Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Olga Tokarczuk, Envy and Pride

Danusha, you asked for my opinion re this “affair.” To me, the yipping among some on the right is just that—yipping, to be ignored as one ignores ill-bred web louts.

But, since you asked me to share my thoughts, I spent some time pondering the curious case of Olga Tokarczuk. Here they are:

1. I seldom pay attention to the goings-on of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, but millions of people do. The Nobel Prize is *the* prize, the one most writers would kill for. (Doris Lessing, link below, was underwhelmed, but she is an exception.) Now, when anyone wins an important award, web louts go crazy with envy. Go to any movie discussion board after an actress wins an Oscar and you’ll find louts making mean-spirited comments about her clothes, jewels, and manners.

Envy, you see.

And that, I think, in large part explains the reaction among many to the news of Tokarczuk’s winning the Nobel. Accompanying the envy like an evil twin is the desire to tear the person down, to engage in vicious ad hominem attacks, to post character assassinations. Sane people—and these do not usually worry about the Nobel Prize—would just think, “Good job, mate,” and then get on with their lives, but we are talking about web louts.

2. The people this award pissed off most are chauvinist politicians, most of whom wouldn’t know a sonnet from a door knob. This sounds harsh and elitist and just like Clinton and just like Soros, but it’s true. Do you think Octavio Cortes knows Balzac from Beyoncé? That Rick Perry knows Kafka from Kardashian? That the Polish politicians who have taken to Twitter to denounce their countrywoman’s achievement know Dorothy Parker from Dolly Parton? Some have even boasted proudly that they never read her books. Oh, that will show her! Of course, said politicians would have trouble with her books, as they consist of sentences made up of multiple clauses, but enough about that. For these people and their ilk, a novel is worthy or unworthy not because of what it says, or fails to say, about the human condition, but because of what it says, or fails to say, about their own race or country. It’s literary chauvinism and it is vile.

3. There’s nothing uniquely Polish about any of this. Israel’s most prominent novelists are overwhelmingly leftist, and they too write about flaws in Israeli society. No biggie, right? Well, to some it is a biggie. When David Grossman, one of Israel’s most admired writers, won the Man Booker prize a couple of years ago, louts also took to Twitter and Facebook to denounce him. His crime was writing books that a) criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and b) depict life in Israel with the eye of a novelist, rather than that of a two-bit politician or flag-waving chauvinist. For this, some do not like him, though I should add that he was never treated to anything even remotely approaching the furor over Tokarczuk’s winning of the Nobel Prize, I think all this has something to do with the inferiority complex some countries have towards the outside world, the terrible fear that a foreigner might read something in a novel and think, “Are all Poles/ Israelis/Chileans/choose nationality like this?”

4. The most important question we can ask about a novel is this: does it tell us something new about the human experience, about our time here on earth? I read Tokarczuk’s “Flights” in English translation several months ago, and, in my opinion, the answer is yes and hell yes. I do not know if that novel is representational of her work, but I was so impressed that I ordered another of her books. What’s in those pages is far, far more important than comments she made about Polish-Jewish relations or about serfs in Poland. She earned that prize, she deserved that prize, and she should be proud of herself, the haters be damned!

thanks to Liron Rubin for the above comment 


  1. There are two things going on:

    1). Olga Tokarczuk's absolute right to express her opinions about Poland, whatever they may be.

    2). Our "duty" to agree with her and with the expansive award she got for expressing her views.

    These are two different things, that, I think, should not be conflated.

  2. Zbigniew Herbert was a very important writer. When his opinions were rejected by progressive mainstream, he was declared mentally ill. Jarosław Rymkiewicz was sued in 2011 by media house Agora. Literary critic Masłoń left Angelus Prize Jury in 2016 or 2017 after a series of media attacks. Progressive participants of Internet forums use the same dirty language to attack conservatists.

    1. Jerzy, I agree.

      The loutish behavior is not unique to followers of any political ideology. A good example of that is happening now in "discussions" about Peter Handke, the writer with whom Tokarczuk is sharing this year's prize for literature. He supported the Serbs during the wars in the Balkans, and this, some on the left say, should disqualify him from receiving the prize.

      As John Guzlowski wrote in a piece Danusha posted earlier, in few of these social media forums will you find people actually discussing Torkarczuk's work or Handke's work.

    2. Good points. I wonder how much the award is based on Olga Tokarczuk's talents and how much of it owes to her left-wing views. And that is the basis of those who reject her award.

    3. "that is the basis of those who reject her award."


