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Beyond Aesthetics of Censorship: Tadeusz Konwicki's Ordinary Politicking

From: MFS Modern Fiction Studies
Volume 32, Number 1, Spring 1986
pp. 89-96 | 10.1353/mfs.0.1190

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

It is ironic that a writer who persistently tells us that he really has very little to offer his audience winds up on the blacklist. Beginning with his ninth novel The Polish Complex, Tadeusz Konwicki has been disregarding the censor by publishing A Minor Apocalypse and, most recently, Wschody i Zachody Ksiezyca (Moon Rises and Sets) in Zapis, an independent underground Polish literary quarterly reprinted in London by the Index on Censorship.1 Already widely acclaimed as a classic, A Minor Apocalypse is a fine example of the evolving conspiratorial style that parodies the allegorical parabolizing of contemporary history and the political allusiveness characteristic of the Soviet bloc mentality shaped by the elaborate system of censorship ingrained in the intellectual subconscious. Although A Minor Apocalypse invites subversive allegorizing, the social subtext is politically illusive and meticulously textured. Konwicki's subterranean thinking is calculated to force all that is underground above ground. Dreaming about the future for good or ill, in view of the "post-Marxist" experience, has become an anachronism, an expression of intellectual mediocrity hopelessly lost in an uneventful present.

The alternative is neither the left nor the right in the traditional political sense. Konwicki satirizes dystopian brooding about the impending totalitarian nightmare. The run-down imagination of A Minor Apocalypse evokes the atmosphere of George Orwell's 1984, Its victim-hero, Konwicki himself, suffering from an unrelieved hangover, moves from one savagely absurd adventure to another in a dingy world of a deteriorating Eastern European metropolis, He is never really sure about the purpose of his final journey to set himself on fire, presumably as a protest against the regime. While he wanders about the streets and back alleys of crumbling Warsaw, he dodges drunken demonstrators who are uncertain why they are parading about; meets disgruntled politicians who publicly divest themselves of their dogma as well as of their clothes; and makes love among the ruins of Szpilki (a magazine specializing in political satire) to Nadiezda, his Russian Hope. He is followed everywhere by his faithful dog and Tadzio, a provincial literary groupie with a gas can who turns out to be a secret police spook.

It may not be surprising that Konwicki, an auteurial filmmaker in his own right, has more in common with Jean-Luc Godard's "science fiction" vision in Alphaville with its deflated sensibility and sobering irony than with the intellectual angst of postrevolutionary apocalypses such as Zamyatin's We, Ĉapek's RUR, and Orwell's 1984. It is the present and not some distant future that overwhelms, terrifies, is inescapable. The future is now. Konwicki's fantasies are real enough. What seems like nonsense twists and turns around facts: On 16 January 1969 Jan Palach, a twenty-one-year-old student at Charles University publicly burned himself to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, sparking a demonstration of more than 100,000 people gathered at Wenceslas Square to commemorate his burial four days later. Little more than a month later, on February 25, eighteen-year-old Jan Zajic burned himself, arousing little public concern. Palach was seen as a martyr and was compared with Jan Huss, the Protestant reformer burned at the stake in 1415. Subsequent public burnings, however, were attributed to mental disturbances and alcoholism.

The most he can bequeath to posterity to redeem himself as a writer and to be of some use to the reader, Konwicki tells us in his will in A Minor Apocalypse, is a homey remedy for dandruff, a prescription to relieve constipation, and a handy trick to win at twenty-one. His apocalyptic end by self-immolation to protest Sovietization in Poland is a rather feeble, half-hearted affair of no real consequence. This personal protest, authentic only in the sense that Konwicki himself carries it out, is a hopeless gesture without any apparent significance. In fact, it may not even be a protest but a plot instigated by the secret police. And it probably will not be noticed or taken seriously by anyone because no one really cares, except perhaps the agent personally assigned to him, Nadiezda, and Konwicki himself.

Why then the sacrifice and for what purpose? To conquer the absurdity of history? To...