Alessandro Ajres

The presence of the Great Mother in Polish women's contemporary literature (and beyond)

 In these most recent years the figure of the Great Mother has conquered the covers of magazines and was the protagonist of an acclaimed film such as: God is a woman and her name is Petrunya (2019). Its presence in contemporary Polish literature can be observed starting from a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, A Paleolithic Fertility Fetish (from the collection No end of fun, 1967), up to the most recent books by Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk as Anna In w grobowcach świata (Anna In in the underworld, 2006) or Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych (Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, 2009). Along this path, the Great Mother "strengthens" her presence in Polish literature to the point of also appearing in Stefan Twardoch's novel Król Warszawy (The King of Warsaw, 2016) in which the point of view is mainly male, when not macho.

Andrea F. De Carlo

Athena redeemed: Stanisława Przybyszewska by Izabela Filipiak

In feminist criticism, the mythological figure of Athena appears rarely and more often in a role of anti-heroine, daughter and protector of the patriarchate. In the short introductory essay, published in the brochure of Anna Schiller’s play Stacha (2001), dedicated to Stanisława Przybyszewska (1901-1935), illegitimate daughter of the famous modernist writer Stanisław Przybyszewski (1868-1927), the contemporary Polish writer Izabela Filipiak (b. 1961) rehabilitates the mythological figure of the Greek goddess as a symbol of female creativity and literary production. In Filipiak essayist, therefore, appears a new female mythologem, which is grafted into the broader and more general plan of the writers to create a mythology uncontaminated by the “fathers” and their language in open contrast to the patriarchal tales about women.

My paper consequently aims to analyze not only the literary essay on Przybyszewska in the light of feminist criticism and the specificities of the myth rewritten by Filipiak, but also some of the most indicative problematic nuclei of the reflection on writing and its intellectual message.

Helena Goscilo

Toppling the Myth of Saintly Polish Womanhood

Myth, according to Roland Barthes, constitutes a social stereotype passed off as something natural, whereby ideological imposition appears as “what goes without saying.” Since cultures generate myths to present their norms as facts of nature, myth is a form of communication creating a system of second-order meaning. For centuries Polish culture aligned with Europe’s myth of womanhood, institutionalized in the imbalanced misogynistic binary that predicated womanhood as the secondary category defined as the polar opposite of the purported primacy category—manhood. Accordingly, the quintessence of womanhood was established as passivity, subservience, nurture, emotionality, irrationality, intuition, body, and so forth. Born to support men (the Adam’s rib scenario), women as the weaker sex were the pale moon (menses, after all), drawing light from the sun equated with the male. Moreover, owing to the centrality of the Catholic Church in Poland, the Polish woman became conflated with the Virgin Mary and abstracted into an allegory of the long-suffering nation (Matka Polka/Boska).

With the dissolution of the Eastern bloc and Poland’s recovered independence, an extraordinary revolution in Polish women’s cultural production has overturned this hardy but improbable icon of femininity, to reclaim a different womanhood. While the postmodern art of Ewa Juszkiewicz exposes the erasure of women as individuals in male art of previous eras, the prose of Manuela Gretkowska and Olga Tokarczuk, as well as the films of Agnieszka Smoczyńska, Małgorzata Szumowka, and Olga Chajdas, reconceives women as individuated, active, creative, sexual, independent, strong beings, ultimately more than a match for their fabled male counterparts. 

My presentation engages the Marxist John Berger and French feminism—Simone de Beauvoir, Hélène Cixous—as well as scholars specializing in postmodernism, notably Linda Hutcheon. Time permitting, it also parenthetically references Russian parallels and contrasts (Tania Antoshina, Viktoriia Lamashko, and Liudmila Ulitskaia).

