More Gombrowicz: “Only phenomena capable of a ruthless life have the right to exist.”

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“Terribly Polish.” (Photo: Bogdan Paczowski)

A week after Witold Gombrowicz arrived in Buenos Aires in 1939, Germany invaded Poland.  He couldn’t go back.  Thus began two decades of South American exile.

He began his Diary some time later, in 1953, and continued writing till his death in 1969. According to Ruth Franklin writing in the New Yorker:  “In the diary, Gombrowicz describes himself as ‘Terribly Polish and terribly rebellious against Poland.’ Gombrowicz rebellion was primarily targeted at what he came to call ‘form.’  … Though his diary project was defined by the search for self, he was not yet ready to thrust himself into it. Later, the diary grew more adventurous, branching into increasingly personal territory and experimenting more with the form and structure of his entries. Gombrowicz’s quest to save Polish culture from its own admirers becomes a favorite theme of the diary. … His exhibitionism begins in mild form, with an almost sheepish account of his daily routine. … But soon the diarist moves into the darker corners of his personality.”

And then Ms. Franklin describes precisely the incident I described in my previous post, which I had found when I first opened the book at random –  “Gombrowicz, Argentina, and a restroom on Callao Street, 1955.”  So what are the odds in a 783-page book?

Here’s an earlier diary entry from 1954, more under the rubric of “Terribly Polish and terribly rebellious against Poland.”

In Poland the tower of a too aristocratic culture crashed and everything there, except for the factory chimneys, will become dwarfed in this and the next generation. Should we, the Polish intelligentsia in exile, shrivel up because of this? This is strange but true: even though we have been suspended in a void, even though there will be fewer and fewer people capable of understanding us, we must continue to think in an unsimplistic and unprimitive way, in a way that is in keeping with our level, just as if nothing at all had changed in our situation. We must simply because this is natural in us and nobody should be more stupid than he is. We must realize ourselves completely and speak our bit out to the last letter, because only phenomena capable of a ruthless life have a right to exist.


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