Critical Theory and Critical Genres

Contemporary Perspectives from Poland

by Charles Russel (Volume editor) Arne Melberg (Volume editor) Jaroslaw Pluciennik (Volume editor) Michal Wroblewski (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 219 Pages
Series: Literary and Cultural Theory, Volume 41


This book is the result of a shared conviction of the necessity to advance the international discourse on criticism. What originated in ancient curiosity and developing self-reflexion became the critical thought of the modern era and then developed into a program of constant intellectual contestation and struggle allied with various ideologies to subsequently become an integral part of post-structuralist culture theory and recently the New Humanities, also known as post-theory. The book positions itself within contemporary considerations of the theory and practice of criticism and presents texts by established and rising scholars and provides greater insights into various aspects of Polish intellectual culture during the past decades. The publication constitutes an important voice in the discussion on criticism by demonstrating the specific theoretical and pragmatic perspective of the debate in Poland in relation to Europe and the rest of the (post)modern world.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Editors’ Introduction
  • On Criticism
  • Ewa Kraskowska: A Critique Of Criticism
  • 1. The Culture of Critique
  • 2. Critical Thinking in Education
  • 3. Academia: criticism, critical practice and criticism as a sport
  • 4. Art as Critical Practice, the Museum as Critical Practice
  • Bibliography:
  • Paweł Łuków: Kant’s Redefinition of Reason: Criticism, Freedom, Enlightenment
  • Bibliography:
  • Elżbieta Winiecka: Distance — the Figure of Modernity
  • 1. Attempts at Constructing a Definition
  • 2. The Subject Distances Itself
  • 3. The Primordiality of Mediation
  • 4. Writing as (Self)distancing
  • 5. A Distanced Scholar?
  • 6. Poetic Experience as an Experience of Distance
  • Bibliography:
  • Marek Kaźmierczak: Literary Theory as Critical Epistemology and Deontology: Notes on the Concerns in Fiction in Relation to the Images of the Holocaust in Mass Media
  • Introduction
  • Five Clarifications
  • Literary Theory and the Social Frame of Knowledge
  • Two Deontological Principles
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography:
  • Olga Płaszczewska: Comparative Literature: Metacriticism and its Paradoxes
  • Bibliography:
  • Case Studies
  • Danuta Ulicka: The Protocol and the Magazine. Two Styles of Literary Crticism in the So-called Russian Formalism
  • 1. Two Poles
  • 2. Academic Protocol Criticism
  • 3. Academic Magazine Criticism
  • 4. Shklovsky’s Market Theory
  • 5. History Magistra Vitae?
  • Bibliografa:
  • Danuta Szajnert: The Subversive Potential of an Apocryphon
  • Bibliography:
  • Natalia Lemann: Could We Conserve Ourselves From the Past? Alternates Histories and Uchronias as Literary Apories of Politics and Historical Knowledge
  • Bibliography:
  • Magdalena Bednarek: Leaving the Tower. Feminist Rewriting of Fairy Tales in the Contemporary Polish Prose since 1989
  • 1. Backwards
  • 2.Three faces of Snow White
  • 3. Guerrilla Princesses
  • Bibliography:
  • Izabella Adamczewska: The Ecological Novel as a Critical Genre
  • Environmental Novel and Ecological Novel
  • Critical Genre
  • The Ecologist is a Female
  • Posthumanism. Dystopia
  • The ecological anti-capitalist novel
  • Bibliography:
  • Michał Wróblewski: The Evolutionary Potential of Metacriticality in Reference to “Watchmen” — the Graphic Novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  • Bibliography:
  • Agnieszka Karpowicz: Logo-visual Genres. From Criticism of Language to Social Critique
  • The Critique of Language
  • Logovisuality — a social critique
  • Bibliography:
  • Series Index

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Editors’ Introduction

This book results from a shared conviction of the need to advance the international discourse on criticism. Criticality has long been a significant value within the Western intellectual tradition. What originated in ancient curiosity and developing self-reflexion, became the critical thought of the modern era and then — after passing through a period of theoretical and methodological doubt characteristic, some would hold, of twentieth-century existential despair — developed into a program of constant intellectual contestation and struggle allied with various ideologies to subsequently become an integral part of post-structuralist culture theory and recently the New Humanities — also known as post-theory.

