The Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University extends its warmest wishes and heartfelt greetings to George G. Grabowicz on the occasion of his 75th birthday.
Throughout his extensive academic career, Grabowicz has profoundly influenced the development and advancement of Ukrainian studies at Harvard University and the institutional success of HURI. In his work as Dmytro Čyževs’kyj Professor of Ukrainian Literature (since 1983) and Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures (1983-1988), Grabowicz gave the study of Ukrainian literature a seat at the table. While publishing regularly on a plethora of historical topics and individual writers from Ukrainian literature, he deepened the Ukrainian vein in Harvard’s humanities through courses on Ukrainian literature, comparative literature, and comparative Slavic literature.
As a professor, he has mentored, educated, and shaped the next generation of professionals and academics specializing in Ukrainian subject matter. A dynamic presence in the classroom, Grabowicz not only relays his knowledge, but engages his students in rigorous discussion and debate. A broader audience has enjoyed his many talks at our Seminar in Ukrainian Studies, the Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute, and beyond. With a contagious passion, he brings Ukrainian literature and literary figures to life in a way that invites deeper thinking.
Perhaps his most notable work as a literary scholar is on the Ukrainian poet and writer Taras Shevchenko. By applying Western literary theory to Shevchenko's works and analyzing his work as an academic literary critic, Grabowicz secured Shevchenko’s place among other literary “greats” worthy of serious analysis. He examined Shevchenko as a national poet, using archetypes to explain how the poet’s power as a national hero resonates in the heart of every Ukrainian. Among numerous published works, his The Poet as Mythmaker: A Study of Symbolic Meaning in Taras Ševčenko (Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies, 1982) has forever shifted how Shevchenko and his works are studied in academic circles.
Not of lesser importance is his interest in literary history, the impetus for his book Toward a History of Ukrainian Literature, a critique of Dmytro Čyževs’kyj’s History of Ukrainian Literature, that began as a book review but became a blueprint for thoroughly examining Ukrainian literature. Seeking to liberate Ukrainian literature from the clutches of socialist realist concepts, Grabowicz fostered a general rethinking of Ukrainian literature that opened it to much broader and more diverse analysis.
As HURI’s director from 1989 to 1996, Grabowicz led the Institute in reaching out to Ukrainian scholars following the country’s independence in 1991. Along with a number of other scholars, he founded the International Association of Ukrainian Studies, serving as its first president, with the aim of putting Ukrainian studies on the world stage. Grabowicz was a seminal figure in building bridges between Ukrainian academia abroad and the academia in Ukraine, unravelling the thick curtain that had separated scholarly thought as much as politics. He was the first scholar from outside of Ukraine to be interviewed for the Literaturna Ukraina journal and he brought Ukrainian scholars, including Solomiia Pavlychko, Oksana Zabuzhko, and Iaroslav Isaievych, to the United States in an effort to shape Ukrainian studies both at home and abroad. With a strong drive to reform institutions, he took the initiative to create new ones when societal barriers did not allow him to effect the change he sought.
It was for this reason that he founded the intellectual magazine Krytyka, modeled on the New York Review of Books, which has substantially influenced Ukrainian intellectual thought and debate on issues of culture and politics. Holding these activities to the highest standards, Krytyka provides a platform for a respectful debate among representatives of opposing positions and brings to the forefront topics that may challenge mainstream views. In his role as the editor-in-chief of Krytyka and through his own incisive writings, Grabowicz has challenged the status quo in Ukrainian literary thought. Krytyka, in its own celebration of the scholar’s 75th birthday, notes that he “continues to play an extraordinary role as one of the most active defenders of academic integrity and of high professional standards in Ukrainian studies and, generally, in Ukrainian humanities.” The ripples of his insights and activities are no less felt back here at Harvard, and HURI is all the better for it.
Happy Birthday, George! We wish you many more productive and inspiring years.
Below, we include the text of Grabowicz's biographical sketch, published in his festschrift in 2014 (HUS vol. 32-33, ЖНИВА: Essays Presented in Honor of George G. Grabowicz on His Seventieth Birthday). The article, of course, does not include accomplishments and updates from the past five years. Numbered references to Grabowicz's writings can be found in the bibliography printed in the same HUS volume, available in PDF here.
