Essays in Honour of Professor Tadeusz Rachwał

by Agnieszka Pantuchowicz (Volume editor) Slawomir Maslon (Volume editor)
©2015 Others 330 Pages


Affinities, a collection of essays dedicated to Professor Tadeusz Rachwał, a noted literary historian and cultural critic, pioneer of the present-day cultural studies in Poland, includes texts written by his friends, colleagues, and disciples. As it turns out, even though the topics discussed by the particular authors differ from each other, the volume has a definite focus: literature and culture from the early modern times to the present, approached in ways that combine attention to the textual detail with a broad perspective of social change and the ability to use the hermeneutics of suspicion to see through various received ideas and petrified ideologies. Scholars from Poland, the UK, and the USA have demonstrated that Professor Rachwał attracts minds that unite critical passion and inquisitiveness with expertise in many fields of research in today’s (post-)humanities.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • InTRoduction
  • Dark Ones. Animals and the Ends of Man
  • 1.
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • 4.
  • 5.
  • 6.
  • 7.
  • 8.
  • 9.
  • 10.
  • 11.
  • 12.
  • 13.
  • 14.
  • 15.
  • 16.
  • 17.
  • 18.
  • 19.
  • 20.
  • 21.
  • 22.
  • Works Cited
  • Fi-sci
  • Infinity as Paradox I
  • Infinity as Paradox II
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Dimensional Relativity
  • Metamorphosis I
  • Metamorphosis II
  • Seeing Nothing I
  • Seeing Nothing II
  • Coda
  • Disordia of Paraphs & Obeli
  • Paraphs: (applied science)
  • Obeli: (theoretical science)
  • ToN
  • Fi-sci Universe
  • Globalization and Cultural Studies: Conceptualization, Convergence, and Complication
  • Work Cited
  • Be Free! Globalism and Democratic Pedagogy in Henry James and Henry Adams
  • Works Cited
  • The Paranoid Mind: The (Im)possibility of Radical Change
  • Works Cited
  • “Culture”: The Paradoxes of Anthropological Imagination
  • Work Cited
  • “See how they hurry to enter their bodies”: Jorie Graham and the Move Beyond Modernism
  • Work Cited
  • “Harms & the child I sing”: Stories of Loss and Self in John Berryman’s The Dream Songs
  • I. Constitutive Lack
  • II. The Others
  • Works Cited
  • On the Verge of the (In-)Visible: The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • Work Cited
  • “Trailing clouds of glory do we come/ From God…”; but wherein do we arrive? Wordsworth’s Approaches to Infinity
  • Works Cited
  • Land of the Grotesque: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and the “Orientalized” Image of the Post-Cold War Eastern Europe
  • Works Cited
  • Black Learning, Land, and Labor in Southern Reconstruction
  • Works Cited
  • “Almost a Joke”: A Reading of Five Poems by Robert Frost
  • Works Cited
  • Redeemer Nations: Polish and American Romantic Rhetoric of Mission
  • Works Cited
  • Use of Humour in Holocaust-related Fiction by American and Polish Writers (Tova Reich and Igor Ostachowicz)
  • Works Cited
  • A Silenced Land: Comparative Literature in the Upper Silesian Context
  • 1. Anxiety
  • 2. Silence
  • 3. Ellipses/Centralising Periphery
  • Works Cited
  • The Trauma of Multicultural Renunciation: Kerri Sakamoto’s The Electrical Field
  • Works Cited
  • The Linkage of Homosexuality and Death in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia
  • Works Cited
  • “Fearing That Which Need Not Be Feared?”: A Gendered Reading of Agoraphobia
  • Works Cited
  • Can S/HE Become Normal?
  • Works Cited
  • Is there an Outside?
  • Works Cited
  • (Un)Homing Women: Domestic Politics in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Desertion
  • Returning Home
  • On Motion
  • Works Cited
  • The Scent of Happiness in the Sun
  • Works Cited
  • Monkey Tail
  • Works Cited

| 13 →


Professor Tadeusz Rachwał teaches at Szkoła Wyższa Psychologii Społecznej (the University of Social Sciences and Humanities) in Warsaw. He is in perpetual motion across northern Poland, using any means at hand (he has neither a car nor a driving license). It has not always been that way.

