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Romantic Memory

Studies from the Past and Present

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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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In lieu of a conclusion: A farewell to memory?

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All that remains here are masterpieces. It could not have come about any other way, in these times of continuous re-evaluations that have announced the end of history so often, along with the dawn of the history of literature. Only masterpieces have survived the disaster. Masterpieces live outside history and beyond time. Sometimes they organize breakthroughs or create epochs, but they are not entirely incorporated into them. Like a “great philosopher” and their work, a great writer and their masterpiece do not reflect their time: they create it. “Greateness” interrupts the continuity of human history, wrote Leszek Kołakowski.391

What remains of the great history of contemporary literature? It has become the literature of the past century, the proud history of which opened with the birth of the avant-garde which then turned to ashes, and the most important books on poetry are devoted to old masters: in the Polish context this means Zbigniew Herbert, Czesław Miłosz and Tadeusz Różewicz. Is this a return to the Romantic theory of the poet-genius dressed in classicist attire? Today, it is more difficult to discuss theory than poetry itself. There are a surprising number of personalizing approaches, focused on the poet, that reject what was once the most important instance in the so-called historical and literary process. One can see in our struggle with poetry some kind of ancient exegesis of bards, once considered an anachronistic model of the humanities.392 And there remains the omnipresence of Mickiewicz,...

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