George G. Grabowicz: A Biographical Sketch
George Gregory Grabowicz was born in Kraków on 12 October 1943. According to family history his parents then lived on Bernardyńska Street, right next to Wawel Castle (a grand location, but with no evident impact on later events). Grabowicz’s earliest memories are not from Kraków, however, but from a displaced persons’ (DP) camp in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, where the family arrived in the summer of 1945, and which he still remembers fondly. Memories from school, which he attended in Munich (Führichschule in Ramersdorf, a suburb of Munich, ca. 1950–early 1952), are less fond, but he does remember his first cultural dissimulation. The class was taken a tour of the old school building and in the attic discovered some offices. On the door of one of them a sign in Cyrillic which no one could read, but Grabowicz could (it said something like Redaktsiia or Khors). He kept it to himself, however.
The family arrived in the United States in April 1952. First memories include chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick (loved it) and the drive up the Merritt Parkway to New Haven, where they settled. His father enrolled him in Sacred Heart Catholic School (a longish walk, even though the Harry Truman public school was just on the next block) because they agreed to accept him into the fourth grade (gambled on his learning to read English in time). He in fact learned English rather quickly: by the end of the year he had read all the books in the grade homeroom library (a three-shelf bookcase: mostly Walter Farley’s Black Stallion novels, Catholic knockoffs of Tom Brown’s School Days and—more to his liking—Kenneth Roberts’ historical novels Arundel, Rabble in Arms, and the like).
High school, Notre Dame in West Haven, Connecticut, taught by the Christian Brothers (Jesuits lite, as Grabowicz calls them) was somewhat better, but the general ethos more traditionally Catholic than intellectual. He quickly learned how to get good grades without exerting himself too much. Strongest memory—encountering T. S. Eliot. By this time he was doing a lot of stochastic reading, mainly science fiction and anything that was placed on the Index (beginning with Lady Chatterley’s Lover)—not getting it all, but devouring many shelves of books in the New Haven Public Library. A growing sense of oppression from Catholic education and mandatory “retreats” culminated in a final scare when high school principal Brother Pacificus asked him: “But, George, you haven’t applied to any Catholic colleges.” (Finessed that with something about scholarships and which schools could afford to give them.)
The Ukrainian, still very much émigré setting—only vaguely perceived then—was more anti-intellectual than high school—though it did introduce some variety (greater range of eccentrics in the youth organization Plast, for example, than in high school, but still all too uniform). By end of senior year in high school he was aching to leave it all behind.
By his own account Grabowicz begins his intellectual biography proper with Yale College, which he entered in 1961 with a scholarship occasionally given to New Haven residents deemed worthy and needy. His study plans regarding a major were vague (he had, as he remembers, even mentioned “engineering” or “chemical engineering” in his college application—although he knew so little about them that he had no idea whether he actually liked either). By the end of his first year, echoing what he thought were family expectations, he hit upon the idea of a major in “pre-med,” which, as everyone knew, inevitably led to a prestigious and lucrative career. With commendable perspicacity, however, he hedged it with a concentration in English literature, something that he did actually like, especially the poetry. By the middle of his third year, with his grades in the required sciences close to failing or middling at best, and his grades in English and the humanities rather good, Grabowicz finally realized that he was not cut out for a pre-med major, let alone medical school, and with a dramatic gesture dropped it all. Meanwhile, his classes with such professors as Harold Bloom, Louis Marz, R. W. B. Lewis, Albert J. LaValley, and his work as an assistant for the Shakespeare and Pope scholar Maynard Mack, were becoming increasingly rewarding and his interest in them more focused. By this time, too, he was also taking courses in Russian language and literature and later even a graduate seminar in Polish literature with Victor Erlich.
Ukrainian as either language or literature was not offered at Yale then, but a curious event intervened in its stead. Sometime in his third year of college, Grabowicz was asked to participate in the community (hromada) Shevchenko celebration by giving a talk on the national poet at the annual commemoration (akademiia) in his name. In the usual order of things these presentations were expected to be short and laudatory, pro forma, most often précised from émigré authorities such as Pavlo Zaitsev, Volodymyr Radzykevych, Stepan Smal´-Stots´kyi, or Vasyl´ Lev. Grabowicz, however, approached it as Yale College term paper and proceeded to do considerable research on the subject in Sterling Library, becoming acquainted not only with the Soviet ideological position, but also with dissenting views within that frame, such as the 1958 article on Shevchenko and romanticism by Mykhailyna Kotsiubyns´ka. The paper he delivered was longer than the organizers had bargained for (and his departure from tradition and obscure terminology did not sit well with some) but the foray into Ukrainian literature—treated not as a community but as a scholarly project—was to leave a lasting imprint on him.
