Rafal Habielski on Jerzy Giedroyc, "Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39, 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,
Krakow, 24 September 2000"THE EDITOR AS AN EDITOR"
Rafal Habielski on Jerzy Giedroyc
Collaborators and authors of "Kultura" called him the Editor; an obvious choice, for Jerzy Giedroyc
's biography almost solely consisted of editing, from the prewar periodicals "Mysl Mocarstwowa" ["Imperial Thought"], "Bunt Mlodych" ["Youth Revolt"] and "Polityka" ["Politics"] to "Kultura" - over sixty years altogether.
In many ways he resembled editors-in-chief coming out of 19th century tradition, writing nothing for long, instead devising the structure of each issue (keeping content a deep secret to the last moment), commissioning articles and equipping the periodical with collaborators without creating an editorial staff in the full sense. He read all submitted materials and alone decided what would be printed. People joked that the editorial staff of "Kultura" consisted of: Jerzy Giedroyc, Giedroyc Jerzy, Giedroyc, Jerzy and others.
From the outset he differed from other editors in his understanding of what his periodical was to be and the purposes it was to serve. He did not want to print even the best texts if these were purely manifestations of their authors' interests. All his periodicals ("Bunt Mlodych", "Polityka", "Kultura") had a program to which content and judgments were subordinate.
Giedroyc often referred to himself as a political animal. This was true, so it is difficult to distinguish his passions from his work as an editor. He had a singular understanding of political activity, possessing no ambition to participate directly in politics. He did, however, influence, shape and offer up for thought. In short, he treated his publications, especially "Kultura", as something like a political tool.
He supported Pilsudki before World War II, yet this hardly enabled him to print anything he wanted. He gave himself leeway, so his publications fell victim to censors and factional confrontations within the governing camp, and he was very nearly imprisoned at Bereza Kartuska on the orders of Marian Zyndram Koscialkowski, the most liberal prime minister of the era after the May 1926 coup.
In a bit of a paradox, he did not gain full freedom of expression until he created "Kultura", that is, left Poland. Issue one, published in Rome in the summer of 1947 with considerable help from Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski
, was unlike later issues. One could say that the real "Kultura" began with issue no. 2/3, published in October of the same year at Maisons-Laffitte. The periodical's general tasks were to stay in touch with the home country and to explain the postwar reality to the exiled intelligentsia. Running a monthly, especially with such objectives, would have been impossible without a proper writer base. With Benedictine patience, Giedroyc tracked down former collaborators around the world and found new ones. He was discouraged neither by refusals, which were rare, nor by lack of replies to his letters.
Apart from those reachable either in Paris or near France (Czapski
, Jelenski, Stempowski
, Waclaw Zbyszewski, Mieroszewski, Vincenz), he contacted Gombrowicz
- living in Buenos Aires, Czeslaw Straszewicz - hidden away in Montevideo, Jozef Wittlin
and Zygmunt Haupt
- both settled in the United States, and Benedykt Heydenkorn in Canada. By the late 1940s, offering very modest fees, he had recruited some of the best pens for "Kultura", a very obscure periodical fighting for survival. Many had concluded that an exile's fate was to live in poverty, off of physical labor or occasional scholarships; he encouraged them to write and be active. "Kultura" and its "Library" were not the only postwar publication centers outside Poland, yet Polish literature indubitably owes to Giedroyc the postwar achievements of Gombrowicz, Milosz, Straszewicz and others, as well as the essays of Mieroszewski and Jelenski.
His editorial strategy, indivisibly linked to politics, also entailed recruiting authors living in Poland. Czeslaw Milosz
's case is best known, but we should also note names like Wat, Stawar, Hlasko
, who left Poland around 1968, as well as those who worked with "Kultura" without leaving the country. For years Giedroyc secured a flow of fresh blood to the periodical and found successors for those who passed on. Following Gombrowicz's death, Herling-Grudzinski began publishing his "Diary Written at Night", and when Mieroszewski passed away, previous contributor Leopold Unger became one of the periodical's chief political commentators. Thus, "Kultura" never became a one-generation marvel, which was the sad fate of London-based Polish émigré weeklies.
