Jerzy Pilch

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  • © Instytut Książki

(born in 1952) is a prose-writer, journalist and playwright. He made his literary debut with the book Confessions of an Author of Illicit Erotic Literature [Wyznania twórcy pokątnej literatury erotycznej] (1988), for which he received the Kościelski Award. Soon afterwards, he attained recognition as a sophisticated column writer for Tygodnik Powszechny, and his literary renown increased after the publication of his novel The List of Adulteresses [Spis cudzołożnic] (1993), which was swiftly made into a film by Jerzy Stuhr. However, it was his short novel His Current Woman [Inne rozkosze] (1995) which was of ground-breaking significance. In this book, Pilch invited readers into the world of his childhood for the first time – the town of Wisła, dominated by a Protestant population. This microcosm – simultaneously fascinating and slightly frightening – is made up, above all, of eccentric relatives, freakish neighbours and, more broadly, quaint characters beset by harmless manias. Pilch developed an original tragicomic formula combining humour with gravity; he demonstrated, like in his subsequent novel, A Thousand Peaceful Cities [Tysiąc spokojnych miast] (1997), that his writing is formed by an irreverent style and rhetorical displays which serve as a linguistic-anecdotal screen concealing such problems as absence, loss and irretrievably squandered chances. In fact, there’s no other way of reading The Mighty Angel [Pod mocnym aniołem] (2000), a daring novel for which Jerzy Pilch received an honorary Nike Award. Its action is not set in Wisła, but, like Pilch’s earlier works, is based on autobiographical elements (Pilch deals with his own experiences as an alcoholic, which he has never made a secret of).

In his following works, Pilch gave himself increasingly more ambitious challenges – such as in City of Woe [Miasto utrapienia] (2004) where he dealt with the problem of fake identities and entered into a refined dialogue with Thomas Mann – the author of Confessions of Felix Krull. Or like in the novel March Polonia [Marsz Polonia] (2008), built on an archetypically Polish situational motif (a wedding). In this metaphorically dense, oneiric fairy tale, Pilch gives an overview of collective Polish delusions and national obsessions. What’s important is that, more or less beginning with his book My First Suicide [Moje pierwsze samobójstwo] (2006), a dark tone predominates Pilch’s writing. The past, once recalled with nostalgia, slowly becomes a sphere of uncertainty inhabited by spectres; the writer alters the most highly appreciated theme of his literary work – namely, the myth of family and community. Lutheran Wisła is no longer a gentle land: there’s too much death and loss in it, and it’s increasingly difficult to bestow the old Wisła inhabitants with passion and wit.

For many years, Pilch worked on improving his writing from one week to the next – in particular, the art of blending ad hoc journalism with pure literature. As a result, he was acknowledged as a reviver of the literary genre known as the “feuilleton”. He collected his best texts in several volumes, of which probably the most highly acclaimed by critics was Irretrievably Lost Left-Handedness [Bezpowrotnie utracona leworęczność] (1998). He gradually began to give his articles a more private, intimate form. At a certain point, he began to write weekly diary entries. He collected the entries written between the end of December 2009 and the end of November 2011 in a volume titled Diary [Dziennik], and this, to a certain extent, shed light on the novel Many Demons [Wiele demonów] (2013) – a book about the experience of a serious illness which the writer refers to as “obliteration”. This is why it’s impossible to read Many Demons outside of the context established in the Diary. The elegaic character of this novel, its gloomy undertone, is anchored in biographical fact (illness); almost every motif or concept serves to prolong the inevitability of death and to grapple with its horror. His Second Diary [Drugi dziennik], published in the same year as the novel, can be considered a continuation of an undertaking which Pilch calls drawing up a “calendar of obliteration” and writing a report from the “penultimate days”. Published immediately afterwards, he called a longer story (in the form of a separate book) “posthumous prose”. He presented the novel Susie, or the Time of Estrangement [Zuza albo czas oddalenia] (2015) as a “manuscript hidden in a shoe” – in other words, papers left behind by someone who has died. This alleged discovery tells the story of a relationship between an older, ailing man and a very young prostitute in Warsaw. In this book, Pilch poses questions about the boundaries of intimacy, and specifically about ethical grappling with what we could call the sale of one’s intimacy. Writing in his final years about illness and increasing infirmity, he has had to wrestle with this issue to some extent. Most certainly this is why he chose the powerful metaphor of love that has been bought.

