The Czech Republic, where I will be studying this semester, has been home to a vast number of creative writers with vivid perceptions of their societies. During the decades of Communist, totalitarian rule, a network of dissident writers worked secretly to publish and distribute their forbidden, free-thinking work—ultimately inciting a peaceful revolution as their ideas and sentiments spread. While beginning to read their work, and the work of Czech writers before them, I had expected to feel the weight of the divisions of time and space between myself and the writers. Instead, I often found a mirror to my own anxieties, hopes, and questions—from Kafka’s pre-war search for a just world through the seemingly absurd, to Ivan Klima’s musings on the fate of language and humanity in a world of mass media and environmental destruction. The stories and essays were composed in response to conflicts decades and even a century ago, but the sentiments felt as present as the air that I breathe.
Writing emerges from particular times, places, and people, but enters the world as something transcendent over such divisions. Readers can only interpret written work through their own experiences, and their times and places may respond to the writing in ways the writers themselves may never have foreseen. I want to understand what enables written work to endure, and to study how pieces from increasingly distant eras may continue to inform our modern societies and modes of thought—after, in some cases, having brought us here.
Though a physics major, I have spent much of my life and undergraduate career searching for the role of art and writing in the world, and, by extension, for a glimmer of hope that creative work, in any form, might have the potential to address some of the global issues that my generation has grown up facing. A lifelong writer, I am taking a risk in departing from my major for half of my senior year to immerse myself in a creative medium that I simply cannot live without. (And, to enjoy some brilliant prose about boys waking up as beetles along the way.)