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Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 800
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Just before the outbreak of World War II, young Witold Gombrowicz left his home in Poland and set sail for South America. In 1953, still living as an expatriate in Argentina, he began hisDiarywith one of literature's most memorable openings:"MondayMe.TuesdayMe.WednesdayMe.ThursdayMe."

    Gombrowicz'sDiarygrew to become a vast collection of essays, short notes, polemics, and confessions on myriad subjects ranging from political events to literature to the certainty of death. Not a traditional journal,Diaryis instead the commentary of a brilliant and restless mind. Widely regarded as a masterpiece, this brilliant work compelled Gombrowicz's attention for a decade and a half until he penned his final entry in France, shortly before his death in 1969.

    Long out of print in English,Diaryis now presented in a convenient single volume featuring a new preface by Rita Gombrowicz, the author's widow and literary executor. This edition also includes ten previously unpublished pages from the 1969 portion of the diary.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18339-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Rita Gombrowicz

    When Witold Gombrowicz began writing hisDiaryin 1953, he was forty-nine years old. He had been living in Buenos Aires since 1939, when the war had caught him by surprise. As a promising young writer, he had been officially invited to the inaugural voyage of a new maritime route between Poland and Argentina, departing from the port of Gdynia the 29th of July 1939 on the dazzling transatlantic linerChrobry(The Brave). On August 22, the day after he arrived in Buenos Aires, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact. A week later, the Nazis invaded Poland....

  4. Volume 1

    • 1953
      (pp. 3-74)

      Józefa Radzymińska has magnanimously provided me with a dozen or so issues ofWiadomościandZycie,* and, at the same time, I have been able to get my hands on a few issues of various Polish newspapers from back home. I read these Polish newspapers as if I were reading a story about someone whom I knew intimately and well, who suddenly leaves for Australia, for example, and there experiences rather strange adventures which are no longer real because they concern someone different and strange, who can only be loosely identified with the person we once knew. So strong is...

    • 1954
      (pp. 75-157)

      I appeared at this dancing party (this was on New Year’s Day) at two a.m. having consumed, in addition to a turkey, quite a bit of vodka and wine. I had arranged to meet with friends but they weren’t there and so I wandered through the various rooms until I sat down in the garden where, unexpectedly, a crowd broke up into pairs and started dancing.

      This happened because of the music, which was barely audible from where I sat and reached me only through the dull echo of the percussion instruments or in the few tones of a lively...

    • 1955
      (pp. 158-208)

      I find out from Tito that Cesar Fernandez Moreno recorded our conversation about Argentina and that he intends to publish it in a certain monthly. I called him with the request to show it to me before he prints it.

      You don’t know anything at all about my coexistence with the Argentine literary world. Yes, I realize that until now you have not been let in on this chapter of my biography. I don’t doubt that you will listen to this gladly. Have I been able to draw you into myself enough so that everything that concerns me is not...

    • 1956
      (pp. 209-263)

      I merely grazed Buenos Aires on my way south. I was supposed to go to Duś Jankowski’sestancia, near Necochea, but Odyniec sat me in an automobile and drove me to Mar del Plata. After eight hours on the road—the city; then all of a sudden from the side, from the left side, seen from a hill, the ocean. We suddenly enter a street and finally thequinta. This is familiar. The great rustling trees of a garden, dogs, and cacti. An orchard. Almost country.

      The Spaniard with whom we ate supper yesterday. An older man, unduly polite. That...

      (pp. 264-273)

      It would be more subtle of me if I did not disrupt one of the rare ceremonies which we have left. Even though we have come to doubt practically everything, we still venerate the cult of Poetry and Poets and this is the only deity which we are not ashamed to worship with great pomp, deep bows, and inflated voice…. Ah, ah, Shelley! Ah, ah, Słowacki! Ah, the word of the Poet, the mission of the Poet, and the soul of the Poet! Nevertheless, I have to attack these prayers and spoil this ritual as much as I can simply...

      (pp. 274-284)

      I am reading Sienkiewicz. Distressing reading. We say: this is pretty bad, and we read on. We say: what flimsy stuff, yet we can’t tear ourselves away. We shout: insufferable opera! and we read on, mesmerized.

