Roots and Routes of the Polish Memoir: Creating a Distinct Memoir Ontology

By Dan Vaillancourt and Angelica Krajewski.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Despite overwhelming political, religious, and social strife since the twelfth century (or perhaps because of it), Polish writers have embraced creative nonfiction, popularly known as memoir, as an important form of expression. From the earliest texts to present-day works, Poles have explored the events of their lives through personal reflection, which has prompted Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz to claim that Poles burn with a “craze for memoirs.” The problem with the Polish memoir is that, in the words of scholar Marian Kaczmarek, “We do not yet have a history of Polish memoir.” It is therefore no wonder that, for example, no Polish memoir even cracks the top 36 of post-Renaissance European memoirs listed in Saul K. Padover, Confessions and Self-Portraits. Polish memoirs rarely appear in academic work—or anthologies—written by Western European and American scholars. However, the distinct ontology of the Polish memoir should place it on the world stage. In this brief article, we examine the roots and routes of the Polish memoir, the roots of the tradition and the routes it took to establish itself. We develop our argument as a response to three questions: First, why has the Polish contribution to memoir been lost in the history of world literature? Second, what are the roots of the Polish memoir, from its emergence as a literary art form at the end of the Medieval period to the disappearance of Poland as a political entity in 1795? Third, what are the routes the Polish memoir traveled—its diverse content—to establish a distinct ontology among memoir literature?

Keywords: Polish Literature, Memoir, Poland, Globalization

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp.179-198. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 977.931KB).

Dr. Dan Vaillancourt

Professor, Philosophy Department, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

Dr. Vaillancourt has served as chairman of humanities and graduate school dean, but he considers aesthetics his expertise and passion. He completed formal training in the field by majoring at the undergraduate level in philosophy and French literature and by specializing at the doctoral level in phenomenology and existentialism, with extensive study in the intersection of philosophy and literature. He has won 15 regional and national grants and 12 teacher of the year awards/commendations. He has created and taught 12 undergraduate and graduate courses in aesthetics, ranging from Catholic Aesthetics and Philosophical Themes in Nobel Prize Literature to Philosophy and Theatre, and, of course, Aesthetics. His publications include two books, dozens of articles, and three translations. He also edited a national magazine, Life Beat, for four years. Currently, he is writing for his website ( and working on two books: Beauty: The Sources (a collection of sources on beauty from around the world), and Do Beauty Experiences Boost the Immune System? (a monograph that explores the intersection of aesthetics, neuroscience, and immunology by investigating the impact of beauty, via the brain, on the immune system). He is also leading an international project to gather the wisdom—through memoir—of nuns in different parts of the world. He dances and plays the tenor recorder. Like Dostoevsky, he believes beauty changes the world.

Angelica Krajewski

Undergraduate Student and Researcher, College of Arts and Sciences, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

Ms. Krajewski is a Provost Fellow and Sophomore at Loyola University Chicago. She is majoring in International Studies and English with a concentration in World Literature. She is fluent in Polish. She volunteers as a high school Speech and Forensics coach and judge. After graduation, she plans on attending graduate school in Comparative Literature with a focus on globalization of literature.


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