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Censorship JANUSZ GLOWACKI Translated by Jadwiga Kosicka In a handbook on psychiatry, I came across a description of something called the blank-page test. If an alcoholic in the last stages of delirium tremens is shown a blank sheet of paper, he starts reading'it without any hesitation, enumerating all his own obsessions, suspicions, the names of imaginary enemies, murderers, and so on. This sounded so familiar to me that I decided to write about censorship. At first I attempted to write an amusing piece in an amusing style, but the result was about as amusing as a mother of ten children discovering that she is pregnant for the eleventh time. Next I tried a dramatic approach, but treating the workings of censorship in Polish cultural life as a deadly serious phenomenon somehow does not strike the right note. Just imagine that army of bureaucrats filling hundreds of rooms in dozens ofdifferent buildings, all supplied with red pencils! An army trained in special seminars on subjects such as, "Simple and Complex Allusions in Literary Works," conducted by professors with unimpeachable moral and ideological credentials! An army in a state of dreadful fear and anxiety as it examines the text of every poem, song, and cabaret sketch, looking for potential threats to socialism or the influence of foreign agents! An army decorated with the highest state honors as "Builder of the Polish People's Republic" for its vigilant and courageous crossing out of words and phrases! Now that is material rather for a satirical comedy aLa Gogol, or perhaps for a Kafkaesque metaphysical comedy. By the way, it is symptomatic that during the past several decades not one single decent comedy has been written in Poland. The Polish authorities, like all inauthentic forms of authority, most hate and fear ridicule. What we are allowed to laugh at in Poland does not make anyone laugh. A play about what people really laugh at would never be passed by the censor in Poland. I mentioned Kafka on purpose. American scholars study the different levels ofKafka's symbolism. For Poles, Kafka is much simpler. A person goes to bed JANUSZ GLOWACKI a loyal citizen ofthe Polish People's Republic, and he is awakened at five in the morning as a notorious Japanese spy or a cockroach. No wonder that for many years Kafka's works were forbidden in Poland - was there not a direct allusion to "creeping extremism"? In the same period, the use of the word "Jew" or "German" was forbidden, too. "German" was ruled out because, in keeping with Marxist dialectics, the German nation had to be regarded as a heterogeneous phenomenon. There are good Germans in the East and bad Germans in the West. Censorship introduced several descriptive terms: "our neighbors from beyond the Oder River" or "our friends from beyond the Oder River" for East Germans, and "retaliationists" and "neo-Hitlerites" -for West Germans. The word "Jew" was forbidden for no specific reason at all as being too controversial. If worse came to worst, it could be replaced by "Zionist," or "an element culturally alien to us," or "an element with weak ties to the Polish nation." The word "censorship" could not be used either, because it was censored by the censor. Shakespeare supposedly complained that Queen Elizabeth ordered a scene cut from one of his plays - the deposing of the King in Richard II. If Shakespeare had been lucky enough to have been born in a country with a progressive system of government, blessed with the most democratic constitution in the world, and had brought his tragedies to the censor, that gentleman would first have had a good laugh at the playwright's audacity and then would have had him locked up until he could discover whether he was dealing with an imbecile or with an agent provocateur in the pay of a foreign government. In either case, the author would have been punished as he deserved, and his plays depicting rulers as criminals and their trusted counselors as clowns and scoundrels would have been deservedly forbidden as unabashed pessimism and attempted subversion of the established order through the use of force. Even Aristophanes' The Frogs was mercilessly censored...


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