Melancholic Migrating Bodies offers the first systematic overview of Poland’s literary and cultural environment after 1989 from the perspective of women’s writing.
It critically surveys the various political and social transformations of this period through a close reading of the foremost Polish female novelists. In this original way the book takes a fresh perspective on some of the country’s key questions such as Catholicism, nationalism, the patriotic ethos, history, romantic mythology and the problem of memory.
Reading contemporary women’s writing as melancholy texts highlights their often under-explored neuralgic nature and emancipatory value. These “strangers in their own lands,” as most recent Polish women writers and their work were described, are the subject of detailed analysis here, and are also positioned as the mirrors in which those lands are reflected. From this perspective, the melancholic strands in women’s writing are drawn together to provide a diagnosis of the current situation in Poland, taking into account unwanted discourses, unwelcomed subjects and unresolved problems.
This is a touching and existentially genuine book that perfectly illustrates the claim that selfhood is socially constructed and self-experience—including the most intimate and subtle feelings—may be mediated intersubjectively in brilliant fiction writing, after all.
The bodily sensations of female migrants, travellers and strangers are intense and abundant, though mostly painful and steeped in melancholy. Thanks to this erudite and insightful literary study by Urszula Chowaniec the non-Polish-language readers can learn much about Central East European society, politics and culture, seen through the lens the most recent Polish fiction by women writers.
Urszula Chowaniec’s new work contributes significantly to the dissemination of knowledge about contemporary Polish literature abroad.”
Professor Marzenna Jakubczak, Pedagogical University, Cracow, Poland
From the immemorial time the emotional and physical state called melancholy has appeared in different context, however most often it has been associated with artistic abilities and creativity attributed to the ”chosen” men. In her book Melancholic Migrating Bodies in Contemporary Polish Women’s Writing, Urszula Chowaniec elaborates on the concept of melancholy to encompass women’s alienation as well as disillusioned modern (female) identity, where “melancholic migrating bodies” become a metaphor for the condition of contemporary subjects. In the same way as anxiety (or “nervousness”?) has been regarded as an indispensible element in the cultural self-portrait of the fin-de-siècle, melancholy could be an appropriate concept to capture the human condition at the end of the twentieth century.
This book opens a new window on Polish contemporary women’s writing making use of the complex encounter between Western feminist theories on melancholy, body, abjection and illness; migration studies and deconstruction.
Drawing on previous ideas in feminist writing on melancholy in relation to gender, Urszula Chowaniec offers a bold new interpretation of Polish contemporary women’s fiction after 1989.
Dr Renata Ingbrant, Stockholm University, Sweden
Urszula Chowaniec’s newest monograph is the first book-length English-language study entirely devoted to contemporary Polish women’s writing. As the book’s main title indicates, the author’s principal objective is to analyze the growing body of texts authored by Polish women writers through the prism of three seemingly unrelated themes: melancholy, migration and corporeality. By focusing on this triad of issues and by following in the footsteps of renowned Polish feminist critics such as Maria Janion and Inga Iwasiów, Chowaniec manages to advance and expand our understanding of what has become one of the most engaging (and controversial) aspects of post-1989 Polish literature.
Rather than treating melancholy in a traditional fashion – as an individualistic feeling of loss rooted in personal experience – Chowaniec exposes the social underpinnings of “melancholic moments” in contemporary Polish fiction and their interconnection with various forms of social, political and cultural oppression (from the communist era up to the most recent period). Along similar lines, she draws a neat link between the preoccupation of contemporary Polish women’s writing with travelling and displacement, on the one hand, and the discursive construction of Polish women as “strangers in their own country”, on the other. Inspired by the works of feminist scholars such as Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, Chowaniec replaces the traditional – male-centred – interpretation of melancholy with a women-centric approach. Apart from discussing well-known Polish women writers such as Olga Tokarczuk, Manuela Gretkowska and Izabela Filipiak, Chowaniec also looks into the literary output of the next generation (including promising authors such as Joanna Pawluśkiewicz, Marta Dzido and Wioletta Grzegorzewska
Professor Kris Van Heuckelom, K.U. Leuven, Belgium