Jan Błoński

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  • fot. Ela Lempp

(1931-2009) Jan Błoński was a literary historian, critic, essayist and translator. He studied Polish literature at the Jagiellonian University and made his critical debut at a young age, quickly becoming one of the most outstanding figures in the "Cracow School" of criticism. At first he was primarily interested in poetry, offering a commentary on the transformation of lyric poetry in the 1950s (Galczynski; Poeci i inni [Poets and Others]). Later, drawing his examples from prose literature, he described the breakthrough associated with the "October Thaw" of 1956 (Zmiana warty [Changing of the Guard]). However, he earned his fame principally through interpreting the classics of the 20th Century: Proust (Widziec jasno w zachwyceniu [To See Clearly in Ecstasy], Beckett (Samuel Beckett), Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz jako dramaturg [Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz as a Playwright]; Od Stasia do Witkacego [From Stan to Witkacy]), Gombrowicz (Forma, smiech i rzeczy ostateczne [Form, Laughter, and Eschatology]), Milosz (Milosz jak swiat [Milosz like the World), Mrozek (Wszystkie sztuki Slawomira Mrozka [All the Plays of Slawomir Mrozek]). The diversity of his interests was always impressive. Before he became a professor at the Jagiellonian University, he earned his habilitation on the basis of an excellent book about Sep-Szarzynski (Mikolaj Sep-Szarzynski a poczatki polskiego baroku [Mikolaj Sep-Szarzynski and the Beginnings of the Polish Baroque],  He also took an interest in drama and theater (serving as the literary director of the Old Theater in Cracow), and translated French critics and writers (including Genet). At the same time, he never lost contact with contemporary literature. The fascination others had for him came from the perfection of his critical style, his simplicity, his aptitude for "condensing" a work in such a way as to reveal all its beauty and complexity. Yet his stature as a critic was defined by his faultless ear and his skill at recognizing value: it was Blonski who in the last decades "anointed" the debuting talents, and established the literary hierarchies. In the broader world, however, he became known primarily as the author of an essay entitled, The Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto, which initiated an extraordinarily heated discussion on the problem of Polish moral responsibility in the face of the Holocaust. Thus, Blonski in the last half-century has been not only the greatest commentator on Polish contemporary literature, but also its conscience, an author relentlessly attacked for raising uncomfortable questions.

"A text not read, not loved (or not irritating!) ceases to change meanings. It loses its flavor, its glitter, its depth; it ceases to opalesce and to take on multiple layers of meaning. To be sure, penetrating analysis does not always go hand in hand with good feelings. Marvelous critical books have also been written (though more rarely) out of bitterness and hatred. But even so, this hatred is nothing other than disappointed love.... Could it be, then, that the scholar should not be ashamed of tears? Let us say, rather, that he should be very discrete in wiping them away... A person in tears sees poorly, but a person with no heart sees nothing." (Romans z tekstem [Romance with the Text])

Bibliography

  • Gałczyński 1945-1953, Warszawa: PIW, 1955.
  • Poeci i inni, Kraków: WL, 1956.
  • Zmiana warty, Warszawa: PIW, 1961.
  • Widzieć jasno w zachwyceniu. Szkic literacki o twórczości Prousta, Warszawa: PIW, 1965.
  • Mikołaj Sęp Szarzyński a początki polskiego baroku, Kraków: WL, 1967.
  • Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz jako dramaturg, Kraków: PWN, 1973.
  • Odmarsz, Kraków: WL, 1978.
  • Romans z tekstem, Kraków: WL, 1981.
  • Samuel Beckett (współautor: Marek Kędzierski), Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1982.
  • Kilka myśli co nie nowe, Kraków: Znak, 1985.
  • Biedni Polacy patrzą na getto, Kraków: WL, 1994; 2008
  • Forma, śmiech i rzeczy ostateczne. Studia o Gombrowiczu, Kraków: Znak, 1994.
  • Wszystkie sztuki Sławomira Mrożka, Kraków: WL, 1995.
  • Od Stasia do Witkacego, Kraków: WL, 1997.
  • Miłosz jak świat, Kraków: Znak, 1998.
  • Witkacy: sztukmistrz, filozof, estetyk, Kraków: WL, 2001.
  • Wszystko co literackie, Kraków: WL 2001.
  • Mieszaniny, Kraków: WL, 2001.
  • Między literaturą a światem. Pisma wybrane tom II, Kraków: WL, 2003.
  • Witkacy na zawsze, Kraków: WL, 2003.

Translations:

English:

  • Four decades of Polish essays, Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1990.  

German:

  • Polen zwischen Ost und West, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1996.