By his senior year in college Grabowicz knew that he wanted to go on to do graduate work in comparative literature, although the content was still tentative for him. He applied and was accepted to graduate programs in this field at both Yale and Harvard, but since Yale gave a more generous stipend, in late spring 1965, just before graduation, he chose to continue his studies at his alma mater. Something intervened, however. In his junior year, Maynard Mack had once taken him out to lunch at the Yale club Mory’s and in the course of it offered advice: whatever you do, the advice went, try to get a scholarship or grant and go abroad—do not go straight from college to graduate school, you’ll miss an opportunity that will never repeat itself. Grabowicz, in fact, had already missed some deadlines for the prestigious fellowships to Oxford or Cambridge (indeed he may not have been competitive enough for them), but he did apply for a Fulbright fellowship—and to Poland at that. His proposal was somewhat conventional, so he thinks today, something comparative about Slavic romanticism focusing on Mickiewicz, Pushkin, and Shevchenko, but it seemed to persuade the review committee in Washington D.C., where he had a pleasant enough interview, and in early July, while working in a pizzeria on Cape Cod, he was informed by the Fulbright office that he had received the grant, and that in fact he had been assigned to the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, the city where he was born.
The year in Poland, from October 1965 to June 1966, was a watershed for Grabowicz. As much as Poland was still a Soviet bloc country then and as much as the Cold War was still in place (and the Vietnam War rapidly heating up), Poland was also a country and a society that provided innumerable contrasts to the America he had grown up in (the experiences before his family moved to the United States were only childhood memories and not a subject for reflection). Poland, perhaps paradoxically, provided a window into the past and aspects of one’s roots as well as exposure to distant relatives, both Ukrainian and Polish, but at the same time it presented a picture of a more cosmopolitan society. The academic setting was both more old-fashioned and curiously avant-garde—especially in a Kraków that stubbornly clung to its prewar and pre-Soviet existence and actively nourished a bohemian style. In literary studies the New Criticism that he had absorbed at Yale as something akin to a dogma was challenged here by an older but highly sophisticated and relevant historicism. This was a foretaste of the clash of methodologies that was to confront him some years later. Generally, a closer awareness of the academic and scholarly approaches that could be plumbed in Poland was developed only over time in the course of various subsequent trips there in the next two decades. But the sharpest impressions came from the first Fulbright stay in Kraków, with occasional visits to Warsaw, with various contacts and friendships that were formed then and had a clear impact on Grabowicz’s intellectual horizons.
From Krakow he again applied to graduate school at Yale and Harvard, but this time the offer from Harvard was the more promising, and in 1966 he began his studies there in the Department of Comparative Literature with a major in Polish literature and a minor in Russian and English. He did much of his work with Wiktor Weintraub, as well as taking courses with various professors, prominent among them Harry Levin and Roman Jakobson. He also came to work with Omeljan Pritsak, who offered him reading courses in Ukrainian literature—an ad hoc arrangement that had far-reaching consequences. While continuing his work in Polish and Russian (with English trailing behind) Grabowicz’s interest turned more intensely to Ukrainian literature—all the articles he wrote then focused exclusively on it. When a formal course in twentieth-century Ukrainian poetry was offered by the Slavic Department in 1972–1973, the official instructor in the course catalogue was Omeljan Pritsak, but the actual instructor was Grabowicz. The experience was electrifying for him and bore out the maxim that to truly learn a subject one must teach it.
Having passed his general exams, and with the support of Wiktor Weintraub, Harry Levin, and Omeljan Pritsak, Grabowicz was elected Junior Fellow in Harvard’s prestigious Society of Fellows (1971–1974). Of all his formative experiences, this was the most fundamental. The exposure to both the senior and the junior fellows, colleagues in various disciplines, some of the senior fellows Nobel Prize laureates, with different temperaments and approaches but united by scholarly achievement and promise, was instrumental for Grabowicz’s further development. The challenge of interacting with such a range of scholars, of holding one’s own and making one’s mark, was highly empowering.
