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Polishness, Country and Exile



To turn the complacent, preening Pole, so enamoured of himself, into a creature equally aware of its inadequacy and ephemerality—and turn this keenness of vision, this ruthlessness in not concealing weaknesses into a strength. Not only would our approach to history and national art have to undergo annihilation, but our entire notion of patriotism would get transformed at its base. More, a lot more, our entire attitude toward the world would have to change and our assignment then would no longer be working out some sort of specific Polish form, but the acquisition of a new approach to form as something that is endlessly created by people and never satisfies them.
Diary, 1955 [Trans. Vallee]
Thus my desire to ‘overcome Poland’ was synonymous with the desire to strengthen our individual Polishness. I simply wanted the Pole to stop being the product ‘of’ an exclusively collective life and ‘for’ a collective life. I wanted to complete him. To legitimize his other pole—the pole of individual life—and stretch him between the two. I wanted to have him between Poland and his own existence—in a perspective more dialectical and full of antinomies, conscious of his internal contradictions and capable of exploiting them for his own development.
Diary, 1957 [Trans. Vallee]


Know that your country is neither Grójec nor Skierniewice, not even Poland itself, and blush with energy at the thought that the country is you! So what if you are not in Grodno, Kutno, or Jedlińsk. Has man ever lived anywhere else other than in himself? You are at home even if you were to find yourself in Argentina or Canada, because a homeland is not a blot on a map but the living essence of man. […]
I say: Don’t be crybabies! Do not forget that as long as you lived in Poland, not one of you was as concerned with Poland because it was an everyday event. Today, on the other hand, you no longer live in Poland so Poland resides more forcefully in you and it should be present in you as your deepest humanity, the polished work of generations. Know that wherever the eyes of a young man uncover his destiny in the eyes of a girl, a homeland is born. Whenever anger or admiration find themselves on your lips, whenever villainy is struck a blow, whenever the word of the wise man or Beethoven’s song ignites your soul leading it into unearthly spheres, whether it be Alaska or the equator, a homeland is born. On Saxon Square in Warsaw, in Krakow’s marketplace, you will be homeless vagrants, homebodies without a corner, wanderers, hopelessly crude moneymakers, if you allow pettiness to kill all the beauty inside you.
Diary, 1953 [Trans. Vallee]


Cioran’s words reek of a basement coolness and the rot of a grave, but they are too petty. Who is he talking about? Who should one understand to be the ‘writer in exile?’ Adam Mickiewicz wrote books and so does Mr. X, quite correct and readable ones, both are ‘writers,’ and, nota bene, writers in exile, but here all parallels end.
Rimbaud? Norwid? Kafka? Słowacki? (There are a variety of exiles.) I believe that none of them would have been too horrified at this category of hell. […]
… but art is loaded with elements of loneliness and self-sufficiency, it finds its satisfaction and sense of purpose in itself. The homeland? Why, every eminent person because of that very eminence was a foreigner even at home. Readers? Why, they never wrote ‘for’ readers anyway, always ‘against’ them. Honors, success, renown, fame: why, they became famous exactly because they valued themselves more than their success. […]
Instead, it seems to me that theoretically speaking and by bypassing material hardship, the immersing of oneself in the world, that is, emigration, should constitute an incredible stimulus for literature.
For lo and behold the country’s elite is kicked out over the border. It can think, feel, and write from the outside. It gains distance. It gains an incredible spiritual freedom. All bonds burst. One can be more of oneself. In the general din all the forms that have existed until now loosen up and one can move toward the future in a more ruthless way. […]
… I do not deny at all that overcoming these problems requires a great determination and boldness of spirit. It is not easy to be an émigré writer, which means almost total isolation. Why should it be surprising, therefore, that overcome by our own weakness and the enormity of the tasks, we bury our heads in the sand and, organizing parodies of the past for ourselves, we flee the big world to live in our little one?
Diary, 1953 [Trans. Vallee]
Only a universal culture can come to terms with the world, never parochial cultures, never those who live only on fragments of existence. Only he who knows how to reach deeper, beyond the homeland, only he for whom the homeland is but one of the revelations in an eternal and universal life, will not be incited to anarchy by the loss of his homeland. The loss of a homeland will not disturb the internal order of only those whose homeland is the world. Contemporary history has turned out to be too violent and borderless for literatures too national and specific.
Diary, 1953 [Trans. Vallee]