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Home » News » Violence and Order. Lecture by Professor Przemysław Czapliński

Violence and Order. Lecture by Professor Przemysław Czapliński

- The lie that the hero of Jerzy Pilch’s novel “Spis cudzołożnic” (A List of Adultresses) uses to fascinate and seduce his interlocutors invokes a loftiness anchored in Polish national-liberation martyrdom. During the Eighties that lie was sanctified at the level of collective identity. No one was interested in the truth; what counted was the myth of imaginary struggle, sacrifice and just defeat, said Prof. Przemysław Czapliski during his lecture at the Prof. Bronisław Geremek Centre Foundation.

On 10th  December  2014  the Foundation hosted another meeting in the cycle  of open lectures “Assessment of Polish Transformations”. A lecture titled Violence and Order. Inventing the Society in Present-Day Polish Literature was delivered by Prof. Przemysław Czapliński (Institute of Polish Philology, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan) – historian of Polish 20th  and 21st  century literature, critic, essayist and translator. Czapliński is the author of several books devoted to modern and post-modern literature, including  Ślady przełomu. O prozie polskiej 1976 – 1996 (1997), Powrót centrali (2007), Polska do wymiany (2009), Resztki nowoczesności (2011); he is a winner of the Kościelski Foundation Award (1998) and the Kazimierz Wyka Award (2004).

Prof. Czapliński asserted that the  invention of reality – being the social counterpart of poiesis – was one of the fundamental issues in contemporary  collective life.   What we feel, what we say, what we believe can be considered an invention and not only in terms of the constitutive elements of symbolic language, he  underlined.

The historical and political milestone of 1989 was irrelevant as concerns the chronology  of modern literature. Significant changes, auguring comprehensive transformations in literature, had already occurred in the mid-Eighties. It was then that books were published which reintroduced  into the public discourse social differences – previously expelled by history -  as distinctive traits of the community. These included Bohiń  by Tadeusza Konwicki, Zagłada by Piotr Szewc, Umschlagplatz by  Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz, Sublokatorka by Hanna Krall, Kadisz by  Henryk Grynberg  and Stan po zapaści by  Jacek Bocheński. A common feature of those books was  their “phantom-ontology”  - i.e.  restoration  of the memory “of those who had been before us”, in the form of a ghost invasion, served as a pastiche of the crime novel.  The need to respect one’s own diversified identity – fluid, fragmentary and not fully defined – necessitated the elimination of violence, openness and acceptance of dissimilarity  as a form of existence.

An interesting shift in literature took place in the middle of the next decade. The dominating and oppressive language of the new system – through a  redefinition of the concept of “victim” -  imposed the  restoration of actual violence , which was no longer merely a category of literary imagination. From the point of view of  axiology of fictional narrative, it is a morally justified violence, though ineffective in the final account: the heroes of Andrzej Stasiuk, Dawid Bieńkowski, Sławomir Shuty, Mariusz Sieniewicz, Agnieszka Drotkiewicz and Paweł Demirski all lose in their confrontation with the politically correct,  “soft” systemic violence of the  new model of social life.  The pastiche of the crime novel – as the dominating form – allowed a reversal of sorts of the previous order, as a result of which the “normal majority”  was depicted as  a victim of persecution by those who were foreign, different and hostile. It was only Dorota Masłowska’s  Wojna polsko-ruska pod flagą biało-czerwoną  that made us realize that that enemy was merely a phantasy or invention, an element of the inner logic of fear.

And here we come to the third way in which literature addresses social reality. The novels Ciemno, prawie noc by Joanna Bator, Kinderszenen and Wieszanie by Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz,  and Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych by Olga Tokarczuk are pastiches of the horror story. The violence present therein is both morally justified and effective, but their real purpose is to confront the reader  with what is repulsive. Thus, we have a new basis for building a community: revulsion  to certain elements of the human reality (body, sexuality, religion), a revulsion that unites in the resistance against those phenomena. – No one can be  certain whether this narrative is likely to succeed. But we are all stuck inside it. We are sentences in a novel without a guaranteed ending, Prof. Czapliński stressed.

But how do you channel the violence born in this context, what do you do with it? Literature has yet to find credible answers to these questions…

Jacek Głażewski