Despite his premature death at 33, Stanisław Brzozowski left behind an impressive number of books and articles, which exerted great influence on his contemporaries and successors, contributing much to the intellectual climate of 20th-century Poland. His range of interests is equally phenomenal. Known chiefly as a leading literary critic of early Modernism, familiar with Polish and European authors of the 19th century, he was also interested in philosophy, religion, and social problems. Essays on Polish Romantic philosophy and poetry, contemporary fiction, and criticism accompanied portrayals of Dostoevskii and Chekhov, articles about Kant, Taine, Nietzsche, Spencerean ethics, the educational values of English literature, and the syndicalism of Georges Sorel.
Brzozowski’s memoir (Pamiętnik [Diary; wr. 1910–11, pub. 1913]) leaves aside the mundane course of his life and is dedicated to a personal contemplation of the books and events that shaped his spiritual development or stimulated further reflection or vehement opposition. Moreover, he accumulates a variety of intellectual inspirations into a single Weltanschauung, which he expects will transform Poland and the world.
Brzozowski’s ideas underwent various modifications and were related to different philosophers such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Bergson. Finally, he became fascinated by the teaching of Cardinal Newman, whose Grammar of Assent (1870) he translated into Polish (Przeświadczenie wiary, 1915). However, once espoused, those ideas became a creed, which Brzozowski promoted with fervor and a characteristic lack of tolerance for any opposing view. As a result, he played the role of national preacher, who considered the future of Poland and of all humanity, and believed in his ability to postulate their tasks and moral obligations.
If the essay is normally regarded as more relaxed and less complete than other forms of discourse, Brzozowski’s works only partly comply with that pattern. He never indulges in detached contemplation or witty paradoxes, and overburdens his writings with many references to contemporary thinkers. Yet his effusive rhetoric creates emotional tension, where the reader feels overwhelmed by the ardor of the dedicated author even more than by the undoubted authority of his arguments. In these national “sermons,” Brzozowski’s digressive style transgresses the logical sequence of arguments, its free progress approaching essayistic models. He is also capable of encompassing complex thoughts within well-chosen metaphors, which would later become part of Polish critical language—for example, his often quoted description of Romanticism as “a flower rebelled against its roots.”
Brzozowski’s career is linked with notoriety, as he made himself known by fierce attacks against two recognized luminaries of Polish contemporary literature, Henryk Sienkiewicz and Zenon Przesmycki. The aggressive tone and denigrating assessment of these writers founded his reputation as the Zoilus of Polish criticism. The same uncompromising attitude became the hallmark of his later works as well. Some contained articles printed earlier in literary journals, such as Głos (Voice), Przegląd Społeczny (Social review), and Krytyka (Criticism), but some appeared only as books that immediately galvanized their readers and fomented vigorous disputes, as did his most influential publication, Legenda Młodej Polski (1910; The legend of Young Poland).
Brzozowski’s most important critical and philosophical works also include Współczesna powieść polska (1906; The contemporary Polish novel), Kultura i życie (1907; Culture and life), Współczesna krytyka literacka w Polsce (1907; Contemporary literary criticism in Poland), Idee (1910; Ideas), and Głosy wśród nocy (1912; Voices in the night).
Best known as a literary critic, Brzozowski developed his own idea of professional responsibility. He treated his task seriously, believing it should surpass personal impressions and establish a deeper order of understanding life than literary works themselves: “Literary criticism constitutes a higher form of contemplating art, it is a further stage of evolution toward the ultimate comprehension of those human activities that produce art” (Współczesna krytyka literacka w Polsce). In accordance with his moralist stance, Brzozowski believed in the practical value of critical appraisals, as they were expected to help writers in solving their dilemmas and benefit readers by advancing their knowledge of modern human life. Since he related literature and the arts to ethics, the problem of aesthetic form eventually became linked with moral judgment and regarded as its unwitting or subconscious expression: “Our art always constitutes our judgment on life, a verdict of condemnation or of elevated rapture” (Współczesna krytyka literacka w Polsce). In the course of time, Brzozowski developed his own philosophy of culture, which then served as a point of reference for his re-evaluation of various forms of human activity. Starting from a “philosophy of action,” he eventually developed his acclaimed “philosophy of labor,” which also found admirers long after his death. What he had in mind was a major physical effort, capable of reshaping reality in accordance with human will. Consequently, intellectual exertion might have turned into genuine labor only by its links with and influence upon manual toil. Since Brzozowski loftily extolled the gigantic endeavor to conquer nature and struggle with “suprahuman forces,” his grand theory, regarded by only a few as utopian, attracted many Polish intellectuals. As a kind of national messianism, revitalized long after the Romantic movement, it proclaimed the emergence of a new Polish mission, whose major message would “reveal ideas undiscovered so far by the rest of the world” (Legenda Młodej Polski).
