Humour, ideals and permanent curiosity – In remembrance of Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012)

Wislawa Szymborska started her column ‘Lektury Obowiazkowe’, ‘Non-compulsory Reading’ in 1967. She reviewed unknown, forgotten books. These books are no bestsellers or even cited books, but books you can buy in any second hand bookshop. The Polish poet Szymborska

the picture is from photographer Mariusz Kubik
the picture is from photographer Mariusz Kubik

made every book special and I immediately loved her writing. My columns for Sociologie Magazine, ‘Vergeten Sociologie’/’Forgotten Sociology’ are respectfully inspired by her special style.

Her secret recipe? A combination of humour, ideals and permanent curiosity.

1. Humour, but without ‘Schadenfreude’, without delight in another’s misfortune.

2. Ideals, sincere and to be practiced. No abstract ideals, no collective pressure of any kind.

3. Curious, all the time, interested in all kinds of people.

To me this recipe embodies the best combination of British and German intellectual traditions. May Poland, Europe and the world profit from its rich cultural capital!

Wislawa Szymborska*:

‘Of course you need to have certain ideals, certain honest convinctions, and you have to live accordingly. But you have to look at the world from different perspectives, just like books, you need to read them in many different ways.’

‘Unser Staunen ist autonom und ergibt sich aus keinem Vergleich.’

‘We have our dreams, but so nonchalant, so unprecise. ‘I want to be a bird’, said someone. But if the obedient fate would change him into a turkey, he would feel cheated upon.’

* my imperfect translations from Dutch and German. Wislawa Szymborka 1996. Die Gedichte. Wislawa Symborska 1975/1998. Onverplichte lectuur. Anna Bikont en Joanna Szcesna 2003/07 Prullaria, dromen en vrienden. Wislawa Szymborska Biografie. 2003/2007.