Janusz Palikot, the enfant terrible of Polish politics allegedly wished his fellow countrymen for Christmas and New Year less of the Virgin Mary and more sex. Some Catholic bishops are outraged but Magdalena Środa finds their reaction at odds with other church dignitaries who have recently bemoaned the fact that the Polish nation is on the verge of becoming extinct due to a decreasing birth rate. Nevertheless, she also prefers the Virgin Mary to sex: She is an extraordinarily important figure. For the Virgin Mary saves contemporary culture from accusations of being radically patriarchal and chauvinistic. Furthermore, she has been an authority for generations of mothers, feminists and present-day singles. Looking at the Bible, the Virgin Mary is virtually the only character that helps us retain the faith that women are any use at all. While all the patriarchs, saints as well as ordinary citizens of Judea came to this world only thanks to the fertility of their male progenitors (Solomon begat Rehoboam, Eliakim begat Jeconiah, Jacob begat Joseph etc.) rather than due to pregnancy, labour, their own mothers, or sex, the birth of Jesus was a radical turning point in this order of things, putting the spotlight on at least one woman, Mary. Her marital life with Joseph comes straight from a Polish family education textbook, i.e. we have a wife and a husband, both beyond suspicion of any sexuality, and a child that originates from a stork, an angel, etc. Joseph disappears fairly soon and Jesus also leaves home to build the foundations of a large corporation, while what awaits Mary is the lot of a woman whose only contribution was to have given birth to a child and who doesn’t claim credit for anything that followed later. Thus the Virgin Mary reflects the lot of many women. She is just like them — caring, selfless, quiet, naïve, humble, submissive and asexual. Could sex conceivably make her happy? I have to admit that, while I certainly don’t wish to share Mary’s fate, I think sex is greatly overestimated, albeit for rather different reasons than those cited by the bishops. Too much importance is attached to sex in present-day world, Magdalena Środa explains, and people talk and write about it too much, which leads to unnecessary stress. That is why in this situation: “more sex” is no guarantee of individual and social happiness while “more Mary” might prove a useful motto, in that it illustrates women’s selflessness, their absence from public life, imposed “cultural asexuality” and discrimination. Generally, the concept of “the Virgin Mary” could do with a proper gender and feminist analysis. It might help our bishops to understand the dilemmas faced by women and contemporary families, the state of our nation and the crisis of the Church. And it might help Palikot to understand that sex will not necessarily redeem the world, particularly one that is brim full of sexists.
In his Czesław Miłosz biography literary critic Andrzej Franaszek reveals that the Nobel laureate’s work includes an unfinished science fiction novel, Góry Parnasu (The Hills of Parnassus). Fascinated by this information, literary critic and left-wing political commentator Sławomir Sierakowski set out to discover what the novel was about and why the author had never published it. In the introduction Miłosz explains why, on the one hand, he did not intend to publish it, while recommending it to the readers on the other, addressing them in the first sentence: “To the attention of readers interested in future chapters of a science fiction I recommend the novel I won’t write. Why will I not write it? Because I don’t feel like it. And why don’t I feel like it? That’s a serious question. Because the outcome would be 1) artistically dubious and 2) immoral.” The reason Miłosz regarded such an attempt as artistically dubious was because in the 20th century ways of alienating the novel have proliferated, thereby wearing out the genre and rendering it incapable of capturing reality. The need to invent new civilizations is a chance to return to an old-worldly description of reality, yet the growing pressure of modern demands prevents us from making effective use of these possibilities in well-written dialogues and characterization. Miłosz believed he wasn’t up to “solving this puzzle”; later he also felt bad about trying to base it on stories of two women from his own life. Explaining his second reason the author says the goal of literature must not be to frighten people. Of course, no truth is harmful but an exclusively black truth can be helpful only if by frightening and depressing it stimulates a more full-bloodied life. And this is a task I don’t feel up to. Sierakowski summarizes the novel’s key ideas and plotlines, concluding: It is a world we experience every day. Some live on the Parnassus. Others starve on earth. However, a growing number of people are overwhelmed not by hunger but by a lack of sense, even though Parnassus may seem to be within reach. They always have the choice: either to struggle to climb to the apex of their career or to believe that life can have other goals than reaching the Parnassus. Are they left with much more than outrage? The faith in a world without God is possible. It is the faith in something that is not but that can happen. Something more than “senseless materialism” and “senseless brutality”. Miłosz’s novel tells us that the only way we can create something for other people is by joining them on the losing side while, on the other hand, the only way we can secure a personal victory is by helping to perpetuate power and the existing order. The novel ends with the words: “If all of our human race had a choice between losing and winning the way it has won, I believe the victory wasn’t worth winning.”