Breathing under Water and Other East European Essays

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Overview

Stanislaw Baranczak, a Polish writer in exile, turns to his colleagues and their plights, in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Soviet Union, to explain why oppressive regimes could not succeed in their attempts to transform the Eastern European into Homo sovieticus.

These superb essays focus on the role that culture, and particularly literature, has played in keeping the spirit of intellectual independence alive in Eastern and Central Europe. Exploring a variety of issues from censorship to underground poetry, Baranczak shows why, in societies where people struggle to survive under totalitarian rule, art is believed to have the power to make things happen.

He brings into sharp relief the works and personalities of many legendary figures of recent Eastern European political and cultural history from Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II to Václav Havel and Adam Michnik to Czeslaw Milosz, Witold Gombrowicz, Bruno Schulz, and Joseph Brodsky- and makes vivid the context from which they spring. Some of the essays probe the sense of inarticulateness experienced by writers in exile; many represent the literary essay at its best; all reveal that Baranczak is a sophisticated, often savagely funny writer on whom nothing is lost.

This refreshing and provocative book guides us toward a clearer understanding of what has led to the present moment, in which the nations of Eastern and Central Europe, tired of striving to "breathe under water," are finally "coming up for air." It is rewarding reading for anyone interested in art's conrontation with an intractable political reality--wherever it occurs in the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Dean (history, Frostburg State U.) recounts the life of Hudson Stuck, a champion of child labor laws in Texas in the late 19th century and later a strong advocate of native people's rights in Alaska in the time of white expansion exploitation. In his essays, as in his brilliant poetry, Baranczak reveals a deep, almost intuitive grasp of the spirit (and spiritlessness) of his native Poland and Eastern Europe generally, as well as a complete lack of same with respect to his adoptive home, the US, in which regard he reveals (or assumes) an unfortunate Pollyannish naivete. Fortunately these essays focus mainly on what he knows--his colleagues and their plights, in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Soviet Union. (RC) Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674081253
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/1990
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 266
  • Product dimensions: 6.31 (w) x 9.37 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Table of Contents

Breathing Under Water

Under Eastern Eyes

E.E.: The Extraterritorial

From Russia with Love

The New Alrightniks

Pontiffs and Repairmen

The Cardinal and Communism

Praying and Playing

Walesa: The Uncommon Common Man

On Adam Michnik

The Absolute Horizon

Censors and Sense

Big Brother's Red Pencil

Renouncing the Contract

The Godfather, Part III, Polish Subtitles

The State Artist

Despair and Order

Gombrowicz: Culture and Chaos

The Face of Bruno Schulz

A Masterpiece of Memory

The Ecstatic Pessimist

Fiction and Action

A Russian Roulette

Science Friction

Wake Up to Unreality

The Polish Complex

Rhyme and Time

Searching for the Real

The Power of Taste

Solitary Solidarity

Shades of Gray

The Ethics of Language

Alone but Not Lonely

Distance and Dialogue

The Confusion of Tongues

Tongue-Tied Eloquence: Notes on Language, Exile, and Writing

"The Revenge of a Mortal Hand"

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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