Discussion on life
Janusz Leon Wiśniewski www.wisniewski.net , author of one of the most popular book in Poland – S@motność w Sieci – Loneliness on the net, which finally was published in English on 6 December 2007 talks exclusively to Joanna Gulbińska on books, life and if the world still need men… Janusz Leon Wiśniewski is a sea fisherman, Master of Science in Physics and Economics, Doctor of Science in Chemistry, a Ph.D. in Informatics, first all of all a scientist, but also author of many books. He is an author of the first software programme AutoNom, in the world which converts chemical structures into chemical language and is used by the most important companies in the chemical industry in the world.
He is also a columnist in the Polish Magazine for women – Pani (Eng. Mrs.). He was awarded a ‚Ginger biscuit’ in the Avenue of Stars located in the Old Town in his home city Toruń in Poland. ‚Ginger biscuit’ are awards given to celebrities in Toruń which is famous for the finest ginger biscuit production. He is a proud father of Adrianna and Joanna. He lives and works in Frankfurt am Main at present.
Translations of his books were made in Poland (English version of S@motność w Sieci – Loneliness on the net), Russia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Vietnam and Lithuania.
We had to wait quite a long time for Loneliness on the net, the English version of your most popular book…
JLW: Awfully long, I admit. This is an interesting exception because the English version will be published by a Polish publisher in Poland. Apart from fairy tales for children and poetry of Miłosz and Szymborska, there are no other books that have been translated into English in Poland and introduced on the Polish market. I am very… it is hard for me to name the feeling, proud and pleased. I am very grateful to my publisher Prószyński i S-ka who decided to take that risk.
Publishing original Polish version of ‚Loneliness’ opened a real Pandora’s box and you have been inundated with e-mails and responses from readers. That must be so rewarding.
JLW: Yes, because each particular e-mail from a reader is another review, in its sense. People dedicate their time to read my books, but also reward me by sharing their opinions with myself.
Having Loneliness on the net published, do you expect a similar reaction from English speaking readers?
JLW: I think so, to some point, because this book has been on a bestseller list for the past 3 months in Russia. It gives me that confidence because it has been translated into Russian and it is still on the bestseller list since then. For the same reason I have received letters in Russian since the Russian publisher also included my e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org . Some people don’t even bother to translate their letters into any other language e.g. English, simply type e-mails in Russian. I presume that this book will be read by people connected with Polish communities in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and the United States. I have a feeling that there will be some kind of reaction to this book.
In your opinion, is loneliness something that we cannot avoid in our lives at some point or is it a way to protect our identity somehow, nowadays?
JLW: Loneliness is a terrible sickness, I know about it, also from these almost 30,000 e-mails sent to myself. The virus of loneliness is present everywhere. It is a dreadful soul freezing and a horrendous internal chill. Many people are lonely although the world has come closer together thanks to different media, GSM, and Internet. Nevertheless, people still feel so lonely. It is a problem that many people have and many of them are interested in the subject. I think is a kind of a phenomenon that we are so close with each other but we are unable to reach to the point when intimacy or a relationship would happen. For this reason, the book is so up-to-date, because it tells a story about something that is happening now. Something that is happening ‚on your own yard’, here and now.
For so many years, and it will be for a long time…
JLW: Yes. It is another phenomenon, I think. This book was published in 2001 in Poland and it is still popular. It is not a bestseller anymore, now, it s a long seller, a book that is constantly being sold in high volumes. I am very pleased that it has been translated into English because of simply egoistic reasons. I have had an awful lot inquiries about the English edition, from Polish people, not only from Ireland, England and the United States, who have partners that don’t read Polish. And finally the book is being published and I will be able to tell such people: yes, we have published the book in English and your partner will be able to read it.
Before the première screening of Loneliness on the net you had said that you were waiting for the film with excitement but anxiety at the same time. What were your first reactions when you saw the film at last?
