From the cycle Nowa Huta Observations
Life is active participation in loss. If we accept the dichotomy (yet who can tell if the dichotomous division is the right one?) of body and spirit, the latter will grow on experience (though not necessarily stronger), and the former will be inclined to disintegrate.
The price which has to be paid for the coming-to-be of a city is bodily exertion.
blasphemous and sinful,
Shifts in rhythm unbroken
bulldozers’ restless panting
Świat czarownic, Codzienność [Daily Life]
A body engaged in manifestations is the nourishment of politics. Despite the theoretical corset of anthropocentric systems, it takes place / burns through the body.
Somatic expression is the basis of politics, economy, and religion.
When two bodies meet, a relation ensues (exchange, theft), three – politics which requires establishment of appropriate relations. Religion controls relations with the body, too. Its control is not of spiritual nature, but corporeal (fasts, participation, labour or refraining from it, sexual behaviours).
Great systems have ignored man as a factor in world-shaping processes. He is nothing but raw material to them. Hopefully, this fact will precipitate their fall. Man as material displays resistance to neutralisation: no matter what form he is forced to conform to, the stuff he is made of is explosive, and one day he will begin to respond personally to the Great Systems. That is our last hope.
(Sándor Márai, Dziennik)
Ever new variants of the same human being. Grand and small systems (political, economic, religious) develop ideologies of their own. They are without exception totalitarian, and penetrate each and every crevice of existence like water. All orifices must be taken care of, every aspect in life defined by theory and the rules it has generated.
Transforming theory rejected at various stages of its history the organic element of its development – the worn-out body of the labourer. Including the systems which glorified manual labour, communist systems where the policy of the party that, allegedly, was the exclusive possessor of the knowledge about the labourer’s needs, denied him the right to be the subject. Capitalism is no different. Zygmunt Bauman wrote about “wasted lives.”
A labourer’s perspective on the ‘steam engine of history’:
Then I knew the good old days had come to an end, the days when a worker shoveled in his own wastepaper, went down on his knees in one-on-one combat, and ended each day filthy and exhausted from the effort. This was a new era with new men and new methods–think of drinking milk at work, when everyone knows that even a cow would rather die of thirst than touch a drop of the stuff! (Bohumil Hrabal, Too Loud A Solitude: A Novel, trans. from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim)
The days when Nowa Huta was built saw the creation of one of the best-known social realist paintings, offering a display of contrary bodies – Wojciech Fangor’s Postaci [Figures] (1950, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź).
Two persons in this threesome are particularly striking. The anti-heroine on the left, slim, wearing a fashionable dress with English inscriptions such as New York, Wall Street, or Coca-Cola. Yes, especially Coca-Cola. Also in 1950, Adam Ważyk penned this social realist poem:
For you to drink Coca-Cola was nice.
You sucked and sucked on our sugar cane,
you ate the yield of our fields of rice,
you chewed rubber, platinum and gold vein,
for you to drink Coca-Cola was nice.
We who once drank water from muddy wells,
today drink the water which gives us hope,
bravery which in common people dwells,
we drink water amidst Korean slopes,
we who once drank water from muddy wells.
Coca-Cola made you feel joy and mirth
for a couple of American cents
you were dreaming our atomic death,
dreaming five American continents.
Coca-Cola made you feel joy and mirth!
We who drink the water which gives us hope,
well we know now where our strong will streams:
you left China, will leave Korean slopes,
we will disturb your Coca-Cola dreams,
we who drink the water which gives us hope.
Her well-groomed hands which have never known physical labour are clutching a handbag. Her face is concealed by large sunglasses with yellow rims. A social realist icon of vanity.
On the opposite side, there is the super-heroine of labour. Proud, she is supporting herself on a shovel handle. She is strong, with a healthy tan she got at work, confident.
The background shows symbolic representations of their separate worlds. Ruins are seen behind the ‘pro-Western’ woman (Babylon, Sodom); a brand new building behind the pair of workers. Even the sky is meaningful. There are dark clouds on the left, and nothing but clear blue skies on the right.
Similarly to religion, the dichotomy of bodies naively argues for a division: a wise virgin and a foolish one, a martyr to faith and a promiscuous barbarian. Also, attributes of faith (shovel), or of pleasure and sin (handbag).
