Christopher Knight

Christopher Knight

Christopher J. Knight, Professor in the Department of English, has taught at the University of Montana since 1999. Before this, he had appointments at the University of Texas at Austin, Miami (of Ohio) University and SUNY—Albany. He earned his Ph.D. from New York University and spent three years in Poland, 1986 to 1989, the first two as a Fulbright Lecturer in American literature at UMCS, the third as an Americanist at Warsaw University. He is the author of four scholarly books—The Patient Particulars: American Modernism and the Technique of Originality (1995), Hints and Guesses: William Gaddis and the Fiction of Longing (1997), Uncommon Readers: Denis Donoghue, Frank Kermode, George Steiner and the Tradition of the Common Reader (2003), and Omissions Are Not Accidents: Modern Apophaticism from Henry James to Jacques Derrida (2010). He is currently working on a monograph devoted to the English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald (1916 – 2000).

 

In the fall of 1986, I arrived at UMCS from University of Texas at Austin, where an office mate and good friend, Professor Jerzy Wełna, himself on a Fulbright from Warsaw University, had encouraged me to apply. I met a number of wonderful people, people whom I continue to have the fondest affection for. Colleagues at UMCS were great and I found that the English Program then had, and might still have, perhaps the best American literature and culture program in the country. The students were also a delight, and I continue to look back on my two years in Lublin with the greatest affection.

Politically, it was a tense time, not only within Poland’s borders but also between the Cold War adversaries. American diplomats were not allowed to leave Warsaw unless they had state sanction. In the months before my arrival, there was (not very far east) the Chernobyl disaster, forcing the early departure of my pregnant predecessor, Professor Jill Goodman. Her husband, meanwhile, had been arrested (or so I was told) for taking photographs too near the Soviet border. Also arrested at about this time was Stan Musical, the great retired baseball player while on a trip (near Lodz) to promote baseball in the country of his ancestors. In my first week, I myself was asked if I wished to know (I didn’t) the names of those students thought to be police informants; and there were invitations from the police to visit them at headquarters, in addition to a friendly visit to my apartment from one of their rank. In my second year, there were student demonstrations, nearby the Catholic University campus, and things threatened to explode. They didn’t, fortunately, for the reforms outpaced the incipient violence. Meanwhile, General Jaruzelski could, without significant entourage, be seen visiting his mother’s grave, right behind my apartment block on Ulica Lipowa.

Following my two-year stint at UMCS, I took a post, teaching American literature, at Warsaw University. That too offered great rewards, though I missed the camaraderie that the UMCS English Institute offered and the charms of the smaller, less stressful, city. Surrounded by beautiful countryside, Lublin suited me well, better than would have the postings in some of the larger, more industrial cities that some other Fulbrighters occupied.

In June of 1989, shortly after the first post-communist era election, I left Poland when offered a teaching position in the American Midwest, at Miami (of Ohio) University. When leaving, I felt that it would not be long before I returned, but time has a way of moving on faster than we anticipate, and it was not until a few years ago that I did return. Much, of course, had changed, including the sprouting up of a rather swanky mall on my own Ulica Lipowa. And, of course, the University had seen physical improvements, including the addition of handsome new faculty offices and a great canteen, where I lunched with former English colleagues. The changes, both in Lublin and Warsaw, struck me as largely good ones, though many of the things that I loved about the old Poland were still in evidence as well. My hope is that my next visit will come sooner than the last, and that I will be joined by my sons, who have not yet visited Poland, though my older son almost lives in a red, Poland-celebrating t-shirt that I brought back after my last visit.

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