One Must Discuss Tastes

Talk with Paweł Dunin-Wąsowicz

People didn’t used to take themselves as seriously as they do now

4 minutes reading left

One Must Discuss Tastes
(A play for two to three people in a Praga apartment)

Dramatis personæ:
Paweł Dunin-Wąsowicz (PD) — questioned
Joanna Halszka Sokołowska (JHS) — questioner
Ewa (E) — Ewa
Music, plot twists: guitar, beer, laptop

(The character speaks unprompted. The questioner responds, then deletes the responses)


(conducted by e-mail)

“I managed to salvage part of the recording, but it’s not looking good. A large part of it is missing. The important part is gone… First you complained that it takes people too long to finish interviews. I tried to explain why it takes me so long: it’s because I decide what’s important to the interviewee myself. You said you knew all about that decision-making process, and that the important stuff sometimes gets missed. You talked about the extensive preparations for your interview with Świetlicki, the questions you were going to ask him, and how his son joined you at one point. He talked about how he finds himself in his father’s poetry. And that was it. That was important.
(Did I?)
Then I asked you whether you complained a lot, and you said that you did, and that there was this constant pessimism about you. It was supposed to protect you from disappointments. You told me about how you got into journalism school and how you no longer had to hide behind your pessimism. I asked you if it was always that bad, and what you could do to keep things from getting better. You told what you’d have to do for things to get better: win the lottery.
And you told me what you’d do with the money. You’d get a group of people together and …
(Did I?)

Paweł Dunin-Wąsowicz, photo from
a public transportation card / private archive

“That’s exactly what I said about the Świetlicki interview.
I’m a born pessimist. What more is there to say?
If I won the lottery, I’d get a group of unemployed liberal arts majors together and hire them to expand my phantom library, let’s say by about 10–20 volumes? I’d set quotas and supervise. I’d organize a labor camp for intellectuals.
Greetings from Zamość. I visited Włodawa, Sobibór, and Chełm today. Now I’m watching the Opole Festival on TV at Hotel Renesans. There’s nothing much going on. PDW”

Part One: Medium

JHS: I heard you have an excellent memory and that you take notes.

PD: I take notes? Yes, I take notes. For example, I was transcribing my notes from the Świetlicki interview today, and I could check when the flood of ‘97 happened and when Świetliki played a concert in the Small Courtyard. When they performed “Duzia woda” and “Gotuj się, kurwa gotuj czyli Odciski” for the first time.

What do you mean? Are you saying you write down facts, dates, hours? Like in a journal?

No, it’s not a journal. It’s a notebook where I sometimes paste tickets and newspaper clippings about me and the authors I publish. Notes about where I went and what I saw. Sometimes I’ll go to a neighborhood meeting and find out that someone had a baby, or that someone died.

So you’re compelled to write chronicles?

Yes, but they’re just notes that couldn’t even be published, because there’s no concept in them, so to speak, just facts. I can look things up and jog my memory.

Paweł Dunin-Wąsowicz

Paweł Dunin-Wąsowicz was born in Warsaw in 1967. He is a journalist, literary critic, head of the Lampa i Iskra Boża publishing house, and editor-in-chief of Lampa magazine. Dunin-Wąsowicz was a co-host of the show “Dobre książki” (“Good Books”) on TVP1 with Tomasz Łubieński and Kinga Dunin. He has worked for the daily Życie Warszawy and the magazines Machina and Przekrój, where he published reviews of books and comics. He is credited with discovering and publishing Dorota Masłowska. Co-founder of the blog “Kumple” with Jarosław Lipszyc and Piotr Marecki. Winner of the 2005 Polityka Passport in the special category “Creator of Culture”. He is the guitarist and vocalist of the band Meble, self-described as “the worst band in the world”. He has published the books: Parnas Bis. Słownik literary polskiej urodzonej po 1960 roku together with Krzysztof Varga (1995); Rewelaja (1994); Widmowa biblioteka. Leksykon książek urojonych (1997); Oko smoka. Literatura tzw. pokolenia brulionu wobec rzeczywistości III RP (2000); Rozmowy lampowe (2007), and Warszawa fantastyczna (2011).

Is that important to you? Doing what you do?

What else is there? If I didn’t paste it into a notebook and just collected the clipping in a folder, what would I have then? It would all fall apart.


Well, you know. I do some work as a journalist here and there. Factual documentation comes in handy. Especially since you couldn’t just look everything up online back when I was starting out. And there’s still a lot that you won’t find online.

