My Province/ Polska Sztuka Ludowa - Konteksty 2014 Special Issue

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My Province/ Polska Sztuka Ludowa - Konteksty 2014 Special Issue


antropologia kulturowa


Polska Sztuka Ludowa - Konteksty 2014 Special Issue s.79-83


Szpilka, Wiesław Kuba


Instytut Sztuki PAN




Licencja PIA









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hile skiing towards Mr. Kasprowy and
slowly climbing a slope I could not resist
the impression that this was quite a dif­
ferent mountain than the one I knew a quarter of a
century ago. The configuration of the terrain had not
altered and the tricks performed by the skiers are not
radically different, but the novelty is striking. N ot s o
long ago, a mere twenty or s o years ago, Mr. Kaspro­
wy was the domain of a distinctly delineated relation
between the metropolis and the province. This small
area witnessed the coexistence of all Polish skiers
and it was immediately obvious who came from the
centre of the country and who from the more distant
regions. Obviously, there existed a single common de­
nominator and a skiers’ world. Within its range the
less numerous members of the elite remained closer
to the realisation of a certain evident model (skiing
style, fashionable clothes, Western equipment, amo­
unt of time spent on the Mountain), while the masses
standing in queues could only dream and hope that
one day they too would join the “Duchy of Warsaw”
(this being the name given to the skiers’ metropolis).
Despite all the differences and every s o often fierce
animosity there existed a certain discernible commu­
nity, and the centre and the peripheries remained an
important structural element of its existence. Today,
no one speaks of the “Duchy of Warsaw“ because it is
simply impossible to notice any sort of a “capital“ on
Mr. Kasprowy. There are also no elements making it
possible to situate the skier upon a certain scale. Skis,
clothes, shoes mean s o little. Their universality and
availability have deprived them of some of the symbo­
lic significance; in addition, skiing itself now possesses
a radically different dimension. The equipment of a
serious skier creates a radical chasm from that of the
amateur. The two no longer meet while assessing the
style of their performance, nor do they share conversa­
tions about the quality of the snow. They simply come
from dissimilar worlds and the Mountain too differs
and no longer creates a bond. Relations are weak or
outright absent. The multiplicity of the proposals defi­
ned by the snow and skis is the reason why the opposi­
tion: model-like/emulated, strong/weak, metropolitan/
provincial is replaced by: mine/not mine.
Choice and personal decision become fundamen­
tal since they grant a name. I would like to ski, I de­
clare, and this access, together with its consequences,
defines me much more that the sort of skier I shall
become. It is not blind chance or an accident, but
some sort of powerful and demonic determinants that
locate me here and not elsewhere. I select and mould
my world whenever I have the opportunity, will and
energy, and enter a reality whose basic property be­
comes mine-ness. This is the case in the mountains. I s
this an enclave, a special place with individual features
or, on the contrary, do distinctive tendencies that in



My Province

horizontal and expansive worlds are less visible come
to the fore in this small area?
In Lapidaria 1 by Ryszard Kapuscinski, a spiritual
diary of drifting across the world inspired by extraor­
dinary intellectual and physical activity, a voracious
need to see, experience, and comprehend the world,
we deal with a grand panorama of our times. The au­
thor constantly contrasted the poverty of the South
with the wealth of the North, the descent of the Third
World, which he found emotionally close and which
is a concept encompassing more a civilisational quality
than a political or geographic one, and the enclosure of
the West, which to a considerable measure provoked
it. The contrasts entail assorted qualities, but the op­
position of interest to u s , i.e. between the metropolis
and the province, is missing.
The world at the end of the twentieth century and
the beginning of the twenty first century appears not
to have a distinct centre. On the contrary, Kapuscinski
constantly stressed a tendency towards separation and
distinction, a striving towards autonomy, and, in a
word, a provincialisation of reality.
Professor Piotr Sztompka about the world congress of
sociology in Montreal in 1998. The Congress dealt pri­
marily with the processes of globalisation (...). The other
aspect of globalisation is a defensive manifestation of own
distinctness (...). Globalism - a feature of the contempo­
rary World - is the fragility of dominant confrontations,
orders and unions. “Today” might look totally different
than ”yesterday” and no one is any longer surprised that
suddenly things are different, no one asks about the causes
or seeks the roots. (...)
Pessimists claim that the future of our planet will in­
volve further Balkanisation and even tribalisation. They
declare that in a certain sense we are returning to the
most distant times, to our very beginnings, when Earth
was populated by an enormous gathering of innumerable
groups, clans and ethnic communities without any clearcut central structures and hierarchies. This Balkanisation
and tribalisation are not only territorial but also mental. A
narrow, closed and one-directional mentality is on the rise,


