Janusz Anderman

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  • photo by Krzysztof Dubiel

(born in 1949) writes prose, articles, screenplays and radio plays. His two novellas published in the second half of the 1970s (Playing Chinese Whispers [Zabawa w głuchy telefon] and Playing for Time [Gra na zwłokę]) were highly acclaimed by literary critics. The precision of his writing delighted readers – Anderman ‘eavesdropped’, so to speak, on reality, gave voice to ‘street language’ and reflected the social climate of those times. While writing ‘sociolinguistic reports’ about the state of Polish intellectuals, Anderman cleverly made use of irony and paradox, as well as the grotesque. He stopped using these stylistic inventions in his books of reportage that were published while he was abroad: Poland Under the Black Light [Brak tchu] and Edge of the World [Kraj świata]. These books were inspired by historical events (Martial Law and its consequences), and followed the logic of a political dispute; their anti-communist bias (not to mention tendentiousness) was very clear. This latter quality caused Anderman’s persuasive prose to be perceived as anachronistic in the first years after the political transition of 1989 – there was a cool reception to the poetics of his film script for Prison Disease [Choroba więzienna] (1992), which touched upon identity problems of the victims of Martial Law and dilemmas faced by former opposition figures. A short time later, after the year 2000, what is most likely the most important theme in Anderman’s prose began to emerge very clearly in an autobiographical form in many of the short texts making up the series Fotografie, and in a creative (fictional) form in two novels: The Whole Time [Cały czas] (2006) and That’s All [To wszystko] (2008). This theme concerned the position and frame of mind of an artist who has been forced to function both in the years of communist Poland as well as in the current era. Anderman put such phenomena as social reactions to linguistic art, mechanisms of literary life, various mindsets and auto-creative strategies under a magnifying glass. 

The three-volume work titled Photographs [Fotografie] consists of very short texts written in the years 1998-2010. They are connected by a single, shared concept: an autobiographical narrator peeks into suitcases and boxes where he keeps photographs taken by him or given to him; he pulls out a single photo and spins a story around it. He often evokes amusing events and extraordinary people from the artistic world; needless to say, everything is dominated by an anecdotal approach. Anderman takes on the role of a chronicler of artistic and social life from the last decades of the communist era in Poland; he calls to mind various eccentric people and the excesses of that time. In later works (beginning with the book New Photographs [Nowe fotografie], 2007), he has more of a tendency to make reference to current events, always posing the same question about an artist’s place in changing socio-cultural realities. In his diagnoses and reflections, he spares no bitterness, but in The Whole Time, this changes to mockery. The novel tells the story of a conman who, for many decades, passes as a literary celebrity despite never having written a single book. He steals works from others and manipulates the people around him, ascending to the heights of villainy. Published two years later, That’s All has a similar protagonist and a related topic: a novelist who experiences the pain of rejection by the public (he was once adored, but today nobody wants his books) decides to commit suicide, since he believes that this is the only way he can cause people to become interested in his work again.

Anderman, although not as intensely as at the beginning of his creative career, is still interested in Polish collective life. He regularly explores this topic in his journalism, which consists primarily of columns published in Gazeta Wyborcza, but he expresses his opinion on current events much less often in his creative work. This is why the novel Black Heart [Czarne serce] (2015) holds such an exceptional position in his literary output. This book is a fictional exploration of society’s reactions to the plane crash in Smoleńsk. Like in his earlier books, Anderman attempts to ‘eavesdrop’ on reality – the protagonist of his novel joins a crowd of mourners gathered in front of the Presidential Palace and writes down what he sees and hears as it happens. Collected in this way, the material allows for the formulation of diagnoses that are as perceptive as they are painful.

Bibliography

  • Zabawa w głuchy telefon [powieść], Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1976.
  • Autostop [opowiadanie], Warszawa: MAW 1978 [podpisane: Marcin Czech].
  • Gra na zwłokę [powieść], Kraków: WL, 1979.
  • Brak tchu [opowiadania], Londyn: Puls Publications, 1983.
  • Kraj świata [opowiadania], Paryż: Instytut Literacki 1988.
  • Choroba więzienna. Scenariusz filmowy, Warszawa: Oficyna Wyd. POMOST, 1992.
  • Tymczasem [opowiadania], Lublin: Wydawnictwo UMCS, 1998.
  • Fotografie, Kraków: WL, 2002.
  • Największy słoń na świecie, Kraków: WL, 2003.
  • Cały czas, Kraków: WL, 2006.
  • Nowe fotografie, Kraków: WL, 2007.
  • To wszystko, Kraków: WL, 2008.
  • Fotografie ostatnie, Kraków: WL, 2010
  • Łańcuch czystych serc, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2012.
  • Grzybki halucynogenne, czyli między wierszami a brzegiem rozumu, Warszawa: Agora SA, 2014. 
  • Czarne serce, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2015

Translations:

English:

  • Poland under the black light [Brak tchu], New York: Readers International, 1985.
  • Edge of the World [Kraj świata], New York: Readers International, 1988.

French:

  • Le Souffle coupé [Brak tchu, Kraj świata], Montricher: Editions Noir sur Blanc, 1990.
  • Tout le temps [Cały czas], trans. Isabelle Jannès-Kalinowski, Lausanne: Noir sur Blanc, 2010.

German:

  • Randlnad der Welt [Kraj świata], Berlin: Literar. Colloquium, 1992.