Too Loud A Solitude (1976)
translated to English (1990)
Another Look: Stanford Book Discussion
Bohumil Hrabal: Too Loud A Solitude (1976)

Discussants: Professor Robert Harrison (Stanford),
Professor Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford),
Professor Karen Feldman (UC Berkeley)

Bechtel Conference Center, Stanford Encina Hall
Monday, February 6, 2017, 7:30-9:10 pm

By Peter Y. Chou

Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997)
in wisdom mudra pose

Preface: Stanford Book Discussion Club Another Look is organized by Cynthia Haven since 2012. On February 6, 2017, 7:30 pm, book lovers came to Stanford Encina Hall's Bechtel Conference Center, to discuss the novella Too Loud A Solitude (1976) by Bohumil Hrabal, considered the greatest Czech writer in the 20th century. Professor Robert Pogue Harrison, Moderator of Another Look invited Stanford Professor Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and UC Berkeley Professor Karen Feldman to join him as Discussants. Faith Bell of Bell's Books sent Peter Orner's essay to Another Look members— "Night Train to Split" (11-8-2016): "The first time I finished Too Loud a Solitude, I was up in Letná Park, and I remember leaping off the bench and running around in circles, holding the book above my head and shouting because I believed I'd experienced some religious illumination." Cynthia Haven's Feb. 3 email informed us that Another Look fan David Russel from Stanford's Radiology Department is bringing his 1951 Czechoslovakian car, a Tatraplan, also known as the T600. He'll park it outside Encina Hall, beginning at 6:30 pm. Despite the rain, he brought his vintage Czech auto to share with us. I had to use Photoshop to brighten the 7 photos of 1951 Tatra automobile and the info placards on the car. Hrabal's Too Loud A Solitude was not available at Foothill Library. The only copy in the Santa Clara Libraries system was at Saratoga Library due February 25 with 9 holds on it. The book was sold out at Stanford Bookstore. My friend didn't have time to go to Bell's Books to buy a copy. Just learned that Cynthia Haven also took Professor Freccero's "Dante's Divine Comedy" Stanford class (Spring 1991) with me. She was so generous to lend her copy of the book, so we could follow the Discussants reference to page numbers during their comments. She told us to bring her book back in May when Another Look meets again to discuss Dostoyevsky's The Double. Below are my Notes of the Discussants and the audience.

Another Look flyer for
Too Loud A Solitude

1951 Tatra at Stanford Theatre
Photo by David Russell (8/2015)

1951 Tatra Auto Info Sheet
courtesy: David Russell

1951 Tatra T600 Info Sheet
courtesy: David Russelll

Bechtel Center, Stanford Encina Hall
Meeting Place for Another Look

Front of 1951 Tatra Auto
Parked in Front of Encina Hall

Back of 1951 Tatra Auto
Parked in Front of Encina Hall

Left Side of 1951 Tatra
Parked in Front of Encina Hall

Right Side of 1951 Tatra
Parked in Front of Encina Hall

Another Look Discussants:
Harrison, Feldman, Gumbrecht

— Photographs by Peter Y. Chou, February 6, 2017

p. x: Grace is something that comes to us when we somehow find ourselves completely available, when we become open-hearted and open-minded, and are willing to entertain the possibility that we may not know
what we think we know. In this gap of not knowing, in the suspension of any conclusion, a whole other
element of life and reality can rush in. This is what I call grace. It's that moment of "ah-ha!"— a moment
of recognition when we realize something that previously we never could quite imagine.

p. 2: What I realized was that adults spent a lot of time thinking, and more important than that— and more odd,
it seemed to me— they actually believed what they were thinking. They believed the thoughts in their head.

p. 4: I wondered, "Why is it that human beings have such a difficult time putting their suffering down?
What's the reason that we often carry it around, when it becomes such a burden to us?" In some way, many people's lives are defined by the events that have caused them to suffer, and many are suffering over events
that occurred long, long ago. These events are no longer happening, yet they are still being lived, in a sense,
and the suffering is still being experienced. What is going on here?

p. 5: It took me many years, probably a good couple of decades, to realize that what I'd seen as a child struck
at the root of why we actually suffer, that one of the greatest reasons that we suffer is because we believe the thoughts in our head.

pp. 6-7: The great spiritual teacher Krishnamurti once said, "When you teach a child that a bird is name 'bird',
the child will never see the bird again." What they'll see is the word "bird". That's what they'll see and feel,
and when they look up in the sky and see that strange winged being take flight, they'll forget that what is actually there is a great mystery... Of course we need to learn these names and form concepts around them, but if we start to believe that these names and all of the concepts we form around them are real, then we've begun the journey of becoming entranced by the world of ideas... Because after all, that's what thought does: It separates. It classifies.
It names. It divides. It explains.

