dr. Dorota Sajewska

  • Posted on: 13 September 2015
  • By: marijke
About the participant: 

Assistant professor at the Institute of Polish Culture, University of Warsaw 

Scientific specialty: Theatre and drama studies, the science of culture, literary studies

Basic areas of research: Drama and theatre in the 19th century, performativeness in the early 20th century culture and art, postdramatic theatre, intermediality in contemporary artistic forms

Courses: Anthropology of performance, theatre in the 19th century Polish culture, theatre in culture, "The performative process"


Title of lecture: 
The body of the Polish soldier in performance documentation of WWI

World War I is seldomly, if ever, dealt with in Polish performance arts history. While the years 1914–1918 have left us a great deal of visual records (photographs, films, postcards, and posters), texts (soldiers' journals, frontline bulletins, legal documents), and artefacts (weapons, uniforms, military cemeteries), the actual war has been almost entirely repressed in Polish cultural and collective memory. According to the (often nationalistic) discourse dominating in Poland, the Great War was merely a necessary stage in the process through which the country regained its statehood after 123 years being colonized by Russia, Prussia and Austro-Hungary. Moreover, WWI has never really inspired the feelings of self-importance and victimisation that World War II does.


I my presentation I would like to analyze a very exeptional representation of the soldiers body during the WWI. I propose to look at two forms of activity by the Polish Legions (a separate formation in the Austro-Hungarian Army), in which the gender aspect – playing games with gender identity – was crucial. The first of these is front-line theatre, the second has to do with the presence of Polish women in the armed forces. The two figures (and their representations) related to these circumstances: male soldiers playing female parts, and female soldiers in men's clothes seem interesting as ways of undermining the code of the body and the aproach to a soldier's physicality.


In my text, I propose to analyse these phenomena by examining archival sources: photographs, postcards, theatre programmes, political decrees, but also journals and memoirs – and ask a number of important, though hitherto neglected questions. Why do these figures remain unexplored by Polish historical and cultural studies of World War I? Have they, and if so to what extent, been appropriated by discourses of nationality? What was the relation between this queering of the soldier's identity with pro-independence discourse? To what extent did Polish front-line theatre copy certain models of behaviour from Austrian culture, under whose auspices it did, after all, operate? Did theatre, as a space of fiction, illusion and playfulness maintain or abolish the emancipatory game of identities?


I would like to take a closer look at how this exeptional documentation of the soldiers body can be useful in exposing the workings of the politics of memory, in creating alternative codes of representation, and, finally, in telling non-normative stories about Polish history.