Instant Prejudices of Rzeczpospolita

Vaiva Grainytė

The way in which we define what is German, Brazilian, Swedish, or Polish is always told from a personal perspective. And this so-called personal viewpoint is probably never pure or free of clichés, stereotypes, or a historical past the weight of memorial rubbish we inherit from the collective unconscious.

Lets say a British person is asked about Polishness it is plausible that a very different narrative would be offered in comparison with the discourse provided by a person from a neighboring country. As it so happens, to add a representative voice from Lithuania a country which was, and has close relations with Poland and shares a past with it I must immediately confess: I am limited.

That is to say, my voice is tuned in to a specific mode: Im infected with a particular mythology of The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, love triangles of our communal kings and dukes, the emblematic icon of Władysław II Jagiełło, who converted us to Christianity, noisy 17th-century nobilities shouting Veto, the dichotomy of Adam Mickiewicz the Great, or Żeligowski's Mutiny that caused my hometown of Kaunas to flourish etc. all the chronicles my generation had to absorb at school while constantly drawing the changing map of The Royal Republic of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania after its gradual partition. The image of Polishness I faced in my early school years carries a slightly biased message: it is something related to power and embodies tiny threatening overtones.

Despite the information I was provided with, my other kind of encounter with Polishness the empirical and more authentic one happened throughout my senses, right after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I should be thankful to Poland for the magical memories of alchemical experiences and the possibilities to expand my palate of dull, grey, and bland tastes. Yupi, the instant drink, available in the most aggressive pink/extravagantly orange colors, manifests itself as an act of DIY chemistry; causes me to have lovely flashbacks of childhood cult favorites from the ‘90s. Or Vegeta[1] lower in the hierarchy (as sweetness overtakes saltiness according to the classification system of 7-year olds), but still something from abroad; the winds of change, that blew extra flavors into the sad and common salt and pepper duo.

Later, in my teenage years, Poland was the country that marked my first acquaintance with “foreignness. Polish truck drivers, fueled with Coca-Cola and the beats of Scooter, were like Hermes, guiding young hitchhikers across the border, where the great world starts (echoed the archetype from my parents generation: Warsaw the easiest-to-reach city of a less restricted and less culturally damaged country, somewhat of the West). So if I were to synthesize all my notions of Polishness of that time to one certain image, it would be a fluorescent, salted picture of Pope John Paul II, hanging inside the lorry, which was transporting goods (and Lithuanian kids) to Western Europe.

The next set of significant, Copernicus-like discoveries was expanded by the names of Miłosz, Warlikowski, Kantor, Penderecki, Szymborska, Kieślowski, Gombrowicz, Polański, Wajda, and other brilliant artists. Hence the concept of Polishness occurred as an artistic quality worthy of envy, the emanation of art I could easily relate to as a geographical neighborhood, and a parallel history that implies a mentality relative in its outlook. Although a number of genius Polish authors stand like a firm army at the international field of culture, suddenly the discourse is dominated by discussions of milk and meat that invades this idyllic Issa Valley, and conquers it. Contemporary Suwałki, a valley of cheap dairy products, washing powder, and minced pork, evince the economic narrative that edits out sophisticated aspects of Polishness. And of course, I continue talking in the Lithuanian frame of mind: we are those who come to spend half of our monthly salary here, in the territory of złotys, which was more merciful on our wallets. If one needs to buy a sofa, paint, a hammer, some glue or any other possible interior-related things or materials, the Polish market has affordable, but usually significantly lower in quality goods. For this reason, Polishness in our latitudes is used as a synonym of Chineseness. (As to for its territorial size this is a distinctive characteristic of China and Poland easily falls into this category: especially when an adolescent has to cross it by hitchhiking.)

So can we state that instant pomidorowa (tomato) soup and Grotowski belong to the same universe that defines Polishness? Or are they trademarks, nationally, and commercially related to this country? Would I be defined as the personification of a political-nationalistic quarrel about the spelling of W and X in the passports of ethnic Poles in Lithuania? The others, trying to identify you, start the scanning process with nationality. It is silly, but quite a common, irrational habit. Two Polish guys Tomek and Jacek people I met in Morocco some time ago, unconsciously became embodiments of my previous projections. By relying on stereotypes, the memorial litter and generalizations that we have inherited, we end up with only a one-sided outlook. Visionary French poet and writer Alfred Jarry, author of the avant-garde play Ubu the King, where the action takes place “in Poland, that is to say nowhere[2] hints at a Pataphysical and liberating conclusion: all definitions are only a vaudeville of marionettes words, pshit.


BIO

Vaiva Grainytė (b.1984) is a writer, playwright, essayist and poet, engaged in interdisciplinary theatre projects. Book of essays “Peking Diaries was nominated for Book of the Year 2012 and shortlisted as one of 12 of the most creative books in Lithuania. Latest works site specific promenade performance “Lucky Lucy (Norway/Lithuania/Iceland, 2016), radio plays “Axis deviation (Lithuania, 2015), and “Witches do not eat gummy bears (Cape Town/South Africa, 2015) evince the main qualities of her oeuvre: biographical and collective memory, documentary and fiction, daily routine and social issues are in equilibrium with poetic, slightly absurd, ironic and surreal overtones. Librettist of contemporary opera “Have a Good Day! for 10 cashiers, supermarket sounds and piano (Lithuania, 2013), the piece shares equal authorship with composer Lina Lapelytė and Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė. Opera holds 4 international theatre awards, has been shown at 20 different international theatre/music festivals in Europe, USA and Asia; its libretto is translated into 8 languages. In their collaborative work artists put special attention to the relationship between documentation and fiction, realism and poetry as well as on the crossover between theater, music and fine arts. Was selected fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude (Stuttgart/Germany, 2016-2017), Kulturkontakt (Vienna/Austria 2015), Literaturhaus Villa Clementine (Wiesbaden/Germany 2015).


[1] Originally Vegeta is Jugoslavian/Croatian invention and since 1992 with exclusive sale in Poland (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podravka#cite_note-6, access: 12.05.17.) - ed.

[2]  Jarry, Alfred. Ubu Roi (Dover Thrift Editions), trans. Beverly Keith and G. Legman (New York: Dover publications, 2003), 11.