During this time Grabowicz completed his translation of Roman Ingarden’s Das literarische Kunstwerk, for which he also wrote an introduction (1973), and completed most of his work for his PhD thesis. The approaches subsumed by these projects were quite different. Ingarden was pure theory, not just phenomenology and aesthetics, but ontology as such. As Grabowicz would later write, in the introduction to Ingarden’s text he had sought to engage not only with the philosophical context (especially its ontological core) but also with the historical context, especially Ingarden’s further critical influence and his interrelation with formalism (see no. 134 [in the bibliography], p. 8). In a sense, this already anticipated Grabowicz’s departure from pure theory.
Throughout the early 1970s Grabowicz was actively involved in the Seminar in Ukrainian Studies initiated by Omeljan Pritsak that had become a central facet in the work of Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI), formally inaugurated in 1973. What characterized the institute was its interdisciplinary approach to Ukrainian studies with a focus on philology and source studies and on the very way disciplines arise, function, and grapple with large cultural-historical constructs like nations, or here, specifically, Ukraine. In the academic world outside the institute this was the heyday of deconstruction, and for some the institute’s focus and agenda may have seemed a bit retro—but in fact they were anything but. Indeed, the academic culture of HURI at that time was one of committed, even inspired, revisionism. The driving force was, of course, Omeljan Pritsak, whose charismatic presence, clear sense of vision both for HURI and the larger field of Ukrainian studies, boundless intellectual curiosity (he always had time for new ideas and hypotheses), and not least of all a finely tuned sense of the politics of scholarship, of the essential role of the human factor, animated this project. Pritsak’s ability to attract scholars to the project of Ukrainian studies at Harvard, beginning with Ihor Ševčenko, Horace Lunt, Wiktor Weintraub, Richard Pipes, and Adam Ulam—who were the initial Standing Committee on Ukrainian Studies—and soon after Edward Keenan and Riccardo Picchio of Yale, created of the institute and its ongoing seminar a locus of intellectual discourse, revisionist analysis, and indeed deconstruction of the highest order. Its center of gravity was the medieval and early modern period, but the openness to other periods and large overarching issues was part of its mission and the impact this had on its participants was significant. For Grabowicz it was a determining influence.
In 1975 Grabowicz received his PhD and was appointed assistant professor in Harvard’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Along with teaching courses in Ukrainian, comparative Slavic, and comparative literature, he began to publish regularly on various aspects of Ukrainian literature, primarily on the historical but also focused on specific writers; for example, Pavlo Tychyna, his second favorite poet. The institute’s journal, Harvard Ukrainian Studies, which began to appear in 1977, became a major vehicle for him as it did for various other members and affiliates of the institute. Grabowicz, however, was also facing another, altogether typical issue: how to turn his dissertation into a book. In consultation with his mentor, Omlejan Pritsak, it was decided that since the dissertation had so thoroughly discussed the Polish and Russian literary visions of Ukraine, its history and myth, an analogous treatment of the Ukrainian side was also called for—proportionate to the works published and the intrinsic weight or attention they deserved. Thus another part, commensurate with the first was required: something on the order of another five hundred pages. Grabowicz prepared an elaborate outline of what needed to be done, but for the next five years the project simply languished—it had become too large. More to the point, his interest had shifted (and a close reading of the two culminating chapters of the dissertation on Gogol and Słowacki would have already revealed this to be the case).
That new interest and focus already signaled in the dissertation was with the symbolic, with what can be accessed through structural analysis and a psychoanalytic approach, and which promised a range of insights into any cultural frame or predicament, especially one as fraught as the Ukrainian. (Grabowicz’s discussions on structuralism and psychoanalysis with his wife Oksana who was then working in these fields, were highly productive in this regard.) What brought matters to a head in 1980, around the time that Grabowicz was promoted to associate professor, was that a book was called for (particularly if promotion to tenure was at issue) and that a sprawling tome long in the writing was not the answer. In fact, what had initially been intended as a chapter—precisely on Taras Shevchenko—became the natural alternative to the general historical overview by virtue of the centrality of the national poet and the symbolic cast of his poetry, and not least of all because Grabowicz’s work on this had already begun in the late 1970s (see no. 13, his 1980 article in George S. N. Luckyj’s Shevchenko and the Critics, 1861–1980). Three years later, a slim book The Poet as Mythmaker appeared—and it signaled, as many argued both then and later, a new departure in Shevchenko studies (cf. the foreword to this [HUS] volume). Its brevity and conciseness made the book accessible—or appeared to do so.
