I haven’t been paying much attention to the recent Pope John Paul II media craze, but a message from LitKicks member Tomcat (Penn Jacobs) is making me wonder if I shouldn’t take more of an interest.

Karol Wojtyla of Wadowice, Poland was a secular poet, playwright and essayist before he entered the priesthood. After leaving his hometown to study literature and philosophy at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, he fell in with a theatrical crowd and established himself as a key member of an acting company.

These were difficult times for an idealistic young man; he was 18 when Nazi Germany invaded his nation from the west, with the complicity of Joseph Stalin’s Russia to the east.

Theater companies and literary publishers had to go underground during the Nazi years, and had to remain undergound during the Soviet-dominated years that followed. Karol Wojtyla acted and wrote plays, and by all accounts had notable talent. But the experience of living in the center of World War II’s European heartland undoubtedly gave this young intellectual a special depth and wisdom, and he gradually began to replace his theatrical and literary connections with spiritual ones inside Poland’s newly supressed Catholic Church.

I’m not a Catholic (not even close), but I am intrigued at the idea of a truly literary pope, and I hope I will get a chance to read some of his original writings soon. I’m particularly interested in a philosophical quote Tomcat sent, remarking that it could just as well have been written by a Marx or Sartre or Camus:

The man of today seems ever to be under threat from what he produces, that is to say from the result of the work of his hands and, even more so, of the work of his intellect and the tendencies of his will. All too soon, and often in an unforeseeable way, what this manifold activity of man yields is not only subjected to ‘alienation’, in the sense that it is simply taken away from the person who produces it, but rather it turns against man himself, at least in part, through the indirect consequences of its effects returning on himself. It is or can be directed against him. This seems to make up the main chapter of the drama of present-day human existence in its broadest and universal dimension. Man therefore lives increasingly in fear. He is afraid that what he produces — not all of it, of course, or even most of it, but part of it and precisely that part that contains a special share of his genius and initiative — can radically turn against himself; he is afraid that it can become the means and instrument for an unimaginable self-destruction, compared with which all the cataclysms and catastrophes of history known to us seem to fade away. This gives rise to a question: Why is it that the power given to man from the beginning by which he was to subdue the earth turns against himself, producing an understandable state of disquiet, of conscious or unconscious fear and of menace, which in various ways is being communicated to the whole of the present-day human family and is manifesting itself under various aspects?

It’s a good question, and I’d like to hear your answers.

8 Responses

  1. I don’t knowThe Catholic
    I don’t know

    The Catholic Church is a well-experienced specialist in fear.
    It would be interesting to read Juan Pablo II’s literary work. I knew that he was an actor but not that he wrote plays.

  2. Best Alienation Questioni. I
    Best Alienation Question

    i. I want to read what else that guy wrote! I’ll be reading and reflecting on that question.

    1. A simple answer to the question posted would be lack of organization, e.g., years back, American organized labor cut deals with organized crime to get muscle against the cops and what happened is history. Alienation is a topic unsuccessfully argued in my first novel because I contradicted myself in my conclusion of that essay.

    1.1. Now, my simple solution is no solution, only a truism, alienation’s part of the human condition which is less severe at other times than other.

    Organization might be a solution but if it is like the mafia’s, no ends is worth that means.

    1.2. [DISCLAIMER] I belonged to two unions, one I paid dues to Brooklyn from Texas. The other, I was a free rider.

  3. free ideas and not so free
    free ideas and not so free ones

    Given the cultural context (WWII) out of which the question seems to have arisen, the question seems as if it misses half the point.

    Karol was on the receiving end, the fearful end. The forces which caused him fear believed in ideas as well, but their ideas, because they were supported by physical force, were not subject to the fear he cites. Because they were in keeping with physical powers, their intellectual content inherited the sense of superiority and fearlessness with which the aggresors acted.

    Ideas provoke angry reactions because they are inherently unstable. When you read Joyce (just picked him because he’s my favorite), you realize that Leopold Bloom, although he’s harmless in himself, is representative of a freedom that would cause profound instability (only a bad thing depending upon your perspective) if applied on a grand scale. This popular aversion to freedom, even linguistically, plagued Joyce throughout his lifetime. How much worse would it have been for a political writer in 1930’s Poland?
    That most ideas tend towards freedom, and therefore instability, only furthers the spirit in which most ideas are created. Ideas that were free in their inception (think of the Founding Fathers) become entrenched and limiting when they become institutionalized (think the GOP). Anyhow, my point is that ideas do not inherently cause fear in the thinker, only those ideas that threaten the normal, everyday functioning of the world.

