Diary by Witold Gombrowicz
Translated by Lillian Vallee
Polish non fiction
Witold Gombrowicz was an ex pat Polish writer ,when he got stuck in Argentina at the out break of world war two .He had already written a number of books back in Poland before he went to Argentina ,the most well-known been Ferdydurke a novel about a thirty year old writer being haunted by his former tutor his debut which from his own words was maybe his best book .This set the theme for most of Gombrowicz writing life deep psychological themes and questioning of Polish society and culture .Any way to the book in question which is his Diary and is what it says on the cover it is Gombrowicz diary for the years 1953 til his death in 1969 ,these entries were published in the polish Magazine Kulutra .Most of the time in Argentina although near the end of his life Gombrowicz did return to europe to live .
Josefa Radzyminska has magnanimously provide me with a dozen or so issues of Widomosci and Zycie (life and the literary news )
The opening of the diary and a rather witty start .
Now from its opening you can see both Gombrowicz deepness of thought and his humour which is quite dry at times .So this for the diary it is hard to pin down it isn’t really a diary in the straightforward sense as such ,No it is so much more it is the outpouring of a great writer ,no I’ll go further a great mind .Granted at times you disagree with him at times on some of his views ,he has little time for Proust ,he also had various views good and bad on his fellow countrymen most of which he does go into depth with over the course of this book .WE also so see the many trends of the time things such as , existentialism , Marxism , phenomenology . structuralism .This marks Gombrowicz as a great Polemic writer he does have strong views on most things he discusses in the book ,these views also set what made him such a great fiction writer as his insight into so many things seemed well thought out and in-depth .
The flaws of Proust’s book are enormous and innumerable -a gold mine of defects .His duel with time ,based on an exaggerated ,naive faith in the power of art -this is the professional mysticism of a crazed aesthete and artist .His psychological analyses could drag out into infinity ,for they are only embroidering on observations -they are not exploratory .
He was not a real Proust fan it seems .
Then at other times you marvel at Gombrowicz ability to recount the writers of his day and also his looking in at the polish literature scene from the outside ,this is definitely one of those books you need a notebook for the names of writers you are unaware of (although this said most of the ones I have looked up seem to be out of print in English a great shame ) also one of those books I can see myself returning over the coming years for quotes and insights into writers he has mentioned or encountered . I felt via this book you get a real sense of polish literature up to the late sixties .Then we also get his insight into Poland as a place and culture there isn’t the wistful looking back and yearning you expect of an exile no Gombrowicz opens his homeland up and pulls it to piece bit by bit ,so you see how it became the place it was when he left and since he left .Then we see the life of an exile working in a bank ,mundane at times but his slow move into the lit society of ex pats and Argentinians ,also his late night meeting with younger guys .Gombrowicz manages to catch what it is to be an intellectual but without that feeling of him showing it off to you as a reader ,you feel he knew this or else he wouldn’t have had a successful column in Kultura for ten plus years .
Now strange enough John Self happen to mention he had been reading Gombrowicz novel because Keith Ridgway had mention him as a writer to read ,but I had already read the diary’s before he mention this in his post ,strange we both come at a great writer via different routes ,well I had read Ferdydurke by chance many, many years ago and had forgotten about him as a writer til I saw a Yale press tweet about the diaries coming out (the book I read had a funky graffiti style cover and was published in the sixties I mainly borrowed it from library due to the cover rather than the writer , but Yale have just put out a new edition ) .I must admit this is maybe given me a feeling for diaries as a form of writing I need to read more off so suggestions welcome (I know of Woolf’s thou ).I would say this is a book that any lover of writing and writers would love it is a great insight into a writers mind .
Have you a favourite Polish writer ?