Popular and Mass Culture in Poland: Reassessing the Acculturation Paradigm

In the context of Jewish history in Poland the acculturation paradigm suggests the unidirectional 'influence' of the Polish majority on the smaller collective, the Jews; that adopted language, habitus and cultural practices from the 'Polish' majority. The acculturation paradigm assumes also linearity – that cultural elements of the Polish majority group retain their semantic content in the process of adoption by the Jews. The proposed paper intends to reconsider the paradigm's assumptions in the field of the new urban popular and mass culture in interwar Poland, focusing in the sub-fields of the literary cabaret and its performances and songs in Polish and Yiddish.

Reassessing the acculturation paradigm in this field could be stimulating since literary cabaret in Polish has been perceived by many of its supporters, as the epitome of progressive Polish culture, and by contemporary Polish opponents as Jewish, as essentially alien, cosmopolitan, rootless, and denigrated part of the Polish "spirit." Their protagonists, perceived themselves and were perceived by their audiences as Poles and others, Jews and non-Jews, that were dealing with presentations and representations of figures, archetypes and models, of Jews and non-Jews in an economic atmosphere of commodification of culture. They negotiated and worked through the meaning of the categories as a result of the contexts in which they were living. They used and produced images, ideas, and discourses of these terms, giving them new meanings through commodification.

I'll claim that when analyzing in depth this specific field in Yiddish and Polish, it seems not sustainable the use of binary and essentialist categorization of 'Polish' and 'Jewish' as separated and distinct cultural entities. I'll claim that rather are intermingled and these cultures interfused. My claim is that we are dealing with a case of a reciprocal exchange, and in this regard, although highly stimulating, the explanatory power of a mechanistic acculturation paradigm is limited.

I'll claim that paradoxically, this peculiar process of cultural transference contributed on the one hand to the integration of two publics. But, simultaneously on the other, it fueled rejection, echoing the "anxiety of influence," if using Harold Bloom's idea. This rejection (re)created the ostensibly two separated cultural spheres, united, also, by the negation of the transference.

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