Wiesław Szpilka


one that rejects everything that is different and that does
not confirm its convictions about its exceptionality, superi­
ority and supremacy (...). Provincialism denotes enclosure
within one’s narrow world in which the local mediocre at­
tain the dimension of powerful heroes and petty incidents
achieve the rank of historical events (...). The weakness of
provincialism lies in the fact that it often becomes a shelter
for the frustrated, the failures, those devoured by ambition
and devoid of talent.2
This portrait of contemporaneity outlined by
Kapuściński is confirmed also by other prominent in­
terpreters. A close image is depicted by, i.a. Bauman
in Liquid Modernity.3 In other words, we are dealing
not with a subjective vision but with a solidly ground­
ed opinion. In addition, it harmonises with the fact
that the Internet - a web, the emblem of our times,
universally known and obvious, also emphasizes the
changeability, undulation, horizontality, and absence
of hierarchy, as well as the fetters, the whole, the im­
possibility of evasion.
H o w is it possible in a world thus perceived, devoid
of obvious centres whose number is s o great that they
mutually annul their magnetism and where metropo­
lises perish due to their peripheries, to speak about the
province and its spiritual offspring - provincialism? N o
problem would arise if we were to assume that the phe­
nomenon of the metropolis and the centre is created
by quantity. On the other hand, however, it is easy to
indicate examples toppling such a thesis. Political or
financial power and the force of culture, science, and
art are often located beyond the most populous largest
cities. Small Geneva is higher ranking in the financial
world than gigantic Mexico City, while Washington is
politically more important that New York. Moslems
regard Mecca as much more significant than Cairo
or Karachi. We may speak about the phenomenon of
interest to u s only when there come into being new
models of existence, lifestyles possessing sufficient
power and energy to conquer both further and nearer
regions. Assorted factors may stimulate the force of ra­
diation. Nonetheless, the latter is evident. The gener­
ated model is legible and distinctive; hence the force
of its attraction. Kapuściński never indicated any point
endowed with such properties on the map of the con­
temporary world. He also consistently did not speak
about the province as a physically existing space but of­
ten returned to provincialism, which he conceived as a
state of the spirit and a manner of thought, and which
he deemed as the worst threat for human existence.
He inhabited some sort of a spiritual metropolis that he
did not present outright. One thing, however, is clear.
It is not located anywhere in the concrete world but
remains a transcendent point making it possible to at­
tain a distance - naturally, varied - towards all sorts of
reality. This citizen of the world, a martyr of the jour­
ney, whose path links New York salons with African

