COSMOS – Witold Gombrowicz

Translated from the Polish by Danuta  Borchardt – Grove Press 2005

Who would ever think of hanging a sparrow? It’s like flavouring borscht with two mushrooms instead of one — it’s too much!” (17 Feb 12)

I am up to page 17. Too early to tell you what I think this is all about, not having read any blurbs. Two mouths, two mushrooms, two men staying with a family: macabrous meanings beginning to fan out, except the hanged sparrow was possibly the same ‘little bird’ that tells everyone about secrets and should have told you about this book.  Had you heard of it before stumbling on this thread? (19 Feb 12)

It was difficult to understand such gibberish.” … except perhaps as ordinary tags and pieces on or within or from people / places expressed via a syllogistic absurdism as factored into an alternating of a  larger-than-life pointillism with low-key synaesthesia…? Up to page 30 now. (22 Feb 12)

This was just in case — if anyone had indeed been amusing himself by arousing our interest with signs, let him know that we had read them … that we’re awaiting further developments. A slim chance but what did it cost to drop these few words?” Indeed. (Page 43 – 23 Feb 12)

It all seems to become a music of meaning … Flowing over me without needing to understand how I seem to understand.  Signs and signifiers like unnoticed literary ‘weather’. (Page 62 – 26 Feb 12)

All this made no sense any more,…”  Trying to bang through, though, trying to kettle the rioting meanings in a corner? Try my story ‘Missing Arrow’ (written a few years ago) as key: soon to be published in ‘The Last Balcony’. “As soon as I thought of the connection, I pushed away the absurd thought,…” Then some noisy voyeurism! (Page 71 – 3 Mar 12)

“…for God’s sake, why did I strangle the cat?” Cf: my ENTRIES (published in 1993 and to be re-published in ‘The Last Balcony’).  Then an absurdist whodunnit talk-around about pounding things etc. (–> page 84: 12 Mar 12)

“…ha, ha, how sticky is this cobweb of connections! Why does one have to suffer from the favor and disfavor of associations?” I feel as if I’m in a nightmare of my own real-time reviews connections all coupled with the details of ‘Details’ by China  Miéville and ‘The Atelier in Iaşi’ by Mark Valentine… (–> page 96: 15 Mar 12)

An excursion from the claustrophobia (my word, not the book’s) picking up a couple on the way (Lulu and Lukie) leaving Katasia behind.  This book is a panoply of Dada as a mobile Pointillisme: or vice versa. “I thought that during a ride objects appear, only to disappear, objects are unimportant, the landscape is unimportant, the only thing that is left is appearance and disappearance. A tree. A field. Another tree. It passes.” Like the pages of a book?  More transient even than a journey through Kindle Forest? (–> page 106: 19 Mar 12)

Another turn crowding in, a balcony drifting in, then a triangle –” The trip with the house there or not there or there differently – reminds me of ‘The House of Leaves’ by Mark Danielewski. (–> page 116; 11 Apr 2012)

And, yet, in spite of it all, new threads were beginning to form, independent of that other, a new, local dynamic was growing…” (–> page 128; 26 Apr 2012)

“[…] more and more blossoms in the grass, blue and yellow, clusters of spruce, pines, the terrain was descending, and I had moved quite far, an incomprehensible matter of otherness and distance, in the silence butterflies fluttering. A breeze blowing gently, earth and grass, forests turning into peaks, a bald patch under a tree, pince-nez – Leon.
He sat on the stump of a tree smoking a cigarette.
“What are you doing here?”
“Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing,” he replied and smiled blissfully.
“What’s so amusing?”
“What? Nothing! Exactly that: nothing! Ha, that’s a language game, if you please, hm … I’m amused by ‘nothing’, mark you, Your Reverence, my venerable companion and merry-maker and horse-drawn carriage, because ‘nothing’ is exactly what we do all our lives. A fellow stands, sits, talks, writes and … nothing. A fellow buys, sells, marries, doesn’t marry and – nothing. A fellow sitzum on a stumpium and – nothing. Soda pop.”
He was drawling these words, with nonchalance, condescendingly.
I said: “You talk as if you’ve never worked.”
“Never worked? but I have! Yes indeed! Definitely! At the bankie! The little bankie! From the dumb bankie-dear straight into the stomach! A whale. Hm. Thirty-two years! And what? Nothing!”
He pondered and blew on his hands.
“It’s run through my fingers!”
“What has?”
He replied nasally, monotonously.
“Years disintegrate into months, months into days, days into hours, minutes into seconds, seconds run past. You won’t catch them. Everything runs past. Flies away. Who am I? I am a certain number of seconds – that have run past. The result: nothing. Nothing.”
He flared up and exclaimed: “It’s thievery!” He took off his pince-nez and began to tremble, like a little old man, like one of those indignant little old men one sees at times standing on the street corners, or in a trolley, or in front of a cinema, vociferating. Should I talk to him? Say something? But what? I was still lost, not knowing which way to go, to the right, to the left, so many threads, connections, insinuations, if I wanted to enumerate all of them from the very beginning I would be lost, cork, saucer, the trembling of a hand, the chimney, a cloud of objects and matters undeciphered, first one detail then another would link up, dovetail, but then other connections would immediately evolve, other connections – this is what I lived by, as if I were not living, chaos, a pile of garbage, a slurry – I was putting my hand inside a sack of garbage, pulling out whatever turned up, looking to see if it would be suitable for the construction of … my little home … that was acquiring, poor thing, fantastic shapes … and so on without end … But what about this Leon? I’ve been wondering for some time why he seems to be circling in my vicinity, even seconding me, there was some similarity, take the fact that he was losing himself in seconds as I was in trifles, […]”
(–> page 132; 2 May 12)

