27 Perverse Quotes by Poland's Most Subversive Author
#language & literature
default, 27 Perverse Quotes by Poland's Most Subversive Author, Witold Gombrowicz in Venice, photo: Bohdan Paczowski, image_gallery4923088_3.png
The peculiar idiom of Witold Gombrowicz – both in thinking and writing ‒ has influenced Polish culture more than any other 20th-century author. See for yourself what it is in his words that has inspired a cult following...
On his literature
My literature must remain that which it is. Especially that something which does not fit into politics and does not want to serve it. I cultivate just one politics: my own. I am a separate state.
Isn't it true (I thought), that one is almost never present, or rather never fully present, and that's because we have only a halfhearted, chaotic and slipshod, disgraceful and vile relationship with our surroundings.
I, a child of chaos, son of darkness, blind coincidence, and absurdity.
On becoming oneself
I became bold because I had absolutely nothing to lose: neither honors, nor earnings, nor friends. I had to find myself anew and rely only on myself, because I could rely on no one else. My form is my solitude.
On what it means to be a man
To be a man means to pretend to be a man - to be a man means to 'act like' a man while not being one deep inside - to be a man is to recite humanity.
Man is profoundly dependent on the reflection of himself in another man's soul, be it even the soul of an idiot.
I do not believe in non-erotic philosophy.
They were suddenly united, not like a man and a woman, but in another way, in a common offering to an unknown Moloch, incapable of possessing each other, only capable of offering themselves—and the sexual contract between them grew blurred, giving way to another contract, something undoubtedly more cruel but more beautiful. All that lasted only a few seconds. Nothing happened, either; all four of us just stood there.
On spirit & being a writer
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Spirit is born of the imitation of spirit and a writer must pretend to be a writer in order finally to become a writer.
It is not without pleasure that I can tell my majestic colleagues who write for humanity, and in the name of humanity, that I have never written a single word other than for a selfish purpose; but at, each time, the work betrayed me and escaped from me.
– A Kind of Testament
Revolutions, wars, cataclysms – what does this foam mean when compared to the fundamental horror of existence?
Why then does this pharmaceutical extract called "pure poetry” bore and weary me, especially when it appears in rhymed form?
– Against Poets
On reading novels
I do not fear that 'future generations will not read novels', etc. It is probably a complete misunderstanding to conceive of serious art in categories of production, market, readers, supply and demand (...) art is not the fabrication of stories for readers but a spiritual cohabitation, something so tense and so separate from science, even contradictory to it, that there can be no competition between them.
If someone fine, dignified, prolific, brilliant (this is how one ought to speak of artists this is the language art demands) is born in the future, if someone unique and unrepeatable is born, a Bach, a Rembrandt, then he will win people over, charm and seduce them...
On falling in love
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All the same, who knows whether it is possible... whether in general it is possible for a man to fall in love with a woman without the co-operation, without the intermediary of another man? It may be that in general man is incapable of responding to a woman except through the imntermediary of another man. Might this not be some new form of love? Before, only two were needed, but today it's three.
– Henry in The Marriage
On the world
It was too late to retreat - the world exists only because it is always too late to retreat.
Any artist who respects himself ought to be, and in every sense of the term, an émigré.
Homeland is not a blot on a map but the living essence of man.
On different kinds of intellectuals (I)
Intellectuals can be divided into two groups: those who have never got a kick in the backside, and those who have got a kick in the backside. The latter are more sensible.
On different kinds of intellectuals (II)
The difference between western and eastern intellectuals is that the former have not been kicked in the ass enough. In keeping with the thought of this aphorism, our strong point (I include myself in this) would be that we are representatives of a brutalized culture, that is, a culture that is close to life.
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We say 'forest' but this word is made of the unknown, the unfamiliar, the unencompassed. The earth. Clods of dirt. Pebbles. On a clear day you rest among ordinary, everyday things that have been familiar to you since childhood, grass, bushes, a dog (or a cat), a chair, but that changes when you realize that every object is an enormous army, an inexhaustible swarm.
On sparrows (I)
A hanged sparrow! Who would ever think of hanging a sparrow? It's like flavoring borscht with two mushrooms instead of just one – it's too much!
On sparrows (II)
A soaring bird appeared — high in the sky, immobile — vulture, hawk, eagle? No, it was not a sparrow, and by the very reason of not being a sparrow it was after all a non-sparrow, and being a non-sparrow, it was, in a small way, a sparrow...
On the Tatra Mountains
Agglomeration, whirl and welter... too much, too much, too much, crowding, movement, heaping, crashing, pushing, a general hurly-burly, huge mastodons filling space that, in the blinking of an eye, would break up into thousands of details, combinations, masses of rock, brawls, in a clumsy chaos, and suddenly all those details would again collect into an overpowering shape!
On pain (I)
In my youth I tortured animals. I remember how in Małoszyce I amused myself with the country boys. We chopped up frogs with whips. Today I am afraid—if this is the right word—of the suffering of a fly. And this fear, as if some awful weakness toward life were contained in it. I am in fact afraid of this, that I cannot bear the pain of a fly.
On pain (II)
Reality is that which offers resistance, namely, that which hurts. And a real man is one who is in Pain. (…) No matter what we are told, there exists in the entire expanse of the Universe, throughout the whole space of Being, one and only one awful, impossible, unacceptable element, one and only one thing that is truly and absolutely against us and absolutely devastating: pain. It is on pain and on nothing else thet the entire dynamic of existence depends. Remove pain and the world becomes a matter of complete indifference.
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Do not be bribed with sympathy! Don't allow nauseating sentimentality and sweet understanding with the masses, in which so much of Polish literature has drowned, to dissolve you. Be foreign forever! Be reluctant, distrustful, sober, sharp, and exotic. Hang in there, boy!
20th century literature
20th century polish literature
On his novel 'Ferdydurke'
It’s the end, what a gas,
And who’s read it is an ass!
Written by Mikołaj Gliński, 23 Oct 2015
Most quotes come from the available editions of Gombrowicz, most of whose oeuvre is now available in English translations, with important recent contributions coming from Danuta Borchardt (novels), Lillian Vallee (Diary) & Bill Johnston ('Polish Memories', Baccacay)
Witold Gombrowicz through the Lens of Bohdan Paczkowski [gallery]