Narrative Theory in Poland

Polish narratological research is currently developing in two directions. On the one hand, a substantial effort is being undertaken in order to acquaint the general academic community with the rich and interesting tradition of Polish narratology, which, for linguistic and historical reasons, remains largely unknown outside Poland. On the other hand, a variety of new narratologist approaches are being explored so that original methods are applied to narrative texts while at the same time an increasing number of phenomena are treated as narratives.

As for promoting narratological traditions of historical and yet enduring value and making them more generally accessible, one should mention the efforts of the Textual Studies Research Group (TSRG) at the University of Gdańsk. Prof. David Malcolm is the coordinator of the group whose members are Wolfgang Görtschacher (Universität Salzburg), Monika Szuba, Tomasz Wiśniewski, Marta Aleksandrowicz, Bartosz Lutostański, Marta Nowicka and Miłosz Wojtyna. The group, which formed in 2011, pursues research into 20th- and 21st-century literary texts, focusing on narration in prose fiction, prosody and phonology in poetry, dramatic and theatrical conventions. At the 2013 International Conference on Narrative in Manchester, four members of TSRG (Malcolm, Szuba, Lutostański and Wojtyna) delivered papers on various aspects of narration in the prose fiction of Muriel Spark and John Berger and in short stories and radio plays. This prompted the establishment of the Gdańsk Narratological Group, a sub-group of TSRG, which organized the “Polish Studies in Fiction: Contributions to Contemporary Narratology” panel at the 2014 International Conference in Narrative at MIT. Aleksandrowicz, Lutostański, Malcolm, Szuba and Wojtyna presented selected aspects of the post-war Polish school of literary studies and considered ways in which it addresses substantive issues in modern narratology.

A number of members of the Gdańsk Narratological Group have become involved in the activities of, a newly established non-profit academic publishing platform dedicated to the dissemination and linking of knowledge in the Humanities between Eastern, Central and Western Europe. In one of sdvig’s series, “Teoria – Polish Thought in the 20th century” (ed. by Michał Mrugalski,, a bilingual Polish and English reader with the most important contributions in narratology is to appear under the direction of the Warsaw-based scholar Joanna Jeziorska-Haładyj. Mrugalski is currently working together with Galin Tihanov (London) and Danuta Ulicka (Warsaw) on an anthology of classical Polish texts in literary theory that contains several classical texts on the problems of narratology (like David Hopensztand’s analysis of free indirect speech or Juliusz Kleiner’s narrative theory of literary criticism); an abridged English version is to be published by a well-known publishing house whereas the complete versions of texts in Polish will be published on and subsequently translated. Mrugalski, Ulicka and Prof. Schamma Schahadat from the University of Tübingen are working on a German anthology of newer Polish theory up to the present day, which also contains articles relevant to current narratological research; it is to appear in early 2015 in a series edited by the Polish Institute in Darmstadt, Germany.

In addition to attempting to taking stock of Polish narratology, there are a number of research efforts on applying the new approaches to both literary and extra-literary narratives. The most prominent subjects are cognition and identity.

The leader in the field of cognitive narratology in Poland is Professor Magdalena Rembowska-Płuciennik, the head of the Historical Poetics Department at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences. She recently published a monograph entitled Poetyka intersubiektywności. Kognitywistyczna teoria narracji a proza XX wieku (Poetics of Intersubjectivity. Cognitive Narratology and 20th-century Prose, Toruń 2012). The book presents an approach to the use of cognitive theory in human intersubjectivity as an effective means of literary narrative analysis. It explains the role of intersubjectivity in various fields of literary studies such as literary history (Polish modernist literature), poetics of literary narrative, reader response to fictional stories and characters, and the theory of reading as a psychosomatic experience. Rembowska-Płuciennik identifies different historical models of narrative intersubjectivity implied by a variety of textual and stylistic strategies running across traditionally distinguished typologies of narrative forms. Excerpts from the book are available in English: “Narrative Poetics of Mindreading,” in A. Kwiatkowska (ed.) Texts and Minds, Frankfurt-am-Main 2012; Narrative Models of Intersubjectivity, “Teksty Drugie” 2012, no. 2, pp. 202-216:

The renowned Kraków-based literary theoretician Anna Łebkowska, whose book on literary fictionality Między teoriami a fikcją literacką, (Between literary theories and literary fiction, Kraków 2001) has become a modern classic, proposed another way of dealing with cognition in the framework of intersubjectivity. The focal point of her newer studies on narrative is empathy, as in Empatia. O literackich narracjach przełomu XX i XXI wieku (Empathy. On literary narratives at the turn of the 21st century, Kraków 2008).

