This chapter examines Poland’s relationship with the Catholic Church. The Church has a huge influence on Polish society, and its support for Law and Justice on various issues – notably the banning of abortion – is crucial to the government’s ability to maintain power. This influence is rooted in Poland’s long history of domination by foreign powers, during which the Church came to play the role of a “backup state.” Even under communism, it was able to retain a remarkable degree of institutional independence. The chapter recounts the history of Catholicism in Poland before turning to the situation today. It offers a comparison with Ireland, a country with a strong Catholic tradition which has nonetheless undergone a rapid process of secularisation in recent years. There are reasons to think this may happen in Poland as well, but the future remains uncertain, and for many the Catholic Church continues to represent a stronger guarantee of continuity than the state.
This chapter examines the victory of Jarosław Kaczyński’s right-wing Law and Justice party in the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2015. It details the party’s past and focuses on Kaczyński himself. To understand Poland’s illiberal turn it is essential to understand this man, a brilliant political operator who prefers to work behind the scenes, installing trusted lieutenants in conventional positions of power such as prime minister and president. The chapter explains his background and his relationship with his identical twin brother, Lech Kaczyński, a former president of Poland who died in a plane crash in 2010.
Intro: Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ sonata, first movement. Exposition of the phenomenon of regret, elucidated via Tennyson’s ‘Tears, Idle Tears’ and conception of regret as ‘death-anxiety’. Reflections on environmental crisis focusing on a localised instance: the establishment of a medical incinerator at Newhaven and the degradation of an adjacent ‘nature reserve’. How memory is not mere ‘preservation in amber’: the amber is alive and moving. Lecturer’s deferred realisation of what his father was doing in the Croydon Bookshop – looking for his mother (or at least books illustrated by her). Lola Onslow (born in Dublin in 1898) collaborated with Enid Blyton on several fairy tale books. The lecturer shows a pencil sketch of a Devon village in August 1945. Link to atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a few days previously. Return to concept of regret via Yeats’s ‘The Tower’ (1928), a poem which includes what, for Samuel Beckett, is one of Yeats’s most beautiful phrases (‘but the clouds’). The lecturer proposes that an alternative phrase that Yeats’s poem offers is just as remarkable (‘or a bird’s sleepy cry’). Outro: the song of a nightingale (recorded in Northamptonshire in 2008).
This concluding chapter returns to the presented day, asking what lies ahead for Poland and Eastern and Central Europe more generally. Poland’s parliamentary elections of 2023 are seen as crucially important both by the Law and Justice government and the opposition; the outcome will determine whether the country continues on its illiberal trajectory or returns to something approaching the liberal democracy of the 1990s and 2000s. A series of crises, including COVID, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising gas prices have shaken Poles’ already tentative sense of security, ushering in a new age of uncertainty. The war in Ukraine in particular has revealed a clear difference of perspective between Eastern and Central European countries and their Western neighbours. Poland and the Baltic States have good reason to question NATO’s commitment. But an important point moving forwards is that the sensitivities of Eastern and Central European societies have become part of European politics – looking to the future, they simply cannot be ignored.
This lecture begins by recounting a dream of having dinner with Gerald Doherty and Randall Stevenson one ‘white night’ in Helsinki, and the surreal intrusions of a measuring tape. Reflections on the richness of Doherty’s work (especially on ‘narrative desire’ and ‘the games narrators play’), and of Stevenson’s work (on modernist literature and time, with particular reference to Bergson). Discussion of the fabulous bargua snake in Blyton’s The River (Adventure Series). Play Bowie’s ‘Station to Station’. Lecturer reflects on his love of books, instilled in him by his father, and the importance for them both of the Croydon Bookshop, which was not in Croydon. Croydon lies equidistant between where the lecturer grew up and where Bowie and Blyton grew up. Exploration of Bowie’s neologistic use of ‘Croydon’ as a derogatory adjective (‘so fucking Croydon!’). Outro: Bowie’s ‘Quicksand’.
This is a book about David Bowie as a songwriter, singer and thinker. It is also a study of Enid Blyton and her enduring power as a storyteller. Through the incongruous pairing of Bowie and Blyton, Royle confronts a series of critical questions: What is the point of universities? Why do music, art and literature matter? Where does listening (to stories or to music) get us? How are we to negotiate the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis and the ‘end times’? This is a sombre and reflective book based on the author’s forty-plus years of university teaching and research, but it also contains a good deal of comedy and laughter. As the critic Peter Boxall explains in the Afterword, Royle’s book ‘does not sit comfortably in any existing genre or form’. It combines passages about everyday life during the COVID-19 pandemic with a series of lectures that include hearing and discussing Bowie songs, exploring the appeal of Blyton’s storytelling (especially the Famous Five books), talking about dreams and second-hand bookshops, revealing Blyton’s previously unrecorded love affair with the author’s grandmother, and reflecting on some previously unpublished photos of Bowie (also reproduced in the book). Alongside Blyton, there’s talk of other writers – from Aristophanes, Shakespeare and Keats to Spike Milligan, Ray Bradbury and Claire-Louise Bennett. Alongside Bowie, there’s discussion of a range of music – from Bach, Beethoven and Chopin to Pink Floyd, the Beatles and Charles Mingus.
This chapter explores the thirty-year debate over Poland’s economic transformation. Like other former-Soviet states, Poland underwent a dramatic programme of economic transformation after 1989. This “shock therapy” was spear-headed by the economist Leszek Balcerowicz, and it caused significant economic hardship at the time, a fact that many Poles still remember. Arguments about whether shock therapy was right or whether a “gradualist” approach would have been less harmful have raged for years. But a distinct turn occurred around the middle of the 2010s, with more and more people expressing dissatisfaction with the market economy, despite a generally good economic outlook. When Law and Justice were elected in 2015, they took advantage of the sense of disgruntlement to launch their new socio-economic agenda.
Intro: Bowie’s ‘Absolute Beginners’. Discussion of voice and mimicry. At least forty years late, the lecturer realises why his father was so good at mimicking an Irish accent: it was all about his mother. Historical situating of the golden age of children’s book illustration, with particular emphasis on Blyton and Onslow’s collaborations. The lecturer shows Lola’s painting of his father as an infant fairy. Elaboration of the concept and meaning of ‘fairy’, via the poetry of Keats and Yeats, and the English football terraces of the 1970s. The lecturer proposes that Bowie was the greatest fairy of the twentieth century. Coda: overview of the lecture series. Outro: Bowie’s ‘Drive-In Saturday’.