Monthly Archives: February 2017

Alternative Facts of Dialectical Thought (Brandys Redux, No. 2)

0327-06-brandys-kazimierz-1982I first posted about my re-reading of the journals of the late Polish dissident Kazimierz Brandys here.

In this day and age of “alternative facts”, it’s interesting to read an entry in his journals (p. 96-97) about what passed for such in his own time. In 1948, as a young Socialist, he and other Polish writer, the poet Konstanty Galczynski, were invited to Russia to attend a commemoration of the October Revolution.

Arriving in the nick of time to the Bolshoi Theater where the ceremonies were being held, he and his compatriot were shown to their seats as the flashbulbs of cameras burst one after the other; he could very well remember that there were four rows of seats up on the stage, with 12 people on them. Stalin was absent, but for his huge portrait in the backdrop. Molotov was presiding on the podium. Brandys recognized a few Politburo men on the first row — Mikoyan, Boroshilov. On the second row, he could not miss Marshal Budeny’s distinctive black moustache. The third and fourth rows were occupied by less familiar faces, “people wearing dark suits and uniforms.”

He writes on:

I saw it all quite clearly with Molotov standing  at the podium, lit by flashbulbs. He spoke for over an hour, stuttering each time he said Stalin’s name: “St-St-Stalin.” During the entire speech, the stage, the red table, and the four rows of the presidium were before my eyes…after the meeting, we were taken back to our hotel. We ate dinner; then Galcznyski and I fell asleep on the wide double bed. I was up first in the morning, awakened by a rustling sound at the door. Still Sleepy, I jumped out of bed and noticed the edge of a paper that had been slipped under the door. It was a copy of Pravda, redolent of fresh ink.

Most of the front page was taken up by a photo showing the opening of the commemorative meeting: Molotov at the podium, the presidium table with Malenkov in the middle….I scrutinized the photograph. There were only two rows of chairs behind the table; the third and the fourth had vanished, replaced by a uniformly dark background. I was unable to grasp what the photograph was presenting. The truth? A fiction? both? Or was I seeing things?

I finally woke up Galcynzski and handed him the paper. Neither of us knew what to think.

When the two of them returned to Poland, they went to see the poet Adam Wazyk, to seek his counsel. Wazyk had spent the war in Russia; surely he knew more about the Russian mindset than both of the. And so, they handed to them the offending copy of Pravda as the poet sat in the editorial offices of the newspaper Kuznica (The Forge).

The poet’s response:

He looked at me with all the dignity of a Siamese cat and asked me just what I wanted to know and what I did find so surprising. I told him that there had been a third and fourth row, and so why weren’t they in the picture?

“That’s simple,” said Wazyk. “The people in the third and fourth rows still don’t deserve to be seen in an edition of several million copies.”

All right then, I persisted, but that means that the photograph isn’t true.

“Politically it is true,” Wazyk cut me short dryly.

That ended our conversation.

One of my first lessons in dialectical thinking.

In case you forgot, Pravda is the Russian word for truth.

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Kazimierz Brandys Redux, No. 1

0327-06-brandys-kazimierz-1982I’ve taken recently to re-reading the journals of the late Polish dissident writer Kazimierz Brandys (A Warsaw Diary, 1978-1981). 

An entry from October 1978, p. 11-12:

The contemporary world does not belong to the Age of Reason; it is convulsed by a desire for faith. As a layman living outside the church, my epoch ages me. I feel an anachronism in it, sometimes alien, superfluous. Especially since I usually felt distaste for the type of person and the kind of life that express themselves through religion. I was a student when I halted in front of the steps of a rather old temple, asking myself, Should I turn back or enter? I entered. For me socialism was not a confession of dogmatic faith; I went in because it was battling against a barbaric church that was hostile to me — fascism. Socialism’s nineteenth-century past had earned my respect, attracted me to its legends, the lives of it heroes, its ethical tension. And also by its modest liturgy, it’s simple ways. A table, a chair, a speaker, a discussion. And so, I thought I professed no dogmas. Already I had a gospel. It is without irony that I think of this today. And I have no intention of reducing the significance of socialism in my life. And not only in my life. In history, culture. If i had to name the most important phenomena in our era, I would say the Roma Catholic Church, the Reformation, and socialism. I would further add that these constitute the historical trinity that delineates my understanding of Christianity.

Thus, when saying”church”, I am using the word in a broader sense. For me, it includes ideological orders and organized state religions. Today, the universal Catholic Church is carrying out its mission in a world terrorized by new inquisitions and crusades. The churches of anarchism and nationalism are killing people. The churches of the totalitarian states are killing life itself. Both the former and the latter use torture. And both have their believers and unbelievers. Society seems to be conscious of the religious character of contemporary life [emphasis supplied].

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Human beings are, in the most fundamental of senses, religious. We are homo adorans. We exhibit, possess, are oriented and answer to, ultimate commitments.

*inset photo by Czeslaw Czplinski

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Filed under reformational philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized