On an Electric Arc
Andrzej Bobkowski Writing
Table Of Contents
- About the editors
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of contents
- List of Abbreviations of Andrzej Bobkowski’s Works
- Introduction: “A Thousand Electric Arcs Appears Between Me and Everything Around Me”
- Part I: “I Am Considered a Writer:” On Reception, Works Order, Metareflection, and the Central Position of Wartime Notebooks
- Wartime Notebooks in Light of the Wartime Diary Manuscript
- Nine Notebooks Versus Two Volumes
- Contexts and Directions of the Manuscript’s Transformation
- 1. Youth, America, Composition
- 2. Distance, Autobiography, Project
- Part II “The Passion for Recording:” About Writing Practices (And Not Only)
- The Sphere of Writing
- Capturing Everyday Life: Photography and Postcards
- “I Send You a Reproduction:” Postcard
- Remarks on Epistolography
- Stages in a Journey, Stages of Writing: Geographical Determinants
- The Personal – the Observed – the Experienced – the Reflected
- Transgression: Unorthodox Writings
- Between the Diarization of Epistolography and Periodic Diaristics
- The Most Important Series of Notes: Diaristics
- Writing, Practice, Existence
- Narrative Strategies as Means of Dealing with Contingency
- A: Memoir from the Time of Dying: Staging, the Anticipation of Death, Sincerity Toward
- Memoir from the Time of Dying
- B: Final Readings: Bobkowski as a Reader (of Increased Risk)
- Part III “I Listen and I Watch. Beauty:” On the Axiological Construction of Writing
- 1. The Eye: I’m All Eyes
- 2. The Ear: I Change into an Instrument
- 3. The Sharpness of a New Gaze, Unspoiled by Habits
- Bike – City – Machine: The Experience of Modernity
- 1. The World of Engineering
- 2. An Entirely Peculiar Beauty
- Chopin, or Culture Is Necessary to Live
- 1. The Unity of Culture and Forms of Experiencing Culture
- 2. Bobkowski’s Chopin
- Part IV: “The Issue of Religion, Faith, Life and the Soul of a Man:” On Spirituality
- It’s at Moments Such as These: On the Conditions of Religious Experience
- Gombrowicz’s “I Almost Believed” and Nałkowska’s “Everything in Life”
- Can One Love God More
- From Visible Beauty to Visible Holiness
- Conrad Versus the Catholic Anglo-Saxons
- De Profundis: Elements of Imagination and Religious Language
- Ending: “It All Happened Under Constant Tension of an Electric Arc”
- Index of Names
- Series index
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Dissemination of the English version of the monograph by Maciej Nowak On an
Electric Arc: Andrzej Bobkowski Writing is a task financed within agreement
781/P-DUN/2019 from the funds of the Minister of Science and Higher Education
for the promotion of science.
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E-ISBN 978-3-631-83482-4 (E-PDF)
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About the author
Maciej Nowak, Assistant Professor at the Center for the Study of Religious Literature, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. His work focuses on the relationship of literature and religion, novelist historiosophy, and modern diaristics and epistolography. He also publishes essays on jazz aesthetics and reviews on jazz music albums.
About the book
On an Electric Arc
Maciej Nowak’s book is the first monograph on the writings of Andrzej Bobkowski (1913–1961), a Polish émigré writer from the millieu of Jerzy Giedroyc’s Kultura journal. Bobkowski is famous for his diary Wartime Notebooks: France 1940–1944, translated into many languages, including English. Using current methods of the French school in the study of diaristics and epistolography, Nowak overcomes the limits of aesthetic analysis to reach the anthropological center of Bobkowski’s authorial practices. In this way, Nowak unveils the existential and axiological dimension of Bobkowski’s work. Thus, the book offers a coherent depiction of the rich and diverse writings of Bobkowski, prepared with methods of modern humanities.
This eBook can be cited
This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.
Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations of Andrzej Bobkowski’s Works
Introduction: “A Thousand Electric Arcs Appears Between Me and Everything Around Me”
Part I: “I Am Considered a Writer:” On Reception, Works Order, Metareflection, and the Central Position of Wartime Notebooks
Wartime Notebooks in Light of the Wartime Diary Manuscript
Nine Notebooks Versus Two Volumes
Contexts and Directions of the Manuscript’s Transformation
1. Youth, America, Composition
2. Distance, Autobiography, Project
Part II “The Passion for Recording:” About Writing Practices (And Not Only)
Capturing Everyday Life: Photography and Postcards
“I Send You a Reproduction:” Postcard
Stages in a Journey, Stages of Writing: Geographical Determinants
The Personal – the Observed – the Experienced – the Reflected
Transgression: Unorthodox Writings
Between the Diarization of Epistolography and Periodic Diaristics
The Most Important Series of Notes: Diaristics
Narrative Strategies as Means of Dealing with Contingency
A: Memoir from the Time of Dying: Staging, the Anticipation of Death, Sincerity Toward
B: Final Readings: Bobkowski as a Reader (of Increased Risk)
Part III “I Listen and I Watch. Beauty:” On the Axiological Construction of Writing
2. The Ear: I Change into an Instrument
3. The Sharpness of a New Gaze, Unspoiled by Habits
Bike – City – Machine: The Experience of Modernity
2. An Entirely Peculiar Beauty
Chopin, or Culture Is Necessary to Live
1. The Unity of Culture and Forms of Experiencing Culture
Part IV: “The Issue of Religion, Faith, Life and the Soul of a Man:” On Spirituality
It’s at Moments Such as These: On the Conditions of Religious Experience
Gombrowicz’s “I Almost Believed” and Nałkowska’s “Everything in Life”
From Visible Beauty to Visible Holiness
Conrad Versus the Catholic Anglo-Saxons
De Profundis: Elements of Imagination and Religious Language
Ending: “It All Happened Under Constant Tension of an Electric Arc”
List of Abbreviations of Andrzej Bobkowski’s Works
BB – Listy do Aleksandra Bobkowskiego 1940–1961, ed. J. Podolska, Biblioteka „Więzi”, Warszawa 2013.
BI – „Tobie zapisuje Europę”. Listy do Jarosława Iwaszkiewicza 1947–1958, ed. J. Zieliński, Biblioteka „Więzi”, Warszawa 2009.
BM – A. Bobkowski, A. Mieczysławska, Listy 1951–1961, ed. A.S. Kowalczyk, Biblioteka „Więzi”, Warszawa 2010.
BT – Listy do Jerzego Turowicza 1947–1960, ed. M. Urbanowski, Biblioteka „Więzi”, Warszawa 2013.
BTT – Listy do Tymona Terleckiego 1956–1961, ed. N. Taylor-Terlecka, Biblioteka „Więzi”, Warszawa 2006.
CdO – “Coco de Oro,” in: A. Bobkowski, Punkt równowagi, ed. K. Ćwikliński, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2008.
CzP – Czarny piasek. Sztuka w 3 aktach, Kultura 11/1959.
GB – Jerzy Giedroyc, Andrzej Bobkowski, Listy 1946–1961, ed. J. Zieliński, Czytelnik, Warszawa 1997.
IiS – „Ikkos i Sotion” oraz inne szkice, ed. P. Kądziela, Biblioteka „Więzi”, Warszawa 2009.
LdM – Listy z Gwatemali do matki, ed. E. Jurczyszyn, Wydawnictwo Książkowe Twój Styl, Warszawa 2008.
LdRA – Listy do różnych adresatów, ed. K. Ćwikliński, Arcana, Kraków 2013.
LzG – “List z Gwatemali,” in: „Ikkos i Sotion” oraz inne szkice, ed. P. Kądziela, Biblioteka „Więzi”, Warszawa 2009.
N – Notatnik 1947–1960, ed. M. Nowak, Wydawnictwo LTW, Łomianki 2013.
