Tag Archives: Benjamin Paloff

Hello! Przerwa skończona!

Yes, the hiatus is over! The past 5 weeks have seen, among other things, preparations for three Polish Cultural Institute events here in New York City:

the Institute’s season opener at Symphony Space on September 11, which featured readings by Polish poet Piotr Sommer and American poet Christian Hawkey and a performance by members of the New York-based ensemble The Knights of recent works by Lisa Bielawa and Jeffrey Lependorf (works composed as settings of poems by Hawkey and Sommer respectively)…

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the Polish Cultural Institute booth at the 4th Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday, September 13 (which featured an informal reading by Jacek Dehnel, the author of the acclaimed novel Lala and editor of Six Polish Poets, and a book signing by Alex Storozynski, author of The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution)…

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photos: A. Grenda

…and our first session of the European Book Club, at which both newcomers and seasoned aficionados of European literature in translation discussed Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel, recently published by Open Letter Books, together with Open Letter publisher Chad Post, who came down from Rochester to talk with readers.

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The rest of the autumn will be awash with Polish culture — see the Polish Cultural Institute’s website for more details and consider subscribing to the newsletters if you haven’t already. Be sure not to miss the debut performance in the U.S. of work by celebrated Polish composer Paweł Mykietyn (Thursday, October 1, at Symphony Space; the concert will be preceded by a conversation with Mykietyn and Cuban-American composer Tania Leon) and the dissident Theatre of the Eighth Day‘s return to the U.S. with their famous production Wormwood, which will be performed at Yale University November 5-7 and at the Abrons Arts Center in New York City November 11-15.

As for upcoming literary events, make sure to mark your calendar for the following:

October 6-7: After Kapuściński: The Art of Reportage in the 21st Century — a public conversation on the ins and outs of long-form and literary journalism with leading authors of the genre (these include Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Suketu Mehta, and Lawrence Weschler, as well as Wojciech Jagielski and Paweł Smoleński). The event is cosponsored with the National Book Critics Circle, the New York Institute for the Humanities, and the new Literary Reportage concentration of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU.

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November 3-4: Polish Poetry Now: Bożena Keff, Marzanna Kielar, Tomasz Różycki, and Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki will read at the new Poets House in New York on Wednesday, November 4, following a discussion there the night before with translators Benjamin Paloff and Bill Johnston; on Thursday, November 5, they will read and discuss their work together with translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones at Harvard University. Check back here and at the Polish Cultural Institute website for more details.

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November 10: As part of the Performing Revolution in Central and Eastern European festival that the New York Public Library is organizing, there will be a book party at Idlewild Books in New York for The Wall in my Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain — a Words without Borders anthology published by Open Letter Books. Polish author Dorota Masłowska will read, together with Romanian poet Dan Sociu and German author Kathrin Aehnlich; New York University professor Eliot Borenstein will moderate.

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Hope to see you at any or all of these events!

Paloff reviews Anders in The Nation / Post on current state of translated literature

The Nation has just published a great review by Benjamin Paloff of Jarosław Anders’ Between Fire and Sleep: Essays on Modern Polish Poetry and Prose, which Yale University Press brought out recently.

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The title, “Cures for the Common Cold War: Postwar Polish Poetry,” is a little befuddling, since much of the work discussed by Paloff—and Anders—is prose. The editorial oversight notwithstanding, the review is informative and, like Anders’ essays, brings an indispensable perspective to bear on the reception of Polish literature in English:

…while [Polish] literature is hardly a historical relic, our approach to it often risks being just that. In this regard, Anders’s critical approach is an invaluable tonic. His fleet-footed leaps between biographical detail and scholarly commentary are enormously edifying and entertaining in their own right. At the same time, Anders generally refuses to succumb to the romanticizing that has reduced so much journalism about these authors to a pocket lexicon of moral clichés.

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The fate of Polish literature in this country certainly cannot be isolated from that of translated literature in the publishing economy. Chad Post, the publisher of Open Letter Books and blogger of Three Percent, offers an indispensable assessment of the situation in the new Publishing Perspectives, “Translation Nation: A State of the Union.” He addresses a current conundrum—

So why, if Bolano’s 2666 and Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses can hit the best-seller list, and if everyone’s arguing that literature in translation is important for enriching our culture, are there fewer translations coming out this year than last?

and identifies causes not only in the economy, of course, but, structurally, in the

disconnect between publishing thoughtful, long-selling literary translations and a system that thrives on the HUGE HIT and is willing to spend millions to make that hit happen IMMEDIATELY.

Premiere of film based on Dorota Masłowska’s SNOW WHITE & RUSSIAN RED

Following the hiatus of the past couple of weeks, I’ll try to cover some recent literary news from Poland in the next few posts.

