Epistemic Responsibility and Literary Journalism in Modern Poland

Kinga Maciejewska, University of Chicago

My paper introduces a new framework for a better understanding of literary journalism in modern Poland, its role and function in Polish literature, and most importantly, the social significance of the ethical component expressed through this type of writing.

I propose using an anthropological theoretical framework together with the concept of epistemic responsibility. In order to do that, I am going to analyze books by Ryszard Kapuscinski, such as The Emperor, Shadow of the Sun, The Emporium, and Lapidaria. I am also going to examine writing by younger literary journalism writers, such as O. Stanislawska, W. Jagielski, J. Hugo-Bader and W. Tochman. I have chosen this particular avenue of investigation because it evokes what I see as the fundamental issue in the debate over the stance and mission of today’s mass media, that is the ethical component of the story telling of factual events.

“A reporter is a translator of cultures” says Ryszard Kapuscinski. A literary journalist creates a process of connecting two cultures; he or she does it through bridging a cultural gap by constructing a set of meanings that participate in both cultures at the same time. The meaningful representation is done through detailed observations, respectful participation and insightful descriptions of the stories of routine life, of directing the focus on details of everyday existence, often by not endorsing the standard practices of journalism. Trivial stories of simple people speak to literary journalists much more strongly than the headline news about international scandals or illegal trade. At the same time, a literary journalist admits to a limited version of their truth. Nevertheless, he or she consciously challenges the status quo conventions, monolithical accounts of truth, the ruling representatives of social authority, and he or she does it precisely by acknowledging his or her intentionally deficient picture of reality.