If we can create cities against nature, let us create a new body. The new human. The dawn of the Judeo Christian civilisation was marked by a story of living a life of torment:
cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Gen. 3, 17-19)
In the year 5340 of the Hebrew calendar (AD 1580), in Prague, Rabbi Loew (Jehuda ben Becalel) together with Icchak ben Simson and Jacob ben Chaim Sasson, his pupil and a Levi, made a creature which protected humans, and worked hard for them. In his cult book Magic Prague, Angelo Maria Ripellino wrote:
using torches to light their way, they went to the river Moldau whose muddy bank was holed as saltpetre had been mined there. They made the Golem out of the mud (soil). Afterwards, Icchak and Jacob walked around the dummy seven times each, with Icchak starting from the right side, and Jacob from the left side, whispering a combination of letters (zirufum), and transferring the redness of fire to the clay body, and the moisture of water, respectively. Rabbi placed a shem, a piece of parchment bearing the name of God, in his mouth, and told him to stand on his legs and be totally obedient. At daybreak, they returned to the ghetto with Jossille the Golem and, to avoid unnecessary questions, Loew told Perl, his arrogant wife, that he had found this unfortunate foreigner, without the power of speech, in the street and felt sorry for him (…) Jossille the Golem was not supposed to do any work on Saturdays, so Loew took the shem out of his mouth every Friday at sunset, which made him inert. But a day came when Rabbi forgot to do that. He was already attending the evening ceremony, hold every Friday, at the Old New Synagogue, when saliva started frothing on the Golem’s lips, while he began to flounce out, possessed by devils. He broke the furniture, broke the dishes, and ran out into the street, strangling hens and cats, knocking down all the houses that stood in his way. (…) On being informed about this, Leow instantly ceased to sing Psalm 92. Had he been late, the world would have perished. Had Saturday began, he would not have been able to stop the deranged dummy. A grim expression on his face, he went to meet the Golem and quickly took the piece of paper from his mouth. The furious servant, all covered in blood, soil and feathers, fell down to the ground unconscious. The interrupted singing was resumed at the synagogue.
The Golem was one of the first superorganisms that stirred human imagination and challenged the fatal myth about a life of toil: Frankenstein, Stranger, android, artificial intelligence. Each of these ambitions hides a shadow of the failure of an idea.
(Soon enough the artificial intelligence we have created may no longer need us, and we will be nothing but a record to be recovered one day. But that is a different story).
The material of the body in the myth of Nowa Huta; it played a crucial role. It was not without reason that the story of the model worker – Mateusz Birkut, in Adrzej Wajda’s film is called Man of Marble.
The sports club founded in 1950 was originally called Stal [Steel], but the name was changed six years later to Hutnik [Steel Worker]. Steel was the stuff of which new order was metaphorically made, and there was only one superhuman made of steel – Dzhugahvili.
More or less at the time when Steel changes to Steel Worker, one of the first poems violating the rules of social realism is written.
In Poem for Adults (1955), the author who once composed Song about Coca-Cola names the price the builders of the new system had to pay for their faith in its power: a city full of rubbish, dirty hotels, tedious evenings.
Two parts of Adam Ważyk’s poem (1955):
From villages and little towns, they come in carts
to build a foundry and dream out a city,
dig out of the earth a new Eldorado.
With an army of pioneers, a gathered crowd,
they jam in barns, barracks, and hostels,
walk heavily and whistle loudly in the muddy streets:
the great migration, the twisted ambition,
with a string on their necks-the Czestochowa cross,
three floors of swear-words, a feather pillow,
a gallon of vodka, and the lust for girls.
Distrustful soul, torn out of the village soil,
half-awakened and already half-mad,
in words silent, but singing, singing songs,
the huge mob, pushed suddenly
out of medieval darkness: un-human Poland,
howling with boredom on December nights….
In garbage baskets and on hanging ropes,
boys fly like cats on night walls,
girls’ hostels, the secular nunneries,
burst with rutting–And then the “Duchesses”
ditch the foetus–the Vistula flows here….
The great migration building industry,
unknown to Poland, but known to history,
fed with big empty words, and living
wildly from day to day despite the preachers,
in coal gas and in slow, continuous suffering,
the working class is shaped out of it.
There is a lot of refuse. So far, there are Frits.
There are people tired of work,
there are people from Nowa Huta
who have never been in a theater,
there are Polish apples unobtainable by Polish children,
there are children scorned by criminal doctors,
there are boys forced to lie,
there are girls forced to lie,
there are old wives thrown out of homes by their husbands,
there are exhausted people, suffering from angina pectoris,
there are people who are blackened and spat at,
there are people who are robbed in the streets
by thugs for whom legal definitions are sought,
there are people waiting for papers,
there are people waiting for justice,
there are people who have been waiting for a long time.
Self-degradation of the body’s aspiration into an organism that burns like pig iron, into tiredness is completed in Adam Ważyk’s Poem for Adults.