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Although Witold Gombrowicz’s unique, idiosyncratic writings include a three-volume Diary, this voluminous document offers few facts about his early life in Poland before his books were banned there and he went into voluntary exile. Polish Memories—a series of autobiographical sketches Gombrowicz composed for Radio Free Europe during his years in Argentina in the late 1950s—fills the gap in our knowledge.
Written in a straightforward way without his famous linguistic inventions, the book presents an engaging account of Gombrowicz’s childhood, youth, literary beginnings, and fellow writers in interwar Poland and reveals how these experiences and individuals shaped his seemingly outlandish concepts about the self, culture, art, and society. In addition, the book helps readers understand the numerous autobiographical allusions in his fiction and brings a new level of understanding and appreciation to his life and work.
allow themselves to be deceived; and that if one put one's mind to it, thirty hours of intensive study would be enough for three terms of the present school system. School in its current form is excellent preparation—but only for the life of a clerk, for bureaucratic time-wasting and make-believe work. This drawn-out, long-winded, bureaucratic, apathetic schooling is the very opposite of true learning, which is compact, intense, electrifying. A few months before the graduation exams I realized
mean! The sun's shining brightly!" I think this early training in evident falsehood and open preposterousness proved immensely useful in later years when I began to write. But, bearing in mind that there were three of us—my sister took no part in this game—our home gradually began to resemble a lunatic asylum, and it was only my father's strictness and gravity that saved us from utter catastrophe. The constant, insane polemics with my mother extended to every possible sphere—the philosophical,
intelligent of my companions preferred to remain on the sidelines, using jokes, mockery, and shrugs of the shoulder to keep from getting involved in anything—and if they did take something on, it seemed to be reluctantly and only for a laugh. This peculiar sort of bashfulness was the fault of the accursed secondary nature of our culture in relation to other, dominant cultures. At that time (as today too, unfortunately) our main goal was to match them, be92 Polish Memories cause when we
"Well, of course you have talent... but things haven't fallen into place yet." The conversations we had as young writers always ran like this. There was a mutual acknowledgment of talent, "and considerable talent at that," after which there followed a "but," shifting our greatness into the future and somewhat placing it under a question mark. It's interesting, though, that my little volume also contained the same 100 Polish Memories desire for greatness, though it was no doubt realized
would converse with his Israelite not on the verandah but from a second-floor balcony, so that he could yell down at the merchant standing in front of the house: "What are you trying to tell me, Moishe?!" I imagine that many people would see this as a typical manifestation of the gentry's pompousness; but I think that my cousin, in turning himself into a proud master and the merchant into a poor "Moishe," was making a rather profound joke—for he was mocking himself as much as the Jew, and turning