Critical Theory and Critical Genres: Contemporary Perspectives from Poland positions itself within contemporary considerations of the theory and practice of criticism. The book presents texts by established and rising scholars in Poland and both reflects their contributions to an international discussion and provides greater insights into various aspects of Polish intellectual and creative culture of the past several decades. Critical Theory and Critical Genres: Contemporary Perspectives from Poland does not purport to be a presentation of a Polish critical school because such a thing does not exist in a pure, autonomous way. Certainly, the methodologies used by Polish scholars participate in the international dialogue within the research paradigms of Western Europe and the U.S. However, this publication seeks to be an important voice in the discussion — both socio-political and academic — on criticism which is a dominant part of contemporary reflection by demonstrating these issues from the specific theoretical and pragmatic perspective of the debate in Poland in relation to Europe and the rest of the (post)modern world. These essays endorse the adoption of an internal theoretical meta-perspective in the humanities which seems especially crucial after the linguistic and then narrative turns which radically changed the way we practice theory and understand its relationship with praxis. The entanglement in language and narrative is, after all, shared by societies across the transnational dimension, even as we point to the specificities of particular discourses at the local level.

However, we believe it is important to emphasize clearly the editors’ perspective and the role of Critical Theory and Critical Genres: Contemporary Perspectives from Poland. Despite the specific historical, cultural, and political challenges that have contributed to contemporary Polish critical theory and practice, no particular political position or option of critical theory is advanced here. Rather, we seek to act more as the impartial and traditional observer who in the Western culture has been a carrier of liberal modernity and enlightenment — a figure perhaps more committed to rationality in the sense of Richard Rorty’s and Wayne Booth’s theses than grounded in rationalism understood as instrumental reason. ← 7 | 8 → Nevertheless, we intend to introduce the reader to Polish work and research interests that seem to exemplify significant trends in the contemporary Academy; that is, we want to emphasize the specificity of critical phenomena in the context of current Polish socio-cultural reality. Evidence of keen interest in this subject — in addition to the daily activity of a number of world-class intellectuals and academic communities whose motto is criticism — is the wide response from all of the major research centers in Poland to the call of the international journal “The Problems of Literary Genres” for contributions to the 2010 issue on criticism and criticality. As a result, the periodical (which has been guided by the demand to be critical and analytical ever since its birth more than fifty years ago) received an impressive number of important articles and consequently organized a multidisciplinary conference on “Kinds and Styles of Criticism” in May 2011. Selected texts which represent the most interesting and varied realizations of the conference theme are now presented here in English. They constitute an overview of critical thinking and thinking on criticism in Polish humanities scholarship.

These papers show that criticism has many faces. The contributors recognize, for example, that criticality may appear to renounce its critical potential through ubiquity or superficiality, and as a result of appropriation or even balkanization (Harold Bloom’s term) by radical factions of critical schools like gender and feminist studies. On the other hand, it is impossible to deny the importance of critical research that seeks to expose and overcome the symbolic oppression and violence within culture and to weaken the growing tendency of mythologizing the public space and discourse. Such mythologizing was especially apparent in 2010 in Poland. The devastating floods, the plane crash in Smolensk that killed the President and national figures, and the resulting early presidential elections all led to an increase of ritual, ceremonial, and mythological practice in place of essential debate. However, it must be remembered that a thin line divides critical defiance from the violence of its application — even if only a rhetorical one.