The periodical's political program, realistic on principle, entailed changing concepts and ideas while constantly remembering fundamental goals. Giedroyc believed that while treating as firm the fundamental program of anti-Communism, independence, harmonious relations with the East and the permanence of the Nysa-Oder line, one could evolve and backtrack on earlier ideas, i.e. one could change one's views while remaining faithful to principles. He was careful to do this face up without pretending that he had forgotten something written earlier. This allowed "Kultura" to remain important and preserve its integrity in many realities and times, i.e. during Stalinism, the post-Stalinist thaw, the morbid Gomulka years, after December 1971, in August 1980, and after the transition of 1989. Naturally and with integrity, genuinely, it supported Wankowicz's Third Side Club, the idea of the International Brigade fighting Communism in Korea, the neutrality concept and Gomulka; and then it withdrew its support of the latter, encouraging oppositional stances in Poland instead.
When he established "Kultura", Giedroyc placed the mottos of independence and intellectual boldness on his banner. These mottos turned into principles that informed his work as an editor and allowed him to retain a sense of freedom from the expectations of readers, who he wished to offer ideas to, free from enslavement in set ways of thinking and assist in revising views seen as non-revisable. He never considered pandering to public opinion and fulfilling reader expectations, trusting that a justified and supported concept lined with good will would ultimately gain recognition though many might first see it as a compromise of principles or even a betrayal. This was the case when "Kultura" began shaping its eastern policy program in the early 1950s and accepted Poland's loss of its eastern lands.
Independence and boldness helped free the monthly of the burden of ideology. This a-ideological dimension heavily determined the face of "Kultura", which was relatively unusual for Poland and which, naturally, was neither conciliatory nor positivist, but also not romantic; thus, it rose above attitudes to reality traditional to Polish political experience. It was clearly not rightist, basically also not leftist, though many encourage us to see it as such. As a result, it reached readers of various views, as well as Ukrainians, Russians, Czechs, Slovaks and Germans through its foreign language editions.
Almost from the outset, that is, from the publication of the first Parisian issue, "Kultura" was based on an obvious and simple formal concept: set sections featuring (when possible) regular authors, correspondence from the world's most important Polish communities, and a lead article expressing the monthly's stance. With time, statements and "Notes from the Editor" were added. The monthly specialized in surveys and its "letters to the editor" section was usually vast (with only laudatory letters excluded). All this was possible provided that authors were conscientious and punctual. The Editor kept watch over them, sometimes writing a dozen letters a day, though mobilizing authors was not the sole purpose of this correspondence. It was also a means of polishing and refining the stance of "Kultura" and, in many cases, an opportunity for Giedroyc to engage in regular conversation, his substitute for a private life.
The terms of collaboration with authors were subject to the periodical's general welfare. The Editor often reiterated that he counted above all on quality writing, not on authors' characters or his own attitude to their opinions. Yet this hardly meant compromising in the interest of obtaining a good manuscript. Giedroyc developed unusual relationships with authors, and dependence on their meeting deadlines and providing quality work vied with his desire to impose his will on them, that is, their willingness to adapt their writing to the needs of "Kultura" at the moment. Clashes and conflicts were frequent. The last and perhaps most famous, with Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski
, proves that Giedroyc saw the monthly's program consistency, its integrity, as more important than the greatness of a given pen. He remained faithful to the principles defining the identity of "Kultura", a periodical that was a record of his hopes, ambitions and ideas.
The author is an historian, researcher into the history of the postwar Polish emigration, and author of a monograph of the London-based "Wiadomosci" / "News" ("Niezlomni, nieprzejednani" / "Steadfast and Uncompromising") and a paper on émigré culture.
© by "Tygodnik Powszechny"
"Tygodnik Powszechny" printed this text in its 24 September2000 issue following the death of Jerzy Giedroyc. It appears onwww.culture.pl - courtesy of the editors and publishers of "TygodnikPowszechny" - in connection with "The Year of Jerzy Giedroyc," celebrated in2006.
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