A Nation’s Literature Hijacked?

Since the deluge of the digital age, the emergence of single nation language cultures from their pre-cyber cocoons can be a litmus test regarding status. In the fluctuating territories of central/East Europe, Poland’s literature was previously disseminated by one or two specialist departments of American universities for academic kudos. This was to the benefit of global scholars and readers, though every action has a reaction, as with academics living off grants. What happens when the subject nation rather enjoyed its previous chest-thumping isolation, believing the world against it?
Historically, Polish literature was seen in terms of the nation as an extension of political history. Romanticism was hitched to the western wagon as the ‘Christ of Nations’ after the wheels came off over the border during the unfair Partition of the country by Austria/Prussia/Russia for the entire 19th century. The national, Polish-writing poet Adam Mickiewicz was actually born in Lithuania, which doesn’t appease them still. Other Romantics, Slowacki and Krasinski, bitterly wrote that if the country ever regained statehood its people would know how to ‘ape’ the west and act as a ‘parrot and peacock’.
Euro-cultural movements did flourish usually a little later (though not as late as in Hungary or Bohemia/ Czechoslovakia)with their own interpretations. Symbolism came later from France than it did to England who preferred its darker, Decadent aspect. Realism — of the Dickens rather than Zola variety — soon became Positivism as Poland selectively chose the Jewish Question (as Russia with the Peasant Question) rather than Taine or the French Naturalists’ social underbelly including sexuality and gender roles. Poland’s single classic of manners by Boleslaw Prus (Lalka: The Doll), the portrayal of Warsaw as the ‘Paris of the East’ by an agoraphobic, remains their ‘book to read’. Nobel winners Henryk Sienkiewicz’s body was brought back from Switzerland to a dank cathedral corner, W.S. Reymont’s biographies are airbrushed to omit his spiritualism in Paris and his novel about it (Vampires) because doesn’t sit well with the image promoted by the older generation.
Przybyszewski is ignored because a decadent ‘rock ‘n’ roller’ who preferred to write his early books in German!
Modern, post-60s literature is read by the late 20s and 30s generation (who coined a term the three Zs for their schooling: learn, pass, forget); Inter-war literature — with the exception of the internationalist vanguard of Wikacy, Schulz and Gombrowicz: see part two — by the next generation as parents bribed by their government to have more children; pre-1914 literature is read by grandparents and academics, like the occasional governments who censor, who prefer the ‘classics’ and seek to control the discourse generally if they can. At the time those bulky novels were written and read, readers actually prayed in church for their characters. To be continued…..

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