Katarzyna Nadana-Sokołowska

“I'm not a feminist, but I'm a... witch”? – new identity figure of Polish women in post-1989 literature and in socio-public life

In my presentation, I would like to put the thesis that the figure of a witch is now, in 2020-21, a surprisingly important point of reference for identity of many Polish women. It is also confirmed by the last Women's Strike demonstrations (autumn 2020), in which slogans which connect the protest to the figure of a witch (“We are daughters of the witches you didn't manage to burn”, “You won't burn all of us”). I would like to follow and describe the stages of this identification. Literature written by women since the 1990s (Chwała Czarownicom by Krystyna Kofta, Prawiek i inne czasyDom dzienny, dom nocnyProwadź mój pług przez kości umarłych by Olga Tokarczuk, Ciemno, prawie noc by Joanna Bator) has been reintepretating the witch myth. It started to understand it not as a traditional symbol of evil, but as an ambiguous figure from cultural margin, who rebels against the values in force in the name of empathy towards the excluded and harmed. Independent women, single by choice, often eccentric and in many ways not conforming to scripts of life which are foreseen for women, has  become common literary protagonists. The same myth is being worked on since the 1990s – in a different way – among women involved in some forms of therapy (particularly Jungian). A particularly visible phenomenon is gathering in “women's circles” with a scope of celebrating women's union (sisterhood), rebuilding the female identity as mutilated by patriarchy and strengthening its positive manifestations. Although the portraits of witch created by Kofta, Tokarczuk, Bator and others are – as I intent to show – interesting and original, in historical perspective it is striking how the reinterpretation of the figure of a witch both by important contemporary writers and in therapeutic-developmental circles clearly refers to reinterpretations of the myth of a witch which were a feature of second-wave feminism in the USA (Mary Daly, Starhawk etc.).The reinterpreted witch is a “woman of power”, strongly tied to Nature and drawing deeper knowledge and wisdom from this source, wiedźma [the knowing woman], fostering and caring towards life (and ready to use her power in defense of those who are weaker in the patriarchal system – a rebel). At the same time she is filled with femininity (beautiful beyond traditional notions of beauty, celebrating her sexuality, fertility and creativity).

Given how Polish women were traditionally reluctant to identify with feminism, it is surprising how willing they are now to identify with the figure of a “witch”, which evidently has much in common with the feminist. Therefore, I will attempt to diagnose this phenomenon and to consider what connects and what distinguishes “feminists” and “witches” in Polish women's awareness nowadays.

Elena Petrushanskaya

Clusters of mythological traces in the works of Russian women: from the ideas of composers to popular literature

The term “cluster” in music refers to a consonance similar to a sound “spot” generated by adjacent dissonant sounds that do not fit into traditionally structured chords. In literature it means a diagram indicating the influences and sources of the phenomenon which is object of the study.

In the works of Russian women composers, especially in the twenty-first century, the features of various mythologies, with their transversal points of junction and fusion, are particularly clear. This trend acquires the quality of a "cluster of mythological traces". For example, the composer Sofia Gubaidulina (born in 1931) defines herself as a "representative of the archaic consciousness". Her music and ideas are combined with the features of the ancient and more recent mythologies of the East and West, like Egyptian mythology, Slavic and Tatar pagan epics, Biblical and Christian mythology, and the philosophy of Martin Buber. In the opera "Einstein and Margarita" (2006) by Iraida Yusupova (born in 1962), such "clusters" fuse the "demythologization" of the plot, parodically echoing Bulgakov's novel, with the range of ideas created by Philip Grass (in his opera "Einstein on the Beach", 1976) and with the remythologization of the sound features derived from the mythology of Soviet song culture. These phenomena testify to the boldness of women composers in exploring the horizons of their identity. I will compare them with the mythological "clusters” that can be traced in the books of a number of popular Russian women writers, mainly of detective stories, including Victoria Platova, Guzel Yakhina and Ekaterina Ru. The field of observation is prose associated with "musical themes", "musical mythology" and its cluster connections with other mythological traces.

Gloria Politi

Memory and Myth in Elena Chizhova and Lyudmila Petrushevskaya

This paper aims to develop a comparative analysis between The Girlo from the Metropol Hotel: Growing Up in Communist Russia by Lyudmila The Time of Women by Elena Chizhova. The protagonists of both works are women: mothers, daughters, roommates, preys. They do not escape reality, they do not find refuge in an idyllic and dreamy world but, on the contrary, they face the present with a revolutionary flair, trying to unhinge the coordinates of a society, the Soviet society, which was male-dominated and extremely oppressive towards women. Fate, for these creatures, is no longer inescapable but, by opposing it like modern Antigones, changing the warp like new Moires, they alter its result.

