Poland’s Literature Hijacked? Pt2

It is those earlier periods that breed and sustain (not nurture) the underlying climate of its culture today: Nostalgia, the template into which all must fit. The world-famous interwar modernist troika of Witkacy, Bruno Schulz and Gombrowicz (allegedly missing the Nobel — when it meant literature not journalism or ditties culled from traditional forms– by one vote in spite of Sartre’s support when Gombro preferred Paris to Poland for his last years)saw this coming. Each tried, geographically and intellectually, to break out. In spite of world fame, they have no sections in major bookshops; one is directed maskless to the dusty university. The current government might do what they did when last in power: remove those internationalists from the school curriculum.
Gombrowicz, only translated from Polish this century instead of Spanish (he lived decades in Argentina) said that home-spun national poets like Julian Tuwim simply addressed the Polish character and so would remain famous…in Poland alone. Schulz always sought Europe (his favourite three writers were all non-Polish) but biographers there don’t care about little details like that. In a recent book about his fiancee and major love, the journalist uses the personal pronoun for herself not the subject for fantasy without explanation in the book or when asked by this writer. Penguin Books blithely, ignorantly, reprints Schulz from an extremely faulty translation where the translator says “English cannot sustain the Polish original”!
Recall the outrage of nostalgic fundamentalism — they’d done nothing before — when the frescoes of ‘their’ Bruno Schulz were hacked from hometown walls and shipped clandestinely to Israel. The copyright owner complained, but later quietened down when Israel wanted to negotiate a deal. Witkacy was a one-man avant-garde from a tourist resort: a recent sensationalist film about him wondered what he would have done if survived his suicide, absurdly missing the point of course. Such is nostalgia.
In 2016 the government, along with new dress rules for female staff and replacing managers in the National Railway and Post Office, made laws to control the press and “keep it for Poland” (ironically because TV stations have been sold to Americans and Germans, but that’s different, it’s business and thus profit). A Minister called the EU criticism “silly”, and referred yet again to…WW2. Magazine covers depict German/EU leaders in Nazi uniforms, posters depict Merkel as a clown, Putin with swastikas (!!). But not only History has stood still.
Writers tell me that the media (radio time is bought year-round by political parties) including publishers have been regulated for years, unbeknown to readers. Free-thinking independent writers self-publish. The mantra of the market place worships rain-forests of imported ‘popular’ tomes including pirate editions (of Mervyn Peake, whose son I knew, and my friend Colin Wilson etc), piles about panzers and Nazis (looking proud on the cover!), board games and films/serials with handsome actors as gestapo, what western sociologists have rightly labelled Hitlerism. One prominent actor has a petition to remove church and state from cinema/theatre so as to obtain work (acting is a career based on falsity of course, narcissism only, but still a statement). Is it a lack of moral ethics entrenched in media reflecting society generally? Does the province of art now reside in economics and politics? Is the internet to blame?
What country apart from Poland, which in the last ten years has received the most funds from the EU, still erects monuments today to WW2? One cinema success is a 3D animation of Warsaw in 1936. The poor and Jewish districts are airbrushed out and replaced with swank boulevards of the fashionably-dressed and automobiles replacing horse-and-carts among traffic lights two years before one set was first installed. Cultural debate must conform to the nostalgia ticket, before the debacle. The grandfather clock, so to speak, is being oiled and rewound to grandfather’s childhood. Current writers are lauded and praised if they mimic past writers.
All nationalists make the cardinal error of assuming ‘their’ country is more important than others: all invoke God on their side. But is this not the territory of the animal rather than the human, a return to the tribal state of the neanderthal? The self-perceived hunted, the victim who wants to turn hunter and thereby assign selfhood in a crowd. Nationalism is like an island surrounded by adversaries, fed from previous (outmoded) eras as a template. Another religion but in commercial terms, which is always selective (the homes of Kantor and non-Catholic Zegladowicz are left in ruin for example). A new, institute-sponsored translation of Schulz was heralded in the press but a scrap hasn’t appeared several years later (the translator told me she knew little of the subject, being a Holocaust (Jewish) expert). My international study of Schulz is criticised (censored?) by Polish publishers for “having too many foreign names”. One publisher, EMG, wanted it to be more sensational then said, in fact very rudely threatened, me when I refused that I should not tell anyone. Clearly the concept of free-speech hasn’t extended to some in provincial Krakow. Another, in Gdansk, told me in front of a witness that “contracts are not necessary in Poland”. Others say that I, the author, should provide the sponsor: bourgeois publishers in Poland want not only profit but no costs!
Yet Romania doesn’t make a song and dance about the foreign fame of Eliade and Cioran, nor Czech Republic about the Capek brothers in London; at least their residences become centres for study and bookshops display their books. High points of culture are never national, as seen with Greece, Rome or the Renaissance that was first limited to (bourgeois) Florence. Socrates then Diogenes saw themselves as cosmopolitan, citizens of the cosmos/world. “Giotto lived,” wrote G.K. Chesterton, “in a gloomier town than Euripides, but in a happier universe”.
Polish literature, like Central/East European writing generally, is a rich garden — and the contents are more interesting than the portal or fence around it. It is surely never about ownership of the plot, but about discovery (even over the wall or hedge!) so that it may flourish among global readers in a natural, organic way. We don’t need governments, political tub-thumpers, or academic committees — the self-appropriated gardeners? — pruning what is a process of delight among beauty that’s above all individual and intrinsically original.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


4 + = thirteen

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>