Ricardo Domeneck: Do we write differently as queer-bodied people living in our specific societies, which deal in specific manners with queer-bodied people? Can we speak of a queer-bodied poetics? How do you deal with this question?
Jacek Dehnel: I don’t perceive myself as a queer-‘bodied’ person. Sure, my body could be called “queer” because of some of its unusual characteristics or medical conditions (as any body, I guess), but as far as my nonheteronormative identity is concerned, I do not really perceive it as a body aspect. I see my personal experience of being – broadly speaking – queer, which is limited to being a gay cis-man, mostly as something related to my emotions, my relationships, my place within the society.
Of course there is a LGBT literature or, in my case, gay literature and gay writers. But I see a distinction between gay literature (which focuses on the gay experience and doesn’t have to be written necessarily by a gay person, like “Days Without End” by Sebastian Barry) and literature written by gay people, which doesn’t have to focus on this part of their experience. We also have writers who join one with another, like Edmund White, Jeannette Winterson or Alan Hollinghurst. But for me being gay does not mean I have to limit myself to those subjects, so only in some of my works they are featured directly.
However, I do think that all my writing is influenced by the experience of being an outsider, an outcast. Hence my interest in protagonists who are in some way excluded: in victims, in the less fortunate, in people perceived as mad. Also: in those historical figures who are not in the limelight, but somewhere around: forgotten, frowned upon, well hidden as not worthy of occupying a place in history.
Ricardo Domeneck: Is the idea of a “queer tradition” important to you? Do you read and deal in a different way with your contemporary queer poets, as you do with homoerotic poetry from the past? Can you relate to poets such as Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde, to give two famous examples, from a time when language functioned differently, when “queer” meant something else?
Jacek Dehnel: It was definitely important in my formative years; growing as a teenager in Poland in 1990s I obviously had no language to speak about my identity, so I craved for anything that would help me out. Be it Thomas Mann’s “Buddenbrooks”, “Tonio Kroeger” and “Death in Venice” (filtered through Luchino Visconti, obviously), be it Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine (filtered through Agnieszka Holland’s “Total Eclipse”), be it Marcel Proust, be it bits and pieces in books by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz and Witold Gombrowicz (or even straight authors, like Joris-Karl Huysman’s “À rebours”) – I devoured all of that. Then, of course, both the Polish book market and film productions changed and I had a broader access to foreign literature in English. Now, being in my early forties, I am just looking for great books or movies, but I do not need the queer tradition to build my own identity or my language anymore.