Raised And Written In Contradictions: The Final Interview: Jan Kott In Conversation With Allen J. Kuharski

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New Theatre Quarterly


Jan Kott invited me to conduct this formal ‘final interview’ early in 2001, after I shared with him a draft of the essay ‘Arden and Absolute Milan’ that follows. The essay and the interview were the culmination of over fifteen years of friendship and intermittent writing about Kott, which had extended to the translation of his works. I first met Jan and his wife Lidia at Berkeley in 1986, when they travelled from Los Angeles to see a production of Tadeusz Rózewicz's White Marriage that I had directed and designed there, which proved the start of a long personal and professional relationship. I interviewed Kott at his modest apartment in Santa Monica, California, over the weekend of 31 March to 2 April 2001. Lidia had passed away the summer before, and his own health was extremely frail, requiring twenty-four-hour care by a group of charming and attentive Polish-speaking women. He shared his apartment after Lidia's death with an energetic black-and-white kitten, whose energy and mischief amused him greatly. Born in the Chinese Year of the Tiger, he had a cereal box decal of Tony the Tiger stuck next to the name-plate on his apartment door (the name Kott also means ‘cat’ in Polish). He was not able to move about without a nurse and a walking frame, but he nevertheless insisted on inviting me out to dinner in a local Polish restaurant, where he heartily ate a meal of steak tartar and flaczki (Polish tripe soup), accompanied by a shot or two of vodka. His nurse, who was with us, seemed amused but not at all astonished by this performance. Afterwards, he admitted this was his first meal out of the house in months – it was possibly his last. In spite of his physical weakness, Kott's mind remained lucid, and he had clearly rehearsed the interview extensively before our meetings in person. Most of the questions I had prepared proved unnecessary. What is published here is culled from approximately five hours of taped material, which Kott later edited along with myself. I owe a great debt of gratitude to my Philadelphia colleague, Helena Morawska White, for her time and energy in transcribing the taped interviews in Polish, and to Michal Zadara for his careful work in translating the unedited text into English.


Reprinted in: (2003). SIRS Renaissance Database.