If there had not been a seminar at Stanford a few weeks ago, in preparation for The Collected Works’ production of Witold Gombrowicz’s Princess Ivona, had not Lillian Vallee come to speak … well, I might never have found out about the Yale University Press’ new 783-page edition of Gombrowicz’s Diary, translated by Lillian. (The New Yorker, last summer, called the translation “heroic” – how did I miss all this?) Now I have it. I opened it at random. Here’s Gombrowicz in Argentina, 1955:
Should I tell or not? A year ago, more or less, the following happened to me. I stopped in a café on Callao Street to use the bathroom. … All kinds of drawings and scribblings were on the walls. Yet the unconscious urge would never have assailed me, like a poisonous dart, if I hadn’t accidentally fumbled across a pencil in my pocket. The pencil turned out to be an ink pen.
Enclosure, isolation, the certainty that nobody would see, some sort of stillness … and the murmur of water whispered: do it, do it, do it. I took out the pencil. I wet the tip. I wrote on the wall, high up so it would be hard to erase. I wrote something quite vulgar in Spanish like:
“Ladies and gentlemen, please comply …
S–– not on the toilet seat but straight in its eye!”
From that time on, I exist with the awareness that my graffito is still there.
I hesitated to disclose this. I hesitated not for reasons of prestige but because the written word should not serve to spread certain … manias. But I won’t hide the fact that never would I have dreamed that such things could be this … electrifying … and I can hardly refrain from reproaching myself. I wasted so many years without tasting this inexpensive and risk-free delight. There is something in this … something strange and intoxicating … resulting most likely from the horrible openness of the graffito, which is there on the wall, in union with the absolute secrecy of the perpetrator who cannot be found out. And also because this is not at all on the level of my work. …