As it is well known, in the first circle of Hell, also called Limbo, Dante placed a plethora of the most outstanding poets and philosophers of antiquity. Homer, Horace, Ovid, Socrates and Plato, and even his great master and guide to the afterlife, Virgil – while there, admittedly, they are driven to stay “without torments,” unlike the occupants of the lower circles of Hell, but are also plunged “into a longing […] vain and idle.” Through no fault of their own, no lack of merit, but only out of historical necessity – they lived, after all, before Christ- they were condemned to such uselessness and idleness.
There is indeed some analogy between this painful symbol and the afterlife of writers in the eras following after them. This is particularly true about the so called canon. For it is hard to imagine a more perfidious modern limbo than the obligatory school readings. Apparently, the authors of such readings “lead an exalted life here,” but at the same time – through a trivialized, flattened and coercively imposed reading – they are thrown precisely into unproductivity, into a space in which it becomes impossible to consider seriously and make use of their works. It is amazing in this context how each time the obligatory school readings are fiddled with, those responsible for such malpractice persistently add their favourite writers to the obligatory school readings, as if unaware of the disservice they render to the authors.
There is probably no author in Poland more belittled by his long-standing presence on obligatory school reading lists than Stefan Żeromski. What is most valuable in his novels – that is, a myriad of linguistic registers enabling in-depth problematization of topics, the colourfulness and ambiguity of his characters, high calibre irony and excellent sense of humour – is replaced in the teacher-student reception by a few worn-out symbols and personal attitudes as if taken from a moralizing reading. The Żeromski writings have become synonymous with a style that is difficult, incomprehensible, unnecessarily bizarre and certainly unsuitable for contemporary reading. Torn pines, peacock cries, Siłaczka and Judym, perhaps the most widely known protagonists of the Żeromski’s novels, that were used to torment us at the school desk (perhaps too fond of the pedagogical models from Sisyphus’ works) – do they still mean anything to us?
And they could mean something. And they should mean something. Not because of intellectual snobbery. Not on the basis of anti-prosperity contradiction. But in the most practical sense, in the deepest interest of us and our community. Out of numerous untapped threads dormant in the Żeromski’s novels, threads that are “vain and idle” or distorted through a simplistic reading – the myth of glass houses is perhaps the most regrettable. This myth, already signalled in Beauty of Life (1912), and fully developed in Early Spring (1924), served the writer to analyse the first years of the Second Republic of Poland and, more importantly from our perspective, to outline an ideal and universal development model: a great project of an alternative Polish modernity, which was not undertaken then or ever after. At the same time, it is a synthesis of the various threads that run through all Żeromski’s writings – from the role and tasks of the artist, to the idea of scientific progress, to the social consequences of individual choices – so it can also be read as a certain code, a culmination of his writings, a pronouncement of the last word on the issues of particular significance to the writer.
A separate study could be devoted to the attempts to take up the myth of glass houses at different moments in our 20th century history: the communist/national democratic dialectic into which The Early Spring was inscribed shortly after its publication; the adaptation of this novel by the Marxist criticism, which after World War II laid the ideological foundation for the realization of Socialist Realism’s flagship enterprise, Nowa Huta (ang. the New Smelter); the voices of Andrzej Mencwel or the circles of the patriotic left, which, since the 1990s, have been hardly heard against the background of freedom-capitalist rhetoric have consistently spoken about the “third way” proposed by Żeromski. The reception of The Early Spring novel would also tell us quite a lot about other moments in Poland’s recent history. However, it seems even more interesting today, in Poland in the year 2021, to visualize ourselves and our present day in these legendary glass houses, as if in that Stendhal-like mirror being carried up and down the highway. It is perhaps worthwhile to consider to what extent the modern myth almost one century old gives us the key to understanding of the contemporary world, increasingly affected by a multi-faceted crises (economic, environmental, migratory), increasingly globalized and at the same time atomized, going, it seems, without a compass, in an undefined direction. Can the Żeromski’s story be useful for us and how if we make another attempt to set the direction, even in our own small, local frame of reference?