refugee camps, Parisian hotels with collapsing Russian
rural dwellings, who talked with the great figures of our
times, described the sources of his “worldliness”:
The impact of my childhood upon later fascinations:
Pińsk was situated along the peripheries of, once, Po­
land, and now, Europe. This is probably why I am con­
stantly attracted by the peripheries of the world. The cli­
mate of the peripheries, the time that follows such a slow
course there, the languid and drowsy atmosphere, those
empty streets and immobile faces peering through small win­
dows and raised curtains. I remember silent Bernardyńska
Street and the unexpectedly appearing figure of a rabbi.
He walks hurriedly and looks around nervously as if he
suddenly became aware that he had mixed up worlds
and has to quickly return to non-being. Paradoxically,
Kapuscmski’s openness, curiosity, and attention came
into being in a godforsaken locality amidst marshes
and bogs, but were able to truly originate, develop,
and produce effects only when severed from the roots
and after abandoning the place of origin.
In his essay - significantly entitled: Paradoks prow­
incji5 - Dariusz Czaja indicated the archetypical di­
mension of such a situation: Fellini’s Rimini, Kantor’s
Wielopole, Mrożek’s Kraków - the worlds of begin­
nings, small, poor, part of the past, never to return.
One either left them or outright escaped from them,
and at times the horror of history drove one out. It is
impossible, however, to abandon them totally. They
are constant, albeit as reminiscence, nostalgia or long­
ing. For the authors - an important source of their
works, and for those who use only their life to write a
text - a lesson taught by memory, an important stirring
of the soul. D. Czaja described this movingly: Accord­
ing to this interpretation, the inhabitant of the province is
simply a different name of the human condition of each one
of us regardless of the place of residence. (...) The presentday Everyman is a figure with an underpinning of longing,
whose characteristic mark is a part of the DNA cultural
chain distinguishing each one of us. 6
Lithuania, my fatherland! You are like health/ How
much you must be valued, will only discover/ The one who
has lost you.
A t the onset of the twenty first century, when li­
quidity, change, and impermanence are a global expe­
rience, and in the wake of the previous century, an era
of disinheritance, banishment and loss, Mickiewicz’s
words resound with a dramatic force containing a
strikingly true image capturing human plight. A por­
trayal of the Poles from the Eastern Borderlands, the
Germans of Prussia, the Serbs of K o s o v o , the Hindi of
London, refugees from China and Indochina living in
American cities, the inhabitants of refugee camps in
Africa and on other continents. Much divides them,
but they share only/as much as “lost fate, whose value
grows as it becomes more distant in time and space.
The harmony and beauty of a reality given without


Wiesław Szpilka

m y p r o v in c e

our choice, and in this sense natural, becomes obvious
only from a perspective, and as a finite experience it
results in longing and calls for reflection and delibera­
tion. A thus conceived province would be, therefore,
the name of a spiritual land enduring via literature,
the cinema, music, and the visual arts. As a rule, in its
capacity as the memory of the poor it would become a
vanishing continent implicitly departing together with
If we describe the province in this fashion then
what will its opposite be like?
Is the here and now in which we exist a centre or a
metropolis? In what manner is it accessible considering
that we lack in it distance necessary for cognition?
After all, we remain inside a reality that is only
becoming and starting to take place. It is open and
focused on the future, and thus unclaimed. We expe­
rience it more than understand it, or rather it is our
existence within it that constitutes its comprehen­
sion. In this case, our understanding does not consist
of examination and interpretation (as in the case of
the province) but of selection and activity. It involves
writing much more than reading reality. A t the end of
his journey Kapuściński said something very charac­
teristic in one of the interviews: I do not understand the
world. Despite this, or rather precisely for this reason,
he fervently described his special experiences while
creating the world.
In his: I do not understand the great reporter
evoked a peculiar feature of the centre, the space of
life. In extraordinary essays about the reflections of
Friedrich Nietzsche, Krzysztof Michalski also pre­
sented this quality: Always, regardless of the extent to
which we determine how much we shall know about it,
“my” life, “our" life are something more than just I or we.
Consequently, it possesses an inalienable, different, dark,
and strange side, about which all knowledge fails, a side
about which we cannot know. Note that the word “dark”
assumes in this context additional meaning. Here, “dark­
ness“ does not denote a mere lack of knowledge. It is ex­
cess rather than absence, excess that is life, an excess of
meaning beyond everything that we know and can know.
A darkness of life seen from the point of view of each par­
ticular moment, a darkness about which we can say that it
is unfathomably deep, mysterious, and too full of meaning.
(...) In other words, by describing life as the will of power
Nietzsche maintained that life does not adapt itself to the
world but shapes it (...). Life understood as power and the
will of power is a life that cannot be restricted either to
that, which it is or something that it could or should be. In
that sense, it is "excess".
(...). Life is creative. It is the power of the will because
it always exceeds itself by creating constantly new forms,
of which none can become its ultimate form.7
If we, therefore, see the province as a painted im­
age, a completed text, the space of memory, that what

