The Virtually Virtual Reader (or, How Jacek Dukaj Invented the Reader of Contemporary Polish Literature)

Every reader of Jacek Dukaj’s prose knows (and usually likes) the special kind of stupefaction into which the author’s range of world-creating speculations lead. In Czarne oceany we have to accept the existence of a reality that would emerge if memetics were to enable a completely new form of managing the human memory, if genetic engineering provided a way to design our entire bodies, if telepathy turned out to be a fundamental human ability and if several similar ifs were to become realities. Much of the thrill that this kind of writing allows us to experience “first-hand” springs from the fact that we have to emigrate into alternative histories, for practical purposes co-inventing with the author altered social conditions and political constellations, imagining grammars and lexicons divergent from our own. Importantly, the detailed nature of the projected vision amazes us with its ironclad consistency; Dukaj truly adheres firmly to principles once he sets them, bending everything to conform to them – including readers. This may even lead us to suspect that the way Dukaj operates within the space of Polish literary culture also resembles his method for generating variant realities. The author takes the existence of a certain state of literature as a working hypothesis and treats it as if it were an actually existing condition. His novels thus not only recreate recent and older forms of literary tradition and conventions of both mainstream literature and science fiction, but also dream up certain passive procedures, nonexistent readerly habits, putative events of earlier or current literary life; and for the time of reading, they attempt to provide us with an opportunity to participate in a complicated, bifurcated reception situation.