Kolakowski, Leszek 1927–
Kolakowski, Leszek 1927–
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced Ko-wa-kow-ski; born October 23, 1927, in Radom, Poland; son of Jerzy (a publicist) and Lucyna (Pietrusiewicz) Kolakowski; married Tamara Dynenson (a psychiatrist), November 19, 1949; children: Agnes. Education: University of Lodz, M.A., 1950; University of Warsaw, Ph.D., 1953. Politics: Member of Polish United Workers' Party, 1945–66 (expelled, 1966).
ADDRESSES: Agent—Mohzbook Agency, Klosback St. 110, Zurich CH 8032, Switzerland.
CAREER: Writer, philosopher, journalist, and educator. University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland, 1950–68, started as assistant, professor of philosophy, 1964–68, head of history of modern philosophy section, 1959–68 (expelled from university for political reasons, March, 1968); McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, visiting professor of philosophy, 1968–69; University of California, Berkeley, visiting professor of philosophy, 1969–70; All Souls College, Oxford University, Oxford, England, senior research, 1970–95; University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, professor, 1981–94. Institute of Philosophy, Polish Academy of Sciences, research professor, 1956–68; Yale University, New Haven, CT, visiting professor. Fellow of the British Academy, 1983; fellow, Académie universelle des Cultures; foreign fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Taught at the Polish Party Institute of Social Sciences, 1952–54. Also writer of O co nas pytaja wielcy filozofowie (translated as "What Great Philosophers Ask Us About"), a collection of television lectures for Polish Television, 2004 and 2006.
MEMBER: International Institute of Philosophy, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (foreign member), Polish Academy of Science, Bayizische Academy der Künshe, British Academy, Academie Universelle des Cultures.
AWARDS, HONORS: Jarzykowski Foundation Award (New York, NY), 1969; German Booksellers Peace Prize, 1977; Erasmus Prize, 1980; Veillon Foundation European Prize for the Essay, 1980; MacArthur Award, 1982; Jefferson Award, 1986; University of Chicago Laing Award, 1990; Tocqueville Prize, 1994; John W. Kluge Prize from the Library of Congress for lifetime contribution to the humanities, 2003.
Szkice o filozofi katolickiej (collection of essays; title means "Sketches of Catholic Philosophy"), Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Warsaw, Poland), 1955.
Wyklady o filozofi sredniowiecznej (title means "Lectures on Medieval Philosophy"), Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Warsaw, Poland), 1956.
Swiatopoglad i zycie codzienne (collection of essays; title means "World-View and Everyday Life"), Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (Warsaw, Poland), 1957.
Jednostka i nieskonczonosc: Wolnosc i antynomie wolnosci w filozofi Spinozy (title means "The Individual and the Infinite: Freedom and the Antinomies of Freedom in Spinoza's Philosophy"), Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Warsaw, Poland), 1958.
Notatki o wspolczesnej kontrreformacji (collection of essays; title means "Notes on the Contemporary Counter-Reformation") Ksiazka i Wiedza, 1962.
13 bajek z krolestwa Lailonii dla duzych i malych (title means "Thirteen Fables from the Kingdom of Lailonia for Grownups and Children"), Czytelnik, 1963.
Klucz niebieski albo opowiesci budujace z historii swietej zebrane ku pouczeniu i przestrodze (title means "The Key to Heaven, or, Edifying Tales from Holy Scripture as a Lesson and Warning"), Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1964, translation by Salvator Attanasio published with Celina Wieniewska's translation of Rozmowy z diablem as The Key to Heaven [and] Conversations with the Devil, Grove (New York, NY), 1973.
Rozmowy z diablem (collection of essays), Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (Warsaw, Poland), 1965.
Swiadomosc religijna i wiez koscielna: Studia nad chrzescijanstwem bezwyznaniowym siedemnastego wieku (title means "Religious Consciousness and the Ties of the Church: Studies in the Non-Denominational Christianity of the Seventeenth Century"), Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Warsaw, Poland), 1965, reprinted, 1997.
Filozofia pozytywistyczna: Od Hume'a do Kola Wiedenskiego (title means "Positivist Philosophy: From Hume to the Vienna Circle"), Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Warsaw, Poland), 1966, translation by Norbert Guterman published as The Alienation of Reason: A History of Positivist Thought, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1968, published as Positivist Philosophy, Penguin (New York, NY), 1972.
Kultura i fetysze: Zbior rozpraw (collection of essays; title means "Culture and Fetishes"), Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Warsaw, Poland), 1967.
