Ondřej is a writer, translator and editor based in Prague, Czech. His poetry often deals and plays with roles and identities (see the picture above) and conventional language pieces, objets trouvé, of our everyday life.
Places and people have not only names but significance in their specific context. And when Ondřej redefines the context, the meaning changes often in a political way. Taking this into account we felt an e-mail interview being underdetermined in this regard, so we advisedly set a place for the interview and relocated us to the famous crossing in Tokyo, Shibuya. Konnichiwa to our fictional writing space.
Julia Schiefer: Now do you see this crazy crowd of Japanese people around us? It’s like a very neatly conducted dance of electric elements and we are in the midst of it. I like this vision to be similar to that of CROWD – except for one difference. It’s not one but many centers. What’s your vision of CROWD?
Ondřej Buddeus: What is my vision of CROWD? It is hard to concentrate in this organized chaos. I would say it is to show the connections and actually the invisible and possible structure of literature and especially poetry nowadays. It’s chaotic and structured as well as spontaneous and historical. Literary works emerge in separate conditions and simultaneously strive to speak to more than just the writer or the poet, thus they pop up with a clear ambition of certain collectivity. Why this paradox of being separate and connected simultaneously. There are plenty quotations about poets: when the poet says “we”, the poet means “I” and when talking about him/herself, he/she means “us”. In my eyes, this is something, what CROWD tries to present and create an European platform for.
The CROWD is for all the different actors involved in literature, for authors, publishers, translators, organizers, etc. What do you think about creating new ways of disseminating literature and the notion of authorship?
I really do welcome this renewed phenomena in the field of literature. Being a little tired of all the authorial egoism, collective writing feels to be a refreshing attitude that has interesting consequences on how we can create and perceive works of literature today. When I, for example, think of the Swedish collective G=T=B=R=G, I feel that they set free a very remarkable dynamics in what they do. In general, when you think of the “institution of literature”, it is a massive collective work, too. Moreover, collective writing somehow fits in the age of “networking minds”. Perhaps we can understand this emerging tendency as a possible reaction on devaluation of a single voice in society. Besides, joining and cooperating is one of resistance tactics of nowadays, not only in the field of culture, but also in urban or even local business or political environments…
What do you have in mind when you hear “literary activism”?
But I also have to add, that what I said here is just one of the possible perspective on how to understand “literary activism”. Another way of being a literary activist, a very traditional and important one at least in Europe, could be for instance the institution of “public intellectuals“ who have a background in literature. The question could then be, whether the actual literary field does “produce” authors with this ambition or rather – why it doesn’t?
Do politics play a role in your writing?
Of course, since the political narratives have an unavoidable impact on my everyday life and political abstraction has very detailed consequences on how I received my education, how I earn my/a living, travel through the world or how information is mediated to my desktop etc. – I just can’t imagine how to build an ivory tower high enough to get rid of the omnipresent mix of truth(s), lies, visions and fictions that we all agreed to call politics and that we share in our social systems and communicate in media space. As soon as I’d like to use e.g. electricity and water, I am taking part. But to answer the question how I directly do reflect that in my writing… this, I suppose, depends on how one decides to read the stuff.
Actually these people on the Shibuya crossing, they are here to move on to some other destination. The French sociologist Marc Augé once called these kind of places “places non-lieux”. But there is so much energy, one can feel the electricity under the skin. Isn’t it just dope when you look at all these sparkling, vibrant and colorful billboards? What would you like to be written on them if you were to choose? What could literary activism mean to people?
“Spread the wor(l)ds!” – That is what could be written there if cultural and literary activists were passing by. And what if just ordinary Japanese were coming along? Then I’d choose some zen-like tautology just to try to stop her or him for a second, for example “You are here” or something with a larger zoom like: “There is the sky behind these billboards and there are clouds in the sky and there is a plane eyond the clouds and there sits a 7-years-old girl looking from the window asking herself if there is a city down there and where the small people are heading to and where you are in the game.” (Honestly, I hope to find something less fancy and more intelligent later on…) Just put there something that makes no pragmatic sense, or in other words – makes another sense. But in this project literature is turning to to a site-specific project. I actually do like those moments.
I like them, too. It’s probably in characters, too, this “mu” (or “wu” 無 which is like a dogs barking, that is what Buddha says in one of the koans collections called „The Gateless Barrier“). What are you currently working on?
There are a few things going on, of course. Fortunately, the Psí víno Magazine has summer holidays now and the theatre I’m working for, too. Right now, the most joyful thing is the elaboration of the diary for next year. Its official title is 365 + 1 novel / diary for 2016. In the Czech Republic we have the tradition of the name-days. What if you’d revive the anonymous names in a diary to live in a mininal story, in one or two sentences? This is my try to move literary texts towards design (to give the reader the choice of becoming the user and vice versa and at the same time this is going to be a book what you write in a time span of one year of your life), a play with the poetics of fragment and creation of micro-universe or the smallest possible plot. The publisher Papelote and me are finishing now and the diary launch is on October 1st. I am looking forward to that. And I’m cycling a lot, too. But this is not work, is it? Well, I actually do not work. I just make my stuff as usual.
What Google thinks we look like while doing an interview
Thank you for the interview, Ondřej!
Thank you, too, Julia.
Ondřej Buddeus (*1984) is a Czech translator, poet and a sporadic essayist. He translates from German and Norwegian (J. Winkler, J. E. Vold, A. Mortensen et al.), is senior editor of the contemporary Czech poetry magazine Psí vino and is writing his doctoral thesis in Scandinavian studies and works for the Czech theater ALFREDVEDVOŘE. His work has been translated into several languages. In 2011, he published his début text collection 55 007 characters with spaces, a picture book for adults Orangutan in captivity tends towards obesity (with Alžběta Skálová and Martina Kupsová), a multigenre project a me (2012/2014). Together with Peter Dietze (Berlin) he curated the anthology project DISPLEJ.eu (2014) on contemporary German, Slovak and Czech poetry. In 2013, he was awarded the Jiří Orten Prize for his collection Swiftly and in 2014 the Magnesia Litera Prize and The Most Beautiful Czech Book Award for the children’s book Head in Head (together with David Böhm) . Ondrej is member of the recently founded Czech Writer’s Association