On a basic, most literal level, the scene is more or less familiar. In front of us we can see Seweryn Baryka (hereinafter referred to as Old Man) and his son Cezary, after a long separation and almost miraculous reunion, leaving Baku for Poland. They are just taking the train from Tsaritsyn (now Volgograd) to Moscow and are talking about their destination. The two of them, father and son. The son, who suffered a loss of his earlier bourgeois life, lived through his mother’s death and experienced revolutionary slaughters, and all that had made him a somewhat cynical and self-righteous young man without qualities not known in the country of his ancestors and, frankly, does not really want to know. His father, a former tsarist official and former Baku’s bourgeois, changed by his wartime odyssey (“During my stay in the country, in the war environment and in the legions, I changed completely. As if someone had turned my soul upside down.”), who would like to pass on his regained love of his homeland to Cezary. Delaying for some time the answer to the question of why they should go to Poland, as if collecting arguments and looking for the right timing, Seweryn finally tells his son a story about glass houses. These are supposed to be modern housing units, invented and manufactured in Poland by an alleged relative of the Barykas using sea power and sand, housing units that are beautiful, healthy and cheap. New villages, settlements and cities are made from such glass houses.
From a huge liquid mass,” says the old Baryka about the activities of a glass house factory, “he pulls out ready-made beams, panels, wedges, keystones, cast, or rather hived, according to a predefined architectural plan. An entire one-story glass house, with walls tightly fitted made of beams that are assembled into a wreath, and merged within an hour, with a floor, ceiling and roof made from the panels – gives the purchaser a ready-made house. There are no stoves in houses of this type, rural, or, as it used to be called, peasant houses. In winter season hot water is circulated in the walls, inside the beams, in every room. Glass fans operate under the ceiling, standardizing the desired heat and bringing fresh air into the interior at all times. (pp. 73-74).
This is the literal, superficial content of the story. It also formed the grounds for the most common reading of it. A reading, let us put it openly straight away, rather dismissive and discrediting. The interwar reviewers called Żeromski’s idea “the delusions of a wounded head” or a “utopian diversion,” while Gombrowicz wrote in his Diaries about a “fatal metaphor.” Even in colloquial contemporary phraseology, glass houses mean an unreal thing, a fantasy, a phantasmagoria, and if they function somehow in our linguistic and cultural consciousness at all, it is usually in this sense. Also Filip Bajon’s Przedwiośnie (The Early Spring), a feature film shown at one time to all high school students, places the glass houses in a fairy-tale-phantasmagorical entourage, more reminiscent of the land of the Snow Queen than that of the Seweryn’s vision. Well, it is hard to blame mass culture for flattening literary symbols. The problem, however, is that in the case in question, the colloquial meaning, distorting or even contradicting the proper meaning of the story of the glass houses, by its strong presence in the culture closes the way to the source meaning and the interpretive consequences that could be drawn from it. This simplification consists of several levels, and each of them would need to be looked at separately, in order to restore the myth of glass houses in its full, original form.
So firstly – the alleged utopian nature old Baryka’s vision, non-plausibility of its implementation in real life. It has been said that since Żeromski prophesied a “new civilization” based on glass houses, and to this day, despite the multifaceted technical development, glass architecture has not revolutionized either the civilization model or even construction process itself – it means that the writer was wrong in the very source, that he invented something that never had the right to come true. The answer requires a two-phased approach: first with regard to the idea genesis, to its, so to speak, embedding in reality; and then with regard to the function the writer gave to the idea in the context of the novel as a whole.