An informal group formed around Zofia Mitosek, professor of literary theory at Warsaw University and author of Poznanie (w) powieści – od Balzaka do Masłowskiej (Cognition in the novel – from Balzac to Masłowska, Kraków 2003) and Co z tą ironią? (What’s with irony?, Gdańsk 2013). Mitosek’s main claim that modern narrative should be characterized from the standpoint of the cognitive problems it seeks to pose and sometimes even solve was picked up by her former Ph.D. students, currently assistant professors at Warsaw University: Przemysław Pietrzak and Joanna Jeziorska-Haładyj. In 2007 Pietrzak published Powieść nowoczesna i dylematy współczesnej nauki o literaturze (The Modern Novel and the Dilemmas of Modern Literary Studies, Warszawa 2007), and she is currently completing a project on nonliterary, chiefly newspaper genres as mediums of cognition endowed with specific memory and possibilities of expression, mediums that that have been incorporated into the modern novel. Jeziorska-Haładyj authored Tekstowe wykładniki fikcji. Na przykładzie reportażu i powieści autobiograficznej (Textual Cues of Fictionality. On the Example of Reportage and the Autobiographical Novel, Warszawa 2013). The work deals not only with the problems of cognition of reality via narrative and apparently fictional mediums, but also brings questions of functionality into harmony with questions of cognition, since these are the assumed cognitive powers that set the fictional narrator apart from the factual narrator, who cannot read the minds of other people.

Linguistic studies on narrative have also begun to focus on cognition. For Professor Andrzej S. Dyszak from the University of Bydgoszcz, language is both the object and means of cognition when a narrative deals with the local, marginal, unofficial, and violent. This is the case in Dyszak’s studies on the Bydgoszcz dialect in Most Królowej Jadwigi by Jerzy Sulima-Kamiński, devoted to the youth subculture dresiarze (people in tracksuits) as depicted in Dorta Masłowska’s novels, on verbal aggression in Wojciech Kuczok’s Gnój, and on the sociolect of gay people in communist Poland (respectively: “Gwara miejska czy tylko stylizacja na język mówiony mieszkańców Bydgoszczy w ‘Moście Królowej Jadwigi’ Jerzego Sulimy-Kamińskiego?” in H. Sędziak (ed.) Polszczyzna mówiona mieszkańców miast. Księga referatów z konferencji językoznawczej w Białymstoku, Białystok 2004; „Powieść Doroty Masłowskiej jako obraz przemian we współczesnej kulturze i współczesnej polszczyźnie,” in H. Ożó, E. Oronowicz-Kida (eds.) Przemiany języka na tle przemian współczesnej kultury, red. K. Ożóg, E. Oronowicz-Kida, Rzeszów 2006; „Agresja słowna w powieści Wojciecha Kuczoka pt. Gnój,” in M. Baranowska-Szczepańska, J. Karwat (eds.) Bezpieczeństwo współczesnego świata – edukacja, media, kultura, pod red., Poznań 2011, pp. 61-72; „O socjolekcie gejów (na podstawie powieści Michała Witkowskiego pt. Lubiewo),” in M. Karwatowska, J. Szpyra-Kozłowska (eds.) Oblicza płci. Język – kultura – edukacja, pod red., Lublin 2012.)

Two linguists from Lublin, Dorota Filar and Dorota Piekarczyk, combine studies on linguistic worldview with the analysis of narrative. In September 2012, they organized a conference “The Narrative (Narrativity) of Language and Culture,” part of the projects “Language and culture” and “Worlds behind words” at the University of Maria Curie-Skłodowska in Lublin. In addition, Dorota Filar authored a monograph Narracyjne aspekty językowego obrazu świata. Interpretacja marzenia we współczesnej polszczyźnie (Narrative Aspects of the Linguistic Worldview. The Interpretation of Dream in Contemporary Polish, Lublin 2013), which incorporates the category of narrative into the scope of research on linguistic worldview. The concept of language defined in terms of a “grand narrative” constitutes a substantial enhancement of the theory of linguistic worldview. It introduces a category of narrative that so far has only been hinted at in linguistic studies. This category of narrative – together with its background and interdisciplinary potential (rooted in philosophy, psychology, historiography, and cognitive sciences) – is projected onto the realm of semantic mechanisms, allowing it to be applied to linguistic analysis. The book relies on a definition of language as a method of interpretation of the world, motivated by experiential and cultural factors: linguistic worldview is defined as a certain conceptual structure manifesting itself through language. Introducing the category of narrative into the theory of linguistic worldview allows us to understand the world as perceived and interpreted by human beings through language, not as a set of static mental images mirrored in linguistic facts.

