Intro to several plays printed by 68 Publishers

In the mid-1980s, Havel wrote an introduction to an anthology of his plays published in Toronto, by 68 Publishers, because he was still banned at home. Here are two passages from that introduction, later published as an essay called “Second Wind.”

“Thanks to the apparent disadvantage of coming from a bourgeois background and growing up in a communist state, I had the opportunity, from the very start, of seeing the world “from below,” that is, as it really is. That helped me to escape certain eventual illusions and mystifications. Of course I don’t think that, had I grown up in a different country with the same background, I would necessarily have become a capitalist, any more than had I grown up in the same country with a different background, I would necessarily have become a party functionary. In either case, I would probably still have become a writer. But I’m well aware that because in both of these cases I would have been, in some ways, better off externally, internally I would have been far worse off because I’d have been denied that initial experience of the world “from below,” which probably gave me more than I was willing to admit at the time. If I displayed – as they used to write about me – a certain sensitivity for the absurd dimensions of the world, then it was not just because of my temperament, but also because of my experience: as we know, the absurd and comic dimensions of the world area always best seen from below.” [Open Letters, p. 4]

“. . . [M]y early beginnings as a playwright coincided with the 1960s, a remarkable and relatively favorable era in which my plays, despite being so different from what had been permitted until then, could actually reach the stage, something that would have been impossible both before and after that. I don’t suppose I need to emphasize how important this was for my writing. It was not just the formal fact that my plays were permitted; there was something deeper and more essential here: that society was capable of accepting them, that they resonated with the general state of mind, that the intellectual and social climate of the time, open to new self-knowledge and hungry for it, not only tolerated them but––if I may say so––actually wanted them. And of course every such act of social self-awareness––that is, every profound and genuine acceptance of a new work, identification with it, and the integration of it into the spiritual reality of the time––immediately and inevitably opens the way for even more radical acts. With each new work, the possibilities of the repressive system were weakened; the more we did, the more we were able to do, and the more we did, the more we were able to do. It was a state of accelerated metabolism between art and its time, and it is always inspiring and productive for a phenomenon as social as theatre.”

[from Open Letters, p 6]


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