Disenchanted Europeans: Polish émigré writers from Kultura and the postwar reformulations of the West
Title: Disenchanted Europeans: Polish émigré writers from Kultura and the postwar reformulations of the West
Author: MIKOLAJEWSKI, Lukasz
Citation: Florence : European University Institute, 2012
Series/Report no.: EUI PhD theses; Department of History and Civilization
What are “Europe” and “the West”? How did the understandings of these notions change after World War II? In what way were they reconsidered and re-evaluated by the exiles from those European countries that, after 1945, found themselves in the Soviet sphere of influence? In the present study I offer answers to these questions by analyzing the literary responses to the political division of the continent made by two exiles associated with the Polish émigré periodical Kultura, Jerzy Stempowski and Andrzej Bobkowski. Analyzing these two writers’ autobiographical works, and placing them in the context of the debates on Europe’s crisis and the future of “Western civilization” that took place on the pages of the periodical in the 1940s and 1950s, I reconstruct the broader dilemmas and uncertainties shared among those Polish exiles who opposed the creation of communist states in Eastern Europe. In the thesis I show that the change of the political situation on the continent led to profound reassessments of the power relations, the cultural distances, and the centrality attributed by these Polish intellectuals to France in their earlier understanding of the notions such as “the West”, “Europe” and “civilization”. I also analyze how the contributors to Kultura from two different generations of the Polish intelligentsia reacted in their works to the new relevance of the United States, and to the Cold War reinventions of “the West”, its classical past, its internal divisions and its major “others”. I trace changes occurring in their émigré texts written over many years and in many places (among them France, Guatemala and Switzerland), finding significant omissions, silences and obliterations in their postwar reconsiderations of European colonialism, nationalism and antisemitism. Finally, I interpret autobiographical texts from Kultura – diaries, travelogues and essays – as literary attempts to counter-map the European space, or to subvert the older cultural images that played a significant role in the postwar division of the continent.
Defence date: 27 September 2012; Examining Board: Professor Philipp Ther (Supervisor); Professor Anthony Molho, European University Institute; Professor Paweł Śpiewak, Warsaw University; Professor Larry Wolff, New York University.
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