Discussions and polemics around The Poet as Mythmaker—many laudatory and many more distraught, suspicious, and offended by any nontraditional and nonhagiographic discourse with the bard—dominated the émigré reception of Shevchenko throughout the 1980s and in time were transferred and resumed with even greater intensity in Ukraine, after the Ukrainian translation of the book by Solomiia Pavlychko appeared there in 1991. For Grabowicz the decades of the 1980s and 1990s were in large measure marked by administrative duties. His promotion to tenure in 1983 was accompanied by his appointment as chairman of the Slavic Department (1983–1988—a vedmezha prysluha, if there ever was one, for his scholarly output, but empowering in other ways), and was later followed by his appointment as director of HURI, 1989–1996—by which time he had learned to dance to both tunes. His involvement with Ukraine on the eve of Independence only increased afterward. As HURI director Grabowicz used any opportunity to establish closer structural ties with scholarship in Ukraine, particularly in the humanities, and in the process effect long overdue reform there. One such effort—which he initiated at the very outset along with Omeljan Pritsak, Riccardo Picchio, Iaroslav Isaievych, Vitalii Rusanivs´kyi, and others—was to found the International Association of Ukrainian Studies (Mizhnarodna asotsiatsiia ukraïnistiv, МАU) in Ercolano, Italy, in 1989, and serve as its first full-term president, 1990–1993, culminating with the Second International Congress of MAU in Lviv in 1993. As time showed, the official response of the academic establishment in Ukraine to this initiative for expanding and developing Ukrainian studies in an international setting was tepid at best.
Throughout the entire period of Ukrainian independence, Grabowicz continued to address the question of the state of Ukrainian scholarship. A certain intensification occurred in the mid-1990s with the publication in Slavic Review of “Ukrainian Studies: Framing the Contexts” (1995) and with an interview that same year in the Paris journal Kultura on Ukrainian studies in Poland and Polish studies in Ukraine (nos. 77 and 79). As in the schoolbook example of Cato the Elder and his constant refrain about what Rome has to do about Carthage, the argument about the dismal state of the humanities in Ukraine, the apparent lack of any prospects of reform (amply confirmed over the course of two and a half decades) and, for all that, the urgent need to try to correct this state of affairs was finding its way into many of Grabowicz’s writings. A programmatic highpoint was his paper “Sovietization of the Humanities in Ukraine: Ideology and Cultural Style,” which he read as a keynote paper at an international conference “Wissenschaft und Macht” (15–17 May 1996) held at Halle, Germany, and devoted to the Sovietization of scholarship and the sciences. The proceedings of that conference have not been published (although they are promised for 2018, see http://www.staempfliverlag.com/detail/ISBN-9783050031736/Hrsg.-v.-Manfred-Heinemann/Wissenschaft-und-Macht#.VaUBqihkiV0) and only parts of that paper later appeared in English (no. 150), but a Ukrainian translation did appear soon thereafter in the first two issues of the journal Krytyka that Grabowicz proceeded to found in Kyiv in 1997 (no. 88). As much as anything, this detailed examination of not just the overall Soviet legacy, but specifically its Stalinist core, its totalitarian essence and cultural style, and its persistent, destructive presence in numerous Ukrainian academic institutions, above all the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences (still presided over—now as then—by Borys Paton) was a centerpiece both in Grabowicz’s engagement with the academic situation in Ukraine and in the priorities of the journal he headed. As it turned out, he was only one of a small handful of Western Ukrainianists who addressed the problem rigorously, consistently (one secretary once called it “relentlessly”) and without being seduced by blandishments from the Ukrainian Soviet/post-Soviet (in fact, still basically Soviet) establishment. To be sure, after his piece on the Stalinist cast of the Academy of Sciences Grabowicz was not about to be invited to become its honorary member. In fact, a few weeks after the first issue of Krytyka appeared in August 1997, the journal was evicted from the temporary office it had sublet (in reality it occupied only one desk) in the newly founded Institute of Ukrainian Archeography of the Academy of Sciences, notwithstanding the support that that entity, still a “commission” and not yet an institute, had received from HURI throughout the early 1990s under Grabowicz’s directorship.
