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), by his wife Rita. Leaning against the hood of his Deux Chevaux, G. has that sort of pained, asthmatic expression he always has, eyes squinting, face drawn, hands thrust in pockets, looking off to the sea (I like to think). I find I am both humbled and strengthened by something that’s right there in his face.

G. would understand if we approached his writing indirectly, via his appearance. He would appreciate the gesture of responding, first, not to what he wrote, but just to what he looked like. Because we do judge books by covers, and people by faces. Our bodies are the most fundamental fact about us.

What’s so great about G.’s face? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the pain that I see there. He felt his age and his aging most acutely. The absurd situation of his life, this genteel Pole having endured decades in exile, obscurity, and poverty in Argentina, shows in his face, along with his increasingly ill health during his last years when he returned to Europe. But the only word I know to describe what I feel about that face is “humanity.”

Yesterday three men at Teodolina’s: one clean shaven, the second mustached, the third bearded, and they were amazed they could not come to an agreement about the political situation in the Far East. I said: I am amazed that you talk to one another at all. Each of you is a different solution to the human face and personifies a different understanding of man. If a bearded man is okay, then a clean-shaven or mustached one is a monster, a clown, a degenerate, and a general absurdity; and if a clean-shaven man is the right type, then a bearded one is a monstrosity, sloppiness, nonsense, and foulness. Well then! What are you waiting for? Start punching!

(from Diary)

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