Ryszard Kapuscinski's entire life and oeuvre are a testament to the need of participation in history as it unfolds, history in statu nascendi. Kapuscinski, one of the leading figures in Polish reportage, was born in 1932 in Pinsk (present-day Belarus, at that time a part of Poland) and died in January 2007 in Warsaw.
This dissertation concentrates on his book-length reportage works, products of the author's numerous travels to distant lands, regarded by some as exempla of mastery in the reportage genre and by others as ethically questionable semi-fictional stories. The dissertation analyzes the process of the aesthetic formation of the author's travel experiences into book-length texts, the ideological paradigm shaping his representation of the facts, the effects of authorial re-shaping of documentary material, the question of authenticity or fabrication thereof, and the epistemological responsibility of a reportage writer.
The first body chapter of this dissertation, entitled "The Emperor: The Useful Discord," focuses on The Emperor: The Fall of An Autocrat (1978); a book which possesses great literary value but has also garnered enormous political significance and a prominent place in Polish and world reportage. In the second body chapter, "The Unfathomable Imperium," I analyze the book Imperium (1993), which summarizes Kapuscinski's decades of travels to the Soviet Union and Russia. In the third, "Lapidaria and Travels with Herodotus: Reportage from the Self," I examine the Lapidaria series (the last part of the series published in 2007) and Travels with Herodotus (2004). Lapidaria include observations and reflection on the contemporary world, and Travels with Herodotus is a multihued tale from Kapuscinski's reportorial firsts and a farewell to writing. In my opinion, The Emperor, Imperium, Lapidaria, and Travels with Herodotus - analyzed here in chronological order - represent milestones of his writing career and showcase the transformation of his treatment of narrative, method, and style, which are accompanied by significant changes in the author's philosophy of life and his Weltanschaung. The Emperor, Imperium and Travels with Herodotus have been translated into English. As of now, I am not aware of any attempts to translate Lapidaria into English.
The concluding chapter contains my final remarks regarding problems encountered throughout the work and some comments on my future research plans complete the study.
Reportage writing is a constant balancing act between aesthetics and ethics. Tracing Kapuscinski's steps in this dissertation and exploring his own vision of writing, I arrive at the conclusion that regardless of his own statements, the most salient feature of his writing is an ethical one. His ethics derives from socialist values, learned and internalized during his activist youth, guiding Kapuscinski through his adventures and books. His socialist sensitivity to injustice, poverty, and discrimination may have impeded his cognitive tasks, but nevertheless his impetus was genuine and motivated by a true egalitarianism. His books have spurred multitudes of people to be sensitive to these flagrant problems. Most importantly, Kapuscinski's works constantly incite discussion and consideration of the fundamental aspect of the mission undertaken by today's literature and mass media - the issue of epistemological responsibility.