Friday, January 28, 2005

"Bach is boring"

The Diary of Witold Gombrowicz begins thus:

Adam Zagajewski has written a fascinating reflective essay on Witold Gombrowicz (link via the Literary Saloon.). He's surreal but not surreal, Polish but not Polish. Framed against the backdrop of Milosz, and other "Europeans."

For Gombrowicz — with his brilliant sense of what he himself called the "interpersonal church," which he defined as the ongoing psychological shaping of people in interactions and in their behavior toward one another — could potentially have been an invaluable witness to, and commentator on, the historical catastrophe of the last century. Yet fate wished otherwise, and this potential witness found himself transported, irony of ironies, to ahistorical Argentina, right at the last moment before the outbreak of war, by chance in the form of an ocean cruise on the Boleslaw Chrobry. In his Diary (1953­66), Gombrowicz himself mounted a vigorous defense against recurring accusations that he had not seen history in action and therefore did not know what that grim history was like; he argued that those who had witnessed the horror were mostly unable to understand it and even less able to express it. He defended himself wisely and well...

This is strange: Why would a novelist have so many opinions? Wouldn't this multiplicity of views and convictions be more fitting for a philosopher of culture?

Zagajewski decides that Gombrowicz is the perfect Modernist.

In a certain sense, Gombrowicz was more than a writer. With his books he influenced to some degree the shape of Polishness — too little, it's true, as any observer of political life in the new Poland can see. A strange adventure befell him. For in essence Gombrowicz belonged — or rather, was in danger of belonging — to the family of those exquisite avant-garde prose writers and playwrights who are praised and esteemed yet whom hardly anyone actually reads, aside from conscientious critics and juries of literary prizes, and a handful of loyal fans.

It's time for me to reread the Diary.

I'm thumbing through my copy (well, the first two volumes anyway) and realizing that of all the books I own, this work has the most marginalia and underlinings, the most corners folded down. Why I found certain passages on, for example, existentialism, significant is mystifying to me now.


  • Why do you, atheists, deify ideas? Why don't you deify people?
  • The limits of their personality are exactly "from one table to the next."
  • Bach is boring! Objective. Abstract. Monotonous. Mathematical. Sublime. Cosmic. Cubic. Bach is boring!

Gems. I shall start again at the beginning.


matchingtracksuits said...

I've been struggling through Gombrowicz's Diary for months now. I read a bit here and there. I haven't even finished the first volume yet. I also once wrote about G's Diary, but I think your post is a bit more positive, not to mention focused.

I too find some of his observations compelling, but as a whole, his ego just gets in the way. He's an artist who sees himself as an Artist. Super-Artist, who's super-poserful Surreal Writing can save the world! It just annoys me, I guess, when writers -- well, any artist -- take themselves so seriously.

Isabella K said...

When I first read it, I was in my early 20s, and it left a great impression on me. I think though, at that age I had such an ego of my own, his didn't get in the way — it served only to reinforce my ideas.

Flipping through now, I see the writing as scattered and unfocused (though it is a diary), and the ideas even a little simplistic. Still, almost every page elicits a "you're so right" or "you're full of shit," whether the subject be Hitler, newspaper editors, or Beethoven, and that's more than what most books offer.

No, artists shouldn't take themselves too seriously, but that shouldn't stop them from keenly observing our world, from inciting reaction.

Ms Mac said...

Hello Isabella, this is completely off topic from you post, sorry. I read one of your comments on Michele today and just wanted to say I would love to watch that spelling bee movie nobody else wats to watch! nobody wants to watch it with me either!