Paweł Dunin-Wąsowicz

In 2011 Agnieszka Kurant called her collection of entities brought to life as artifacts from various books, The Specter Library, repeating the title of my book written fourteen years earlier. Recently a reader enlightened me that Polish literary history has a special term reserved for the subject of our interest here, which I had previously not had the faintest idea about, because I collected my non-existing books as if blindly. In the introduction to Przypadki Mikołaja Doświadczyńskiego (in English: The Adventures of Mr. Nicholas Wisdom, an 18th century novel by Ignacy Krasicki republished in 1975) Mieczysław Klimowicz writes: "References and allusions to literature in the Nipu utopia play are an interesting function [in the novel]. This is so-called constructed literature" (s. LII). After that he goes on to characterize this term, which he takes from the book by A. Cieński Stylistic problems of > The Adventures of Mr. Nicholas Wisdom < (Wrocław 1969). The below citation comes from this very book: "We suggest describing this term [...] whose literary works are included in one's own literary piece and which the author suggests really existed, but in reality were only imaginary works which are unknown to literary history, because they never existed. This is a trick frequently seen in novels about writers and poets (fictitious) or in biographical novels, but this is encountered in all kinds of novels " (p. 30).
I collected my non-exiting books as if a maniac collector craving to be able to boast about them to the world, one made up of potential readers of my collection catalogue - who certainly did so to be able to brag they have an original hobby - this is how I see it today. What type of passion is it if one gathers commonly available post stamps, train models, or, in a particular case, plated tableware from non-existing Warsaw factories (whose founders' names have long since become urban legend - Henneberg, Fraget, Norblin... they themselves becoming the topic of fantastic literature, as in the case of Andrzej Pilipiuk's 2011 book Aparatus)? A significant feature of my collection was the fact that items I had hoarded did not exist, therefore I did not incur any costs upon coming into their possession - and the subsequent ones I could even read about in the public library on Koszykowa Street in Warsaw. On the other hand, I wouldn't be able to call my collection of non-existing books worthless - they represented to me the value of time I had devoted on accessing information about particular items, descriptions as precise as possible, and then finally possible verification. When I ventured to publish my Phantom Book Library in 1997 as a book, the internet was only just starting in Poland. At that time there was no Wikipedia, no computer catalogue of the Warsaw National Library, so for sure by mistake I verified some of the actually existing works as imaginary works.
Today, I am quite proud of this publication - it contained information about approximately 500 phantom books - but at the same time I should have been ashamed of it. Commencing cataloguing, I thought I would delineate some basic canon and that my work would be of a universal character. Because I remembered about the encyclopedia from Jorge Luis Borges's story, and I listed works describing Solaris, from Stanislas Lem's novel (although I consciously left out reviews and introductions from the made-up books from Imaginary Magnitude and A Perfect Vacuum by this author - when 18 months later, before his death and thanks to the protection of prof. Jerzy Jarzębski, I could pay Lem a visit and I explained that by being loyal to my catalogue and the most exhausting descriptions of "phantoms", I would practically need to rewrite my two books). In other words, I believed in the objective character of my work, and while writing the introduction I expressed the idea that if I wrote exclusively about my accidental reading it wouldn't be of interest to the reader.
My faith of that time is long gone. Writing about my work in Nowe Książki (English translation: New Books), Jan Gondowicz, as a prestidigitator, rolled up his sleeves and out poured a profusion of titles which every self-respecting reader should know of, and ones which I obviously did not know. What confusion could I experience when prof. Henryk Markiewicz kindly made me aware that I did not even remember Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz, where a made-up book can also be found. I had failed as an erudite and potential literary critic. My catalogue of the made-up books became an accusation, evidence in a court case, where there were genuine books that I had not read. On the other hand, this is quite an interesting book about myself and the readings of my peers. About how, beside Huxley and Orwell, there must have mandatorily been books by Niziurski, Pagaczewski with his Baltazar Gąbka and comic books about Tytus, Romek and A'tomek by Papcio Chmiel i.e. Henryk Jerzy Chmielewski. From my favorite 7th book of "Tytus" comes the made-up items which Tytus gave to himself as rewards at the end of the school year when he had to retake an exam in geography. I am convinced that the works of Emanuel Goldstein, made up by Orwell for the purposes of his novel 1984, meant nothing for boys born at the turn of 1960s and 1970s, because that nightmare did not come true, although when we they are suddenly awoken in the middle of the night they would recite such titles as Gunslinger vs Pistolslinger, Monster and Tarzan in Kampinoski Forest. Especially the third one, with the apparently bald troglodyte in an animal hide on the cover which simply cannot be erased from the memory. I still treated this comic book as literature, I did not try to hunt down the phantom books appearing in feature films e.g in Smoke by Paul Auster. If one catalogue encompassed The Prospero Books not based on Peter Greeneway's version but the text once translated into Polish by "brulion".
