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 feel like saying to the back of this book. Well, the word “masterpiece” is surely apt, but its easy to use that word, isn’t it? (Take it from a book reviewer, book reviewers inflate everything they write. They give every writer an A, and then to top themselves, they start giving them A-plusses. The business of reviewing is just to get yourself onto the back of a book, like a tattoo.)

“Dark?” “Exhilarating?” The worst is the “fever pitch.” Clearly the reviewer had Gombrowicz confused with someone else. Maybe Henry Miller.

Actually, the astonishing thing about Gombrowicz is how exciting his words can be when objectively much of his life seems to have unfolded at a languid pace. I find little “fever pitch” in the pages of his Diary. Sure, there are some mythic, iconic moments in his biography — being stranded (or, stranding himself) in Argentina at the outbreak of WWII. Okay. That’s romantic, full of possibilities. And the years of poverty that preceded the Diary did have, one gathers, some dark and exhilarating moments. But most of the moments actually lived in these three volumes have a much quieter and more tentative quality, and it’s precisely this that makes G. so great and that sets his image of humanity apart, for me, from other writers.

In one of his early stories, he writes: “Someone once said that life is boldness. No: Boldness is slow death, whereas life is apprehensive bashfulness.” That’s the quality that comes through so much of his Diary and his life, and it’s hard to reconcile that with fever pitch.

We drove to the Tigre in the delta of the Parana. Our motorboat cruised along the dark and quiet surface that ripples through a forest of islands. All is green, blue, pleasant, and fun. We stopped and picked up a young girl who, how should I say this? Beauty has its secrets: there are many such beautiful melodies, but only a few are like a hand that strangles. Her beauty was so “fetching” that everyone felt strange and perhaps even bashful. No one dared betray that he was watching her, even though there was not a pair of eyes that was not casting furtive glances at her luminous being.

The girl then calmly began to pick her nose.