The concepts of critique and criticism, including that within the Polish tradition, have undergone significant transformations over the centuries. For instance, representations of such a process are evident in the dramatically changing definitions published in Polish language dictionaries and thesauri from the mid-nineteenth century until today. Thus, while in 1902 criticism was still close to the philosophical doctrine of Kant, subsequent explanations blurred both the origin of the term, as well as its affinity with German philosophic thought. Currently, the most popular synonyms for the word “criticism”, found in the thesauri are “negative assessment”, “reproof”, and “claim”, while the “critic” is seen as a “mocker”, “scoffer”, or “adversary”. Such a reception appears to indicate the direction in which the concept of criticism phenomena is moving. ← 8 | 9 →

From a larger perspective, historical changes within European culture cause one to reflect on the status of criticism and criticality — and not just in literary studies, even though the term “Judge of Literature” appeared in the fourth century BC and is one of the first signs of the presence of critics in literature. What was identified by the ancient writers, increasingly expanded into many other areas of theory and science, and in the 1600s it encompassed the whole of literary theory and what could be called (after Renė Wellek), applied criticism. Related to crisis etymologically, because “criticism” and “crisis” have common origin, criticism came to be associated with the crisis of faith, of ideals, and of reason, as well as with overwhelming skepticism. On the continent in the 1700s it slowly lost its significance, ultimately descending to the realm of journalism with which it is generally associated today. However the term “criticism” spreads after the renaissance of Kantian philosophy and it is still relevant for theory in accordance with its narrow, philosophical meaning.

In recent years, in addition to the critical work on modernism edited by Ryszard Nycz (e.g. Odkrywanie modernizmu, 1998; Nowoczesność jako doświadczenie, 2006) and Michal Pawel Markowski (Polska literatura nowoczesna, 2007) — as well as by other researchers associated with the so-called Cracow school of culture theory — a substantial number of articles and books related to criticism have been produced by scholars from all major universities in Poland. Further examples are provided by the publications of the Polish Academy of Sciences including journal “Teksty Drugie” and “Pamiętnik Literacki”, and “Przestrzenie Teorii”, from Poznan, as well as the already mentioned “The Problems of Literary Genres”, — affiliated with the University of Lodz. An overview of Polish literary criticism and more broadly, critical discourse, has recently been presented by Dorora Kozicka in her book Krytyczne (nie)porządki (2012). She named Stanislaw Brzozowski (1878-1911) not only patron of the book, but also the patron saint of Polish literary criticism, considering him the Foucauldian “founder of the discourse” (as was already implicit in Ryszard Nycz’s thesis).

Modernist critical reflection is a highly complex multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary venture. The texts themselves are often situated between literature, journalism, and science. It is difficult to construct a single cohesive history, so it is reasonable to focus on the subjective nature of the critical comments. Such polyphony and the variety of critical statements after 1956 are also very problematic because of the politics and heterogeneous positions of Polish intellectuals under communism. From our current perspective what seems to be most important are the multifaceted problems faced by Polish criticism after the democratic transformation in 1989. Critics then divided into two groups, generally conceived as the “young” and the “old”, which often held opposing views and completely different styles of critical practice (especially the younger generation, which has adopted ← 9 | 10 → the strong position of rejection of any authority). Their attitude — strongly affirmative (the “old”) and aggressively critical (the “young”) — to Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980, perfectly illustrates this division. Suspicion of all things given, which is a legacy of the years of dependence on others, shapes critical reflection of the 90s. The Academy itself was subjected to this critique. Discredited in the time of the People’s Republic of Poland, it needed several years to regain trust and justify its claim to be an apolitical space — although whether it really can be apolitical is in question since all scholars must ask whether today’s science and theory are ideology-free (if indeed they ever were). However, the turn against the university after 1989 did not last long. The initial critical spirit of rejection of oppression turned critics towards other dangerous enemies — the market and the media. Searching for freedom again challenged the academy. But even there it is difficult to escape from the pressures of the media and the fact that any public stance is inherently political, especially now that the academic world — not only in Poland but across the EU and the United States — is increasingly regulated by the market, and the management of universities every year manifests ever-expanding corporate practices.

