Kosciuszko Foundation Online Programs
“I got imprisoned for rock and roll”:
Andrzej Stasiuk and the Literature of Periphery
A lecture by Dr. Krzysztof Gajewski
The lecture is presented in cooperation with the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences and is part of the Tadeusz Solowij Lectures of the Kosciuszko Foundatio
From the Kosciuszko Foundation website: Andrzej Stasiuk (b. 1960) is one of the most renowned Polish writers of the turn of 20 and 21 centuries. In his case, biography is intermingled with the artistic creation and almost inseparable from it. The culture of the United States played a key role in his intellectual formation. He calls himself a child of communism and American pop-culture. Stasiuk's prose's point of departure is a margin and a periphery in sociological, cultural, moral, and geographical meaning. He continually plays a game with his provincial origins, both in social and national dimensions, and seeks to penetrate the global province such as Central and Eastern Europe to find his own private cultural and spiritual center in it.
The literature of periphery tells stories about places, persons, and things that do not belong to the mainstream of history, culture, or politics. The term was coined ad hoc to refer to Andrzej Stasiuk's literary fiction, but it can also be applied to other writers from the history of Polish literature, such as, for instance, Bruno Schulz, Stanisław Vincenz, Marek Nowakowski, Sokrat Janowicz, or, Stasiuk's literary master, Zygmunt Haupt. The magnificent examples from the US literary history can be evoked too, such as John Steinbeck or William Faulkner. In traditional literary theory, one can find the term "regionalism," and to some extent, it is close to the notion of the periphery. The latter contains an internal and strong connection to the broadly understood processes of colonization the former is deprived of.
In his lecture, Dr. Gajewski will present several forms of the periphery that can be encountered in Stasiuk's prose starting with the biographical periphery of the hero of this prose, as well as the real author, grows up — a small town, on the suburbia of a big city. Subsequently, the social periphery will be reconstructed on the basis of Stasiuk's work of fiction in its several shapes, regarding education, army, prison, physical work, and financial status. The next aspect of the periphery will concern politics. Communism seems to be a mark of the periphery, as well as the national homogeneity of Poland, contrasted to the melting pot of nations of south-central Europe. Finally, the cultural periphery, which is defined as an importer of pop-culture from the US. US pop stars and westerns become a sign of universal identity for inhabitants of territories spanning from Poland to far Russia. The notion of the periphery is manifestly relative. For the writer, Southern Poland is a periphery from the point of view of Central Poland, as well as East/South Europe vs. North/West Europe, in particular, Poland for Germany, and all the Slavonic nations for West European nations. Stasiuk builds semantic axes according to those oppositions and plays delicious literary games, primarily based on the provocative exchange of values of the opposed elements.
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