Saturday, May 20, 2017

Krzeczkowski's Faulkner

Henryk Krzeczkowski's thoughts on Faulkner and other Anglo-American authors are Spartan insofar as he seperates the Men from the Boys.


They bring up a question not irrelevent to Polish-American affairs: if American letters were capable of making such good use of Polish literature, why has Polish political thought made such poor use of American political practice?

Faulkner, as Krzeczkowski sees him, is a clear case of excellence in American literature reaching its full potential by employing the spirit of Polish literature as Faulkner managed to glean its essence from his time spent with Henryk Sienkiewicz. Sienkiewicz, though principly known in Poland for his Polish epics, is likewise the author of that grandest of tours de force: Quo Vadis. That magnum opus stands almost alone as the greatest consolidation of European civilization ever written.
Faulkner's ambitions were Polish and he achieved them for American culture no less than Sienkiewicz did for his motherland. Poles often pride thenselves on the enduring nature of their culture. Yet the American can answer the question "where is your Sienkiewicz?" by quite literally recalling to mind the author who admitted that his literary contribution was driven by the ethos of Sienkiewicz: Faulkner. That Faulkner is not widely read in America nowadays, supplanted (alongside all good literature) by popular culture, is not cause for panic: excellence will forever lay hidden, awaiting discovery, demanding - like some moody pagan god - pilgrimage and sacrifice.

But what if excellence is missing altogether? What if it is not shouted out by vulgar culture, but simply does not exist? Literary excellence demands less of men than political excellence. PiƂsudzki's unflattering maxim comes to mind: "Poland is a great nation, but the people are all assholes." The national greatness of Poland stands on its artists. Even the most "provincial" of the national poets has something to teach all of mankind because Polish provincialism is Catholic. The role of artists is disproportionate in political affairs. Polish pianists tend to be better statesmen than Polish lawyers. Polish farmers better Prime Ministers than Polish bankers. The pianist and the farmer share, of course, in the very greek sense, in culture.

While the political role of artists in Polish public life appears at first glance laudable, things are not as they seem. The temperament of the artist, even if his ethos is as public spirited as that of Polish artists, does not lend itself to government. Not for naught does Plato's Socrates inform his interloceteurs in The Republic that the philosopher who ought to be king is known for not wanting to be king. Having mastered the art of ruling himself, he finds it a childishly simple affair and focuses his attention on Hamletizing or geometry. If given the reigns of practical power he is shocked at the depth of human recalcitrance and incapable of mastering it because it disgusts his sensibilities.
The public spirited artist, like the public spirited farmer, must be counterbalanced by men from all walks of life if a republic is to prosper. Poland has long wanted for anyone who could fill the role of Publius in her affairs and not be a priest.

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