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Sendung und Dichtung:

Adam Mickiewicz in Europa

Reviewer: Harry Louis Roddy, Jr.

(Mission and Poetry: Adam Mickiewicz in Europe) Edited by Zdzisław Krasnodębski and Stefan Garsztecki. Hamburg: Reinhold Krämer Verlag (, 2002. 324 pages. Paper. In German.

Sendung und Dichtung is a valuable contribution to the critical study and reception of Adam Mickiewicz in Germany. A collection of fifteen essays, Sendung und Dichtung is organized according to four thematic rubrics: “Nationale Sinnstiftung”; “Zwischen Frankreich und Deutschland”; “Emigrationen”; and “Slawische Verwandtschaften-amerikanische Verbindung”. These organizational constellations serve as motific guides for both specialists and lay readers.

As suggested by the title, Krasnodębski and Garsztecki, though wishing to reignite critical interest in Mickiewicz in Germany,(1) nevertheless situate this volume on Mickiewicz’s life and work not in Germany, but rather in all of Europe. This is a noteworthy distinction for, though Mickiewicz was and continues to be an important and revered figure in Poland, Lithuania, France, Italy, the Balkans, Russia-in all of the areas surrounding Germany-he left few traces in Germany itself. However, as the center of a newly unified Europe, Germany is an important location for a new appraisal of Mickiewicz the poet and revolutionary. Furthermore, as Mickiewicz is most closely associated with Romanticism, a literary and intellectual movement with strong German roots, it is fitting that a firmer connection be made between German Romanticism and this Romantic Pole.

As such, the symbolic centerpiece of Sendung und Dichtung is Stefan Garsztecki’s “Mickiewicz’s Messianismus und romantisches deutsches Sendungsbewusstsein” (127-70). This piece is introduced, intellectually speaking, by Marek A. Cichocki’s essay, “Die politische Romantik in Polen und in Deutschland” (119-26). In this short article, Cichocki traces the history of political attacks on the Polish traditions of Romanticism and republicanism, the most recent of which stem from Adam Krzemiński, before arguing that no sensible political system will ever be established in Poland without recourse to its republican tradition (124). In making this argument, he claims that, in contrast to the antidemocratic tradition of German Romanticism, Polish Romanticism was always grounded in “openness” and should thus be maintained in modern political life (124).

Garsztecki follows Cichocki’s essay with a comprehensive comparative inquiry into Polish Messianism, and particularly Mickiewicz’s messianic impulses, and German Romantic Sendungsbewusstsein. According to Garsztecki, the fundamental difference between Mickiewicz’s Messianism and German Romantic “missionary consciousness” was the lack of a viable Polish state. Thus Mickiewicz’s Messianism never took the form of a reactionary nationalism, as there was no nation to which he could affix such inclinations, but rather took on mystical dimensions. He interpreted the Poles as a “chosen people” who, with Poland’s rebirth, would bring freedom to all oppressed peoples (137-9). Mickiewicz stood firmly with the underdog. As opposed to this, German Romanticism, first expressed as a “completion of the enlightenment through a new mythology” (144) in the works of Schiller, Novalis, and Friedrich Schlegel (144-53), became transformed in the works of Fichte into the handmaid of German exceptionalism and nationalistic messianism (160) and in the works of Ernst Moritz Arndt into a more explicit ethnic nationalism (160). The conservative German counterreaction to the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution as expressed in a more pronounced Romantic nationalism remains a tarnished intellectual movement.

In earlier essays, Zdzisław Krasnodębski explores Mickiewicz’s Messianism with respect to his “political theology,” while Wolfgang Stephan Kissel explicates it in terms of a “critique of civilization.” In “Adam Mickiewicz’ politische Theologie” (33-58), Krasnodębski positions Mickiewicz as an “uncomfortable ancestor” of modern Poles who are occupied with demythologizing their history and the symbolic religious logic of Romanticism (33-4). For Mickiewicz, political events could only be understood in terms of religious events (38), as political ideas also have theological meanings (42). In the context of these convictions, Mickiewicz developed a political Messianism, based on Jewish Messianism, that addressed the dilemma of maintaining ethnicity without a solvent nation (50-52). In “Die Anfänge einer Zivilizationskritik in Osteuropa: Čaadaev-Mickiewicz-Puškin” (59-82), Kissel links Mickiewicz’s Messianism to the critiques of civilization found in the works of Petr Chaadaev and Alexander Pushkin. After tracing the intellectual history of the concept “civilization” in France and England in the late eighteenth century (63), Kissel demonstrates how Mickiewicz reinterprets the French notion of civilization in order to connect his idea of Polish civilization to that of antiquity (70-71). Mickiewicz uses this reinterpretation to call on Poles to counterpose Western notions of civilization with that of their true Christian civilization (72-3).

The remaining essays in this collection cover a wide range of subject matters. The include an appeal for a scholarly biography of Mickiewicz (Rosiek, 19-32); an inventory of musical works based on Mickiewicz’s texts (Ritter, 83-115); an aphoristic meditation on the role played by France in Mickiewicz’s thought (Rutkowski, 171-86); a comparison of the Messianism found in Benjamin’s Passagenwerk to that of Mickiewicz (Bock, 187-204); and the historical parallels between the “Great Emigration” following the failed rebellion of 1831 (Hahn, 207-27) and the “Second Great Emigration” that followed the absorption of Poland as a Soviet satellite after the Second World War. Basil Kerski provides an excellent cultural history of Jerzy Giedroyc’s journal Kultura (229-45), while Elżbieta Kiślak draws illuminating parallels between the emigrations of Mickiewicz and Czesław Miłosz (247-71). The volume closes with a consideration of the impact Mickiewicz’s lectures on Slavic literature at the College de France had on the Southern Slavs (Wöltjen, 275-92); an impassioned reflection on the continuing relevance of Mickiewicz in Belarusan national consciousness (Miracycki, 293-300); and a spirited exploration of Mickiewicz’s “American connection,” namely, his intellectual reception of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his physical reception of Margaret Fuller (Mostwin, 301-319).

This volume disappoints somewhat in its omissions. The centrality and importance of Mickiewicz’s lectures while chair of Slavic Literature at the College de France (1840-44) is made evident in many of these essays; a single essay devoted specifically to this topic would have been welcome. Additionally, the ruinous effect Towiański’s thought had on Mickiewicz is alluded to repeatedly but never detailed; again, an explicit consideration of this topic would have been appropriate. Nevertheless, Krasnodębski and Garsztecki have succeeded in providing a comprehensive portrait of Mickiewicz’s life and thought, thus making an important contribution to Mickiewicz studies in both a German and European context. ∆


1. This book is the result of a conference held in Bremen in 1998 on the occasion of the two-hundredth anniversary of Mickiewicz’s birth.

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