The Worldview, the Trope, and the Critic

Critical Discourses on Miron Białoszewski

by Piotr Sobolczyk (Author)
©2018 Monographs 246 Pages
Series: Cross-Roads, Volume 13


This book presents the rhetorical means of creating discourses about a writer and examines how the critic’s viewpoint mediated via rhetoric tropes interplays with cultural institutions and their rules (newspaper criticism, university, schools). It eventually shows the place of literature in culture and the workings of cultural memory. The book studies rhetorics, discourse, and social psychology applied to cultural institutions. In this respect, it offers a completely innovative approach and method. The author also provides an exemplary study of the famous Polish modernist poet and writer Miron Białoszewski, and presents a detailed guide and an account of his way towards becoming a major figure in Polish culture.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Preface to the English edition
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part One: Methodological Introduction. Reception, Discourse, Culture
  • 1 Eclecticism
  • 2 Prototypes in the Discourse of Literary Studies
  • 3 Metatropes in the Discourses of Literary Studies
  • 4 Discourse of Thematic Criticism as a Metonymic Discourse
  • 5 Relation between Discourses
  • 6 Educational Discourse
  • 7 Social Psychology in the Discourses of Literary Theory
  • 7.1 Literary theory of hermeneutics as attributions
  • 7.2 Schemata of the “self”; or, tracing the author
  • 7.3 Psychological and social aspects of evaluations in literary theory
  • Part Two: Białoszewski in the Discourse of Literary Criticism
  • 1 Before the Debut: Setting the Tone
  • 2 The Revolution of Things, or “The Poetical Debut of 1956”
  • 3 High Expectations, Lost Illusions, Antithetical Fancies
  • 4 Silencing the Discourse: Mistaken Affections
  • 5 Discussing Było i było
  • 6 Demiurge’s Rebellion, or “The Poetry of Bric-a-Brac”
  • 7 The Final Establishment of the Discursive Position: A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising
  • 8 Białoszewski[[pageI209]] as a “Distinguished Contemporary Writer”
  • Afterword
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Ever since I started working on the dissertation on the reception of Miron Białoszewski’s work, I have had an intense feeling that the available methodologies are somehow partial and incomplete that they omit aspects that I find essential. My own proposal has emerged at the intersection of different methodologies, in search of possible points of convergence between methodological approaches that have rarely been systematically compared. The guiding principle of my inquiry was that the reception of an author’s work (Białoszewski in our case) should be described as a type of narrative itself, in accordance with the stronger version of the narrativist argument claiming that “everything is a narration”. Thus, my narrative about the history of Białoszewski’s works, the commentaries on them, and the transformations of the modes of talking and thinking about literature are themselves founded on a narrativist thesis. I am aware that it is necessarily “my own story”: the story of Białoszewski’s road to fame as I perceive it. The acceptance of the narrativist argument implies subjectivism. If someone else tried to describe “the same thing”, he or she would inevitably have produced a very different story.

The present dissertation seeks to achieve several objectives connected to both theory and history of literature. Firstly, it proposes an alternative approach to reception studies; an approach that, hopefully, historians of literature concerned with other authors and phenomena may also find useful. Secondly, it offers a meta-theoretical reflection on the situation of literary studies and situates the present and future modalities of discourse on literary criticism and literary theory – along their social and institutional contexts – in the framework of the Metatropes. Thirdly, it serves as a guide to literary studies on Białoszewski. This subjective guide to “Białoszewskology” refers to many studies – especially in literary criticism – that faded into oblivion and are now rarely cited. It also provides well-known works of Białoszewski with additional contexts. Finally, the present work has another, more personal objective: it is a private manifesto of an implicit hermeneutic stance. This hermeneutic is ironic and polyphonic, yet it believes in the self-identity of literary studies as a discipline. In other words: this book is an explication of how I try to read literature in my institution.


This book is a revised edition of my dissertation titled The Reception of Miron Białoszewski’s Poetry and Prose, defended at the Jagiellonian University, Kraków on June 17, 2008, a date coinciding with the 25th anniversary of Białoszewski’s ←9 | 10→ death. I would like to thank my supervisor, Professor Stanisław Balbus for his guidance and care. I am grateful to my excellent reviewers: Professor Piotr Michałowski and Professor Wojciech Ligęza. My thanks are due to the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP) and the National Science Centre (NCN) for the financial support provided. I also give thanks to the National Centre for Culture, which has rewarded my work as the second best doctoral dissertation in the field of cultural studies for 2008.

