Michał Witkowski

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  • fot. Kasia Kobel

Michał Witkowski was born in Wrocław in 1975. He writes fiction and literary criticism. His work has appeared in Polish, German and Hungarian periodicals and newspapers and in international anthologies. He is the co-author of Textiles, a book about literature by authors born in the 1970s. Not often does the Polish publishing market witness as spectacular a career as Michał Witkowski’s recent rise to the peak of popularity. When his novel Lubiewo was published at the beginning of 2005 the young writer from Wrocław became a literary star almost overnight. Not surprisingly, Lubiewo is real literary dynamite, one of the most radical, uncompromising exposés of homosexual life in the history of Polish fiction.

So far Witkowski’s output has been quite modest, but his first book, Copyright, was full of promise, confirming that here is a writer who knows how to turn a phrase and is fluent in various forms of narrative. However, to say that the book is nothing but a training ground where a young writer is testing his skills would be an injustice. In it he covered a theme that many other writers of the younger generation have since developed – the issue of Polish people’s difficulties with consumerism. He portrays his contemporaries, whose childhood coincided with the dull grey era when communist Poland was in decline, and who then faced the prospect of a world transformed into a gigantic hypermarket, the colourful world of consumer excess. Witkowski’s primary interest are the existential and symbolic aspects of how people function in a consumer society. The world perceived as a hypermarket offers all sorts of ready-made identities, complete life styles, often “sold” as a package with specific objects or services. This huge diversity, and the easy way in which we can instantly have our dreams come true do not guarantee happiness at all. Quite the opposite – they deepen our lack of confidence and our sense of being lost. In a world of theoretically unlimited possibilities where anyone who has a fat enough wallet can become whoever he wants, trying to find the right selection criteria becomes critical. Why should I buy this particular object (lifestyle, identity…), if the others are equally attractive? What path in life should I choose? What values can I count on in the post-modern world, as it twinkles with different meanings? Those are the questions that the people in Witkowski’s stories ask themselves.

He gave many readers a shock with Lubiewo, not just by departing from the typical subject matter for young fiction, but also because of his distinct, atypical attitude to gay issues. This is a direct, frank text about the fortunes of homosexuals, their way of life, their obsessions and frustrations, joys and humiliations. It not only breaks a moral taboo that is still in force in Poland, but also goes against the grain of the gay community’s aspirations towards emancipation and their efforts to instil a positive image of homosexuals within the public mind. In Lubiewo Witkowski focuses on the pre-emancipation period, the late communist era, when the words “queer” or “pouf” were still used without any inhibitions, and homosexual relations were veiled in an aura of wrongdoing or even crime. He has used stories of varying length to compile a sort of “poufs’ Decameron”, which also acts as a “report from the upper realms of the depths”. Most of the characters in Lubiewo live on the margins of society, where an alternative sexuality goes hand in hand with common misconduct, or even crime, love with violence, and the joy of sex with the hopelessness of everyday life.

Bibliography

  • Copyright, Kraków: Zielona Sowa 2001.
  • Lubiewo, Kraków: Korporacja Ha!art 2005.
  • Fototapeta, Warszawa: WAB 2006.
  • Barbara Radziwiłłówna z Jaworzna-Szczakowej, Warszawa: WAB 2007.
  • Margot, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2009.
  • Drwal, Warszawa, Świat Książki, 2011.
  • Zbrodniarz i dziewczyna, Warszawa, Świat Książki, 2014

Translations:

Catalonian:

  • El llenyater [Drwal], trans. Marta Cedro, Guillem Calaforra, Barcelona: Raig Verd Editorial, 2013

Dutch:

  • Lubiewo, trans. Jacques Dehue, Rita Marynowski, Amsterdam: Van Gennep 2010

English:

  • Lovetown [Lubiewo], trans. Willian Martin, Portobello Books, 2010

Finnish:

  • Hutsula [Lubiewo], trans. Tapani Kärkkäinen, Like Publishing 2007

French:

  • Lubiewo, trans. Madelaine Nasalik, Editions de l'Olivier 2007

German:

  • Lubiewo, trans. Christina-Marie Hauptmeier, Suhrkamp 2007
  • Queen Barbara [Barbara Radziwiłłówna z Jaworzna-Szczakowej], trans. Olaf Kühl, Barlin: Suhrkamp, 2010 

Hebrew:

  • Lubiewo, trans. Ilay Halpern, Schocken 2009

Hungarian:

  • Kéjpart [Lubiewo], trans. Keresztes Gáspár, Budapest: Magvetö 2010

Macedonian: 

  • Lubiewo, trans. Zwonko Dimoski, Skopje: Ars Libris, 2015

Norwegian:

  • Tommer hogg eren [Drwal], trans. Agnes Banach, Oslo: Forlaget Oktober, 2013
  • Skrullestranda [Lubiewo], trans. Agnes Banach, Oslo: Forlaget Oktober, 2015.

Russian:

  • Lubiewo, trans. J. W. Czajnikow, NLO 2007
  • Margo, trans. Jurij  Czajnikow, Sankt-Peterburg: Izdatielstwo Iwana Limbacha, 2010

Slovenian:

  • Kraljica Barbara [Barbara Radziwiłówna z Jaworzna Szczakowej], trans. Tatjana Jamnik, Ljubljana: Didakta, 2010

Spanish:

  • Lovetown [Lubiewo], trans. Joanna Albin, Anagrama 2011
  • El leñador [Drwal], trans. Javier Villaverde Gonzalez, Barcelona: Rayo Verde Editorial, 2013

Swedish:

  • Lubiewo, trans. Stefan Ingvarsson, Stockholm: Modernista, 2008

Ukrainian:

  • Хтивня [Lubiewo], trans. Andrij Bondar, Nora-Druk 2006