Geschichte und kommunistische Gegenwart: Historiosophische Positionen und ihre narrative Präsentation in Essay und Roman der Volksrepublik Polen. By Christoph Garstka. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2016. 531 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Photographs. €75.00, hard bound

Christopher Caes
<span title="">2018</span> <i title="Cambridge University Press (CUP)"> <a target="_blank" rel="noopener" href="https://fatcat.wiki/container/gqmvmalvdfeqxj6535sanc7jfi" style="color: black;">Slavic Review: Interdisciplinary Quarterly of Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies</a> </i> &nbsp;
This absorbing book concerns the ways in which authors of historical fiction and historical essays in the middle years of the People's Republic of Poland made use of the past to represent, to criticize, to model, to transform-in short, to point atthe present. The book's wager is that these authors can be distributed across a historiosophical opposition: if one thinks history unfolds according to a teleological "master narrative," then the present, via historical analogy, can be made to make
more &raquo; ... e; but if one thinks that history has no telos or truth, then historical discourse must properly tend towards play, towards the grotesque and the absurd, towards irony and metafiction. The opposition is Gombrowiczian in inspiration and Christoph Garstka takes it from a 1953 passage in the émigré writer's diary in which he suggests that communism and Catholicism, far from being unlike, are fundamentally similar in that both are founded upon a belief in truth. Witold Gombrowicz, opposing unbelief to belief, undoes the initial opposition, creating in turn a new, more productive one. Garstka adapts this tripartite scheme as an effective device for thinking about attitudes towards history. Why history? Garstka's answer to this is that given Poland's nineteenth-century experience of statelessness and its occupation by imperialist neighbors in the mid-twentieth, Poles tend to seek to understand contemporary reality not through existing political institutions, but through history, more specifically, through the telling in the present of stories about the past. Garstka buttresses and enriches this truism via a foray into and sustained dialog with the thought of Paul Ricoeur, who in his Time and Narrative (1983-85) posits the fundamentally narrative character of human knowledge and identity. In Garstka's hands, Polish culture becomes a privileged domain in which to observe the working out of Ricoeur's theory, for Poland's recurrently "chaotic" present has compelled cultural producers to turn repeatedly toward the past as a reservoir of more-or-less ready made, yet malleable narrative patterns. In terms of authors, Garstka places on the side of belief in history the early Marxist Jan Kott, the early Marxist Igor Newerly, Catholic writers Hanna Malewska and Jan Dobraczyński, as well as, perhaps surprisingly, refined historical moralist Andrzej Szczypiorski and post-Conradian humanist Jan Józef Szczepański. On the side of the historical unbelievers, Garstka situates the late (ex-Marxist) Jan Kott, ex-Marxist émigré writer Witold Wirpsza, ex-Stalin-era party writers Mieczysław Jastrun, Jacek Bocheński, Jerzy Andrzejewski, and Kazimierz Brandys, national historical anatomizer Władysław Terlecki, proto-post-modernist Teodor Parnicki, and, perhaps surprisingly, poet and essayist Zbigniew Herbert. Based on this diverse list, one might wonder whether a single opposition can do justice to so many different writers. For instance, despite the fact that Szczepański's historical novels Icarus (1966) and Island (1968) assume the absence of any transcendental historical foundation, whether God, Fatherland, or humanity, Garstka nevertheless plots him among the "historical believers" for his injunction-à la Conrad-to find a higher order within oneself in the form of honesty and reason. This would seem to align this "Catholic skeptic" more with poet Zbigniew Herbert's stance in Barbarian in the Garden (1962), in which historical progress is revealed as an illusion behind which stands nothing more than the will to power, yet in which an existential commitment to those disinherited and forgotten by the false master narrative is
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