Naked on a dead horse: strange happenings in the world of Patrik Linhart


North Bohemia is a strange part of the Czech Republic. It combines bleak industrial towns with striking natural beauty, and its people are also different. The area was almost completely depopulated with the expulsion of its German inhabitants after World War Two, and people moved in from across Czechoslovakia. So perhaps it's not surprising that North Bohemia also has its own very special and rather peculiar literary culture.

Patrik Linhart is a well-known writer from the town of Teplice:

"People who live in this city and in the area of Northern Bohemia originally come from all over Czechoslovakia. So there are Gypsies, South Czech people, people from Prague, people from Moravia and Silesia, and this is a good mixture of all kinds of culture. This is some kind of "boom", and people living in this area have no roots, no tradition. So they make new traditions. The exact word for this feeling is, I think, "periphery." You live on the periphery. It doesn't just have to mean the periphery of the country, it can also be the periphery in your personal life. I think that I both live on the periphery of the country, and also in terms of my life as a citizen."

I'd like to ask you, before we move on to your writing, about some of the events you stage. The Czechs call them "happenings". Can you tell me a bit about some of the happenings you've staged in and around Teplice?

"I'll tell you one story. We have in the central park in Teplice a statue of a horse lying on its back - with its legs in the air - a dead horse. My friend and I made a happening, and in the last part of this happening we were naked with a pussy-cat umbrella, doing some terrible things with this horse. At that time I was a teacher at a high school, and some of my students with their parents passed me. They said, 'Hello, teacher,' and I was next to the horse, doing terrible things, and said, 'Good day.'"

So a naked event on a statue of a dead horse was one happening. I know you also staged a dinner party on a traffic island and also had a game of naked pool in a non-stop pub in Teplice. There are many such events that you use to maybe dislocate the division between the normal and the super-normal. Could you say something about your writing now, and what the themes of your writing are?

"Regarding these happenings again, I feel endangered by people. So from these actions I have a strong energy to write, because me themes are, for example, pubs, listening to people in pubs or in public transport, what there say - their common life; a second theme is my observation of nature with a satirical or ironic under-text, which is written between the words; the third one, I think, is something like my thinking about science."

I'd like to read one of your short pieces. This piece mentions what the Czechs call "non-stops", which are bars, which stay open all hours.

Maybe the day will never dawn, maybe this pub won't be open at 6 a.m., maybe only the nonstops will always be open - those castles of eternity, in front of which prospective customers are dozing, those who haven't the strength to turn the handle to open the door. Maybe - but not here! - this is a decent area! A drunk from the neighbourhood is shouting at me and bending over as if he's vomiting, but it's only for show and he stares brutishly at the pavement, while metal tears from slot machines pour from his trousers.

What are you engaged in at the moment? I know that your most recent writings are featured in the new Anthology of Czech Writing.

"Nowadays I'm just finishing a collection of 'novels' - from eight to fifteen pages maximum. They are for example about my way to the mountains, or regarding some guy who is looking for girls. I think that the situations are not so extreme, but that the language, the style of writing has to be extreme to be in opposition to a normal situation."

Here is another short piece of yours, "It's Only As If".

It's a question of whether the music a man listens to is just background - if the music he listens to when he sits at the computer and is happy he doesn't have to get up early in the morning, is only background - because when I write at home on the computer and listen to "Believe" by Franka Potente, I'm happy I'm not sitting in some pub that, although it gives me the chance to note things down and drink beer, also inflicts blathering stupidities on me from the radio about screwing a Chihuahua. That's exactly it - the achievement of equilibrium, losing weight and putting on kilos - which one day, if you don't have the strength, will kill you.

In general, as I've been looking at the literary scene in North Bohemian towns, how would you say the situation was for writers, particularly young writers?

"I think that in the north Czech region there are three problems. Firstly there are no publishers, secondly there is no magazine for culture - and not just literature - and thirdly, North Bohemia is not a traditional centre of art. But in the 90s a new era started for this region. A lot of writers - I think successful writers - are living in this area and don't want to move to Prague, for example, or even to Paris, because these people have strong feelings for this region, they write about this region, but they are not regional in the usual sense. For example, I can name Svatava Antosova, Radek Fridrich, Jiri Koten, Martin Fibiger. These names have become famous in the context of Czech literature, maybe in Central European literature."

So maybe this peripheral perspective might have something necessary to say in terms of the whole of Czech literature.

"I think so."

Books for this programme supplied by Shakespeare and Sons.