TR (he will excuse this) was born on the 12th of April, 1954 in Gliwice, southern Poland, to an itinerant family of mixed cultural roots. There, in the Upper Silesian region where Polish, German, and Bohemian cultural influences intermingle, he grew up and paid his dues, on the street and at school. What his intentions were when, in 1973, he enrolled in the Academy of Economics in Katowice is in retrospect difficult to say – but after a semester he changed his mind and the following year became a student at the Institute of English Philology at the University of Silesia, Katowice.

TR’s interest in research goes back to his fourth year as a student, when for the first time he took part in a conference organized by the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin where he delivered a paper on phonetics and phonology in generative grammar, which may have been quite impressive because he was awarded a prize for it. His scholarly work continued to such good effect that his M.A. thesis, devoted to the topic of idiomatics in transformational-generative model of grammar, was classed as outstanding, in recognition of which an abridged version of it was published in Neophilologica, an annual linguistic journal published by the University of Silesia.

After receiving his M.A. degree in linguistics, TR taught English for a year at a secondary school in Gliwice – Wittgenstein-like, one can say, though, TR being the mildest of men, there certainly was no ear- or hair-pulling involved. After testing his mettle in basic language teaching, in September 1980 he became employed as an assistant professor in the Institute of English Philology at the University of Silesia (a kind of misnomer in this case because the Modern Languages Department is located in Sosnowiec, which lies across the Brynica River and therefore technically not in Silesia but Zagłębie). At first his interest in theoretical linguistics continued, but gradually his research into the problems of semiotics led him to expand into literary semiotics and then into literary theory and philosophy, especially Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction, which was scarcely known in Poland at the time. One of the results (or causes – one can never be sure and this is not necessarily a Derridean insight) of his interest in deconstruction was the beginning of a long friendship and scholarly collaboration between TR and Tadeusz Sławek, his older colleague at the English Institute. Soon they became a well-known academic duo, publishing a series of articles and finally three book-length studies (one with a third collaborator) devoted to English literature and culture of the 17th and 18th centuries.

At the beginning of the 1980s Tadeusz Rachwał and Tadeusz Sławek were among the four founding members of the “Er(r)go Seminar” research group (the other ← 13 | 14 → two being Wojciech Kalaga and the late Emanuel Prower) which made the Silesian “school” a recognized theoretical centre of English literary and cultural studies in Poland with an international reputation. By 1992 the group had published six volumes of studies devoted to the problems of interpretation theory. During this period TR quickly became one of the major Polish authorities on Jacques Derrida’s thought, which found its culmination in the first Polish book devoted to Derrida, which he co-wrote with Taduesz Sławek: Maszyna do pisania. O dekonstruktywistycznej teorii Jacquesa Derridy, published in 1992. TR’s continual and intensive engagement with 18th century literary and cultural issues found printed form in the Foucauldian analyses of Word and Confinement: Subjectivity and Classical Discourse (1992) and the aforementioned books written together with Tadeusz Sławek: Lines, Planes and Solids: Studies in Seventeenth-Century Writings (1992) and Sfera szarości. Studia nad literaturą i myślą osiemnastego wieku (1993).

The crooked ways of Enlightenment literary theory and practice have never ceased to engage TR, which is also confirmed by the large number of articles he has devoted to it thus far, and by yet another book, Approaches of Infinity: The Sublime and the Social (1993) dealing with the 18th century ramifications (and domestications) of the discourse of the sublime. It is this monograph in particular which perhaps best explains TR’s constant fascination with the 18th century because, in its refashioning of the category of the sublime, the epoch seems uncannily to prefigure the problematics of the poststructuralist discourse in which sublimity itself becomes one of the most central concepts or even (in Jean-François Lyotard’s thought) the foundation of postmodernity as such.