Moving on to narrative identity, an overview of classical stances in this field of studies was presented in a reader edited by Ryszard Nycz and Włodzimierz Bolecki entitled Narracja i tożsamość (Narration and Identity, Warsaw 2004). In the ten years that have passed since the appearance of this volume, a number of interesting new approaches have surfaced. A seminal scholar, whose field of enquiry encompasses both narrative cognition and narrative identity, Jan Kordys, is a professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences and one of the founders of the Paris-based research group Théorie et Clinique des Pathologies de la Pensée. Kordys combines neurosemiotic, anthropological and narratological interests with the aim of studying the boundaries between culture and nature: What are the biological (neurological) determinants of human sign behavior? His most seminal work in this field is the book Kategorie antropologiczne i tożsamość narracyjna. Szkice z pogranicza neurosemiotyki i historii kultury (Anthropological Categories and Narrative Identity. Essays on the Border Between Neurosemiotics and History of Culture, Kraków 2006).

Another experienced researcher, Prof. Joanna Ślósarska from Łódź University, works on applying Eric Berne’s transactional analysis to the process of narrative communication. She focuses in particular on the notions of functionalization and axiologization of scripts. The material to which she relates socio-psychological theories stems from Polish folklore and contemporary narrative prose. In the framework of another current project of hers, Ślósarska is developing theoretical ideas based on further socio-psychological or sociological approaches, i.e. Fritz Schüthze’s notion of the trajectory of fate/suffering and Herbert Blumer’s theory of symbolic interactionism.

A book by the young Poznań slavist Agata Jawoszek, Boszniacy. Literackie narraje tożsamościowe (The Bosnians. Literary narratives on identity), which is to appear this year, is an example of a study of narrative nation building (or narrative national identity) in the field of Slavic cultures and literatures. The identity of the individual, formed as consequence of storytelling, has resulted in a number of studies, at least three of which deserve mentioning. Two of them were written as doctoral theses at the Faculty of Polish Studies at Warsaw University. Jagoda Wierzejska’s Retoryczna interpretacja autobiograficzna. Na przykładzie Andrzeja Bobkowskiego, Zygmunta Haupta i Leo Lipskiego (Rhetorical Interpretation of Autobiography. In the Example of Anrzej Bobokowski, Zygmunt Haupt und Leo Lipski, Warszawa 2012), explores the devices through which narrative autobiographical prose seeks to express or perform the fate of political émigrés. In her book (still awaiting publication), Sylwia Stępień compares the letters written by two romantic poets, George Byron and Adam Mickiewicz, to see how “romantic identity” is constructed through a series of attempts at confirming oneself conducted against the backdrop of disintegration of the social and the metaphysical. Another interesting work on narrative identity which is soon to be published is Ewa Maciejczyk’s Narrator i narracja w wybranych polskich pamiętnikach XVI i XVII wieku (Narration and the narrator in old-Polish diaries of the 16th and 17th centuries). Maciejczyk stresses the polymorphous nature of the diary as a genre and the fact that to date diaries have mostly been studied as historical sources and not as a means of narrative self-fashioning and predecessors of the modern novel.

Maciejczyk’s studies verge on novel studies, which is the main area of interest of the Lublin-based professor of English Literature, Grzegorz Maziarczyk. He is the author of two monographs: The Narratee in Contemporary British Fiction: A Typological Study (Lublin, 2005) and The Novel as Book: Textual Materiality in Contemporary Fiction in English (Lublin, 2013). The former is the first book-length study devoted to the narratee. It argues that different forms of the narratee’s presence can be systematized according to two gradable criteria: the degree of concretization on the level of the presented world and the scope of interpretive competence attributed to the narratee by the narrator. On the basis of the former, three basic types of narratee are identified – potential readers/listeners (of minimum concretization), characters (of medium concretization) and protagonists (of maximum concretization) – and their basic properties and functions are discussed in relation to the different degrees of competence attributed to them in particular texts. The Novel as Book, in turn, is a contribution to multimodal narratology. It is an inquiry into the elements that establish the physical presence of the novel as a book in the world and constitutes a material vehicle for a verbal message. The study focuses on three basic levels of textual materiality – typeface, layout and the book as physical object – as well as on multimodal combinations of multiple semiotic resources, and it analyzes their role in selected contemporary novels in English. Maziarczyk has also published a number of narratological articles which have appeared in such journals as Journal of Narrative Theory, Interfaces: Image, Texte, Language and Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses.

