- Double Marginality or/as Double Indemnity?: “Europe” in the Prose of Polish Women Writers
In this reading of several Polish women writers, I shall treat conceptualizations of space as a form of production of knowledge and thus a process imbricated in relations of power and such factors of power as class, race, or gender. 1 My project is to survey the ways in which Polish women authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century map out Europe, and Poland, within or against the received discourse of Polish nationalism. Paraphrasing Sara Mills’s assertion that “gender always makes a difference, particularly within the imperial context that is produced as a profoundly gendered environment” (30), I will argue that gender makes a great difference for the way Europe is mapped within or against the gendered discourse of Polish nationalism, which informs the bulk of what is commonly considered the canon of Polish “national literature.”2 [End Page 183] Measured against that canon—which includes the works of male Romantic poets (Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Norwid, Krasinski), male historical realist/romantic novelists of the 19th century (Sienkiewicz, Prus, Kraszewski), and male 20th century realist and post-romantic authors (Reymont, Kasprowicz, Wyspianski, Zeromski)—selected prose of Maria Konopnicka, Pola Gojawiczynska, Zofia Nalkowska, Maria Dabrowska, and Maria Kuncewiczowa, though otherwise variegated, shares a different vision of Poland in/and/against Europe. Their maps of the continent prove that “contestation and renegotiation of the meaning of spaces is . . . always possible” (Blunt and Rose 3), and that it can be effected by ignoring, challenging, or replacing the received typology of the continent, its underlying criteria, and the axiology which attaches to them.
Crucial for any reading of Polish women writers is the fact that they represent “a double margin” (Suleiman 148): as part of the Polish literary tradition, they are marginal in relation to the (Western) European literary tradition; as women authors, they are marginal in relation to mainstream Polish “national culture.” Hence their subject position resembles that of French women surrealists, whose work Susan Suleiman describes as “doubly intolerable, seen from the center [of mainstream Western European culture], because [it] escapes not one but two sets of expectations/categorizations” (152). In fact, this double escape leads Polish women writers to solutions very much like those of their surrealist sisters, as identified by Suleiman (162–164): instead of assuming the masculinist subject position of Polish national ideology and its repertoire of spatial tropes, they accept other subject positions and coin other tropes to map out the continent. More interestingly, these new tropes, countering the politics of nationalism and its essentialist concepts of identity, hint at a positional politics of identity and a politics of difference which preoccupy many feminists today (Blunt and Rose 7). Polish women writers not only draw on the “empowering aspect of . . . marginality” (Suleiman 153), a position which “provides the female subject with a kind of centrality, in her own eyes” (153), but begin to reconceptualize it as a cognitive and aesthetic advantage. As a result, a quest for a crystallized national identity and a clear-cut, polarized mapping of Europe, which underpins Polish nationalism, is in their works [End Page 184] replaced by a relational, complex, and non-essentializing vision of identity and the space called Europe. Polish women’s Europe is not a bi-polar, tri-partite system of oppositional forces, but a space more multidimensional, provisional, experiential, yet also more cohesive and rich in horizontal links than vertical divisions and border-lines. Its geography consists more in borderlands than clearly differentiated realms separated by symbolic borders. It thus resembles geographies devised by some feminists of color and proponents of the politics of difference, in that it too, as Blunt and Rose put it, erases the “divisions and enmities which so many borders evoke, with their hostile definitions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and their violent visions of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’” (5) and opens more dimensions of cohesion by erasing the stereotypical simplistic axes of division (6–8).
The Polish nationalist discourse poses specific challenges to writers like Konopnicka, Nalkowska, or Gojawiczynska. Though masculinist and patriarchal, that discourse—like that of surrealism (Suleiman 157–158)—is oppositional, and thus suspicious of...