BOOKS Books and Periodicals Received
Vol. XXI, No. 2
New Polish Writing. Chicago Review, vol. 46, nos. 3-4 (2000). Editor: Eirik Steinhoff. Guest editor for this issue: W. Martin. 396 pages. $8.00.
Chicago Review was founded at the University of Chicago in 1946. This issue contains poems, stories, and essays written during the last decade of the twentieth century. The volume has been carefully edited by W. Martin who also supplied an Introduction in which he stated that since the fall of communism, "Polish literature and literary culture have shown themselves to be the richest and most vibrant in Europe." To check whether you agree with that and to discover new Polish literature, buy this volume from the publisher. It is available from Chicago Review, 5801 South Kenwood Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60637. A longer review to follow.
Zinstytucjonalizowane formy komunikowania o literaturze: socjologiczna analiza zjawiska Sw. Gombrowicz (Saint Gombrowicz. Institutionalized forms of communicating about literature: a sociological analysis), by Krzysztof Lecki. Katowice. Slask Publishing House. 1997. Bibliography, summaries in English and German. 215 pages. Paper. In Polish.
The author posits the existence of 'Gombrowiczology,' or the cult of Gombrowicz, in Polish literary circles. He then attempts to describe the characteristics of that worship. The point of view is that of a sociologist. Lecki is less interested in Gombrowicz's message and more in the sociological phenomena that Gombrowicz's works have engendered: a division between elitist culture and mass culture, and a breach between insiders and outsiders. Within the context of this book, 'literary society' or 'literary milieu' are not formal associations but rather informal circles that set the tone of literary valuations within a culture.
The author concludes that in contemporary democratic societies, cultural values tend to be autonomous, and pressures of belonging to a 'literary society' usually prevail over other inclinations of society's members. These literary values adopted by elitist circles strengthen and reconfirm the importance of elite unity both in the eyes of members and outsiders.
This is a sophisticated study of the phenomenon of Gombrowicz worship that seems puzzling when observed from this side of the Atlantic. Gombrowicz was a fine writer, and his Trans-Atlantyk is probably his best work; but in many ways, he was a dilettante. His philosophical musings in the Diary are often sophomoric, and his Ferdydurke is a novel for teenagers. The cult of Gombrowicz in Poland points to the intellectual devastation that occurred in that country during the half-century of communist censorship. Gombrowicz's 'contrariness' is mistaken for philosophical depth, so thirsty are Polish intellectuals for the writings of those who 'disagree with the system'--no matter which kind of system. (sb)
Historia Polski, 1795-1990, by Hanna Dylagowa. Lublin. Instytut Europy Srodkowo- Wschodniej. 2000. Bibliography, indexes. 288 pages. Paper. In Polish.
Historia Ukrainy do konca XVIII wieku, by Natalia Jakowenko. Translated by Ola Hnatiuk and Katarzyna Kotynska. Lublin. Instytut Europy Srodkowo-Wschodniej. 2000. Bibliography, index. 397 pages. Paper. In Polish.
Historia Ukrainy, 1772-1999: Narodziny nowoczesnego narodu, by Jaroslaw Hrycak. Lublin. Instytut Europy Srodkowo-Wschodniej. 2000. Bibliography, index. 355 pages. Paper. In Polish.
These three books are sequels in a series published by the Institute of East Central Europe in Lublin. The series is meant to encompass the history of four nations: Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus, and it is published simultaneously in four languages. No ideological uniformity was intended, and none has been delivered. Dylagowa's History of Poland is crisp and matter-of-fact, with a great many figures, dates, and names thrown in. Almost an encyclopedia. Jakowenko's history of 'old' Ukraine is friendly yet assertive; Hrycak's narrative of recent Ukrainian history should be a must reading for persons of Polish background because it is wonderfully detailed yet dispassionate, and it includes a discussion of the abominable "Wisla Action," or post-World War II deportation of Ukrainians from their ethnic territories in southeastern Poland to western and post-German territories. In addition, Hrycak's book contains a wealth of information about Russian and Soviet military and political strategies. For instance, did you know that during the German campaign in the USSR, a German soldier was six times as efficient as a Soviet soldier? The assessment comes from American historians.
Idea restytucji Ukrainskiej Republiki Ludowej, 1920-1939 (the idea of reinstitution of the Ukrainian People's Republic, 1920-1939), by Robert Potocki. Introduction by Jerzy Kloczowski. Lublin. Instytut Europy Srodkowo-Wschodniej. 2000. Bibliography, indexes, maps, tables. 383 pages. Paper. In Polish; summaries in English, Russian and Ukrainian.
