Positivism was a literary period in Poland that lasted approximately from c.1863 until 1890. The term Positivism comes from the title of a philosophical treatise by the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857), Cours de philosphie positive (1830-42). Comte claimed that the only verifiable means of "knowing" the world was through science.
Other important influences were Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), the utilitarians. They held the opinion that if nature evolves progressively, then those same laws which govern nature can be detected in society. The utilitarians, therefore, believed more in slow evolutionary change and organic growth than in violent revolution. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution (The Origin of the Species through Natural Selection, 1859) was also instrumental in the creation of these systems.
Other important influences: Hipolit Taine (French philosopher and historian); Henry Thomas Buckle (English sociologist and historian); Buchner, Vogt, Moleschott (German philosophers).
The collapse of the January Uprising (1863) led to the questioning of the Romantic value system:
--suffering, sacrifice for a cause (Messianism)
--moral victory as success abroad (martyrology)
--authority of the writer in three sectors (subversion)
As a result of this questioning, a new attitude (rather than philosophical school) has been dubbed POSITIVISM. This "Positive approach" (Źwiatopogląd pozytywistyczny) was composed of a number of elements:
focus on sciences (scjentyzm) dependence, confidence in science and research, recognising only the direct results of scientific research as valid. This replaced fantasy and speculation with fact. Metaphysical reflection was dismissed, and so were Romantic longings and imagination.
evolutionism (ewolucjonizm) interdependence of man, society, the world, and the developments towards a higher state of existence: progress. Culture is a symptom of progress/evolution. Technical, social, and personal development go hand in hand with progress. It was believed that life can be enriched by evolution and stability, NOT revolution.
utilitarianism (utylitaryzm) relationship of individual to the mass; his/her behaviour should develop in accordance with society's order in mind. Man's morality is measured by his/her personal contribution to society, its wealth + culture. All human beings have their place in society and their abilities to contribute.
Fundamental changes and social consequences which occurred in Polish society:
--dispossession of gentry "szlachta" and rise of "inteligencja"
--lack of support of the peasantry in the January Uprising led to class antagonisms (encouraged by the authorities), hence
Nation (naród) versus Society (społeczeństwo)
Many periodical publications, polemisizing with each other:
"Old Press" (stara prasa) The Catholic Review (Przegląd katolicki )
women's magazines: Bluszcz, Tygodnik mód i powieści
lierary magazines: Biblioteka Warszawska, Klosy
the most important: Tygodnik ilustrowany (1859-1886)
editor-in-chief: Ludwik Jenike
"Young Press" (młoda prasa) Przegląd tygodniowy (the most radical weekly of the Positivists)
editor-in-chief: Adam Wiślicki
Niwa, Opiekun domowy
Truth (Prawda , after 1881, the main weekly of the Positivists),
editor-in-chief: Aleksander Świętochowski
The main Positivist manifestos:
1. "Groch o ścianę" (1867-1868) by Adam Wiślicki.
Zakazywał pisania wierszy do "róży, słowików, brzeziny, fal promieniejących, promieni."
2. "My i wy" (1871) by Aleksander Świętochowski. In his answer to "stara prasa," he wrote:
"Pragniemy pracy i nauki w społeczeństwie. Lekceważymy wszystko to, cokolwiek zaraża niezdrowiem i martwotą."
3. "Plec społeczna i literacka" (1871) by A. Świętochowski
4. "Praca u podstaw" (1873) by L. Mikulski and A. Świętochowski
Most of the Pozytywiści were educated in Szkoła Główna (1862-69) in Warsaw. The list of its graduates includes: Świętochowski, Sienkiewicz, Chmielowski, Prus, Ochorowicz, Dygasiński, and also anti-positivist critic Gomulicki.
The variety of influences on pozytywiści and major ideologies of the period are:
Post-Romantic ideology - emphasis on spiritual values; main target is very abstract: soul/spirit of nation; solution: proud insurrection, no compromise, martyrdom, leading to liberation; refusal to accept PRESENT as anything more than a nightmare, a test
Traditionalism - emphasis on Catholic values, former greatness in Rzeczpospolita, the traditions of the aristocracy, "Polak to katolik," since all is divinely ordained then loyalty to hierarchies until conflict between 3 partitioners leads to independence, "Triple Loyalism;" acceptance of status quo, realism
Positivism - emphasis on material values, empirical truths resulting from conviction of sciences, Darwinism; emphasis on education and all classes to "work organically", improvement of conditions of peasantry and working class; solution: objectivity, deductive analysis, utilitarianism, productivism, praxis.
The stress on the above subsides after 1880.
Socialism(s) - emphasis on historical inevitability, faith in human nature--removal of chains that bind, liberation of mankind; target: working class and peasantry -- collective harmony; solution: revolution.
In the Prussian partition, Karol Libelt and August Cieszkowski first put forward the idea of the Positivist organ in a journalistic work and along with others put together the "Bazar poznański" which discussed the necessary types of educational development to improve society. One of the key terms of the movement was "work at the foundation" ("praca u podstaw"). It was concerned with the lower levels of society and it assumed that the only section of society that needed improvement was the poorest. The centre for this program was Pozna. Another important term was "organic work" ("praca organiczna"). This program was developed mostly in Lviv and Kraków. The group of positivists in Kraków was associated with the magazine Time (Czas, editor-in-chief: Szujski) and was known as Stańczycy.
At the end of the nineteenth century there are three co-existing literary movements: realism, naturalism and symbolism.
Selected Bibliography in English
Milosz, Czeslaw. "Positivism". The History of Polish Literature (Univ. of California Press, 1983): 281-321.
Krzyzanowski, Julian. "Positivism". A History of Polish Literature. Trans. by Doris Ronowicz. (Warszawa: PWN, 1978). 354-450. (sic!)
Kulczycka-Saloni, Janina. Pozytywizm. (Warszawa, 1971).
Markiewicz, Henryk. Pozytywizm (Warszawa, 1980).
. Literatura pozytywizmu. (Warszawa, 1986).
Borkowska, Grażyna. Pozytywiści i inni. (Warszawa, 1996).