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3.93  ·  Rating details ·  2,210 ratings  ·  137 reviews
Gombrowicz's strange, bracing final novel probes the divide between young and old while providing a grotesque evocation of obsession. While recuperating from wartime Warsaw in the Polish countryside, the unnamed narrator and his friend, Fryderyk, attempt to force amour between two local youths, Karol and Henia, as a kind of a lewd entertainment. They become increasingly fr ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published November 1994 by Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd (first published 1960)
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3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,210 ratings  ·  137 reviews

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Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwii, polish
This is one of those books about the duplicity of this lifeless journey, where a man is riding to church as if he were actually riding to church when of course he is not even he and he is definitely not riding to church. Fryderyk is probably France and people watch simple pastoral settings but it's all about Poland before and during the Second World War. So it's fun for awhile trying to figure out what the names mean and who's Chamberlain, who's Hitler. Then it's not so much fun anymore.

This cou
Sep 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Gombrowicz has never failed to amaze me. While this book is not quite on the same level as Ferdydurke, it is still stunning. Like Ferydurke, the themes of "youth" and "maturity" are still highly prevalent and key to the novel, but here these themes are regarded in a completely different fashion. With Pornografia, he shows the power held in youth and his disgust for his fellow "grown man" as two adults toy with the lives of two teenagers, pushing them to act in subtle ways as if they were trying ...more
Ben Winch
An off-the-wall classic, part war thriller, part philosophical enquiry, written by a Polish emigre living in Argentina in 1960 who had arrrived on a cruise ship 20 years earlier and when the Second World War broke out decided not to go back, Pornografia has a deliciously unreal element to it. From the first page (one of the most arresting in literature) this is theatrical, but with the atmosphere and three dimensions that only a novel can supply. The plot is bizarre: two ageing intellectuals (on ...more
Czarny Pies
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who are willing to accord considerable license to Poets.
Shelves: polish-lit
There is no mention in "La Pornographie" of the Majdanek extermination camp where 78,000 Poles including 59,000 Jews were killed between 1942 and 1944 despite the fact that the action of the novel takes place in Sandomierz a mere 125 kilometres away in 1943 while the camp is at the height of its activity. The Armia Krajowa (Poland's principal resistance group with a force of 400,000) is mentioned but its members are presented as buffoons. In Gombrowicz's view Polish history was a melodrama not a ...more
Justin Evans
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
A very slow start, but the ingenious plot and Gombrowicz's usual intelligence come through at the end.
Allan MacDonell
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Aspiring masturbators should be warned that Witold Gombrowicz’s Pornografia contains no hardcore sexual activity. There is bodily penetration, but only by knives. All of the climaxes and most of the carnality that pops up throughout the novel arise from the intense physical intimacy people share when they murder one another through stabbing. Set in Poland during the Nazi occupation, a Poland never visited by Gombrowicz, who irrevocably expatriated prior to the war’s onset, Pornografia’s atmosphe ...more
Monica Carter
Nov 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Youth is wasted on the young.
George Bernard Shaw

Nothing would seem more true than Shaw's quote according to Gombrowicz's narrator, Witold Gombrowicz. Pornografia,Gombrowicz's novel that missed winning the International Prize for Literature by one vote in 1960, features the eponymous narrator of the author and his compatriot in obsession, Fryderyk. Beginning with Gombrowicz's first meeting with Fryderyk, "a middle-aged guy..., dark and lean, with an aquiline nose", we know that Fryderyk easily,
Richard Stopford
May 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Aside from being a brilliantly unnerving story, practically hallucinatory in its intensity, it's got to be the only book I've read which uses modal metaphysics to explore issues of identity, ethics and desire. Rather than running through the story, it's more interesting to consider the complex notion of pornography in the novel and what that could mean.