Further interesting studies devoted to narrative genres have been carried out by Mariusz Bartosiak (Łódź University), who recently published Autopoetyka Dramatu (Autopoetics of Drama, Łódź 2013), and by Justyna Kociatkiewicz from Wrocław University. Kociatkiewicz’s current research concerns the analysis of formal devices and narrative strategies of conspiracy narratives, both fictional and filmic. A basic reading of popular conspiracy texts exposes the recurrence of certain narrative solutions, which is characteristic for formulaic genres. The study considers the use of these solutions (setting, characterization, time sequence) as they appear in contemporary American fiction, including works by Pynchon, Heller, Coover, DeLillo, Danielewski and Beinhart; further, it asks how narrative strategies affect the reader's position as an active recipient (and victim of?) conspiracy texts. Given that film is an important element of American culture, film and TV narratives (The Conversation, The Public Enemy, JFK, and The X-Files) are also referenced in order to illustrate transformations of the telling/narrating of conspiracy.

With this we enter the territory of intermedial narratology. The distinguished film scholar from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Marek Hendrykowski, is working on Wielkie figury semantyczne w filmie i nowych mediach (The Great Semantic Figures in Film and New Media), a book-length study scheduled to appear in 2017, preceded by a number of papers.

With the notion of the “great semantic figure” we go back to the beginning of this overview, for this is a model that is characteristic of the Polish tradition of narratology. Great semantic figures is a term used by Janusz Sławiński in 1967 to denote entities like narrator, fable, hero, the implied reader, etc., while at the same time providing a set of tools for studying the construction and the reader’s re-construction of such entities. Marek Hendrykowski is also editor-in-chief of “IMAGES. International Journal of European Film, Performing Arts and Audiovisual Communication.” Issue 24 (2014) of the journal will be devoted to the narratological description of parody. Hendrykowski’s younger colleagues at the Chair of Film, Television and New Media organized a conference last year: “Żywe obrazy. Czytanie przedstawienia fotograficznego w filmie” (Living Pictures. Reading of Photographical Representation in Film: Abstracts are currently coming in for a follow-up conference for graduate and postgraduate students: “Zdjęcie w filmie. Czytanie przedstawienia fotograficznego w utworach audiowizualnych” (Photography in Film. Readings of Photographical Representation in Audiovisual Pieces):

In closing, I would like to point to an interesting phenomena in Polish humanities: the narratological self-consciousness of intellectual history. Danuta Ulicka (Warsaw University) is conducting historical research on the traditions of Central and Eastern European literary studies, always asking what it means to tell a story of historical development. A number of Ulicka’s articles should be mentioned in this context: “The Non-Narrative Concept of Literary Studies Discourse,” in Z. Mitosek, J. Mueller (eds.) Narrative in the Light of Comparative Studies. Le récit dans la perpsective des études comparatives, Warszawa 2005; “Ja czytam moje czytanie,” in W. Bolecki, R. Nycz (eds.) Narracja i tożsamość, Warszawa 2004; “Habend sua fata libelli (Remarks on Desirable Archival Turn),” in B. Bokus (ed.) The Humanities Today and the Idea of Interdisciplinary Studies. In honour of Jerzy Axe, Warsaw 2011; “Who is the author?” in B. Shallcross, R. Nycz (eds.) The Effect of Palimpsets. Culture. Literature, History, Frankfurt-am-Main 2011; “Time and Duration in Ingarden’s Concept of the Cognition of the Literary Work of Art: On the Bergsonian Origins of the Narrative Concept of Understanding,” in J.-M. Schaeffer, C. Potocki (eds.) Roman Ingarden; ontologie, esthetique, fiction, Paris 2012; Morskie i zamorskie podróże idei antropologii, “Slavia Meridionalis” 2014, nr 14.

Michał Mrugalski
Slavistisches Seminar, Universität Tübingen

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ENN is the European Narratology Network, an association of individual narratologists and narratological institutions. ENN aims to foster the study of narrative representation in literature, film, digital media, etc. across all European languages and cultures.

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