I would like to express my gratitude to Michał Rusinek for providing me with the literature on rhetoric in English. I thank all my friends from the Wroclaw constructivist school for their insights and inspiration. Last but not least, a special thanks to my parents, who have supported my work.

only after

they dissect me

there will be scandal

– Miron Białoszewski

1 Eclecticism

Traditionally, a study of reception has been understood as an indispensable, yet merely introductory element of the analysis of a literary work. A diligent, respectable philologist should provide a study on a literary work with an introductory piece on reception. The study of reception, however, seemed reducible to a specific heuristic. Its function was simply to clear the way for proper research. In the rhetorical construction of a dissertation, the presentation of “the current state of research” functioned as a metonymic basis for “what is already known”. It preceded the crucial moment when the author could finally declare, “now, I bring about something new”, following a topos used in the Roman rhetoric. The study of reception – reduced, filtered, and focused exclusively on a “purely semantic” aspect of the commentaries – was therefore treated simply as a starting point for the creation of a new and, presumptively, better interpretation or critical synthesis. In contrast, the present work does not treat reception as a starting point but the final destination. It is not a means but the ultimate end.

“The reception turn” is usually connected, or sometimes even reduced, to what is known as the Konstanzer Schule, meaning the “aesthetic of reception” by Hans Robert Jauss, Harald Weinrich, and Wolfgang Iser. In reality, however, it was not the only school of thought concerned with the question of reception.1 The reduction of the problematic of reception to the work of Jauss is itself a product of a specific reception dominant in the field of Polish literary theory, which has neglected other veins. However, for me, the propositions of the Constance School has turned out to be unsatisfactory both from the theoretical and practical point of view. It could not help me with solving concrete problems posited by my own research programme and analysed texts.

This is because the “aesthetic of reception” relies on Roman Ingarden’s concept of concretisation. As such, it has presupposed the existence of some shared, common basis; a fundament of all concretisations yet independent of any particular concretisation. This fundament was believed to create “indeterminacies”, elements of indecisiveness, opening up space for subjective interpretation. This fundament was identified with “the text”.2 What followed was that the aesthetic of reception should be understood as a supplement to hermeneutics. For this reason, Jauss has described the aesthetic of reception as partial, in need of a hermeneutic supplementation. Although the “receptive-analytical method” proposed by Gotthart Wunberg is more specific and codified, it also fails to provide a viable alternative, which could push the analysis of the reception of Białoszewski forward. 3

The aesthetic of reception holds middle ground between essentialist and pragmatic (or constructivist) positions.4 These two imply very different ←14 | 15→ epistemologies: realism on the one hand, and constructivism on the other.5 The former presupposes the existence of a reality independent of the subject. The subject on its part mirrors/discovers this external reality. Language refers to “things” or “situations” which exist independently of language itself. This is the mainstream tradition of Western philosophy. There was, however, a different, underground, and marginal current which became prominent in the course of the 20th century.6 According to this second tradition (here presented in concise and simplified form), “reality” is itself a product of “subject” or, rather, plural “realities” are products of “subjects”. There is no point of view or a point of reference that could exist independently of subjects. There is no “objectivity”; there is only “intersubjectivity” achieved through communication. The author who could be named the patron saint of these divergent currents of constructivism is Giambattista Vico, who famously said that:

the world of civil society has certainly been made by men, and that its principles are therefore to be found within the modifications of our own human mind. Whoever reflects on this cannot but marvel that the philosophers should have bent all their energies to the study of the world of nature, which, since God made it, He alone knows; and that they should have neglected the study of the world of nations or civil world, which, since men had made it, men could hope to know.7

Many philosophical currents have sprung from Vico’s thought, even if they do not refer directly to the Neapolitan thinker. We could recall Jean Piaget’s, Jerome S. Bruner’s and Ernst von Glaserfeld’s psychology; Thomas Kuhn’s and Paul Feyerabend’s sociology of knowledge; Michel Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge and discourse analysis; Hayden White’s constructivist narrativism; Niklas Luhmann’s social constructivism; Humberto Maturana’s and Francisco Varela’s neurobiological constructivism; different currents of philosophy of language represented by the late Wittgenstein, Edward Sapir, Benjamin Lee Whorf, and Hilary Putnam; cognitivism and “the new rhetoric”; and, to a certain extent, even neopragmatism. More importantly, all these “Vician” schools of thought reject “the divine perspective”, still present in the philosophy of Vico himself, for whom it is only God who does indeed possess some kind of objective knowledge.

In consequence of such secularisation is a shared belief of all the constructivists who claim that we cannot achieve “a divine point of view” that such a point of view does not exist. There is an analogy between constructivism in philosophy and constructivism in literary studies. Just as in the field of epistemology, the subject does not refer to some independent reality, neither does the subject “discover” it – in the field of literary studies there is no unitary text that would be foundational for all the concretisations. What do exist are merely literary constructs (existing in the minds of subjects) and their intersubjective communication – discourse(s). In other words: there is no such thing as a text that would not have been already interpreted (reception = interpretation). The process of understanding constitutes a synthesis of the cognitive process of constructing meaning that fulfils social expectation.

