Danuta Z. Hutchins
The Polish word "fronda" (from the French "fronde" signifying "sling") refers to the struggle of the French middle classes against the court party led by Cardinal Mazarin (1648-53). The Polish monthly Fronda represents an argumentative departure from traditional journalism of a group of young Polish writers, philosophers, poets, artists and literati. By the editors' own admission, this journal takes Catholicism seriously and tries to strengthen it through a bold choice of topics, authors, and arguments.
Several persons listed in Fronda's editorial board regularly contribute to other Polish journals and publications, including Catholic ones such as Znak, Przeglad Powszechny, or Horyzonty Wiary, and political ones such as Rzeczpospolita and Odra.
Published and edited in Warsaw, Fronda's issues are over 350 pages long. The eight extant issues are now out-of-print but are available on the Web (www.webfabrika.com.pl/fronda). The format combines essay, interview, scholarly articles, excerpts from Catholic giants such as G. K. Chesterton, and various addenda. The quality of articles is uneven, as the journal draws from diverse sources. The visual appearance is pleasing: pen and ink drawings, photographs, and color reproductions of most exquisite and religiously-inspired paintings and frescoes by Michal Swider [11/12 (1998) issue].
Sarcasm and mimicry are among Fronda's tactics. The enigmatic superscript claims the journal is "consecrated" to the "fronda." In the 11/12 issue, the subscript "Year 1998 since Christ's birth" is followed by "Year 7506 since the beginning of the world."
Addressing a Polish-Russian interest, editor Grzegorz Górny extracts a worrisome and unguarded admission from Alexander Dugin in an interview entitled "I Am Waiting for Ivan the Terrible" [Fronda 11/12 (1998), 130-146]. Dugin is the leader of the National Bolshevik Party in Russia; he is also in charge of Strategic Planning at Russia's General Staff Military Academy. He is the author of a strongly anti-Western pamphlet, "The Foundations of Geopolitics" (1997) taught at all Russian military academies. In Górny's interview conducted in Moscow in 1998, Dugin opines that Europe must choose between aligning itself either with Russia or with America. "If the European New Right chooses us [Russians], that means it chooses the barbarian element, and therefore it must choose our methods of action," he says. He notes that the New World Order will not come about by means of "aging gentlemen meeting in seminars." He advises the following: "You must take a knife, put on a mask, go out of the house in the evening and kill at least one Yank." He adds, "I do not know whether any of the New Right activists have ever been under artillery siege, but our people do not only go to meetings or fight at the barricades, they also go to real wars, for instance to the Dniestr district [Moldova], or to Yugoslavia. . . . The New Right is only a project, and we are its architects. The future is truly ours." (Fronda 11/12, 146) Earlier, Dugin admitted that his ideology would succeed in the Polish case only if Polish Catholicism were corrupted "from within" by "reorienting it in a more heterodox, more New-Age-y direction." Such confessions and equally explosive opinions in other articles make for fascinating reading. Would that our "Russia experts" paid some attention to the actual statements of the people who play first fiddle in the Russian military.
The editors' stance is revealed through graphics and illustrations accompanying the interview. In Dugin's case, the drawings include a swastika in the scepter and an upside-down Eucharistic chalice on the head of a cruelly unconcerned figure of Ivan the Terrible. The figure evolves as the interview continues. A pure, clearly symbolic painting of "The Guardian of the Well" by Michal Swider amplifies Dugin's revelations. The narrow entrance to a well from which springs the fountain of knowledge is guarded by a mysterious, gaunt and solemn creature. It is Ermelino, or an ermine, the symbol of royal power. Clearly, the editors recognize the rationale for the existence of the papacy.
Barbara Tichy writes about Swider's symbolics in an interview titled "A Meeting at the Well" (11/12, 273). Then, she and her husband Rafal conduct a discussion with Swider about modern art (11/12, 274-286). Swider speaks about his own encounter with the sacrum. He draws inspiration from Cennini's treatise on art titled "About Painting" and written in Italy in the early fifteenth century. Judging by the reproductions of his artworks in Fronda, he brilliantly uses the fresco technique in his stylized portraits of angels, saints, the Virgin Mary and God's Chosen People. He says that an artist who approaches the sacrum must make a "conscious and determined choice between light and darkness." He argues that for a work of art to be good it "must not only be formally good, but also morally good. . . . Spiritual reality can be accessed only through symbols. . . Now these are forgotten things, [and we have] unfortunately trivialized the greatest symbol: the cross, [which] is no longer the same when it happens to be placed as an earring in someone's ear." (282)
Swider's observations articulate our anger over frivolous tampering with the sacrum demonstrated in recent times by the various unfortunate examples of "art" which mixes the sacred and the profane. Rather than doing so, artists should strive to "reinvoke the symbol so it begins to exist anew in [our] reality. . . . Art . . . is the fissure between the two broken pieces. Beyond and before it stands some kind of reality. Before it there is our daily reality, beyond it, spiritual reality which we are also capable of experiencing."
In issue 4/5 (1995), the editors concentrate on unearthing the truth about political events in Chile. The interviews and commentaries reveal the thoughts and feelings of Chile's key political figures, be it the peculiar religiosity of Admiral Jose Teribio Merino, member of the Chilean junta ("This Day was Appointed by the Mother of God," pp. 23-;5), or the remarks of General Augusto Pinochet's second-in-command, General Julio Canessy Robert ("I Am a Crustacean and I Feel Pain with Each One's Death," pp. 26-27).
In the same issue, Jerzy Ziolkowski dissects the "Homo Americanus" (46-52). An opportunity was given by the 1993 U. S. Department of Education report concerning literacy. Ziolkowski observes that according to the report, 45 million Americans are functional illiterates, but half of them possess valid high school diplomas. He comments: "They know how to read in the technical sense of the word, that is they can decipher the words, but they lack the necessary abilities to utilize this information."
Other articles are often bitingly sarcastic, although in some of them the sarcasm is impenetrable to those unfamiliar with Central European history. In "An Open Letter to the Swedish Academy" (No. 11/12, 174-;5), Piotr Giedrowicz asks the Nobel Prize granting body to award a prize for literature to Jerzy Urban, a former press spokesman for the communist Polish government and one of the most despicable figures of the communist period. Urban belongs to the "oral rather than written literary tradition," as does the recent Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo, "argues" Giedrowicz; like Fo, Urban organized some of the "most blasphemous happenings in the history of television."
Fronda even wrangles out a revealing confession from Czeslaw Milosz. Its 1998 Questionnaire on Religion and Literature (202-;231) lays bare Milosz's evasive and superficial posture towards his own religious practice. Responding to a seemingly simplistic question "What is your attitude to prayer, liturgy, confession?" Milosz says: "I suspect that many people, instead of contemplative prayer, achieve their internal contemplation as if side by side with their muscle or brain activities, plowing, steering a car, painting, writing, when the activity itself is the one which requires attention. This is what writing has been for me throughout all my life." Milosz obviously was unaware of Fronda's criticism in the same issue of his famous poem, "The Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto." This poem is scathingly discussed in Adam Stern's "Millenio Adveniente: so-called 'clerical fiction'" (11/12 p. 9).
It appears that Fronda is willing to take on any topic, person, or ideology. It is a politically incorrect magazine par excellence. While its articles cross the boundaries of good taste on occasion, their refreshing openness to ideas contrasts sharply with the predictable topics and arguments of the major cultural and political magazines in the United States and in Poland, on the left and on the right. Fronda is iconoclastic and editorially opinionated, but it is also compelling.
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