During a time of growing involvement in political attitudes, the need to accept a (meta)critical view is crucial. Critical discourse becomes a space of desacralization of mythical areas and concepts. In this spirit recent methodologies such as feminism, gender, and queer theory, postcolonialism or ecocriticism are strongly influential. Yet because they themselves are associated with political commitment they are often marginalized and are criticized (however rightly) for their use. Such desacralization in Poland is especially evident — for example, in the attempts to deconstruct the traditional model of the family, the image of “Polish mother” or “Pole-Catholic” with the help of gender and women studies. (In this context Krytyka Polityczna is important to mention — the new Polish intellectual left which in recent years has grown into a major political civil force movement of young Poles, identifying with the left-wing liberalism.) Similarly, studies in oral history have provided new perspectives on familiar and general facts. Postcolonial and queer critiques challenge Polish claims to be colonized and to dispute its images of national martyrdom. They analyze Polish history, investigate the basic concepts of the Polish language, and review the established literary canon to challenge its great narratives.

Such attempts to redefine rigid notions and values necessarily raise the issue of the nature and degree of transgression. Criticism inherently involves the challenging of certain boundaries but does so in the name of freedom and independence of mind — an understanding that reaffirms a Kantian definition of “criticism”. Given that hate speech (as well as a speech of meanness) is considered by some these days as a kind of criticism, it is necessary to address the criticality of criticism ← 10 | 11 → itself and re-evaluate the problem. Certainly, such a re-evaluation and boundary crossing are figures basic to modernity and lead to the criticism of sources and ultimately to self-criticism. Still, the question of the limits of criticality remains a major problem. Significant in this regard is meta-reflection, concerning not only the kinds, but also the different styles of criticism. The change is especially noticeable in rhetoric, whose methods of expressing criticality in the discourses of speech, literature and culture seem to change, to a large extent due to an increasing meta-critical and self-awareness of genres.

Critical Theory and Critical Genres: Contemporary Perspectives from Poland presents such a theoretical reflection on the field of criticism, as well as selected examples of critical interpretation, all of which reflect aspects of Polish humanist thought in recent years. In particular, the main object of reflection and discussion in this publication is criticism of the praxis and tradition which are inscribed in literary genres and styles. We have tried to encourage many research perspectives in connection to varied meanings of the concept of “criticism”. Our goal has been to emphasize the (post)modern forms of critical experience, even while considering the long and fruitful history of ”critique” and ”criticism” from Ancient Greece to the present. Many theorists of literature and culture have linked the critical approach of certain literary genres and styles to the tradition and status quo of social discourses. Some view the origins of such criticism in the rebellion of the author. Nevertheless, since Immanuel Kant, modernity can be defined as critique of the myths and symbols of tradition. In this context appear such concepts as criticism (Michel Foucault), analyticity (Stanley Fish), rationality (Richard Rorty), secularisation (Charles Taylor) and disenchantment (Weber). We are primarily interested in criticism and scepticism, not necessarily that which leads to violent revolution; what is more, we often find the ideas of criticism and critical attitudes to be metaphorical mirrors of our contemporary existence. Together with all the authors, we would like to consider the styles, genres, and discourses, which clearly consist of criticism, doubt, and, also, autoscepticism. Among them we often mention novels or essays– but these are only some of the most typical examples in this untypical issue.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
Feminismus Massenmedien Metacriticism Sozialkritik Graphic Novels Literaturkritik
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 219 pp., 1 graph

Biographical notes

Charles Russel (Volume editor) Arne Melberg (Volume editor) Jaroslaw Pluciennik (Volume editor) Michal Wroblewski (Volume editor)

Charles Russell is Professor Emeritus of English and American Studies at Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey (USA), where he was Director of American Studies and Associate Director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience. Arne Melberg gained his PhD in Literature at the University of Stockholm (Sweden) and is now Professor in Comparative Literature at the University of Oslo (Norway). Jarosław Płuciennik is Professor Ordinarius of the Humanities at the Chair of Theory of Literature at the Institute of Contemporary Culture, University of Łódź (Poland) with specialization in literary culture, cognitive semiotics, and new media of reading. Michał Wróblewski is a PhD student at the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the University of Lódź (Poland). He has published on pop culture, cognitive cultural studies and critical theory.


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