Still Alive

An Autobiographical Essay

Jan Kott; Translated by Jadwiga Kosicka

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Still Alive recounts the perilous odyssey of a renowned man of letters through the endless political crises of Eastern Europe in the mid-twentieth-century. Jan Kott—Polish essayist and theater critic, author of the landmark work Shakespeare Our Contemporary, winner of literary awards on two continents—tells of his association with the Surrealist circles in Paris before the Second World War, his adventures as a partisan in the Polish underground fighting the Nazis, his postwar involvement in the Polish Communist Party, his disillusionment with communism and, finally, his emigration to America. His story reveals not only the dramatic turns of an individual life but also the fate of a whole generation of Eastern European intellectuals.

At once witty, suspenseful, and profound, Kott's memoir begins with a bocci game played in 1939 with Trotsky's future murderer and ends with a deeply moving description of his fifth heart attack in 1991 that illuminates the book's main concern: how to make sense of one's own existence. Kott does not pose this as a philosophic problem, but as one given by the extreme situations he was forced to master and survive. This is the remarkable testimony of a man whose life brought him many opportunities to face the consequences of radical choice and in whom the consciousness of those essential encounters continues to resonate.

Published in Polish in 1990 and acclaimed by critics throughout Europe, the book is now available in English for the first time. Kott has added much new material to this edition, including the final chapter.

Jan Kott, winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, author of Shakespeare Our Contemporary, The Eating of the Gods, The Theater of Essence, and other important critical works, was born in Warsaw in 1914. Formerly professor of literature at the University of Warsaw, in 1966 he emigrated to the United States, where he has taught at Yale University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

"Fascinating reading. For those of us who have always admired Jan's theatre criticism and scholarship, it is not surprising to discover that he is also a fine philosopher, poet, and political thinker. Still Alive is a compelling chronicle of a man who, despite numerous scrapes with death, has always managed to maintain his robust vitality and discriminating mind. Part adventure story, part Bildungsroman, the book is never less than a history of our harrowing times as experienced by one of its most intelligent witnesses."—Robert Brustein, Artistic Director, American Repertory Theatre

"As a portrayal of turbulent times, the book is priceless, in particular because of its extraordinarily vivid depictions of the atmosphere of everyday life under Communism."—Stanislaw Baranczak, Harvard University

"An incisive and vivid testimony of a gifted and zestful survival, Still Alive offers a suspenseful story of its author's harrowingly narrow escapes in Nazi-occupied Poland, and an illuminating account of his vicissitudes under the postwar Communist regime. That this widely acclaimed memoir is now available in English is good news indeed."—Victor Erlich, professor emeritus of Russian literature, Yale University

"A splendid evocation by an eminent theater critic and philosopher of what it meant to be alive—sometimes barely—during the tremendous upheavals in Europe caused by the Second World War and the installation of the Communist regime in Poland. . . . Kott shows an unerring sense of the telling detail that imprints a scene in the memory. A riveting book."—Kirkus Reviews

"Written by a man with literary taste and a sense of the dramatic who knows how to tell a story without ever losing a sense of humor, taste for life, and a kind of gaiety."—Nicole Zand, Le Monde

"The entire writing resonates with life and its mysteries, some resolved, some not. . . . The rigors and victories of Kott's life somehow offer sustenance to all who question existence."—Library Journal

"The journey Kott takes the reader on is certainly worthwhile. . . . At the center of Kott's book bare history and the people involved in making and suffering it . . . and death and transience. . . . He writes of them with insight, vividness, and honesty. . . . This is a fine book."—David Malcolm, Polish Review

"I found it fascinating reading. For those of us who have always admired Jan's theatre criticism and scholarship, it is not surprising to discover that he is also a fine philosopher, poet, and political thinker. Still Alive is a compelling chronicle of a man who, despite numerous scrapes with death, has always managed to maintain his robust vitality and discriminating mind. Par adventure story, part Bildungsroman, the book is never less than a history of our harrowing times as experienced by one of its most intelligent witnesses."—Robert Brustein, Artistic Director, American Repertory Theatre

"One never tires of [Kott's] wise 'chatter' and eagerly awaits his next journey through memory."—E.J. Czerwinski, World Literature Today

ISBN: 9780300105612
Publication Date: April 27, 1994
304 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4