Literary and cultural forays into the contemporary

by Katarzyna Więckowska (Volume editor) Grzegorz Koneczniak (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 194 Pages
Series: Dis/Continuities, Volume 15


This book offers a collection of essays in literary and cultural studies. The articles explore a wide range of distinct problems and texts with the aim to question the already known and to interrogate the realms of ethics, literature, history and cultural identities. The contributors not only revive the meanings and values as they were lived at the time of creating the specific works, but also point to the ways in which these meanings continue to function for contemporary readers.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface (Katarzyna Więckowska and Grzegorz Koneczniak)
  • Part One: Interrogating ethics
  • The Stolen Generations of Australia: In search of literal and symbolic dimensions in selected factual and literary sources (Małgorzata Żmijewska)
  • Transmitted Holocaust trauma: Third generation experience in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated (Paula Dutko)
  • The analysis of evil and its influence on people in Stephen King’s The Stand (Adrian Woźniak)
  • Part Two: Questioning the literary realm
  • A soft voice whispers nothing: Nihilism and horror in the works of Thomas Ligotti (Jacek Stopa)
  • References to literature in selected songs of Iron Maiden (Karol Szewczyk)
  • Re-reading Virginia Woolf’s works through the prism of cognitive sciences (Marta Sibierska)
  • Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women: The representation of time in the short-story cycle and its film adaptation (Emilia Leszczyńska)
  • Part Three: Querying cultural identities
  • In search of one’s identity: Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000) (Joanna Korzeniewska)
  • Facing the repressed: The doubles in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) (Małgorzata Borońska)
  • Fatherlessness and postmodern society: Absent fatherhood and father hunger in Jonathan Safran Foer’s fiction (Joanna Antoniak)
  • Part Four: Re-entering history
  • Apart yet together: The Partition of India as the catalyst for nationalism in post-colonial times (Olivier Harenda)
  • “Bloody Mary” and “Gloriana”… or maybe not necessarily? The depictions of Mary I and Elizabeth I in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography and Mark Twain’s Prince and the Pauper (Paula Suchorska)
  • Publishers’ contribution to the readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets: The value of the touchstone-based analysis of the typography of sonnet 144 in the facsimile of the First Quarto of 1609 (Anna Lewandowska)
  • Part Five: Distant forays
  • Editorial and literary combination explored: The case study of Editing and Publishing Programme offered by the Department of English, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń (Grzegorz Koneczniak)
  • Studying linguistics for fun and profit: From general semiotics to the stylistics of literary texts (Waldemar Skrzypczak)
  • Notes on contributors

← 8 | 9 →

Katarzyna Więckowska and Grzegorz Koneczniak


Foray: A sudden attack or incursion into enemy territory, especially to obtain something; a raid; A brief but spirited attempt to become involved in a new activity or sphere (Oxford Dictionary)

“The making of art,” as Raymond Williams claimed in 1977, is “a formative process” that is “never in the past,” but is incessantly made present again “in specifically active ‘readings’” (1977: 129). The present volume takes Williams’s statement as the point of departure to offer analyses of a variety of works by young scholars and to show their continuing validity for contemporary readers and critics. In a very literal sense, these readings are forays, that is, voyages into new territories by writers beginning their involvement with literary and cultural studies. Their incursions into the not-yet-known are also, metaphorically, struggles, whose ultimate aim may be described as one to discover and present “meanings and values as they are actively lived and felt” (Williams 1977:132) in what can be globally called the contemporary.

Literary and Cultural Forays into the Contemporary is a collection of articles by young scholars from the Department of English at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland. The book is divided into five parts which, though focusing on different spheres and exploring sets of distinct problems, are all examples of “active readings” driven by the desire to question the old and to interrogate the known. As such, they not only revive the meanings and values as they were lived at the time of creating the specific works, but also point to the ways in which these meanings continue to function for contemporary readers. Accordingly, by interrogating the realms of ethics, literature, history and cultural identities, the articles attempt to present “thought as felt and feeling as thought,” and to (re)construct a certain “structure of feeling” that is not locked in the past, but that is re-lived “in a living and interrelating continuity” of the present (Willliams 1977: 132).