The first phase introduces us to the field of the vast problematic area under the title of literature and reality, prompts questions – does literature draw from reality at all? should the literature render the reality faithfully? what are the relations between what is in the reality and what is in literature? In order not to get strict in these theoretical-literary deliberations, let us satisfy ourselves with the classic statement that artistic creation derives from reality and that, following Aristotle, it should not copy it, but must remain in probabilistic harmony with the reality. In other words, one of the criteria for evaluating a story about glass houses can be its probability. So let us say that, contrary to the judgments quoted above, the concept of glass buildings was not a “delusions of a wounded head,” but a strongly present, especially in the early 20th century, movement in architecture. In this context the art historians refer to the idea of Glasarchitektur by German thinker Paul Scheerbart, the implemented projects and designs of urban planner Bruno Taut or the achievements of the Chicago School. A reference is also made to the famous Crystal Palace building (erected in London for the First World Exhibition in 1851), which, as Andrzej Mencwel rightly notes, is an interesting, both in physical and symbolic terms, reference point for the Żeromski’s idea. Waclaw Borowy indicated the presence of these ideas in non-specialist circulation as well, referring to an article published in the “Tygodnik Ilustrowany” weekly in 1905 describing American glass houses. Thus, this “glass” modernizing vision, which native artists – including those from “progressive Expressionist and Futurist/Formist circles” was present in the bloodstream of the era as Hanna Grzeszczuk-Brendel writes – also considered in a local context, imagining a “culture created on its basis, in which universalism and modernity [would] go hand in hand with its regionalism and uniqueness.” Żeromski built his literary vision on such real material and in such a context. It is a fact that 20th century civilization did not take up, in the literal and full sense, the ideas of modernist glass lovers. However, it would be unfair to project this fact onto the image created by the writer in The Early Spring, just as it would be unfair and naively superior to try to judge The Divine Comedy from the perspective of, for instance, the fact that Dante used a model in the form of Ptolemy’s system to “construct” the sky.
Ultimately, however, what is more important than the idea origination, is the second level – that is, the function of Baryka’s story about glass houses. For it seems obvious that Żeromski was not writing a treatise on the future of architecture, and that this “building” theme of The Early Spring, although firmly rooted in reality – as we tried to show above – and although it remains a specific carrier of the modernization idea, is, in its literal sense, transcended by this idea. To put it differently, the idea, or as we said the myth of glass houses, is something much broader than the glass architecture concepts. It is, as Maria Podraza-Kwiatkowska points out primarily a symbol, and as a symbol it should be read first and foremost. Therefore, what can be evaluated – when we reflect on the meaning and relevance of The Early Spring – belongs to the immaterial, non-literal components of this symbol, exactly to its symbolic layer.
However, before we look at these constituents, let us take a brief look at the stylistic layer of the passage we are interested in. For if we relied only on its simplistic, school reading, we might come to the conclusion that Seweryn Baryka’s story is some kind of moralizing speech delivered ex cathedra to a rebellious son. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
Finally, at one of the stops, dragging on so long that they lost hope if when the departure would take place, lying huddled together for warmth as if they were one body, Baryka’s father began to give an answer as to why they should go to Poland. The air in the train coach was so rotten and heavy that Seweryn was like that Greek prophetess whose tripod was over a crevice emitting intoxicating gases. He spoke with his eyes closed, in intoxication from the poisonous stuffiness of wanderers traversing the plains of endless Russia. (p. 69)
The above quote, which serves as an introduction to the story of the glass houses proper, places the story in a certain convention from the beginning. The Old Man as the mythological Pythia, the stench of the fellow-travellers as divine fumes bringing inspiration – this is obviously an ironic costume, which gives the readers a signal that everything that follows, although concerning fundamental matters, must nevertheless also be viewed with detachment, not quite seriously. This peculiarly humorous and self-ironic tone, moreover, returns in subsequent sentences, in the longer lines spoken by Seweryn and in Cezary’s brief butt-ins. Because it should be recalled here that the story of the glass houses is not a monologue, but a conversation, and the way it is conducted sets up the passage dynamics. When the son raises, sometimes somewhat malicious, objections to the excessively incredible elements of the father’s story (“some […] fragile and easily breakable civilization”, “Genuine showcases, goddammit, not human dwellings!”), the Old May takes his remarks at face value or even sharpens them. To an ironic quip about the way meat will be processed in the new civilization, he replies, even more ironically, that it will be carried out by “specialists, foremen in this pig idea and idyll.” Thus, while presenting utopia, he simultaneously undermines the dogmatic nature of this utopia, or the dogmatic nature of utopia in general, which is also evident in the deconstructive gestures toward communist utopia that Cezary presents in all seriousness.
