Norwid’s place in culture

Keywords: humanity, empire, civilization, dialogue, goodness, intelligence, copula, church, culture, modernity, un-making, the Enlightenment, parable, poetry, work, Romanticism, Solidarity, horizontal transcendence, ethical universalism


Even in today’s “postmodern” world, Norwid cannot be reduced to a single formula. He is rather a “constellation,” requiring that readers join the “continual discussion” on issues specific to a given era. His focus is on humanity, which he regards from a dualist perspective that necessitates pursuing a synthesis of matter and spirit under the sign of ethical universalism. Norwid refers to the “cupola of ‘a monologue-that-keeps-parabolizing-itself’” andregards culture as the parable of the world. His original aesthetics of “whiteness” refers, as it were, to the biblical “gentle gust of wind,” which announces God’s presence and indicates the rejection of the Romantic veneration for volcanoes, which he contrasts with the importance of work. This kind of philosophy, developed by Brzozowski, Tischner and John Paul II, has led to the self-limiting revolution of Solidarity in the years 1980-81, and ultimately to the de-legitimization and fall of communism; finally, after the bloody myth of the French Revolution reigned for two hundred years, this philosophy altered the paradigm of historical changes around the world.

Norwid elaborated on the industrial-era Romanticism and opposed martyrological messianism, developing the original idea of a “messianism of work,”linking it with a vision of human Church, which “burns through the Globe with conscience.”He would contrast the global church with the parochial “church-turned-living-room.”Human beings count more than institutions, he argued, just like goodness prevails over formal sacraments. With the ultimate goal defined as the resurrection of the world, art becomes a church of work. Norwid embraced an anthropocentric perspective, in which human beings are called upon “to un-make” [od-poczynać] the mistakes of the past, and thus to begin afresh at a whole new level.

With his language and style Norwid was constructing a new social stratum: intelligentsia (Łapiński), understanding it as the nation’s copula, i.e. the unifying force of conscienceand the collective consciousness. It would form an interpersonal, horizontal transcendence spanning the length and breadth of societies.

The opposite of nation and its culture is “empire” – the root of subjugation – which particularly enslaved Central and Eastern Europe. Of special importance is the clash between Asian civilization and the “Roman” one, i.e. Christianity or Western Europe. However, the poet opposes Slavs to both the Westerners and the Easterners, emphasizing the processualand not the essentialistcharacter of national cultures.

The question whether Norwid’s work is fundamentally dialogic or monologic in character continues to divide scholars. However, Norwid is in a way a Master or teacherwho embodies the Other and incarnates Wisdom in his Voice and Gesture. The nature of Wisdom is anthropocentric because man is a priest, although “involuntary / And immature,” which abolishes the distinction between the sacred and the profane. Through his ethical universalism Norwid provides a solution to the Enlightenment crisis of universal reason. Emancipation of the individual should not entail abandoning a sense of belonging, which is something that Norwid’s modernism shares with that of Central Europeans (Ch. Delsol).

Understood as the expression of collective desires, cultures shape responsibility and a sense of belonging, at the same time constituting an answer to the crisis of narcissistic individualism characteristic for our times.

Author Biography

Michał Masłowski, University of Warsaw, Poland

Michał Masłowski – emerytowany profesor Sorbony, wykładowca Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego. Wydał książki o romantyzmie (w tym o Norwidzie), o teatrze i o Europie Środkowej, jak też studia o związkach religii i kultury. Autor około dwustu publikacji, w tym 10 książek po polsku (m. in. Dzieje bohatera (1978); Gest, symbol i rytuały polskiego teatru romantycznego (1998); Zwierciadła Kordiana (2002); Problemy tożsamości (2006); Etyka i metafizyka (2011) Opublikował również szereg studiów o Miłoszu. Redaktor i współredaktor 10 franc. opracowań zbiorowych. Założyciel grup badawczych GREC i CERCLE w Nancy, członek Eur’ORBEM na Sorbonie. Tłumacz na francuski (wraz z J. Donguy) m. in. Dziadów, Kordiana, poezji Miłosza, dramatów Herberta i Różewicza. Członek zagraniczny PAU; odznaczenia polskie i francuskie.


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