The opening section of the book is dedicated to questions dealing with ethical issues in reference to specific past events, their literary representations, and legacy. The first two articles in this part revisit the historical traumas of the Stolen Generation and the Holocaust, and analyse their continuing impact on the survivors and their descendants. Małgorzata Żmijewska explores the consequences of the Aboriginal Australians’ stolen childhoods, re-discovering in their memoirs, autobiographies and poems a recurrent pattern of loss. Żmijewska examines the ← 9 | 10 → troubled personal and cultural identity of members of the Stolen Generation, and highlights the different roles accorded to the past in official discourse and in the private lives of the survivors who shared with her their stories. A similar pattern of loss and troubled identity is traced in Paula Dutko’s article, which focuses on the transmitted trauma of the Holocaust and the problems of (post)memory. Dutko’s analysis of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated (2002) delineates the ways of coming to terms with the trauma of the past, placing them in the larger context of the function that postmodern art techniques may play in terminating the crisis of identity suffered by the members of the third generation of Holocaust survivors. Finally, Adrian Woźniak’s article considers the general nature of evil and the human propensity to perform evil deeds by offering a detailed reading of Stephen King’s The Stand, which he approaches from the perspectives delineated by Adolphe Gesche, a Catholic priest and theologian, and the French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur.

The articles gathered in the second part of the volume explore some recent developments in literature and literary research by addressing such issues as genre development, intertextuality, interdisciplinarity, and film adaptation. The section begins with Jacek Stopa’s examination of the development of cosmic horror, a subgenre of horror fiction distinguished by a markedly nihilistic image of humanity as insignificant in the alien and alienating universe. Starting from a description of the genre as developed by Howard Philips Lovecraft, Stopa’s informative analysis of the work of Thomas Ligotti, a contemporary American writer, highlights the major transformations in cosmic horror, emphasizing the progressing pessimism of its depiction of the futility of the human search for meaning. The search for meaning, albeit from a different perspective, is also the basis of Karol Szewczyk’s analysis of intertextual references in selected songs by Iron Maiden. Reading the lyrics through the works of Lord Alfred Tennyson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Wilfred Owen, Szewczyk successfully uncovers layers of meaning in the songs and aptly demonstrates the intertextual nature of contemporary texts. In a similar vein, Marta Sibierska’s reading of the works by Virginia Woolf examines the links between narrative structures and the production of meaning from the perspective of cognitive science. Starting with Woolf’s assumption concerning the relations between the mind and literary expression, as quoted in Sibierska’s article – “examining an ordinary mind on an ordinary day” – the author explores two works, The Voyage Out and Orlando: A Biography, within the interdisciplinary cognitive framework adapted for the purposes of her analysis. Temporal considerations in Lives of Girls and Women, both in Alice Munro’s collection of short stories and the adaptation based on her work, are addressed in the article by ← 10 | 11 → Emilia Leszczyńska. Emphasis is placed on the constitution of time as it is transferred from the medium of literature to that of film, and as it acquires a new significance in a comparative analysis – even if the author notices both similarities and differences in how the concept of time and its lapse are expressed in the original collection and its adaptation.

The major issues discussed in part three are personal identity and the social and cultural forces that influence its formation. In the article opening the section, Joanna Korzeniewska approaches the protagonist of Christopher Nolan’s film Memento as exemplifying the fragmentation of identity characteristic for postmodernity: unable to form new memories and driven by nostalgia for the past, Nolan’s detective is representative of the ontological uncertainty that dominates postmodernist art, particularly its neo-noir cinematic visions. Korzeniewska’s analysis of the film draws attention to the role gender plays in the formation of identity, a theme thoroughly explored in Małgorzata Borońska’s investigation of the figure of the double in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Drawing on Freudian psychoanalysis, in particular on the notions of the return of the repressed and defence mechanisms, Borońska’s article underlines the importance of the body in the creation of identity and deconstructs the harmful contradictions inherent in the image of docile femininity in ballet. Psychoanalysis provides also the interpretative framework for Joanna Antoniak’s analysis of the reations between sons and fathers in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated (2002) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2012). As Antoniak convincingly argues, Foer’s novels present the absence of fathers and father hunger as a universal condition, a kind of “cultural fatherlessness” which becomes the key sign of the postmodern condition.