A detailed and scholarly history of the Semyon Petlura-Józef Pilsudski alliance, the Polish Kiev campaign of 1920, the peace of Riga, Ukrainian emigration, national and military structures, and Polish-Ukrainian collaboration between the two world wars. The book is meticulously executed by a young scholar who garnered much praise from both the Ukrainian and Polish side.
Poland in Christian Civilization, compiled and edited by Jerzy Braun. London. Veritas Foundation (4-12 Praed Mews, London W2 IQZ). 1985. ISBN 0-901215-79-1. 633 pages. Index. Hardcover.
Muza poezji w celi Jerzego Brauna. Poems edited with an introduction by Eugeniusz Zuk. Kraków. Eugeniusz Zuk Publications. 1997. ISBN 83-906969-1-9. 120 pages. Paper. In Polish.
Rytmy wloskie, by Jerzy Braun. Poems. London. Odnowa. 1974. ISBN 0-903705-08-7. 38 pages. Paper. In Polish.
Oddech planety, by Jerzy Braun. Poems. Warsaw. Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy. 1977. 89 pages. Paper. In Polish.
Prometej-Adam, by Jerzy Braun. Poems. London. Odnowa. 1980. ISBN 0-903705-27-3. 70 pages. Paper. In Polish.
Ekumenizm, by Jerzy Braun. Essays. London. Odnowa. 1968. 76 pages. Paper. In Polish.
Virgo Maria: Rola Marii w historii zbawienia, by Jerzy Braun. An essay. Rome. 1975. 45 pages. In Polish.
When one reflects on the style of writing that Jerzy Urban's Nie parodies most fiercely, Jerzy Braun's books come to mind. Braun, a man of letters and educator of Polish youth between the two world wars, took seriously the ideas of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty that to postmodern men seem irrevocably buried in the Romantic past. He entertained these ideas in a Christian context, and his writings do contain a measure of pomposity and being out of step with postmodernity. While Braun's stylistic mistakes were many, one is puzzled by people of Urban's ilk relentlessly ridiculing and grinding to dust these seemingly dead forms and ideas. If they are indeed so dead, whence the fury to beat up on the fallen? The answer may be that, for all of Braun's shortcomings, the core of his thinking represented that healthy mix of traditional Catholicism and proselytizing enthusiasm which Nie supporters hate so much.
In Jerzy Narbutt's Awantury polemiczne (see a review below), the author mentions a visit to his high school of a politruk from ZMP [Zwiazek Mlodziezy Polskiej, a communist-run youth organization to which all students were pressured to belong after World War II] who divided the class into three groups. The first was ordered to sing a Christmas carol, the second, a patriotic song, and the third, a pornographic one that the politruk supplied. "The intention was clear," says Narbutt, "the goal was to mix value and worthlessness, thus weakening our sense of propriety." One recalls here Jerzy Braun's Boy Scout song, "Plonie ognisko i szumia knieje..." that acquired a pornographic version in Soviet- occupied Poland. This is the kind of activity in which Urban's Nie specializes, with an apparent hope that cynicism and contempt toward values could be finally and irrevocably instilled in Polish youth and society.
In her Memoirs about incarceration in Auschwitz, Zofia Kossak remarked that the goal of concentration camps was to deprave people morally before destroying them physically. Hence encouragement by camp authorities (starting with the infamous Kapos) of vulgar and offensive language meant to destroy in human beings a sense of propriety and shame, leaving only the desire to survive. In Wiek rewolucji seksualnej (see below), Marek Czachorowski makes the same point.
Jerzy Urban supplies this kind of depravity to Polish letters today. Under the guise of relaxation, wit, openness, and sarcasm, he tries to make sure that his readers' minds get used to a thorough mixing of vulgarity and sublimity. No wonder Jerzy Braun was an unwelcome figure in Soviet-occupied Poland. In 1951, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and tortured in the infamous Mokotów, Wronki and Rawicz prisons where he lost one eye and had a heart attack. His health broken, he was released to die. He died in Rome in 1975. (sb)
Awantury polemiczne (polemical brawls), by Jerzy Narbutt. Katowice. Unia-Jerzy Skwara Publishing House. 2000. 144 pages. Paper. ISBN 93-86250-18-6. In Polish.
