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Romantic Memory

Studies from the Past and Present


Krzysztof Trybuś

The book depicts the phenomenon of cultural memory preserved in the Polish Romantic literature, predominantly in the works of Mickiewicz, Słowacki, and Norwid (and other European poets). The primary objective is to reconstruct the cultural pattern of continuity established in Poland during the period of catastrophe. The author describes the call for a critical historiography and presents a "Slavic counterpoint" in the history of modern Europe. The key questions of the book are: Will the Romantic lesson about the transformation of history into memory and turning the past into an object of faith turn out to be a lesson about the future? The book is inspired by the German trend of contemporary reflection – "the culture of remembrance" (Erinnerungskultur) founded on the works of the Assmanns.

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2. Romantic biography as a form of memory


Who is speaking?

When reading Romantic poetry, one must ask “who is speaking?” One poses this question when a poet/protagonist begins to speak in Mickiewicz’s poetry. When the Ghost, Gustaw, Konrad begin to speak. Each time, we learn that a Romantic biography of metamorphoses owes much to convention and that it is, almost as in the case of ancient tragedy, the concept of putting on masks, one after another. We need to pay closer attention to the motto that Mickiewicz included in the beginning of his adolescent Forefathers’ Eve, and particularly to the intention expressed in the title of that quoted work: Biographical Recreations under the Cranium of a Giantess by Jean Paul Friedrich Richter.

The Romantic myth about the unity of poetry and the poet as an empirical person is condemned to remain unfulfilled because, otherwise, it would not have been possible to make courageous confessions, such as the one in the poem opening with the words “My corpse sits here among us.” The truth of the imagination allows consolidating the image of the person speaking in that poem, shortening the distance between “here” and “there,” and returning to oneself, to “the homeland of […] thought,” which is also the homeland of memory.

Reason and memory have stood together at least since antiquity, but their tasks have shifted. Mickiewicz’s Lausanne lyrics illustrate this shift ideally. It could be said that Mickiewicz developed in them postulates about memory formulated by Wordsworth, one of...

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