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The Language of Polish Modernism


Ryszard Nycz

This book debunks the myth of Polish Modernist literature as rooted in rash, immediate expression. The author compares programmatic statements on language by turn-of-the-century writers such as Wacław Berent, Bolesław Leśmian, Stanisław Brzozowski or Karol Irzykowski with notions deduced from their literary works. He demonstrates that these writers’ linguistic self-consciousness informs their implicitly self-reflexive texts and sheds light on their values and characteristic qualities. The author treats Modernist literature itself as a sort of «language» – a distinct entity that emerged through systematic differentiation within the general literary discourse. The book enhances the understanding of the transformations behind this important philosophical and artistic movement.

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Chapter 3: Tropes of the ‘I’: Concepts of Subjectivity in Twentieth-Century Polish Literature



The history of subjectivity in twentieth-century literature is known to be an essential but tricky field. We must acknowledge the ways in which it is determined by – or at least correlates with – the field of literary theory, as well as other disciplines, such as linguistics, psychology or philosophy. Historical literary representations of subjectivity betray the prevailing concept of the subject – a concept deeply rooted in philosophy and psychology. Moreover, such representations suggest how the role of language is understood, or what strategies are seen to underlie a works’ structuring and semantic construction. (The rejection of the notion of the text as an autonomous, self-regulated organic whole, for instance, appears to be logically consistent with the rejection of the Romantic notion of the subject as a separate, independent and stable ‘I’.) What is more, this correlation between concepts of the subject and concepts of the text seems to go hand in hand with a manifest interdependency between a theoretical recognition of the status of the subject in the literary text and the prevailing method of its reading or interpretation. (This interference is illustrated by Barthes’s statement that ‘once the Author is gone, the claim to “decipher” a text becomes quite useless’.110)

Overall, therefore, any study of this apparently narrow problem must take into consideration the general links between the philosophical premises inherent in poetics and the methodological foundations of literary theory. Both aspects interest me only in as far as they express a common...

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