Since what you said, is not rudeness,” Seweryn replies at one point, “so eo ipso is a polite remark. We keep learning, my little one, until we reach old age. I, for instance, am learning, right now, what the politeness of young revolutionaries looks like. (pp. 71-72)
Stanisław Falkowski – an expert on Żeromski, author of a non-conventional book on Przedwiośnie [The Early Spring] novel, but also a high-school teacher – calls this pedagogical method of the Old Man a vaccination that he applies to teach his young son to “react with irony, detachment and scepticism to [any] attempts to capture his own soul”. We know from Cezary’s further fate, already taking place in Poland, that the vaccine did its job, as scepticism towards any view was perhaps the only invariable component of his attitude. However, if the story of the glass houses is, as Falkowski wants it to be, a fairy tale, then it must also contain a positive component, a certain lesson. Not necessarily spoken directly, on the contrary, rather hidden in a fairy-tale or mythological parable – which is also indicated by the passage about the ”Greek prophetess” quoted above – but with a concrete ideological and moral message.
In the course of this conversation, Cezary asks his father several times if he has really seen the glass houses, the glass civilisation he portrays to him. Seweryn answers each time, with complete conviction, with enthusiasm even, that he has seen it. ‘Would I have lied to you through my teeth,’ he says, ‘if I hadn’t [been there]?’ From this confession one can, it seems, deduce the basic function of the myth, the fairy-table, the parable being told. It is obvious, after all, that Father has not seen any specific glass houses, that he has not been to the glass settlements that make up “entire neighbourhoods, districts, provinces”, that he has not seen the Vistula river channelled into a glass trough. However, he had it all before, to use Shakespeare’s immortal words, “in my mind’s eye”, he saw it all as a certain vision, an idea, as an ideal goal worth pursuing. And it is this vision that he wants to convey to Cezary. So when Żeromski speaks of “lying through my teeth” he is referring at the same time to two meanings of the phrase: it is meant to be a telling of lies, prating, when we think of the literal sense of the story of the glass houses, but also something more, something much more serious, when we lean into its deep meaning. With his „lying through my teeth” (In Polish literally „in his glazed eyes”), Cezary is to keep the ideal of a new civilisation forever in his mind. Through this glass perspective he is supposed to look at Poland far from the presented ideal, which he is about to see in its entirety.