Not long after publishing my Phantom... I learnt that I am not alone in the world with my hobby and that there is in the USA a certain Brian Quinette, who on the invisiblelibrary website (I believe this was its name) also catalogues non-existing books, although he is happy with authors, titles and of course sources in the form of real books, and all of it is in systematic tables of data. What's more, on his website he placed (it was probably in the year 2000) numerous texts discussing phantom books from a road history of literature. The number of found items is close to the one I had collected, but for obvious reasons our collections overlapped in a very limited scope - at least half of my collection was the output of our native Polish literary production, from with Quinette had had the chance to acquaint himself only with some of Stanisław Lem's books. The contact with the invisible library page and several e-mails we exchanged made me aware that, above all, a phantom book library is not possible, and secondly that phantom libraries are governed by the same rights as all private book collections, among which you will never find two identical, because every reader and every bibliophile is different. However, comparing county public libraries or school libraries we would find two sets of not very different school obligatory reading lists and fashionable bestsellers. If one opened such a basic handy phantom books library what would be in there? The earl and the mystery of the Birbante Roka castle from Adam Mickiewicz's most famous narrative poem, Doctor Szuman's brochure about human hair (published using the author's own means), from The Doll by Bolesław Prus, maybe numerous novels by Adam Nagórski and many other characters from Pulp by Andrzejewski, most probably The Hisory of Solaris by Eugel and Hughes from Lem's Solaris... But staying in the native literary circle it is hard to imagine in this exquisite company the presence of An introduction to imaginoscopy by Śledź Otrembus Podgrobelski (real name: Stanisław Moskal), a small satirical piece laughing at pseudoscience. Unless it was an affiliated library at the Secondary Technical School of Catering, then perhaps we could find there A hundred dishes from potatoes by Leon Pyrski and the aforementioned piece by Otrembus How to eat not to overeat and Doctor Koyot's pen-work by one of the characters of The Baltazar Sponge's Abduction by Stanisław Pagaczewski (the third one after the Wawel Dragon and cook Bartolini Bartlomiej crest Green Parsley participant in a rescue operation of the book version, nevertheless omitted in the animated cartoon version).
I enlarged my Phanton book library more than 10 years later after this first edition of the book, using the notes that my friends made from their reading - and among them were people like prose writer Krzysztof Varga and poet Marcin Świetlicki. At a certain point those two produced so many phantoms, introducing them also in their own literary work. Then hoarding all the non-existing books ceased to amuse me. I understood that I would never grasp the magnitude of the fictitious titles existing only for example in fiction literature available in Polish. Perhaps one would have been able to call up the Great Editor of the Non-Existing, who would have created his own specialized collection? Of, let's say, a catering phantom literature with the works of Doctor Koyot and Pyrski to start with, or perhaps books being camouflaged as a joke, but still sort of real. Such as the works of a group of poets from the 1990s. The 20th century would be with the magazine "brulion" in detail parodied by Marcin Świetlicki and Grzegorz Dyduch in the novel The catechists and the frustrated (published under the alias Świeduchowska). Or an earlier example - books by Jan /Hans Hauke in Road to Urzędowo, in which Melchior Wańkowicz gave it some content previously included in his own great reportage In Smetek's Footsteps. Or books by Konopka from Andrzejewski's Pulp, where one can recognize the works of Bohdan Czeszka.

There is a basic difference between my hobby and Agnieszka Kurant's work. Our collections - mine existing only as a catalogue and hers crafted in the execution of several hundred (book) covers wrapped in the blocks of paper - have only a few tangent points. As she decided to choose the English language for her work, I suspect that she believes in the universality of her artistic message - and this is certainly not her personal library, because her own would include Polish books. But she is also the one who transferred fiction into reality by assembling such a copious book collection.
