Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Prismatic Emigration in Stefan Themerson and Maria Kuncewicz

Fri31  Mar02:45pm(15 mins)
Gilbert Scott Room 356


Ola Sidorkiewicz1
1 University of Oxford, UK


This paper takes for its starting point the various modes of writing the figure of the émigré in selected works by Stefan Themerson (1907-1988) and Maria Kuncewicz (1895-1989). Both Themerson and Kuncewicz were intermedial and translingual authors who composed many of their works outside of their native Poland. In their writings, they problematised the experience of exile (or emigration), emphasising the liminality of the space occupied by the émigré who is neither ‘native’ nor ‘foreign’, neither ‘here’ nor ‘there’. In some ways, this liminality can be seen as corresponding with the imagined spatial liminality of Poland, famously described by Alfred Jarry as being located ‘nowhere’, and by Sławomir Mrożek as lying ‘east of the West, and west of the East’. Against the tendency of their Polish contemporaries to view emigration as a decidedly negative phenomenon, Themerson and Kuncewicz saw it as a potential springboard for the (re)negotiation of the individual’s sense of aesthetics, national identity, and morality. This is what is meant by prismatic emigration: not a direct reflection on the phenomenon of emigration, but rather emigration as an epistemic and a narrative tool. Through an analysis of Themerson’s and Kuncewicz’s works, this paper will seek to conceptualise and reflect on this phenomenon.