Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Extract From Ferdydurke

A delightful passage from Ferdydurke, this great novel by Witold Gombrowicz.


Memories! Mankind is accursed because our existence on this earth does not tolerate any well-defined and stable hierarchy, everything continually flows, spills over, moves on, everyone must be aware of judged by everyone else, and the opinions that the ignorant, dull, and slow-witted hold about us are no less important than the opinions of the bright, the enlightened, the refined. This is because man is profoundly dependent on the reflection of himself in another man's soul, be it even in the soul of an idiot.I absolutely disagree with my fellow writers who treat the opinions of the dull witted with an aristocratic haughtiness and declare: odi profanum vulgus. What a cheap and simplistic way of avoiding reality, what a shoddy escape into specious loftiness! I maintain, on the contrary, that the more dull and narrow-minded they are, the more urgent and compelling are their opinions, just as an ill-fitting shoe hurts us more than a well-fitting one. Oh, these judgements, the bottomless pit of people's judgements and opinions about your wisdom, feelings, and character, about all the details of your personality- it;s a pit that opens up before the daredevil who drapes his thoughts in print and lets them lose on paper, oh,printed paper, paper, paper, paper! And I am not even talking about the heartfelt opinions of those other aunts- the cultural aunts, those female semi-writers and tackled on semi-critics who make pronouncements in literary magazines. Indeed, world culture has been beset by a flock of superfluous hens patched-on, pinned-on to literature, who have become fine tuned to literature, who have become fine tuned to spiritual values and well versed in aesthetics, frequently entertaining views and opinions of their own, who have even caught on to the notions that Oscar Wilde is passe and that Bernhard Shaw is a master of paradox. Oh, they are on to the fact that they must be independent, profound, unobtrusively assertive, and filled with auntie kindliness. Auntie, auntie, auntie! Unless you have found yourself in the laboratory of a cultural aunt and been dissected, mute and without a groan, by her trivializing mentality, unless you have ever seen an auntie's critique of yourself in a newspaper, you have no concept of triviality, and aunty-triviality in particular.

Ferdydurke, translated from the Polish by Danuta Borchardt.

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