      What a powerful genius!—and there has probably never been such a first-rate second-rate writer. This is a second-rate Homer, a first-rate Dumas. It is difficult to find a comparable example of the captivation of an entire nation, or of a more mesmerizing hold on the imagination of the masses in the history of literature. Sienkiewicz, that magician, that seducer, stuck a Kmicic and...

  5. Volume 2

    • 1957
      (pp. 287-305)

      I have not been completely understood (I am referring to the articles that are appearing in Poland on the subject ofFerdydurke) or rather they have extracted from me only what is “timely” and corresponds to their current history and current predicament. I am resigned to this: this partial—I might even say egotistical—interpretation, always from the angle of current need, is inevitable. Before the war,Ferdydurkepassed for the ravings of a madman, because in a time of jubilant creativity and straining for political power, my book ruined the parade. Today, when the Mug and Fanny have really...

    • 1958
      (pp. 306-397)

      The New Year, approaching from the east with a speed equal to the rotation of the earth, caught and overtook me in La Cabania at Duś’s house, while I sat on a couch holding a glass of champagne. Duś sat in an armchair under a lamp. Marisa next to the radio. Andrea on the arm of another chair. No one else.

      Scattered chessmen in front of Duś.

      A dramatic moment. What will happen? What will the future, having arrived, give birth to? “If only I didn’t have nightmares …” Perhaps we’ll get through it without catastrophe. The coming of the...

    • 1959
      (pp. 398-432)

      Every lawyer, otherwise known as “the patron,” basks in the high-flown conviction of his own “cultural well-roundedness” (because, of course, “law educates”), and any old hydraulic engineer considers himself a full-fledged scholar, like Heisenberg. It is almost not worth mentioning that when it comes to the imagination, they haven’t the least notion of what it is.

      Yesterday. How irritating! For two whole hours I had to bear the conceit of both these species of pseudo-intellectuals-with-diplomas. Incredible stupidity. The attorney with his little lawyer’s “look,” his worldview, style, form reeking of that pitiful university, just the way a suit reeks of...

    • 1960
      (pp. 433-487)

      At around nine o’clock the insistent ringing of the doorbell awakened me—at the door was a short little someone in a big hat—and quietly, almost inaudibly, I could hear him asking for the real estate agent Delgado.—No, he doesn’t live here!—I slammed the door. The end. Period. Dot.

      And then I could not get back to sleep, so I put on a record with Beethoven’s Fourteenth Quartet. Bach? No, not Bach…. Actually, I don’t like Bach … they, modern music, will one day notice through their glasses that Bach was not the right signpost and that...

    • 1961
      (pp. 488-516)

      A very peculiar book, I have never read anything like it, exciting in a strange way, Gaëtan Picon’sPanorama des idées contemporaines. In Polish translation, Picon’s work is calledA Panorama of Modern Thoughtand has been published by Libella in Paris.

      It has been a long time since I dove into a book with the enthusiasm I felt in reading these seven hundred pages, stuffed with the latest wisdom from recent decades. Philosophy and social science, art and religion, physics and mathematics, history and psychology, but also the history of philosophy and political problems and contemporary humanism … the...

  6. Volume 3

    • 1961
      (pp. 519-531)

      Before me I have Bruno Schulz in the French translation, heralded a few weeks ago by Suzanne Arlet (the poet). It is a volume of stories entitledTraité des mannequins(chiefly stories fromCinnamon Shops) published by Juillard.

      Introductions. First Maurice Nadeau: “… we must assure him a place among the great writers of our day.” Followed by Sandauer’s* fine study—it is obvious that he is quite at home in Schulz; he is cautious but penetrating.


      I have long known about this edition prepared with such painstaking effort, yet when I finally saw the book, I winced. What...

    • 1962
      (pp. 532-583)

      I arrived here yesterday at five in the afternoon, having in my suitcase a few dozen pages of aCosmoswell underway. I am having bad luck with traveling lately. In the train that was already waiting at the Onze station there were no vacant seats. I let it leave and waited for another—and I waited for it standing up because the benches were occupied—and while waiting, I watched, with some distress, the dense, denser and denser, onslaught of people…. After a half-hour the train pulls in, empty as can be and clean as a whistle, the crowd...

    • 1963
      (pp. 584-624)

      I am writing these words in Berlin.