(Editor, with Stuart Hampshire) The Socialist Idea: A Reappraisal, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1974.
Glowne nurty marksizmu: powstanie, rozwoj, rozklad, Instytut Literacki (Paris, France), 1976.
Die Hauptstromungen des Marxismus: Entstehung, Entwicklung, Zerfall, Piper (Zurich, Switzerland), 1977.
Leben trotz Geschichte: Lesebuch, Piper (Munich, Germany), 1977.
L'esprit revolutionnaire, suivi de Marxisme, utopie et anti-utopie, Complexe (Brussels, Belgium), 1978.
Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth, and Dissolution, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1978, published as Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown, W.W. Norton & Company (New York, NY), 2005.
Czy diabel moze bypc zbawiony I 27 innych kazapn, Aneks (London, England), 1982, reprinted, 2006.
Elogio dell'incoerenza, Vita e pensiero (Milano, Italia), 1982.
Religion, If There Is No God—: On God, the Devil, Sin, and Other Worries of the So-Called Philosophy of Religion, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1982, St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN), 2001.
Bergson, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1985, St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN), 2001.
Chretiens sans eglise: la conscience religieuse et le lien confessionnel au XVIIe siecle, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1987.
Metaphysical Horror, B. Blackwell (New York, NY), 1988, revised edition, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2001.
Pochwala niekonsekwencji: pisma rozproszone z lat 1955–1968, Niezalezna Oficyna Wydawnicza (Warsaw, Poland), 1989.
The Presence of Myth, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1989.
Bajki rozne; Opowiepsci biblijne; Rozmowy z diablem, Iskry (Warsaw, Poland), 1990.
Modernity on Endless Trial, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1990.
God Owes Us Nothing: A Brief Remark on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1995.
Mini-wyklady o maxi-sprawach: jak o wladzy, o slawie, o rownopsci, o klamstwie, o tolerancji, o podrozach, o cnocie, o odpowiedzialnopsci zbiorowej, o kole fortuny, o wielkiej zdradzie i inne, Wydawn Znak (Krakow, Poland), 1997.
Freedom, Fame, Lying, and Betrayal: Essays on Everyday Life, Westview (Boulder, CO), 1999.
Moje sluszne poglady na wszystko, Znak (Krakow, Poland), 2000.
The Two Eyes of Spinoza & Other Essays on Philsophers, translated by Angieszka Kolakowska, edited by Zbigniew Janowski, St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN), 2004.
My Correct Views on Everything, edited by Zbigniew Janowski, St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN), 2005.
"Wygnanie z raju" (title means "Expulsion from Paradise"; scenario), first published in Dialog, Number 6, 1961; "System ksiedza Jensena albo wejscie i wyj-scie" (title means "Father Jensen's System, or Entrance and Exit"; two-act farce), first produced in Warsaw, 1962, but withdrawn after a short run; later broadcast in English by British Broadcasting Corp.; "Zerbrak i ladna dziewczyna" (three scenes; title means "The Beggar and the Pretty Girl"), first published in Dialog, Number 11, 1965, English translation by Nicholas Bethell published in TriQuarterly, Number 22, 1971.
(And author of introduction and notes) Filozofia XVII wieku: Francja, Holandia, Niemcy (title means "Seventeenth-Century Philosophy: France, Holland, Germany"), Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Warsaw, Poland), 1959.
(With Krzysztof Pomian) Filozofia Egzystencjalna (title means "Existential Philosophy"), Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Warsaw, Poland), 1965.
Also editor of Z dziejow polskiej mysli filozoficznej i spolecznej (title means "From the History of Polish Philosophical and Social Thought"), published 1956.
Der Mensch ohne Alternative: Von der Moeglichkeit und Unmoeglichkeit Marxist zu Sein (German translations by Wanda Bronska-Pampuch of eleven essays), Piper (Munich, Germany), 1960, revised edition, 1967.
Filozofski eseji (Serbo-Croation translations by Svetozar Nikolic of eight essays), Nolit, 1964.
Al ha-reshut ha-netunah: Mivhar masot (title means "On the Possibility of Choice"; Hebrew translations by Mordecai Dekel and others of twelve essays), Sifriyat Po'alim, 1964.
Traktat ueber die Sterblichkeit der Vernunft (German translations by Peter Lachmann of nine essays), Piper (Munich, Germany), 1967.
Toward a Marxist Humanism: Essays on the New Left Today (translations by Jane Zielonko Peel of eight essays), Grove (New York, NY), 1968, published in England as Marxism and Beyond: On Historical Understanding and Individual Responsibility, Pall Mall (London, England), 1969.