It is not an arbitrary ideal, a more or less random plot constituent invented by the writer for the purposes of Przedwiośnie (The Early Spring) novel. On the contrary, one could say that the glass house civilisation represents the high point of one of the most important thematic lines in Żeromski’s writing, the beginnings of which can be found as early as in Ludzie Bezdomni (Homeless People (1900) novel. The issue at stake here is of pivotal importance for the generation born around the time of the January Uprising, raised in the distant but vivid environment of great Romantic ideas and facing the positivist models solidifying before their eyes – the role of the individual deed, the relationship between the individual and the community, the proportion between ideas and action in reality. Unlike the slightly older Świętochowski or Prus, Żeromski was never a programmatic critic of Romanticism, and if he reads eagerly Renan or Taine, it was in parallel to his passionate reading of Mickiewicz’s writings. Rather than demythologize the first of the bards, as Boy would do a little later, the author of Przedwiośnie (The Early Spring) wanted to continue his dream of the word that can turn into action. The great individualists of Żeromski’s novels grew out of their romantic roots: Piotr Rozłucki from The Beauty of Life, Tomasz Judym from Ludzie Bezdomni (The Homeless People) or Ryszard Nienaski, the protagonist of the Walka z Szatanem (Struggles with Satan) trilogy. All of them, capable of great deeds, misunderstood by people in their environment – but they are not content with moral victory in heavenly spaces, like the heroes of Słowacki or Krasicki, since they want to transform reality in its simplest, most basic dimensions using their energy. But let us recall how these attempts end. Rozłucki crashes the plane he has invented into the sea; Judym abandons personal happiness for the dubious results of organic work; Nienaski, having received a huge legacy that is finally supposed to enable him to make great industrial intentions and improve the lives of the workers, dies unexpectedly. In the semi-mythical character of the brilliant Baryka, doctor and inventor of glass houses, Żeromski gives us a synthesis of these characters, presenting at the same time an optimistic version of their fates. He pulls the wool over our eyes with the hagiography of the genius whose individual deed leads to the rebirth of the whole of Poland, the creation of a new civilisation. This is supposed to be the fulfilment of the Romantic idea, an idea realised in reality which is capable of truly, and not ironically as Słowacki wrote, “turn the men in the street into angels”.
Referring to this Romantic provenance, the idea of glass houses was repeatedly interpreted in terms of Polish messianism. There has been talk of the fulfilment of “the myth of Poland reunited after a century of slavery (the Vistula river, which joins the lands of the three partitions, has a riverbed regulated by glass wedges)”, Poland thus becoming the revivalist of the world. It is certainly not unreasonable to find messianic traces in Żeromski’s work, which is deeply saturated with both the Gospel and Polish identity. Many pages of this work and many areas of the writer’s other activities (social, political) were devoted to the question of regaining the lost and longed-for homeland – there is no doubt about that. It seems, however, that precisely here, when we are talking about glass houses, Poland is of secondary importance. Or, to put it differently, it only matters insofar as it has the power to become a bridgehead of civilisation revival. ‘The goal is not Poland,’ – remarks Andrzej Mencwel, – ‘it is civilisation’. Thus Żeromski brings to our attention something that should seem obvious to us almost a century later – that the attempt to invent a community separate from the rest of the world is not only impossible, but also morally questionable. After all, the highest tasks of humanity do not end with a self-satisfied solidification in one’s national existence, no matter whether one is a Pole, a Russian or a merchant from Baku. It is true that nationality, like locality, the specific nature of place and the natural and social environment of a person, plays a significant role in the attainment of these goals, because it is the only available matter at a certain historical moment, and evangelical ideals cannot be pursued in vacuum. Ultimately, however, it remains just a tool that can serve the main cause in both good and bad manner.
Thus, the glass houses symbolise the issue of civilisation, the project of civilisation rebirth, or even the project of creating a new civilisation; „a new civilisation started there”, after all, says Seweryn Baryka. However, this is not, as it might seem, an encouragement for a revolutionary transformation of society, for that way of building from scratch which modern communities have identified with the French Revolution model. To Cezary’s creed, formulated in a revolutionary spirit, his father responds very firmly, though – as throughout this conversation – showing understanding.
– […] The villain in mankind must first be exterminated and only then build a normal life.
– Who knows who among us is a villain and who is just.
– This is known only too well. The villain in mankind must be exterminated forcibly, and if he does not give in – kill him!
– Don’t kill him! My baby boy! Don’t kill!
– The evil in the world must be killed. We kill blindworms, frogs, wolves and lice.
– At first we don’t know very well what is bad and what is good. Then, the only thing that results from killing is the crime of murder. Killing is completely unnecessary. It is a waste of time and the health of the human soul. It is enough to build a new life. To build anew, from the very beginning, from earthy clay and deep, earthy, pure water. (p. 81)
The biblical references are all too clear in this passage. But even without them, even if we were to look only at the content of what Seweryn presents as a new civilisation, we would have noticed that it is in fact a return to pure Christian civilisation, that it is about “revival” rather than building “anew” – unless in the sense of the words of the Apocalypse of St John: “See, behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5).
