|Abstract: ||The basic aim of this dissertation is to describe the melancholic dimension (with a particular focus on the source of this emotion) of Magdalena Tulli’s works – one of the most interesting contemporary Polish writers. At the same time, it is a completely new look at the prose of the Warsaw writer because up to now researchers and critics dealing with Tulli’s writings have pointed out their far from melancholic – even provocatively “light,” postmodern character. To the works of the Warsaw prose writer stuck, among others, the stigmatizing term of “the literature made of literature” that simultaneously denied these novels referential abilities. The author of dissertation, on the contrary, already at the beginning of her paper formulates the research hypothesis, according to which all novels of the Warsaw writer – from the debut novel Dreams and Stones to the latest, published in 2014 Noise – have the same bitter, melancholic tone and carry a “burden” of a real (autobiographical?) story.
Most researchers seemed not to notice that self-referential stories from Tulli’s writings may refer to a specific reality. They wrote about them that they are merely a “technique exercise in fictionalization”, and motifs of this prose that they found obscure, described as “writing eccentricity.” Only the publication in 2011 of autobiographical (“easy” – according to the author) Italian High Heels, as it turned out, finally allowed Tulli to “communicate” with readers – as she described in one of interviews – in “the issue that was important to her.” This “issue” is the trauma of war and concentration camp which the writer’s mother somehow survived as well as the entire, as Tulli writes in Italian High Heels,” “energy of violence” and contempt which resulted from this and long after the war still destroyed people’s lives, unfortunately, including the life of the author of Moving Parts, just at its beginning – the writer’s childhood. Therefore, the sad background of the author’s life, as it turns out the source of melancholy in her works, became in some way the background of this dissertation.
Before the publication of autobiographical Italian High Heels, when reading Tulli’s novels I wondered about remarkable consistency with which the writer uses certain metaphors in her prose and the presence of recurring motifs in these writings. Since even if – I thought at this time – assuming that the fundamental lack of plot in the works of the author of Dreams and Stones justifies their “postmodern” reading, why such talented and after all appreciated author would continuously write books about the same thing? Thus, the most important question to me seemed to be: what is the reason behind the Warsaw writer’s persistence in the style – in the “letter” of the novel, its constructions, means of imagery.
Autobiographical character of Italian High Heels confirmed my previous assumptions and inclined me to the deeper insight into this artistic offering which at its sources turned out to be profoundly melancholic. The writing of Magdalena Tulli was literally simply built on the trauma, on the early (childhood) experience of lack and loss. Revealed by the writer in Italian High Heels and in the latest novel Noise painful facts from her biography (above all a toxic relationship with her mother) turned out to be this “burden” – the figure that consistently from the debut appeared in Tulli’s writings, and which with some intuition and interest I followed from my first reading of these texts.
At the same time, becoming familiar with the state of research on the topic of melancholy, allowed me to formulate the assumption about the constant presence of the figure of burden in melancholy: from the moment of the appearance of the famous Hippocrates’ humoural theory till the present day (for instance, in Antoni Kępiński’s psychiatric works). Therefore, although melancholy can be described from many different perspectives (aesthetic, anthropological, existential, philosophical, etc.) in many different terms and languages (Latin – acedia, Greek – splen and English – spleen, ennui, Danish – Tungsind, etc.) – in every case they contain the element of gravity or burden. That is why the starting point of my dissertation and “research background” to interpret selected Tulli’s writings is the synthetic look at the melancholy presented throughout the centuries by artists and scientists, with special emphasis on the significance (“rank”) of the figure of burden and synonymous figures.
In essence, the entire prose of the Warsaw writer (what I note scrupulously in every analytical part of my dissertation) is steeped in the imagery of burden. Why? This question is answered by the author of In Red herself, since in the centre of her two last novels (Italian High Heels and Noise) she puts her mother – former prisoner of concentration camps. Simultaneously, in this way Tulli reveals that at the foundation of the world in which she lives (and which is the prototype for the world of her novel) lies her toxic relationship with her mother. The Warsaw prose writer writes literally about the “burden” of suffering which her mother bears since the war and the part of which she always tried to “transfer” onto her child (Tulli).
This issue reveals in the depiction of melancholy as a posttraumatic disease. Its main cause is the "touch" of history, sensual experience the trauma of war that was marked the writer’s mother so painfully. That is why the author of Flaw metaphorizes melancholy in her writings also as “an infection” of memory which contaminates consecutive generations of the Shoah (the second, third etc.) and which has become the experience of the Warsaw writer. As a result, we are born into a reality which already carries a certain “burden”. The space of Central Europe, once the epicenter of the Shoah, is a special example thereof. It is a space where the “burden” of the substance of the Shoah can sometimes be felt through the senses. The matter building the contemporary world still contains elements of the war, a material trace of the war – ashes of human bodies, “fat” clay in which the victims of the war were buried. That is why the tangibility of the world after the Shoah is so important in the works of the author of The Lottery. The most important representation of this landscape destroyed by the war is, literally, the mother from Italian High Heels whom her daughter describes as “the empire”. It is her who carries the biggest burden in this world, attempting to pass on some of the “weight” to the child. Her particular, cold attitude towards the world and people close to her, the cold “icy blue” stare and “stiffened” poses she assumes are to metaphorize this coldness and emptiness of the post-war (post-concentration camp) world where long after the war bonds between people will still be undermined by the floating “energy of suffering, sorrow and hatred”. This energy is absorbed by the children, consecutive generations “poisoned” in a metaphorical and literal (via genes) sense by the Shoah.
When read from this perspective, the works of Magdalena Tulli reveal their extremely interesting rhythm. They emerge as an example of a mature, “full” literary structure, planned by the author herself to the tiniest details in which some aspects of a melancholic's life resurface in a compulsive (unconscious) manner. This indicates a special meaning of the interpretation of these works, which, for insightful readers, discloses new possibilities of literary study of these writings: penetrating the “areas” which no science apart from philology feels competent to access, studying today (what the author of In Red seems to be especially aware of) the text as “an adventure of the body and signs”.|