Communities of Dialogue Russian and Ukrainian Émigrés in Modernist Prague

Conference | Paper

Václav Černý's Parrhesia

Peter Steiner

Thursday 23 May 2024

14:00 - 14:45


My presentation examines Černý’s ideas against the background of the aesthetics of his teacher—Otakar Zich—for whom "personality value" [hodnota osobnostní] was the cornerstone of his artistic axiology. But while Zich leaves the notion of personality vague, Černý conceives it as an embodiment of the three essential qualities: freedom, character, and the transcendence of existence. Moreover, he does not arrive at these features by objectifying observation but through subjective introspection, and I will illustrate how Černý, throughout his oeuvre, presents himself as endowed with these three characteristics. Commitment to such virtues structures his discursive modality, making him a practitioner of parrhesia, the free and direct expression of personal beliefs, a testament to the individual's courage and commitment to truth. But parrhesia, according to Foucault, is more than that. It is the “aesthetics of life”: taking care of the self as a practice of freedom, cultivating one’s existence in the art-like terms of autonomy, self-regulation, and self-justification. In this vein, for Černý, the highest form of creativity is not an artwork by itself but its author’s “personalization” [zosobnění], “the silent inner task [...] informing the matter inseparable from the individual, his soul, and spirit, inherent character, feeling, instinct, will, and intellect [bringing them] into an original relationship, a peculiar new expression whose name is personality.”