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Ryszard Kapuscinki: From Reporting to Literature

A great reporter inevitably becomes a writer - the author of "The Soccer War," "The Emperor," "Shah of Shahs" and ""Imperium" is the best example of this. He has long ago crossed to the side of literature, which is not to say that he has become absorbed by "walks through fiction's grove." In his writing he continues to be a reporter, a historian, an anthropologist of culture, and a political scientist, but sometimes also a philosopher and a poet.

Ryszard Kapuscinski, born in Pinsk in the Polesie Province in 1932 made his debut (as a poet) in 1949, was a journalist for the Sztandard Mlodych (Youths' Banner), Polityka (Politics), and a correspondent for the Polish Press Agency. He collaborated with Kontynent (The Continent) and the Warsaw weekly Kultura (Culture), and in recent years with Gazeta Wyborcza. For nearly half a century he has been traveling on all the continents. His lifelong subject became the birth of the Third World - all told he has spent over 20 years in Latin America and in the countries of Asia and Africa. "I regard myself as an investigator of otherness - he wrote - of other cultures, other ways of thinking, other behaviors."

For 13 years he has been publishing his Lapidaria - notes at the border of reporting, essay and an intimate diary - in Czytelnik (The Reader). His Lapidarium V, published in 2002, is filled with reflections from journeys and readings about the world on the threshold of a new century. The subject that attract the interests of the writer are, among others, globalization, the hopelessness of culture in the face of the expansion of kitsch, and the crisis of the printed word. What is injurious to literature? - the writer ponders. "That the reader ever more frequently views the literary text in the same manner as a newspaper article: he looks in it for information, for current commentary about the world. He pays little attention to the quality of the style and the language, the artistry of the form, the depth of the psychological analysis. Thus it isn't so much that the media are killing literature, but rather that they are deforming its reception.

Ryszard Kapuscinski is among the best known Polish writers, the most frequently translated and the most frequent recipient of international awards.

Nonetheless, he continues to feel solidarity with the profession from which he emerged - journalism. He is concerned with the quality and moral standing of that profession. Time and again he has reminded that he who is a cynic is not suitable for this profession, should not be a journalist. The author of The Emperor finds it hard to come to terms with the decline in values and the disregard of others that he discern in contemporary media.

He also sees other dangers. "Contemporary media - I read in Lapidarium V - sometime remind one of a narcotic addict. Just as he, to continue his being, must secure narcotic, so the media, to maintain their market share, must inject into their veins ever more shocks, jolts, and horrors."

The above is an unauthorized translation by P.K. Gessner from the original Polish of a February 19, 2003 article by E. S. published in the Warsaw-based daily Rzeczpopolita.


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