At first he was primarily interested in poetry, offering a commentary on the transformation of lyric poetry in the 1950s (Gałczyński; Poeci i inni [Poets and Others]). Later, drawing his examples from prose literature, he described the breakthrough associated with the "October Thaw" of 1956 (Zmiana warty [Changing of the Guard]). He earned his primary fame, however, interpreting the classics of the 20th century: Proust (Widzieć jasno w zachwyceniu [To See Clearly in Ecstasy]), Beckett (Samuel Beckett), Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz jako dramaturg [Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz as a Playwright]; Od Stasia do Witkacego [From Stan to Witkacy]), Gombrowicz (Forma, śmiech i rzeczy ostateczne [Form, Laughter, and Eschatology]), Miłosz (Miłosz jak świat [Miłosz like the World]), Mrożek (Wszystkie sztuki Sławomira Mrożka [All the Plays of Sławomir Mrożek]).
The diversity of his interests was always impressive. Before he became a professor at the Jagiellonian University, he earned his habilitation on the basis of an excellent book about Sęp-Szarzyński (Mikołaj Sęp-Szarzyński a poczatki polskiego baroku [Mikołaj Sęp-Szarzyński and the Beginnings of the Polish Baroque]; he also took an interest in drama and theater (serving as the literary director of the Old Theater in Krakow), and translated French critics and writers (including Genet).
At the same time, he never lost contact with recent literature. The fascination he exerted came from the perfection of his critical style, his simplicity, his aptitude for "condensing" a work in such a way as to reveal all its beauty and complexity. Yet his stature as a critic was determined by his faultless ear and his skill at recognizing value: it was Błoński who in the last decades "anointed" the debuting talents, and established the literary hierarchies. In the broader world, however, he became known primarily as the author of an essay entitled, The Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto, which initiated an extraordinarily heated discussion on the problem of Polish moral responsibility in the face of the Holocaust. Thus Błoński in the last half-century has been not only the greatest commentator on Polish contemporary literature, but also its conscience, an author attacked without compromise for uncomfortable questions he asks.
"A text not read, not loved (or not irritating!) ceases to change meanings. It loses its flavor, its glitter, its depth; it ceases to opalesce and to take on multiple layers of meaning. To be sure, penetrating analysis does not always go hand in hand with good feelings. Marvelous critical books have also been written (though more rarely) out of bitterness and hatred. But even so, this hatred is nothing other than disappointed love.... Could it be, then, that the scholar should not be ashamed of tears? Let us say, rather, that he should be very discrete in wiping them away... A person in tears sees poorly, but a person with no heart sees nothing." ("Romance with the Text")
Source: www.polska2000.pl; copyright: Stowarzyszenie Willa Decjusza, 2001.
Jan Błoński died on February 10, 2009.
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