It is worth noting that there have been other moments in the history of infiltration of make-believe by reality. American writer Kurt Vonnegut in 1965 brought to paper life an author-failure named Kilgore Trout, who appeared in his works for three decades (in one of the recent translations the author of the Polish rendering decided to translate also the name of Kilgore Trout). In 1975 another science-fiction author, Philip Jose Farmer, decided to borrow this name from Vonnegut using it as his own alias, and this is how the novel by Kligore Trout Venus on the Half-Shell made it to the market. Another example - although of a more mercantile character - was publishing one of the books with a fictitious title in the Harry Potter's Universum - this book appeared, also in Polish, as a follow up to the great wave of popularity of the J.K. Rowling series.
The precondition for making a note of this book in my Phantom Book Library was the existence of a given title in the reality of the literary work in a physical, printed form - or in the handwritten form of a manuscript from the pre-Gutenberg epoch. The criterion was the appearance of the work in public circulation - even if very few pieces were sold (e.g. 153 pieces in the case of the poetry collection Mice by Gordon Comstock from Orwell's novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying) or also visions of the future that assumed other forms of proliferation. Sometimes these were quite innocent experiments - as in James Michener's Novel, where there appears a piece by Timothy Tull Kaleidoscope, circulated in the form of 256 pages without numbers written in six types of computer font diagonally, upside down or on the side and packed in a tasteful box (27,000 of such boxes were sold).
But in Lem's Futurological Congress in 2039 Ijon Tichy absorbs part of an inteelectric History via his digestion duct, digesting some liquid from the three phials, whose content infiltrates his brain without the intermediary of sight. In a kind of homage to Lem in the comic book Essence published in 2004, Krzysztof Gawronkiewicz and Grzegorz Janusz brought to life a character from an Apothecary, who having lost his sight introduced specially concocted books in liquid form to his body (the library appearing on the pictures consists of containers with Solaris, Ubik, Time Vehicle, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and The Clockwork Orange).
I left behind the manuscripts which did not exist in public circulation. Although they can also cause some problems - e.g. in the novel The Messiah from Stockholm by Cynthia Ozick - the alleged grandson of Bruno Schulz reads a miraculously saved text by the legendary Messiah. But the author does not explain if this is the original or a counterfeit. Is the book lost somewhere in reality, but at some point really existing as a phantom book if it exists in fiction? The situation is repeated with the second book of Aristotle's Poetics in The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. In the introduction to the Phantom Book Library I called them the "specters of murdered books".
In a few cases I made a note of some curious editions of books that were "somewhat" authentic. Nobody will talk me into laying my hands on the book Fist. The only tragedy by Johan Wolfgang Goethe in the Polish translation of J. Zych published in Mexico in 1976! And then Otrembus refers to it, too. There were also particular cases when made-up books were dynamically transformed - which was the case with the content changing work of Lucretius On the Nature of Things bound in the skin of a Martian furry animal in some story by Philip K. Dick, and also with novels that changed their titles, like Aleksander Kościów's Świat nura. How can this be added to work in the visual arts? What can be done about a book that does not exist twice? I know such a case in the New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. And then Peter Stillman in The Garden and Tower cites the booklet by Henry Dark The New Babel Tower. Later in conversation with Quinn, Stillman admits that he invented Dark's brochures himself.
And what about The Novel about Poland, which is seen in a dream by the title character in Marek Świda's Generation by Andrzej Struga? To what degree does it exist since it also does not exist? And how to portray various books from Italo Calvino If on a winter's night a traveller, whose particular role consists of playing the role of mistakes. One does not know which was right. I think this could become an additional challenge for Agnieszka Kurant - whether to treat all of them equally, answering the question as to whether the made-up book in fictitious reality can be placed on the same shelf as those existing in fiction?

translated by Jo Harper

PAWEŁ DUNIN-WĄSOWICZ (1967) is a journalist, literary critic, publisher. Head of the Lampa i Iskra Boża publishing house and editor-in-chief of Lampa magazine. He wrote and published: Widmowa biblioteka. Leksykon książek urojonych (1997), Oko smoka. Literatura tzw. pokolenia bruLionu wobec rzeczywistości III RP (2000) and also discovered Dorota Masłowska and published her Wojna polsko-ruskiej pod flagą biało-czerwoną. He has published reviews of books and comics for the daily Życie Warszawy and the magazines Machina and Przekrój and also on TVP1 tv show "Good Books".