Humanity

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 people. In his novels he made this thing monstrous and comical. His narratives explore the obscure, dark, and perverse ways humans affect each other.

I think of G.’s fiction like Seinfeld episodes — you might call them situation tragicomedies that are essentially “about nothing.” Selfish, surly protagonists maintain outward social decorum while surreptitiously trying to accomplish something perverse and selfish behind the scenes, or, as G. put it, “under the table.” As in Seinfeld, it might involve a character taking advantage of someone weaker, younger, or poorer. Typically, as in Seinfeld, a cascading chain of ridiculous events leads to a big, humiliating trainwreck of an end. In G.’s stories, sometimes it’s very funny, other times dark and strange.

In his most famous novel, Ferdydurke, the narrator is led by a childish sidekick on a Quixotic quest out into the rural environs of Warsaw in search of a simple, rustic stable lad with whom to “fra…ternise” — and it remains unclear just what the nature of this “fra…ternization” is — to what extent it is a homoerotic quest, to what extent it is a kind of liberal gesture toward the “common man”; in any event, the hubris of their pathetic and trivial odyssey leads to humiliations for everyone involved.

But the best thing Gombrowicz wrote, and the reason readers fall in love with him, was his Diary, written over two decades in Argentina and Western Europe for serial publication in a Polish literary journal. Because it was for public consumption and sort of a mix of personal experiences and opinions and reactions to contemporary literature and philosophy, G.’s Diary was really more of an early “blog.”

It is here, mainly, that the author’s humanity … I won’t say “shines forth” because that is exactly wrong, exactly what humanity doesn’t do. But there’s that ball in my mouth again. What does humanity do? What does anybody’s humanity do? What’s the operative verb?

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