RHETORICA DOCENS: MEMORIES OF THE STUDENTS ON THE JUBILEE OF PROFESSOR JAKUB Z. LICHAŃSKI
To have the story about human passion, which creates and changes the world one needs many other short stories. One of them is telling about the creation of the Polish Rhetorical Society (PRS), the next one is about “Forum Artis Rhetoricae”. Spiritus movens of both of the scientific enterprises is Professor Jakub Lichański, celebrating the 65th jubilee of his birthday.
Professor Jakub Z. Lichański is the director of the Unit of Rhetoric and Media in the Institute of Applied Polish Philology at the University of Warsaw. He directs the research from the field of theory and history of rhetoricy in Poland. His main areas of interest are: rhetorical critic of the media, connections between new media and literature and mass culture. Several hundreds of articles, studies and reviews devoted to these issues are the living proof that the rhetoric is the real scientific passion for the Professor.
At least equally important is for him the teaching at the University. He gives lectures and seminars devoted to the critic of the media, rhetoric and literary research. He is known as an exquisite tutor, who can fascinate next generations of students with rhetoric. Let’s hear them then:
„About the Professor I would like to tell in a very personal way and without any pompousness. There are two reasons: 1) Even in my childhood I didn’t remember the proper stylistic for a write-up; 2) I can just see the face of My Favorite Professor all wrinkled up because of the pompousness.
I know My Favorite Professor for thirteen years, or the dozen and one, so I’m also having a really not so round jubilee of the acquaintance. Dozens, assumptions, knights and the love for the past – these are the things I’ve learnt from the Professor. My national heritage. And because the heritage is vast, I Gould like to tell you about the three brilliant, charming even abilities of the Professor, who like our Ambroży Kleks opened our heads and put some oil in there.
The first one is the ability of asking questions and provoking his students to do likewise. The obvious things stopped being obvious and there were second, third and tenth bottom like in enchanted box. Words meant more, the structures were referring to meaning and symbols were rising here and there. Epic poems, parables, myths, speeches and sermons were regaining their frozen lives.
The second great ability of the Professor is seeing in a given work such scenes or sentences that nobody apart him didn’t see, and which became the new keys to the lecture and subjects of moral treaties, like this sentence <If you’re lacking a kingdom, win it in a fight> Actually, it all was so very beautiful when the Professor, talking about rhetoric, didn’t forget about the ethic at all. He showed a word in the public zone as a powerful weapon which should be used very wisely, with the full conscience of the results, both good and bad.
The third talent of the Professor is the ability to taste the literature as he tastes food. The olfactory tasting of the meals described in books (we’ve once had a big discussion about what kind of the cake the Dad of the Moomin dipped in cream) and, by using the potential of the literature little less respected, especially like the Moomins or Winnie the Pooh. Professor is also an exquisite epicure. I will tell you in a secret how he explained to me the fact that some of the animals in Narnia didn’t talk. <It’s simple – the mute animals can be eaten, and it’s a nice thing to have something to put in the oven for once in a while!> Happy birthday, Professor!”
„Professor Jakub Z. Lichański in a very significant way has contributed to the introducing to the Polish scientific scene the rules of modern rhetoric. Thanks to his work we have access to new, very useful methods of research of the literature. Equally important, however, and maybe even more important, is the academic activity of the Professor – I have in mind especially his seminars on rhetoric, where one can learn not only the theory but its practical applications. They are, in my opinion, very valuable addition to the program of studies at the Polish Philology Department. They give one the opportunity of leaving the old lines of thought and thanks to the Professor’s open approach and his devotion; they let one to creatively develop his own scientific career. As a young student I was really lucky to attend these seminars – they began to wake up my curiosity as a researcher and taught me how to be independent in thinking and elastic in literary work. Thanks to him I’ve decided to write the PhD; without the world of rhetorical criticism, which was opened to me – and other students – by the Professor, it wouldn’t be possible at all.
„The very name and the way of writing of the Professor (for me he was always the Professor written with capital letters) I’ve knew because of a book. It was a collection of works devoted to Tolkien which was edited by one Jakub Z. Lichański. His name is also known – and still is – in the circle of lovers of J.R.R. Tolkien, because he was (and still is) the only theoretician of literature in Poland who is interested in the artistic work of the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It was the basis of my decision to enlist for the seminar to the Professor. I remember my astonishment, nice surprise, when I saw the smallish Man who reminded of an English gentleman and the Oxford than the University of Warsaw. He was also my examiner – and I still remember the exam as something very nice. It was just a conversation – one funny thing, I don’t remember what theories we were talking about – not the series of questions about this and that trend, this and that theoretician, but jus a conversation that lacked only the interior of a coffee and a cup of coffee because such conversations should always take place in a cafeteria visited by artistic boheme or some crazy scientists. Later I’ve met the Professor on some sf-sci convents and then I’ve decided to write my master paper on the role of a word in works of J.R.R. Tolkien and I’ve never had any doubt where I should go. It was a time of the very beginning of Polish Rhetorical Society, being a natural continuation of meeting with former and present students of the Professor.
