/Book Review

Book Review

Memories for a New Generation: Commemorating the Warsaw Uprising.

Titus Ensink, and Christopher Ensink. The Art of Commemoration: Fifty Years after the Warsaw Uprising / Edited by Titus Ensink, Christoph Sauer. Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society, and Culture, v. 7. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub., 2003.

            The Art of Commemoration: Fifty Years After the Warsaw Uprising, is a collected discourse review on the various speeches given during the 1994 fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. The book is broken down into eleven sections, with the first section being an overview of Nietzsche’s views on historical memory, and his constructions of oblivion and mnemonics, which for the rest of the review, translate into forgetting or the ability to forget (Oblivion), or the continuation of a ceremonial and historically driven memory in the public consciousness. This section, and the follow section’s discourse overview of the speakers’ most glaring uses of rhetoric and platitudes, form the base of which the authors of the various speech reviews use to evaluate the commemoration of the uprising. The following eight sections are overviews and examinations of the speeches given by those invited, heads of state, PM’s VP’s, and other representatives from the Allies, and former foes.1 The final chapter, a look at the Politics of Public Memory, talks in brief, on the cultural conflict that arises from the Nietzsche’s choice, to forget or remember, bringing a nice sense of continuity to the collection. Ensink & Sauer state their intent well in the first section’s closing statement, “The cross-national commemoration, planned as a commitment to support Polish aspirations and give these aspirations and internationally proven language, was a unique way of demonstrating how to hold history in a pledge.”2 Ensink, Sauer, and all the authors, give in great detail, a peak at these pledges in memory, and in language.

            Looking in finer detail at a single section, Dariusz Galasinksi’s chapter 3, The Messianic Warsaw, is our first speech overview, and our setup for how the home audience in Warsaw received these speeches, and what impact their speakers had on the constructed myth of Lech Walesa’s speech. Galasinksi’s main theme is that of the image of the Messianic Poland, the messiah of the nations, that Walesa constructs with the tenants of classical Polish romanticism, especially revolving around the concept of the insurrection against an occupying power.3 Poland’s place, according to this persistent historical myth, is that Poland, no matter her military losses, wins moral victories in this messianic way, and must sacrifice and die to be reborn again, as the narrative of the uprising is tied to the newfound Polish independence from the grip of the USSR. Walesa’s final words in his speech convey this mythical view of nationalism perfectly, ”Warszawo jednak zwyciezylas,” “Warsaw, you have won after all.”4 Galasinksi’s review of Walesa’s use of personalizing and personifying the city, his vocal posture in portraying the Poles as “to be done upon, not the doers,”5 and his allusion to this nationalistic myth, all compile a lens on the speech that places it into a larger historical canon, as Walesa would have done himself

            This collection doesn’t form a cohesive argument on the commemoration necessarily, but it does put together some cohesive themes about commemoration itself, mainly, the questioning of their value in the Nietzschean dichotomy they ascribe to. The central theme of commemoration, in Ensink and Sauer’s mind, is that a clear choice is given between memory and oblivion, and that generational changes, “the change from the generation of witnesses, victims, perpetrators, and bystanders, to the generations of children, and grandchildren,”6 are the largest shifters of this window of remembrance and ceremony.

            The collection’s strength lies in the multiple identities constructed by the various authors, and the organized system of evaluation and review that the editors set up through their interpretation of Nietzsche. Falling short of the mark, however, is any sense of the impact of these speeches, and their reception by the home audience, asides from the evaluation of Walesa’s opening. Overall, I’d highly recommend giving this collection a read if you have any interest in public speaking, political and cultural allusions in speeches, or the Warsaw Uprising.

Bibliography

Ensink, T., and Sauer, Christoph. The Art of Commemoration: Fifty Years after the Warsaw Uprising / Edited by Titus Ensink, Christoph Sauer. Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society, and Culture, v. 7. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub., 2003. (Quotes 1-2)

Galasinksi, Dariusz. “The Messianic Warsaw”, The Art of Commemoration: Fifty Years after the Warsaw Uprising / Edited by Titus Ensink, Christoph Sauer. Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society, and Culture, v. 7. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub., 2003. (Quotes 3-5)

Appendix

This work is mentioned in the follow articles and books (no reviews of the work are currently published).

Anthonissen, Christine 
2006. The language of remembering and forgetting. Journal of Language and Politics 5:1 ► pp. 1 ff. 

Bachórz, Agata & Anna Horolets 
2017. Historical blueprints of tourists’ paths from Poland to the former USSR. Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change 15:2 ► pp. 152 ff. 

Wodak, Ruth 
2006. History in the making/The making of history. Journal of Language and Politics 5:1 ► pp. 125 ff.