When I was in high school, I had a “words of wisdom” type scrapbook. Eight or nine people in my social circle had access to it. I would paste my collages in it, ones I mostly cut out of Western magazines, which were pretty and nicely published. Polish magazines weren’t good enough. (I eventually grew bored of it and now use old illustrations.) People would sometimes write things of their own, notes, kind of like how you would comment a blog post nowadays. Then there was a hand-drawn dragon that stretched over a dozen pages, and I would ask people to color it in in their own way. Sadly, when I was in college, I lent it to a friend who spilled water on it, blurring most of the colors, so there’s not much left of the dragon.

It wasn’t a journal, it wasn’t a diary. It was a kind of blog.

An analog blog?

Yes. It all fell apart after graduation, of course. I still browse through it with a few friends. Afterwards, it naturally segued into a chronicle of my art and publishing activities.

So it was a like a seed for what you need to do in life? What do you need to do?

PD: Of course, what you need to do!


It’s a question of my talents. I’m like a node through which different people…

Did someone knock?

I don’t know.

You know what, let me check.

(Ewa enters. They talk about the neighborhood and a flooded apartment.)

E: How are you, Dunio?

Excellent, I would say. I just finished transcribing my interview with Muzyka Końca Lata, and I’ve started transcribing the one with Świetlicki. I don’t even known which one is which anymore. I don’t know where I’m asking the questions and where I’m the one answering them.

JHS: You can answer for Świetlicki, if you feel like it.

(Ewa talks about Patyczak, who published a book about graphic art in the 90s, and has now quit his job.)

E: Alright, you two go ahead with you interviews. Bye!

PD: Continue with the questions, please.

You could ask about my book, Warszawa fantastyczna (Fantastic Warsaw). The book is a result of my interest in reading books full of unimportant information. (I was inspired by a certain collection of literary sketches by professor Henryk Markiewicz: Zabawy literackie (Literary Games)). At one point (7–8 years ago), I began to realize that Warsaw was undergoing a number of different transformations. That’s how I sometimes dream about the city. Two nights ago I had a dream about an earthquake in Warsaw. Last night I dreamed that one of the buildings in my apartment complex was rebuilt in a different style.

I had a very similar dream last night. I had to move from one apartment to another… It was the same apartment, just rebuilt in a different location. In a house in Żoliborz.

Maybe it was because of the storm. I usually dream about the neighborhood along the route between the Powązki Cemetery and Sady Żoliborskie. I dreamed about a fantastic expansion of the neighborhood. The National Digital Archives now finally have images of what Powązkowska Street looked like near the military cemetery before the war. It turns out it was lined with single-story, wooden houses. I can spend hours on the Warsaw 1939 website. Do you know that site?

Yes, my dad showed it to me.

You can click on each separate land plot. But that doesn’t apply to Marymont or Powązki, which happen to interest me the most because no one took pictures there.

Part Two: A Critique of Humor

I miss the unique vibe of those days. (PD browses through back issues of Lampa.) I don’t know if I can step into the same river again, as Heraclitus said. The band Pustki sang about that too. Those are some old issues of “Lampa”. They’re like from another era, aren’t they? Do you see any link between the old and new ones? I don’t know.

There was something about your sense of humor back then, if you look back at all the different zines you were active in.

Humor played a bigger role in it. Here we have an interview with Świetlicki, an interview that’s a complete sham. It’s made up, with his permission. What more, Świetlicki’s poems have been signed by another poet. An another poet signed his own poems as Świetlicki. So we play around with all these fun, bogus things.

Paweł Dunin-Wąsowicz during an artistic performance
Photo Katarzyna Malinowska

People didn’t used to take themselves as seriously as they do now. One the one hand, you have what I like to call the post-Smolensk circles, who use only one word in politics: treason. Then you have the terribly serious “Political Critique” circles, whose sense of humor involves insulting others and emphasizing how they’re so much smarter than everyone else. “Political Critique”, to put it mildly, is the consequence of the overproduction of the liberal arts intelligentsia in Poland. And finally, between those two circles, you have these overintellectualized people who do nothing but write dozens of essays about how Andrzej Sosnowski is the most outstanding poet in Poland. They’re the younger ones. And the older ones celebrate Miłosz Year. So it has become impossible for me to continue doing what I used to do: distance myself from any manifestations of culture. People desperately want to identify with something nowadays. And so the stuff I did involved finding a negative identity.

