Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reading Notes (Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary)

Witold Gombrowicz, Diary (Northwestern U. Press, 1988-1993)

Quoting Nietzsche (in the context of “virtue in those who have failed, virtue born of poverty”): “The mitigation of our customs is the consequence of our weakness.”

“Writers! We would save ourselves a great many disillusionments if we did not call everyone who can ‘write,’ ‘a writer.’ I knew those ‘writers.’ They were usually persons of rather superficial intelligence and quite narrow horizons, who, as far as I can remember, did not become anybody so that today they don’t really have much to give up. These cadavers were characterized in their lifetime by the following: it was easy for them to fabricate a moral and ideological face, thereby earning the approbation of the critics and the more serious part of the readership.”

“. . . people knew what a great writer was supposed to be: ‘authentic,’ ‘profound,’ ‘constructive’ and they then tried to fulfill these requirements yet their game was spoiled by the awareness that it was not their own ‘profundity’ and ‘loftiness’ that was compelling them to write, but the reverse: they were creating the profundity so that they could be writers. That is how this subtle blackmail of values came about and it was no longer clear whether someone was voicing humility only to elevate himself and stand out, or if that someone was voicing the bankruptcy of culture and literature in order to be a good literary figure. The greater the hunger for real and pure value among these beings, so restricted by their own contradictions, the more desperate the feeling of the inevitable and all-demanding kitsch.”

Of n’importe quoi: “I will undoubtedly conceive of this thing in rather subjective terms as thinking is not my specialty and I do not conceal the fact that to me thought is simply auxiliary scaffolding.”

“You have no idea what is happening inside of you, when you look at a painting. You think that you are getting close to art voluntarily, enticed by its beauty, that this intimacy is taking place in an atmosphere of freedom and that delight is being born in you spontaneously, lured by the divine rod of Beauty. In truth, a hand has grabbed you by the scruff of the neck, led you to this painting, and has thrown you to your knees. A will mightier than your own told you to attempt to experience the appropriate emotions. Whose hand and whose will? The hand is not the hand of a single man, the will is collective, born in an interhuman dimension, quite alien to you. So you do not admire at all, you merely try to admire.”

“An idea is and always will be a screen behind which are other and more important issues. An idea is a pretext, an auxiliary tool. Thought torn away from human reality is something majestic and splendid, but diluted in a mass of passionate and insufficient beings becomes nothing more that commotion.”

Against Camus’s insisting (in L’Homme révolté) that conscience, the individual conscience, serve as a stop: “Don’t we see again and again that the conscience has almost no voice in the matter? Does man kill or torture because he has come to the conclusion that he has the right to do so? He kills because others kill. He tortures because others torture. The most abhorrent deed becomes easy if the road to it has been paved, and, for example, in concentration camps the road to death was so well trodden that the bourgeois incapable of killing a fly at home exterminated people with ease.”

“Rabelais had no idea whether he was ‘historical’ or ‘ahistorical.’ He had no intention of cultivating ‘absolute writing’ or of paying homage to ‘pure art,’ or, too, the opposite of that, articulating his epoch. He intended nothing at all because he wrote the way a child pees against a tree, in order to relieve himself.”

All out of pages writ in 1953. Recall, too, the line of Gombrowicz’s quoted by Sontag: “To contradict, even on little matters, is the supreme necessity of art today.” (Contra the yea-saying mobs of applauders, and mutual applauders, that hurry along the poetic “ranks” today. This-year’s-model-ism. Gombrowicz: “Applause incited by applause. Applause feeding on itself, piling onto itself, exciting, creating applause.”)