      When you ask the folks bashing this woman why they don't like her, they can't quote a damn thing, because they haven't read her.

      A lot of the hate can be chalked up to envy and misogyny.

      All the men worked up about this should mount a campaign demanding that the Nobel committee withdraw the award to Poland and send it to a country that would be delighted to receive its first Nobel prize.

    4. "All the men worked up about this should mount a campaign demanding that the Nobel committee withdraw the award..."

      That's what was attempted with the award once given to Jan T. Gross. And look how far it got. Oops, Jan T. Gross is a male.

    5. Jan T Gross was never awarded a Nobel Prize.

      Please support your comparison of Olga Tokarczuk to Jan Gross, with exhaustive references to her published work.

      Jan Gross wrote a necessary book, Neighbors.

      Hiding the Jedwabne pogrom is not a good thing and Poles fighting against that history being exposed is not a good thing.

      So go for it. All you men who don't like this woman getting a Nobel Prize. Start your campaign to have the prize withdrawn and awarded to another country that would be delighted to receive its first Nobel Prize in literature.

    6. Dear Danusha, I have read one of her worka, called "Rok Niedźwiedzia" (year of the bear) or something like that. It was...a not very appetizing pot luck dinner of leftist utopian babbling. Than again, I have Heard from a friend that "Bieguny" (runners?) is awesome. I guess its possible that the aforementioned book is just the odd, weak one,out. Ill read her other books some day,promise.

      What I dislike about her is her constant openly negative attitude towards Poland,Polish History,Polish society,customs ect. I also dislike (but that's a broader topic) how much having a positive attitude towards ones own National identity Has become demonized in the West (womens suffrage, the end of slavery, workers rights, childrens rights, anti-racism did not evolve in most other countries!)

      About Jedwabne: just have an international forensic scientist team investigate the place with 24/7 streaming already. I am totally interested in the truth.

    7. "a not very appetizing pot luck dinner of leftist utopian babbling."

      "her constant openly negative attitude towards Poland,Polish History,Polish society,customs ect."

      I feel like I've read a hundred posts criticizing this woman and not one damn single post quoting a single thing she said that backs up any of the criticism.

      That tears it.

      I will not post a single new post attacking this woman unless that post contains significant quotes from and references to her work.

  3. Gross and Tokarczuk are from the same mold. Gross was proven wrong about a lot of things on Jedwabne, including "Poles acted alone", and yet he gets uncritical and adulatory media coverage. And never do we hear about Jewish crimes against Poles.

    You are always challenging others to prove their statements. Now permit me to do the same.

    You wrote with reference to Olga Tokarczuk: "A lot of the hate can be chalked up to envy and misogyny."

    It sound like the decades-old feminist line: "Conservative men hate and fear successful women". And now everyone who disagrees with leftist positions is a hater.

    So where is the evidence to support your "envy and misogyny" statement?

  4. A Polish woman is now recognized worldwide as a Nobel-winning author.

    Rather than celebrate, Polish men took to Polish social media sites to denounce this woman who has brought great honor to Poland.

    These men acknowledged that they never read her work and knew nothing about her.

    They denounced her as a "bitch" and a "cunt" on Polish social media sites.

    Jan Peczkis insists that it is entirely appropriate for Polish men to verbally savage and batter a woman they know nothing about, with hateful misogynist terms like "bitch" and "cunt" -- on Polish social media sites, no less.

    Jan Peczkis says it makes perfect sense verbally to batter and savage a woman who has brought great honor to Poland.

    This entire phenomenon makes me sick to my stomach.

    Poles and Polonians whine incessantly that their story is not told, that no one pays attention to them, that no one honors them.

    A Polish woman wins an historic, worldwide honor and envious misogynists can think to do nothing -- not even to read her work -- but to call her a "bitch" and a "cunt" on Polish social media sites.

    Mr Peczkis you've had your chance to bash this woman here. You did your best. I will not post any more posts from you bashing this woman.

    1. Dear Danusha, I dont think that, just by virtue of being a woman, she is beyond criticism. I would NEVER Call her "c--" or "b---", it is vile language and just plays into the narrative of her being a victim of misogyny.

      Telling the rest of the World that we are "colonializers" surpressors of poor "minorities" and "murderers of Jews" is slandering us, not bringing us any "honor". Imagine Louis Farakhan winning the Nobel Prize and slandering the US. Oh, and if you dare to criticize him you are a "racist".Nice, isn't it? Oh, also: if s.o Has a Nobel Prize than whatever This person sais must be true 😉

    2. "Dear Danusha, I dont think that, just by virtue of being a woman, she is beyond criticism. I would NEVER Call her "c--" or "b---", it is vile language and just plays into the narrative of her being a victim of misogyny."

