small, What You Didn't Know About Gombrowicz…, gombrowicz witold portret east news_6921590.jpg, Witold Gombrowicz, fot. SIPA PRESS / East News
A great literary event or humbug? A scandal or a banality? We check out what Gombrowicz really writes about in his intimate journal, released 44 years after his death. Here is a concentrated overview of Kronos…
Kronos is first and foremost a diary of the body. Health problems and sexuality are the two areas of Gombrowicz’s interest, next to financial issues and a struggle for literary fame. The array of all the illnesses and conditions that the writer suffered from can make one’s head spin (or cause nausea). Yet it is also impossible to consider him a hypochondriac. He simply led a very unhealthy lifestyle (also see the Sexuality section), and problems with health were one of its consequences. A hospital card of the writer could read as follows:
Aching and falling out teeth, allergy, liver aches, eczema (in all sorts of places), ulcers (as above), breathing difficulties, asthma (particularly heavy in Gombrowicz’s old age), bronchitis, lumbago, constipation, swelling, stye, rheumatism, atony in the legs, syphilis, gonorrhea, degeneracy of the hearing nerve (due to syphilitic complications), lumbago, spinal column aches, aches in the heart area, atony in the legs, nerves…
Not to mention influenza, colds, a runny nose and other normal “diseases” that Gombrowicz reports. To all this are added a serious fear of cancer and real symptoms of aging.
As diseases are mentioned, so are, inevitably, all sorts of medications as well as treatments and therapies. Kronos could delight pharmacists and medication addicts. For all others, these names must remain an exotic list of meaningless names, even if some of them could incite rather stupefying associations: tetrafenicol, cortizone, proasthmin, calm-asmin, aludrine, persantin, digitaline, resens, lesiric, pyrorhea (ropotok), proxybrone, aludrine, Staphylococcus vaccinations, tetraphenicol, triaminol, belladonal, equanil, Doktors Wolfers Suhelatransmittel. Kronos is filled with all kinds of pills, lionoil suppositories (?) with phosphorus, as well as injections. The phrases “I am doing rather badly” or “I don’t feel so great” are repeated frequently, although at times things look up.
Gombrowicz’s Reading List
In Kronos, Gombro also describes what he is currently reading, and usually the mentioned titles are deprived of any commentary. The works that did impress him, or triggered a reaction or defiance, were described in the Diary. But we will not learn from the Diary that Gombrowicz read titles such as The End of Hitler, a book about the drowned treasure of Rommel, Goebbels’ journal, as well as the French biography of Nicolas Copernicus and a biology textbook.
Gombrowicz also read a lot of Thomas Mann, and while in Europe, Jean Genet, with whom he had a lot in common. The moments when he reveals his thoughts on what he read are scarce. Towards the end of his life he mentions that he is reading nonsense on Proust, and during the transatlantic cruise from Buenos Aires to Europe he notes, upon reading Sein und Zeit in Spanish, “It’s rocking hard. […] Reading Heidegger is calming”.
Read more about Kronos in Alan Lockwood’s article
In Kronos, Gombrowicz succeeds in portraying the history, or at least the chronology, of his sexual life. A chronology, because the descriptions of erotic experiences often come down to a name connected to a certain month in the year, and one would search in vain for any descriptions or even verbs.
The beginnings of this erotic chronology, as well as Gombrowicz’s bisexuality, can be traced to a note from 1934. It was next to this date that, years later, in an attempt at reconstructing the period, Gombrowicz jotted down “The first ‘pe’ attempts ”.We can guess that “pe” is short for pederastic, but can learn nothing more. Subsequent pages of this reconstruction consist in prewar lists of his partners, often presented with an invective: the hysteric whore from Hala (during the stay in Zakopane), a servant from Zaborow, Gelbardowa’s servant, a waitress from Zodiac, Jadźka’s friend, two whores from Mokotowska Street, a whore with gonorrhea, a virgin, Franek, and the one with legs in rubber slippers.
From 1954 onwards Gombrowicz begins to mark sexual intercourse with circles on the margins of the manuscript’s pages. Throughout the years in Argentina, Kronos is filled with these circles, and it seems that the heros of his erotic adventures are almost solely men. But it is hard to decide when the author ciphers the partner with the abbrevation ch. which could mean chico as well as chica.
In any case Kronos is crowded with names like Jose, Timoteo, Martin, Hector - encountered in train stations, harbours, parks and the city squares of Buenos Aires. These partners are either marineros, 'ż' (short for żołnierz, a solidier), or El Jornalero (a newspaper seller).
