Journal article Open Access

Bizarna, pokrętna encyklopedia? "Nowe Ateny" Benedykta Chmielowskiego w "Księgach Jakubowych" Olgi Tokarczuk

Krzysztof Brenskott

Bizarre and devious encyclopedia. New Athens in “The Books of Jacob”

The aim of this paper is to examine intertextual relations between Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob and New Athens by Benedykt Chmielowski which are interesting due to the ongoing debate about (un)encyclopedic and (un)scientific nature of „the oldest polish encyclopedia”. Both the author of New Athens and the book itself are used by Polish Nobel Laureate as symbols of the soon-to-be gone pre-Enlightenment era, and they are contrasted with the work of Johann Heinrich Zeler or Denis Diderot. It is worth noting that this particular image of New Athens is determined by edition used by Tokarczuk. Author of Flights was familiar with and influenced by the famous edition of New Athens made by Maria and Jan Józef Lipscy. Interferences in the structure of the original text, highly subjective and tendencious selection of included material and addition of satirical images by Szymon Kobyliński shaped perception of New Athens as curious and bizarre work, alien to ideals of 18th century encyclopedists. This edition perpetuated the „black legend” of the so-called „first polish encyclopedia”. Polish Nobel Prize laureate – by using this particular edition – unwillingly and unknowingly took part in a centuries long debate about the work of Chmielowski. This entanglement leads to interesting problems and asks serious questions: how choice of sources can influence one’s perception of text? How different would be usage of this encyclopedia and its role in the novel if Tokarczuk would not be familiar with Lipscy edition? In this paper the author compares three different New Athens: the original ones, written by Benedykt Chmielowski, famous edition made by Józef and Maria Lipscy and fictional New Athens described in The Books of Jacob.

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