Stanisaw Baraczak Essay - Critical Essays

Stanisław Barańczak


One of the primary concerns of Stanisaw Baraczak’s early poetry is the perversion of language perpetrated by government systems, which seek to manipulate reality through ideologically charged “newspeak.” The poet can effect the restoration of objective reality by attempting to point to the distinction between the distorted speech of official discourse and normal speech, with the unruly power of language and all its irrepressible contradictions. The act of reading a poem, through the social interaction of the reader and poet, allows the poet to return a measure of the complexity of language stripped of its ideological uses. As Baraczak notes in his introduction to The Weight of the Body, he began writing poetry in part to “restor[e] the original weight to the overabused words.” In Baraczak’s poems, this restoration is often achieved as the poem’s speakers voice bureaucratic constructions and clichés, then use repetition, minor alterations, or the context of the poem to counteract the currents of official language.

Though his work has frequently been called political, Baraczak has noted in interviews that he prefers to be considered a public poet. Although his work contains a component of social commitment, it is not political poetry in the sense of being a topical response to current situations and injustices. According to Baraczak, the topical political poem is insufficiently complex because it fails to grapple with the problematic form of the poem’s transmission: the language that has been contaminated by the very uses it argues against. Part of the complexity of Baraczak’s poems arises in the self-scrutiny of their speakers, who not only voice an outward-pointing condemnation of the falsifications perpetrated by the state in all aspects of life, but also incorporate the self-recrimination of an individual who considers himself to be implicated in the same world he criticizes, partially through the language on which he relies. “The perfidy of modern totalitarianism,” writes Baraczak, “lies precisely in the fact that it imperceptibly blurs the difference between the oppressors and the oppressed, by involving the victim in the process of victimization.” Perhaps the most profound, and difficult to observe, means by which this blurring occurs is through propaganda, which taints all language and caused Baraczak to note that for the New Wave poets, “the most interesting thing was not pure language but ’dirty’ language, language spoiled and misused . . . that of mass media, of political speeches, of posters, things like that.” The reason that the superficially political poem is insufficient is that it does not interrogate the language of its dissent, which operates on the...

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