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Interview with Yury Andrukhovych, one of the best modern Ukrainian poets and writers

 

Yury Andrukhovych is undoubtedly one of the brightest stars in the constellation of Ukrainian literary luminaries. His persistent wish to remain free when others are almost chained to the circumstances of existence is one of the things that makes him different.

 

Yury Andrukhovych began his literary career in the early 1980s as a poet and member of the literary group Bu-ba-bu (burlesk-balagan-bufonada, or burlesque-antics-buffoonery). For about ten years, Bu-ba-bu kept producing sarcastic, satirical literary works which contributed, among other things, to the toppling of the soviet totalitarian culture. To build and to ruin is probably one of the most characteristic features of Andrukhovychs oeuvre. A wish to penetrate everywhere and yet never to be caught is another characteristic feature of Andrukhovychs writings which has found its most vivid expression in the protagonist of Andrukhovychs novels, Perfetsky  or maybe this wish reflects the authors own predilections?

The time gap of seven years separates his most recent novel Dvanadsyat obruchiv (Twelve Hoops), released in 2003, from his previous novel Perverziya (Perversion) which was published in 1996 (it was preceded by Moskoviada, which was brought out in 1993, and by Rekreatsiyi  Recreations, published in 1992).

 

In addition to several novels and a number of poems, Yury Andrukhovych has published a collection of essays (Dezoriyentatsiya na mistsevosti  Disorientation on the Terrain, 1999) which treat some of the most important issues that the author is concerned with. Also, Yury Andrukhovych does and publishes translations from Polish (T. Konwicky), German (R.M. Rilke, F, Roler, F. Von Herzmanowski-Orlando) and Russian (B. Pasternak, O. Mandelshtam, A. Kim). His works have been translated and published in Poland, Germany, Canada, Hungary, Finland, Russia, Serbia and the USA; some of his works appeared in collections published in Sweden, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Belarus, Lithuania, and Slovakia.

 

Paradoxically, Yury Andrukhovychs books probably enjoy wider readerships in Europe and North America than in Ukraine, but he remains connected fast to his native roots.

Yury Andrukhovych has been interviewed exclusively for Welcome to Ukraine Magazine by Maksym PROTSKIV, WU senior editor.

 

Early this year, at a meeting with your readers in Kyiv at which you read some of your poems, you also said that Mr Perfetsky had come back. Is it a mystification of some sort?

Mystification? My old friend Stakh Perfetsky is a poet and musician and he disappeared in Venice in March 1993. Almost twelve years had passed since that time, but I had not heard anything either from him or from the people who might have seen him, and I did not know whether he was dead or alive, keeping a very low profile  until I heard from him again. Shortly after the Orange Revolution here in Ukraine, I received a letter from him, which was followed by several other messages. From these messages I gathered that he had decided to come back to Ukraine. Why? Probably, he had ascertained that a direct threat to his life did not exist any more. I do not think his decision was formed when he learned that political bandits have been put into prison and those who have commanded the forces of corruption and anti-revolution have retired. As you know, nothing of the sort has happened (Mr Andrukhovych refers to the pre-election promises of V. Yushchenko which have not been fulfilled  tr.). As far as Im concerned, theres nothing sweeter in this world than coming home. I really dont know what Perfetsky thinks about it, but once in a while I go away from home in order to be able to go back.

Have the plans of having a play based on one of your novels staged in Germany come to anything?

Yes, the first two performances took place in the theatre of the city of Dusseldorf on 16th and 17th of September 2005. The play is based not on a novel but on my play, Nelegal Orfeysky (Illegal Immigrant Orpheus; in German translation  Orpheus, Illegal). Anna Badora, the chief director of this theatre directed the play. In fact, my play in its turn is based on my novel, Perverziya (Perversion) though with a considerable shift of emphasis. In the play, Perfetsky is not just a poet in love  he is a poet who gets involved in politics and even is obliged to imitate a terrorist act. Incidentally, in the German play, Perfetsky is played by two actors  a German one, Michael Fuks, and a Ukrainian one, Stanislav Boklan. This split of Perfetskys personality offers a great opportunity for playing around with the change of languages he speaks, with the mimics, gestures and situations. The play was an international project  German-Ukrainian-Italian. Actors speak in several languages and it creates the atmosphere of a new Babel. I have an impression that the play was a success.

You send your protagonists on long travels  physical and psychological and mental in search of their own egos. Will your future novels have this theme of search and travel?

