The Immortal Gombrowicz

Ruth Franklin has an excellent article on Gombrowicz at The New Yorker (subscription required), placing the new translation of his diaries in a context that provides the requisite history without weighing the reader down (as most critics seem to) with the obligatory yet incomprehensible need to go on and on about his Polishness the way no one would ever write forever about the Frenchness of Proust, as if only having the vaguest awareness of the faraway, exotic country known as France.

When I first discovered Witold Gombrowicz’s diaries almost 20 years ago I knew I had found a guiding light. Granted, I had hoped to emulate his strikingly original novels and what Franklin referred to as his being an “eccentric irritant to the literary establishment” rather than his living in dire poverty and obscurity in a country in which he didn’t speak the language, but oh well, my admiration for the outlook I encountered in those pages remains undiminished.

And though she is correct to write that the great novelist “sought in the diary to revive Polish culture from the near-fatal blows dealt to it over the twentieth century” I think it was even more vital to his intellectual mission to savage all this culture’s certainties and sentimentalities (of which Polish culture had a lot on all sides of the political spectrum).

Gombrowicz was a modernist, in many ways a unique one, but also someone whose sensibility reflects on many of the aesthetic and ideological issues central to the writers, artists and movements of his times. After reading his diaries it’s that much harder to take some of the pieties of an André Breton as seriously as before, let alone the notions of many of the people who pass themselves off as cultural critics, both then and now. Breton’s irreverence was in a different league than that of Gombrowicz. It’s tru that there are times when  Gombrowicz’s critical glare seems to become harsh for its own sake (such as when he writes about his compatriots Bruno Schulz and Witkacy, for example), but for the most part it has a ring of truth striking for a century that achieved unprecedented contortions in stretching this much abused term, both in art and life.

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Categories: Essays, Magazines


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  1. Literary critics – nicees and meanies battle on | literalab - 17/08/2012

    […] among Gay’s examples of worthwhile reviews is Ruth Franklin’s recent piece on Gombrowicz, a writer she acknowledges not having known about before. The mention of Gombrowicz is significant […]

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