The turn of the 1970s in culture, science and politics
On January 12, 2019 the Polish CRUSEV team hosted the first seminar this year (and twelfth overall). The guest speaker was Maciej Gdula, professor of sociology at the Institute of Sociology at the University of Warsaw. In his lecture, Gdula proposed a critical reformulation of how to think about the 1970s in Poland, in many ways contrary to the dominating historical narrative. Instead of focusing on the political history (e.g. the protests and the rise of Solidarity), Gdula discussed a number of crucial transformations occurring in that decade in Polish society, culture and academy. He argued that the 1970s were a period of rapid changes happening both within the socialist system and in society, foreshadowing the gradual turn to capitalism traditionally associated with the fall of communism in 1989.
Queer in Polish film from the early 1970s
On January 19, 2019 the Polish CRUSEV team hosted the second seminar this year (and thirteenth overall). The guest speaker was Justyna Jaworska, an Assistant Professor at the Section for Film and Visual Culture of the Institute of Polish Culture at the University of Warsaw. Jaworska presented a case study from the 1970s – a critical and queer reading of the short documentary film Hair (1971), directed by Marek Piwowski, who is best known for his satirical comedy film The Cruise (1970), which he co-wrote with Janusz G?owacki. The 17-minute long Hair is seemingly a report from the 9th Hairdressing Competition of the Socialist States for the Friendship Cup, which took place in Warsaw in 1971. In the eyes of the filmmaker, however, the propaganda event is transformed into a satirical and ironic parody of not only the hairdressing competition, but the entire communist system of values and meanings. Jaworska proposed a different reading of the documentary, focusing on its intriguing subversive undertones and queer sensibilities, e.g. the relation between camp and queerness, and the use of the aesthetic of mistakes. She argued that Hair could be productively read using Jack Halberstam’s concept of queer failure. In the discussion after the lecture, the participants of the seminar addressed other historical contexts and possible applications of queer theory to the analysis of Polish films from the 1970s, offering more reflections on the idea of finding a local, historically-specific understanding of “the Polish k?ir”, Jaworska’s proposed reframing of “queer”.
6 x Polish Public Events
On February 22nd, Agnieszka Wiciak presented her work collecting and indexing LGBTQIA FEM archival materials obtained from various private and institutional donors. Wiciak shared samples of the collection and described ways in which they were acquired. She emphasized that many privately held collections include fliers, photographs, personal affects and correspondence, but they are in danger of being destroyed upon holders’ death. Her organization, dubbed “History Club,” seeks to prevent this outcome by fielding donations of these artefacts. Wiciak also talked about her efforts to photocopy and annotate her existing collection in order to post it online with the KARTA archive (which documents social history), as this would make it widely accessible. Her project is facing funding challenges for this purpose. It is also in need of a facility in which the collection could be safely stored.
On March 8th, Monika Baer presented some findings from her “Divercity” project, focusing on ways in which access to public spaces and resources in Wroc?aw is negotiated between activists, municipal authorities, and other actors. She drew parallels between some contemporary developments and older subcultures from the 1970s and 1980s, noting for example, the present-day activist strategy of speaking about sex in public. She also discussed methodological issues that arose in the course of her study, including some linked to the political and cultural history of Wroc?aw, formerly known as Breslau, which was a German city up to the end of the Second World War. Notably, the cruising areas of Wroc?aw seem to have remained the same ones as those of Breslau after the city was handed over to Poland as part of the post-Yaltan world order.
On March 22nd, Tomasz Basiuk, Polish PI, presented on the emergence of gay male social networks and on the progressive thematization of homosexuality in everyday discourses during the 1970s and early 1980s as prerequisites for subsequent political activism in the late 1980s, calling these earlier times a proto-political era. Calling on oral history interviews with two women and with a number of men, and on letters sent by homosexual men in Poland to HOSI Wien in the early 1980s, he traced the gradual overcoming of an unwritten social contract regarding silence on the homosexual question. His paper will be published as part of the “Pink Tongue” section in the upcoming issue of InterAlia.
On March 29th, Marta Abramowicz presented her research on the situation of young bi- and homosexual pupils and students (aged 14 – 25). Abramowicz is a psychologist and expert on preventing discrimination, She is the author of the nonfiction books: Zakonnice odchodz? po cichu (Nuns Leave in Silence)and Dzieci ksi??y (Children of Priests). In her talk, Abramowicz focused on the structural problems of violence in schools, discrimination based on sexual orientation, and lack of acceptance from parents. Referring to her research (e.g. statistical data) and comparing the situation of homosexual and heteronormative pupils, she talked about the psychological effects of discrimination on non-normative pupils and students. The ensuing discussion focused on discrimination at school and the changes in attitudes of Polish society towards LGBT people.
On April 5th, Anna Dobrowolska, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Oxford, presented on female and male prostitution in the People’s Republic of Poland based on documents produced by the state police (officially known as the Citizens’ Militia) and used for its internal training purposes. These documents testify to a wide range of discursive categories used to conceptualize the phenomenon of prostitution and its relationship to a shifting legal, ideological, and economic environment. Notably, moral evaluation of prostitution evolved with the development of state socialism and its changing beliefs about what constitutes a good society. Compared to the wealth of information on female prostitution, male prostitution received scant attention. The male sex workers’ servicing of male clientele was dubbed “homosexuality” without any ostensible claim about these workers’ sexual identities.
On April 12th, B?a?ej Warkocki, member of the Polish CRUSEV team, presented on his recent book on Witold Gombrowicz’s 1933 literary debut read through the lens of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s argument about homosociality, paranoia, and the gothic. Warkocki argued that the volume of short stories, with their focus on the theme of immaturity, is readable as alluding to queerness, not least because of allusions to Oscar Wilde. He further pointed out that some of the stories rely on distinctly gothic motifs, used by Gombrowicz also in some of his later work, and that they lend themselves to being read in the manner proposed by Sedgwick in Between Men and in The Coherence of Gothic Conventions. The discussion which followed the talk focused on the opposition between reading Gombrowicz’s work as coded life writing versus reading it as an implicit theory of queerness presented through the figure of immaturity.