Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

The Accident of Presence: Zbigniew Herbert’s Polish Traveller in Western Europe

Fri31  Mar02:30pm(15 mins)
Gilbert Scott Room 356


Marianna Leszczyk1
1 University of Oxford, UK


This paper will explore the question of Polish self-definition in the face of the West and its culture by looking at Zbigniew Herbert’s construction of a traveller-persona in the travelogues "Barbarian in the Garden" and "Labyrinth on the Sea". First, I will delineate this persona as a solitary traveller whose explorations are marked less by interpersonal connection than by a sense of loneliness and invisibility. Herbert the Polish tourist becomes a ghost, haunting the West as the spectre of the bleak reality behind the Iron Curtain and of the horrors of World War Two, carrying within him the loneliness of survival. This picture emerging from the travelogues will then be problematised by other material related to Herbert’s travels (interviews, letters, notebooks) in which he emphasises how strongly his journeys were shaped by the support of locals and the friends he travelled with. On the basis of this contrast, Herbert’s ghost-like traveller-persona will be discussed as a conscious comment on the “out-of-placeness” of the tourist from the Polish People’s Republic, and of the Eastern European more broadly, in the “garden of Western culture”. Situating itself within the recent rise in interest in the specificities of Eastern European travel writing, this paper will combine the discursive framework of travel writing studies with the theoretical body of hauntology, asking questions both about the construction of subjecthood in the Polish traveller and about travel as haunting.