18 January 1914|
Ljubljana, Duchy of Carniola, Austria-Hungary (now in Slovenia)
|Died||14 May 1987
Ljubljana, Slovenia, Yugoslavia
|Occupation||Writer, Playwright, Poet, Screenwriter|
|Notable works||Menuet za kitaro,
Komedija človeškega tkiva,
Igra s hudičevim repom
Vitomil Zupan (18 January 1914 – 14 May 1987) was a post-World War II modernist Slovene writer[Note 1] and Gonars concentration camp survivor. Because of his detailed descriptions of sex and violence, he was called Slovene Hemingway, and was compared to Henry Miller. He is best known for Menuet za kitaro (A Minuet for Guitar; 1975) describing the years he spent in Slovene Partisans. In Titoist Yugoslavia he was sentenced to 18 years in a show trial, and upon his release in 1955 his works could only be published under a pseudonym Langus. He is considered one of the most important Slovene writers.
Zupan was born in Ljubljana, then part of Austria-Hungary. His mother was a teacher and his father, a soldier, was killed in the First World War. At age 18 Zupan, played Russian roulette and shot himself in the head. Although he survived the injury, he was nevertheless prohibited from graduating from secondary school in Yugoslavia. After leaving the country, he traveled for years—earning money as a sailor, ship's stoker, house painter in France, skiing instructor, and professional boxer—across the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and North Africa, all before the outbreak of World War II. Upon returning home, he enrolled in the University of Ljubljana's Faculty of Engineering, which he did not graduate from, and read medical textbooks in an attempt to better understand his emotional condition.
After the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, as member of Sokol athletic movement he joined the Liberation Front of the Slovenian People and participated in its underground activities in the Fascist-occupied Province of Ljubljana until the authorities in 1942 sent him to Gonars concentration camp.
After the fall of Fascist Italy's occupation, he in 1943 joined Slovene Partisans, first the fighting units and soon after it the cultural unit where he was assigned to write resistance propaganda theater plays. After the WW II, until 1947, when he fully dedicated himself to writing, he served at the Radio Ljubljana as the cultural programme's chief editor. For his novel Rojstvo v nevihti ("Birth in a Storm") he was awarded his first Prešeren Award the same year. He married Nikolaja Dolenc and they had two sons, Dim and Martel, however, after the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, he was accused of anti-government conspiracy, spying, antipatriotic activity, immoral acts, murder, and attempted rape, and was in a show trial sentenced to almost twenty years in prison. He was released in 1955 and his two sons were living without their father, similarly to his own childhood.
He published his works for several years only under a pseudonym and was again able to publish under his name again from the 1960s on. His best known novel Menuet za kitaro (A Minuet for Guitar) was adapted by the Serbian director Živojin Pavlović for his 1980 film See You in the Next War (Slovene: Nasvidenje v naslednji vojni, Serbian: Doviđenja u sledećem ratu) and Zupan was bestowed with the second Prešeren Award - this time for his lifetime work.
Zupan died in Ljubljana in 1987 and is buried in the Žale cemetery.
Vitomil Zupan is best known for his semi-autobiographic novels centered on the quest of an individual for his identity in the modern world. He gave an idiosyncratic description of the years he spent in Slovene Partisans in his 1975 novel Menuet za kitaro (A Minuet for Guitar), described the ruthless environments in repressive institutions, such as the army and the prison in the 1982 novel Levitan, and the period before and during World War II in the third part of his trilogy, Komedija človeškega tkiva (A Comedy of Human Tissue).
In the 1978 novel Igra s hudičevim repom (A Game with the Devil's Tail), he wrote about a middle-aged man who gets involved in a sexual affair with his housekeeper, filled with depictions of sexuality, the banality of everyday life, because of which he was accused of pornography. However, his novels were also filled with philosophical and cultural references, and he was writing poetry most of which remained unpublished during his lifetime. A collection of Zupan's poetry from his prison years was first published in 2006 and revived the interest for Zupan's literary legacy.
Reception and legacy
Critics who were part of official Titoist nomenclature, rejected his bohemian style and freethinking attitude and accused his writings of being decadent, cynical, glorificating evil, amorality, and nihilistic.
Alternative Slovene writers and literary thinkers, such as Dušan Pirjevec Ahac and Taras Kermauner, have been influenced by Zupan's work, while they challenged the Titoist cultural policies. The echos of Zupan's vitalism and anticonformism can be seen in the works of the writer and essayist Marjan Rožanc, who reflected on Zupan in his 1983 novelistic essay Roman o knjigah (A Novel on Books). He also influenced the poet Borut Kardelj.
- "Interview with Taras Kermauner on the Slovenian National TV (February 3, 2008)". RTV SLO. Retrieved 2008-04-18.
- "Vitomil Zupan: Stvar Jurija Trajbasa". Absolventi PefMB. Retrieved 2008-04-18.
- Vesna Milek, "Pesmi zoper smrt: portret Vitomila Zupana" in Delo, yr. 48, n. 114 (May 20, 2006), 26-28.
- Bernard Nežmah, "Vitomil Zupan, Levitan: ponatis legendarnega dela iz leta 1982" in Mladina (May 13, 2002), 81.
- Alenka Puhar, "Pesmi starega restanta: Zupanovo zbrano zaporniško delo" in Delo., yr. 48, n. 111 (May 17, 2006), 15.
- Marjan Rožanc, Roman o knjigah (Ljubljana: Slovenska matica, 1983).
- Andrej Inkret, "Zupan, Vitomil", article in Enciklopedija Slovenije, vol. 15 (Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga, 2001), 235-236.
- Janko Kos et al., Interpretacije: Vitomil Zupan (Ljubljana: Nova revija, 1993)
- Vlado Žabot, Estetski vidiki v Zupanovem Levitanu (Ljubljana: Univerza v Ljubljani, 1986).