Sunday, May 24, 2009

#2 - Let's get out of this country

Surrounded by natural and cultural riches, a father and son dream of a better abroad. In another country we'd be happy! In sending up the stereotypical Polish habit of denigrating Poland, Raczkowski also mocks the common human tendency to overlook the treasures under one's nose in favor of an imaginary better life far away.

The deer with his front hoof on a stump is a Raczkowski trope that usually appears in a painting on a wall in the background of a cartoon. It is a reference to a Polish cliché that a painting of a deer is symbolic shorthand for kitsch or mediocre art. The mushrooms refer to the popularity of mushrooms in Polish cuisine and culture - mushroom gathering season is practically a national event, and there's a scene of mushroom gathering in the Polish national epic Pan Tadeusz.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

#1 - Heraclitus's Policemen

COP: Sir, we saw you step into the same river twice.
MAN: What, you can't do that?

This was one of the first Raczkowski cartoons I ever saw and I still think it's one of his best. I cut it out of the magazine it appeared in (Polityka) and kept it for a long time...might still have it somewhere.

A Polish friend told me that the man's belongings, especially the pattern on his blanket, mark him as a regular guy from 1980s Poland, an "average Joe" unaware of and unconcerned with the ins and outs of politics unless they directly trouble him. The cops are in the uniform of the Polish police or
milicja. So one level of the joke is a satire of the ludicrously irrelevant complexity of Polish bureaucracy, in which laws based on noble ideas translate into absurdity when applied to real life situations.

On another level it is a joke on lofty philosophical thinking and pseudodeep thought. "You cannot step into the same river twice" - Well, actually, yes I can. It's not difficult. And you want to arrest me for it? What's being mocked is the mind that wants to set up abstract ideals and then use the threat of violence to make average people conform to them - Communism in a nutshell.

It also reminds me of something that happened in Łódź back in the 90s. An American sculptor had installed one of his works in a public park in the city. The piece looked like a pile of scrap steel bars. Some local men, unemployed and short of money, saw the pile and, assuming it was abandoned junk, stole it and sold it for its value as scrap metal. The sculptor sued them...I never found out how the case was resolved but I hope the men were exonerated. They are Raczkowskian heroes.

Incidentally, Heraclitus's actual statement is somewhat different from what is usually attributed to him. One version is this:

ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμϐαίνουσιν, ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ.
Potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin, hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei
On those stepping into rivers the same, other and other waters flow.

Wikipedia for more detail. I'll be down at the beach with my lunch and a thermos of tea.

#0 - Marek Raczkowski

Marek Raczkowski is a Polish cartoonist whose work I first came across in the pages of Polityka when I was living in Poland in the early '00s.

At first it was his appealing, goofily childlike drawing style that caught my eye. As my command of Polish improved I discovered that his jokes were of a rare order. He regularly and with subtle skill poked fun at features of contemporary Polish political and cultural life in such a way that his barbs would almost always carry a sting for men and women of any nation. I didn't always need to understand the reference to Politician X-ski or Actress Y-ówna to get the joke, because I knew people from my own culture - sometimes myself - who acted or thought in the way Raczkowski was mocking.

It became clear to me that Raczkowski was a great wit and deserved a wider, international audience. This blog is my attempt to create that audience for his work.

I will translate his cartoons as best as I am able. My Polish is not perfect and I no longer live in Poland, so I welcome corrections and explanations of references that I miss.

This site has not been approved of by Mr Raczkowski.