Poet and fiction writer Zbyněk Benýšek was born in Olomouc, on 27 June 1949, and grew up in Prostějov. He studied at the secondary school of applied arts in Brno and later left for Prague where he held a number of jobs as a workman. After immigrating to Austria in 1982, he edited for ten years the art review Paternoster published in Vienna.
In 1992 he moved back to Prague, where helives today, and, in addition to literary work, devotes himself to the visual arts and book design.
Since the mid-1960s Zbyněk Benýšek, an author with direct links to circles of the pre-November 1989 literary and art underground and, later, also with its émigré offshoot, has been creating an ‘unending’ poetic diary by systematically applying the poetics of so-called ‘poem-notations’. Parts of this diary made their way around the small circle of the initiated after 1969 as separate samizdat volumes (first presented as early as 1970). Nonetheless, the great majority of Benýšek’s poetic oeuvre remains in manuscripts, of which only a small selection, entitled Diagnóza a jiné básně (Diagnosis and Other Poems), was published in book form. It comprises texts written in the twenty years between 1977 and 1997, and therefore does not include any of the artist’s early writing or first samizdat compilations. On the whole, however, the selection offers a comparatively consistent idea of the nature of Benýšek’s non-conformist verse: it springs from the poetics and, above all, the philosophy of life of the underground. The author strives for a lasting satirical commentary on contemporary attitudes to life, rather than merely widespread affected avowals of dissident creations and grotesque experiments with the language of ‘power’ and ‘powerlessness’. His commentary generally relates to some ‘authentic’ environment and manifests itself in the realm of the everyday, in suggestive details, and casual snapshots. The uniqueness of his writing indeed rests in this ironic and sarcastic glossing of public affairs, particularly the thought processes of his contemporaries. He makes his diagnosis of society and history using separate scenes and then remains with these diagnoses, so as to avoid incongruous moralizing and to let the world take its own course. In the early-1970s he began writing stories and longer pieces of prose, which, like his verse, appeared in samizdat miscellanies and, later, émigré journals. The nature of his fiction is analogous to the cycles of verse and glosses; it seems, however, that Benýšek devoted himself to fiction mainly in the 1980s, especially after emigrating, whereas after November 1989 he shifted the focus of his literary activity back towards poetry. The collection My nejsme vrazi (We Are Not Murderers) introduces us to several pieces dating mainly from the period before November 1989. The author chooses the apposite, though perhaps frivolous term ‘neo-Mannerist reportage’ to describe his prose narration, and focuses most of all on the experiences of a dissident bohemian and émigré in an alien world. His protagonists collectively profess nonconformist attitudes to life, which are based on both the negation of the establishment in any form and a radical stance towards the psychological drawbacks of modern civilization. An analogous radicalism, long identified with the position of the free-thinking or independent artists in pre-November 1989 Czechoslovakia, is present in his current work, which again takes on the character of a pitiless memento, as in the story Tma (Darkness) where, using his typical ‘documentary’ model, the author portrays ‘an evening which upset my being’
in a situation in which it turns out that ‘the struggle continues’ and nonconformist artists in the country are again blacklisted – this time for their genuine dissent from the so-called ‘post-Communist behaviour’
that was being demanded of them at the dawn of the new ‘virtual’ era. (vn)
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