Uploaded by Daniel Valsecchi

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Adam Mickiewicz: the Meaning of his Bicentenary
by Daniel H. Valsecchi
The next December 25th we will celebrate the bicentenary of Adam Mickiewicz's birth. Adam
Mickiewicz (1798-1855) was the greatest poet of Poland. He was also a patriot. But, what is the
meaning given by Mickiewicz to the word ‘patriotism’? I think that it is useful employ an special
category of thought: reading from his own peripheral space. We, the Argentine, South-Americans1,
perhaps latter actors of the Universal Drama Historic. Could we find using Adam Mickiewicz as a
intellectual springboard in order to find analogies between the Slaw world (a latter actor too) and
«our»world? Yes. We can make our own psychical structural connection (using the Dilthey’s
expression), In fact, the aim of the founder of the Geisteswissenschaften was to overcame the
experience (Erlebnis) which is ever submerged in a reality by itself (Innerwerden).
Dilthey passionately searched the real sens. He attempted to grasp the world and he did not satisfy
himself with a mere abstract understanding. Now, taking into account this paradigm, what was the
sens of the reality which surrender Mickiewicz?
The starting point will be the center-peripheral dialectic. The word peripheral can be used, either
with a descriptive meaning or with a depreciate sens. In fact, to say 'peripheral' imply a
subordinated relation with regard to the 'center'. The Greek prefix περι means 'around'. This word
connotes submission. Consequently we consciously (sometimes) unconsciously diminish the
peripheral and by the same token of our thought we label it as imperfect, the logical place of the
downfall. If we make a twist of our thought and focus on the Hegel’s master-slave dialectic (as a
matter of fact, the Kojéve’s point of view which partially modifies the ideas of the Jena’s professor)
the hero of Universal History (Weltgeshichte) will be, according to this perspective, the worker
Slave (inhabitant of the peripheral) and not the leisure master (trapped in «his» central world). The
Slave’s advantages transform the disdained peripheral into the main factor of change – peripheral as
a catalytic agent of the History.
As we can see, in both cases exist and underlying a valuable standpoint. Instead, we ought to essay
a different explanation which will dig out the connections among semantic spaces, particular
perspectives notwithstanding.
We can affirm, that in the Mickiewicz’s times, Poland was an example of a double conditioning. On
the one hand, cultural conditioning from the geographical point of view: a Catholic State flanked by
Lutherans (Prussia) and Orthodox (Russia). On the other hand, a geopolitical conditioning: the
Poland’s disappearance as a real State – after the 1795’s 2 partition – and simultaneously its silent
opposition in as much Poland was reduced to a schema-concept against of a self-conscious Europe,
which was a result of an steadfastly Central Europe ideology (as a cultural precluding) in piecemeal
We have chosen the expression ‘South America’ because it has geographical referents without ideological
connotations. It is interesting to note the existence of many ‘labels’ for our continent: Latin-America, Eurindia,
Indo-Iberia Hispanic-America and so forth. This is not a result of a coincidence. On the contrary: the multiplicity of
names is subordinated to ideological interests and furthermore to it constitutes the unmistakable signal of
submerged problems referred to our own identity. With respect to this topic Juan José Hernández Arregui sharply
criticized the expression ‘Latin América’ one of the most divulged names. See, ¿Qué es el Ser Nacional? (la
conciencia histórica iberoamericana, Buenos Aires 1973, pages 5, 34 and 35.
In fact, Poland disappeared from the map of Europe. This political action was carried out by the action of its
neighbors: Austria, Russia and Prussia. Consequently three sectors (partitions) were established. It should be
stressed that Mickiewicz lives in the called ‘Russian Poland’ (since his born to 1829).
growth since the discovery of America as the New World became the center of a new space of
experiences. In front of this Central Europe ideology, Poland lay as a motionless space of
deployment of the barbaric people: the old Bulwark of Christianity remained as a relic of decaying
religion in open retreat before the powerful of an aggressive and increasing Modernity.
Assuming that the conditions encircle in themselves contradictions. In other words: center –
peripheral; Christianity – Modernity, the only way of breaking off the dyadic is through the
assumption of the own condition, that is to say: one should know the roots of attachment to a world
which is the same but, in fact, it was another: the refuge in the Weltanschauung which wants,
despite its fading status, to seek out an alternative proposal against the ascending Modernity.
