(born 1952) – journalist, columnist, novelist and activist in the democratic opposition, who spent the 1980s in emigration in France. After returning to Poland he worked as a journalist for newspapers including Życie and Rzeczpospolita and for the weekly Wprost. In May 2006 he became head of TVP, Poland’s main public television channel, but was dismissed in March 2007 for political reasons.
The theme of his own generation occupies an important place in Wildstein’s fiction; almost as it was happening he aimed to describe the experiences of the opposition activists who were forced to leave Poland in the 1980s (e.g. in his roman à clef The Brother), and he has also described how they coped in the new situation, in independent Poland, where the world ceased to look quite so black and white, and life became much more complicated, bringing the former heroes of the opposition a lot of disappointment (as in his collection of short stories, Future Limited). Wildstein has also tried to tackle other topics; On Betrayal and Death is set in Alexander the Great’s empire following the death of the ruler, and the main character in The Master is the guru of Polish alternative theatre, Jerzy Grotowski. Wildstein has used various styles in his fiction, starting with more avant garde writing full of metaphors where the descriptive level was the most important thing, then gradually progressing towards classic narrative forms.
Regardless what he writes about and how he does it, whether newspaper articles or fiction, Wildstein never loses sight of the universal, fundamental issues. As Stanisław Obirek says: “Wildstein’s writing is a bit like black-and-white photography. Of course, it does not lack shadows and grey areas, but it is free of any deceptive wealth of colours and makes the reader think about what really matters.”
Rebellion and Affirmation. An Essay about Our Times
Contemporary disputes placed in a broad historiosophical context
Voltaire was not a radical. His maxim is often quoted: ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him,’ which should be considered as an expression of a kind of ideological and political moderation. Less known is the justification preceding it: ‘I want my lawyer, my tailor, my servants and even my wife to believe in God, because then I will be cheated, robbed and betrayed less often.’
This statement manifests the striking paternalism of Enlightenment intellectuals, which will become the trademark of the vanguard fighting for equality and emancipation. Nothing will change this even today. It sounds a bit paradoxical, but these are merely appearances. ‘You must not rely on the opinion of the crowd on issues of reason and philosophy; the voice of the crowd is vicious, stupid, inhuman and prejudiced. The crowd is dark and stupid. Do not trust it in matters of morality.’ This is Diderot’s statement. I am not saying that he does not indicate the real threats that his countryman Gustave Le Bon wrote about a hundred years later in The Psychology of Crowds. Another thing is that the author of Jacques the Fatalist was writing not about the specific phenomenon of the human mass, which in its momentary connection can unleash specific emotions and attitudes. The term “crowd” should be rather be translated as “plebeians”. One can agree that humanity as a whole is not particularly inclined to philosophising or moral considerations. The question remains, as to what conclusions should be drawn from this.
Les philosphes were extremely outraged that the people did not follow their enlightened ideas, especially where the “prejudiced” did not want to reject Christianity. And yet: ‘Every reasonable and righteous man must feel disgust at the Christian sect,’ wrote Voltaire. It seems inconsistent with the declaration of the need for God. But the author of Candide justified it only as a means of keeping society, along with his own imaginary wife, in check, as until his death he remained a bachelor. The fact that he did not count them among the “reasonable and righteous” seems unquestionable. In this context, his next declaration sounds logical: ‘We never pretended to try enlightening shoemakers and servants; that is work for apostles.’ The waves of literary passion that allowed him to pose as an apostle remained only on paper. Voltaire, Diderot or d’Alembert definitely preferred enlightening Frederick II or Catherine II. No wonder, as this was undoubtedly associated with more tangible rewards.
Without being unkind, it can be assumed that an enlightened despot is a gift from heaven for (not only) an eighteenth-century intellectual who is preparing an all-encompassing and unique project to remake the world. Ordinary politics must take into account the attitudes of the general public, at least the subjects who are moulded by their devotion to a dark tradition – one that is considered inimical to the enlightened. The ruler embedded in it is bound by custom and religion and though he sometimes breaks the rules, this is not the norm but the exception. Power in monarchical systems is inscribed in an organic, not only social, but even cosmic system, which imposes laws and limits the arbitrariness of those in power. Enlightened despots have already given up these principles, they consider them superstitions, so they do not have to reckon with them.
Excerpt translated by Peter Obst