Brzozowski holds a unique position as an astute critic of Polish contemporary culture, known as Young Poland or NeoRomanticism. His Legenda Młodej Polski represents the most comprehensive denunciation of those forms of the Polish mind, which, in Brzozowski’s words, represent “the delusion of cultural consciousness.” (Was he, however, free of those delusions himself?) Inspired partly by Marxism, he was convinced that all humans reflected their economic and social conditions. Therefore Romantic attempts at controlling life from above—that is, from high “prophetic” posts of national bards—are regarded as misconceived and deceptive. Similar criteria motivate Brzozowski’s condemnation of the shortcomings of leading Young Poland writers such as Stefan Żeromski and Stanisław Wyspiański. Still, he shared the views of his peers that intuition is superior to rational thinking, and that inner life is much more interesting than outer reality, reflected in the novels of conventional realists like Sienkiewicz or Władysław Reymont. His lasting impact and popularity has been confirmed by the critical works of Czesław Miłosz, Kazimierz Wyka, and many others.
Leopold Stanisław Brzozowski. Born 28 June 1878 in Maziarnia, near Lublin. Studied at the Russian Imperial University, Warsaw, 1896–97: suspended for demonstrating against a Russian nationalist professor. Arrested for his activities in the illegal group, Society for Popular Education, and imprisoned for a month, where he contracted tuberculosis, 1898; treated at a sanatorium at Otwock, near Warsaw, 1899, and worked there as a librarian, 1900. Married Antonina Kolberg, 1901: one daughter. Contributor to various journals, including Głos, from 1902, and Naprzód (Forward), 1906. Moved to Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains for treatment of TB, 1905; lectured at Lvov Technical University, from 1905. Went for treatment to Nervi, Italy, 1906, and moved to Florence, 1907. Accused of being an agent of the tsarist police, 1908: he denied charges, the case went to trial, and no verdict was reached.
Died (of tuberculosis) in Florence, 30 April 1911.
Essays and Related Prose
Kultura i życie, 1907; enlarged edition, edited by Andrzej Walicki, 1973
Legenda Młodej Polski: Studia o strukturze duszy kulturalnej, 1910
Głosy wśród nocy: Studia nad przesileniem romantycznym kultury europejskiej, 1912
Aforyzmy, edited by Andrzej Mencwel, 1979
Humor i prawo: Wybrane studia krytyczne, edited by Tomasz Burek, 1988
Eseje i studia o literaturze, edited by Henryk Markiewicz, 2 vols., 1990
Other writings: several novels (including Pod ciężarem Bogo, 1901; Wiry, 1904–05;
Płomienie, 1908; Sam wśród ludzi, 1911; Książka o starej Kobiecie [unfinished], 1914), a treatise on Henryk Sienkiewicz (1903), plays, books on literature (including Współczesna powieść polska, 1906) literary criticism (including Współczesna krytyka literacka w Polsce, 1907), and writers (including on Hippolyte Taine, Jan Sniadecki, Stefan Żeromski, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Fedor Dostoevskii), philosophy, letters (collected in Listy, edited by M. Sroka, 2 vols., 1970), and a diary (Pamiętnik, 1913). Also translated Grammar of Assent by John Henry Newman (1915).
Collected works edition: Dzieła wszystkie, edited by A.Górski and S.Kołaczkowski, 4 vols., 1936–38 (never completed).
Kołakowski, Leszek, Main Currents of Marxism, vol. 2, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978:215–39
Mackiewicz, Witold, Brzozowski, Warsaw: Wiedza Powszechna, 1979
Mencwel, Andrzej, Stanisław Brzozowski: Kształtowanie myśli krytycznej, Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1976
Miłosz, Czesław, “A Controversial Polish Writer: Stanisław Brzozowski,” in California Slavic Studies, vol. 2, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963:53–95
Miłosz, Czesław, Człowiek wśród skorpionów: Studium o Stanisławie Brzozowskim, Warsaw: Młoda Polska, 1982
Miłosz, Czesław, The History of Polish Literature, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2nd edition, 1983:373–79
Syska-Lamparska, Rena A., Stanisław Brzozowski: A Polish Vision, Florence: Le Lettere Firenze, 1987
Walicki, Andrzej, Stanisław Brzozowski—drogi myśli, Warsaw: Pánstwowe
Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1977
Walicki, Andrzej, Stanisław Brzozowski and the Polish Beginnings of “Western Marxism”, Oxford: Clarendon Press, and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989
Walicki, Andrzej, and Roman Zimand, editors, Wokół myśli Stanisława Brzozowskiego, Cracow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1974
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