The idea of Christian community is, again, one of the key threads in Żeromski’s works. Not perceiving its existence either in social life or the Church hierarchy at the turn of the 19th century – he looked for the sources of Christianity in the history of the Arians (in The Conversion of Judas) or the Unitarians (in The Beauty of Life). For it was these movements that, in the writer’s opinion, kept alive evangelical values such as unconditional love of neighbour, simplicity and poverty. In the second of the novels referred to hereinabove, Żeromski draws up a programme of the Polish Christian community based on these ideals. Through the mouth of Father Wolski, he formulates its supreme goal: “The Kingdom of God must be established in Poland. One must raise the hands of these people to God. One must revive the spirit of God in this farmers’ crowd”. Piotr Rozłucki and Gustaw Bezmian complement it with other constituents: humble work and a poverty motivated by kindness, readiness to give up everything “to give away the last shirt and give up the last dream”. The tasks thus defined, however, have no space to be implemented in 1912 (it is significant that the conversation between the novel’s three protagonists takes place at Hampton-Court, England, and in the novel’s ending Rozłucki and Bezmian fall into the hands of the partitioners). In The Beauty of Life they remain still in the realm of romantic ideas. The Early Spring with its glass houses, on the other hand, represents their development in a more specific manner in the very different reality of an independent country.
Key to this implemented idea is the amalgamation of universalism and individuality. Universalism because, as we have already said, it is about a common Christian civilisation, excluding no one, in which certain values remain constant. New technology houses are supposed to be the crystallising axis for these values. “They cost incredibly cheap”, so they are accessible and abolish social disparities; moreover, even the “bourgeoisie” will aspire to own them, because they are “more comfortable, healthier, cleaner, more beautiful than the most sophisticated palaces of the aristocracy, than the villas of the American rich”. They therefore cause an bottom-up levelling out of the poverty habitats, but also a top-down levelling out of the splendour domains; a levelling out that is not forced, but voluntary, accomplished by appreciating the physical and spiritual benefits of this reduction of needs. Is such a voluntary reduction of needs even possible? Today we know with certainty that it is necessary, because a model of civilisation based on continuous development has brought the world to the brink of collapse and it is difficult to imagine that it can continue. In discussions of alternatives, however, the idea that a ”degrowth” transformation can be carried out with the consent or even approval of the earth’s inhabitants by incorporating in them great Christian ideas is rarely mentioned. Much more often there is talk about stricter laws, restrictions and penalties.
Objection, prohibition, punishment! – says Seweryn Baryka – It is not purposeful, it is not effective, and it is limited to a single phenomenon. By developing new values and propagating new good, it is necessary to destroy envy and hatred itself in people. Working and living conditions can be developed such that there is nothing to hate and murder about. (p. 2).
The glass houses and public buildings built in the same manner will create ”new garden cities, habitat cities stretched out among fields, forests and hills. They will replace the old cities, “the terrible nightmares of the old civilisation”. They will thus stimulate, again voluntarily, a return to organising the life of human communities in harmony with nature (“the tree becomes an untouchable, a sacred thing”). It will also be a natural consequence of the departure from technocratic modernity that “in the new civilisation, the flesh of our elder brothers in Darwin will not necessarily be devoured”. What is striking about this ecological and vegetarian manifesto is, once again, its lack of fanatical downrightness, for there is talk about not abandoning meat eating altogether, but rather about the reduction of meat consumption, and above all about ‘the noble animal being given back its dignity’. It is not even necessary to mention the topicality of these demands, still unrealised, in an era of forthcoming climate catastrophe.
