The Polish Connections of the Collège de France
Adam Mickiewicz, André Lichnerowicz, Jerzy Grotowski, and Barbara Romanowicz were all lecturers of the Collège de France at various times throughout the school's prestigious history. Each represented unique fields of research that contributed to the school’s centuries-old Latin motto, Docet Omnia – It Teaches Everything.
Some names in French intellectual history are certainly pioneers in various fields of knowledge. A few of the more contemporary ones such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault are particularly interesting, as they helped lay the intellectual ground of the prestigious Collège de France in Paris from the 1960s onward in the establishment of the so-called post-structuralist critique.
Collège de France was founded by King Francis I, who appointed the first Lecteurs royaux (royal lectures) in 1530. As an alternative to Sorbonne, the school’s missions was to teach disciplines which were not yet recognized at the university level, such as Hebrew and Ancient Greek. For centuries, Collège de France represented the height of European humanistic research, as well as mathematics. Here is a historical lens turned toward the names whose contribution to knowledge forms a unique thread between Poland and France.
In Warsaw with Foucault
In October 1958, Foucault was appointed head of the University of Warsaw's Centre Français. Right when the era of Stalinization was about to end and Gomułka’s rule was about to begin, Foucault observed Polish resentment against what they considered a Soviet puppet government. Foucault himself was unimpressed with it. Soon, he travelled across Poland giving public lectures which proved quite popular, hence he adopted the position of de facto cultural attaché of France. Cold War political complications allowed Foucault to remain in Poland for barely a year, when suddenly a scandal broke out that he was engaged in homosexual activity with a Polish security agent, who had originally planned the occasion so as to reflect badly on the French embassy’s public image.
From 1970 until his death in 1984, Foucault continued his signature public lectures at the Collège de France. He noted numerous times in various interviews that his experiences in Poland taught him the relationship between power and the body, which later led to some of his major theories concerning biopower, bodily discipline, and punishment.
During the time he lived in Western Europe as an émigré poet, Adam Mickiewicz was invited by the prestigious Collège de France in 1840 to serve as the Chair of Slavic Literature. This position was officially supported by the French Government as the first Slavic literature professorship in Western Europe; Mickiwicz was invited to accept the position for the first time.
In his inaugural lecture, Mickiewicz discussed Slavic cultures and their (dis)connection to Europe, his concern about speaking in a foreign language and, on a more political level, his desire for the unity of European nations. The lectures attracted the attention of a wide group of French scholars and artists from Jules Michelet to Edgar Quinet, as well as Polish émigrés.
As enchanting as late 19th-century France was, artistic circles continued to broaden and perhaps even started planting the first seeds of today’s cosmopolitanism. Revolutionary female author George Sand’s work may have gained interest due to Baudelaire’s harsh criticism, but most interestingly, Sand later became Chopin's lover, as he'd also spent quite a lot of time as an immigrant in Paris. Sand was among the participants of Mickiewicz’s inspiring lectures.
Mickiewicz used an ‘improvisational technique’ at these lectures; he authored the outline, but did not write it in full. Over time, this improvisational technique was aligned with Mickiewicz’s increasingly political tone, and alarmed by his ideological vision, the administration of the Collège de France decided to suspend his professorship.
André Lichnerowicz (1915-1998) was a noted French differential geometer, mathematical physicist, and pedagogue of Polish origin. Lichnerowicz’s grandfather fought in the Polish resistance against the Prussians, and after fleeing Poland in 1860, he settled in France. Lichnerowicz gained his French agrégation in mathematics in 1936 from the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. His doctoral dissertation, completed later in 1939 under the supervision of Georges Darmois, concerned what are now called the “Lichnerowicz matching conditions in general relativity.” After teaching at the University of Strasbourg (1945-1949) and the University of Paris (1949-1952), he was appointed as Chair of Mathematical Physics at the Collège de France, where he taught until his retirement in 1986.
Considered among the most influential reformers of 20th century theatre, Jerzy Grotowski was appointed the first Chair of Theatre Anthropology at the Collège de France in 1997. He delivered ten lectures in Paris between March 1997 and January 1998 on the subject of “The organic line in theatre and ritual.” Whether it is a coincidence or not, Grotowski's nomination for full professorship at the Collège de France, following in Mickiewicz footsteps a century later, can be considered symbolic. Grotowski cited Mickiewicz’s name as an influence on numerous occasions throughout his theatrical career. In 1961, Grotowski staged an innovative interpretation of Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady/Forefather’s Eve.
Grotowski himself inspired numerous other names in the field, among them Eugenio Barba, Italian author and theatre director, who worked closely with Grotowski for three years at Teatr 13 Rzędów in Opole, and later published the book, Grotowski, In Search of a Lost Theatre (1965). Barba later founded the Odin Teatret in Denmark, where the International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISLA) is also hosted today.
Physics of the Earth's Interior
Barbara Romanowicz is currently a professor at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at the University of California. Between 2011-2015, she served as the Chair in Physics of the Earth's interior, at the Collège de France.
Among her numerous research topics are deep earth structure and dynamics using seismological tools; earthquake processes and scaling laws, as well as planetary seismology, to list a few. Regarded by Harvard University as “the most outstanding woman seismologist after Inge Lehmann,” Romanowicz was awarded the Inge Lehmann Medal in 2009.
What has come to be known as the “Earth’s mysterious hum” in the past few years was later defined as "a microseismic activity that elicits a ring" which can be heard only by a very small percentage of the world’s population. Likewise, Barbara Romanowicz was the first researcher to locate the actual two regions on Earth where most of the humming occurs: the North Pacific Ocean in winter and the Southern Ocean in summer.
Written by Elcin Marasli, November 2015