These women are therefore laborious creatures; their work is constant, intense, and does not give way to doubt or to the temptation to be overwhelmed by events that, historically, are of exceptional magnitude. In short, they are divine female figures, creative and positive, as if to underline the primary role they play in the cosmic and social order.

There are many parallels between the two narratively very different works: the principle of rebellion, the mythopoetic strategies or the apocryphalisation of myth, evident above all in the "weaving" activity of the protagonists. It is precisely the process of weaving the story of existence, transgressing unfair rules imposed by a millenary anti-feminist tradition, that also becomes a metaphor for writing. The authors use memory, each in their own way, transforming it often into a family memory or even into the 'myth of a family memory', even in social contexts where characters are not bound by blood ties. Memory and the concept of which the authors make "use" reveal the eternal conflict between the individual and society, the contrast between feeling and rationality, between individual and the collective interests, the theme and mystery of physical and mental pain.

Monika Rudaś-Grodzka

Wanda’s story belongs to the most mysterious Polish legends.

I would like to put forward the thesis that this figure is not limited to the widely known narrative and phantasms. I think behind it there is a mythical structure, or to be precise – her dark side, which has not yet been subject to deeper reflection.  

Since the beginning Wanda has functioned as one of the main emblems of the Polish national mythological pantheon. Her image as an innocent, beautiful virgin princess, founder of the Polish nation, has been preserved in art and literature for centuries. Wanda has been locked in these pictures, which expressed a simplified political message. These images seemed safe for those who used her figure to confirm their power or to support their fight for independence.  She appeared in every epoch, playing an active role as a warrior or passive sacrifice on the altars of motherland. However, her chameleonic nature hiding her true face eludes recognition, norms, patterns of our culture. The shadow which she cast on our symbolic sphere, both patriarchal and feminist, is as fascinating as it is disturbing. The double displacement behind this account of Wanda, i.e of the pre-Christian element from official history and female element from official culture allows for revision and reinterpretation in art and literature. The starting point for my considerations will be the poem Wanda by Anna Nasiłowska (2019) and Wanda, a play by Sylwia Chutnik and Patrycja Dołowy staged at the Old Theater in Krakow in 2013. These pieces are political and interventional in the assumption of female authors and expose the repressed femininity in our patriarchal society. They are also a manifestation of the collective unconscious. The multi-faced heroine sheds her masks and reveals her thanatic features and her message can by summarized in three words: death, life, death.

Iryna Shylnikova

Transfigurative Dynamics in Literary Mythopoiesis in The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya

One of the trends in contemporary women's literatureis the attempt to preserve the myth and to provide it with a new interpretation, creating signs, symbols and associations related to the history of mankind. Thisphenomenon is also widely present in contemporary Russian literature: myth is the common theme in the in the works of Russian women writers, myth represents the fil rouge in the interweaving of history, culture and psychology. As M. Lipovetsky states, the women writers construct "a new, non-hierarchical and non-absolute mythology of the game", by the use of ancient mythology. The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaja, one of the most important writers in contemporary Russian literature, represents an attempt to desecrate the myth, describing a society that, due to the loss of its cultural heritage, is undergoing a dramatic regression to the primitive state.

The aim of this study is to retrace the process of myths re-elaborating, the strategies of mythologisation/demythologisation that lie at the core of The Slynx as well as of the whole work of Tatyana Tolstaya, who depicts the post-apocalyptic return of an archaic perception.


