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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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This book deals with the language of Modernism in more than one way: building on the idea that language shapes our reality, I bring together three basic but complementary perspectives. I begin by exploring the language of Modernism in the primary sense of language, that is to say by examining Modernist writers’ concepts of language as well as the widespread assumptions that influenced how culture was generally understood around the turn of the century. Here I look at the notions of language that the Modernists proclaimed openly as well as the notions that can be deduced from their literary output – especially from their most innovative works. In Chapter Two, each of these notions is discussed in turn, but they also play an important part in the remaining chapters, thus forming the book’s leitmotif.

When it comes to identifying the last century’s artistic and intellectual transformations, one idea has long been accepted as canonical, namely that language has played a significant role – a decisive role according to some scholars – both for the Modernists’ literary or generally artistic production, and for the modern humanities as a whole. This idea is well established in Western European academic circles, but it has not yet been verified with respect to Polish literature. This book offers a preliminary inquiry into how valid this idea may be, within literary studies and especially with regards to the early phase of Polish Modernism at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Second, this book...

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