Here are two major works by the famed Polish novelist and dramatist Witold Gombrowicz. The first, Cosmos, a metaphysical thriller, revolves around an absurd investigation. It is set in provincial Poland and narrated by a seedy, pathetic, and witty student, who is charming and appalling by turns, and whose voice is dense with the richly palpable description that characterizes Gombrowicz's writing. The second, Pornografia, explores the sinister effect the young can have on the old. To serve their own secret eroticism, two aging intellectuals encourage a young couple to commit murder. Although the adolescents are the weapons used to commit the crime, the four become conspirators before the deed is done.
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Right from the beginning, you get the sense of how much is fastened, rattling, to the train of this man's thought. A sentence from page two: "I wondered, standing in the midst of this chaos, this proliferating vegetation with its endless complications, my head full of the rattle and clatter of the nightlong train journey, insufficient sleep, the air and the sun and the tramp through the heat with this man Fuchs, and Jesia and my mother, the row about the letter and my rudeness to the old man, and Julius, and also Fuchs's troubles with his chief at the office (about which he had told me), and the bad road, and the ruts and lumps of earth and heels, trouser-legs, stones and all this vegetation, all culminating like a crowd genuflecting before this hanged sparrow--reigning triumphant and eccentric over this outlandish spot."The narrator obsessively accumulates arbitrary signifiers, shuffling every loose end back into play in an effort to make things cohere. When his associative chains threaten to disintegrate, he begins to act and advances the plot with his compulsive, crowded manifestations. On the one hand (via the character of Leo) eccentric, privately-gratifying constellations of meaning are presented in a disarmingly sympathetic manner that becomes almost celebratory in the final quirky moments. On the other hand, the narrator, last name Witold, grinds his teeth over his different obsessions to an uncomfortable degree; a fact that he acknowledges in scattered moments of especially self-aware narrative: "I must stop connecting and associating." "Such a continual accumulation and disintegration of things can hardly be called a story" And "Oh, merciful, almighty God, why was it impossible to concentrate on anything?"While the inevitability of Witold's relentless recombination of items (a hanged sparrow, a deformed lip, a pattern on the ceiling) gets a bit oppressive, there is a dependable vein of humor in "Cosmos" that makes it a pleasurable read. The characterisation of Leo's family, his maid, two newly-wedded couples, Witold's friend and a fidgety rural priest is distinct, detail-oriented and intense. Witold finds the comic elements of everyone who surrounds him and skewers them to the wall. BIG CAVEAT: This book is called a "version" of "Cosmos" because it is a translation of two other translations (to English from the French and German translations from Polish). I'm not really comfortable with a text so far removed from the actual language of its author and I might not have purchased or read this "version" of the text if I had noticed what a game of telephone it has already passed through._____________Pornografia" is more entertaining than "Cosmos" and a better introduction to Gombrowicz. The narrator contextualizes his "feverish" excitability--the animating force, mirrored in Frederick, his peer, that bullies this story forward--by saying, "it must be understood that all this suddenly happened to me after stifling, gray years of horror and exhaustion, or of insane extravagance. During which I had almost forgotten what beauty was." Frederick and the narrator set about trying to manufacture beauty in a delusional and ruthless fashion, using all of the ancillary characters of the book to advance their scheme of prompting a young man and a young affianced woman to hook up with one another, simply on account of their proximity and youthful freshness.As in "Cosmos," much of the reality is compiled and determined by two quite similar middle aged men with too much free time and great psychological insight with little psychological grip. A representative passage: "He was abject, humbly odious in this submission to his own horror--and his abjection contaminated me to such an extent that my own worms arose, crawled out, climbed up, and polluted my face. But that was not the limit of my humiliation. The sinister comicality of this situation was mainly due to the fact that we were like a couple of lovers deceived and rejected by anothe