While many of the articles in the volume refer to past events and texts to explore contemporary society and culture, history and its interpretation form the explicit theme of the texts in the fourth section. Olivier Harenda’s detailed survey of the Partition of India, the article which opens the fourth section, sheds light on the processes leading to the formation of modern India and illustrates the complex mechanisms involved in colonial and nationalistic projects. If Harenda’s essay addresses postcolonial issues and focuses on the repercussions of colonial practices, Paula Suchorska’s article deals with two controversial historical figures, at least one of whom is said to have moved the English colonisation of the New World forward. However, instead of discussing the early colonial foray involving Elizabeth I, Suchorska has chosen to compare perhaps the most famous English Queen to Mary I, her sister, on the basis of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography. The interpretations of how the two great Queens, but, as Suchorska stresses, minor figures in the works discussed, ← 11 | 12 → behave and/or are perceived in the realities depicted and in the eyes of other characters add more dimensions to the existing literary descriptions of the two historical, and cultural, figures. Suchorska’s discussion of Orlando: A Biography from the perspective of its depiction of Elizabeth I also offers a noteworthy juxtaposition with Sibierska’s cognitive treatment of the work.

Anna Lewandowska’s article highlights the ways in which editorial practices and typographical solutions influence the response to and the interpretation of the (historic) text of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 144. If Matthew Arnold, in the nineteenth century, sought to establish the determinants of literary perfection which could be used as a comparative basis to evaluate works of literature in terms of their structural properties and thematic seriousness, Lewandowska, in the twenty-first century, finds another set of “ensigns of perfection” in the typographical and orthographic constitution of selected editions of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Editorial decisions which give rise to the specific textual and graphic renditions of the sonnet play a significant role in shaping the unique processes of “active reading,” to use Williams’s term.

The final section of the book, “Distant forays,” features articles by experienced scholars who approach phenomena which are only apparently beyond the literary and cultural realms. As humanistic disciplines are more and more frequently invading the areas of other fields and are adopting other approaches, so are the problems discussed in the essays included in the last part. The first article, by Grzegorz Koneczniak, can be read as a commentary on the educational context in which Lewandowska’s essay in the fourth section was created. Exploring his previous research, the author discusses selected courses offered in the new specialisation Editing and Publishing, prepared by the Department of English, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, in the academic year 2014/2015. Special emphasis is placed on the diploma projects which deal with various aspects of editorial-literary relations and which were developed during the MA seminar in editing. The last contribution, Waldemar Skrzypczak’s essay, is also oriented towards the educational context. However, the scope of his research interests reaches beyond literary and cultural areas into the distant linguistic forays. As Skrzypczak argues, works of literature and artifacts of culture are texts which can be investigated from the perspective of a linguist. A review of general linguistic approaches, which can be adopted for the analysis of literary and cultural texts, is presented and illustrated with authorial examples as used in his teaching practice.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (December)
Stolen Generations Intertextuality Film adaptation Postmodernity Holocaust Postcoloniality
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 194 pp.

Biographical notes

Katarzyna Więckowska (Volume editor) Grzegorz Koneczniak (Volume editor)

Katarzyna Więckowska is Associate Professor at the Department of English, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, where she teaches cultural and literary studies. Grzegorz Koneczniak is Assistant Professor in the English Department of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, where he teaches courses in editing and publishing.


Title: Literary and cultural forays into the contemporary
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196 pages