A separate but related sphere of TR’s intellectual interests has been the work of Bruno Schulz, a Polish-Jewish modernist writer, whose sometimes surprisingly deconstructive intuitions have been very congenial to TR, witness the number of papers he devoted to this aspect of Schulz’s work. Moreover, the issues encountered while struggling with the tightly-woven texture of this writer’s ambiguous meanings turned out to lead further into translatological problems (explored in further papers), therefore bringing TR back into the core aspects of deconstruction for which translation and linguistic multiplicity are very important theoretical issues.

Perhaps it can be ascribed to a deconstructive bent in TR’s mind that he kept finding his thought roaming far and wide and finding new chances of international collaboration. Apart from the aforementioned long-standing joint research with Tadeusz Sławek, TR co-originated and co-published a number of papers together with his English friends and intellectual interlocutors (also sometime residents in Poland), Claire Hobbs and the late lamented David Jarrett, the latter a co-author with Sławek and TR of a fascinating analysis of the discourse of 17th and 18th century gardening Geometry, Winding Paths and the Mansions of Spirit.

A restless deconstructive mind, thriving on impurities, alloys, and cross-fertilisation, and fascinated by unseemly mixtures and monstrosities, is at home in Upper Silesia, a region of borderlands and cross-cultural interchange, which has been damaged by heavy industry, an area full of waste matter and unexpected concoctions. TR’s place under the smoke-veiled sun and the home of a certain theoretical attitude ← 14 | 15 → it seemed to be. But nothing lasts forever and as after twenty odd years the Er(r)go group – the foundation on which the Silesian “school” rested and which finally resulted in the founding of the Institute of English and American Literature and Culture1 (of which TR was vice-director between 1999 and 2002) – finally crumbled, TR, a full professor by that time, renewed his peregrinations.

TR founded the School of English Language Cultures and Literatures at the University of Bielsko-Biała in 2002. He also moved from Silesia to the mountain region of Podbeskidzie where he divided his time between administrative duties, scholarly activities, and walking in the woods. For a couple of years he enjoyed living in a flat directly facing the mountains, but this idyll was regularly interrupted by visits to the holy city of Częstochowa where he also taught. Quite a bit of his educational and scholarly oeuvre of that time was devoted to representation of minority discourses in the academia. In 2005 he finally decided to test the charms of the capital of Poland and accepted the offer to become the chair of the School of Anglophone Cultures and Literatures at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities where he has since been teaching students at postgraduate levels.

The decision was followed by he and his family moving to the medieval city of Toruń where they live in an old apartment full of voluminous furniture wherein books vanish constantly. Intellectual reflection on the crooked matters of contingency and precarity, and their theoretical implications for living and reading in the world, are happily interrupted by a little gardening and biking, for which Toruń is well suited. In Toruń TR also engages in the work of the academic community, particularly supporting the development of British Studies at the Nicolaus Copernicus University (established several years earlier by his late friend David Jarrett) and serving as head of the Anglophone Culture Section in the Department of English (2007-2011), where he gave lectures and seminars, took part in the organization of conferences and co-edited collections of essays.

Presently TR divides his time between meditations on metaphysics as a supplement of finitude (whose seemingly transgressive operations contribute a great deal to the phantasmagoric nature of metaphysical considerations) and poetics (as well as every-day practices) of care and its power to overcome the deadly logic of ownership, appropriation and domination. In his current research he also continues to explore the themes of precarity in culture, nature, wilderness, and the wild.

Essays included in this volume2 are written by TR’s friends, colleagues and former students and bear witness to many intellectual affinities which can be shared, exchanged and enjoyed in mutual encounters. Every one of these texts also testifies to the possibility of reciprocity being materialized.

