Intention & Reception: Re-Reading Polish Positivism

I am writ­ing a post­doc­tor­al the­sis about Pol­ish pos­i­tivist lit­er­a­ture where I inves­ti­gate the rela­tion­ship between lit­er­a­ture and pol­i­tics in 19th cen­tu­ry Poland. The so-called “powieść ten­den­cyj­na”, or ten­den­tious nov­el, is not imag­in­able with­out an author’s inten­tion. This cat­e­go­ry, how­ev­er, was right­ful­ly prob­lema­tized by post­struc­tur­al the­o­ry.

My goal is to bring back ‘inten­tion’ as a cat­e­go­ry for lit­er­a­ture the­o­ry; in order to achieve that goal, I inves­ti­gate four dif­fer­ent ‘posi­tions of inten­tion’: author, text, recep­tion, and imag­i­na­tion. First of all, the pos­i­tivist authors had a clear goal in mind, as is demon­strat­ed by their poe­t­o­log­i­cal texts: They strove to edu­cate the peo­ple. This orig­i­nal inten­tion can­not be over­looked. Sec­ond, the text employs var­i­ous lit­er­ary devices to achieve a spe­cif­ic impact on the read­er’s side. Third, the read­er has inten­tions as well, which fun­da­men­tal­ly shape the recep­tion process. Fourth, the audi­ence often imag­ines the author’s alleged inten­tions. These imag­i­nary inten­tions often prove to be impact­ful as well.

By means of bring­ing togeth­er Eliza Orzeszkowa’s, Bolesław Prus’ and Hen­ryk Sienkiewicz’s nov­els and poe­t­o­log­i­cal texts with the recep­tion of con­tem­po­raries and lat­er gen­er­a­tions, I try to uncov­er how these ‘posi­tions of inten­tion’ work.