April 27, 2008

National Translations

When you look at nationalism with a magnifying glass, it falls apart. It has no essence. India's national anthem is a translation from Bengali to Hindi; The Statue of Liberty is actually French iconography; New York and Nagasaki are both Ground Zero.

In Poland, loyalty to Rome and the West has been an important part of the national identity there for hundreds of years. Adam Zamoyski calls this "the zeal of the convert" because Polish identity long predated the arrival of Christianity. In the second half of the 20th Century Polish Catholicism was barely tolerated by the Russian Communist authority and as such became for many Poles a political identity as much as a religious, philosophical or emotional one.

Previous to World War II, Polish national identity existed alongside a strong Jewish identity. Although the words "Polish" and "Jewish" often appear in texts as mutually exclusive adjectives or as qualifiers (as in "Polish Jewish" or "Jewish Polish"), the two have drawn meaning from one another for over 900 years. It may be rare to read texts that speak of the Jewishness of Polishness but there is fiction and non-fiction that can offer a starting point.

For the time being, the palpable absence at the heart of Polishness is filled with simulation and synthesis while new, contentious translations take place.

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