A.P., S.M.

1 Now the Institute of English Cultures and Literatures.

2 It has a companion collection entitled Reciprocities published concurrently by the University of Silesia Press.

| 17 →

Tadeusz Sławek

University of Silesia

Dark Ones. Animals and the Ends of Man

Wherever we go, there seems to be only one business at hand – that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us.

Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk


In the arguably most famous representation of hands caught up in a strikingly simple but also mysterious choreography which plays with nearness and distance God’s hand almost touches the hand of the mortal. Adam is reclining and his arm stretches out in a somewhat indecisive way, the hand slightly drooping, as if it either doubted in the possibility of grasping anything or, perhaps, signalled that it had abandoned the very idea of grasping at all. It is God that is the acting power, and his stretched out arm is a vehicle of pointing, commanding, intimating. We might be even tempted to say that it extends in a saving gesture of someone who wants to rescue a drowning person, but we have to restrain such a direction of reading, as the hand does not offer itself there to be grabbed and be redeemed from the abyss; the hand reaches out, it is true, but it does it so as to ultimately, in the very last moment, enhance the distance from the other party, refrain from holding on to the hand of the other and merely point, indicate, to act nearly as a pointed edge which separates two sides from each other, cuts a stretch of cloth into two pieces, breaks a rock into splinters.


It is precisely this distance, this cut, this thundering and separating blow, which will interest us in our essay. The distance separates not only the mortal from the divine but also those who obey and follow from those who disagree and resist. God’s pointing may quickly become angry punishing. Isaiah reports about the wicked:

Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath ← 17 | 18 → stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still. (V, 24–25)

Creation and destruction, genesis and apocalyptic fire are certainly different from each other but, at the same time, this difference constitutes the very substance of life. As Derrida maintains, “Mark, gramma, trace, différance refer differentially to all living things, all the relations between living and nonliving” (104). Nothingness which does not confine itself to the sphere of death but which is enhanced in the spectral life after death, a life of corpses being torn up in the streets, a demonic life of dead bodies which were not allowed to rest in peace, this nothingness signifies two things. First, that we need to constantly examine life and never be satisfied with what we normally take to be the “human” life in which phrase the adjective “human” not only names a species, but first of all it is a mark of distinction which differentiates this particular species from other “non-human” ones. But, second, the very fact that Isaiah refers to the bodies as to the “carcasses” raises doubts as to the privileged status of the species called “human”, since a “carcass” is usually used with regard to animals. Thus, nothingness in question which operates within the human being and in the whole creation is not so much death itself but, rather, a strange, dark, force which works its way in the living and nonliving.


Derrida, in his reading of Paul Valery’s poem, speaks about “the animal abyss” which “brings to light not nonbeing but being” (66), and his argument concentrates precisely on this unusual point in which nonbeing and being overlap. The “animal abyss” would therefore name a particular position in which I become aware that I cannot explain myself away in purely human terms, that my life flows in a stream in which the human and non-human are not quite distinguishable, nor is there a clear cut between the living and nonliving. Perhaps we could call such a position one of the minimum of being, but, paradoxically, it is due to this minimum that the maximum of my life is thinkable. If I conceive of myself exclusively in human terms, and in the light of the human, the supposedly maximized life turns out to be impoverished and empty. That is why Derrida, after Valery, concludes his argument in a metaphor of a spark: the position of the minimum of being is the first glitter, first flash which allows me to see the nothingness where I still am although my human experience, my experience as a human, tries to convince me that I am not. The “animal abyss” is “a spark in the place of nothingness, stand-in in place of the nothingness that I am” (Derrida, 66).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (November)
pioneer literature critical passion inquisitiveness social change
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 330 pp., 1 coloured fig.

Biographical notes

Agnieszka Pantuchowicz (Volume editor) Slawomir Maslon (Volume editor)


Title: Affinities
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