Gespraeche mit dem Teufel: Acht Diskurse ueber das Boese und zwei Stuecke (German translations by Janusz von Pilecki of "Conversations with the Devil," "Expulsion from Paradise," and "Father Jensen's System"), Piper (Munich, Germany), 1968.
English translations of another selection of writings were published as "A Leszek Kolakowski Reader," special (entire) issue of TriQuarterly, Number 22, fall, 1971.
Author of introductions to ten Polish editions of works of Spinoza, Bergson, Pascal, Erasmus, and other scholars, 1954–66, and translator of Spinoza's Correspondence and Early Writings into Polish. Contributor to Stownik filozofow (title means "Dictionary of Philosophers"), Pantswowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Warsaw, Poland), 1966.
Contributor to journals in Poland and other countries. Member of editorial board, Nowa Kultura (weekly newspaper), 1956–57; editor, Studia Filozoficzne (journal), 1957–59.
SIDELIGHTS: Polish writer and philosopher Leszek Kolakowski is a prolific author and thinker whose books include important works on religion, philosophy, and the ideas of Marxism. Educated informally in the Polish underground school system and by extensive individual reading during German occupation in World War II, Kolakowski studied philosophy at the University of Lodz and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Warsaw in 1953. He became an educator at the University of Warsaw, serving as philosophy department head and professor of philosophy from 1959 to 1968. There, he became known as a Marxist revisionist, critical of several basic tenets of Marxism. Instead, Kolakowski placed higher value on the moral responsibility of the individual. His unorthodox opinions led to his expulsion from the Communist Party and removal from his university position in 1968. His works were all but expunged from Polish intellectual life—for more than twenty years, no reference could be made to any of his work, noted a biographer on the Pegasos Web site. Kolakowski remained active with academic positions at other universities and with advocacy for Polish solidarity in the 1980s. He continued to write nonfiction, plays, and short stories, earning numerous awards for his work. Perhaps his greatest recognition came in 2003, when the Library of Congress awarded him the first Kluge Prize for lifetime contribution to the humanities, an honor accompanied by a million-dollar honorarium.
One of Kolakowski's most influential works is Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown, originally published in England as Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth, and Dissolution. "Written in exile from Poland, it was, and remains, the most lucid and comprehensive history of the origins, structure, and posthumous development of the system of thought that had the greatest impact on the twentieth century," commented a biographer on the United States Diplomatic Mission to Warsaw, Poland Web site. "With a thoroughness and lucidity unparalleled in any other single tome," wrote Francisca Goldsmith in the Library Journal, Kolakowski presents an in-depth examination of the origins, development, and major theorists of Marxism. Kolakowski approaches his dissection of Marxism chronologically, tracing its origins in Greek thought, Hegelian philosophy, and the socialism of the middle 1800s. He concedes Marx's originality, even brilliance in forming the concepts of Marxism, even while he "subjects them to withering analysis," noted Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor.
A National Review critic called Main Currents of Marxism a "thoroughgoing and profound demolition" of Marxist thought and practice. "In its nimble mastery of intellectual history and generous humanity, the book has no equal," commented Roger Kimball in the New Criterion. "Kolakowski's survey of Marxist thought is breathtaking in its sweep—from the Bible and the Greeks through the web of nineteenth-century socialist thought and the florid dissemination of Marxist and quasi-Marxist ideas in the 'new-age' redoubts of the twentieth century, Kolakowski has provided the definitive account of a spiritual-political itinerary gone terribly wrong."
Kolakowski once told CA that he speaks, reads, and writes ("badly") in French, English, and German. He also is able to read Russian, Dutch, and Latin.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Libraries, December, 2003, "Polish Philosopher Awarded LC's First Kluge Prize," p. 28.
Booklist, August, 2005, Gilbert Taylor, review of Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown, p. 1973.
Library Journal, July 1, 2005, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Main Currents of Marxism, p. 84.
National Review, December 8, 2003, "High on the Honor Roll of Those Who Helped Bring Down the Soviet Union Is the Name of Leszek Kolakowski," p. 14.
New Criterion, June, 2005, Roger Kimball, "Leszek Kolakowski & the Anatomy of Totalitarianism," review of Main Currents of Marxism, p. 4.
Center for the Study of Complex Systems Web site, http://www.cscs.umich.edu/ (March 25, 2006), biography of Leszek Kolakowski.
Pegasos, http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ (March 25, 2006), biography of Leszek Kolakowski.