During the master exam I’ve had terrible case of exam nerves and the Professor asked just the right questions to put me back to track and the exam was really a discourse.
After my master exam I’ve still attended the seminars and lectures of the Professor. Not only to add something to my knowledge but also to hear the speaker. When the cinemas showed the adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, Professor organized a circle of meetings devoted to the discussion on each of the three films. The meetings were organized in the Unit of Theory of Literature and the Poetic, little room nr.17 (there was no fourth floor then and PRS didn’t have their own place, like now) and miraculously, many people fitted in. I was listening to Professor with pleasure. He is the real master of words, and especially the brilliant discourse, what one can see in his way of giving the lectures or even in his common language, in normal conversation, that the rhetoric is his favorite art. I’ve met many people who speak in a nice way but with such erudite and so masterfully connecting the academic discourse with digressions and lively, sometimes humorous, common language – never. It’s the thing I will always admire – the use of language like a classical orator and the deep knowledge. And there only two places I see him in my imagination: the Athenian Agora (or Forum Romanum) or old buildings of some of Oxford colleges.
„The class of poetics, the first year of the Polish Philology at the University. Some are wondering, what the teacher would be like. The title of “professor” is a bit intimidating for the fresh alumni of high schools. Because I’m not the student of Polish Philology and I wasn’t inscribed to any of the dean’s group, I’m not worried – I’m telling myself, that I will try to get to another class, if this will be too much. The hour is close and after a short while Professor Jakub Lichański enters the room. Sharp-eyed, little ironic smile, quick welcome and the list of lectures for a semester. It’s a real shock – some of the positions are in foreign languages, and in less popular ones, like in Swedish or Lithuanian. I wonder – and not only me – if I shouldn’t go out, but then the Professor tells us that his class will not be boring, if we will not be afraid to think. I like challenges, I’m staying.
The next year I enlist myself to his the class of Theory of Literature. Poetic occurred to be a really interesting subject and the exam was really a discussion on how I understand Basic literary categories: a discussion, where the examiner listens with care and even some kind of partnership, if the student wants to leave the handbooks schemes for a while. Theory of Literature according to the Professor is a fascinating research adventure, especially when he’s speaking about the thing that interests him the most – the rhetorical text analysis. Its description and examples are really fascinating, so I begin to read more, check the sources and read – if I can – the classics: Aristotle of Rhetoric ad Herennium, I discover the idea of the New Rhetoric and reach for L’Empire rhetorique by Perelman; this text was hard but with a dictionary and proselytizer’s zeal I go through and I know that I know not enough. So I’m going to the open hours in the Professor’s Office, I talk with him, present my doubts, describe the books, listen to instructions, meet with authentic liking and help.
A year later I fill my member declaration for the Polish Rhetorical Society and begin the fascinating state of my scientific career which lasts to this day.
Because I still like challenges and though I never did learn Swedish or Lithuanian and number of things I don’t understand seems to grow gradually all the time – I know that without the conversations, discussions or little quarrels with the Professor I would be much poorer…
One of the fruits of fascination with rhetoric is the need of propagating it. One of the tools for it is the Polish Rhetorical Society. The very beginnings of this initiative are memorized by Jacek Chrobak: “We were a bunch of students (some of us were then quite old – I’m thinking about myself, mostly), centered around the proseminar and master seminar of Dr.hab. Jakub Lichański It was a lovely beginning of the 1998/1999 academic year when on one of the meetings Jakub Lichański – named by us the Master or the Little Master (yes, now, Professor, after all these years I’m not afraid to write about it…) told us, casually and not for the first time that, he is also interested in rhetoric. Some of us knew about it earlier, because they’ve been pleasurably attending the Poetic class given by then Dr. Lichański, now a Professor. As young people, full of enthusiasm, with heads full of ideas and hang, like most of the students, some free time, we started to meet after the classes. In the beginning our meetings were just the prolongation of the proseminar and seminar… but… <???> The meetings were longer and longer, fifteen, twenty minutes, half an hour…
And we grew to the thought we should meet outside the University, create some kind of “circle of self-educating”. In the beginning we were meeting in private apartments of our parents and the Professor’s apartment. To this day I don’t know how our colleague, Dagna, dealt with her parents but she was really successful at it and some of the meetings ended, to put it subtly, very late at night…
We were disputing everything: Russian Samizdat, Solzhenitsyn, trolls and their influence on our lives, Works of Hermann Broch, beloved Tolkien, Star Wars, Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska, literature for kids and adolescents, Sigrit Undset… about everything connected with literature, about what we would like to include in our future master papers and PH.Ds. There were also some journeys to the cinema – together with the Professor, of course, and in time of our meetings.
