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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.
Goethe for instance. We waste time studying the wars with the Turks, but we're almost completely ignorant about the history of Europe or of the world. And what about Latin vocabulary? Because of it, there's no time for us to actually find out about Rome or Greece, and we don't really have any idea of the culture of that time. What's the value in such an education?" "Gombrowicz may have something of a point. School could pay a little more attention to universal culture. But please don't forget
anything, and that I was incapable of translating even three words. The deathly silence persisted. I was alone on my bench, in front of this idiotic sheet of paper, alone with that fake Latin: Never before had a murderous, killing sense of the absurd struck me with such force. The same thing happened, alas, in the written math exam. My mathematical ineptitude made itself glaringly felt. I attacked the trigonometry exercise with the boldness of a desperate man—and to my astonishment, in ten
but, despite her excellent command of French, various kinds of knowledge that constituted the education of a young lady of the gentry, and firm moral principles, she lacked that which gives an ordinary milking-girl such selfconfidence, naturalness, and straightforwardness—she hadn't been tested by life. She had never really come into contact with it. This was what deprived her of authority in our eyes and meant that she moved about in a vacuum. In this vacuum she no longer really knew who she
already knew a thing or two. A few years later it was clarified for me much more vividly when, on a hunting trip near Potoczek, I happened to meet a highly-placed colonel who at the time was a minister and was regarded as the leading intellect of the regime. Polish Memories 51 He drank my health most politely and, taking my arm, asked, "I know you have literary interests and that you're intelligent. Why do you hold yourself aloof?" I'd already had a few glasses and was thereby inclined to a
himself. He appeared at dinner in an immaculate pair of knickerbockers, introduced himself to everyone enthusiastically, and, since he was talkative, wished to take part in the conversation. At this point something dreadful happened. The conversation rejected him. It's hard to put this any other way, since it was no one's fault; quite the opposite, everyone tried to be nice to him, and it never even occurred to anyone to put on airs. It was just that, well, this was a company that had its own