      No one ever said that women can't be criticized.

      If you can excuse misogynist hate we have nothing in common and nothing to talk about.

      Honest to Christmas I am sick to my stomach reading these messages attacking this woman and I really wish you would take it somewhere else.

  5. Poles worry a lot about defamation of Poland.

    A woman writer was awarded the Nobel Prize and Poles took to social media to acknowledge

    that they never read Olga Tokarczuk's work

    that they hated Olga Tokarczuk and were willing to fling every imaginable ugly name at her

    that they would attack anyone who stood up for her.

    Esteemed Polish American poet John Guzlowski received hate mail for standing up for OT.

    No one who attacked John said a single word about anything she'd written because they never read her.

    One person sent John a photo of a bloody middle finger.

    Who exactly is giving Poles and Poland a bad name?

    1. How many "Poles" attack Tokarczuk in social media? 36 million or rather tens or hundreds? You are lucky you do not read progressive forums, eg. Gazeta Wyborcza. The difference is that a non-progressive writer will never obtain Nobel prize, so the wave of hatred will not explode to reach the USA. Would anyone hate a writer of 800 pages books? Tokarczuk herself misuses media, believes to be a prophet, a teacher. Sje is a writer, no more and no less.

    2. Jedwabne was a part of crimes committed between Lithuania and Romania, where more than 100 000 Jews were murdered. The Jedwabne crime, the bad it was, it was a little point on the map of 1941 pogroms committed between Latvia and Romania. Any neutral description would have started with crimes committed by Romanian government, crimes in cities (Kaunas, Lviv). An academic book about the pogroms "W cieniu gigantów" by Mędykowski (Yad Vashem) i savailable only in Polish. "Neighbours" by Gross is in Englsih, is shorter, gives simple answers. Wittenberg and Kopstein (Intimate violence) analyze the pogroms using statistics.

  6. Disagree with me, but don't make false statements about me. I never call Olga Tokarczuk a "cunt" or "bitch", nor endorse anyone who does. And I have seen plenty of thoughtful criticisms of Olga Tokarczuk's award. So please do not overgeneralize.

    This "bitch" and "cunt" business is anecdotal, and no different from what leftists say all the time against those who oppose their agenda. So they are getting a taste of their own medicine.

  7. No, what I wrote is not anecdotal. John Guzlowski can show you the posts on Polish social media.

    No, I never said that Jan Pezkis used these words.

    No, Jan Peczkis has not adduced a shred of evidence to support any of his attacks on Olga Tokarczuk.

    Enough Mr Peczkis. No more unsubstantiated posts from you slandering this Polish Nobel Laureate.

  8. My comment didn't show up.

    1. Lukasz please do me a favor and read the email I sent you last night, and please do me a favor and read the comments here.

      You've all made your point.

      Women are evil and should stick to being sex workers, cooks, cleaners, and nuns.

      Women should not be allowed to write books.

      Words like "bitch" and "cunt," when applied to women who write books, are entirely appropriate.

      The Nobel committee is an evil conspiracy whose only goal is to destroy Poland.

      You don't have to read books, or read about books, to burn them.

      All that is already here. I don't want to read it or post it any more.

      If you actually read a book by Olga Tokarczuk, and then read the scholarship around her work, and want to say something new, with support, then submit that.

      But the hate is already here, and I don't want to read it any more, and I don't want to post any new hate posts.


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
These themes include the false and damaging stereotype of Poles as brutes who are uniquely hateful and responsible for atrocity, and this stereotype's use in distorting WW II history and all accounts of atrocity.
This blog welcomes comments from readers that address those themes. Off-topic and anti-Semitic posts are likely to be deleted.
Your comment is more likely to be posted if:
Your comment includes a real first and last name.
Your comment uses Standard English spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Your comment uses I-statements rather than You-statements.
Your comment states a position based on facts, rather than on ad hominem material.
Your comment includes readily verifiable factual material, rather than speculation that veers wildly away from established facts.
T'he full meaning of your comment is clear to the comment moderator the first time he or she glances over it.
You comment is less likely to be posted if:
You do not include a first and last name.
Your comment is not in Standard English, with enough errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar to make the comment's meaning difficult to discern.
Your comment includes ad hominem statements, or You-statements.
You have previously posted, or attempted to post, in an inappropriate manner.
You keep repeating the same things over and over and over again.