Witold Gombrowicz’s Pornografia at The Quarterly Conversation

Witold Gombrowicz’s Pornografia at The Quarterly Conversation

Excerpted from:
Pornografia, Witold Gombrowicz (trans. Danuta Borchardt). Grove Press. $23.00. 176 pp. November 2009.

The book is a sardonic depiction of a place Gombrowicz never saw: WWII Poland (he was stranded in Argentina). It follows two men as they attempt to defile two youths, and the book skillfully mixes elements of Eros and Thanatos, young and old, purity and obscenity.

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The carriage moved on. Karol sat on the driver’s seat, next to the coachman. She, in the front—and where her little head ended, there he began above her as if placed on an upper story, his back toward us, a slim contour, visible yet featureless—while his shirt billowed in the wind—and the combination of her face with the absence of his face, the complement of her seeing face with his unseeing back struck me with a dark, hot duality. . . . They were not unusually good-looking—neither he nor she—only as much as is appropriate for their age—but they were a beauty in their closed circle, in their mutual desire and rapture—something in which practically no one else had any right to take part. They were unto them-selves—it was strictly between them. And especially because they were so (young). So I was not allowed to watch, I tried not to see it, but, with Fryderyk in front of me and sitting next to her on the small seat, I was again persistently asking myself: Had he seen this? Did he know anything? And I was lying in wait to see a single glance of his, one of those supposedly indifferent ones yet sliding by surreptitiously, greedily.

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