Monday, August 18, 2008

To the Castle and Back

Vaclav Havel has a new memoir out about his time as President of Czechoslovakia:

When Václav Havel first entered Prague Castle after becoming president of Czechoslovakia in 1989, he and his team ("a group of friends from various branches of the arts") found wires and concealed microphones everywhere, and a map revealing secret rooms. It was "an enchanted Kafkaesque castle" and, as he reveals in this candid memoir, his time there frequently struck him as absurd...One repeated request appears to symbolise the continued presence of the former regime: "In the closet where the vacuum cleaner is kept, there also lives a bat. How to get rid of it?"

Prague Castle, home of Emperor Rudolf II, patron of alchemists and collector of wonders; the inspiration for Kafka, writer of the intrusion of the uncanny into the mundane, was turned magical and wondrous by the everyday workings of its inhabitants. But, the magic-workers aren't gods, they're the twentieth century version of tommyknockers and goblins. Little magics are made (a bat in the cupboard with the vacuum cleaners, a tape recorder hidden behind the upstairs restroom), produced by mysterious and slightly malevolent midlevel employees. I'm reminded of the stories of the East German woman who read her secret police files, only to find that the Stasi had, in fact, been letting the air out of her tires and misdelivering her mail, as she had suspected for many years. Humans pretending to be gremlins, hiders in the crannies.

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