Posts Tagged ‘Poland’
January 5, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
I’ve been thinking today of Stanisław Barańczak, the Polish poet and translator who died in 2014 at sixty-eight. He was known for flouting state censors with poems that mocked the euphemistic language of communism, and his work was seditious enough that in the seventies he was barred from publishing in Poland, though he continued to publish underground. By the early eighties, his politics had cost him his job as a professor in Poznan, and he decamped to the U.S. to lecture at Harvard. In a famous speech he likened life as a dissident to breathing underwater, with a nod to a science-fiction story by Stanisław Lem:
Bubbling sounds were the only acceptable means of communication, the official propaganda emphasized the advantages of being wet, and occasional breathing above water was considered almost a political offense—although everyone had to do it from time to time …
I wonder what Barańczak would’ve made of the new PEN International report, published this morning, on writers and government surveillance. It suggests that free expression around the world—even in the U.S., where what we’ve come to call “content producers” aren’t in the habit of fearing violence from the state—is in some ways more embattled now than it’s been since the Cold War.
It’s worth reading the report in full, though it will make you gnash your teeth and hurl invective at various institutions, chiefly the NSA. (And why shouldn’t you? You’ve already got their ear.) PEN International polled 772 writers from fifty countries, with some classified as “free,” some as “partly free,” and some “not free.” But those gradations hardly matter, it seems, when it comes to freedom of expression. Of the respondents, 75 percent in free countries, 84 percent in partly free countries, and 80 percent in not free countries said they were “very” or “somewhat” worried about surveillance. Some were so worried that they were afraid to say how worried they were:
As a final indication of the way the current “surveillance crisis” affects and haunts us, I should say that I have had serious misgivings about whether to write the above and include it in this questionnaire. It is clear to me from the information I have given you that my responses to the questionnaire, and presumably also therefore this statement, can be traced back to me. It may be that this information will be hacked by security agencies. Surely anyone who thinks thoughts like these will be in danger—if not today, then (because this is a process) possibly tomorrow.
April 1, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- D. H. Lawrence’s hometown has opened a new pub called the Lady Chatterley.
- An enterprising fourteen-year-old has an urgent message for the government: change your official typeface to Garamond and you’ll save millions.
- Shakespeare plays illustrated in three easy panels. (“Three witches tell Macbeth he will be king. Macbeth kills lots of people in order to be king. Macbeth is killed.”)
- Taking stock of Monocle, which is now seven years old: “a magazine that is in general focused on a particular brand of well-heeled global urbanism … Monocle doesn’t have bureaus, it has bureaux … what Monocle and its advertisers clearly understand, even if the point is seldom made explicit, is that living in a first-tier city is a luxury good, like a Prada bag or a pair of Hermès boots.”
- Don’t merely go to the circus. Go to the circus in Communist-era Poland. “The visual style of the Polish School of Posters, funded and sponsored by state commissions, was characterized by vibrant colors, playful humor, hand-lettering, and a bold surrealism that rivaled anything similar artists in the West were doing at the time.”
November 6, 2013 | by Susannah Hunnewell
The New York City Marathon has come again, awing, baffling, and intimidating the more sedentary among us with its pursuit of voluntary physical punishment. In a downtown studio a few months ago, another marathon of sorts took place. Ruth Irving was filmed for three hours by the artist Jan Baracz writing the passive present conjugation of the Latin verb “to punish” (punio, punire). I am punished, you are punished … The camera was positioned over Irving’s shoulder as she dipped her calligraphy pen in the inkwell, tracing the words over and over until the page was covered. They had agreed she would just keep writing, creating layers of script on script. Jan looked nervously on, asking her occasionally in his absurdly thick Polish accent if she was okay, which she found irritating after awhile. Her own forced awareness—she couldn’t look away or she would lose her place on the page—was exhausting enough. She had imagined that the difficulty would be at least partly physical—hand cramps or parched throat. But the worst part of it was that she couldn’t stop, sit back and look. As an illustrator, calligrapher, and former architecture student, that’s what she did instinctively, or compulsively. The surveying pause of the artist before the brush lands on the paper. But she was working blind. That was true punishment.