The social organisation will imply the joint efforts of the new civilisation members, because ‘heating units’, ‘cooling units’ and electricity supply will be common, and the individual efforts of the farmers will combined into the activities of cooperatives. At the same time, there is explicit talk of land reform, but, again, as a certain option rather than a top-down imposed process. Żeromski was also aware of the temptations of the demiurges of various new civilisations (vide the creators of our contemporary technological civilisation). This is why the genius Baryka does not become the owner of the glassworks he has created, but makes it “the cooperative property of workers, technicians and artists”.
Though the civilisation of glass houses seems to contradict the principles of contemporary capitalist societies, the issue of individuality and freedom remains familiar, after all.
The houses are coloured according to the nature in the surroundings, the inspiration of the artist, but also the taste of the inhabitants. The houses are snow-white in the forest surroundings, pink in the plains, light green in the hills, with a shade of violet or nasturtium colour. These houses are the most imaginatively, fancifully and richly decorated, according to the instructions given by the artists and the tastes of purchasers, because the wall beam and the roof panel can be coloured in its liquid state as one pleases. Whatever the unlimited imagination of the colourist can conceive and see in the divine mystery of such organ as eye, in the gift of the heavens, in the sight – whatever colour appears in the splendour of the flowers in the meadow at the end of June, all this, all this captured in inspiration, formulated by creative consciousness, artistic wisdom and acts of hardworking will, you will see in the external and internal compositions of the colourful cottages of modern Polish peasants. These are true futuristic dreams embodied in a susceptible and obedient glass material. (pp. 74-75).
In addition to the extremely important usefulness and practicality that are supposed to be characteristics of new civilisation creations, there is also room for aesthetics. Żeromski does not elaborate further on the question of the metaphysical immersion of the projected Christian community – perhaps hinting that the evangelical dimension is expressed primarily through work and other specific activities – but he mentions “churches flourishing on the hills, according to the dream and the nod of artists, in forms so beautiful that in their face everything that has gone before will disappear and fade away”. This dimension of the myth of glass houses also seems to be still unrealised and non-addressed, and contemporary church architecture is the best proof of that.
We admit that somewhat naively idyllic in their literal representation seem to us these new, projected by Żeromski, “habitat cities stretched out among fields, forests and hills”. Even if we are attracted to their charm, after all, we perceive that this vision is unrealistic, including at a non-material level. So perhaps we are not surprised by commentators who were inclined to see the glass houses only as an attractive utopia. We are ready to exclaim to echo Cezary: “Somehow all this civilization is going for you, father, in a somewhat fireworks manner.”
But do not this naiveté and unreality fit into the convention of fairy-tale or myth, according to which, as we have shown, the parable of the glass houses should be read? Does it exempt us from searching for the deeper meaning of the story? If, with such conviction, we find analogies to ancient myths in our social reality today, should we reject a myth much closer to us, embedded in our history, referring to who we were in the past?
One image popular among the Romantics was – perhaps taken from mysticism of the East – the depiction of the visible world as the reverse of a deeper, metaphysical reality. Słowacki wrote that “the world is a rug seen in reverse, where various threads come out and die again seemingly without purpose or need. On that side there are flowers and drawing.” Perhaps the housing estates with glass houses should be looked at in similar manner. Maybe they are only meant to be a material reflection of the spiritual reality from which they grow. The real, deeper picture of this reality seems quite clear. It consists of enduring evangelical values: kindness, simplicity, poverty, cooperation – but also a bold, daring spirituality born out of love for the human being.
But, someone might say, in our contemporary landscape, after all, these protruding threads – glass houses – are not visible. Then let us ask about the spiritual pattern that would show them. Have we done anything over the past hundred years to get closer to it? And – in view of our inactivity – can we afford to keep authors like Żeromski further “in vain and idle longing”? And out of the stories that Żeromski offers us, do we have the right, on behalf of ourselves and future generations, to give up precisely the story of glass houses – which is a great myth of civilization renewal?