I later switched to something more positive: seeking out writers. For example, there’s this little-known author, Piotr Wojciechowski. He’s no Brzozowski, Józef Mackiewicz, or Czesław Miłosz. But I see him as a literary idol who would conjure up alternative worlds for Europe. He is said to have been very popular in the 70s. We now live in a world drawn across completely different lines.

Part Three: “Banalism”

Let’s go back to your sense of humor. Was it a way of venting your anger? Was it the spirit of the time? Was it exclusively Polish? What’s so cool about being lame?

It’s cool when you take being lame seriously. The early issues of the new “Lampa” still had vestiges of my experiments with lameness. Take the “dumpster crops” I published in the first issues. Was that lame? It was more about me getting a kick out of the kitsch. Lameness is an external judgment, rather than intentional action. In his 1994 book, published in German, Michael Fleischer proposed that in the case of the Polish literary avant-garde, the newest literary underground, dumbing down was itself considered avant-garde. That essay by Fleischer was published in Polish in at least two anthologies. It was what I called “banalism”. Banalism was a reaction against the conditions in the 90s. The economy was slowly blooming. However slowly, it was adapting to the market. Freedom of speech, the blossoming of all sorts of media and press. All of that made literature a hard task. It was just starting to blossom, and it was still hard to figure out what was bad about it. Besides: can a happy society even produce good literature? That’s another question… That society might not have been completely happy, but there were a lot of good sides to it. At least from our point of view, from the point of view of our peers (we could compare growing up in the People’s Republic of Poland and life in the first democratic years). There wasn’t a lot of Polish realist literature being written at the time. Writers rarely responded to current events. That didn’t explode until the start of the 21st century.

The idea behind banalism was that if we didn’t see anything worth writing about, then we should write about things we considered completely irrelevant. It was a serious example of escapism. For example, books by Olga Tokarczuk. Or the tragic banalism you find in parts of Dorota Masłowska’s The Queen’s Peacock and No Matter How Hard We Tried. And in Shuty’s stories from the collection Sugar Level Normal. Although that’s more of a grotesque reaction to the banal, commercialized lifestyle, rather than pure banalism.

Would you say it was ideological?

Yes! Just like the excellent little book by Jan Dzban (a pen name), published by Ha!Art. It had already been published online. The book is banalist in form, but it’s a bit more involved in reality. I had that book, but unfortunately I lent it to someone. I lent out a lot of my books. The same thing goes for records. You lend out the ones you like to get people to listen to them. You keep the bad ones. The bad, average things stay put.

On a different note… (receives a text message)

Oh, maybe you got some money? I get a message whenever I get a deposit in my account.

No, my mother tried to call me.

Part Four: Music

What about music?

What music?

You know… Your music.

I am the worst guitarist in the world and I’m tone deaf. There’s a guitar here, so if you want…

It’s dusty and out of tune. This could be good.

(Paweł Dunin strums the strings unhurriedly.)

It’s not even out of tune.


The thing is, I’m unable to remember more than 3 or 4 chords in a row, so everything I’ve written is rather limited in the musical sense. I’m also limited by my complete lack of musical ear. You’ve heard me play, right?

I saw you perform at one of those Lampa events. You had a solo.

(Dunin starts playing a quicker, more upbeat riff.)

A solo? I thought it was something serious.

I thought it was serious. An endless solo. It was the first time I’d heard it. It was respectable and upbeat.

(PD keeps playing.)

So wait, are you or are you not a musician?

Of course I’m not! What do you mean, am I or am I not a musician? That depends… There’s a certain level you need to achieve, a certain technical proficiency beyond which you can be considered a musician. But if all I play are these three chords, does that make me a musician? No, I’m not a musician. Am I? I don’t know.

I’ve been listening to less and less of anything. Although yesterday I got the urge to organize my comic books and LPs. I put the records I don’t listen to on the bottom shelf. Most of it is Polish, and there are some children’s stories I found in the dumpster. I don’t listen to them and I’m not going to listen to them. There are a few classical music records. Can you imagine that I played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and some Beethoven yesterday? I was so tired of listening to punk rock that I decided to put on some classical last night. I’d like to listen to some ancient music as well. You know: flutes, harps, lyres, stuff like that.


(Voices heard from off-stage)

No… I can’t believe this! I think I deleted everything by mistake.


This is embarrassing. I’m so sorry. Let’s do it again, but not today. Not today. We can try to recreate it exactly the way it was. After all, it’s a drama. I’ll say stuff like “and now you pick up your guitar”, and so on.

(Three hours later, over the phone)


OK, turns out I’ve got it.

(Happy) Alright, then I’ll get back to writing Świetlicki.

translated by Arthur Barys