Obviously it was necessary to preserve the national identity against the Western-Europe rules. The
November Uprising was failed. It was an exclusively a military attempt to vanquish the foreigners
oppressors in order to return to the Ancient Order (a Christian Policy) – increased the frustration.
Nevertheless there were not possibilities of arranging the vigorous Modernity and a system of
values essentially based upon an Imago Mundi belonging to another context, that it to say: to
Adam Mickiewicz was conscious in his own circumstances of the impossibility to return, despite
his desires, to the past time (the Ancient Order). He attacked Russian Slavophil thinkers longed for
resurrecting the Middle Ages (something similar to certain Argentine philomedieval nationalism).
But Mickiewicz never sought the mechanical assimilation of the new patterns (at present we would
say automatic alignment). Such assimilation signify the complete annihilation of the collective
project called ‘Polish Nation’. Modernity undoubtedly was, from its very beginning, an exclusive
phenomenon. Then, for Mickiewicz, how was it possible to escape from the prison of the center peripheral dialectic? It was through a fracture: before the Holy Alliance of Kings, he opposed a
new brotherhood, the Revolutionary Brotherhood of Nations.
Today, two hundred years ago since the Mickiewicz’s birth, we are witnesses of a Globalization.
That it to say, an enormous project of unification of markets and systems of production with the
standardization of cultural patterns and schemes of thought (a subtle compound of Orwellian
domination and Heidegger’s tyranny of man sagt). Inside this innovative context the Mickiewicz’s
conceptions acquire dramatic importance. No only the above quoted brotherhood which nourished
the People’s war – a doctrinal antecedent of the export the revolution 3, deserves a detailed analysis.
The Poet-Professor‘s ideas on the soul of politics must be emphasized. His point of view to this
respect at present results deeply subversive before the Postmodernism and its ideological
endorsement combined with the havoc caused by a scornful Realpolitik, which is ruthlessly
materialized through the humanitarian interventions in order to preserve peace and freedom. If we
read carefully Mickiewicz’s works (specially his lectures at the Collège de France: 1840-1844) we
will able to find ideas which today (1998) are Kikenshiso, that is to say: dangerous thoughts. For
instance, expressions as spiritual labor, self-sacrifice and the value of suffering. These ideas imply
to be intelligent, that it to say, being able of reading into oneself (intus-legere). On the contrary, in
this sense the post-modernistic men are not intelligent and they not desire, not remotely, to point out
the problem neither. Postmodernism is the logical place of weak thought. Consequently the man
does not read into himself because this behavior involves the very idea of reflection and
auscultation in order to observe our own inward. And the distinctive features of Postmodernism
intellectual environment sharply contrast with the genuine thought: the snapshot, the isolated
Insofar as revolutionary strategy we would like to quote another Polish author: Henryk Kamieński (1813-1865). in
his book O prawdach żywotnych narodu polskiego (On the Vital Truths of the Polish Nation) he developed an entire
chapter to the matter of Revolutionary Terrorism. In this chapter Kamieński developed the idea of “preparation of
masses” and he also stresses the role of education in order to spring revolutionary consciousness. According to
several scholars, Kamieński brought forward, one hundred years before Mao Tse-Tung, the militarized mass
insurrection. A. Walicki, Philosophy and Romantic Nationalism – The Case of Poland. Oxford 1982. Pages 203204.
happening, the lightness. The attempt to recover Mickiewicz for the present world constitutes a risk
in itself. In other words: the Poet-Professor’s ideas play up for «this» world. Surprisingly,
Mickiewicz is a wet blanket which extinguish the current orgy of intellectual weakness and
continual release from blame.
On the other hand, Mickiewicz was also a rigorous critic of the other set of ideas which caused the
Postmodernism. As a matter of fact, we ought not forget the following fact: Postmodernism «is»
modernism into action, without a protective mythology. Such a mythology can be summarized with
this expression: incessant progress. This statement, which at present has sunk into discredit, in the
Mickiewicz’s times was an axis idea. When he taught at the Collège de France (together with
Edgar Quinet and Jules Michelet). Mickiewicz made a diagnosis of the Modern ages – the age of
unflinching and social engineering. He sharply denounced Modernity through his lectures. His
listeners were resentful followers, suffering from nostalgia. They fervently recalled the lost Heroic
Era which had already been eclipsed by the brilliance of the compulsive rationalism. The PoetProfessor endeavored to spiritualize politics, that is to say: to restore the concept of human and
social traits (the interactive essence) and seek the mode of rebuilding the broken off social ties.
