistického výrazu a jeho vliv na narativní strategie, které v cestopisech využívá. Třetí kapitola aspekt performativity dále rozvíjí analýzou funkce jednotlivých prvků vizuality, využívaných v  ilustracích a  vytvářejících intermediální vyprávění. Analýza ukazuje, jak je pro modernistický literární výraz stěžejní vztah k výtvarnému umění, což dokládá i způsob, jímž vizuální prvky ve svých literárních dílech využívají Ernest Hemingway, W. H. Auden či Wyndham Lewis. Ve čtvrté kapitole se výklad vrací k českému kontextu a zaměřuje se na využití poetiky cestování v Čapkových prózách. Výklad jednoho z  jeho nejslavnějších románů, Války s mloky (1936), je založen na tezi, že celý román lze chápat jako jedinečnou adaptaci žánrů dobrodružného a  cestovatelského příběhu, pocházejících z  koloniální britské provenience, jež ale Čapek kombinuje i s dobovými hollywoodskými dobrodružnými filmy. Kromě přebírání žánrových postupů je v Čapkově přisvojení patrný i  odstup od imperiálních diskurzů, které jsou integrální součástí jeho výchozích inspiračních zdrojů. Závěr práce se věnuje pozici Čapkova díla v poválečném kontextu. Na posmrtně vydaném souboru Obrázky z domova ukazuje, jak i jeho zobrazování rysů české krajiny vychází z  experimentů, které vytvořil při psaní o  cestách po Evropě. Dá se říci, že Čapek vytvořil imaginární geografii rodné země na základě uměleckých reprezentací zemí jiných, čímž zdůraznil ty rysy české identity, které se vyskytují v různě variované podobě i v geografiích všech dalších evropských míst a prostorů. Celá kniha je výsledkem mého dlouhodobého zájmu o Čapkovy cestopisy, který se projevil už na počátku mého doktorského studia a posléze se rozšířil i na celou oblast poetiky meziválečných cestopisů. Podstatné části druhé a  třetí kapitoly, zaměřené úzce na narativní analýzu Čapkových cestopisů, byly již publikovány česky v knize Slovo a obraz: Karel Čapek a žánr cestopisu (2015). Byť i v přítomné knize je základem daných dvou kapitol narativní analýza, bylo jejich znění kompletně revidováno a přizpůsobeno zahraničnímu modelovému čtenáři. V průběhu celého desetiletí, které uplynulo od doby, kdy jsem se tématu začala v rámci doktorského studia věnovat, jsem také víc a víc cítila nutnost rozšířit záběr o teoretické a kulturněhistorické aspekty cestopisného psaní, o specifický kulturní a estetický kontext meziválečné éry, o komparativní pohled na další cestopisy a  na cestopisnou kulturu; jako relevantní se časem také ukázalo téma 262

In Search of a Shared Expression

posmrtného osudu Čapkova díla, stejně jako téma cestování obecně. Metodologicky je monografie založena na narativní analýze cestopisného žánru, kterou pak vkládá do kontextu intermediálních vztahů k výtvarnému umění v daném období a od níž se posouvá k pokusu vložit Čapkovo dílo do kontextu teoretizujícího cestopisné psaní a imaginativní zeměpis na obecné rovině. 


Přeložil Petr A. Bílek


Mirna Šolić In Search of a Shared Expression: Karel Čapek’s Travel Writing and Imaginative Geography of Europe Published by the Faculty of Arts, Charles University, nám. Jana Palacha 2, Prague 1 Cover and typography: Jana Vahalíková Fedra typesetting: Dušan Neumahr Printed by Togga Prague First edition, Praha 2019

Mirna Šolić: In Search of a Shared Expression  

Karel Čapek (1890-1938) wrote at the time when the travel writing genre gained some of its most prominent artistic and narrative features, a...

Mirna Šolić: In Search of a Shared Expression  

Karel Čapek (1890-1938) wrote at the time when the travel writing genre gained some of its most prominent artistic and narrative features, a...

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