Wojciech Karpinski on Jerzy Giedroyc, "Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39, 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,"GIEDROYC'S VICTORY"
Krakow, 24 September 2000
Wojciech Karpinski on Jerzy Giedroyc
He passed away at age 94; he was creatively active to the end, not as an individual but as the institution he created and personified, an institution fundamental to the 20th century history of Poland, of Europe. He died probably as he had wanted to – working away: the September issue of "Kultura" (636) had been sent out just a few hours before; he had nearly finished assembling the October issue. He went to the clinic for a check-up, and on the night of 14/15 September 2000, his heart stopped in his sleep: "une mort subite" - a sudden death, said the doctors.
He preserved a surprising mental acumen, ability to work and curiosity for the world to his last days. I saw this at meetings of the Polish Independent Literature and Science Assistance Fund. The oldest of the group, more than fifty years difference between him and the youngest member, his eyes would suddenly light up as he remembered a scholarship awarded years before, he would soberly ask how a specific subsidy had been spent. At the last meeting, he suggested that the Fund request assistance from Polish entrepreneurs, and just a few days before his death, he sent out the first letters.
At his death, he had lived three years longer than Prince Adam Czartoryski. Their achievements had been seen as similar for decades. Over forty years ago, Waclaw Zbyszewski wrote a jokingly elegiac sketch about "Kultura" that remains impressive for its accurate descriptions and lively lines. Titled "The Lost Romantics: A Panegyric, Pamphlet, or Attempt at an Obituary?" - its author claimed that Maisons-Laffitte should be added to the list of sites in Paris and its environs permanently linked to Polish history. We should expand this comparison of two great individuals today. Giedroyc was a Czartoryski with a broader field of activity because he deeply transformed Polish politics and culture, linking them together indivisibly, and above all he was a Czartoryski whose plans and ambitions were ultimately fulfilled. Hardly as magnificent as the Hôtel Lambert on St. Louis Island, the "Kultura" house survived to see its efforts crowned - Poland is independent and in centuries it has not enjoyed a more favorable geopolitical position: it lies in Central-Eastern Europe, possesses democratic and relatively stable state structures, normal relations with an independent Lithuania, an independent Ukraine, an independent Czech Republic, an independent Slovakia, a united and democratic Germany, and a Russia free of communism.
People of several generations walked from the train station in a Paris suburb, along curved Charles de Gaulle Avenue, to the "Kultura" house set among greenery. The heart always beat faster as they approached this place that had been mythical for long. Forbidden by Polish authorities at one point, these journeys produced fear; at other times there was an awkwardness at the imminent meeting with an individual who commanded immense respect and possessed a nearly impenetrable character; and finally, no need to conceal that we feared the temper of the house's despotic ruler - Fax, the last and most chimerical of "Kultura's" line of cocker spaniels.
I am especially moved today when I think of Zofia Hertz, who assisted Jerzy Giedroyc for nearly sixty years. Giedroyc often underlined that "Kultura" could not have existed without her, and this was clear to all. I think about his brother, Henryk Giedroyc, who also devoted his life to "Kultura"; the house owed much to his good sense, dedication and tact. We all infinitely owe them and the writers and artists who gathered around the magazine and found it to be a vital spiritual space. In all of "Kultura's" publications, Jerzy Giedroyc created an oeuvre more lasting than his own life and the lives of those he encountered. He published the most important works of 20th century Polish literature, works that defined its chief currents; they will endure as long as interest in the Polish word endures.
When, faced by his death, I look at Jerzy Giedroyc's oeuvre, I am overcome by gratitude and by a sense of joy. I feel richer and delighted as I realize we live in a time of Poland's social and cultural rebirth. Giedroyc was among this revival's chief co-creators, one could call him its great editor. I saw this renaissance chiefly in the works of Gombrowicz
, and in those of Czapski
, Wat, Jelenski, Stempowski
. In more recent decades it has described larger circles, encompassing the Polish Pope's radiant personality, the independent social movement that culminated in "Solidarity's" formation, and finally the miraculous events of 1989, which I see as an unexpected gift from providence, a gift that I hope I will never cease being grateful for, drawing joy from. The fall of the Berlin Wall, communism and the Soviet Union - all these changed Poland, Europe, our thinking about humankind and the world.
Living in these times is a joy. I do not see these transitions as a thing of the past. Quite the opposite, "Kultura" heralded stances that can be publicly expressed since only recently, so I do not see Giedroyc's death as the end of an era. After all, he was the co-creator of a new one. His achievement is great because his output will not disappear, cannot disappear. He cleared new paths and new perspectives. Polish literature delineated by bandit writers is tomorrow's literature. Policies of sovereignty, freedom and respect for the diversity of values are policies for today and tomorrow.
An historian of ideas and essayist, the author published articles in "Kultura" (under the name Zenon Mielnicki and others). He has also published volumes of literary sketches about "Kultura" writers ("Ksiazki zbojeckie" / "Bandits' Books", "Herb wygnania" / "A Crest of Exile")
© 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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