It would be naive to believe that such a stance implies anarchism, as if everyone would be absolutely free to interpret whatever one wants from the same text; which, in turn, could be understood simply as a “material object” out there, constituted of black marks on a page or a screen. The individual subject does not develop independently of society. Individual development takes place in the process of socialisation,8 including literary socialisation executed through schools and universities. Literary socialisation constructs specific communicative procedures, and these procedures are themselves constructed in and through communication. This explains how it is possible that we can compare our literary constructs of a text and how could they be similar to each other. The question whether these constructs are indeed similar in the minds of particular subjects is beyond the reach of our cognisance. Nevertheless, communication does create an impression that different subjects talk about, more or less, “the same thing”, the same text. The difference between constructs as existing in the ←16 | 17→ minds of individuals and constructs in communication should make us aware of the crucial distinction between cognition and communication. Depending on the available set of procedures constructed by the process of socialisation or on the conscious choices which favour some procedures over other, we may define different interpretive communities, paradigms, methodologies, and schools. The theory of socialisation present in Vico’s thought – even if Vico himself does not use this exact term9 – has two important theoretical consequences. Firstly, the fact that everybody possesses one’s own constructs does not lead to any kind of light-hearted anarchism. On the contrary, it demands that one takes responsibility for one’s own constructs and, in the case of literary critics, has to take responsibility for what one says and writes.10 Secondly, when one is dealing with reception study, one cannot rely on any kind of common platform shared by the reader and the author of a commentary. What is available to the reader is not the author’s innermost intention but solely the reader’s constructs. This approach may be criticised as solipsistic. That said, I believe that it would not be fair to conceal the fact that one has one’s own interpretation or, to be precise, that one has nothing but one’s own interpretation, and all that one can do is supplement this interpretation of the text with one’s interpretation of the commentaries and interpretations of the texts.

This approach is validated by psychological research according to which the “self” is a (cognitive) prototype and that all the information on others exist in continual reference to this prototype of one’s own subjectivity. Moreover, as psychological experiments have shown, the stronger the “self”, the easier for the subject to empathise with the perspectives of others.11 If we treat literary theory as an attempt to understand the Other – and this is indeed the way I treat it – then the ←17 | 18→ ability to empathise with another perspective, and to revise one’s own constructs, must appear essential.12

My own theoretical reflection is an eclectic composition of diverse elements taken from the abovementioned constructivist traditions. I have chosen to mix elements from different traditions because I found each of them insufficient due to their inability to take into account the aspects I found essential for my own research. To phrase it in a different way: I am a type of personality or a type of imagination that cannot identify itself with a single, given method. Such a type is anarchical in a positive, Feyerabendian sense.

Let me now indicate which elements I decide to pick up from these traditions and how are they related to each other. Firstly, my theory of socialisation focused on systemic relations and communication takes from social constructivism.13 If we assume that there is no reality outside communication,14 then what follows is that our attention should be concentrated on discourse analysis.15 Discourse is here understood as a narrative,16 following White – who in turn follows Vico – and I take his theory of Metatropes almost without reservation. The application of Metatropes allows me to discriminate between the most fundamental (proto)types of discourse. Secondly, when scrutinising scientific discourses, I use methods elaborated by sociology of knowledge17 represented by Kuhn,18 Feyerabend, Bourdieu19 and Foucault. Their theories are adapted in order to grasp the peculiarity of a specific discourse – that of the Polish literary studies. Discourse and communication, obviously, refer to language. And since neither social constructivism nor Kuhn elaborated more concrete propositions in the matter of language, I decided to supplement their proposals with cognitivist concepts – with special reference to the cognitivist idea of prototype and cognitive metaphor – which organise thought and discourse.20 However, since I also find cognitivism insufficient for achieving my theoretical aims, I also turn to “the new rhetoric”.21 Finally, from Stanley Fish’s neopragmatism, I take the concept of “interpretative communities”; a concept present also in Jauss’ thought as “the horizon of expectations” which I, however, understand not in an essentialist but pragmatic manner. Two other important concepts derived from Fish are the ideas of “literary institution” and “professionalism”.22

But these are all abstractions. My purpose here, however, is to present my ideas as concrete proposals, not as summaries of other authors’ thoughts. These concrete propositions will constitute five major parts of my enquiry. The first discusses prototypes in the discourse of literary studies, bringing together narrativism, cognitivism, constructivism, and sociology of knowledge. The second concerns Metatropes, uniting narrativism and the new rhetoric with an in-depth analysis of hermeneutic and metonymic discourses. The third refers to the relations between discourses. The fourth considers education in Polish literature. Finally, the fifth is on the laws of social psychology, detectable in the scientific discourse and practice of literary studies.

Before I could continue with developing these five propositions, the last final remark on reception seems indispensable. As Michel Foucault has said


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
literary theory cultural studies reception theory literary modernism Polish literature
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 246 pp., 1 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Piotr Sobolczyk (Author)

Piotr Sobolczyk is a literary critic, translator, and writer. He holds a PhD in literary theory from the Jagiellonian University. He has authored books in the realms of Polish literature in the 20th and 21st centuries, on Spanish literature, and queer studies, among others Polish Queer Modernism (Peter Lang, 2015). He was a guest lecturer at the Jagiellonian University, Universitat i Oslo, INALCO Paris, and Universidad Pablo Olavide in Sevilla.


Title: The Worldview, the Trope, and the Critic
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247 pages