Jan Patočka Archives
The Jan Patočka Archives (AJP) studies and interprets the philosophical heritage of the Czech philosopher and dissident Jan Patočka (1907-1977). AJP is led by Patočkaʼs pupils and is a unique institute working with Patočkaʼs original texts and also with the attendees of his lectures.
Jilská 1, 110 00 Praha 1, Czech Republic
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Name of collection
- Jan Patočka Archives
Provenance and cultural activities
The Jan Patočka Archives (AJP) was officially founded in January 1990. The AJP studies and interprets the philosophical heritage of famed Czech philosopher and dissident Jan Patočka (1907–1977). The AJP publishes Patočka’s work and collects manuscripts, visual materials and other documents connected to his life and philosophical thought.
Jan Patočka, whose phenomenological thoughts – stemming from the works of Husserl and Heidegger – did not fit into Marxism-Leninism, was an example of a philosopher prohibited by the Communist regime. Jan Patočka studied at Charles University in Prague (1925–1931) and at the Sorbonne University in Paris (1928–1929), where he met Edmund Husserl. Patočka attended his series of lectures on transcendental phenomenology. Later, as a Humboldt Research Fellow, Patočka studied with Husserl, Eugen Fink and Martin Heidegger in Freiburg, Germany. After the Second World War, he taught at Charles University in Prague. However, after the Communist coup of February 1948, Patočka was no longer allowed to teach. Patočka later worked at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, where he dealt with Comenius Studies. In 1968, Patočka was appointed professor of the history of philosophy at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague. That year, Patočka returned to Charles University and continued to teach there for four years. In 1972 Patočka, considered an “unsuitable” philosopher by the regime, was forced to leave the university. Officially, he was dismissed because of his age, according to the law allowing the retirement of professors over 65 years of age without any specific reason. However, Patočkaʼs students began organising underground seminars that were held in different places. Patočkaʼs lectures from the university, and later his talks at these underground seminars, were carefully recorded by his students. Sound recordings together with studentsʼ notes later enabled the faithful reconstruction of Patočkaʼs philosophical lectures.
Not only was Patočka a representative of “unsuitable” philosophy, he was also an active opponent of the regime. In 1976, he supported a petition for the release of the arrested members of the band Plastic People of the Universe, and in 1977 he became the first spokesman for Charter 77 along with Václav Havel and Jiří Hájek. Since Charter 77 drew the attention of the police, Patočka, together with other signatories, was often subjected to interrogations, and so his underground seminars had to be terminated. Jan Patočka’s meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister Max van der Stoel in March 1977, initiated by journalist Dick Verkijk, was a clear message to the world, as it was the first meeting of a foreign government official with a Czechoslovak dissenter. During an interview and a brief press conference, Patočka explained to the Minister, as well as to the international audience, what Charter 77 was fighting for. This triggered a response by State Security and Patočka was subjected to a long and intense interrogation. Patočka, who was ill at the time, could not withstand the pressure. He was soon hospitalized at Strahov hospital and died on March 13, 1977. Patočkaʼs funeral, attended by more than 800 people, became a symbolic anti-communist manifestation.
Patočkaʼs pupil Ivan Chvatík, who learned about Patočkaʼs death from a broadcast by Radio Free Europe, decided to preserve Patočkaʼs philosophical heritage. Thus, Chvatík and his three colleagues, Miroslav Petříček, Jiří Polívka, and Jiří Michálek, quickly went to Patočkaʼs home. With the permission of Patočkaʼs son-in-law Jan Sokol, they loaded Patočkaʼs work into a car and it was then hidden by Jiří Polívka. These documents later formed the basis of the Jan Patočka Archives. Chvatík and his colleagues, however, did not just conserve Patočkaʼs legacy. They also decided to edit his texts and issue them as a samizdat. Finally, in 1989, 27 samizdat volumes of Patočkaʼs work were issued. These volumes were reproduced using a copy machine in a Czechoslovak ministry where employees were willing to photocopy private materials for a fee. According to Ivan Chvatík, about 200 copies of each volume were created this way. Even though the secret police had a dense network of informers and most likely knew about these activities, they tolerated it, for reasons unknown.
However, Patočkaʼs philosophical legacy, hidden in 1977 by his students, did not include all Patočkaʼs documents. In 1971, Patočka himself gave his manuscripts from 1929–1963 to the literary archive of the Museum of Czech Literature (PNP) where they were roughly organised and stored in eleven cartons. Employees of the archive did not draw attention to the Patočka collection and thus, these “forgotten” Patočkaʼs manuscripts were relatively safe. However, not even Patočkaʼs students knew about these documents and that is why these manuscripts were not included in samizdat issues of Patočkaʼs work. In 1987, an employee of the PNP, Martin Svatoš, informed Ivan Chvatík and his colleagues about these documents and allowed them to make copies. In 1990, these manuscripts became part of the officially established Jan Patočka Archives.