There were some meetings calm, funny, but there were storms sometimes and the Professor calmed the waves. Why did we do it? Because we were young, hungry for knowledge, grasping the student life in the best of versions. We were hungry for discussion, literary analysis. We were happy, joyful and interested.
We were just ourselves – the students of Professor Jakub Lichański.
On one of such meetings the Professor told us a little secret, that he has the idea of a… Society, which goal would be the research of the connections between the rhetoric and popular literature. He surprised us and got our attention. We were theoreticians, but the subject was rooted deeply into our minds and hearts.
The Professor’s idea was clear from the very beginning – it should be a society researching the connections of the past and the future, where will be a place for his pupils to debut. It should be a society where a lively exchange of thought will be a common practice.
On our meetings we started to talk about the possible statute of the Society and what Gould we like to do there. We began to write it down, download some help from the Internet, getting the help from known lawyers just for a “thank you”. We were deep in the unknown woods of laws about societies. After weeks of hard work we saw that, although there is still lost of work to be done, the form of the society is visible. And we have a group of people who will be in the founding body.
After few months we presented the first application to register the Polish Rhetorical Society. We wait for a month and the application goes again. It was a real lesson of humbleness. WE wait another four months and start to lose hope to be registered at all. Then this day came. The Professor informs us that on the 1st of April <on the secret meeting the Court decides to register PRS!> At first we’ve thought that it was another joke of the Professor, meant for us not to Lose Hope, but no, it was the truth! The Polish Rhetorical Society started to exist and the world was spinning. Now was the time to call the foundation body, where we will choose the board of our Society.
The foundation meeting of the Polish Rhetorical Society was held in Warsaw in July 2000. Then the first board was chosen and the director was of course Professor Jakub Lichański.
Polish Rhetorical Society exists because of the passion and fascination by rhetoric. The fascination which can still engage more and more people with enthusiasm for the art of persuasion.
“I speak: rhetoric. I think: Professor Lichański. Maybe I will sound pathetic, but from the perspective of time of my own, few years old, adventure with rhetoric, but I have in mind this one specific letter sent with prompting of prof. Ornatowski and then the first meeting with Professor Lichański in 2005. That was enough for the unknown PhD student form Lublin, for whom the Classic was Shakespeare, not the Aristotle, challenge herself to engage with art, which fascinated her, but its very name – beginning with “r” – was the reason for respect – like everything that’s unknown. From this meeting it all started – Professor with real and friendly interest accepted me to the circle of Warsaw’s rhetoric lovers and for that I am, Professor, very grateful. Sometimes one but kind gesture can open the road to new horizons and create the sensitivity of a young man for long years. It just isn’t enough to be a great scientist – it’s important what kind of a person one is”.
One of the rules which from years are learned by adepts of rhetoric is:” one can set fire to the people only if he’s already burning”. The founding of Polish Rhetorical Society is the proof how alive the rhetorical passion is for the Professor.
Under the imprint of the DiG publishing house appears a book dedicated to Professor Lichański, entitled Rhetorica Regina Artis Scientiaeque, which – as recommends Elżbieta Wichrowska – “describes the world or rhetorical and oratory research in a vary captive way, letting one to learn the trends in rhetorical analysis and, in the same time – inspiring to one’s own research. If not research – let it be reflection upon the world, text, space dominated by “rhetorical strategies” of broadly understood statements (…) Publishing this book was important also from social reasons. Rhetoric plays very important role in contemporary world, often we lack both the necessary knowledge and tools <the techniques of astute listening and convincing speaking> and this very lack appears also with the people dealing with media, politics and culture.” This book presents also the several hundred position long bibliography of the Professor.
This monograph sector is the proof of ever-growing interest in rhetoricy as the field of research. One of the passions of the Professor is also documenting of the academic publications devoted to rhetoric. There’s no doubt that this activity contributes to expanding of the bibliography, and the circle of researchers is growing in the same time.
FAR 2011 No. 2 (25) April-June