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Tätiger Augenblick

Zur „poetischen Ethik“ in Stanisław Brzozowskis Legende des Jungen Polen

Christian Zehnder

Pages 319 - 357

The Active Moment: On the “Poetical Ethics” in Stanisław Brzozowski’s Legend of Young Poland
During the first years of his career, the Polish philosopher, literary critic, and novelist Stanisław Brzozowski (1878 –1911) developed a “Philosophy of the Deed” (filozofia czynu) in the tradition of Polish Romanticism. A frequently discussed aspect of Brzozowski’s work has been his abandonment of this youthful outlook in favor of a more “mature,” Marxist “philosophy of labor” (filozofia pracy). This article aims, however, to show how Brzozowski’s major critical work, The Legend of Young Poland (Legenda Młodej Polski, 1909 –10), is still deeply influenced by a rhetoric of the “deed” and of “acting.” If Brzozowski differentiates between an abstract ethics of will and a “proper” ethics, the latter, accord- ing to him, culminates in an “active attitude” toward “each moment.” When discussing Knut Hamsun’s novel Mysteries, he terms this moment-related ethics “poetical.” As the tension between a historicist collectivism—i. e. philosophy of labor—and the individual “poetical ethics” remains unsolved, a “Catholic” alternative takes shape in the second part of The Legend of Young Poland: everything “lonely” might be integrated into a “Catholic feeling,” not necessarily pious in nature. Brzozowski finds examples of such a quasi-ecclesiastic version of the “poetical ethics” in Cyprian Norwid and even in Charles Baudelaire. Highly eclectic and always unsystematic, The Legend of Young Poland incorporates a multitude of trends in the intellectual life of Europe around 1900. Yet it is also a work of genuine originality. Through his idea that a specific ethical theorizing through the study of literature can be achieved, Brzozowski anticipates a central claim of Ethical Criticism and its emphasis on art as showing how to live in the “present moment.”


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