Writing Histories of Lesser-Known Literatures: Being Poland

In the era of world literature and globalized academia, the modes of both the production and reception of culture and the nature of knowledge have changed. How should we look at histories of lesser-known literatures and write about them in a comparative context? Is the national focus still justifiable?

This event featured Prof. Joanna Niżyńska (Indiana) and Prof. Tamara Trojanowska (Toronto), two editors of the recently published book Being Poland: A New History of Polish Literature and Culture since 1918 (Toronto UP 2018). Unlike previous histories of Polish literature (including that by Czesław Miłosz), this book is a collaborative project. It brought together some sixty scholars from Europe and North America who attempted to rethink the national literary history from multiple perspectives and distinct viewpoints. The introduction to the book promises that: "The comparative, interdisciplinary, transcultural approach is as much a way of writing here as it is a way of reading." What does this mean in practice and how should we teach literary histories in the present day?

The authors of Being Poland discussed the challenges of writing the history of a lesser-known culture in the twenty-first century. As the book's publication marked the centenary of Poland's regained independence, the speakers also addressed other difficult questions: how to assess Polish modern culture in retrospect and what does it actually mean to "be Poland" now?

The event was followed by a Q&A and wine reception.

Joanna Niżyńska is Director of the Polish Studies Center and Associate Professor of Polish in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures at Indiana University, Bloomington. Previously she had taught Polish literature for many years at Harvard University. She is the author of The Kingdom of Insignificance: Miron Bialoszewski and the Quotidian, the Traumatic, and the Queer (Northwestern UP, 2013) and German-Polish Postmemorial Relations: In Search of a Livable Past (co-edited with Kristin Kopp, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). 

Tamara Trojanowska is Director for the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies and Associate Professor of Polish in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on the intersections of drama and theatre with history, philosophy, and religious thought, and emphasizes issues of identity and transgression, topics that she has published on in Poland, Canada, United States, and England.

This event was kindly supported by the Embassy of Poland in London as part of Polish Heritage Days.