Stefan Themerson’s personal file

I can imagine the moment when I will have to tell the audience from the stage who the author of “The Adventures of Peddy Bottom” is. It will not be easy, because I immediately mean his well-known statement about categorization and labeling from an interview for “Współczesność”:
“When the classification systems of our modern world push the printed forms to fill out under my nose, my pencil freezes for a moment in the air above the” occupation “column. I do not know how to complete this section. I have made six or seven ‘avant-garde’ films in my life, but I’m not a director or cinematographer. I have published about twenty children’s books, but I’m not a true adult children’s book author. I’ve written about art, but I’m not an art historian. I composed an opera, but I’m not a musician. I have written a number of novels, but these are not quite normal novels – and I don’t know if I am a novelist. ” (“The Present”, 1965)
If, therefore, we followed this path and, for the purposes of a fictitious personal survey, ask Themerson what he would write in the “language” column, the answer could be considered as follows:
“I have not tried to write in English as an English writer would have done. I didn’t try to like the language. I did not try to follow any style or any tradition. Contrary. I wanted to shake the language of all these associations and parish subtleties – and precisely because English was not my mother tongue, it was easier for me to do it in English. ”(Contemporary, 1965)
Let us remind you that in the 1930s Stefan Themerson lived in Warsaw, where he wrote many books for children in Polish. Among other things, the first version of “Przygody Pędrek Wytwórka” was created. Twenty years later, while living in London, he himself translated “Pędrek” from Polish into English, treating it as an opportunity for a second revision of his own book, which will help to clarify the meaning of the dialogues and the meaning of the main message. While living in France, Themerson in turn wrote a volume of poetry in French and published it under the title “Croquis dans les tenebres”. Ultimately, therefore, as an author, he wrote freely in three languages. It was his artistic choice, which he made while seeking political independence. He was known to be hostile to any labeling and did not want to belong to the category of “immigrant writers”.
“A writer is never and nowhere in exile because he carries his own kingdom or republic or city or refuge or whatever it is within him” (Letter to the Secretary of the Writers Committee Abroad, 1951)
Themerson believed that the artist lives in his own world, where there are no borders or official languages. In the name of creative freedom, the artist is in a state of permanent and voluntary exile, which consists in consciously resigning from belonging to a specific cultural community. It is trivial to say over and over again that in each of Themerson’s books you can find his fascination with language as a medium of communication. It is surprising, however, that he wrote the most accurate credo on this matter in a modest book for children entitled “Birth of Letters” from 1932. In it he assures his little readers that “letters are enough to express every thought.” “Language of letters”? Yes! It’s the only language Themerson could identify with and enter it in his personal survey.
The opposite of the “language of letters” for Themerson is the language of numbers – perfectly free of associations and perfectly neutral, just like English “small talk”. In “Przygody Pędrek, the Outcast”, King Penguin has a significant conversation with the title character about the meaning of words and evoking meanings, which ends with the statement:
“- Now let’s talk to make sense. What wonderful weather we have today, absolutely extraordinary for this time of the year. Two times two is four. Perfect weather. Three times five is fifteen.
“Five times five is twenty-five,” said Peddy Bottom the Outcast, trying to keep the conversation going. […]
– A thousand and a thousand are two thousand. How great it is to talk to you, my love! Two times ten thousand is twenty thousand. No quarrels, no pricks, no insults! “

See you on stage

Your Chris

February 26, 2020