JLW: I have to admit that it has been a very touchy subject (laughing). Because I had almost no influence whatsoever on the shape of the film apart from the fact that I wrote the script. I was a co-script writer, it is an important role. Then the script was given to the producer, director, and in fact the person who directed the movie – Witold Adamek and he has done the film in the way that he sees it. The film as a parallel thing to the book is good and I like it, I would like to emphasize, as a parallel story because it is contemporary, it achieved high standards. The only thing is that it doesn’t correspond with the book and I think it is the main allegation at myself. Many people wanted to cry in the theatre as they used to cry reading the book but unfortunately they did not have such a chance, but what could I do about it…
Every time I read ‚Loneliness’ I always have one question on my mind. Where is this discrete line crossing of which results in irreversible changes in our lives. On the other hand if we don’t cross that border we are being left unfulfilled.
JLW: God, you said that in such a poetic way (laughing). You know what, this is a huge problem, because people are so desperate to find happiness and they are aware that they can only live life once, and that they have the right to be happy. In some countries e.g. in the US, the right to happiness has been incorporated into constitution. And the question arises, what do we have to do to make sure that we will be happy? We make our promises when we are flying high in love and when it finishes, does this mean that we should still be loyal to that person? This book deals with that problem. It is really a problem of being unfaithful, when do we have the right to betray our beloved just to make ourselves happy. I don’t exactly know when and if we have that right at all… but I deal with that subject in this book.
My favourite book is 188 days and nights…
JLW: I am so happy that you have mentioned that book because it is the one that I spend the longest hours in my life to prepare myself to write it. I have my own place in the library in Frankfurt am Main. Everyone knows me in this library because I spent an awful lot of time there to write this book. This book is just full of knowledge and that is why I like it so much. But, seriously, it is unfortunately the least popular one… I will forward your comments to Małgosia Domagalik, who is a co-author of the book (laughing).
I don’t believe that this particular book is the least popular one…
JLW: This is true, it is not as popular as others. Recently, even Russians have bought it. Perhaps it will be more popular in St. Petersburg, Moscow or other places in this huge country. I love this book, because this is the one… I have a problem to name it… when you feel more intelligent when you have read it and you don’t even know why (laughing).
I am reading it again now and I still discovering new things.
JLW: This is simply a very nice discussion with an extremely interesting person, Mrs. Małgorzata Domagalik. She is a very demanding speaker and I have been preparing myself for these conversations. I am so pleased because writing this book I have learnt much more than writing e.g. Loneliness on the net or my other books.
With reference to the same book, 188 days and nights I was fascinated with your story of your stay in New York for a couple of months. Also due to my personal attitude towards this place…
JLW: Me, too.
What would you say about that time from today’s perspective?
JLW: This was a stay that happened in completely different circumstances. Nowadays, young people are not able to relate to the excitement of that stay. I left Poland in 1984 when, let’s say e.g. shoes were limited to purchase and I went to the United stay to make a PhD in Queens College City University of New York. It was the time when we were an IT dessert and suddenly I found myself in the country where I could use all of the knowledge I had. This stay made me very determined and I learn one most important thing there, which I always mention in different books and at various occasions, and emphasize. We, Poles are not worse than anybody else. I went there as a scientist from the second or third league and then, almost miraculously it appeared that I am not a second or third league player, it appeared that I had the same knowledge as my colleagues Americans. And it was the most important thing. Then obviously I was overwhelmed by New York, which is an amazing place. This city should be established by the United Nations as a separated country itself, the country in which absolutely all cultures blend together. I always come back there willingly and I am sure I will keep going back.
What is your attitude to that place now from these couple of years perspective?
JLW: I look back at it in a completely contrasting way. Recently, I was invited back by a Polish radio station in New York with reference to the popularity of my book. I signed my books in Polish book store in Manhattan, I gave interviews to the radio station. I look at that place from a completely different perspective. The United States have changed in my opinion. I am very glad that I live in Europe (laughing), to cut it short, I am happy to have different Presidents. I still think that America balances on the edge between absolute decadence and barbarism and that between these decadence and barbarism there is absolutely nothing else in the middle. I don’t know, but I have ceased to love and like America lately…
Some time ago you were asked if you were going to write a book – ‚Does the world need women?’ and you said that this is obvious and there is no need to answer this question.