A collection of essays ranging from excellent to abominable. Narbutt has to be taken in select doses: his ability to construct commonsensical arguments has to be savored in separation from his occasional prejudices. In these select doses, Narbutt strengthens one's realization that all too many words have been written and pronounced by individuals who would have done better to keep silent. As Will Rogers said, it is not ignorance that hurts people; it is what they know that ain't so. There has been an awful lot of nonsense written and said since print was invented. This nonsense is repeated from book to book, from one newspaper article to another, and it congeals into 'truth' in the minds of those who read a lot and think little. It is against this nonsense that Narbutt writes, and his weapon is common sense and a serious knowledge of Christian apologetics.
Narbutt is one of those rare writers who are able to deconstruct pretentious and obscure theories, pronouncements, and propositions; he knows how to say 'the king is naked' and how to document his opinions. But his idiosyncrasies regarding the new and struggling countries that have arisen east of Poland's eastern border have to be condemned. Somehow he cannot reconcile himself to the fact that people may change national allegiances, and that yesterday's Poles may be today's Lithuanians or Ukrainians. This intolerant view mars this otherwise fine book.
Among the pearls of wisdom that Narbutt's essays provide is the observation that "not everyone is entitled to every truth," a justification for withholding truth from those who would make bad use of it; or that the magnificent Byzantine liturgy makes religion into an adventure rather than an encounter. But a crown jewel is the essay against "the psychology of adjustment" popularized by behavioral psychologists in America. Narbutt points out that "the entire process of human development consists in overcoming sequential disintegrations and moving on toward better and better integration by means of past failures." In other words, what really counts in life is not an ability to 'adjust' oneself perfectly to the environment, but rather an ability to use one's failures to reach greater depth and greater understanding. "It is not the people who suffer from breakdowns or [Freudian] inhibitions that are the misfortune of the world," points out Narbutt, "but rather those who are perfectly 'integrated' and adjusted at a very low level of integration. . . those human automata who so easily become the janissaries of totalitarian regimes."
Even those who disagree with Narbutt will find in his essays a hefty and refreshing dose of Chesterton-like sobriety.
Rosyjskie mity: od Puszkina do Pawlika Morozowa (Russian myths, from Pushkin to Pavlik Morozov), by Jurij Druznikov. Translated by Franciszek Ociepka and Maria Putrament. Introduction by Alicja Wolodzko-Butkiewicz. Warsaw. Oficyna Wydawnicza Volumen. 1998. 282 pages. Hardcover. In Polish.
This book should have been publicized in English rather than in Polish. In Poland, analyses of the Soviet capacity to deceive (oneself and others) are like carrying coals to Newcastle. But it is hard to find an American market for a volume that, fifty years after Czeslaw Milosz's The Captive Mind, replays many familiar motifs in regard to writer Yuri Trifonov and the Soviet [anti] hero, Pavlik Morozov. This volume of essays is particularly valuable for its analysis of Trifonov's duplicity and self-deceit, and for the detailed story of Pavlik Morozov, a peasant boy who denounced his own father to the Cheka. The father was subsequently executed, and Pavlik was killed by his own grandfather. What happened to other members of the family is of some interest, and the book offers rich detail in that regard, while at the same time supplying information about psychological consequences of this [in]famous sequence of events. The style is rambling in the best Russian tradition. The volume reads easily. Druzhnikov is professor of Russian at the University of California-Davis and an exile from the Soviet Union and from post-Soviet Russia.
Against the Grain: The New Criterion on Art and Intellectuals at the End of the Twentieth Century, edited by Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball. Chicago. I.R. Dee. 1995. xiv + 463 pages. Index. Paper. $16.95.
Roger Kimball had previously written a book blasting American academia for its betrayal of ideals that universities used to espouse. Hilton Kramer is a longtime New York literary critic. Together, they compiled an anthology of New Criterion writings challenging political correctness at American universities. Following Julien Benda's La Trahison des clercs (1927), Kimball wrote "The Treason of the Intellectuals," an essay accusing contemporary intellectuals of politicizing morality. Kimball ascribes the beginning of the new political correctness to Nietzsche's idea of 'transvaluation of values,' He points out that in earlier times, people in power violated moral rules while acknowledging their validity, whereas after Nietzsche, the very notions of good and evil came under suspicion, indeed they were 'deconstructed' by European and American intellectuals. So far so good; alas, Kimball's prescription for improvement is to return to the Enlightenment morality and logic, i.e., to a flawed system of reasoning that has contributed to the problem to begin with. A much better prescription is to return to the pre-Cartesian rationalism of St. Thomas and Aristotle, the rationalism rejected by the Enlightenment and almost forgotten by contemporary intellectuals. While the book's j'accuse remains valid, the argument itself is doomed to ineffectiveness because it offers fake solutions.
