Edward Stachura: Commentary
Edward the True
I was imagining that our acquaintance is just beginning, that it is in its initial, though already exuberant phase when arriving in Warsaw I learned that he had been dead for a week. I knew him only a few years and we lived in different cities, but we met quite often and we carried with each other condensed, tense correspondence.
It started with his stay in Oslo during a period of a few weeks. And what happened then was extraordinary. Something like a renewal of highschool times, with wandering around the city and environs and spending together all the free time. Talks avoiding separation from each other, gradual credits of trust, mutual competition in virtuosity of statements, wallowing in the sense of one's own world, distinct from the everyday world and superior to it in means. Actually, it was a non-stop seminar of issues that absorbed us, conducted in the form of a game and in the atmosphere of building a common friendship. All the mysticism of this world. How to describe without these sentences who Stachura was? He adored that style of life. He knew how to practice it. I read they say about him that he was a troubadour. Does that mean that we were tramps in those days? Biographers write that Edward was very preoccupied with words, with reaching the truth of words. Were we tramps? How to say who we were when we talk about ourselves with words and we are supposed to reach the truth of words?
I have read many statements qualifying Edward's person. Everybody discusses the writer, supplementing the discussion with explorations of the writer personality, of the psychic sources of expression, but without one, and in my opinion fundamental, crucial element. It seems that Stachura is discussed without any discussion of Stachura's issues. To discuss a person's issues, it is necessary to clarify what was the stem, the axis of what is being discussed. No biography known to me discusses Edward's affinities with the sciences. I met him at the time when he was writing Everything is Poetry. One of the main characters in that book is a biophysicist. It is not a fictional character. The biophysicist works for the Polish Academy of Sciences, goes to scientific conferences all over the world. Those who know Edward well say that in school he was interested in physics. (So was Mickiewicz, after all.) I showed him Heisenberg's book Physics and Philosophy; he read it in one breath. I often tried to steer our discussions in the direction of the sciences of the future rather than the present. There it seemed to me we shared most in our thinking. I imagine that Edward either had a presentiment of the future unification of knowledge, or he only felt the inadequacy of traditions, and he probably had some specific considerations of his own. . . . I had never heard such declarations from him, but he showed readiness of concepts in the areas which I considered the most special, complex, unobvious.
Edward's writing lies in strict analogy to the typical problems of natural philosophy. The familiarity with these problems, however, is very low in the world. It is low to such an extent that even the world experts are in fact little acquainted with the picture of the field in which they work. In this jungle of difficulties Edward's efforts had the advantage of being an expression and not a formula, and thus of being capable of venting intuition, the form of imagination that is quicker than strictly conventionalized systematization.
The language he uses is particularly full of terseness tinged with pathos, without evident clarification of meanings. This could be considered a lack of competence to discuss the issues of science. What to say, however, when even the most recognized Scandinavian philosopher (Prof. A. Naess), to describe the essence of a problem, writes the sentence: "The world is, what it is"? This type of thought construction characterizes also the classical today Wittgenstein, and in fact generally is frequently employed by philosophers.
One of the most active areas of today's philosophy is the issue of a materialistic representation of the mental, with a whole range of sub-areas such as biological elements in language, the relationship between abstract and matter, the humanistic character of the concept of law in nature, the evolutionary stratification of individual characteristics. Not one of these subjects has been elaborated sufficiently for the result to gain wide acceptance or even popularity. Instead, what is common is controversy between respective positions.
In these conditions Edward wrote his Sie. Its subject is a personality which is becoming, in which everything is the functioning. I don't know how it is possible to discuss that work without referring to the problems of scientific reductionism, or the philosophy associated with Hobbes, the first of which Edward certainly knew, and the second he had affinity with.
The society of the world today still has not digested the seventeenth-century Leviathan, and Edward's struggles certainly belong to the issues described for centuries with the symbolism of the Moloch. Society-machine, machine demanding obedience. And rebellion against distrusting the realism of the nature of the "machine" and rebellion against the necessity of subordination to the demands of the machine. A machine-logic. A machine-law. Rebellion against the machine?
A drama of dissonance between the standard of the word and the quickness of thought, between the concept of fact and naturalness of state. A drama of conflict between concrete reality and the Rule. These are all axes of the construction practiced by Edward. But how difficult it was for him to express its essence! How this essence, it seems to me sometimes, slipped out when he searched for a univocal expression. Was he aware of the construction? Maybe in different passages he talked about different aspects, and we can only observe what he was preoccupied with, and we should not look for a thematic unity, or to accuse him of inconsistencies in his texts. Today, without him, who can clarify such questions?
What are these sentences about? Is it possible to know without an introduction? No word is going to render, and there is no rift here? The thing is to pick the right word, the thing is not to put dots over ypsilon. And probably also a belief in the connections between word and imagination. How we need Edward now, to ask him if that's how it is . . .
The issues of identificational effectiveness of verbalism form one of the most avantgarde disciplines of today's practice in theoretical philosophy. It appears, for example, that it is extremely difficult to formulate an expression in such a way that the receiver cannot carry in parallel his own thematic thread, which appears pseudo-equivalent, but in reality contradicts the intention of the narrator. It's hard to believe because, after all, it's so easy to talk, and we know those difficulties in everyday life, but without the impression that they are indeed complex. And yet they are. It has just turned out that our whole world of interpretation is very fragile and certain only within the range of the developed routines. Every departure from the routine involves the risk of a breakdown. Reading comments about Edward it is easy to be under the impression that he was absorbed with words, that what interested him was words. It is not the same to insist on words and to insist on clarifying non-evident contents of words and non-evident functions of words.