JLW: (laughing loudly) Specially as this particular question seems to have a rhetoric meaning to such extend that there is no point writing a book on it. I thought that men might have doubts about whether the world needs them and that is why we have this book being published recently.
I was just about to ask you this question. You were tempted then and you wrote Does the world need men? (Polish title: Czy mężczyźni są światu potrzebni?).
JLW: I think that the book – ‚Does the world need women?’ if published, it would have had only one page and included just one sentence comprising of 2 words and an exclamation mark: Absolutely does! And that would have been the end of the story. I simply see the world this way and this conclusion is drawn out of my observations. In general, women’s world is a better world and in that last book I made attempts to prove it. I have a lot of doubts regarding men and I tried to have a closer look into that issues but not only as a man myself, but also as a scientist. And the answer is simply, we can vanish and women cannot.
Were you finally successful to find the answer to Does the world need men?
JLW: Frankly speaking it must be a kind of schizophrenia, because as a men who writes this book I would like to provide a positive answer to this question. I think the world needs me a bit, specially some people need me, mainly women (laughing). As a scientist who asked himself this question and forgot that he also has this chromosome Y, which has been mutated so much and it consists of many unnecessary things, and which disappears, to be completely honest, I didn’t want to provoke anybody with this question. I just wanted to know if in all practicality the world without men is feasible and unfortunately my conclusions trigger a negative answer.
You once said that you always work on a book. Lately we have read your essays, also your column regularly published in Polish magazine for women Pani (Eng. Mrs.). When will we get a new novel of yours?
JLW: everyone is asking me about a new novel because people are already fed up with previous short forms. The latest release was ‚Does the world need men?’ and obviously I am working on a novel. To be honest I am actually working on two novels. The first one deals with a subject that I have always been interested in, which is a human sin. I am writing a novel on the Seven Cardinal Sins. The other novel is connected with a film project but I can’t tell you much about it due to my contractual liabilities, but what I can reveal the title of the book, which is going to be Bikini.
Professor Leszek Kołakowski has formulated statements of a happy man. He has claimed that people need to agree to accept average of life, only then a man is able to live a peaceful and happy life. It isn’t this equal to capitulation and accepting a poor quality in our lives?
JLW: Whatever Prof. Leszek Kołakowski says is so true to me. I often visit England and then I often go to Oxford privately. This is because I always hope to meet Leszek Kołakowski in the streets of Oxford. Soon, there will be a beautiful book published in Poland – Sen (Eng. Dream). This is an answer to seven questions asked by Leszek Kołakowski about dreaming. I was also interviewed on dream and dreaming in this book, along with 30 other ‚famous people’ in Poland. Coming back to your question, if somebody is able like Kołakowski, and he does it perfectly, being a genius and simultaneously is able to accept the average in life, then he can call himself a happy man. I am getting there myself…
Is it worse to stop dreaming or stop to believe that dreams can come true?
JLW: I have never gone down this way. I constantly dream and I think that I will also have my last dream 5 minutes before I die and even then I will dream that it will come true. I have one problem with dreams, treat them like projects. And this is dangerous because I tend to check myself if I can cope to complete my projects. And it takes a lot of time and it is equal to taking that time away from people who wish to spend that time with me. And you know that yourself, to complete the project and be pleased with its quality, there is a lot of time required.
I have the same attitude myself. I always have dreams and then I try to make them come true, and it works well somehow…
JLW: This is dangerous. Many people only dream and then they ceased that all and don’t care. But also people who dedicated themselves too much to make their dream come true they do not necessarily glow with happiness. It extremely limits us in some sense, because when we passionately work on our dreams it takes us away from other people. Because to complete a project you need to take that time away from somebody else, you simply have to work hard.
Thank you very much for the conversation and thank you for the English version of Loneliness on the net. I couldn’t think of any better Christmas present for all my English speaking friends. I wish you good luck and all the best.