Having cut his ties with the Ukrainian academic establishment, Grabowicz directed his considerable energy into the creation of an alternative intellectual locus—Krytyka. The history, various accomplishments and not a few setbacks of Krytyka constitute a separate topic, but merit a few reflections here. The essence of the journal’s history, brief though it may be, is that Krytyka has survived for eighteen years and in the process has become a complex project—not just an intellectual journal, but (1) a publishing house, which over the years has published almost one hundred and fifty titles; (2) a research institute, the Krytyka Institute, without physical premises but hardly illusory and capable of providing the scholarly infrastructure for serious international conferences and especially for several fundamental and ongoing academic publishing projects; and (3), most recently, an internet site, www.krytyka.com, that provides analytical articles, reviews, discussion, blogs, roundtables, etc., in both Ukrainian and English (and with German a possibility in the near future), and now hosts one online academic journal (Journal of Ukrainian Politics and Society) and which has an online readership of between ten and twenty thousand per week. All of these functions, by design, have been not for profit and have been sustained by tremendous volunteer effort by both Grabowicz and the dedicated cohort of younger scholars that he has drawn to his vision. In effect, the initial goal of having Krytyka become a platform, a beachhead for a future humanities-centered and normal Academy of Sciences has been partially met, and the proof lies in the projects and publications, both completed and ongoing, and in the international reputation of the enterprise. The setbacks, for their part, all come down to one: the gap between what was needed and what was actually accomplished and, concretely, the basic fact that from the beginning Krytyka, in all its forms, and for all its achievements and international plaudits was, from a financial point of view, always barely surviving. This inability to elicit an understanding of the importance of the enterprise—whether in Ukraine or among donors abroad—and to secure stable funding for Krytyka that would be commensurate with its task remains for Grabowicz his greatest disappointment.
Despite this, in the course of the last two decades, Grabowicz’s own scholarly agenda has been, as he puts it with characteristic modesty, not unsuccessful—to the extent at least of showing progress on several fronts. The most evident of these is his work on Shevchenko, the Ukrainian national poet. In the twenty-five years since the appearance of the Ukrainian translation of The Poet as Mythmaker (1990), he has continually returned to this topic. In 2000 he published Shevchenko, iakoho ne znaiemo (The Unknown Shevchenko) a collection of eight articles written for the most part in the 1990s, the one exception being the early article on the poem “Trizna” (no. 15), which appeared in 1980 and “triggered” the alarmed “community” response to Poet as Mythmaker by broaching—in a footnote, to be sure—the taboo topic of Shevchenko’s sexual identity. (The book and the article were somehow conflated in the public mind—made all the easier since neither was actually read.) A second edition of the collection appeared in 2014 to mark the Shevchenko bicentennial and was expanded by the inclusion of a longer 2012 article on “Shevchenko’s archetypes” (no. 168). For Grabowicz Shevchenko, iakoho ne znaiemo remains in various ways as important as his first book on the poet: while it is not as focused and rigorous, it engages a broader range of issues and problems relating to Shevchenko, all clustered around the twinned topics of symbolic autobiography and his (largely contemporary) reception.
In Ukraine the response to the book has been largely perfunctory, with only Yaroslav Hrytsak discussing Grabowicz’s notion of “symbolic autobiography” some years later at a presentation of Krytyka books at an annual Lviv forum; the presentation, however, did not appear in print. And since the book was written in Ukrainian it remained totally unread outside that context.
A separate thread of the Shevchenko topic in Grabowicz’s work is the issue of his reception. It already appears as a discussion of the present state of Shevchenko studies and of visual Shevchenkiana (from Soviet times to the present) in Shevchenko iakoho ne znaiemo, occupying somewhat more than a third of the book. But it also appears more directly in several articles published and several still unpublished or unfinished manuscripts written in the course of the last twenty-five years. While an early and preliminary statement of the issue was already voiced in Moscow in 1990 at a joint U.S.-Soviet symposium (no. 42), the central text for Grabowicz is his piece on Mykola Kostomarov’s reception of Shevchenko (no. 66), which appeared in the 1993 volume of HUS (published in 1996) and a year later also in Ukrainian (no. 86). Almost from the beginning, Grabowicz planned to expand this into a larger study on the reception of Shevchenko through the major critical voices in that discourse. To this end he wrote as prospective chapters and published as articles an examination of the reception of Shevchenko by Dmytro Dontsov (no. 130) and Ievhen Malaniuk (nos. 141 and 163). The more fundamental chapters on Panteleimon Kulish, Mykhailo Drahomanov, and Ivan Franko are still being worked on; the latter two have already been presented as papers.