Piotr Sobolczyk

Mythical Tarot, Archetypical Tarot And Esoteric Ways Of Writing Feminity

In this paper I would like to examine two approaches to Tarot as a postmodern way of constructing, de-constructing and re-constructing female identity in postmodern Polish fiction written by women after 1989. In her debut novel Podróż ludzi księgi (The Travel of the People of the Book, not translated to English) Olga Tokarczuk, a psychologist by profession, and an admirer of the so called "new age" spirituality, coded some of the Tarot Major Arcana archetypes. Her approach is clearly Jungian, and she was an admirer of Carl Gustav Jung's esoteric psychoanalysis. Jung  left writings on astrology and I Cing, yet it waere his his students who completed his work by offering an archetypical interpretation of Tarot's 22 Major Arcana. My point is to study this hidden presence of Tarot understood through Jung in the novel, and also to ask what for the writer needs archetypes and esoterism. Eventually her novel constructs a myth (her later works usually tend to myths, only sometimes touching on esoterism). A different approach to Tarot and to writing (female writing) is present in Manuela Gretkowska's novel Tarot paryski (Paris Tarot, not translated to English). Both books were published in 1993. Gretkowska uses her syncretic imagination rather to chop and rearrange myths, creating a certain postmodern bricolage, rather than leading towards a consoling closed mythical structure, which is Tokarczuk's goal, albeit achieved ironically.

Monika Świerkosz

Contemporary Myths and Posthuman Ethics of Storytelling in Olga Tokarczuk’s Writing.

As Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti argued, myths are epistemological metaphors and as such, they have a more critical potential than a descriptive one. Contemporary figurations of subjectivity - mothers-monsters, cyborgs, goddesses - not only indicate the inhuman (or rather posthuman) nature of relations in the modern world but also deconstruct its post-enlightenment, cognitive foundations.

I will argue that Olga Tokarczuk in her novels refers to this critical, non-anthropocentric tradition of mythologization in order to reveal relations of dependence / subordination on the one hand and affiliation / kinship on the other.

Contrary to the opinion of many critics, who saw in her writing the implementation of an optimistic strategy of consolation and pedagogical moralizing, I would rather point out the subversive usage of the figures of dolls (puppets), monsters, saints-freaks, goddesses, that deconstruct from within homogenous „grand narratives” of any (clear) identities.

Using forgotten and apocryphal myths (matriarchal, biographical, local, pre-christian and non-catholic) Tokarczuk gives voice to alternative stories about a world that is not one. Relationality, the interconnection of human-non-human components, the shared vulnerability of all forms of being, are recurring elements of its mythopoetics.

But there is also another aspect of the mythologization in Tokarczuk’s writing. As she admits in recently published essays, the mythical perspective used in the manner of storytelling serves her to go beyond the limitations of first-person narratives, to distance herself from herself as a narrative medium.

I would like to discuss the possibilities and limitations of this strategy of „dissociation” which seems to reflect Tokarczuk's striving for a new form of objectivity (and realism) that goes beyond the opposition between the personal and the impersonal, individual and universal, real and fictional.

The myth serves to fictionalize the "self", to go beyond the fetish of authenticity, and yet paradoxically to maintain the faith in the cognitive power of literature.

What kind of political and ethical consequences brings this notion of storytelling in our posthuman, full of conflicts contemporality?

Katarzyna Syska

«Новые Антигоны» Елены Греминой и «Антигона. Редукция» Аси Волошиной: обретение языка

«Антигона» Софокла оказалась текстом, который советский театр обошел вниманием. После распада СССР также долгое время не ставились значимые спектакли на его основании. Однако после событий 2010-2012 годов (протестное движение, дело Pussy Riot) появились две пьесы, а вслед за нимин спектакли, отсылающие к этому античному сюжету и переосмысляющее позицию и роль женщины в полтическо-информационном пространстве - «Новые Антигоны» Елены Греминой (2016) и «Антигона. Редукция» Аси Волошиной (2013). Сопоставительный анализ этих текстов позволит выявить причины, способы и функции аткуализации данного мифа в современной российской социокультурной обстановке.

Kristina Vorontsova

Constructing Self: Autobiography as a Myth in Short Stories by Helena Shvarts

Being one of the key figures of so-called Leningrad underground “Second Culture” and Russian postmodernism, Helena Shvarts not only did deconstruct and reconstruct different traditional  myths extensively (Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, eschatological), but she also perceived her own biography as a Myth in the context of Russian Silver Age’s concept of Life and Creative Work, and mystifications of the Postmodern era. This paper focuses mostly on the autobiographical short stories written by the author in the first decade of the 21th century. Strategies of narrating and the usage of Myths while creating the image of Self are considered.