 

 

 

Bibliography

  • Wyznania twórcy pokątnej literatury erotycznej, Londyn: Puls, 1988.
  • Spis cudzołożnic. Proza podróżna, Londyn: Puls, 1993.
  • Rozpacz z powodu utraty furmanki, Kraków: Znak, 1994.
  • Inne rozkosze, Poznań: wydawnictwo a5, 1995.
  • Monolog z lisiej jamy, Kraków: Universitas, 1996.
  • Tezy o głupocie, piciu i umieraniu, Londyn: Puls, 1997.
  • Tysiąc spokojnych miast, Londyn: Puls, 1997.
  • Bezpowrotnie utracona leworęczność, Kraków: WL, 1998.
  • Opowieści wigilijne (razem z Olgą Tokarczuk i Andrzejem Stasiukiem), Czarna Ruta, 2000.
  • Pod mocnym aniołem, Kraków: WL, 2000.
  • Upadek człowieka pod Dworcem Centralnym (zbiór felietonów), Kraków: WL, 2002.
  • Miasto utrapienia, Warszawa: Świat Książki 2004.
  • Narty Ojca Świętego, Warszawa: Świat Książki 2004
  • Moje pierwsze samobójstwo, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2006
  • Pociąg do życia wiecznego, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2007.
  • Marsz Polonia, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2008.
  • Sobowtór zięcia Tołstoja, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2010.
  • Dziennik, Warszawa: Wielka Litera, 2012.
  • Wiele demonów, Warszawa: Wielka Litera, 2013.
  • Drugi dziennik, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2013
  • Zuza albo czas oddalenia, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2015
  • Zawsze nie ma nigdy (z Eweliną Pietrowiak), Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2016.

Translations: 

Belorussian:

  • Dvaccac' pol'skìh apavâdan'nâu, trans. Andrèj Hadanovìč, Mìnsk: Ì. P. Logvìnau, 2007

Bulgarian:

  • Pod mocnym Aniołem, trans. Julian Bożkow, Paradigma, 2003
  • Skitje na wriemia otiec [Narty Ojca Świętego], trans. Kamien Rikiew, Błkani, 2012

Czech:

  • Moje první sebevražda [Moje pierwsze samobójstwo], trans. Nina Vrbovcová, Kniha Zlín, 2009

Dutch:

  • In de sterke engel [Pod mocnym aniołem], trans. Karol Lesman, Breda: De Geus, 2002

English:

  • His current woman [Inne rozkosze], trans. Bill Johnston, Evanston: Hydra Books/Northwestern Univ. Press, 2002
  • The Mighty Angel [Pod Mocnym Aniołem], trans. Bill Johnston, New York: Open Letter (University of Rochester) 2009
  • My first suicide [Moje pierwsze samobójstwo], trans. David Frick, Rochester: Open Letter 2012

Estonian:

  • Muud mőnud [Inne rozkosze], trans. Hendrik Lindepuu, Tallinn: Perioodika, 2001
  • Kange ingli tiiva all [Pod mocnym aniołem], trans. Hendrik Lindepuu, Tallin: Perioodika, 2004

French:

  • Sous l'aile d'un ange [Pod mocnym aniołem], Montricher: Les Éd. Noir sur Blanc, 2003

German:

  • Andere Lüste [Inne rozkosze], Berlin: Verl. Volk und Welt, 2000
  • Andere Lüste [Inne rozkosze], München: Luchterhand, 2002
  • Zum starken Engel [Pod mocnym aniołem], München: Luchterhand, 2003
  • Die Talente und Obsessionen des Patryk W. [Miasto utrapienia], trans. Paulina Schulz, München: dtv, 2008

Italian:

  • Sotto l'ala dell'angelo forte [Pod mocnym aniołem], Fazi, 2005
  • L'amante in carica [Inne rozkosze], trans. Lorenzo Pompeo, Rzym: Lantana, 2011

Lithuanian:

  • Kiti malonumai [Inne rozkosze], trans. Vyturys Jarutis, Vilnius: Strofa, 2001
  • Stiprusis angelas [Pod mocnym aniołem], Vilnius: Strofa, 2002

Macedonian:

  • Grieszni użiwania [Inne rozkosze], trans. Milica Mirkułowska, Skopje: Antolog, 2015

Norwegian:

  • Den mektige engel [Pod mocnym aniołem], trans. Agnes Banach, Oslo: Forlaget Oktober, 2012

Russian:

  • Pesni puščih [Pod mocnym aniołem], trans. Ksenia Starosielska, Moskva: Inostranka, 2004

Serbian:

  • Kod mocnog anđela [Pod mocnym aniołem], Beograd: Narodna Knjiga - Alfa, 2003

Slovak:

  • Pod mocným anjelom [Pod mocnym aniołem], Bratislava: Drewo a Srd, 2003

Slovenian:

  • Pri mogočnem angelu [Pod mocnym aniołem], Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga, 2004

Spanish:

  • Casa del Ángel Fuerte [Pod mocnym aniołem], Barcelona: Acantilado, 2004
  • Otros placeres [Inne rozkosze], Barcelona: Acantilado, 2005

Ukrainian:

  • Pod mocnym aniołem, trans. Igor Pizniuk, Kijów: Pulsar, 2011