The most recent installment of this ongoing project, the two-volume edition of Taras Shevchenko v krytytsi (Taras Shevchenko: The Critical Reception), of which vol. 1, on the contemporary reception (1839–1861), appeared in 2013 (no. 173), is also part of a separate though closely associated project among Grabowicz’s recent scholarly activities—his work on the Bicentennial Jubilee Project of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in the United States. To grasp its nuances, and some things about Grabowicz as well, one needs a brief excursus into his relations with that society, the Naukove Tovarystvo im. Shevchenka v Amerytsi (NTSh-А).
They go back, in fact, almost forty years. In 1978 the then head (president) of NTSh-A, Jaroslaw Padoch, invited Grabowicz to join the Society and to lead a revived Shevchenko Commission (Komisiia Shevchenkoznavstva). Grabowicz duly applied and was accepted in early 1979. Somewhat later he was asked by Padoch to head a now joint Shevchenko Commission representing NTSh-A, UVAN (Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the U.S.) and HURI, the main function of which would be to prepare annual Shevchenko conferences with the participation of these three institutions. (By this time Grabowicz was also a full member of UVAN.) Between 1981 and 1983 he indeed organized three such conferences. However, in 1983 the community “outrage” at Grabowicz’s supposed “desecration” of the bard (see, esp. n. 21, “Discussion”) was reaching a boil (assiduously stoked by several Banderite newspapers, see ibid), and after an egregious attack on him at a conference held by the Shevchenko Scientific Society of Canada, Grabowicz asked Padoch to take a stance—after all, not just a member of the society, but a scholar specifically tasked by NTSh-A to do its Shevchenko scholarship was being vilified (as degenerate, anti-Ukrainian, communist agent, etc.) by another (“fraternal”) Shevchenko Scientific Society, and a response (so Grabowicz thought) was called for. No such response was forthcoming, however, and he subsequently resigned from the Shevchenko Commission, which continued its work with different leadership.
For the next twenty years or so Grabowicz’s contacts with NTSh-A were somewhat distant, though not ruptured: he participated in the ninth annual Shevchenko conference in 1989 that for the first time had speakers from Soviet Ukraine (Ivan Dziuba, Ihor Rymaruk, and Mykola Zhulyns´kyi), and he gave the opening statement and read the first paper at the eleventh annual Shevchenko conference in 1991. And he had many other projects to work on, both in Kyiv and at Harvard. But in the early and mid-2000s, reflecting his ongoing work on Shevchenko, he started to be invited regularly to the annual Shevchenko conferences and his presence and contributions now seemed to elicit a broadly positive response; the hysteria of the past was apparently quite forgotten (vilification? what vilification?) and he was becoming the focal point of the society’s engagement with Shevchenko. In 2009 he was proposed for the post of vice president and learned secretary and duly elected. Within a few months after election he proposed a complex plan—principally including a number of publications, but also conferences, a book presentation, concert, and other events—that would celebrate and project to a wide audience the society’s patron for the Bicentennial of 2014. The breadth of the Shevchenko Jubilee Project that he initiated and then its successful implementation over the years served to make the case for Grabowicz’s election as president of NTSh-A in 2012 and then his reelection with a newer and more dynamic slate in 2015.
In short order, of course, it became evident to Grabowicz as well as to his close collaborators at the society that the issue at NTSh-A was not merely the bicentennial, or of reviving Shevchenko studies at the society that bears his name, but the much larger and fraught task of reviving and modernizing a scholarly body with much potential and with eminent traditions, but also many acute problems. It is a task requiring not only individual but also collective vision and will.
Grabowicz’s scholarly work on Shevchenko was, of course, highly stimulated by the bicentennial. The most important projects to emerge were the already noted two-volume edition of Taras Shevchenko v krytytsi (the second volume to appear in late 2015), of which he is general editor, and for which he wrote an extensive introduction for each volume (nos. 174 and 178); the monograph Shevchenkovi “Haidamaky”: Poema i krytyka (Shevchenko’s “Haidamaky”: The Poem and Its Critical Reception, 2013; no. 172), which was part of a three-volume set that also included a facsimile edition of the 1842 poem and Oles´ Fedoruk’s monograph Pershe vydannia Shevchenkovykh ‘Haidamakiv”: Istoriia knyzhky (The First Edition of Shevchenko’s “Haidamaky”: The Making of the Book); and his work as consultative curator for the Ukrainian Museum’s bilingual, English and Ukrainian exhibit and catalogue Taras Shevchenko: Poet, Artist, Icon (1814–1861) for which he also wrote the lengthy introduction (no. 176). Still to appear is his English-language study Taras Shevchenko: A Portrait in Four Sittings, to be published by HURI and distributed by Harvard University Press in 2016. [Note: This study is still forthcoming, publication date to be announced.]
