An Interview with Marcin Dolecki, Author of Philosopher’s Crystal

Philosopher's Crystal front cover second edition

Many moons ago when I was an undergraduate, one of the elements to my degree was philosophy and I have retained an interest ever since. As a result, when I realised that Marcin Dolecki’s Philosopher’s Crystal was based on that discipline, I had to ask Marcin a few qustions about his writing and his concepts of philosophy.

Published by Montag Press, Philosopher’s Crystal is available for purchase from your local Amazon site.

Philosopher’s Crystal

Philosopher's Crystal front cover second edition

A fantastical time traveling journey bringing to life some of the world’s great philosophers and exotic locals as two young lovers flee an Emperor and secrets that must be revealed. A feast for the curious reader.

Twenty-year-old Philip lives alone in an authoritarian country, his parents arrested after the imperial police find a secret notebook in their apartment. Then one evening Philip meets an uncommon girl, her name Julia, possibly on the run from the police, or sent to him as a secret agent by the state. Despite his concerns, he offers to put her up for the night.

In the morning a mysterious person knocks on his door and advises him to escape immediately.

This is how the couple’s strange, paradoxical and hazardous journey begins, leading Philip and Julia in a quest through time to the collapsing Roman empire, 17th century Amsterdam and the medieval Indian jungle. During their travel they meet famous philosophers who confront the couple with existential questions – only to find that the answers Philip and Julia discover will help them face the ultimate danger.

An Interview with Marcin Dolecki

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Marcin. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Philosopher’s Crystal: The Treacherous Terrain of Tassatarius in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

Linda, you’re welcome, thank you very much for the invitation to this interview.

I’m a philosopher, chemist, and historian of chemistry (Ph.D.).

I live in Poland and work at the Institute for the History of Science. I also give lectures on the history of chemistry at the Faculty of Chemistry (the University of Warsaw).

I love cycling. I visited some European countries (e.g. Italy, Estonia, Romania), traveling on my bike.

I just love tea – all kinds of it.

(Me too – there’s always a cup of tea on the go in my house!)

You’re both a scientist and a philosopher. To what extent do you think the two disciplines are mutually exclusive or supportive of one another?

My fields of specialization were physical chemistry and teachings of the Church Fathers (eminent Christian writers, living in the ancient and early medieval period), so they are totally unrelated to each other; nevertheless, both studies gave me broader and complementary perspectives. Sometimes I think of reality as of swirling particles and as of gigantic energy field, and sometimes as of one living being.

(An interesting perspective!)

Why do you write?

It’s a challenge, because I believe that it’s easier to think than to write. I often feel that my thoughts are more precise when they are finally written down.

It’s also a joy of creation. Writing gives me an additional “dimension” of interaction with other people – because I could invite at least some of them to visit new, imaginary worlds together.

When did you realise you were going to be a writer?

Philosopher’s Crystal is my first novel, created in the climate of science fantasy. It was published originally in Polish and entitled One of Possible Worlds (Jeden z możliwych światów, Attyka, Warszawa 2013). I was working on the Polish text for almost two years. Many times I thought about the idea of two young people traveling in time and talking with some famous thinkers, so finally I decided to write it down and add a fictional story to it. The American version, translated by Paulina Trudzik, is extended and substantially altered, for example, I changed the end.

Apart from this book, I wrote a short story, a fairy tale for adults: Asalda, the Queen of the Mice (in Polish). I posted it on my blog: https://mdolecki.wordpress.com/

My other texts concern primarily philosophy and history of chemistry.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Generally, I find it easier to write about ideas than about people and their inner worlds.

The most difficult aspect is how to use metaphors properly. I’m a philosopher, so when I think of them, trying to find new ones, I almost instinctively wonder, if they could be assessed as true or false. This is often more important to me than their aesthetic value.

(Oh, interesting point – you’ve really got me thinking about that idea.)

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Philosopher’s Crystal: The Treacherous Terrain of Tassatarius?

The main characters – Philip and Julia, both twenty years old, living under the totalitarian regime of Emperor Tassatarius – travel in time and talk with some thinkers from the past, mostly about issues concerning philosophy of religion.

