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ESSAYS BETRAYED BY JERZY KOSINSKI / Jerome Klinkowitz [Note to the reader: You are reading what is known as a samizdat—an informal essay prepared for circulation among friends and editors in circumstances where formal publication would seem impractical (the term originates with Soviet dissidents who were denied easy access to the established media). I first wrote it in February, 1981, drawing on partial drafts dating back to October, 1979, when I returnedfrom a briefvisit to Poland, where Ihad lectured on contemporary American fiction for the Ministry of Higher Education. Its purpose was, and still is, to set the record straight on the two Kosinskipieces that I'd done much earlier for the academic press: "Jerzy Kosinski: An Interview" (conducted in November, 1971, first printed in the premier issue of Joe David Bellamy's fiction international [Fall, 1973J, and then reprinted in Joe's anthology The New Fiction: Interviews with Innovative American Writers [1974J) and the chapter on Kosinski in my study Literary Disruptions: The Making of a Post-Contemporary American Fiction (1975). Even before going to Poland, I'd begun to note inconsistencies among the autobiographical stories that Kosinski had told me, and by the Summer of 1979—when I'd read galleys of his forthcoming novel Passion Play and heard conflicting reports bouncing around New York—I came to regret having endorsed his unverifiable material as scholarly fact. Kosinski's autobiography seemed to have been reinvented for a transient market at each turn of events. At the same time, I began to dislike his newer fiction, which disappointed me with its self-indulgence and gratuitous cruelty—two familiar charges which his earlier novels had successfully withstood. Therefore, when the Chicago Sun-Times asked me to review Passion Play, I submitted a notice praising some of its good elements but deploring its "anti-democratic fascination with the very rich." When the review appeared on September 2, I sent a copy to Kosinski, adding that I felt badly about this new direction in his work. "Even 'Stupid Ludmilla,'" I told him, referring to a tormented character in The Painted Bird, "was loved," whereas Passion Play was disproportionately hateful and overwrought. A few weeks later, Kosinski phoned, wishing me a good trip to Poland and saying that he didn't mind the review, even though it had "followed him around the country"—apparently the Field News Service had put it on their wire and local papers covering Kosinski's promotional tour and had reprinted the piece nearly everywhere he appeared. Abroad, I heard even more conflicting stories about Kosinski—not rumors but points offact, such as those concerning the political circumstances in the Soviet Union and in Poland at the time that he had left. Because of the conflicting stories thatJerzy himselfhad been telling me, I felt obliged to sort out my own experiences with the man and his writing. Happily, I can report that, for good reasons, his texts survive intact. For the very same reasons, however, his autobiography does not. Since Ifirst drafted and The Missouri Review · 257 circulated my Samisdat, there have been a great number ofessays published in its wake, most notably Barbara GeWs "Being jerzy Kosinski" in the New York Times Magazine (February 22, 2982), Geoffrey Stokes and Eliot FreemontSmith 's "Jerzy Kosinski's Tainted Words" in the Village Voice (June 22, 2982), and John Corry's "A Case History: 17 Years ofIdeological Attack on a Cultural Target" in the New York Times "Arts & Leisure" section (November 7, 1982). All were front-page stories. I still consider myself a critical advocate of Kosinski's literary work, and I admire his skill and charm as a self-publicist (talents to which I myself succumbed). The "betrayed" in my title is an allusion to Manuel Puig's novel Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, in which the act of betrayal is gently seductive and pleasurable even in retrospect—yet betrayal just the same.J IT WAS JERZY Kosinski on the phone—an instrument which he uses like a whip—and his shrill voice was snapping out instructions with an intensity which imparted to everything he said an aura of truth and authority. Everything. Before, it had been such matters as his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 155-171
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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