NT – “Na tyłach,” in: A. Bobkowski, Coco de Oro. Szkice i opowiadania. Instytut Literacki, Paryż 1970.
PR – “Punkt równowagi,” in: A. Bobkowski, Punkt równowagi, ed. K. Ćwikliński, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2008.←11 | 12→
S – “Spotkanie,” in: A. Bobkowski, Punkt równowagi, ed. K. Ćwikliński, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2008.
SP – “Spadek,” in: A. Bobkowski, Punkt równowagi, ed. K. Ćwikliński, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2008.
WN – Wartime Notebooks: France, 1940–1944, trans. G. Drabik and L. Engelstein, Yale University Press, New Haven 2018.
Z – “Zmierzch,” in: A. Bobkowski, Punkt równowagi, oprac. K. Ćwikliński, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2008.
ZDP – “Z dziennika podróży,” in: A. Bobkowski, Z dziennika podróży, Biblioteka „Więzi”, Warszawa 2013.
ZNM – “Z notatek modelarza,” in: A. Bobkowski, Z dziennika podróży, Biblioteka „Więzi”, wyd. III, Warszawa 2013.
In the case of diaries and letters, I provide the date and page number after the abbreviation in brackets.
Introduction: “A Thousand Electric Arcs Appears Between Me and Everything Around Me”
It is not easy to set the entry point for a monography of a writer’s whole oeuvre. I understand the introduction as the beginning, the decisive moment, and the observation point from which we grasp the whole image. This choice preliminarily defines the somewhat phantom creation, which has become in our times the “creative output of a writer,” along with the author as the subject of his own biography.1 I have no illusions that determining this decisive moment is simply a matter of arbitrary choice; not necessarily a fully conscious or – certainly not – the only and exhaustive set of perspectives. In this book, I employ the metaphor of the electric arc as the entry point, which was at least twice noted by Bobkowski at significant moments in his life. Of course, the seductive charm of this metaphor does not determine the idea for my research, neither does it determine the range of methods that I will use nor the preferred type of a monograph. However, I am deeply convinced that even a fragmentary explication of the “electric arc” reveals a set of fundamental qualities of Bobkowski, the author of Wartime Notebooks. I was encouraged to treat this image in such a way by Paul Ricoeur’s understanding of the metaphor as an artwork in miniature, which “must be possible equally to extend the same explication to larger entities, such as the entire poem.”2 What if the same metaphor returns in crucial statements from different periods of Bobkowski’s life? Does reflection on this metaphor then allow us to explain something more?
Bobkowski used the image of the electric arc in the authentic diary he kept in Paris between 1939 and 1946.3 On May 8, 1943, he notes:←13 | 14→
I live more intensely each and every day, and I think. A thousand voltages, a thousand electric arcs appear between me and everything around me. I neglect nothing in my surroundings; I have a moment of gaze for everything. Sometimes it seems to me that I constantly create something, although I actually create nothing. But this is what satiates me. It has existed in me for a long time, but I did not realize it. Today, I “work” consciously. I am what M[ax] Scheler calls “das weltoffene Tier.” I open up.4
We encounter here the registration of an increased state of self-awareness, in which the subject confirms his identity through the narrative articulation of (self)experience.5 It is a critical moment, both because of the “particular” individual content expressed here and because of the event itself, because “knowing who you are means knowing how to predict the elementary moments of your own identity.”6 A personal diary is an ideal place for this prediction because its “everyday life” allows for it to be freely expressed and developed.7 Bobkowski confirms with this entry the achievement of a new mode of identity, expressed by an increase in awareness of the process to which he is subjected, which can be considered an internal “enlightenment.” It leads to the conclusion in the spirit of Scheler’s crucial element in his anthropology: openness to the world.8 On the one hand, this fragment confirms Bobkowski’s philosophical erudition. On the other hand, it shows his particular way of reading such texts, which I call sapiential reading, that is, such that exceeds the horizon of mere accumulation of knowledge and integrates the whole person in the relationship with the world. The effects of this practice are signaled by the beginning of the entry, when Bobkowski writes about the intensification of life and thinking. At the same time, Bobkowski’s significant handwritten typography – the use of majuscule – shifts the emphasis on intellectual and spiritual activity. Moreover, at this point, ←14 | 15→the metaphor of the electric arc appears; indeed an arc multiplied a thousand times! In the content order that I referred above, this image functions as a culmination: it is a figure of a renewed relationship between the “I” and the world. However, it does not only express the intensity of this relationship, clearly understood in the context of creative work. After all, its appearance sheds light also on the cognitively active position in the world, which Bobkowski calls “my environment.” The material trace of this activity was the diary. The authentic manuscript, once lying on the table in the apartment at 33 Boulevard de Reuilly in Paris, and now deposited on the archive shelf at 208 East Street in Manhattan at the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America (PIASA). The manuscript differs in this fragment from the version known from Wartime Notebooks, in which there is simply no such reflection; in fact, the gap in this entry is much more significant, which coincides with the extensive transformation of the official text as a whole, which primarily sought to reduce the thread of self-analysis.