    Capitalism was once radical, but so many years later it is capitalism that menaces all the other ideas that have not yet been able to find solid ground among mainstream society.

    If at some point society as a whole could accept an ethos in which ideas were meant and expected to be unlasting and contradictory, (where Joyce would be a best seller) then ideas might become free, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

  4. I don’t know if I know anyone
    I don’t know if I know anyone who was more free than Karol Wojtyla. His life was a testament to the proposition that having physical power does not make you free in the truest sense of the word “free.” His message to the world was “be not afraid.” He was not a fearful man, and he saw that weaponry did not make people less fearful or more free — Yuri Andropov was afraid of him (with good reason in retrospect). In 1979, he arrived in a Poland still under communism and said, “Be not afraid!” Along with George Orwell, he believed that freedom is inextricably linked to truth.

  5. I guess this touches on a
    I guess this touches on a really basic question, which is the relationship of freedom to any type of restrictive social or interpersonal structure (a government, an organized religion). To those who believe deeply in these structures, freedom can best be found within, because the bounds of these structures are not confining but liberating. To those who don’t relate to these structures, of course they seem confining.

    I can respect the idea that a wise or humane Pope could be existing at a higher level of freedom than a person who considers himself a “freethinker” but is instead bound by the particulars of his existence just as much as he would be by church doctrine.

    I understand the strong negative connotations the Catholic church has for many as well, due to its rulings on issues like birth control, and due to the disappointing evidence of its history.

    I guess I’m in the camp that naturally does *not* relate to anybody who holds the office of Pope — but I do agree with Tomcat that this particular Pope seems to be cut from a rare mold and needs to be considered on his own terms.

  6. light of dayi think the light
    light of day

    i think the light of day blazing and burning into one’s heart is the only way to overcome this question, the ability to respond is the method. how do i respond to my choices? can i muster the guts to seek and see truth? the work involved displaces all else, all material desire,all selfish desire, even with the obvious hypocracy of the church if one goes back to the source material and studies, one will see universal truths that are behind all the words, it is a sad truth that corruption of the ideals is part of the cycle of life, part of who i am struggles to keep on the path. thanks for the insight into the man.

  7. I didn’t mean to be a
    I didn’t mean to be a pope-basher or denigrate John Paul as a pope or a person. I’ll fully admit that by believing in an ideal and dedicating yourself to that ideal any one individual is capable of doing and achieving great things with an impressive clarity of thought. Milton’s Paradise Lost is hardly my favorite piece of writing, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything more impressive and overwhelming. When one has an absolute vision, one’s capable of amazing achievements in that direction, and John Paul was that sort of thinker.

    My issue with that sort of thinking is that any thought one has, no matter how expansive, is always anchored to a central foundation from which no thought can escape, and I find that problematic. There’s always going to be a basic lapse in understanding between two people, and therefore when John Paul reached out to a global community, it was always essentially upon his own terms. For some, that may be fine, that may be the beauty: that two people or groups with fundamentally different beliefs can agree on the benefits of mutual harmony despite their differences.

    Yet so long as the peace is carried out in the name of God or country or race or any other abstraction (depending upon your perspective), the individual is always secondary to a larger force and dependent upon something more than himself. When the intellectual foundation becomes the universal human mind rather than an abstraction, then ideas are freed to move in any direction that the individual is capable of, and one can sympathize universally with people on their ground, rather than sympathizing with them in the assurance of one’s own truth.
    Maybe it doesn’t really matter so long as you’re doing good, but I find John Paul’s sympathy far less intellectually satisfying.

  8. churchI was educated into

    I was educated into that persuasion, but I’m not very connected with it. Surely, World War II gave Juan Pablo II a special sensibility as a great thinker. But, sorry, he gradually gave it up in favour of the Catholic Church which, for me, is a very closed institution. I have to say that I never personally suffered, as a child, its narrow margins of thoughts, as many of my friends did, but I have just remembered that a priest wanted me out of his school because I was not entered in his margins as a “normal” kid.

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