Communities. Idea of the festival

Not being naturally bound by blood, communities do not form spontaneously. Each community is formed by choice of affiliation, unlike in the family, as nobody chooses their parents or can erase them from one’s own past. Meanwhile, it is always possible to become naturalized in a foreign country or switch between political fractions. One can transform from a religious fanatic to a social altruist but nobody has ever – not yet – managed to change their DNA structure. No wonder then that any efforts to strengthen and consolidate a community are made through reference to the model or metaphor of the family, it being the inevitable binding agent between individuals.

              One huge family is the dream of every proudly nationalistic government and a smaller, yet equally inseparable family is the ideal of every corporation. Nation and corporation are undoubtedly two most important communal models of modernity. They both thrive on standing out from other communities: a nation feels at its best when nobody infects it with otherness, while a corporation exists for the purpose of winning over its competitors. Nationalism and capitalism codified their principles at more or less the same time, so it comes as no surprise that that the biggest and most tragic social experiments of the 20th century – communism and fascism – had to relate somehow to that affiliation. Communism did it by double negation (neither nation nor capital), while fascism – by double affirmation (both nation and capital).

              Today’s modernization is no longer mere modernization of yesterday, not only because of expansion of new technologies but also because the idea of family is redefined all the time. Present-day families are less patriarchal and more – with the support of local laws – non-heteronormative. The breakup of patriarchate and of dominance of one sex over the other promises other modernization – founded on thinking in terms of partnership (we are different, so we can come to an understanding, because we have a common interest), rather than in terms of competition (we are different, so no understanding is possible, as we have conflicting interests). From this perspective, nationalism and capitalism are strongholds of a conservative utopia of the community as one big family with no room for separate affiliations. Nationalism and capitalism are founded on exclusion: either you are with us or you are against us. It seems evident that the Catholic Church, the third pillar of anti-modernization power, operates on the same basis. Life is not easy in a country where the Nation, Corporation and Church speak the same language.

            A turning point in defining communities was the concept of imagined community. Each continuity is an artificial (rather than natural) construct, called to existence around something that mediates between its members but does not exist in the material world. Communities are founded on symbols, objects of desire, values and needs that unite their members as long as they share the same interests but cause them to fall apart as soon as their interests start conflicting. The constructs of human imagination constantly change under the influence of social dynamics and, inevitably, social symbols run dry under the pressure of everyday life and need either to be reinterpreted or removed. The change, the drying out, the reinterpretation, inherent in contemporary social life, cause the foundations of large communities to crumble: no symbol is capable of keeping the whole nation, exposed to contradictory cultural impulses, in cultural or political readiness. Whereas national communities stay strong in face of the threat of foreign invasion, when there is no imminent military conflict, national identity becomes elusive. The vanishing of communities that is ever so evident around us is but a natural reaction to efforts to maintain their life artificially. These two super-modern movements – consolidation and dispersion of communities – define our group existence better than anything else. The stronger the impulse to decompose communities, the stronger the impulse to put them back together and vice versa: the stronger the identity temptation, the stronger the need to be individual. Modernity has taught us that we do not live all together, even when we want it very much and even even if we force others into it.

              Is contemporary literature aware (and does it make us aware) of the dynamics? Which part of it manifests a desire for communal consolidation and which – the decay of that desire? Is the disappearance of communities, backed by decentralizing energies of modernity, a sign of hope or rather of the hopelessness of the time we live in? Does literature take note of their disappearance? Or perhaps literature – being the dominant institution of culture – cannot quite yet afford weakening of communal thinking? Or maybe, to the contrary, that weakening is indeed the source of its energy? This is what literature is like, after all: nobody knows where it chooses to satisfy its needs and who needs literature to survive.

 prof. Michał Paweł Markowski
Artistic Director of the festival