is closed, distant, and recollected and for which one
longs, then the centre appears to be life, the will of
power s o evocatively depicted by Michalski. Note that
the most conventional manners of presenting the op­
position of interest to u s aim in a similar direction.
Boring, suffocating, ever the same, ossified, dark, sti­
fling, hopeless - are those not the names given to the
province? Even when we describe it as calm, gentle,
laid back, a vacation destination, and locate it on the
site of death/birth, it remains distant from the force of
existence. He who wishes to exist better, to live and
not to vegetate, sets off for the symbolic city. It is the
latter that bustles, roars, glimmers, and constitutes
multiplicity, intensity, and fever. Kapuściński declared
that great cities attract thanks to their opportunity,
potential, and reinforced life that reveals quantity.
The metropolis and the province are thus more
the figures of an existential situation than a descrip­
tion of material reality. This is the reason why there
is nothing strange in the fact that the same place will
be evaluated differently. We are dealing with a black
hole in which everything gets lost, while for others it
is a territory full of life. Accounts by Andrzej Stasiuk
from the European end of the world show just how
radical this reversal can be or even something more:
contrary to initial observations we are not tackling a
strong opposition.
Here, life is not contrasted with death or existence
with non-being. It rather faces that, which is taking
place, coming into being, which creates, encloses,
grants shape and form and renders comprehensible.
This is life harmonized with knowledge, the obvious,
and the impossible novelty reducing it. But we must re­
peat: KNOW ING and BEING - wrote D. H. Lawrence
- are opposite, antagonistic states. The more you know, ex­
actly, the less you are. The more you are, in being, the less
you know [...]. This is the great cross of man, his dualism.
The blood-self, and the nerve-brain self.8 Succumbing to
the province is a natural process of the life, which one
wants to see and understand.
The price of such a task will be cooling off, slowing
down, enclosure, the loss of the principal quality of
the metropolis, i.e. power, excess, the dark side. Why
pay such a price, what is the purpose of knowledge,
the province, memory? Why did the “blonde beast”
establish a “dead class”? Tadeusz Kantor, whose re­
flections about the province Zbigniew Benedyktowicz
extracted and recalled in Powrót do domu,9 said: Prob­
ably only there can we be redeemed,10 adding: We stand
in the door helpless, saying farewell to our childhood, upon
the threshold of eternity and death, in this poor and gloomy
interior; beyond those doors storms and human hell rage
and tidal waves rise.11 Against what does that childishly
helpless and poor space protect u s , towards what sort
of eternity does it lead u s - this is the theme presented
in Kantor’s spectacles through image, sound, mood,


Wiesław Szpilka


the avoidance of words, declarations, and unambigu­
ity. Figures of the inferno, the flood and the storm
indicate that for this immensely dramatic person ex­
istence is threatened with annihilation, dissolution,
scattering, i.e. the loss of steady points, obvious places
of reference.
Osip Mandelstam, yet another great witness of the
twentieth century, wrote during an apogee of Stalinist
terror: We are living, but can’t feel the land where we stay,
and this phrase conceals the horror of a total lack of
enrootment and the absence of all anchors. We are liv­
ing meant at the time: we are driven, exiled, marched,
treated as a herd at the disposal of others. All mineness is destroyed and denigrated, and sole truth lies
in the created project of the future, while the present
is considered only if it serves the former. Nothing op­
poses a thus devised, constructed life created by peo­
ple and dependent on them more than the province.
Childhood and old age, birth and death, the extremi­
ties of life remembered and recalled, all possess certain
independence. Given without a choice, obvious, and
impossible to negate, close to the borderline of all hu­
man power, they refer to, or perhaps only indicate or
suggest a dimension greater than life and transcend­
ent in relation to it. Reference to it denotes seeing the
poverty of each finite existence and comprehending
the relativity and, in this sense, the weakness of each
project. More, in this perspective there is no other but
provincial life. The metropolis is only a movement, a
blinding flash, an escape from the memory of prime and
ultimate things. Hope, faith or, worst of all, certainty
that such a moment will last puts an end to all think­
ing and dims the imagination. After all, the project of
condensing volatility, the enslavement of power is one
of the central ideas of the metropolis. The power of its
existence is not to transfix the end, which discloses
frailty. It would be an expression of pride and narcis­
sism to grant the idea, frequently merging in the me­
tropolis, the name of provincial thinking, but it would
also indicate its universality and extensive distribution
rather than scattered intensity.
While pondering the opposition of interest to u s
we continue the laborious task of delineating the
obvious border between its members. The metropo­
lis and the province, death and life, the intense and
the weak, the dark and the comprehensible, the open
and the closed, the existent and the recalled, all those
categories introduce order into reality, create order
that makes comprehension possible, but also conceal
more - they lose an existence that cannot be uttered
through them. The continuum, the transition, the
encapsulation, the difference of the same, the horror
of the metropolis-province - this is the misery of eth­
nographic thinking adhering to life and experiencing
reality. A magnificent weakness.

