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 “Who Is My Neighbor?” Ethics under Duress joanna zylinska Tower block living, an urban experiment designed to facilitate the cohabitation of different social classes, is a dream turned sour in postcommunist Poland. Dirty staircases, noisy refuse chutes, and stinking lifts covered in graffiti testify to the failure of the promise of a blissful communal life. And yet in this project of enforced neighborliness, multiple networks of proximity, friendship, and affection develop along the gray concrete corridors. But sometimes it can take a while for the delicate threads of these networks to become visible. When we first meet Jan Kochanowski, the main protagonist of Maciej Karpiński’s short story, Cud purymowy (The miracle of Purim), he is yet another anonymous character trapped in the alienation of caged living.1 Kochanowski is your average Polish guy, living with his wife and eighteenyear -old son in the city of Łódź on one of those tower block estates so beloved by communist city planners. Everything about Kochanowski—a Polish antihero who spends his days complaining about the hardship of everyday life and more often than not blaming it all “on the Jews”—seems to be just average. Everything apart from his name, that is, which he shares with the greatest Polish Renaissance poet, whose name remains engraved forever in the memory of all those who have been through the Polish educational system. Neighborly Revelations: The Miracle of Purim Early in the story we see Kochanowski going up in a scruffy lift to his flat. He lets his eyes wander aimlessly over the layers of graffiti, in which foot-  “L=D >H BN C:>CH@6  ing for turn out to be only a mirage, the protagonists are raised from the level of contemporary troglodytes to that of human beings.2 The story provides a narrative framework for the ubiquitous question of Judeo-Christian theology:“Who is my neighbor?” But rather than see it as a theological quandary underlying the debate between Jewish particularism and Christian universalism, I propose in this chapter to read this question as a broader politico-ethical injunction, one that envelops the complexities of neighborly relations on both the personal and sociopolitical levels. The term “neighbor,” I argue, contains a structural ambivalence, which defines a relationship of proximity between two individuals, families , tribes, or states precisely via their separation and difference. Seen as both a moral concept designating the physical and emotional proximity of dwellers and a political concept used to tie a community together, neighborliness is in fact predicated on the preservation of boundaries. It is thus always already threatened by antagonism and violence. I want to explore here the consequences of this structural ambivalence of neighborliness for Polish-Jewish relations before, during, and after the Holocaust. In particular , I want to argue that the injunction inherent in the question “Who is my neighbor?” compels us to address the issues of proximity, separation, and belonging in a way that goes beyond the moral discourses on “loving thy neighbor as thyself” on the one hand, and the political discourses on nationhood, national identity, and international conflict on the other. As well as exploring Polish-Jewish neighborliness in terms of physical proximity and distance, I thus consider the complicated networks of affection contained by this term. Contesting the oft upheld cliché that “Poles have sucked antisemitism with their mother’s milk” and that they hate the Jews, I want to propose that Polish-Jewish neighborliness encompassed a whole spectrum of conflicting and not always accounted-for emotions: from hate through to contempt, indifference, envy, obsession, desire, and even love. I also want to suggest that the mechanisms of self-love and selfhatred in operation on both sides of the neighborly divide complicate the picture even further.  “L=D >H BN C:>CH@6  focusing on one particular event: the event of Jedwabne—in which the Polish inhabitants of a small town in the northeast of Poland murdered their Jewish neighbors on July 10, 1941—and on the politico-ethico-theological debates this event has provoked. In doing so, I also postulate that, situated at the crossroads of historical and contemporary discourses about history, memory, politics, and national identity, what I want to call “event Jedwabne” can become a transformative experience and that in order for this transformation to take place, a certain universalization needs to be allowed . This universalization of “event Jedwabne” will enable me to think differently about Polishness, Polish-Jewish relations, and the broader...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780803205994
MARC Record
OCLC
154676978
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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