Many a Polish writer has ended up in exile, but the ironies of Witold Gombrowicz’s situation are nearly as fantastic as some of his plots. In the summer of 1939, he set out on what was to be a leisurely transatlantic cruise to South America and back. By the time the ship docked in Argentina, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia had invaded Poland and World War II had begun. Gombrowicz spent the next ten years contending with poverty and isolation, clerking by day and writing by night, until translations into Spanish and publications abroad again brought him some renown. Belligerently apolitical, Gombrowicz maintained ties with both the émigré press and the press in Poland, and he refused to take part in any ideological exercises. In his homeland, however, his earlier works were not reprinted, nor were his newer ones published until “the Polish October” of 1956-1958, a period of relative liberalization. The 1957 edition of Ferdydurke sold out in a matter of days, Gombrowicz’s plays were staged, his correspondence was published, and he stood at the very center of debate on Polish literary and cultural life. His absolute rebellion against all fixed expectations of behavior, however, whether social, cultural, ideological, or national, made him too volatile an element in an atmosphere of forced stability and stale dogma. In 1958, his name and works virtually disappeared from print again, but he continued to exert a tremendous influence on Polish writing and thought.
Gombrowicz was a provocateur in life and in letters; it was his method of confronting reality, his style of existence. Paradox lies at the foundation of his work, in which he aimed to provoke, amuse, confound, and finally leave the reader nose to nose with some highly unpleasant psychological and philosophical truths. Ferdydurke, with its three acts and two intermezzos, resembles theater more...
(The entire section is 770 words.)