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A Brief Guide to Gombrowiczanalysis

Gombrowicz extracted great comedy from deflating his own and others’ philosophical, nationalistic, class, and age pretentions. It was central to his philosophy (or really, psychology), that humans are divided between our pretentious outward selves and our incomplete or immature inner worlds, and that these two realities are constantly crashing together and making us look simultaneously […]

Life Is a Chapeau Shop

As a hypochondriac, I have always had frequent “health scares” in which I go through a kind of ritual of worrying and agonizing, wondering if it’s just my hypochondria, finally consulting a doctor and learning that my worrying is indeed unfounded. If I were honest with myself, I’d admit that my biannual hypochondria ritual is […]


I started this blog because, in the Hirshhorn Gallery, I got into a conversation about Gombrowicz and couldn’t explain what I saw in him. I recently went back, and was delighted (and inspired) to see some of my favorite Magrittes back on display–which of course reminded me of G. G. wrote about art fairly cynically. […]

Sour Grapes

Because Richard Rorty just died, I keep thinking of him, and his reading of Orwell’s 1984, particularly the ‘undoing’ of Winston Smith: “Do it to Julia” as the turning point in his character. This is an extreme example, but it reminds me of the zone of “sub-culture” revealed by G. We all start out heroes, […]

Animal Suffering

G. writes in Ferdydurke of the “metaphysical pain” of a fly with its legs pulled off in the bottom of a trashcan. Various places in his Diary he writes of the pain of animals, and of the confused, deeply troubled human response to animal pain. (The farmer’s dying dog; the beetles on the beach, etc.) […]

Gombrowicz with Magritte

My French paperback translation of Bakakai has Magritte’s Golconde on the cover — rain imagined as men in bowler hats descending from a blue sky. Maybe it’s because of this cover, but I can’t not think of Magritte when I think of Gombrowicz. The two are never very far apart in my mind. I picture […]

The End of the Bookstore

One of the best things I ever read was not by Gombrowicz but it expresses something that, to me, sort of rhymes with G.’s take on the promise and danger of fellow humanity. In an interview Allen Ginsberg did in the Paris Review, the poet described a religious experience he had as an undergraduate, brought […]

Sinking Ships

I first encountered Gombrowicz during a period of my life when I was reading the Beats — Burroughs, Ginsberg, especially. There’s an interesting contrast between G. and Burroughs. In various writings and interviews throughout his life, Burroughs returned again and again to the sinking of the Titanic, and his admiration for the men on the […]

What Do You Want?

It is all about other people. Art and philosophy are just ways of contacting other people. It can be both positive and negative. It’s Gombrowiczean the way we share music with people, for example. We have in our heads images, fantasies, of others when we are appreciating music. We want to put it out there […]

Other People

In one of his earliest stories, G. wrote: “there’s nothing so difficult and delicate, so sacred even, as human individuality; nothing can equal the rapacity of secret connections that arise, faint and purposeless, between strangers, only to bind imperceptibly with a terrible chain.” People that (we think) shouldn’t matter to us, do. Being slighted or […]

Gradations of Humanity

Thinking more about Gombrowiczean themes in J.R.R. Tolkien … The interdependence of the three central characters, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, is the best literary example of the blending of people, the “interhuman church,” that I can think of–and here I include even G’s own novels! The Lord of the Rings–at least, the core narrative of […]

Immaturity and The Fall

I’ve been rereading the fiction and, for the first time, the letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, and I find myself increasingly interested in the fantasy novelist’s Catholicism. It is through his Letters that I first began to grasp the appeal of the notion of The Fall, which previously only ever seemed like the most stupid, harmful […]

Better-Sounding Reasons

From outside, objectively, it is hard not to ascribe a fullness of meaning to the things other people do. They did X therefore they must feel Y. But human action is seldom so tightly chained to will or desire. As with the character earnestly, doubtfully questioning the dark — but quietly, in case no one […]

Who’s There?

So what is G. about? I think the key utterance in his works is in Ferdydurke — the query, posed by the owner of a country estate to the darkness in his parlor, in which he has heard a noise at night: “Who’s there?” he asked cautiously, to avoid looking foolish if nobody was there. […]

Fever Pitch??

Start, I suppose, with what his humanity isn’t. There’s a quote from Publisher’s Weekly on the back of the Northwestern University Press edition of G.’s Diary. This quote has always bugged me; it goes: “Nearly every moment is lived at fever pitch in this dark, exhilarating masterpiece…” Nothing could be farther from the truth, I […]


You wouldn’t probably think of G. as a particularly human or humane writer if all you had to go on was his fictional works. His stories, plays, and novels are thought experiments about the disturbing mess, the confusion, that takes place between humans. He was obsessed with this “inter” place, the oozing, blurring borders between […]

What’s in a Face?

I suppose it’s a normal feeling to have about a favorite writer. I have this nice experience whenever I pick up — I mean, really, carefully, pick up, and look at — a book with G.’s face on the cover. I particularly love the picture on the cover of Gombrowicz w Europie (Gombrowicz in Europe), […]