Michal Habaj

- Slovakia -

Michal Habaj is a poet and a literary scientist. He was born in 1974 in Bratislava. He studied Slovak Language and Literature, and completed his doctoral studies at the Institute of Slovak Literature, Slovak Academy of Science, where he currently works. He is the author of the monography Druhá moderna (The Second Modernism, Ars Poetica, 2005) and Model človeka a sveta v básnickom diele Jána Smreka (The Concept of The Human and The World in The Poetry of Ján Smrek, Veda 2013). His books of poetry include: 80-967760-4-5 (Drewo a srd, 1997), Gymnazistky. Prázdniny trinásťročnej (The High School Girls. The Holidays of a Thirteen Year-old Girl, Drewo a srd, 1999), Korene neba. Básne z posledného storočia (The Roots of Heaven. Poems of the Last Century, Drewo a srd, 2000), Básne pre mŕtve dievčatá (Poems for Dead Girls, Drewo a srd, 2004) and Michal Habaj (Ars Poetica, 2012). Assuming the gynonym Anna Snegina he published the book of poems Pas de deux (Drewo a srd, 2003) and Básne z pozostalosti (Poems of the Posterity, Ars Poetica, 2009). He is one of the co-authors of the experimental poetry project Generator X: Hmlovina (Generator X: Nebula, Drewo a srd, 1999) and Generator X_2: Nové kódexy (Generator X_2: New Codices, Drewo a srd, 2013). He is also one of the co-authors of the international project The European Constitution in Verse (Brussels, 2009). His poetry has been included in multiple anthologies and collections.

Michal Habaj’s collections of poetry programmatically disrupt traditional perceptions of the authorial and lyrical subject. In his books, Habaj styles himself as a romantic 'cyborg' (e.g. Korene neba. Básne z posledného storočia/Roots of Heaven: Poems from the Last Century and Básne pre mŕtve dievčatá/Poems for Dead Girls) and as Anna Snegina, a ‘Slovak female poet of Russian origin’. Habaj becomes a part of the authorial multi-subject in the Generator X textual experiment and the ‘Big Epigone’ (Habaj identifies himself in his first work); he intertextually selects striking aspects of classic poetry from the 19th and early 20th centuries and places them into the setting of the social and artistic conditions of the present day (extralinguistic reality, postmodern perceptions of literature, brandism and pop-art).


In addition to experientiality, one of Habaj’s goals is the deconstruction of established ways of writing poetry and the reconstruction of poetry built upon a new platform of a palimpsest of traditional and postmodern elements. Habaj’s first collection, entitled 80-967760-4-5, which is the ISBN code of the book, presents the syncretic connection of the composition of a collection of poetry with television. This outwardly one-off and playful experiment with the collision of two incompatible media outlines the grotesque incongruity between that which is exalted (poetry) and that which is utilitarian and popular (television). It indicates the possibilities, expectations and limits of both media and offers Habaj the space to put forward questions about the functionality of poetry in this era of ‘digital modernism’.


Habaj’s collections have a characteristic emphasis on emotionality in its exposed form as sentiment and as romantic gesture (Gymnazistky/High School Girls, Prázdniny trinásťročnej/A Thirteen-Year-Old Girl’s Holidays, Roots of Heaven: Poems from the Last Century and Poems for Dead Girls). Also, women’s sensitivity is multiplied by the use of legendary Russian savageness through the fictitious authorship of Anna Snegina. Habaj primarily allows the ‘naive reader’ to read his books in an experiential manner, yet he presents for the more ‘artistically literate reader’ a palimpsest and intertextual game with numerous possibilities of interpretation. Despite Habaj’s distancing from any emotional engagement, there is a dominant mood of nostalgia for a time when poetry and love had a serious, unproblematic and ‘pure’ character.


The changing times have marginalised poetry and love. Habaj approaches the extent of the changed conditions in the present day by confronting the past with the future; at one time this is done through the intertextual revival of significant Slovak and foreign poetic texts, and another time through the ‘sci-fi’ concept of cyborg poetry, which looks in retrospect from the future to the present time as being the ‘last century’ of human civilisation. In Habaj’s works, the most perfect illusion of the meeting of the present with the personified essence of sensitivity and emotion is captured in the melancholy lyrical subject of Snegina, who has been mysteriously ‘missing since 2005’. In Snegina as a female subject there is the contrasting joining of intimate feminine positions – an allusion to the Russian tradition of the femme fatale – with superficiality and trendiness, which are the result of pressure wrought on the individual by media manipulation and consumer society.


The authorial intention of Habaj’s poetic work remains in its ‘irritatingly ambiguous and indefinite position’ (Zoltán Rédey). A multi-level reading, the degree of coding and the contrast between the high and the low, between the refined and the utilitarian, does not clearly reveal Habaj’s intentions. This allows for his books to be read as both a nostalgic confrontation of the present with marginalised art and as an original postmodern parody.           


The possibility to read texts with contradictory intentions is presented in a new way in Habaj’s latest work, Michal Habaj, named after the author himself. This extensive collection of ‘textual happenings’ contains themes suitable for persiflage as well as serious themes, such as the creation of man and the Holocaust, which would morally disqualify Habaj as an author if he were to make them an object of humour. In this book, Habaj continues to explore the possibilities for the authorial subject (e.g. the utilisation of yogic techniques and the stylisation of characters from tabloid news stories) and the possibilities for the text as the material for a poststructuralist experiment opening up allusions to Foucault’s study of art and philosophy under the motto: ‘This is not a collection of poems.’ Habaj expands the game into the field of pragmatic space (communication between the author and the reader), wherein readers interpret the textual impetus as well as the impetus of the whole book itself as an artefact and a scientific experiment.