Working on this novel was a fascinating international adventure. The inside illustrations were prepared by prof. Anna Trojanowska (an author of novels herself) and most of them (originally used in the Polish version) were redrawn by Rosann Antonio Portes – an artist from the Philippines, the front cover painting was made by Giorgi Makharashvili – an artist from Georgia, my promotional film was taken in Italy (Monika Bajer read the foreword at the Gorizia Castle), one blurb was written by prof. Joseph Kaipayil – a scholar from India, the other by Bruce Lee Bond – an author from Alaska. The book was published in California, by Montag Press.

(It sounds a really exciting journey to publication.)

How important is it to explore philosophical concepts through fiction do you think?

Many people avoid reading about philosophical issues, because they suppose, philosophy is helplessly difficult. However, Ludwig Wittgenstein claimed that “what can be said at all, can be said clearly”. I agree and would add: what can be said clearly, could be interwoven into situations from real life, therefore also in the plot of a novel. This is a way of showing that philosophical discussions might be understandable virtually for everyone, and fascinating. 

(I agree. I studied philosophy as part of my degree and found it totally absorbing.)

I know you have developed your own philosophical concept, oneiric personalism. Please could you explain this a little and tell us how it informs your fictional writing?

Oneiric personalism is a modification of a very old idea – that walking life might be regarded as similar to dreams. I only dream that I’m a person. As the Dreamer, I’m more real than the person I am in this particular dream called life. I’m not present in any of my dreams; I’m entirely free, and I could be happy by myself, yet this happiness could be also shared with others. The beloved persons are just as real as the person I am in this dream, so love is not illusory.

I tried to avoid any kind of propaganda in this book, so my concept is quite fiercely debated, along with others. For some readers it is a crypto-Christian work, for some others – crypto-atheistic. In fact, it is neither this nor that.

Of all the philosophers in your novel, which would you personally most like to meet and why?

My master’s thesis concerned the concept of the Holy Trinity according to St. Augustine. I have been interested in his texts for several years. He was a Roman (I love the history of ancient Rome) and a brilliant thinker. His comparison of the Trinity to human soul is one of the greatest achievements in Western theology.

It’s interesting that people talented in some aspects are very ordinary or even astonishingly unpleasant in many others, for example, Augustine treated the beloved girl from his youth rather instrumentally, he even didn’t mention her name – the mother of his only child, Adeodatus (the name means: given by God) -, in his autobiographical Confessions.

If you could choose to be a character from Philosopher’s Crystal: The Treacherous Terrain of Tassatarius, who would you be and why?

I would answer this way: Philip is the person I think I was in the past, the Emperor is the person I hope I will never become in the future. I treat the other main characters as my teachers, even spiritual guides of some kind.

(That’s a fabulous concept!)

If Philosopher’s Crystal: The Treacherous Terrain of Tassatarius became a film, who would you like to play Philip and Julia and why would you choose them?  

It is not an easy question, we would be talking about distant and vague future. However, some months ago prof. Jan Piskurewicz, a historian of science and education, said about the Polish version of my novel that it could be adapted into a good play.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

I’m a big fan of Tolkien. I like to read his works, especially at night. I’m also very fond of reading Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Jacek Dukaj is one of my Polish masters, he writes excellent works of speculative fantasy, as far as I know, some of them have been translated into English.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Philosopher’s Crystal: The Treacherous Terrain of Tassatarius should be their next read, what would you say?

Join Philip and Julia on journey through time and space to the border of existence.

Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions.

Thank you once more Linda.

About Marcin Dolecki

Marcin

Marci Dolecki is philosopher (MA), chemist (MSc), and historian of chemistry (PhD).

He works as an assistant professor at the L.&A. Birkenmajer Institute for the History of Science of the Polish Academy of Sciences and has conducted philosophy classes at the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Warsaw, where he currently gives lectures on the history of chemistry.

Marci is an enthusiastic cyclist, visiting Italy, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Ukraine on his bike. He is fan of ancient cultures, the history of Ethiopia and of vintage buses.

You can follow Marcin on Twitter @marcin_dolecki and visit his blog.

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