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Polish Novelist Tries to Straddle Poland’s Cultural Divide

January 7, 1987

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Nearly a decade after he published his first great underground novel in a fledgling, clandestine printing house, novelist Tadeusz Konwicki is trying to return to Poland’s officially sponsored cultural world.

He recently published his first novel in 10 years in a state-run printing house and also wrote the screenplay for a new movie by director Andrzej Wajda that is now playing in Warsaw.

For Konwicki, who at 60 is Poland’s most acclaimed living writer, the decision is a deliberate attempt to break out of the divisions that have existed in Polish cultural life since the 1981 military crackdown.

″Some writers are going to or have already started to serve the regime. And some writers will remain in the service of the opposition,″ he said one recent afternoon over tea at his cramped Warsaw apartment.

″I think these positions are too extreme. One should try to maintain a certain spiritual independence, literary independence, but at the same time to help society in its struggle.″

Since the crackdown on the independent trade union, Solidarity, literary life has been divided between those who publish officially and are branded collaborators, and those who publish underground and are cast as heroes.

When Konwicki took the bold step in 1977 of publishing ″The Polish Complex″ - his unforgiving portrait of contemporary life - in a newly formed underground printing house, he was on the cutting edge of a revolution.

It was the first major Polish novel published outside communist control and was followed in 1979 by ″A Minor Apocalypse,″ which is perhaps Konwicki’s best-known book because of its prophetic portrayal of the collapse of the system.

Today, hundreds of uncensored novels, essays and historical tracts circulate freely in what is called the ″second circulation,″ a vast underground publishing network unprecedented in the Soviet bloc.

His underground work, with its biting depictions of life’s absurdities in communist Poland, made Konwicki a major literary force at home and gained recognition for him abroad.

Four of his novels, including ″A Polish Complex″ and ″A Minor Apocalypse,″ have been published in the United States. A fifth, ″Moonrise, Moonset,″ a novel-diary set in 1981, is scheduled to be published this month by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

Konwicki has become the first major writer to return to an official publishing house in five years, a development he believes was made possible by the underground printing network he helped found.

Tipping back and forth in a rocking chair, the slighly built, raspy voiced author said underground publishing houses - ″these white spots on our history″ - are forcing the authorities to ease up on censorship.

″This liberalization we are observing is the result of pressure, first of all by society ... as well as the alternative of the second circulation,″ he said. ″It is an extremely favorable situation for society.

″People can take advantage of the official culture or arts, of the arts circulating in the underground, and also of emigre literature.″

However, Konwicki’s experience in returning to his former government publishing house, Czytelnik, with ″New World and Environs″ reinforced his belief that artists should not have any illusions.

Although 30,000 copies of the novel were printed without changes in the original text, it has gone virtually unnoticed in the official press and is impossible to find in bookstores. To Konwicki, this demonstrates the limits of the new cultural freedom.

An accomplished director and screenplay writer, Konwicki has a cameo role in Wajda’s new movie, ″A Chronicle of Love Affairs,″ which he adapted for the screen from his earlier semi-autobiographical novel of the same name.

The movie is set in Konwicki’s native Wilno, which was part of Poland before World War II and has since become Vilnius, capital of the Soviet Lithuanian Republic.

Konwicki plays a muse in search of a world lost to Poland, a world of mixed cultures, races and religions that he found in pre-war Lithuania.

″It is some kind of ideology which as a result of the passing of history has been forgotten,″ he said. ″And this is the idea of tolerance.″

After the war, Konwicki joined the Communist Party, captivated by its vision of a rebuilt Poland. Disillusioned, he quit the party in the early 1960s.

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