Sunday, December 23, 2007

The third member of the Polish Triumvarate

Chopin is Polish, Copernicus is Polish, Polish. Whenever I try to establish the intellectual superiority of the Poles a I am always left with a blank space in my triangle. As we all know the triangle is the strongest geometric shape known to man thus one must be able to rattle off three significant intellectual figures as a basis for cultural greatness. Having been "educated" in the United States for most of my life 'Polish' was a synonym for big dumb guy with an enormous cock. Although the 'dumb' part was the only aspect that ever bothered me it always chagrins me to learn of all the towering intellects from Poland who were kept hidden from my developing mind.

Leave it to a fellow central European to rescue me. Kundera (may peace be upon him) loves to tell us who his favorite authors are. He has singlehandedly introduced me to more great literature than any teacher I have ever had. The latest holds special sway over my heart as he is not only a fellow Pole but wrote the following:

Memories, memories! My head tucked under my pillow, my legs under the covers, tossing about between fear and laughter, I took stock of my entrance into the adult world. There is too much silence about the personal, inner hurts and injuries inflicted by that entrance, the grave consequences of which remain with us forever. Men of letters, those men who have a God-given talent to write on the subject as such remote and indifferent matters as, for example, the grief in the soul of Emperor Charles II caused by Brunhilde's marriage, shudder at the thought of mentioning the most important issue--the metamorphosis into a public and social being. They prefer, it seems, to have everyone think of them as writers inspired by the grace of God, not man, and to imagine that they have dropped from the sky, talent and all; they are too embarrassed to shed any light on the concessions they had to make as individuals, on the personal defeats they had to endure in order to acquire the right to expound on Brunhilde or, for that matter, on the lives of beekeepers. No, not a word about their own lives--only about the lives of beekeepers. Indeed, having produced twenty books on the lives of beekeepers, one can be immortalized--but what is the connection, where is the bond between the king of beekeepers and the inner man, between the man and the youth, between the youth and the boy, the boy and the child that, after all, he once was, what comfort is the king to the little brat in you? A life unmindful of these bonds, a life that does not evolve in unbroken continuity from one phase to another is like a house that is being built from the top down, and must inevitably end in a schizophrenic split of the inner self.

Memories! Mankind is accursed because our existence on this earth does not tolerate any well-defined and stable hierarchy, everything continually flows, spills over, moves on, everyone must be aware of and be judged by everyone else, and the opinions that the ignorant, dull, and slow-witted hold about us are no less important that the opinions of the bright, the enlightened, the refined. This is because man is profoundly dependent on the reflection of himself in another man's soul, be it even the soul of an idiot. I absolutely disagree with my fellow writers who treat the opinions of the dull witted with an aristocratic haughtiness and declare:
odi profanum vulgus. What a cheap and simplistic way of avoiding reality, what a shoddy escape into specious loftiness! I maintain, on the contrary, that the more dull and narrow-minded they are, the more urgent and compelling are their opinons, just as an ill-fitting shoe hurts us more than a well fitting-one. Oh, those judgments, the bottomless pit of peoples judgments and opinions about your wisdom, feeling and character, about all the details of your personality--it's a pit that opens up before the daredevil who drapes his thoughts in print and lets them loose on paper, oh, printed paper, paper, paper! And I'm not even talking about the heartfelt opinions so fondly held by our aunts, no, I mean the opinions of those other aunts--the cultural aunts, those female semi-writers and tacked on semi-critics who make pronouncements in literary magazines. Indeed , world culture has been beset by a flock of superfluous hens patched-on, pinned-on, to literature, who have become finely tuned to spiritual values and well versed in aesthetics, frequently entertaining view and opinions of their own, who have caught on to the notions that Oscar Wilde is passe and that Bernard Shaw is a master of paradox. Oh, they are on to the fact that they must be independent, profound, unobtrusively assertive, and filled with auntie kindliness. Auntie, auntie, auntie! Unless you have ever found yourself in the laboratory of a cultural aunt and been dissected, mute and without a groan, by her trivializing mentality that turns all life lifeless, unless you have ever seen an aunties critique of yourself in a newspaper, you have no concept of triviality, and auntie triviality in particular.

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