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Title: Special Issue on Marian Pankowski (of the journal "Russian Literature", LXX-IV)
Editors: Van Heuckelom, Kris
De Bruyn, Dieter
Issue Date: 2011
Publisher: Elsevier Publishing
Series Title: Russian Literature vol:LXX-IV
Abstract: The first cluster of three papers in the special issue on Marian Pankowski focuses on the various aspects and functions of gender and sexual identities in Pankowski’s writings. By means of a ‘revindicative’, feminist reading of a selection of Pankowski’s works, Inga Iwasiów challenges the “conviction that the transgressive edge of his texts deconstructs gender binaries”. The author examines feminine roles in Pankowski’s writings within three intersecting areas: the motherland, the bunker as a symbol of hidden, preserved histories, and liberal discourse. She demonstrates that Pankowski’s subversion of existing norms does not necessarily imply a complete departure from patriarchal discourse: “While masculinity evades the norm through homosexual code and the experience of the concentration camp, war, and emigration, femininity turns out to be more stable. This is […] an important paradox: while language, the concept of nation, and social roles change, the phantasms of femininity seem most resilient to change and stand strong against the efforts of deconstruction.” Jan Bińczycki, for his part, seems to second some of Iwasiów’s thoughts on the subversive power of masculinity in his analysis of male characters in Pankowski’s novels Matuga idzie, Rudolf, Putto, and Bal wdów i wdowców (The Widows’ and Widowers’ Ball), and in his novella Ostatni zlot aniołów (The Last Convention of Angels). Bińczycki argues that in many of Pankowski’s prose works the formation of male identity is usually associated with certain initiation experiences from early youth and childhood. A surprising reference point in the analysis is Robert Bly’s reading of the “Iron John” tale by the Grimm brothers. It turns out that in Pankowski’s anthropology “strength is the essence of masculinity – strength that manifests itself in the ability to transcend culture, to survive disappointment, to tear down stereotypes”. Last, in her reading of those parts of Pankowski’s literary output that deal with concentration camp reality Bożena Shallcross emphasizes the more shady sides of male and, especially, gay identity formation in the already traumatizing circumstances of imprisonment. She contends that, by explicitly focusing on generally marginalized concentration camp figures such as the Schwule, the Pipel, and the Muselmann, Pankowski challenges the dominant martyrological model of describing camp reality and its “well-established pattern of devoicing such non-heroic figures”.
The second set of three essays further explores the critical edge of Pankowski’s writings by focusing on the various ways in which his texts challenge the norms, myths, and stereotypes that are traditionally associated with Polish and Western European culture. In her article Jolanta Pasterska offers a panoramic overview of Pankowski’s literary rebellion against “stereotypical representations of both his motherland and the West”. According to her, what is at the centre of Pankowski’s reckonings with his native historical, romantic, religious, and corporal taboos and schemata on the one hand, and with the myth of Polish emigration on the other, is the resistance of the individual to “the interference of the “homogenising energy” of the homeland or the foreign land [...] in [his or her] private life”. Krystyna Latawiec, for her part, describes Pankowski as a writer who has always taken up a position somewhere in between the Polish Romantic tradition and European rationalism. She argues that this has proven to be personally and artistically fruitful, as it allowed him to fashion himself as both a critical Pole and a critical human being: “For the Poles, he is a “rationalist”, who shows the void behind the rituals of their social and religious life, while for a western reader, he is an “anarchist”, who abandons the symmetrical Cartesian gardens”. Another realm where issues of Polish national identity and of global ethics intersect is that of concentration camp experience. In his article Piotr Krupiński supports Bożena Shallcross’s emphasis on the anti-martyrological tendency of Pankowski’s literary accounts of camp life. Krupiński argues that Pankowski’s literary project both reiterates and complements the positions that have been taken up by famous predecessors such as Tadeusz Borowski and Imre Kertész. By focusing on the highly sensitive issues of religion and homosexuality – two revolutions of ‘Planet Auschwitz’ – the paper demonstrates that Pankowski’s texts constitute a strikingly individual engagement with one of the central paradoxes that occupies the anti-martyrological current in Holocaust literature, i.e. that “the camp is shocking not because it constitutes a gap in the surface of civilized reality but because it distinctively starts to merge with this surface”.
The authors of the last cluster of essays focus rather on single questions and themes pertaining to Pankowski’s literary output. Karolina Felberg takes his ‘seniorical’ prose (and more exactly the novel Bal wdów i wdowców and the micro-novel “Pismo w stronę miłości” (“Writing Towards Love”)) as a starting point for her ruminations on the ways in which the author manages to transform his own experience of ageing from a melancholic into an ecstatic literary experience. Another of Pankowski’s ‘seniorical’ texts, Ostatni zlot aniołów, is at the centre of Krystyna Ruta-Rutkowska’s paper on the issue of religion in the author’s complete works. Ruta-Rutkowska convincingly argues that religion has always been an important point of reference in Pankowski’s literary output, in its sociological and ceremonial, as well as in its anthropological and philosophical dimension. Ostatni zlot aniołów offers both a culmination of these aspects and a clear preference for the pragmatic dimension of religion. Although it is tempting to interpret this return to religious issues in the light of the process of ageing, she contends, “it does not bring ‘the last word’ but rather shows Pankowski’s indulgence for religious needs as ‘beneficial illusions’”. The shared belief that, no matter from what critical angle this peculiar prose is analyzed, it keeps resisting a definitive reading, is approached from a metapoetical and metanarrative point of view in Michał Bandura’s paper on the problem of representation in Pankowski’s works. By means of a series of well-chosen examples Bandura proves that Pankowski incessantly foregrounds the “crisis of mimesis”, either by exposing the various codes which lie at the basis of the process of literary mimesis, or by breaking the narrative frame of his works. Issues that are only briefly touched upon and that demand further examination include the question of autobiographical writing and the problem of representing concentration camp experiences. In the concluding article of this special issue, Przemysław Czapliński resumes many of the issues raised in the previous papers in his discussion of Pankowski’s ambiguous position toward the canon (to be understood as “a set of principles determining those articulations that are permitted in a given culture”). Czapliński discerns three subsequent approaches of the canon in Pankowski’s prose works: his early attack on the canon with counterofficial contents; the subversive staging, in his more mature novels, of the conflict between the official and the forbidden; and the surprising reaffirmation, in his most recent works, of the canon (to be understood now as “as an individually established set of principles”). As he concludes, this “canon of individual temptation, based on a freedom to self-restriction, is a sort of utopian gift for the new century from the youngest of the oldest writers”.
ISSN: 0304-3479
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IBe
Appears in Collections:Slavonic and East European Studies, Leuven

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