p. 8: This is the dream world that is addressed by many ancient spiritual teachings. When many of the old saints and sages say, "Your world is a dream. You're living in an illusion", they're referring to this world of the mind
and the way we believe our thoughts about reality. When we see the world through our thoughts, we stop experiencing life as it really is and others as they really are.

p. 9: To begin with, we have to make a simple, yet very powerful observation: All thoughts— good thoughts,
bad thoughts, lovely thoughts, evil thoughts— occur within something. All thoughts arise and disappear into
a vast space... But the silence or quiet I'm talking about is not a relative silence. It's not an absence of noise,
even of mental noise. Rather, it's about beginning to notice that there is a silence that is always present,
and that noise happens within this silence— even the noise of the mind. You can start to see that every
thought arises against the backdrop of absolute silence.

p. 11: There was a saying attributed to Jesus in The Gospel of Thomas, written shortly after Jesus's death,
in which he says: "The seeker should not stop until he finds. When he does find, he will be disturbed.
After being disturbed, he will be astonished. Then he will reign over everything."

p. 12: This is one of the laws of the universe: that everything you see, taste, touch, and feel will eventually disappear back into the source from which it came, only to be reborn and appear yet again, receding again
back into the source.

pp. 14-15: This is why Jesus said that when you begin to find, you will be disturbed... Are you willing to be aware? Are you willing to open your eyes? Are you willing to be wrong? Are you willing to see that you may
not be living from a standpoint of truth, from a standpoint of reality? This is what it means to be disturbed...
To be disturbed means you're willing to see truth, you're willing to see that maybe things aren't the way you thought they were... This is really the entry point into the end of suffering: when you become conscious of
the fact that you don't really know. I mean that you don't really know anything— that you don't really
understand the world, you don't really understand each other, you don't really understand yourself.

pp. 16-17: When I look underneath the veil of thinking, what I find is that I am a mystery. In some ways, I disappear. I disappear as a thought. I disappear as an imagined someone. What I find, if I'm anything at all, is that I'm a point of awareness, recognizing that everything I think about myself isn't really what I am: I recognize that the next thought I have could never truly describe me... And isn't it obvious that if we don't go to our minds, that what we are is something spacious and of amazing mystery, amazing wonder, that we are a still quiet point of awareness and consciousness?

p. 18: Because you longer want to suffer. Because you're willing to be disturbed. You're willing to be amazed. You're willing to be surprised. You're willing to realize that maybe everything you've ever thought about yourself really isn't true.

p. 20: But if we're beginning to look at the core and the root of suffering, we start to see that an image is just that: It's an image. It's an idea. A set of thoughts. It's literally a product of imagination, It's who we imagine ourselves to be... we remain in a continuous state of protecting or improving our image in order to control how others see us.

p. 22: If we think we're good and worthy, we'll create good and worthy emotions. But if we think we're unworthy, then we'll create negative emotions. So we can have a good or bad self-image, a self-image that feels emotionally either better or worse, but no matter what it is, if we look deeply at the core of all our images, there is this feeling of not being authentic, not being real.

Notes for Another Look Book Discussion (February 6, 2017):
Too Loud A Solitude (1976) by Bohumil Hrabal

Stanford Professor Robert Pogue Harrison, Moderator of Another Look
This book is a love story of Hanta who loves books. We don't know how old he is. He has been compacting trash for 35 years and finds books being compacted. He drank a lot of beer, and books tell him about things he doesn't know. Certain books know us better than we know ourselves. Encounter with a book is encountering oneself. Pages 7-9—
"I am now taking home books in my briefcase. So I walk home like a burning house, like a burning stable, the light of life pouring out of the fire, fire pouring out of the dying wood, hostile sorrow lingering under the ashes... I'm never lonely, I'm simply alone, living in my heavily populated solitude, a harum-scarum of infinity and eternity, and Infinity and Eternity seem to take a liking to the likes of me." Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936): Essay on humor (L'Umorismo, 1908): Humor is not irony, it producees images that first seem comic, though it reveals tragic underside, feeling of the absurd. (Humour in Pirandello's Literature). I discovered Karel Capek (1890-1938), and have read all I can about this Czech writer. Hrabal is an absurdist writer. His hydraulic press reduced books to tiny bits. It's reduction of meaning to matter. Most Slavic Departments in Universities cover Russian literature. There's none focusing on Czech literature.

