The Memory of the Body

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

There are three sections in THE MEMORY OF THE BODY. The first contains essays on the theater. The author’s various experiences as one of the seminal influences on postwar theatrical thought are recounted in a number of brief vignettes, many of which are colored by a mordant, deadpan sense of humor. Some of the pieces are devoted to eminent twentieth century playwrights, such as Berthold Brecht and Slavomir Mrozek. There are also illuminating pieces on some of the great figures of modern Polish theater, including Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grotowski.

The second section of the collection contains the title essay, while the third section is devoted to an extended meditation on the Sumerian epic, GILGAMESH. Stylish, insightful, and sophisticated as the pieces in the opening and closing sections are, their focus tends to be specifically literary or theatrical or both. While their appearance in book form is a welcome addition to Kott’s collected works, it is unlikely that on their own they do very much to increase his illustrious international standing, and to some extent their appeal is somewhat limited. The essays in the second section, however, are of a different order. They address much broader questions concerning the vagaries and fate of the flesh. The set of concerns include such fundamental experiences as sexuality, mortality, and illness. While their tone and temper are consistent with those of the other essays, these pieces have an underlying urgency and sense of drama which their comparative brevity enhances, so that while reading them THE MEMORY OF THE BODY becomes a memorable meditative occasion.