Wiek rewolucji seksualnej (the age of the sexual revolution), by Marek Czachorowski. Warsaw. Ad Astra (P.O. Box 86, 00-963 Warszawa, Poland, tel/fax 48-22--625-1028). 1999. 163 pages. Paper. In Polish.
Czachorowski warns of implications of the sex-on-demand mentality prevailing in postmodern society.
Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps, by Tzvetan Todorov. Translated by Arthur Denner and Abigail Pollak. New York: Henry Holt & Co. (Metropolitan Books) 1996. 301 pages. Index. Hardcover. $27.50.
This book belongs with other accounts of concentration camps, both Nazi and Soviet, and it explores the influence which 'everyday morality' had on the inmates of concentration camps. Todorov argues that the daily habits of decency, willingness to help others, gestures of compassion and dignity were not lost but reproduced themselves even in the inhuman conditions of camp living. He points out that acts of heroism in the camps were rare; he mentions Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Roman Catholic priest who consented to death by torture in order to save a Polish farmer, Stanislaw Gajowniczek (who subsequently enjoyed a long and fruitful life dedicated in part to giving testimony to Father Kolbe's heroism). One wishes that this extraordinary act had been analyzed in more detail; Todorov devotes only a page or so to it. Tzvetan Todorov is a philosopher and literary critic and, like Primo Levi, he abandoned purely academic pursuits to write about urgent moral matters.
Churches, States, Nations in the Enlightenment and in the Nineteenth Century, Part Four. Edited by Miroslaw Filipowicz. Lublin. Instytut Europy Srodkowo-Wschodniej ul. M. Curie-Sklodowskiej 58/1, 20- 029 Lublin, email@example.com). 2000. 273 pages. Paper. In English, French, German, Belarusian.
These are papers from a conference organized in 1996 by the International Commission of Comparative Ecclesiastical History. The authors are mostly academics from East Central Europe. The collection teems with inevitable biases of some authors who represent the newly independent countries. E.g., the author of an essay on "Petersburg's Policy toward the Lithuanian Churches in the First Half of the 19th Century" never once mentions the fact that the population of what today is Lithuania was Polish-speaking in the period under study, and that to speak of 'Lithuanian churches' at that time requires some clarification as to why the Lithuanian language was not used by the population.
The editing leaves much to be desired. The editor was apparently unable or unwilling to supervise the quality of translations. Some of them are extremely poor. There is no uniformity in footnotes, no bibliography and no index. A bad editing job.
The Nazification of Russia: anti-Semitism in the Post-Soviet Era, by Semyon Reznik. Washington, DC. Challenge Publications. 1996. 275 pages. Paper. Available on Amazon.com for $15.95.
Reznik is a Russian émigré, and his book details aspects of Russian culture and thought that escape the attention of the starry-eyed optimists who predict Russia's speedy 'conversion' to democracy and Western rationality.
Reznik points out that in the USSR, "the Communist leadership deliberately encouraged Russian nationalism, chauvinism, and anti-Semitism." He returns to the now-forgotten figures such as Igor Shafarevich whose paranoid Russophobia was hailed in Russia and the West as a book written by a patriotic Russian. Reznik points out that persons such as Aleksandr Lebed seem tailor-made for assuming the post of a fascist dictator; and that under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, the anti-Semitic and xenophobic current in Russian thought began to gain strength and blossomed in the writings and statements of such individuals as Valery Yemelianov or the better-known Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The fact that Russians tend to blame 'foreigners' for their troubles is well documented in this book. Issues discussed here should be incorporated into the teaching of Russian history and culture in this country.
Poland: An Illustrated History, by Iwo C. Pogonowski. New York. Hippocrene Books (firstname.lastname@example.org). 2000. 270 pages. Illustrations, maps, tables, index. Hardcover. $14.95.
This book is a bargain, financially and intellectually. Written in a lively style that nonspecialists will enjoy, it covers Polish history from its legendary beginnings to the present. Pogonowski is a master storyteller, and his knowledge of facts of Polish history is second to none. He is also a bestselling author among Polonia readers, and he has supplied many ideas to, among others, Malachi Martin. Too bad he remains unknown in academic circles. Truly an unusual volume. A longer review to follow.
Other Books Received: