Saturday, October 21, 2006

from Cosmos

by Witold Gombrowicz:
Moonless star-filled sky - stupendous - constellations emerged out of the swarms of stars, some I knew, the Big Dipper, the Great Bear, I was identifying them, but others, unfamiliar to me, were also lurking there, as if inscribed into the distribution of the major stars, I tried to fill in lines that mght bind them into forms . . . and this deciphering, this charting, suddenly wearied me, I switched to the little garden, but here too the multiplicity of objects such as a chimney, a pipe, the angle of a gutter, the crnice of a wall, a small tree, as well as their more involved combinations like the turn and disappearance of the path, the rhythm of shadows, soon wearied me . . . yet I would begin anew, though reluctantly, to look for forms, patterns, I no longer felt like it, I was bored and impatient and cranky, until I realized that what riveted me to these objects, how shall I put it, what attracted me to the "behind," the "beyond," was the way that one object was "behind" the other, that the pipe was behind the chimney, the wall was behind the corner of the kitchen, just like . . . like . . . like . . . at supper when Katasia's lips were behind Lena's little mouth when Katasia moved the ashtray with the wire mesh while leaning over Lena, lowering her slithering lips close to . . . I was more suproisd than I should have been, at this point I was inclined to exaggerate everything, and besides, the constellations, the Big Dipper, etc., amounted to something cerebral, exhausting, and I though "what? mouths, together?" I was particularly astonished by the fact that both their mouths were now, in my imagination, in my memory, more closely linked together than then, at the table, I tried to clear my head by shaking it, but that made the connection of Lena's lips with Katasia's lips even more clear-cut, so I smirked, because truly, Katasia's twirled-up lasciviousness, her slipping into swinish lust had nothing, absolutely nothing in common with the fresh parting and innocent closing of Lena's lips, it's just that one was "in relation to the other" - as on a map, where one city is in relation to another city - anyway, th eidea of maps had emtered my head, a map of the sky, or an ordinary map with cities, etc. The entire "connection" ws not really a connection, merely one mouth considered in relation to another mouth, in the sense of distance, for example, of direction and position . . . nothing more . . . but, while I now estimated that Katasia's mouth was most likely somewhere in the vicinity of the kitchen (she slept thereabouts), in fact I wondered where, in what direction, and at what distance was it from Lena's little mouth. And my coldly-lustful striving in the hallway toward Katasia underwent a dislocation because of Lena's incidental intrusion.
Cosmos is one of my favorite novels, and what a surprise to find it translated anew by Danuta Borchardt for the Yale Press. The Grove Press edition, bound together with Pornografia, was better than nothing, but this new volume far, far outshines that earlier version. Hopefully Ms Borchardt has already begun a new translation of Pornografia to sit alongside Cosmos and Ferdydurke.

Cosmos might be the best, combining a kind of noirish mystery (in what seems to be a 19th century Polish landscape with pensiones and horse-drawn wagons) with a kind of philosophical speculation that betrays the unbridled desperation and cunning subversion of the narrator, who, for all we know, is simply making the whole thing up as he goes.


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