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Jolana Poláková


Translated from Czech by Jan Valeška

To the Czech theologian

Oto Mádr



Dr. Jolana Poláková is an outstanding Czech philosopher who deserves highest esteem in international circles. Her reflections upon the possibilities of transcendence, however, call for the attention of the tacit implications and presuppositions in her way of thinking. Born in 1951 in a politically disturbed Prague and yet well-prepared for a bright academic career, Jolana Poláková worked for several years at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in the field of research of creativity and ethics. As soon as she got involved in the political and ideological controversies of the time, she was expelled from the Academy and forbidden to publish. Actually, she was threatened in the core of her existence. In the early 80s she worked in a medical publishing house as an editor. At the same time, she was a pioneer in an unofficial humanitarian movement and joined the authors and editors of the Catholic samizdat publishing. Only in 1990, after the downfall of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, she was allowed to return to the Academy and to resume her work in the Institute of Philosophy.

Jolana Poláková lost some of her best years in isolation of the international discourse, and yet, after the restitution of freedom of thought and speech she felt enabled to develop her own way of contribution in the field of philosophy. The main topic of her thought and research is the call for transcendence in postmodern times. In 1993, she won the Canadian URAM Award for excellence in creative scholarly writing. Since 1994 she acts as a member of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Reviewing her new publication against the background of her personal fate, the order of thoughts, as a matter of course, is shaped in the framework proper to her own life experience. The experience of „extreme situations“ referred to in the book with utter modesty, is nothing but Jolana Poláková's personal life story. This story is the very background of her speculative dealing with the possibilities of transcendence. However, reading a manuscript as the report of a personal life story as well as an invitation to aply these experiences to one 's own life results in a very exciting reading. Whoever, therefore, deals with this book, cannot approach it in the spirit of aloofness and scholarly reserve by withholding one's judgements and emotions; he has to begin the reading with the resolution of geting involved in the problem of transcendence as a question of life and death.

That leads us to another observation. Someone might find it curious to encounter in a philosophical argument with – rather – religious resp. theological terms, like love, faith, grace etc., at the end with God. It is, indeed, amazing that Dr. Poláková does not hesitate to use these kind of terms in the context of an overall analytical approach to reality. And yet, her analytical approach implies the conviction that it is thoroughly linked to the attitude of witnessing and confession. In Dr. Poláková's argument the existential experience of destructive and oppressive powers in the world is counterbalanced by the universality of possible constructive relations. Dr. Poláková herself insists upon the point that „the universal possibilities of human destructiveness are always principally relativized through the universality of possible constructive relations“.

In a time when the loss of the spiritual dimension of human life is painfully felt and many people are searching for new ways towards human fulfilment, it is helpful to meet with someone who explains her argument from the inside of her own inner spiritual experience. It is only half of the truth to call attention to the religious resp. theological terminology which Dr. Poláková uses in an anthropological framework. By all means it has to be added that Jolana Poláková is engaged in rationalizing the realm of human life which is close to the field of mysticism, too. Terms like void, emptiness, nothingness, abandonment, silence, darkness open up horizons which surpass human possibilities and expose the human being to the possibility of a breaking-through of the true reality. Dr. Poláková argues strongly from the point of view of Christian mysticism. Although she does not elaborate on the affinity to other religious experiences like e.g. Buddhism, she enters in her specific way of rationalizing the common field of universal human experiences.

We live in a time when the distrust in the possibilities of human reason is growing. All the more it is astonishing that a person like Jolana Poláková who passed through the depths of the experience of human malice, never lost her faith in the fundamentally positive strength of human nature, human reason as well as human will. She continued to trust when it was dangerous to communicate even with the best friends. She did not hesitate to advocate the abundance of selfless love when hatred and the spirit of dissolution occupied her country. It is the spirit of resistence against the evil which inspires her to try again the build-up of philosophy which does not end in the methodology of falsifications but looks for ways between and beyond, – between: in the various ways of communications, and beyond: in the attempt to relate oneself and the world we live in to the unrelated one which – according to her – is the final possibility of transcendence. For Jolana Poláková, „after all, there is basically only one possibility of transcendence“: the ever new constitution of relationships which leads to a network of trustful and uncompromising love.

