Simon Lewis: The Cosmopolitan Imagination in Polish Literature

The Cosmopolitan Imagination in Polish Literature, ca. 1800-1939

This research project retraces the genealogy of Polish cosmopolitanism and seeks to provide a dual corrective: first, to the methodological nationalism that has characterized the majority of studies on this region; second, to the notable absence of Central and Eastern European perspectives in wider scholarly debates on cosmopolitanism as a simultaneously global and vernacular phenomenon. Cosmopolitanism is both “an object of study and a distinctive methodological approach to the social world” (Delanty 2006: 25). Accordingly, this research project will both critically analyse cosmopolitanism as a form of cultural self-positioning, and also elaborate a cosmopolitan methodology of interpretive reading that emphasizes dialogism, comparativism and hybridity. Importantly, the project’s central theme of cosmopolitanism is understood as a malleable and dynamically changing strategy, not as a pre-defined entity or an idealized ethical position. The main question the proposed research seeks to answer is: In what ways have Polish-speaking writers and intellectuals in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries embraced supranational ideas of cultural and ethnic diversity in their articulations of community and collective identity?
Novels, short stories, plays and poems are read as cultural artefacts that bear witness to changes in the intellectual environments of Poland, but also as nodes within a broader, global system of literature. The study of writings by individual intellectuals will give meaningful snapshots into the development of cosmopolitanism as both an undercurrent and counter-discourse to the dominant ideologies of imperialism and nationalism.

Simon Lewis is a Research Fellow at the Institute for East European Studies, Freie Universität Berlin. He completed a PhD in Slavonic Studies in 2014 at the University of Cambridge, where he was a member of the international research project “Memory at War: Cultural Dynamics in Poland, Russia and Ukraine”. Lewis’s academic interests include cosmopolitanism, transnational history and cultural memory. He has published articles on memory, postcolonialism, and trauma in the literature and culture of Belarus and Poland, and is a co-author of the collective monograph Remembering Katyn (2012). His monograph Belarus – Alternative Visions: Nationhood, Empire and Cosmopolitanism is forthcoming with Routledge.


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