      How did this happen? I went to Uruguay for January and February, the hottest months of the Argentine summer, to bury myself in forests overlooking the ocean with myCosmos, almost finished but still nerve-racking because the ending would not reveal itself; it seemed to me it should be pushed into another dimension—but where?—the solutions that came to mind were unsatisfactory. The forest, monotony of wave and sand, the smiling and bathed Uruguayan mellowness, turned out to be good for my work, I returned from the coast fidgety with impatience to...

    • 1964
      (pp. 625-654)

      I landed at Tegal airport in Berlin on the sixteenth of May, one year ago.

      Professor von Bonhard, a representative of the Ford Foundation, put me and my suitcases into his beautiful black car and drove me through the city. Me—just another piece of baggage. I landed in front of some building, somewhere in a park, elevator, corridor, room; large with an enormous window, stairs from this room to the top, where there is another room, balcony, bed, wardrobe, unpacking, table.

      I went out on the balcony: rectangular blocks of fifteen-story buildings in lush greenery, a city-garden. I wallowed...

    • 1965
      (pp. 655-672)

      I will bet that the above Berlin memoirs will get into the paws of newspaper people; that politics will dance its savage Negro dance around them; that I, an artist, will be given up to the columnist. I, a man, will become the prey of editors, the scapegoat of publicists, the carrion of nationalisms, capitalisms, communisms, the devil knows what else, victim of an ideology that is more a mythology, and a decrepit, infantile, sclerotic, bureaucratic, and worthless mythology at that.

      The triumph of Gunter Grass; sales figures for the last novel are approaching 200,000 books sold. Grass’s humor: people...

    • 1966
      (pp. 673-711)

      More than a year has passed since I settled in Vence, twenty kilometers from Nice, on a slope of the Alpes Maritimes—a chic place, there is no dearth of residences elegantly concealed in palm stands, behind walls of roses, dense array of mimosa.

      From my window I sometimes see a few Rolls Royces, whose owners are buying milk or shrimp at the market in the square.

      In addition to the Rolls Royces, Jaguars.

      Who would like to know what happened to me in the course of almost a year’s silence….

      I spent three months in Royaumont, near Paris. Then...

    • 1967
      (pp. 712-723)

      Rita and I stepped into 1967 yesterday. The two of us, without champagne, looking out our window at the silence, emptiness, our beautiful Place du Grand-Jardin, the steep roofs of old Vence, the cathedral tower, with the stony walls of the mountain far away, which the moon floods with a mystical light.

      The moon was so strong that one could see a sheet of water beyond Cap d’Antibes on the other side.

      Almost nothing happens to me. The unremarkable state of my health has become something of a cloister for me. I live like a monk. Breakfast at nine, then...

    • 1968
      (pp. 724-727)

      I sold it for two hundred and fourteen thousand dollars, including the grounds, the panorama, the son, and the mulatto. Nothing is left!

      I recall that in writing about Tyrmand’sAngryyears ago I began like this: “Tyrmand! Talent!” And today I prize this poem in a hooligan’s cap, stinking of vodka and defeat, with a romantic moon over the caverns of a strangely protruding Warsaw. Easy? “Criminal”? Popular? Almost of the streets? But yes! And because this singing from a fermenting mug, gap-toothed from a fight, does not care who’s looking, does not want to be a higher literature,...

    • 1969
      (pp. 728-738)

      Astonishing and embarrassing. Lechon’sDiary, Volume I, which I looked through once again, a little more carefully. How did this tangle that makes up the true originality of this diary come to be? That combination of artistry, tremendous sensitivity and acuity with … primitiveness, ignorance, narrowness, blindness? In general, the language is wonderful and in this language are expressed subtle judgments about literature, art, and, frequently, people, but it is also in this language that Lechon expresses his awful, unbearably Polish limitations. From an intellectual standpoint, the diary is like a 1939 suit we remove from our wardrobe—it reeks...

    (pp. 739-742)

    As I look upon three very worn, broken-spined volumes of Witold Gombrowicz’sDiaryin my favorite, Instytut Literacki, edition, I realize that what I will miss most about translating these books are the accompanying dreams.Diaryworks its mysteries on the reader’s innermost life, and whenever I translated Gombrowicz, his writings inspired wonderfully extravagant dreams: I am aboard a ship that is moving at dizzying speed—I see the curve and foam of its wake as it turns, leaps, and somersaults over the water and into the air; the only steady point of orientation in all the thrilling movement is...

    (pp. 743-746)
    (pp. 747-748)
    (pp. 749-783)