At times a name with a circle is reiterated on the pages of Kronos for a longer while. Such is the case with an Alberto (also a marinero) between 1961-63, and we can also observe the relationship evolving with time; “Albert, Sunday. The disappearting of Schoenberg’s plaque” (November 1961) "Easter with Alberto, rather swell" (April 1962), "Albert, already boring me" (March 62), "Alberto, the vanishing of a pipe"(November 1962 ). Some acquaintances are also commented upon by Gombrowicz; "Hector, marinero not too great", or "Marinero, a fatty pederast, distaste”. As one consequence of his erotic adventures, Gombrowicz is a frequent visitor at police stations.
Intervals when nothing goes on are described as “erotic peace”, “calming” or “distinguishable calm” (1956), with contrasting periods penned down as “erotics on the rise”.
After arriving in Europe and the initial heightened homosexuality of the Berlin period (Gombrowicz wrote “I got a terrible attack of pederasty” in a letter to Kot Jeleński), Gombrowicz meets Rita Labrosse, with whom he spends the last years of his life and who becomes his wife six months before his death.
Read the interview with Rita Gombrowicz…
Struggling for Recognition
Gombrowicz’s struggles to ensure fame for his work are also abundantly described in Kronos: the exchange of information with critics, friends, translators, publishers, statements after signing a contract (“I signed with Norway”), information about reviews and interviews in international press, the perspectives on garnering awards and scholarships, as well as notes on working with translations. All of these form the factual base of Kronos. “A further growth of prestige” is formula that gets repeated in the summaries of the last years, and simultaneously the health of the author keeps deteriorating.
Cafes are an important part of Gombrowicz’s life. It was there - from the Ziemiańska in Warsaw, through the Rex and El Querandi in Buenos Aires, to the Berliner Zuntz - that the writer fought for his subjectivity, enchanted youth and carried out his chess combats. Kronos enables us to learn about the various venues that the writer visited at given intervals of his life. Most of them no longer exist.
How does one give an overview of the billing book that the Kronos (also) constitutes? This just can’t be summarised in short.
Gombrowicz gives an account of the things he purchased and these accounts are especially impressive in the beginnings of his stay in Argentina. The writer was so poor then that he barely bought anything at all. When he began to have money he would buy - and he was aware of this - clothes (a suit, underwear), shoes, a pipe, a fountain pen (a Pelican, after the dispearring of a Parker), a watch (Tissot). At one moment, he considered getting a radio, but in the end he got a gramophone instead (a Ken Brown) and listening to classical music became a great passion and resulted in spending money on records: Schubert, Chopin, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven. (There are paragraphs on listening to string quartets in his Diary.)
The Small Stabilisation in Vence
Life in Vence was a time of financial stability, and a period of delayed comsumption. Gombrowicz bought clothes: pantalones, a remera shirt, new glasses, two jackets, a sweater - all in May, 1965. He purchased a new Philips gramophone, a fridge, a heating stove, and even a car - in August 1965 he bought a Citroen 2CV (monikered a “dwukonka”), in which he began to take trips with Rita along the Cote d’Azur.
From September 1965 the couple also owns a TV set, and there is even a dog and a cat. Gombrowicz furnishes his home with Rita, hangs paintings, there is the “buying of Louis Philippes” - the first time for such bourgeoise gestures.
All of this in the year in which Gombro wrote he is "?ost?" - he really thought that it was the end, although he lived on a further four years.
Gombrowicz’s Injection Molding Machine
Gombrowicz attempted to invest his savings (a rarity) in various endevours, including stocks. But earlier, an entirely different kind of investment had been an injection-molding machine for plastic figures. In the text of Kronos during his years in Argentina, it figures as “the machine”, which was bought together with Karol Świeczewski, his close friend in Buenos Aires. It was meant to be an investment, but soon stopped to bring any profit. The first money obtained with “the machine” was given out by Gombrowicz as “scholarships” for his Argentine friends, among them Marian Betelú. The injection-molding machine produced figures of saints and Holy Mary.
"I see there’s a lot of space till the end of the year. What am I to write? Day by day passes on coughing, moaning, I don’t leave the house, I can’t write, not even a diary, bad, bad, bad. It will get worse. I set out from Buenos Aires for death… and it’s lingering.” (November 1965)
In one of the preceeding entries, Gombrowicz noted that “one must work out death”. The 65-year old writer in Vence was terribly sick. The last pages of Kronos are a record of physiological deterioration, a study of a humiliated body - Gombrowicz can barely climb stairs, he is considering suicide. The final pages, which are also the last years of the writer’s life, see the body and physical pain cast all remaining reality aside.