Last fall, Ruth met Jan at a potluck thanksgiving in Brooklyn. They had an immediate, inexplicable rapport in the way only true odd couples can. Five foot ten, pale with raven-black hair, Ruth is from Melbourne, Florida, the daughter of conservative Christians. One of five children, she was homeschooled, wore long skirts, and was not allowed to listen to “music with rhythms.” She describes the environment as “a radical, defy-the-man mixture of religion and hippy anarchism.” She was pulled out of first grade just as she was just learning cursive. “I only knew half the cursive alphabet. It was something I was kind of embarrassed about.” As a result, two years ago, at age twenty-nine, she decided to teach herself to script. “Being homeschooled and being separated, it’s easy to cherish and hold on to, but at the same time it’s really painful,” she says. “Reality is so different from that precious bubble. I wanted to work on communicating with people. Now I’m scripting like everyone who went to school.” She became so adept at it that she was able to find work writing invitations and addressing formal envelopes. Read More »
June 11, 2012 | by Witold Gombrowicz
Among literature’s famous first lines, we must include this one: “Monday. Me. Tuesday. Me. Wednesday. Me. Thursday. Me.” It comes from Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary, widely considered the Polish author’s masterpiece. Yet Gombrowicz didn’t make his first entry until 1953, when he was forty-nine and an expatriate in Argentina, and the last entry was made in 1969 from France, shortly before his death. Still, the Diary lacks for nothing: history, politics, philosophy, literature, art, music, love, death, humor, communism, Poland, Europe, writing—everything is there.
Long out of print, the Diary will be republished next week by Yale University Press as part of their Margellos World Republic of Letters series. But we have unofficially dubbed this one Gombrowicz Week and will be sharing entries from 1954 and 1955 here daily.
Yesterday (Thursday) a cretin began to bother and worry me all day. Perhaps it would be better not to write about this … but I do not want to be a hypocrite in this diary. It began when I first went to Acasusso to Mr. Alberto H.’s (an industrialist and engineer) for breakfast. At first glance, his villa seemed too Renaissance, but not betraying this impression, I sat down at the table (also Renaissance) and began to eat dishes whose Renaissance in the course of eating became more and more obvious at which time the conversation, too, settled on the Renaissance until finally and completely openly and even passionately one began to adore Greece, Rome, naked beauty, the call of the flesh, evoe, Pathos and Ethos (?) and even some column or other on Crete. When it got to Crete, the cretin crawled out, crawled out (?) and crept up but not in Renaissance manner (?!) but quite neoclassically cretinously (?) (I know that I should not write about this, this sounds rather odd).
February 6, 2012 | by Lorin Stein
Last week Wisława Szymborska died in Kraków at the age of eighty-eight. Szymborska received the Nobel Prize in 1996 and was Poland’s best-loved living poet. Her poem “Negative” appeared in issue 144 of The Paris Review, translated by Joanna Trzeciak:
In the dun-colored sky
A cloud even more dun-colored
With the black outline of the sun.
To the left, that is, to the right
A white cherry branch with black flowers.
On your dark face, light shadows.
You have sat down at a small table
And laid your grayed hands on it.
You give the impression of a ghost
Who attempts to summon the living.
(Because I'm still counted among them,
I should appear and knock:
Good night, that is, good morning,
Farewell, that is, hello.
Not being stingy with questions to any answer
If they concern life,
That is, the storm before the calm.)
August 25, 2011 | by Yevgeniya Traps
The opening lines of “From a Great Mind,” a song by the Siberian folk-punk singer Yanka Dyagileva, run something like this when translated from Russian:
From a great mind, only madness and jail,
From a reckless head, only ditches and barriers,
From a beautiful soul, only scabs and lice,
From universal love, only bloodied physiognomies.
A similar sentiment animates “Ostalgia,” the recently opened exhibit at the New Museum in New York. The name for the show is taken from the German neologism ostalgie, a portmanteau of east and nostalgia meant to evoke a longing for life in East Germany, particularly its daily rituals and their trappings. But the show—and this is probably true of its namesake concept—is not really about a longing for communism. It is rather about the hunger for the kind of meaning that can only emerge from meaning’s suppression. Repressive regimes raise the stakes: under them, art is not something artists are paid to create, but something that extorts a price—perhaps a terrible one—from the artist. Ostalgie is not for the totalitarian government but for the clarity that emerges from the knowledge that great minds risked the gulag, the madhouse, the blindfold, and the rifle with every act of artistic creation. Read More »