Its a secret. As a matter in fact, I dont know what and how things will happen in my future novels. Neither can I tell you whether my future books will be novels in the traditional sense of the word novel or something totally experimental. I keep wanting to do something alternative. Im eager, for example, to make videos, or to record another album of poems recited by me or somebody else. Or maybe even to play a role in a film. All these things combine to create a sort of a motion picture, in which Im the main protagonist and the watcher. I think my future will deal with such themes.

Your novels caused some controversy. That was the case with earlier novels and with your latest novel, 12 Obruchiv (Twelve Hoops). When, for example, it was released in Lviv, there was a picket posted in front of one of the book stores, demanding that the books be not sold. Is such a reaction typical of mostly people of older generations?

No, not necessarily so. We should rather speak of people who are old in the sense of belonging to the old times, of people who are closed to anything radically different from what they are accustomed to, of people who cannot change, who cannot reject ideas and ideals they formerly held, who have no courage to look into the precipices. Im perfectly aware that there are people who are very much annoyed with me and at my writings but its perfectly all right  its better to have some emotions, albeit negative, than to remain absolutely indifferent, with no emotions at all. When twenty years ago we  Sashko Irvanets, Victor Neborak and me  were setting up our literary group, Bu-Ba-Bu, its primary aim was to wake people up, to shake them out of their lethargy, and make them face the reality and ask questions. There will be always people who need such shaking up, and of course, there will be people who will never wake up from their social and cultural slumber.

Ukraine is often referred to as a country with broken cultural traditions. Do these broken cultural traditions add more difficulties to the present-day writers work?

If we accept your assessment of our time as the time of broken cultural traditions, then the main problem for me, a sort of a writers curse, is a necessity to go back to things that should have already been said, that should have already happened, and do them again and again. The labour of Sisyphus of sorts. In some cases, it may adversely affect a writers performance and creativity. On the other hand, broken cultural traditions, if to view them from a different angle, may provide new possibilities, new opportunities for filling the gaps, new cultural hierarchies which can be used beneficially  and all kinds of cultural hooliganism into the bargain. And Im the one who does his best to exploit all these new opportunities.

You publicly recite your works once in a while at shows that bring together quite a lot of people. Did you ever think of making one more step and start appearing regularly on television, like some of the other authors did? Such appearances could boost an interest in Ukrainian literature in general, couldnt they?

TV shows and public recitals in concert halls are two entirely different things. Ill stick with live performances in front of the interested audiences. In a certain way, such recitals are more important for me than actually writing things. In this respect Im a showman rather than just an author. My works will continue to exist for quite some time, but I, as a human being, live here and now, and this limited span of existence makes me want to make this existence as fruitful and creatively satisfying as possible. Television does not have the same drive as live performances in front of the audiences do  television is routine and money, money and routine. And I would hate to become part of TV conveyor belt of mass production. Ive always declined to be involved in it. Of course, if its an occasional appearance with yourself as the host and the main guest, then its all right As far as interest in Ukrainian literature is concerned  theres only one thing that can change an attitude to Ukrainian literature and its the writers themselves  they should write better to evoke the readers interest. They should write in such a way that people of the society they belong to, feel that they just cant live without reading these books. I address this demand to myself as well as to the others.

Which do you like better  to prophesize or to provoke?

For me, its about one and the same thing.

You often come to Kyiv but youve never moved to this city on a permanent basis. Any particular reason for that?

In the past seven or eight years my attitude to Kyiv has considerably changed. I continue to love this city, but now I can love it only from a distance, and I find that coming to Kyiv often is better for me than staying in it for longer stretches of time. I want to be coming to know this city through meeting people, through literary and other adventures, whereas living here will condemn it to be a place of everyday routine rather than a place of new experiences. I want to feel that theres always not enough of Kyiv for me, and when you do not have enough of something, you never stop wanting it.

They say that writers live in the texts they are writing at the moment. Is there any text that you are living in these days?

Several days ago I finished writing rather a big essay which is meant for an international anthology of essays, Last & Lost. It is going to be published by the German publishing house Suhrkamp jointly with the Polish publishing house Czarne which is run by Andrzej Stasyuk. A dozen or more of well-known European writers will supply their essays about the run-down or completely devastated places, or places that are going to disappear soon from the map of the European continent. I expect these essays may be quite depressing, full of emptiness and pessimism. I have probably failed to fulfil this task properly  I made an attempt to describe resilience and lust for life of a village in the Carpathian mountains, somewhere in the back of beyond where people survive by cutting down trees for timber. They do it in an atrociously barbaric way  but they survive, and stay put, without leaving their village to look for jobs elsewhere. I went to stay there for some time at the end of last summer and I was so impressed that I still have dreams about it at night.

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