Thursday, 20 June 2013
Kronos – the Strange New Case of Gombrowicz
The book of his intimate records arrives as Gombrowicz’s swansong, years after his death in 1969. As with swans, it’s attractive to consider from a distance, but be advised that swans don’t let you pass unnoticed - just ask Leda.
The writer’s final extensive work - the companion piece to his famous Diary, as curt as the Diary is lush and harsh - is published in Polish on the 23rd of May by Wydawnictwo Literackie (WL) in Kraków. The fact that it’s his last book was attested to at the publisher’s press conference in Warsaw on the 8th of May by Rita Gombrowicz, the author’s widow. She had kept the manuscript after Yale University purchased his archive in 1989 for their Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. "This is the integral text", Madame Gombrowicz stated, when asked if other completed material exists, "and I tell you there is absolutely nothing more to come".
The new book lays out Gombrowicz’s meticulous monthly tabulation of concerns – his erotic ventures as lists of partners’ first names, and his health and lack thereof, are the carnal, corporeal priorities. Finances, travel, meetings, invitations, exchanges of gifts and letters are listed. Code words are pointed out in editors' footnotes: "commisariat" when his influential cousin or embassy contacts got him out of Argentine jails, likely for soliciting sex; "Durand" for the Buenos Aires hospital where he received injections to treat syphilis. In finding a form for his unrelenting self analysis, the new book gives the writer something of a last word on his life.
A key work that's been absent for decades – as a full biography of Gombrowicz remains conspicuously absent – publication of Kronos is a fixating coup de théâtre. The book opens with a facsimile of a page on which he listed the dates 1903 - the year before he was born - to 1939. Those dates are largely blank, a warning that anyone can envision such a memory project, but few dare undertake it. The original sheets shape-shift over the decades, from graphic notation - with vertical columns classifying sex partners or historical events - to consistent synopses in his concise scrawl. The evolution reflects his efforts to organize the Kronos material. One concession in this premiere edition is the need to adapt and transcribe the original hundred handwritten sheets into conventional paragraphs. Another, which the reader must consent to, is the absence of Gombrowicz’s vital, infectious tone.
Running editorial commentary adorns the bottom of pages, as a system to let the array of facts he compiled for decades breathe and fill, rather than as an academic apparatus. Three main sections cover his life in Poland, in Argentina - where he elected to stay when the Second World War laid waste to Poland - then his European life on returning to the continent in 1963, with a Ford Foundation grant for a year’s stay in Berlin.
Footnotes for the early and late years are by Jerzy Jarzębski, the literary scholar whose books including Gra w Gombrowicza / Games with Gombrowicz (1982) are crucial studies. The quarter century in Argentina, where the writer transformed from exiled avant-gardist to a figure of international stature, is elucidated by Klementyna Suchanow, whose book Argentyńskie przygody Gombrowicza covers those years. Rita Gombrowicz provides commentary for the final section, and wrote the Introduction for Kronos. Photos illustrate each phase, and a selection from the manuscript’s pages supplement the transcription with its painstaking notes. Those manuscript reproductions display his method and occasional drawings, and the publisher plans a full facsimile edition.
There are no announcements to date for translations of Kronos, though expectations are high. The Diary is already available in some two dozen languages. The newest and most ambitious of these is the two-volume Norwegian edition of that inventive, argumentative opus, which will include a painstaking index and extensive annotations about people and topics he wrote about over the course of that work. The single-volume Yale University Press publication from 2012 elicited a five-page piece in New Yorker magazine. (Yale publishes a new translation of Trans-Atlantic in 2013, the pithy, stylized, provocative novel Gombrowicz completed in 1951.) WL’s new single-volume Polish edition of the Diary accompanies the publisher's edtion of Kronos, and the relation of the two works is illuminating and elusive.