Patočkaʼs work made an impact not only in Czechoslovakia, but abroad as well. It was mainly thanks to the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM) in Vienna that Patočkaʼs legacy was disseminated outside Czechoslovakia and behind the Iron Curtain. This institute was founded in 1982 by Krzysztof Michalski, a Polish philosopher who had been corresponding with Patočka in the 1970s and who translated some of his texts into Polish. Thus, it was not surprising that the first major project of this institute was the compilation and publication of “Selected Writings by Jan Patočka.” Czech philosopher and dissident Jiří Němec, who emigrated at that time from Czechoslovakia, joined the project. The IWM also founded the “Jan Patočka Archives” in Vienna, aiming at collecting all available writings of Jan Patočka. That is why copies of Patočkaʼs manuscripts secretly hidden in Czechoslovakia were sent to Vienna through various channels. The purpose of this Archive was to allow foreign researchers to study Patočkaʼs work, as it was at that time impossible in Prague. The Jan Patočka Archives in Prague has worked with the IWM; together they published a detailed bibliography of all Patočkaʼs works, and they have been working on the publication of manuscripts dating back to the 1950s and 1960s that were stored in the Museum of Czech Literature before 1990.
Patočkaʼs work had an impact on the milieu of Czechoslovak emigrants as well. That is why, at the end of 1986, some Czechoslovak emigrants contacted the Jan Patočka Archives in Vienna with the idea of a Czech exile edition of Jan Patočkaʼs collected writings. The Charter 77 Foundation and the Central and East European Publishing Project promised to finance the issue. The first volume of this exile edition was prepared in autumn 1989, however it did not come out before the Velvet Revolution.
After the Velvet Revolution, in January 1990, Ivan Chvatík and Pavel Kouba officially founded the Jan Patočka Archives as a special department at the Philosophical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. Since 1993, the Jan Patočka Archives has been part of the Center for Theoretical Study, jointly established and run by Charles University in Prague and the Czech Academy of Sciences. Immediately after the Revolution, Patočkaʼs work became very popular, and the Archive deliberately provided his work to various publishing houses. Nowadays, the main aim of the AJP is to study and interpret the philosophical legacy of Jan Patočka, and to publish his collected work. Eighteen of 25 planned volumes have already been issued. The archive also gathers manuscripts and documents concerning Jan Patočkaʼs work and life. The AJP administrates Patočkaʼs property rights and grants licences for translations of his works. Moreover, it cooperates with many Czech and foreign philosophical institutions and organisations, mainly in the area of phenomenological studies. Since 2017, the editorial department OIKOYMENH (Oikúmené) established by the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences, has been part of the Jan Patočka Archives. This department publishes philosophical and theological literature.
Description of content
The Jan Patočka Archives contains Patočka’s work – his manuscripts, publications, and other material connected to his life and philosophical thought. The collection consists mainly of the handwritten legacy of Jan Patočka (mostly his philosphical works, to a lesser extent his corespondence; altogether more than 10,000 manuscript pages); official documents and photographs of Patočka’s life; his published works – original and translations (approx. 100 books and also about hundreds of shorter text, sometimes only photocopies); a collection of secondary literature and also part of Patočka’s library (approx. 1000 books).
- legal and/or financial documentation: 100-499
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 1000-
- photos: 100-499
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 100-499
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Praha, Prague, Czech Republic
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
Učník, Ľubica, Ivan Chvatík, and Anita Williams. Asubjective Phenomenology: Jan Patočka's Project in the Broader Context of his Work. Nordhausen: Traugott Bautz, 2015.
Author(s) of this page
- Kůželová, Michaela
- Vrtálková, Anna
Chvatík, Ivan. 2007. "Dějiny Archivu Jana Patočky v Praze a co jim předcházelo." Filosofický časopis 55, No. 3: 365-89.
Nellen, Klaus, and Jakub Hovorka. 2015. "Patočka zemřel! Musíme něco udělat!" Lidové noviny, March 14.
Neznámí hrdinové: Hra na schovávanou. Druhý život ing. Ivana Chvatíka. Directed by Zdeněk Všelicha, written by Petr Koudelka (TV documentary film; Česká televize, 2009). Accessible at http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/porady/10204458965-neznami-hrdinove/209452801390013-neznami-hrdinove-pohnute-osudy/. Accessed September 11, 2017.
Otáhal, Milan. 2011. Opoziční proudy v české společnosti 1969–1989. Praha: Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
Jan Patočka: darovat smrt. Directed by Boris Jankovec (Documentary film; Czech Republic, 2017). Accessible at http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/porady/10430569092-jan-patocka-darovat-smrt/21656226616/. Accessed September 11, 2017.
Karfík, Filip. 2000/2001. "Patočkova strahovská pozůstalost a jeho odložené opus grande." Kritický sborník 20: 125–160.
Archiv Jana Patočky. 2017. "Archiv Jana Patočky." Last modified March 10. http://ajp.cuni.cz/index.php/Home.
Centrum pro teoretická studia. 2017. "Archiv Jana Patočky." http://www.cts.cuni.cz/archiv-jana-patocky.html. Accessed September 11.
Sokol, Jan. 2012. "Ivanu Chvatíkovi k narozeninám." Filosofický časopis 60, No. 1: 149-51.
Frei, Jan , interview by Vrtálková, Anna , April 08, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection