Monday, May 5, 2014

Cyprian Norwid's and Joseph Conrad's epic in the view of modernism

Karol Samsel

The subject of the dissertation is the epic of Cyprian Norwid and Joseph Conrad situated in the comparatistic perspectives. Likewise, the work of Norwid and Conrad has been placed in the context of the both writers otherness: otherness of language and otherness of fate. Their relation with the romantic tradition, particularly individualism, wallenrodism and the Walterskotian type of literature happened to be the essential historic qualification of that dissidence.

            The aim of the dissertation is to set the parallel between two Polish-deriving epic writers, Cyprian Norwid, whose works are entirely immersed in the 19th century and Joseph Conrad vel. Konrad Korzeniowski, whose the most significant and influential epic works had been edited in the breakthrough of 19th and 20th century. As author deeply believes, the complete apprehension of Conradian’s outlook and also the discussion over his impact on 20th century moral Polish writers like Czesław Miłosz or Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, by no means would not have been possible without inclusion of Norwid’s vision of epic literature. In both ways, Conradian and Norwidian, epic’s creation ‘personates’ the unique, semi-literary and semi-existencial, expression of the otherness.

Cyprian Norwid,

Contrary to expectation, the experiencing of otherness in these cases has not been limited only to the one situation of exile (both Norwid and Conrad were considered to be political emigrants), but also to the many symbolic exile situations connected with the main problems of Polish insurrectionary culture, most of all crystallised in the expansive and idiomatic, Polish romantic literature, founded and refounded on the wallenrodic ethos of Adam Mickiewicz. Given that, it enables to trace in Norwid’s and Conrad’s poses all main elements of the Utopian escaper’s posing (Barańczak’s term). The strongest articulation of this meaningful resistance is antiwallenrodism (clearly expressed in the Norwidian poem Quidam and the Conradian novel Nostromo) and lingual escapism. In Conrad’s case it is external: from Polish and Polishness to English and Englishness. In Norwid’s, just the opposite, internal: from the brightness to the darkness of Polish speech.

            The ambiguity of Norwidian and Conradian otherness, situated beyond the frame of romantic theory of creation meant here as the theory of epic writing (among all: beyond the frame of the Walterskotian theory of narrative), can be easily explained in the context of the modern theory of novel in England. Therefrom, as far as I’m concerned, might be drawn the main inspiration of Norwid’s so called Italian novelettes and all Conrad’s proses. As I’m convinced, it was rooted in Henry James’s opus: from Daisy Miller (1878) to Ambassadors (1903). Norwid could have read a few short stories written by James till 1883. The most probable are the reminiscences binding Daisy Miller with Stigma and Ad leones! with Madonna of the Future edited and published in 1879.

The similarity has been noticed also in the nearing Norwid’s and Conrad’s choice of writing strategies. Norwid’s and (in the same way) Conrad’s epic craftmanship were scooped mostly from the English modern writing technics, first of all – drawn from the James’s manner. Both of them (Norwid as well as Conrad) rejected Walterskotian mode of creation by exposing its’ anachronic elements and used common strategies. To enumerate them: resonating and screening memory technics, silence and concealment as the heart of the narrative, also the metod of ciphering the plot and all the references. Taking it into account, the Norwidian-Conradian epic writing system outgrew from the primal and indefinable experience of self-otherness, inscribed in the sublanguage named by Edward Said as the existence idiom. The fourth chapter of dissertation has been spared to the preliminary description of that specific term at the field of Norwid’s and Conrad’s letters refered to the European culture crisis. It clearly indicates that the Norwidian-Conradian existence idiom should be interpreted as the representation of doubled and bivalent existence in fear and existence in duty.

