Has This Hectacomb Been Over?: Literary Texts of Young Polish and German Authors on Jewish Existence in the Shoa

Has This Hectacomb Been Over?: Literary Texts of Young Polish and German Authors on Jewish Existence in the Shoa

Sławomir Jacek Żurek (The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6258-0.ch007

Abstract

This chapter presents various forms and functions of subversion referring to three literary examples which come from the recent Polish and German fiction. Subversion in this study is comprehended as a transgression of all textual boundaries; as such, it is present in a wide range of narrative strategies and artistic techniques which contest and deconstruct the accepted established cultural forms of transmission of the Holocaust memory. The three analyzed examples are Polish author Igor Ostachowicz's Noc żywych Żydów (Night of the Living Jews [2012]), Polish author Mariusz Sieniewicz's Żydówek nie obsługujemy (We Don't Serve Jewesses [2006]), and German author Maxim Biller's In Kopf von Bruno Schulz (Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz [2013; translated 2015]).
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Introduction

Belgian Political Philosopher Chantal Mouffe defined the public space as a battleground on which different hegemonic projects are confronted, with no chance for any final reconciliation. According to Mouffe, critical artistic practices play an important role in subverting the dominant hegemony in the public space, visualizing that which is repressed and destroyed by the consensus of post-political democracy (Mouffe, 2000). Subversion as a term in art appears quite frequently ever since the 1980s, particularly in reference to practices and strategies of critical art. Subversion can be understood as a method or technique for creating a work of art through the de-contextualization and re-contextualization of existing images from art or from the broader visual culture. However, a more common understanding of the term posits a critical stance, usually toward the dominant culture (Becker, 2014). Specifically in literature, subversion is probably as old as literature itself, with relevant examples dating back at least to fourteen century's Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The various techniques that authors use in their subversion vary and are a subject matter for research all over the world (Booker, 1991). Contemporary critiques have noted how the Polish avant-garde art movement of the 1970s which resulted in a never before seen pluralization of attitudes and actions in Polish art, took a subversive course as its leading social concept (Ronduda, 2009).

Hence, subversion, as used here, has been variously defined by cultural and literary studies. The members of the Polish-German research team of the project that generated this study, have started their work from the Latin meaning of the word subversor, which may be translated as “an over-thrower.” Subversion as an artistic strategy consists in imitating, or nearly identifying with the criticized object, and the subsequent subtle shift of its meanings. The moment of the shift is not always immediately available to the audience. It is neither a straightforward nor open criticism; rather, it is marked by certain ambivalence. Subversion is conceptualized in this study as a transgression of all textual boundaries. As such, it is present in a wide range of narrative strategies and artistic techniques. These performances of subversion contest and deconstruct the established, commonly accepted or even sanctified cultural forms of transmission of the Holocaust memory, proliferated by the highly ritualized official discourse.

This essay discusses three aspects of subversion that appear in recent Polish and German literary texts: first - the construction of the represented world; second – the characters; and third – the language used in narration and plot. These three aspects are discussed through the analyses of three books - Polish author Igor Ostachowicz's Noc żywych Żydów/ Night of the Living Jews (2012); Polish author Mariusz Sieniewicz's Żydówek nie obsługujemy/ We Don’t Serve Jewesses (2006); and German author Maxim Biller's In Kopf von Bruno Schulz/ Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz (2013; translated - 2015).

The first, Night of the Living Jews by Igor Ostachowicz (born in 1968), written in Polish, is a story featuring the representatives of the youngest generation of Polish intelligentsia who were born in the 1980s. The main character of this novel is Glazurnik (his nick-name can be translated as “a tiler” into English). He lives together with his girl-friend Chuda (her nick-name, in turn, can be translated as “Skinny” into English) in the present-day Muranów (a district of Warsaw) – the quarter where during the Second World War the largest ghetto in Europe was placed. One day the protagonist discovers in his cellar the entrance to the historical Jewish closed district in Warsaw (as the Germans used to call the ghetto). Seventy years after the Holocaust, this underground area of the capital of Poland is full of Jewish people, who exist on the border of life and death. As a result of different plot twists the Jewish characters living below the foundations of the building move into contemporary Warsaw. First of all they come in touch with the present-day inhabitants of this district, who do not belong to the high society and in many cases are very anti-Semitic.

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