Stanford Professor Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht
I read less fiction than Robert. I enjoyed this book and thank Robert for inviting me to Another Look to discuss it with you. This book has amazing philosophical edge. I was born in Bavaria, close to the Czech border. I don't go to church but am fasciated by theology. Entry to this book through Catholic theology. I won't go into the Trinity, but have four points about this book. (1) Exudes about the abject: Why three stones on these pages? Have beer smell, rats smell is sweet. You're inhabiting the underground. There maybe a frog in the sandwich. Page 49— Death of his uncle. He lay there on the tile floor, his body rotting like overripe Camembert. Aristotle's hylomorphism: every physical object is a compound of substance (matter) and form. Immanuel Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (1788): "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me." (Kant's tombstone). (2) Rhythm & metrics: Book is like the Song of Roland (1040-1115). "I've been doing this for 35 years" in each of his chapters. Book compressing in syncopated rhythm. Amazing rhythm of prose and sentences inhabiting world of the abject. This book reminds me of Louis-Ferdinand Céline's nihilistic novel Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932) on discovering corpses and grotesque forms. (3) Book about protagonist who destroys books: But he selects some books to save and read. The Eucharist is tasting Christ's body of blood and wine. The Gypsy girl comes to Hanta. Bales of books with flies in them. Eat God's body and blood is Catholic theology. Marxism talks about materiality with no aesthetics. (4) Two ideologies in his lifetime: Nazism (1938-1945) & Communism (after 1945). Gypsy woman who sleeps in his bed was sent to German concentration camp. Other woman, Muncha, is a Fascist sympathizer. She has this broad-ass mansion. Protagonist's dream eliminated by Communists. What rescues him is the Gypsy girl who reminds him of the kite he built for her. She's at the end of the cord and climbing up to him— a physical union (only sexual fulfilment in the book). It's a beautiful ending of redemption. (Note: The photo of Professor Gumbrecht shows him in the wisdom mudra pose like Bohumil Hrabal posted above. It is one of Albert Einstein's favorite meditative gestures.)

UC Berkeley Associate Professor Karen Feldman
It's hard to follow Professor Gumbrecht's overwhelming analysis. This is a book lover's book with lots of philosophical references. I'm reminded of Kafka's Prague in his story In the Penal Colony (1914) where he writes of crime on prisoners' bodies. There are also references to Beckett and Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground (1864). I don't want to compact the book into a genre (surrealistic) or magical realism. This book is ordinary and everyday. It pulls you to an allegorical reading— Communism, censorship, artistic creation & destruction. Laying books open on an altar for worship. Scraping the putrefied body. I want to resist allegorical interpretations. High & Low— war between sewer rats. Aspect of humor— Freud's groping humor— jokes as one kind of humor, produces groan, explosion of punch line. Humor puts things together— negative effect is halted. Feces on hair is disgusting. Anti-allegorical: combine heterogenous. In Orwell's Animal Farm (1945), we have allegories of pigs as Trotsky & Lenin. He quotes from Lao Tzu several times, "The Heavens are not humane." Also Kant's "starry heaven above me and moral law within me." In Existentalism, Sartre critcizes Camus's The Plague (1947) as too obviously allegorical. Camus attacked Sartre's existentialism (1, 2). Hrabal resists allegory. The book is not about Communist censorship. There is wandering, rambling, free movement— palavering (moving around). What is this book about? Compacting books into bales. Book is compacted ideas. This book is a small bale of 98 pages. Kafka's non-arrival in his books. Hrabal closing his book about the name of the Gypsy girl— ILONKA.

Robert Harrison: Any attempt to offer interpretation will not work. But the book is about something. I believe the book is allegorical.
Do you all know what allegory means? [Dante on allegory] Those who don't raise their hands (laughter in audience as none raised their hand). At the end of the book, he remembers the name of the Gypsy girl. Role of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. Page 97— "at the moment of truth I see my tiny Gypsy girl, whose name I never knew, we are flying the kite through the autumn sky. She holds the cord, I look up, the kite has taken the shape of my sad face, and the Gypsy girl sends me a message from the ground, I see it making its way up the cord. I can almost reach it now. I stretch out my hand, I read the large, childlike letters: ILONKA, Yes, that was her name." Hanta refers to the tiny Gypsy girl in the form of the Milky Way. He places her out of the terrestiial sphere into the heavens. There is airiness, she wants to make potato goulash and feed the fire. She is associated with fire, fire rises and ethereal, furthest from the earth. Page 59— "Suddenly I shuddered all over, because suddenly the kite was God and I was the Son of God, and the cord was the Holy Spirit... all she ever wanted was to feed the stove with the big, heavy boards and beams she brought on her back, crosslike, from the rubble." Allusion to the Cross with reference to the Trinity. With all the heaviness of compactness in this book, there is a counterpart of airiness and elevation.