The parallel between Norwid and Conrad, exquisite and tending to slip out of conclusion, demands completion throughout the additional liaisons. In the dissertation I endeavor to discuss over the common ground of the artistic work of Norwid and Apollo Nałęcz-Korzeniowski, Conrad’s father. Moreover, I aim to sketch these Norwid’s atributes that underlie the similarities between him and Tadeusz Bobrowski, Conrad’s uncle in the reflection of their opinions about January Uprising and the problem of enfranchisement. In spite of the wide range of convergences the parallel Norwid-Conrad would not be entirely formed without disparities. The vital difference ought to be fused with the idea of beauty as the aim and the instrument of epic writer’s practice. To this question had been devoted Norwid’s Promethidion and Conrad’s Preface to The Nigger of the „Narcissus”. Norwidian conception of beauty is an epiphanic, humane-divine hybrid, whereas Conradian – still remains an epiphenomenal, humane-only monolith. Both sets could have been and were absorbed by the current of modernity.

Norwid’s epic craftmanship – on Polish ground precursory and still underestimated – has already become the modernist’s craft, what however can be illustrated properly not before the collation of all his prose and the output of Joseph Conrad. Parallel Norwid-Conrad was frequently stipulated by conradists, among them – by Stefan Zabierowski. Meanwhile simultaneously with the emphasis of Norwid’s lyric, succeeding interpretations of poetic series Vade-mecum, the epic root of his work seemed to be reversed. Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, the excellent example of Conrad’s epic provides the new opening of Norwid’s reading and also awares that – after the discussion over the scope of Norwid’s inspiration on French symbolism – that mode of reading has happened to be the first neglected and still unexplored way of modern orientation of Norwid’s writing.

Joseph Conrad, by Alvin Langdon Coburn
In the view of contemporary conradists Norwid – as the writer interested in raising moral issues and the author of short stores – on the one hand approaches to the description of morality created by Conrad-epic, nevertheless on the second hand – recedes from it closer – concerning opinions – to Korzeniowski’s and Bobrowski’s families than to Conrad alone. With Apollo Nałęcz-Korzeniowski, his father, the field of connection reaches the common attitude to the drama and translation as well as the expressive censure of the new shape of customs. With Tadeusz Bobrowski, uncle – encompasses rigorous evaluation of January Uprising, anti-insurrectionism and the condition of „ironic witness of the catastrophe”. Without Norwidian nineteenth centurity (more explicitly than without Mickiewicz’s or Słowacki’s nineteenth centurity) slightly is not possibile rereading of complete twentieth century reception of Conrad-Korzeniowski in Polish literature, especially in works of Czesław Miłosz or Gustaw Herling-Grudziński.

The bond of these epics is a matter of fact that both of them expressed the experience of otherness pervaded by the aspect of emigratory exile and transformed from the initial, romantic experience of emigration to the new modern type. Both artists had been using „the exile speech” repudiating the prophetic discourse of „pilgrimage-soldiery”. Conrad – as a child of deportees, Norwid – as a victim of Paskiewicz’s confiscations, either of them – each particularly – as „the emigrants against emigration” (H. Siewierski). The line of connection is also the line of intense distrust to the potency of Polish literary language, whose founder was Jan Kochanowski, specially: to the very actual „state of Polish speech”: the language of romantic epic. Norwid had strived for extension of its borders agreeably with the spirit of new time, which from Spring of Nations is modern: endeavored to introduce semi-intellectual and semi-esoteric element and constructed the multiperspectivity of the text. Conrad resigned from the Polish language implied as a literary „material”: all his works having written and published in English.

One of the fields of artistic negation was the romantic influence of Walter Scott’s prose, precisely saying: the rejection of Walterskotian writing myth and framing of literature. Norwid’s antiwalterscottism – beginning from 1840, the time of writing the short story Łaskawy opiekun, czyli Bartłomiej Alfonsem – had to be considered as the declaration of antipedagogy turned against Walterskotian works thematised by the plot of so called „good education” and pedagogical ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In unfinished poems A Dorio ad Phrygium and Emil na Gozdawiu Norwid discredited the Walteskotian myths of the family, familiarity and the optimistic vision of time and history. The chain of artistic Scotian stylisations and paraphrases have been here coupled with the depth of the Norwid’s reckoning with that type of literature. In similar way – as the novel and long short story paraphrasing Walterskotian language, plot and situation – have been constructed Conradian Chance and The Duel

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