A swarm of little white butterflies, something like a billowing sphere, flew over the meadow and disappeared beyond the larches by a brook (there was a brook).” And we accost the word ‘berg’ several times. To do with onanism?  Or an iceberg that is 7/8 hidden: so topical with the Titanic anniversary in the last few days? Ingrid or Ingemar?  Or that reality itself is a berg within surrounding emptiness? The Bamberg orchestra? Bergen in Norway I visited in 2008 and that’s near where and when I photographed this photo here (in Norway): today used to illustrate a story I wote a few hours ago (The Meat Raiders) containing ‘ab-so-loot-lee‘ and in this section of Cosmos I have just found, incredibly, this: “ab-so-lute-ly“! (–>Page 144; 3 May 12)

“…it’s interesting, the way coincidences happen more often than one would expect, stickiness, the way one thing sticks to another, events, phenomena, they are like those magnetized balls, they search for one another, and when they’re close, pam…”

And – pam! – I realise this is a Joycean Molly’s-Monologue: almost nonsense, almost sense, that one reads ‘over’ rather than skims but which one still understands to the root of some meaningful-meaningless object-objective correlatives like stick, mouth, arrow etc. – a bergamasque of an onanistic reading! Yay! (–>page 149; 4 May 12)

In any case it was too late now, a polyp had formed along my perimeter, a falsity had arisen between us, and the more I tried to annihilate the polyp the more it asserted itself.” I think the more UK readers  of this book think about this traipse by the characters in and out of the text’s environments and objectified leitmotifs the more they will think of the Beano comic as a gestalt of yore: eg Lord Snooty and his friends, some with question mark heads and imaginary moving mouths &c &c. (–> Page 156; 7 May 12)

For a moment I saw the sparrow, the stick, the cat, together with the mouth … like trash in the seething cauldron of a waterfall — then vanishing. I expected everything to move forward in the mode of the berg.” The berg, the method used by dusk to climb a building piecemeal?  Or rather, with a sudden flash of inspiration, my favourite composer – Alban Berg? He did operas just like this book! Including ‘Lulu‘. Yay, got it! (–> page 171; 8 May 12 – 1.15 pm bst)

Yes, but the threads of connections were fragile … fragile … and here was this hanging person, a brutal corpse! And its hanging brutality, pam, pam, pam, pam, was skilfully uniting with pam, pam, pam, pam, sparrow – stick – cat, it was like a, b, c, d, like one, two three, four!” And here we end with looking or feeling into the mouth of the hanging dead. A bit left-handed like pam, pam, pam, pam. A masterpiece of connections without connections. Thanks to the person who recommended this book to me. Someone said recently that most writers can be compared with some other writer. But DF Lewis can’t be compared with anyone. At least, I’ve found my soulmate now, solved the mystery whodunnitisation…. Not that I’m claiming for myself a resemblance of text and style to Gombrowicz, merely a resemblance of irresemblance. Each of us working on our own for dubious ends. “Lulu chirped, ‘What is it that’s here, Mr. Leon, what is it?'” (–>END; 8 May 12 – 2.00 pm bst)


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4 responses to “COSMOS – Witold Gombrowicz

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  3. What I most love about “Cosmos” is that, even at the story’s conclusion, I’m still not sure if all the signs and clues were imagined or not. But then, perhaps that’s the point. Or perhaps it doesn’t matter. “Berg” might just be a red herring for the reader as it is for Witold.

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