Hans Gumbrecht: Priest in Gabriel Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) levitates when he drinks a type of chocolate.
At the end of Hrabal's book, there's a contrast to gravity with flying kite and ascension. It's better than any political allegory.
Suspense like von Kleist's marionette. Hanta's face is the face of the kite. The ending is stunningly beautiful.

Karen Feldman: This book is about compressing and compacting. Not form of stream of consciousness. There is a concreteness to it.
Themes are evoked. Books were put on trains. Not woven together but compacted.

Robert Harrison: One reason this book was chosen for discussion is that it speaks to our own time. Fate of the book is in doubt. Reductionism, dogma in the sciences. Human behavior is interpreted as material base. Our culture needs a lot of Hantas to the rescue.

Hans Gumbrecht: I go to Stanford Green Library to my carrel, and the surrounding book shelves are empty. The hard copies
were sent to Livermore for storage. Electronic database has taken over. Students can process information quickly now, but they
lack the rhythm that's in the realm of substance. Fifteen students sitting around a wooden table discussing books is completely
different than Internet chatrooms. It's qualitatively a different experience. [Podcast does not include Q & A Session]

Questions & Answers with Audience:

Questioner: I was in Czechoslovakia in 1990 and could relate to what Hrabal described in this book.

Hans Gumbrecht: The flavor of Hrabal's book is cultural legacy.

Questioner: This was a sad book to read. Hanta was destroying books and creating bales of compacted books. He takes some
books home and rescues them. But he was drunk most of the time. He was part of the destroying culture in Czechoslovakia.
The Gypsy girl lives outside traditional cultural norms. Hanta is like an attendant in a concentration camp.

Karen Feldman: She tells of episode on slaughtering chickens that become middle of bale of compacted books.

Hans Gumbrecht: Transubtantialation— [Catholic Church teaching: change of substance by which the bread and the wine offered
in the sacrifice of the sacrament of the Eucharist during the Mass, become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus the Christ.]
Hanta has to be drunk to do what he does in destroying books that he loves.

Robert Harrison: Incorporate— to be transsubataniated. Go to Greece and talk about Aristotle and Plato.
Few will understand you. They've lost their ancient philosophical culture.

Questioner: I'm wondering about Hrabal's book title Too Loud a Solitude— Page 53: "I felt beautiful and holy"

Karen Feldman: Title is not overarching. It's one choice among others.

Hans Gumbrecht: It's a "B+" title. This book's content is much better than its title.
There's an osmotic assimilation— all of a sudden you're a kite elevating higher and higher.

Questioner: On Page 1— "I sip it like a liquer until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol"
On Page 2— "living off air, returning to air, because in the end everything is air"

Robert Harrison: Liquer until it dissolves into the blood vessel. The Socialist Brigade drinks milk. Baseball cap worn is
yellow. Dostoyevsky's characters hate the color yellow. "Pale yellow gloves" in Dostoyevsky (The Gambler, Ch. XVI).
Analysis of the word "yellow" among Russian writers— Gogol 4%, Tolstoy 7%, Dostoyevsky 10.2%.

Hans Gumbrecht: Yellow was used by the Nazis to mark Jews in concentration camps.

Robert Harrison: No one talked about Hanta's mother. What happened to the missing "ounce and half" when she died?

Questioner: Weight of the soul. (Poem: "Soul Weight" 3/4 ounce)

Questioner: The author is a lover of literature. But he portrays Hanta as grotesque. He's an anti-hero.
This is a political book— A lover of books is given the job of destroying books.

Karen Feldman: Resistance— He doesn't wash himself. Now and then, he washes his neck and his wrist.
He'll compact blank pages.

Robert Harrison: It's tragic that he destroys books. The Socialist Brigade will not rescue books.

Hans Gumbrecht: Two modalities—

Robert Harrison: He'll keep company with the books.

Hans Gumbrecht: I've not read many books on my bookshelves. The Stanford University Press gave me
many Asian books that I've not read. But I'll miss them if they're gone from my shelves.

Robert Harrison: Our next Another Look book discussion in May will be about an author that's well known—
Fydor Dostoyevsky. However his novella The Double (1846) is not well-known.

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