In my view Edward was entangled internally in a conflict with the standard of understanding, which didn't leave him many of the functional freedoms that occur naturally when one is not in such a conflict. His writing is, I believe, a projection of this conflict.
I imagine that he was cornered psychically, mentally, by one of the traps of a discipline formulated with the obvious. That he was a victim of the terror of obviousness. In other words, I believe that his case belongs to the issues of the pedagogical-psychological technique, or really to psychiatry, understood as "the science of psychical phenomena." It was against the lack of such a discipline, I think, that his poems protested.
It is by no means uncommon for philosophers, and also scientists, to have such problems. And the fact is that today's psychiatry is unable to control the essence of the phenomenon. The phenomenon is altogether outside the routines of identification in today's society. In the biography (K. Rutkowski, Miesięcznik Literacki, Feb. 1981) we can read that in the last period of his work Edward was concerned with the question of what to do to not fall in the false situations of choice, every way out of which is an illusion. As Edward expressed it, "In other words, to act in such a way so as to eliminate the question (by discovering the obviousness of the question and the obviousness of the answer)."
As far as I know science, it does not include an elaboration of the dialectics of mental conflicts. My view is that Edward talked about the fact that the obvious stands in the way of interpretation, that to condemn an interpretation which reflects the character of a drama is absurd.
The biography maintains that "in the dialogue with Edward Stachura, no-man reached a truth that cannot be taken apart. That obviousness is the experience of corporality, matter, Się." In my view, Edward was concerned with the issues of knowledge in the materialistic sense, which for me signifies an affinity with the thinking of Plato, and also with the issues of cognition, as discussed by Descartes. In other words, I believe that this discussion belongs to the age-old philosophical controversy concerning the theory of fact and encompassing the rigors of cognitive declaration, a controversy which is equally pertinent today as well. That is why I don't understand why the author of the biography finds the question easy to conclude, writing that it follows from the above that "in this way the value of the poetic word finds its fulfillment, materializes in a tense and telling silence."
In my view it means a channeling of the issue which is not only separate from, but also contradictory to the efforts of the author. I say this because I don't think his concern is with rendering the silent state of experiencing as a source of the concept's meaning.
In my view, what happens to Stachura is what always happened to the works of ones like him: they remain misunderstood to the degree to which they are original, and they are discussed in the mode which they attempted to discredit. Actually, it is not even a reproach against the biographer. The issue is age-old and extremely complicated. Probably because of this complication it is still so current. K.R.'s biography is even, I think, very good. But that is not enough to not lose Stachura.
In Edward's writing, as in the text of the biography, there is one particular thread, bordering on the realm of things extrasensory, mysterious, the likes of telepathy. It is not named specifically but is very distinct, as it is indeed in life in general, in the world.
If we add to this the corporeality of truth and then a mechanistic conception of personality, stressed very strongly in Się, it's difficult not to conclude that the talk here is about the metaphysics of the mind. But science doesn't like metaphysics. Tradition sees one main meaning in the concept: "magic"; almost nobody outside of the circle of specialists even knows what ontology is.
People dealing with the mechanistic theory of man experience significant socio-physiological pressures (there is no standard concept here). K.R.'s biography ends with a statement that Edward's death was "tragic, as any death is tragic." It seems to me that it is not the proper way to write about what became Edward's fate. Edward died. He was a partisan of literature and he fell fulfilling his functions on the frontline. Half a year before his death he started experiencing hallucinatory disturbances. He saw things while awake, nightmarish, horrible. He was in treatment, suffered the mysterious accident, which as if he decided not to avoid, he lost his hand, the hand with which he played the guitar. He was strongly affected by it. The depression got deeper, he was in intensive anti-hallucinatory treatment. At the time he continued writing. He wrote very bitterly, a little bit the same but a lot differently than before, but now he was ostentatiously bitter. On the day of his death he wrote a letter to us, "to the remaining." A letter full of grief and accusations, a testament of someone who is cornered. He writes that he's not blaming anybody, but he compiles a list of reasons for which he is dying, with such statements as "for I already have been . . . crucified in the most literal and most physical way." He took his life because he believed that this is how he can best serve the cause. Which cause? Wouldn't it be the cause of the ones who are cornered, condemned to hallucinations, deviants from the discipline of the Routine?
Things could have probably gone differently. Probably he could have been cured. But his tragedy wouldn't have been nullified by that. He would continue to be a fighter for the cause for which he gave his life. There are not too many in the avant-garde of philosophy. A fraction of a percent of the population, a small fraction. It is not easy to know what their issues are. Almost nobody meets them among those one meets, and even of the ones who do meet them, very few, if anybody at all, participate in their problems. In England there is currently living a physicist who theorizes about the black holes which engulf all that surrounds them. For a time he has suffered from a mysterious decay of his body. One famous English philosopher is undergoing a psychiatric treatment. Tradition has always talked about peculiar strangeness of philosophers. Science has not yet reached an explanation of their riddle. For this cause, in my view, Edward gave his life.
He wrote a long poem "A Dot over Ypsilon." You don't put a dot over ypsilon; what do you do with an ypsilon over which somebody put a dot? In my view Edward struggled with the dots that appeared over his ypsilons and turned them into the absurd. That's why, I believe, he had such high hopes in the physical, corporeal treatment of truth. Corporeality (understood metatheoretically) eliminates discretion of the abstract and the absolute.
15 April 1981