Czeslaw Milosz on Stanisław Dygat

Czeslaw Milosz on Stanisław Dygat

I don't want to go too far off on a tangent about Stanisław Dygat, but I note that the biographical and critical information about him does not seem to include mention of his actions in Toulouse during 1940.

It also calls into question the accuracy of other aspects of his wartime biography.

For details of his literary career, we turn to Nobel laureate poet Czeslaw Milosz in his authoritative History of Polish Literature. He writes:

Known as a writer of "light" novels and short stories, Dygat, a native of Warsaw, issued from a family of French origin and studied at Warsaw University. He started to publish shortly before the war. In the section on main trends in postwar literature, we called him a pupil of Gombrowicz's because of his nose-thumbing at shibboleths. His stance is one of deliberate naïveté; when he narrates (usually in the first person), he likes to identify himself with a starry-eyed, disorganized, and helpless human being.

As holder of a French passport not living in France, he was arrested by the Nazis shortly after the occupation of Poland and interned in a camp near Bodensee for persons who eluded the categories set forth by the German beureaucracy. After his return, having spent a year there, he wrote his novel Bodensee (Jezioro Bedeński) in 1942-1943; it was an act of rebellion against the tragic mood prevailing. The camp was a rather funny place, and figures as such on Dygat's pages. Moreover, he did not hesitate to ridicule himself (though gently) as a young man who dreams of heroic deeds, yet who, in reality, is yawning from inactivity and wholse only diversions are reading or flirting with the female inmates.

His next novel, Farewells (Pożegnania, 1948) is another gentle satire. Out of a real situation of drama and misfortune, Dygat draw mostly its cominc aspects: in the fall of 1944 after the destruction of Warsaw, the city's western suburbs were thronging with survivors; it was a bizarre world of black-market dealings, of guerrilla warfare, of routine manhunts organized by the Nazi police, and it was then obvious that the Red Army, encamped along the Vistula, was going to overrun the entire territory of Poland as it carried its offensive into Germany.

Fear of Commmunism compelled many people from the intelligentsia to cast about for means of escaping from Poland to the West. The mental habits of those who "ran scared" are satirized in Farewells. For the characters with whom the author sympathizes, the old order of things is gone forever; they decide to stay and to begin a new life.

Though prolific in his humorous feuilletons and short stories, Dygat did not write any novels in the years of Socialist Realism. He returned to this form only after 1956. His two great successes were Journey (Podróż , 1958) and Disneyland (1965).

In the first, the narrator is, as usual, a rather comic failure. During his childhood, he was so stifled by the domineering personality of his brother that he has remained forever convinced of his inferiority and has pursued no career, finding himself more or less by chance in the job of an insignificant office worker. In secret, he has been cherishing a plan to go abroad for the first time in his life, and after a long internal struggle he writes to his brother, a famous film producer in Italy. He idealizes his brother and believes the laudatory articles written about him in the international press. In Rome, he finally discovers the truth about the pettiness and moral turpitude of his idol.

Moreover, the narrator, bored by his not too successful marriage, has also been dreaming about a true "great love" he would encounter somewhere in Italy. Since this does not happen, he accepts the offer of a street-girl in Naples, who, out of disinterested friendship, promises to stage an enactment of love at first sight. The next day in Capri, she pretends to be a young Scottish lady whom the hero meets by chance. Both feel they are predestined for each other. After promenades together, pure kisses (and the hero is now uncertain whether she is the disguised street-girl or really a new acquaintance), the illusion falls to pieces; the girl has incarnated the role so well that the contrast with her usual behavior makes her desperate; she gets drunk, sobs inconsolable, and goes back to her profession. The narrator journeys back to Poland, back to his uneventful, gray existence, bereft of his fantasies about his superior brother, and about a great love adventure.

There is a certain childishness about Dygat's characters that provokes humor mixed with pity, and imparts much freshness to his writings; yet in constructing his stories he does not scorn event the oldest devices of romance fiction such as disguise and recognition.

Disneyland is a novel on the young generation. At a masquerade ball held by the Academy of Fine Arts, a track star meets a girl, then loses her. After searching for her in vain, he is told that she was an Australian of Polish descent on a temporary visit to the old country. He begins to go with another girl, but continues to dream of the presumed Australian, only to discover at the end of the book that the two are identical. The very title, Disneyland, suggests that the author is playing a prank; although Dygat's story is a fairy tale, it captures the way of life of Polish youth.

Dygat's casually structured plots go together with a colloquial, nonchalant language which appropriately conveys his abhorrence of literature treated as a "sacred cow."