Gombrowicz, Witold (Vol. 11)
Gombrowicz, Witold 1904–1969
A Polish-born novelist, playwright, and-short story writer, Gombrowicz lived in Argentina from 1939 to 1963, and then settled in France. He viewed man as a social animal, needing the affection and stability of personal relationships, but needing at the same time to express independence and individuality. His works, with their modern existentialist themes and brilliant satire, have been noted for their important and innovative contribution to European letters. (See also CLC, Vols. 4, 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20; obituary, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)
[Gombrowicz' plays Ivona, Princess of Burgundia and The Marriage] are compelling satires of society….
The two plays deal with two different societies. In Ivona, Princess of Burgundia it is pre-World War II European society (the play was written in 1935) or, more precisely, the ruling classes of that society. The Marriage (1946) is about the new society which resulted from the war and from the seizure of power by the communist parties, with emphasis on the events leading up to that seizure. But Gombrowicz goes beyond the localized framework which he attacks and which inspires him to describe an essence which, if not universal (something difficult to imagine in a social satire), is at least much more general. Ivona, Princess of Burgundia describes the dominant strata of any more or less bourgeois society; The Marriage, the essential schema of a revolutionary seizure of power by the masses and its consequent transformation into dictatorship, as in Russia, Poland, and most other "people's democracies." All of this is presented, of course, from Gombrowicz' aristocratic point of view and in the light of his Christian values.
To some extent Ivona, Princess of Burgundia, written in the entre-deux-guerres, reflects the ideas of that period's dominant philosophy, existentialism—specifically, Christian existentialism. (p. 102)
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The project of Ferdydurke is an existential quest for a solution to the problem of form, a problem which is characterized from a variety of perspectives, but which refuses to yield anything but further problems, more intricate questions. While it is pleasant enough, in studying Gombrowicz, to recall Chekhov's famous distinction between "the solution of a question and the correct putting of a question," and his conclusion that "Only the last is required of the artist," Gombrowicz puts so many questions, and with such incredible abandon, that one is hard put to take consolation in the recollection of precedents. (pp. 284-85)
Gombrowicz's handling of the problem of form is in an older tradition, ultimately, I think, more satisfying than many more recent experimentalists want to concede…. Where one has every reason to suspect a writer like Robbe-Grillet of deliberately concealing meanings which even he would be unable to identify, concealing them in the interests of sheer surface play and display, Gombrowicz's fiction more closely resembles the Kafkan parable—pregnant with meanings too painful to liberate from the contexts of fiction. Where in Beckett we have, in Frank Kermode's terms, not much more than "a form commenting upon itself, an autistic stir of language," a fiction which at its climax "virtually disclaims its own authenticity," Gombrowicz juxtaposes the grim and the farcical in such a way that neither can operate...
(The entire section is 3614 words.)