Another major component of Grabowicz’s scholarly agenda, and one that is also enveloped in paradox and misconception, is that of literary history—specifically Ukrainian literary history, but also the attendant comparative and general issues and theoretical underpinnings. As his earliest articles make clear, a literary-historical focus was central to his approach, whether for the historiographic (see his piece on Iefremov, no. 7, and especially his book-length review of Chyzhevs´kyi’s canonic history, no. 9) or for the comparative frame (i.e., for Polish-Ukrainian, Russian-Ukrainian, and Jewish-Ukrainian literary relations, see nos. 14, 54, and 28), or for any specific Ukrainian literary phenomenon, be it the New York Group of poets of the 1950s and 1960s (no. 11), or the earlier, DP or “MUR” (Mystets´kyi ukrains´kyi rukh) period of the late 1940s (nos. 26 and 53), or the later stages of Ukrainian émigré literature (no. 25), or of the frame of Ukrainian modernism (no. 51). All of these studies build on a historical sensibility and on a sense of historiography as well. This was reaffirmed by the two editions of Grabowicz’s collections of articles Do istoriï ukraïns´koï literatury (Toward a History of Ukrainian Literature) of 1997 and 2003 (nos. 85 and 118).
However, precisely because he questioned, following Hans Robert Jauss, the possibility—and utility—of a putatively “comprehensive,” “complete,” and above all “authoritative” historical narrative (see the introduction to his Do istoriï ukraïns´koï literatury and various subsequent comments, interviews and polemics, e.g., nos. 111 and 114), the idea took shape, especially among the spurned traditionalists, that Grabowicz was adamantly opposed to literary history and the writing of literary history. This was exacerbated by Grabowicz’s remarks about the highly problematic and demonstrably counterproductive practice of teaching Ukrainian literature, precisely in the guise of literary history, in schools, rather than, say, discussing individual texts and how to read them. His summary recommendation not to teach literature in school, but to leave it for the university (after all, one doesn’t teach Schopenhauer in third grade; see, for example, no. 226) resulted, as could have been expected, in more outrage.
While Grabowicz does not regret his comments about not teaching literature in school; he does regret not publishing his book-length article on Jauss’s theory of the horizon of expectations and its applicability to Ukrainian literature in its historical struggle for survival vis-à-vis Russian literature separately and in English. Instead, he included it in his Do istoriï ukraïns´koï literatury—and effectively buried it. Predictably, its effect on the intended audience in Ukraine was nil.
It is therefore a fitting irony that Grabowicz is now editor of a collective and international effort (supported by a consortium of German, Austrian, and Swiss foundations and coordinated from the University of St. Gallen and involving European, North American, and Ukrainian authors) to write a new, state-of-the-art history of Ukrainian literature. The history would specifically be aimed not at the beginner but the advanced student of literature and the literary scholar and would be particularly attuned to the comparative and historiographic problems that Ukrainian literature so well illustrates. Preliminary publication date is early 2017.
Grabowicz is relieved that the bibliography of his writings in this volume does not include (as did Omeljan Pritsak’s in his first festschrift) a list of “unpublished manuscripts”; he would have found that dispiriting. But he would like to note some of them: a book of essays on “Nauka, anty-nauka i mistyfikaciji” (Scholarship, Anti-Scholarship, and Mystifications), initially promised for 2010 but displaced by the Shevchenko bicentennial; the already mentioned book on Shevchenko reception; a book on Tychyna (long in the planning, rich in notes, but still rather amorphous); and, not least of all, his PhD dissertation—which is all but done (and is a classic cautionary tale).
And there is still the thirty-five volume complete edition of the works of Panteleimon Kulish, which has seen the appearance of four volumes with another three or four to appear soon; final completion date is not known at this time.
In his free time Grabowicz is most happy translating from Ukrainian into English; he has made some progress on Shevchenko, Bazhan, and Stus.
He has also agreed to answer three traditional questions:
- His favorite color? Grabowicz is not sure, but probably blue—of the Yale kind.
- Favorite mythical character: Sisyphus (role model).
- Favorite quote: Khiba samomu napysat´… (from Shevchenko, hard to translate, Sisyphean overtones).
Based on interviews with George G. Grabowicz conducted by Halyna Hryn
Find out more about the festschrift, including its Table of Contents and how to order a copy, here.