The relationship with the world depicted by the metaphor of the electric arc is expressed through creative output. It sounds enigmatic in the above fragment, because we are not sure if Bobkowski wants to define his focused, even contemplative (“I neglect nothing … I have a moment of gaze for everything”) attitude toward his surroundings, or whether he means the writing of the diary, which he does not want to acknowledge as proper literary work yet. Regardless how we would remove this ambiguity – or keep it – the effect of “creative work” is described here as a state of satiation, as a fullness achieved this way: “this is what satiates me.” In connection with the diary, contemplating, and creation, we should note that in this fragment, we encounter a significant string of themes for the writing Bobkowski. I deliberately do not use the word “writer” yet. We may already begin by placing reflection and life on a timeline, summarized by the phrase “from day to day.” Then the question of mindfulness – of directing the apparatus of perception on the outside world – is expressed by the traditionally mimetic sense of sight.
Perhaps the further explanation of the electric arc metaphor – referring to encyclopedic information9 – will bring us closer to a better grasp of this cloud of meanings. Let us pay attention to the beneficial effects of this electrical ←15 | 16→synthesis: the arc emits light, it is used to combine pure chemical compounds, in welding it welds separate elements, in furnaces it allows to produce new metal alloys. The arc generates heat. All of this is made possible by its essential feature: the combination of separate elements, which is achieved by the abolishing of oppositions, accompanied by phenomena of light, heat, and the experience of a rapid process. The nature of an electric arc is its abrupt course, a phenomenon of concentrated suddenness. In turn, we may apply suddenness as an aesthetic category10 to describe the vital qualities of Andrzej Bobkowski’s writing.
A synthesis manifested through writing convinces us that the properly combined elements cease on their way to a seemingly inevitable collision. Furthermore, it is not a phenomenon of simple coincidentia oppositorum – the unity of opposites – since it does not involve the simultaneous continuance of opposite things and phenomena. In Bobkowski’s case, contradictory elements are deprived of their confrontational character: by the writer’s dynamic gesture they are incorporated into a new whole.
As a symptom, the “electric arc” allows us to place this statement in its historical time: in the era in which electricity provided imagination with images that helped to describe the experiences of individuals. This epoch’s boundaries can be established as ca. 1910–1960. Naturally, it is merely a hypothesis based on the observation of literature, music, the applied arts (posters), film, advertising, and technology. However, the image of the arc is also differently motivated by Bobkowski’s biography. A freshman graduate of the Warsaw School of Economics, he found his first employment at the Pokój Steelworks in Nowy Bytom and – as the encyclopedia has it – the electric arc is also utilized in metallurgy. Read in such a way, this entry appears to capture a much larger portion of Bobkowski’s biography than just the wartime period diary.
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2020 (November)
- writing practices wartime diaries modern epistolography axiology of literature Central European modernism émigré literature
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 366 pp.