Among literature’s famous first lines, we must include this one: “Monday. Me. Tuesday. Me. Wednesday. Me. Thursday. Me.” It comes from Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary, widely considered the Polish author’s masterpiece. Yet Gombrowicz didn’t make his first entry until 1953, when he was forty-nine and an expatriate in Argentina, and the last entry was made in 1969 from France, shortly before his death. Still, the Diary lacks for nothing: history, politics, philosophy, literature, art, music, love, death, humor, communism, Poland, Europe, writing—everything is there.
Long out of print, the Diary will be republished next week by Yale University Press as part of their Margellos World Republic of Letters series. But we have unofficially dubbed this one Gombrowicz Week and will be sharing entries from 1954 and 1955 here daily.
Yesterday (Thursday) a cretin began to bother and worry me all day. Perhaps it would be better not to write about this … but I do not want to be a hypocrite in this diary. It began when I first went to Acasusso to Mr. Alberto H.’s (an industrialist and engineer) for breakfast. At first glance, his villa seemed too Renaissance, but not betraying this impression, I sat down at the table (also Renaissance) and began to eat dishes whose Renaissance in the course of eating became more and more obvious at which time the conversation, too, settled on the Renaissance until finally and completely openly and even passionately one began to adore Greece, Rome, naked beauty, the call of the flesh, evoe, Pathos and Ethos (?) and even some column or other on Crete. When it got to Crete, the cretin crawled out, crawled out (?) and crept up but not in Renaissance manner (?!) but quite neoclassically cretinously (?) (I know that I should not write about this, this sounds rather odd).
At four I left, extremely tired, and there were trees, leaves, houses—mixed, perhaps somewhat too tidy, and, I would say, not much to the point. Never mind. Leaving the subway, I was on my way to the Café Rex when out of the Café Paris (nor do I know why one café got mixed up with the other) some of my lady friends, who were supposed to be sitting at a table and eating ladyfingers and dipping them in cream, began to beckon (?) to me. The mystification appeared right away because, actually, they were sitting at an enamel tabletop set on four bent prongs, and the eating consisted of sticking this or that thing through the opening in the face during which the ears and noses stuck out and the heels, too, stuck out from under the table, that is, out from under the tabletop. Yak, yak, about this and that but I see that this or that sticks out (?) and protrudes (??) from this or that woman, therefore, I finally excuse myself and leave, pleading lack of time.
I do not really know if I should continue these confessions. The publicist’s duty compels me to inform the public that rather too cretinous things are happening … too cretinous to be revealed and, I believe, on this all speculation relies—that an excess of cretinism does not allow these things to be revealed, that this is already too stupid to be expressed. Leaving the Café Paris, I went to the Café Rex. There an unknown gentleman who approached me and, having introduced himself as Zamszycki (maybe I heard this wrong), said that he had wanted to make my acquaintance for a long time. I said that it was my pleasure and then he thanked me, bowed, and left. Furious, I wanted to call him a cretin when, at that moment, I noticed that he was not a cretin because, after all, he had wanted to meet me and did, therefore, it was right that he should leave. Then I started to think: cretin or not? In the meantime, first one streetlight went on, then another, and when the second went on, a third lit up, then a fourth and with the fourth a fifth. Hardly had the fifth lit up when the sixth and the seventh go on, eighth, ninth, yet, at the same time, one, two, five cars go by; one, two, ten trams; people are coming, one, two, ten, fifteen; before me, one, two, three houses; the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh story and on the seventh, a balcony and on the balcony, who? Who but Henry and his wife! Beckoning to me.
I beckon. Yet I see, though not too clearly, that they are saying something and beckoning to me at the same time. Cars, trams, people, movement, crowds, neons are going on, glare from all over, a honking, ringing, and they there on the seventh story are talking. And again they beckon. I nod. I see: she beckons, he beckons. So I do, too. Then I look (really, I don’t know how to articulate this, this is already a bit brash, however, I am not allowed to conceal anything) and he beckoned into himself, like into a bottle. I beckon. Then she (but no, no, I cannot make a cretin of myself; yet if I am to reveal the Cretin, I have to make a cretin of myself ) then she beckoned out of him until he and she beckoned (but WHAT did she beckon to) after which both lightly beckoned themselves out there and alone and poof … (Ha! This I cannot say, it is beyond my powers!)
Excerpted from Diary by Witold Gombrowicz, translated by Lillian Vallee, forthcoming from Yale University Press.