When after the last steep ascent I finally reach
Świńska Pass and look at Goryczkowy Cirque, ever the
same and yet totally different due to past ski expedi­
tions, experienced years, and the events I witnessed
in this calm place, where, fortunately, I am now all
alone, I known that I am in my provincial-metropol­
itan world. I hear once again the words of Claudio
Magris, an Italian from Trieste, said about Ryszard
Kapuściński and indirectly, in my opinion, about the
issue examined by u s : Kapuściński knows that it is neces­
sary to carefully listen to the voice that is within us without
obscuring it with words. I find in him a sense of life that is
also fundamental for me: loyalty to wanderings with people
whom we love, be they living or dead but ever present. And
loyalty to things, places, seasons of the year. This writer, so
fascinated with reality and its limits, sometimes succumbs
to a desire for whiteness, emptiness, a void, a poor cell —
the most discreet signs of all things. Silence - as if there
was too much clamour, too many events and objects, too
many oppositions. I too always thought that someone who
really loves life without artificial comfort and its bathos
sometimes becomes really tired of it all.12

R. Kapuściński, Lapidaria I-III, Biblioteka Gazety
Wyborczej, Warszawa 2008.
2 R. Kapuściński, Lapidaria IV-VI, Biblioteka Gazety
Wyborczej, Warszawa 2008.
3 Z. Bauman, Płynna rzeczywistość, Wydawnictwo
Literackie, Kraków 2007.
4 R. Kapuściński, Lapidaria IV-VI, op. cit., p. 35, 36, 43.
5 D. Czaja, Paradoks prowincji, “Konteksty” 2/2008, pp.
6 D. Czaja, op. cit., p. 33.
7 K. Michalski, Płomień wieczności, Znak, Kraków 2007,
pp. 232, 241.
8 K. Michalski, op. cit., p. 246.
9 Z. Benedyktowicz, Powrót do domu. Tarkowski i Kantor,
“Konteksty” 2/2008, see here english vesion previous
10 Z. Benedyktowicz, op. cit., p. 24.
11 Z. Benedyktowicz, op. cit., p. 25.
12 C. Magris, Wierność wędrówce, in: Kapuściński R.,
Wierszezebrane, Biblioteka Gazety Wyborczej, Warszawa
2008, pp. 133-134


Wiesław Szpilka


zapis filmowy



Ait the top: DVD cover and poster to
Umarła Klasa (Dead Class) by Tadeusz
Publisher: Ośrodek Dokumentacji Sztuki
Tadeusza Kantora Cricoteka
Janusz Palikot
Studio Filmowe Propaganda
Kraków 2007
On the left: cover of the book: Jam Koet,
Kadysz. Strony o Tadeuszu Kantorze, Biblio­
teka Mnemosyne, ed. Piotr Kloczowski,
wyd. slowf/obraz/terytoria. 2007
Graphic and typing loyoutJanusz Górski
On the cover: window from Wielopole,
Photo: Marcin Czechowicz © by Pracownia



Szpilka, Wiesław Kuba, “My Province/ Polska Sztuka Ludowa - Konteksty 2014 Special Issue,” Cyfrowa Etnografia, Dostęp 30 czerwca 2022,

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