The Document: Polarities of its Employment by Białoszewski and Mackiewicz

Part of the Studies in Russia and East Europe book series (SREE)


Both writers died recently far away from one another and in totally different circumstances: Mackiewicz in exile but doubly alienated — because he was too uncompromising, at odds with everyone, entrenched in his misanthropy and ceterum censeo; Białoszewski, surrounded by people, yet also an outsider, far removed from official literary salons; Mackiewicz, the author of fat, multi-thematic novels; Białoszewski breathlessly capturing fragments and splinters of events and the speech of other people; Mackiewicz throughout his life devoted to and beguiled by politics; Białoszewski attentive to the mundane and its voices, ignoring the grand panorama of public life. Is there anything that unites them? Apparently not, although each separately has struck me as a possible subject for an essay on the role of the document in most recent Polish literature. And no doubt I would have proceeded sensibly were I to have chosen one of them, but I had this desire to see them together in their total ostentatious difference, which led to my being attacked by participants of a conference in Cracow.1 So now I must consider a number of the aspects of this parallelism with redoubled care.


Historical Fact Employment Polarity Shield Fact East European Study Common Moral Sense 
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  1. 3.
    Józef Mackiewicz, Kontra, London, 1983, pp. 9–10.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Wit Tarnawski, Od Gombrowicza do Mackiewicza, Szkice literackie, London 1980, pp. 88–89: ‘And although perhaps more than in his previous novels Mackiewicz realised in Nie trzeba głośno mówić his ideal of a politico-historical novel — he nevertheless paid for it as a novelist. Admittedly, the harmonisation of the drama of individual human beings with the drama of history is achieved here almost completely, but with the accompanying suppression and reduction of those individuals to a Lilliputian role. They meander through the novel like flies in ointment, helpless and insignificant, apparently to no known purpose, which perhaps was the author’s intention, so that he might demonstrate the insignificance of the efforts of individuals who struggle against the crushing enormity of history.’ What Tarnawski here regards as the novel’s weakness I rather regard as a sign of authorial consistency.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    J. Mackiewicz, ‘Michał K. Pawlikowski’ in J. Mackiewicz and B. Toporska, Droga Pani, London, 1984, p. 352.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    M. Białoszewski, Szumy, zlepy:, ciągi, Warszawa 1976, pp. 182–184.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Cf. K. Rutkowski, Przeciw (w) literaturze. Esej o ‘poezji czynnej’ Mirona Białoszewskiego i Edwarda Stachury, Bydgoszcz, 1987, p. 178: Białoszewski proves that in the logosphere there is no priviledged type of speech, no specific form of expression, which dominates over any other type or form through its cognitive capacity, communicational dexterity or superior existential significance’.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    To some extent this is reminiscent of Stefan Nowak’s reflections on the identification of the individual with a group in postwar Polish society. Cf. S. Nowak, ‘Przekonania i odczucia współczesnych’ in Polaków portret wtasny. Praca Zbiorowa. Cracow, 1979, p. 128: ‘Were we to sketch a gigantic ‘sociogram’ based on people’s sense of group ties and identification, then the so-called social structure of our country would reveal itself as a ‘federation’ of primitive groups, families and groups based on friendship, united in a national commonwealth with very weak other types of ties between these two spheres.’Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Cf. Cz. Miłosz, Nobel Lecture, New York, 1980, p. 34.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Cf. J. Jarzębski, ‘Między “realizmem” a “prawdą” (o polskiej prozie po wojnie)’, Modele świata i człowieka, Szkice o powieści współczesnej, ed. J. Swięch, Lublin, 1985.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Miron Białoszewski, ‘Bohaterka’, in Oho, Warsaw, 1985, pp. 156–57.Google Scholar

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© School of Slavonic and East European Studies 1992

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