Dorota Masłowska’s bestselling novel Wojna polsko-ruska pod flagą białą-czerwoną (translated into English by Benjamin Paloff and published by Grove/Atlantic in 2005 as Snow White and Russian Red) has been made into a film (directed by Xawery Żuławski) and was premiered today at the Off+Camera Festival of Independent Cinema in Krakow. Details from the festival program can be found here. I’m curious to see the film. The Gazeta Wyborcza reviewer, Małgorzata Niemczyńska, praises it not only for being a successful adaptation (“The literary material, it’s true, is abbreviated somewhat and edited about, but the film retains all those elements for which Masłowska has been loved and hated”), but for the director’s “unusual deconstruction of the work along the lines of John Fowles’s French Lieutenant’s Woman,” which is to say that the film is “simultaneously a story about Masłowska” herself, and the author plays a role in the film. (Masłowska was eighteen when she published the novel, her first book, in 2002, thus becoming an instant celebrity in Poland.)

Here’s the trailer (in Polish):

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“His reputation later grew immensely”: Bruno Schulz’s legacy

There is an article in today’s New York Times on Bruno Schulz’s frescoes, which were created in 1942 on the orders of a Gestapo officer in the Drohobych ghetto and were “spirited away” in 2001, by Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based organization that has just opened their exhibition (as a permanent loan from the Ukrainian government). The frescoes (at least some which can be viewed on the NYT website—and which are remarkable not only for their outrageous history but because they give a sense of Schulz as a colorist and a deeper understanding of his irony) are undoubtedly better preserved by Yad Vashem than they would be had they been left in their original location, at least while it remained a private home. Their appropriation by the Israeli organization, however, whether viewed as underhanded or heroic, was illegal, and begs at least two rather difficult questions: whether Schulz’s ultimate identity is that of a Holocaust victim, and whether there isn’t still a place for East-Central European Jewish culture in East-Central Europe. “For officials at Yad Vashem,” according to the New York Times, the answer is clear: “Schulz was killed for being a Jew, and his work belong[s] [in Jerusalem].” But, as many people have pointed out time and again, Schulz lived and worked his entire life in Drohobych; and regardless of whether he considered himself more Jewish or Polish (a moot point inasmuch as Schulz, more than any other figure, is proof that the two predicates are not mutually exclusive), or the fact that his literary work is as much in dialogue with Polish modernism as with Talmudic tradition (David Goldfarb has an excellent essay on this), there is something to be said for the principle of archival authenticity. How much more powerful would be the experience of those frescoes were we to view them in the same space where Schulz once stood, meters away from the street where he and hundreds of his neighbors were killed by the Gestapo on the same day (and countless more over the course of the German occupation)? But maybe the “ongoing confrontation with the rupture engendered by the Holocaust” requires that more ruptures be engendered. I’m sure more people who have read and love Schulz will have a chance to see the frescoes in Jerusalem than they would in Drohobych. And who knows if a Schulz Museum will ever be established in Drohobych, or anywhere.

There has been considerable international debate about Schulz’s frescoes, in the U.S. most notably in the pages of the New York Review of Books (letters by Padraic Kenney et al. and Aharon Appelfeld et al.). Benjamin Paloff’s 2004 essay in The Boston Review provides a strong analysis of the cultural and political exigencies involved in both the frescoes’ fate and Schulz’s legacy. And in the appendix to the 2004 English-language edition of his critical biography of Schulz, REGIONS OF THE GREAT HERESY (translated by Theodosia Robertson for W.W. Norton), Jerzy Ficowski issues a powerful indictment of the frescoes’ removal.

Speaking of Ficowski, I was saddened to see his name left out of the New York Times article. Instead, all we get is the sentence “[Schulz's] reputation later grew immensely,” which is a pretty shameless obfuscation given the word-count devoted to the Israeli novelist David Grossman (who is only one of many Schulz-inspired authors). Even Max Brod, whose own work is rarely read nowadays, gets a better shake, inasmuch as he is consistently mentioned when the question of Kafka’s posthumous reputation comes up. It is not an exaggeration to say that Ficowski singlehandedly established Schulz’s reputation after the war. He began researching Schulz as early as 1947; and the first of his numerous scholarly publications on him appeared in 1956, to be followed by the discovery and publication of previously unpublished texts and Schulz’s letters. Over forty years after its first publication, Ficowski’s REGIONS OF THE GREAT HERESY remains the most important book-length work on Schulz in any language. Unfortunately, Ficowski, who was a poet and short-story writer of the same generation as Hartwig and Herbert, died three years ago (see the Guardian.uk obituary).

Last year Penguin reissued Celina Wieniewska’s translation of Schulz’s two story collections as STREET OF CROCODILES AND OTHER STORIES, with an introduction by David Goldfarb and a foreword by Jonathan Safran Foer. David Grossman will be speaking about Schulz at the 92nd Streeet Y on May 4th. Details here.