Hans Waldenfels, S.J.

Hans Waldenfels, S.J., Lic. Phil. (Pullach/Munich), Dr. theol. (Rome), Dr. theol. habil. (Würzburg), Dr. theol. h.c. (Warszawa), is professor of fundamental theology, theology of non Christian religions and philosophy of religion at the Faculty of Roman-Catholic Theology in Bonn university.


Grateful acknowledgement is made to the editors and publishers who have already published some selected articles from this collection.

In Czech:

„Člověk v mezních situacích“ (an earlier version of the article „How to Be in Extreme Situations“), Studie (Roma), 1986, 133–153

„Svoboda a vztah“ (Freedom and Relation), Souvislosti (Prague), 1992, 3, 14–27

„Antropologické předpoklady křesťanské víry“ (Anthropological Terms of Christian Faith), Teologické texty (Prague), 1993, 80–81

In English:

„Truthfulness of Faith“, Ultimate Reality and Meaning, 1991, 263–278

The favourable reception and response of these publications (particularly the presentation of the „URAM Award for Excellence in Creative Scholarly Writing, 1993“) have encouraged me to prepare an English version of this book. Czech original (Možnosti transcendence) is published by the Zvon publishing house in Prague (The Czech Republic) last year (1994).


Approach and Intention

This book is an experimental study in philosophical theology. Its approach is, therefore, not deductive in character but rather strives for an independent search, focused primarily on the matter involved.

While proceeding from starting points based on direct experience (in which not the examining finite being but ultimate reality itself is the decisive factor) and while operating within a neutral philosophical framework and with the methodological accuracy of philosophical thought, the study sets out to answer the question of expressing the possibilities of transcendence, which usually remain inaccessible both to the traditional natural theology (with its „God of philosophers“) and to the modern philosophy of religion (with its programmatic „epoche“) so that interpretation of these possibilities is left either to a methodologically uncontrolable personal rendering or to the doctrinally predetermined language of spiritual theology.

The main purpose of the approach applied in this study is not to interfere with these special competences but rather to supplement them by applying conceptual means which, however, should not be anthropocentrically degradable to the tool of a mere objectifying external description. Thus, without losing their theoretical character, philosophical concepts can become – in the spirit of responsibility towards ultimate reality – internally stimulating components of spiritual life itself. The following texts attempt to demonstrate that philosophical approach and spiritual search can find a mutually enriching methodological alliance. I think that such an interpretation of transcendence is attainable wherein theoretical reflection does not erode but rather fulfils the meaning of spiritual growth.

The Core of the Conception and the Structure of Exposition

Throughout the following investigations, the reality of relation has kept emerging as the central dynamic constant of an authentic spiritual life. That is the place of a possible intercrossing of an active and passive transcendence, and thus also a basis of a productive awareness of an ontological discontinuity between them. This discontinuity poses a challenge to human openness towards the genuine transcendent Absolute.

In the sequence of chapters, spiritual relatedness is presented in a feasible development patern, ranging from an anonymous consonance with absolute transcendence (in relation to values, meaning, being etc.), through a consistent critical reflection of the starting points of one's own faith, to a mature spiritual relationship, explicitly formulating itself as one's total self-giving to God. This procedure corresponds with various complexes of conceptual depiction of the aspects or phases of human spiritual experience, as indicated in the headings of the individual chapters.

External Circumstances of Research

This elaboration of the possibilities of transcendence can – with certain reservations – be also viewed as a kind of spiritual yield of my own life in the „controlled conditions“ of the spiritual oppression exercised by the former communist dictatorship in my country. But to a smaller or greater extent, analogically destructive living conditions are actually or potentially present anywhere in the human world. Thus, the most profound raison d'etre of a philosophical theology may be perceived in that these universal possibilities of human destructiveness are always principally relativized through the universality of possible constructive relations, implicitly anchored in the unique relationship with Transcendence.

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