Date of this Version
KOSMAS: CZECHOSLOVAK AND CENTRAL EUROPEAN JOURNAL, New Series, Volume 2, number 2, pp 59-76
This is an introduction to a story, “The Gates Opened,” which serves as a memento of a restrictive regime that banned freedom. It also shares a hope and vision that the gates would open someday—and all would be liberated (despite the chaos and lack of natural order). The story was written in 1984 (sharing a strong symbolic value with George Orwell’s masterpiece). Eda Kriseová shares this anecdote: Around 1984, she wanted to stop writing about the mental institution where she was working, while regularly providing a story to the underground monthly Obsah, and many of her stories were set in the mental asylum. This story thus seems to close this one line of imagination offering the grand finale—when the gates opened. In Eda Kriseová’s own words: “Perhaps, it was an allegory for the forthcoming 1989—perhaps it was a prophecy. The whole country turned into a madhouse, and everyone was able to be free and be freely mad. Humankind went crazy in those days—so the story continues.”1 This introductory essay is followed by an artifact: a typed translation of the samizdat story that had not yet been published. Later, the samizdat Czech version was extended and published by Sixty- Eight Publishers in Toronto in 1991, and finally in Mladá Fronta in Prague in 1994.2 This English translation was never published, but it was presented at public readings. A similar fate and complicated textual history is shared by much samizdat writing. However, this unpublished translation serves as a fascinating artifact illuminating some of the absurdities of dissident writers’ lives, for various reasons: typed texts were a witness of the physical strains of the unpublished literary culture. Typists actually damaged their fingers by having to hit the keys hard enough to type six to twelve carbon copies at once. Eda Kriseová would type the first version for “kvartály” (literary meetings nicknamed by Ludvík Vaculík), and she confessed that she was extra aware of the length of the story, as she had to retype it and bring the copies for the meeting of the circle of the writers in the required number of copies. It was hard and even frustrating to get it done. For example, if she inserted the carbon paper incorrectly between the onionskins, it would mistakenly copy the text on the back of the sheet and spoil the whole batch. Therefore, the text is not only a powerful memento, but also a powerful physical artifact. Originally, it was typed for samizdat. Gerald Turner translated the story into the English version presented here. Eda Kriseová edited this typed copy of the English version for a public reading in front of an English speaking audience. (As noted, the Czech version was extended and published in the exile publishing house, and eventually in Prague.) She marked the English translation for practical reasons—as notes to herself on pronunciation and pauses for easier public reading. Eda Kriseová joined Vaclav Havel to the Castle since the very beginning as one of his top administrators, and both alike were eventually again able to publish in their own country!