Ondřej Buddeus

- Czech Republic -

Ondřej Buddeus (born in Prague in 1984) is a Czech poet, publicist, organiser and translator. He studied translation at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University. During his studies he spent several years in Norway, and after returning to the Czech Republic he completed his PhD at the Scandinavian Studies Department in Prague. He was the editor-in-chief of the Czech literary magazine Psí víno, pursuing a distinctly international character under his leadership, later worked in public relations for the “Alfred ve dvoře” theatre in Prague, and from its founding in 2017 to 2019 he was also the head of the State Literary Agency České literární centrum (Czech Literary Centre). In his literary work, he conceptually crosses various literary types and genres, publishing poetry collections, books for youth and children, editing several literary-conceptual projects, as well as post-operatic scores. Notable among his works are Orangutan v zajetí má sklony k obezitě (Orangutan in Captivity Has a Tendency to Obesity, 2011), 55 007 znaků včetně mezer (55. 007 characters including spaces, 2011), rorýsi (swifts, 2012, Jiří Orten Award), Hlava v hlavě (Head in the Head, 2013, Magnesia Litera and Best Czech Book), zóna (zone, 2016) and the diaries 365+1 román (361 + 1 novel, 2015) and zima, jaro, léto, podzim... a zima(winter, spring, summer, autumn...and winter, 2017). Today he works at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and organises various literary projects, translates from Norwegian and German, edits anthologies and authors theoretical works in the field of art and literature. All in all, Ondřej is an important mover of Czech literary life.

His debut poetry 55 007 znaků včetně mezer was already marked by a unique approach to poetry, which draws on the field of avant-garde research, the interplay of rationality and emotion, and wordplay on both the stylistic and formal levels. The latter is evident already in the visual design of the book, which adds a typographic list inside the printed pages and rejects the traditional pagination (instead, he uses a unique coding system of “X_Y_Z”, where X seems to represent part of the book, Y indicates the number of the poem or text, and Z denotes the part of the poem that extends across the page), as well as the conceptual division of the collection, since each section serves the purpose of shaping the book not only as medium, but as a physical carrier of meaning, in which the author transcends the role of writer, exposing himself as a context- builder, who constructs a multidimensional whole in the multitude of words. Of the three sections – where the first alphabetically sorts all the words, emoticons, numbers, punctuation marks from the whole, the second brings short civilist poems, without any additional poetic expressions, and the third rounds off the whole dramaturgically by means of the words and phrases – one can say that only in their totality do they show the intention, on the one hand, to present the external world of modernity with distance, and in its internal logic, through rational reflection and descriptiveness, to show a high degree of playfulness and innovation in the construction of the poetic world. Buddeus manipulates language in order to tease the reader's expectations and prejudices, and his linguistic constructions reflect contemporary society, as he incorporates some of its topical themes, politics, social relations into his poems, and lightens them up with irony, absurdity, triviality, which at the same time indicates an engaged poetic position and a desire to create something transcendent. In this, his work can function as rhetorical exercises, addressing both the question of poetry and external literary reality, which the author places before the reader in his attempts to encode the meanings of language in its semantic functions and experiments. In doing so, each poem is a challenge, always seeking to create something new, but in the greater whole it marks a well-considered declamation that offers multi-sensory and multi-dimensional experiences and invites the reader actively to participate, not just to read. Already with his debut, Buddeus thus proved his distinct authorial poetics, which, by interweaving contemporary themes with unique literary techniques, foregrounds both the issues of contemporary society and the search for novelty in poetic expression, presentimg a breath of fresh air on the Czech poetry scene.

A similar trend is also evident in his second collection of poetry, rorýsy, in which he continues to use rich narrative techniques, thematic currents and linguistic experiments that reinforce the poetic message. Similarly to the debut, Buddeus’ second poetry collection draws from an urban, contemporary, digital environment, and brings to the surface the rawness of humanity, its relationships and the current times, but unlike the debut, it is all the more raw and direct. The author once again makes use of technical language, which is noticeable both within the style and themes, as well as with the titles of the poems themselves, where the reader recognises the objects of the modern world that symbolise the limitations and constraints of the everyday. The poems function as a linguistic laboratory, contrasting a cold, dehumanising, technical world with genuine human emotions and the primal power of nature on the other side, making frequent references to animals and their entrapment as leitmotifs, where the trappings of modern civilisation suggest the fragmentation and alienation of our lives. The central symbol of the collection, with the author's distinctive objectivistic experimental style, is indeed already contained in its title, the common swifts which spend most of their lives in the air, signifying a metaphor for the human condition in the world, an escape from reality, unable to get in touch with solid ground.  The poems deal with the whirlwinds of the postmodern world, where man has lost touch of truth, or is lost in the multiplicity of 'truths', in relativism and subjectivism, adding a special depth and metaphysical note. Given the blurred boundary between digital technology and the primordially human, the verses take the reader through the many paradoxes of modern existence, once again revealing the subtle engagement on the part of the author, who acts as an acute commentator on many aspects of postmodern life. In the book, which was awarded the Jiří Orten Prize, Buddeus thus further refines his authorial expression, as he juxtaposes depersonalisation with intimacy and the banal with the profound, and his expressive variety and visual-semantic games thus construct as profoundly topical poetic world for our times.

The theme of postmodern human condition lost between external demands and internal desires continues into his most recently published third collection of poems, zóna, in which the author astutely demonstrates his powers of observation. The collection contains not only poems, but also texts reflecting the evolving ethos of Central Europe and the urban postmodern world, torn between consumer ideology and individual identity. The organic disorder of the 44 texts, whose verses are fragmented yet cohesive, offers a glimpse into a world in which consumption drives human existence, leading society into a sense of alienated discord. Alongside the critique of the liberal capitalist apparatus that dismantles interpersonal relationships and contacts, the author's conceptualism is also evident on a formal level, as the fragmented verses are complemented by photographs of a skyscraper lit up in the dark night, adding images of anonymity to the text, but also of unity in an impersonal and cold atmosphere. In this way, the variations in illumination (by means of the lights in the skyscraper, changing from one page to another) serve as a setting for the intense and poignant human dramas that take place deep within the text, expressed through haunting reflections on a person's gradual end and loss in chaos. The latter is also one of the main symbols or leitmotifs of the whole, which marks the author's most engaged critical work, since it is through the chaos of language and the world, of humans caught in the cacophony of the "brave new" world, that he draws attention to the modern way of life and its anomalies. In doing so, Buddeus points out how our way of using language and thinking has changed, attempting to capture a multitude of information but also, and importantly, to alert the reader about the critical nature of our situation that urgently requires the necessary pause and reflection time. Ondřej Buddeus's literary style is thus characterised by a profound understanding of the contemporary social rhythm and the human condition within it, skillfully blurring genre boundaries, interweaving narrative and poetry, facts and feelings, offering the reader a vivid, often uncomfortable snapshot of contemporary life, which also testifies to the continuity of his authorial expression, from one collection to the next becoming more and more resolute and "knife-edge".

In his experimentation, his use of innovative word games that both challenge and mock with caustic irony, Ondřej Buddeus encourages his reader to look beyond the words and to grasp the current between past avant-garde traditions and contemporary (in)sensibilities with a wealth of narrative and poetic strategies, and with subtle socio-cultural commentaries, he lays bare the tapestry of contemporary life, its contradictions and leads us on a path of a constant search for meaning, which makes his poetics a unique phenomenon within the current Czech literary scene.


Essay written by Aljaž Koprivnikar