Wednesday: Me



A page from Gombrowicz's diary.

Yesterday at the Polish Club, I dropped by right at the end of the steamrollering of my soul and works. The paper that was positive about me was the work of Karol Swierczewski and Mrs. Jezierska read a paper against. A discussion followed at whose conclusion I appeared.

Thomas Mann, an experienced connoisseur in these matters, said that an art that grows in the light of recognition from the very beginning will undoubtedly be different from an art that must win a place for itself with difficulty, and at the price of much humiliation. How would my work have looked if from its very inception it had been crowned with a laurel wreath; if even today, so many years later, I did not have to devote myself to it as to something forbidden, shameful, and inappropriate? When I got to the auditorium, however, the majority greeted me in a friendly manner and I had the impression that things had changed quite a bit since the time fragments of Trans-Atlantic appeared in Kultura. I attribute this especially to the diary. I was also informed that the majority spoke out for me in the discussion.

Immersed in the rising and falling crowd, I felt somewhat like the mariners in the Odyssey: how many tempting sirens in these friendly faces coming up to me, coming to me! It would not be difficult to throw my arms around these people and say: I am yours and I have always been yours! Careful! 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! Don’t allow yourself to be tamed, domesticated. Your place is not among them, but outside of them. You are like a rope, which children call a jump rope: it is thrust ahead so they can jump over it.

Read previous installments 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.