Gombrowicz in Malosyce, 1909.
Zygmunt Grocholski’s vernissage in Galatea. Portfolios full of engravings on the table. Large surfaces soaked in color on the walls. Compositions frozen in proud abstraction look down from the walls onto the sloppy human anthill; a mob of disorderly two-legged creatures tumbling past in wild disarray. On the walls: Astronomy. Logic. Composition. In the gallery: Confusion. Imbalance. An excess of unorganized detail, which overflows on all sides. Accompanied by the Dutch painter Gesinus, I comment on one of the engravings, on which certain masses are harnessed by the slanted tensions of lines and are like a horse reined in and frozen in a leap, when someone’s behind nudges under my rib cage. I jump back. This turns out to be a photographer, bent over and aiming his box at the more important guests.
Thrown off balance, I try, nevertheless, to compose myself. In the presence of Alice de Landes, I feel myself drifting into a certain colorful fugue subject to its own laws when something rolls over me like a water buffalo or hippopotamus, barbarian style … Who? The photographer, stretched beyond all endurance, shooting doublets en face and profiles.
I collect myself as quickly as I can and, seeing some French acquaintances who were weighing the inner logic of one of the linear arrangements with Aldo Pellegrini, the author of the foreword to the catalog, I walk over to them when whom should I stumble over? The photographer! I turn to say something unpleasant to him when, suddenly, a face looms before me. An unfamiliar face. And a familiar face. Familiar? Unfamiliar? Whose? The face looks at me and suddenly blurts out: “Whom do I see! Well, well, two mountains meet! Why, it’s been ages!”
I said: Of course. Ah, what a meeting! … A pit. Darkness. Emptiness. I don’t know him. I don’t remember him. Anguish. The photographer leaps up, holds up his camera, snap, it’s all over. He hands me a bill, twenty pesos. I pay the twenty pesos and take the receipt. Enraged that after all his elbowing and bumping, he had to snap my picture at the very moment that I was gaping at an unrecalled face, I went home, I, a child of chaos, son of darkness, blind coincidence, and absurdity.
At home I had the crazy thought: Hey, maybe that was Kowalski, the one I had met in Mendoza. Was it Kowalski or not? If only I could see his face once again, the memory of his face has become blurry.
Then I remembered the photograph! Why I’ll have his face in the photo! Suddenly the mysterious logic governing that photographer struck me as if I had suddenly seen the most perfect balance of planes and dynamic tensions in Zygmunt’s illustration. I ran to the address on the receipt.
O malicious fate! O perverse logic! Diabolical composition! Of course, there was a logic, but one leading to ultimate degradation. When I reached the house indicated on the receipt, I was told:
—You, too, have a receipt, sir? Many people have already been here today. That photographer was a scoundrel, sir, who put a fictional address on the receipt and only pretended to be taking photographs …
(He also stole Rebinder’s coat.)
Read the first installment here.
Excerpted from Diary by Witold Gombrowicz, translated by Lillian Vallee, forthcoming from Yale University Press, part of the Margellos World Republic of Letters series.
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