Brotherly love and not calculation of interests must be the substance of personal relations. This last
idea was discordant from the perspective of industrialized Europe. Today, such kind of ideas
paradoxically maintains their discordant and highly disturbing characteristics before a compulsory
political order.
The Mickiewicz’s classes at the Collège de France oscillated, through their relatively easy words
and expressions, between political theory and mystical ideas, sometimes near to the pamphleteer
language. The Poet-Professor firmly attacked the compulsory order and at the same time he
disdained the reasoning of the «doctors», in the lesson delivered on June 28 th 1842, he diminished
the importance of theories and doctrines which were elaborated without any consideration for the
real man:
'The doctrines add nothing new. They are only the point of view of certain persons. Schools do not
last during a lot of time. They expressed only the point of view of certain associations. If doctrine
add nothing new, it is a dead thing. Thing, which cannot be expressed is long lasting, taking action,
is the man himself'4
Those are easy but irritating words for the positivist scientist – the apostles of organization and
transformation from concrete men to variables of adjustment inside the social physics.
Mickiewicz openly rejected both mechanization and alienation derived from the bourgeois
rationalization of the social life and the political reality. He also criticized the notion of State. Such
an order neglected the individual differences. Thus Mickiewicz gave preeminence to the Nation
and he conceived it not a variety of decadent provincialism (in Mickiewicz’words: an spurious
nationalism) but as a path to attain the wholeness. These ideas doubtless are strongly pregnant with
messianism. Today this word was undermined by discredit. But in Mickiewicz’s eyes messianism
established form of heterodox religious consciousness… bound up with social revolutionism … and
the belief in an earthy salvation5, that is to say: messianism was the possibility to overcame
injustices and inequalities within an intra-historical. Certainly the idea of progress, cristisised by
Mickiewicz ,as we said above, exists in this conception although is lessened by a linkage with the
Literatura Słowiańska wykładana w Collegium Francuskim przez Adama Mickiewicza. Tłumaczenia Feliksa
Wrotnowskiego. Poznań 1865. T II, strona 315. wydanie trzecie, nowo poprawione. Slave Literature. Lectures of
Adam Mickiewicz in the Collège de France. Translated by FeliksWrotnowski. Poznań 1865, T II, page 315. Third
edition. A new revision. This fragment was translated for me.
A. Walicki, Op.cit., page 241.
soteriological factor which results is giving spirit to the politics. In the Mannheim’s typology is a
variety of quiliastic utopia6.
Mickiewicz’s messianism was continental, starting from the alliance between the most
revolutionary nations in Europe: France and Poland. This was a geopolitical project issued from the
fountain pen of the Poet-Professor: the first step in order to built the Holy Alliance of Peoples.
Within this context, and taking into account the religious aspects, Nations were only a way:
'an ensamble which assists the man in order to improve him follow the truth, to dominate the earth
basing himself in the truth, which obtains in the temple'7
This concept of Nationalism was globally «thought». However, this global viewpoint was neither ab
hyper-rational project nor an abstract device. On the contrary, Mickiewicz’s plan was an attempt to
humanize and spiritualize both the political and social world. In other words: it was an early effort
to recover an alienated cosmos.
After this short summary, let us to try to answer a question. Beyond the certain possibilities of
making comparative political studies (starting from a located reading), what is the meaning of
Mickiewicz’s bicentenary? We think that the importance of the commemoration consists in the
following statement: a frontal attack against global impositions. Today we live in a world which
wants not an individual but a conformist man. Needless to say, this kind of man is able of living
without complaints about anything. This man who has been reduced to a «variable», ideal row
material for quantofrenics and testocrats. In one word; he is an «adjusted man». Is obvious, this biotype is the Adam Mickiewicz’s antithesis. Nevertheless, we think that if we want to save the
concrete man from the ruthless rationalization of social life, we must to rescue Mickiewicz, because
he did not hesitate in rejecting the new formulas compulsively imposed by the powerful. This
intellectual man must be studied because is an example of fighting against powerful states from the
peripheral world. This pattern behavior did no result (an does not result) strange for us, the
inhabitants of South America.
K. Mannheim, Ideología y Utopía. México 1993. Pages 185-192.
A. Mickiewicz, Les Slaves - Cours professé au Collège de France [The Slaves: lectures in the Collège de France]
Paris 1914. Page 204. This fragment was translated by me.