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Dr. John Fizer

28 2007 .
28 August 2007

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A Celebration of John Fizer's Life
— By Irene, Natalie, George, and Andrew Fizer

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Although John Fizer's (Ivan Mychailovich Fizer) extraordinary professional accomplishments, and remarkable list of publications, are known to many, we would like to summarize and thus celebrate them once again. He earned not just one, but two doctoral degrees: his first Phd, in 1949, in Psychology, was from The Ukrainian Free University, Munich. However, it should be noted that he initially intended to become a medical doctor, a passion he nurtured from his young years. He pursued his medical studies in Munich until he developed tuberculosis under the harrowing conditions of life within a refugee camp in post-World War II Germany; once he recovered, he decided to pursue his studies in psychology. After immigrating to the United States, he became dissatisfied with the narrow focus of psychological therapy of those days, and decided to change his professional course yet again. Thus, he applied and was accepted to Columbia University, earning a master's degree and then a second PhD in Slavic and Comparative Literature from Columbia in 1960. This ability, on his part, to engage in a series of transformations of self, and to redefine his professional aims, is a testament to the breadth of his interests, his insatiable curiosity, and above all, as anyone who met him will evidence, his agility of mind-a mind thoroughly versed and adept in Western philosophy, aesthetics and art, literature, history, psychology, linguistics, and religion, just to begin with.

We would like to add that his abiding scholarly interests in both literary theory and Ukrainian studies were already evident in the dissertation he completed at Columbia University. In the then-Russocentric field of Slavic studies, dominated by many scholars for whom Ukraine—much less Ukrainian literary studies—was at best of minor concern, and at worst, a matter of indifference, Fizer's insistence on the significance of the work of Potebnja, articulated in his illuminating, major book entitled Alexander A. Potebnja's Psycholinguistic Theory of Literature: A Metacritical Inquiry (published by Harvard University Press in l988), has been amply proven by the manifold academic studies that subsequently have been published about Potebjna, all of which invariably draw upon Fizer's pioneering work. His book on Potebnja was preceded by his earlier monograph, Psychologism and Psychoaesthetics: A Critical View of Their Relations (published by John Benjamins in l981 and subsequently reprinted in Poland in l991). In addition to the two books Fizer published in Ukraine in l996 and 2004, respectively, he accomplished the remarkable feat of publishing his last book, entitled A Historical and Critical Review of American Literary Criticism, in 2006 (which appeared from Academic Press in Ukraine). Thus, he researched and wrote this primer in literary criticism, intended for both advanced graduate students and academics alike, when he was between seventy-nine and eighty-one years old. If this was not enough… And yet this wasn't enough for John Fizer, who literally never stopped thinking, conceptualizing, and writing within his profession until his very last days. As such, a manuscript of nearly 300 pages lies on his desk today, a book three-quarters complete, and we hope to find an editor and to publish this book as part of his legacy and enduring contribution to the fields of literary theory and critical theory. We have only space to mention that to his list of books must be added 128 published scholarly articles, prominent among them articles on phenomenology and the work of Roman Ingarden, and 98 book reviews. In regard to his professional life, Fizer was a Professor of both Slavic Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literature at Rutgers University for 39 years, retiring at the advanced age of 75 in the year 2000 as a Professor Emeritus. In addition, he taught as an Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame from 1954-1960, and as a visiting professor at Northwestern University, Columbia University, and Warsaw University.

John Fizer was born in Mircha, Ukraine in l925-in the Carpathian mountains that nurtured in him a lifelong empathy for the natural world in its uncompromised state. Moreover, Mircha and Uzhorod (the regional capital where he completed his early studies), as border towns, instilled in him an enduring openness of mind, as he could speak a polyglot of languages, and therefore felt himself a part of the cultures of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and Hungary—in addition to his fluencies in German and in Russian language and literature. In turn, he grew up in a village in which Hasidic Jews, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians lived harmoniously side by side and he, likewise, always saw himself as an integral part of these three worlds. At 17 he was imprisoned and tortured by the Hungarian fascists and was reprieved from a death sentence. He then went on to survive a harrowing escape from Soviet Ukraine through Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia, finding his way—as a marked member of the Ukrainian resistance, all alone, wounded in the leg by a Soviet sniper, and without papers—to a refugee camp in Munich. He survived this momentous trek of survival out of sheer will, and through his own inventive strategies, finally arriving in allied-occupied Germany. There, he became acclaimed as a brilliant improvisatory chef: concocting scrumptious meals for his starving friends out of the crude materials that he found: old oil from a German kitchen tap, onions, and moldy bread that he cleaned and then transformed into "haloushki"—Ukrainian noodles. In the camp, he became an English translator (although his English was, as he himself admitted, as yet rudimentary then). The year that he immigrated to the U.S., newly engaged to our mother, Maria Kirilivna Uhnenko, whom he met in Munich as her English teacher, he pursued a series of jobs that don't appear on his c.v., but which included working as a labor organizer for cleaning women, and as a painter of decorative lamps and plates. After a series of hard jobs, and toil, he ultimately resumed his graduate studies at Columbia.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent emergence of the independent nation of Ukraine, Fizer equally dedicated his professional life, and fundraising activities, to support the renaissance of the National University of Kiev-Mohyla Academy. Moreover, he found the strength, tenacity, and sense of purpose to teach undergraduate and graduate classes in literary studies in Ukraine from 2001-2006, both as an invited scholar and a Senior Fulbright Specialist. The love, respect, and highest regard in which he was held in Ukraine is amply evidenced by the numerous professional honors he received there that included an Honorary degree from The Kyiv Mohyla Academy, his induction into the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine as an Academician, and an Honorary degree from The Ostroh Academy.

John Fizer is survived by his wife, Maria, of 57 years, his four children, Irene, Natalie, George, and Andy, his sons-in-law Albert Nigrin and Glen Forley and their families, and by his relatives in Ukraine.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks those who wish to make a donation, to send it, in the name of John Fizer, to the Shevchenko Scientific Society, 63 Fourth Avenue, New York, New York 10003 (www.shevchenko.org); tel. 212-254-5130. All funds will support a new scholarship in his name for young scholars from Ukraine pursuing research in literary studies in the United States.

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Hagan Chamberlain Funeral Home
225 Mountain Avenue
Bound Brook, NJ 08805
Tel: 732.356.0327

Friday, August 30, 2007
Viewing: 2-4pm and 7-9pm
Panakhyda (service): 7:30pm

Funeral services
Saturday, September 1, 2007, 10:00am
St. Andrew Memorial Church
South Bound Brook, NJ

St. Andrew Cemetery
Davidson Avenue
South Bound Brook, NJ 08880

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