The narrator - Gombrowicz himself - and his friend become obsessed with a young couple who are actually no more than children who have grown up t
Scott Lapierre
May 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Hilarious and disturbing. Ribald and base but at the same time brainy and removed. Can be read like a dirty joke or a complex modernist treatise on voyeurism, generation gaps, war, and a whole slew of other unrelated topics. But most importantly, it's extremely fun to read. The translator (and I assume Gombrowicz himself) captures a staccato, disjointed, contradictory, sometimes breezy, sometimes stilted language that convincingly feels like an unfiltered transcript direct from a human brain. An ...more
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I will have to read it several more times to fully appreciate the form and the thought behind this story.
The novel sparkles with tension and is full of tiny details which grow to great sizes and swell up with hidden meanings. The author had an eagle eye surely because he managed to describe in detail the most vague and mysterious of human behaviours.
Mark Van Aken Williams
Feb 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Witold Gombrowicz was Polish, but lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His fiction is thoroughly Latin American. Yet he is the antithesis of Borges. His style is full of savagery and manic obsession. The contrasts of desire and impotence, along with deception and illusion, brilliantly merge into psychological drama. He is nothing short of the godfather of Bolaño.
Leon Marks
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Tried reading Gombrowicz in advance of my Poland vacation in two weeks, but it just never pulled me in; unlikable characters, minimal dialogue, language a bit too abstract; I had to abandon it half way.
May 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Two middle-aged mean, named Witold and Fryderyk, go to an estate in the Polish countryside during the German occupation. There, they are entranced with the idea of a young man named Karol and a young woman named Henia falling in love with each other. In the meantime, serious events intervene -- which seem to have little effect on W and F: They still continue with their monomania.

It seems that Henia is actually affianced to an attorney named Vaclav. Vaclav's mother Amelia is unaccountably knifed
Oct 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
It is difficult to write the review for the books like this. There are books with a clear and well defined plot, written with the superior style and one enjoys reading them because they are so nicely set. There are other type of good books where the main characters are words. They have such magical attraction that they draw into the text and you feel so good by reading it regardless what is it about. This book is of the later kind. I've read it in Serbian translation (my compliments to the trans ...more
Oct 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Gombrowicz is a unique writer, very difficult to translate into English. This book was translated by a winner of the Polish government's "Found in Translation" award, which she won partly on the basis of this translation. What I find interesting about Gombrowicz is that his two biggest insights into human nature--that even as adults we all feel immature and that people's personalities change depending on whom they interact with--are turned by him into very interesting and provocative novels and ...more
Andrii Mironchenko
Jul 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
This novel is like a theatre of the Absurd. But, in contrast to the absurd in Kafkas novels it is not cold and passionless like a state. It is idiotic as a human.
Jul 08, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20th-century
3.5 stars...I think? I have to let this one settle a bit more.
Dec 04, 2012 added it
My comments with additional links

The summary from the Publishers Weekly review (taken from Bacacay: The Polish Literature Weblog):

While recuperating from wartime Warsaw in the Polish countryside, the unnamed narrator and his friend, Fryderyk, attempt to force amour between two local youths, Karol and Henia, as a kind of a lewd entertainment. They become increasingly frustrated as they discover that the two have no interest in one another, and the games are momentarily stopped by a local murder
John David
Oct 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
When reaching the end of a novel, rarely do I have so much to say, and also so little. This was my first experience with Gombrowicz, and it was a bewildering, exciting one. It has elective affinities with Kundera that make it a unique, and not wholly pleasurable, read. About one third of the way through the novel, I wasn’t sure that I would make it the rest of the way. The purely distilled, unrelenting psychological depictions of its characters and occasional absurdism can sometimes make it ardu ...more
Feb 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: coffee house intellectuals
There were flashes of brilliance here, but also a whole lot of dullness. Is this really among the best that 20th century literature has to offer? If so, then I'm ready to go back to science fiction and suspense novels for a long time.

Gombrowicz (or at least his eponymous character) seems to feel a lot of disgust for mature folks. He and his character seem to be suggesting that the old can only live through the young. But the opposite observation seems equally compelling to me: that youth could n
Jan 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
There is a lot of symbolism in Pornografia, the writing is based on wrapping words around themselves, in a way that would show how the narrator and characters involved with him are wrapped around in his mind. The writing style itself is rather unique and I can't quite place a finger on having read too much like it, nor can I find a way to truly describe what it is I experienced. For the most part, I found myself realizing that I was as much a witness to the action as any of the other characters, ...more
Feb 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Not since Crying Of Lot 49 has the act of finishing been more revelatory than reading the novel for me. I was riding on my enormous respect for Gombrowicz and grasp of his style, but I wasn't exactly in love with it for a while. There's pleasant familiarity in the same old Gombrowicz playing with the absurdity of applying abstract philosophy within plain reality, and a there's his familiar theme about the power struggles between young and the old. However, being one of his later novels, it's wri ...more
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
. Pornografia ( much like Cosmos) the drawing of constellations, an elevation of the mundane into things thrilling and intense - a distrust of the world as prescribed, and so dug at or another view thrown upon and filtered, two thighs and a lantern! O yes, of course. Of course! much (depends (one day I will tell you why I write in these parenthesis(sic))) is accomplished with the way grammar is used, much like Sterne, the marks, dashes - ...! and etc...seem to scream and you can hear the sc ...more
Bill Smith
Nov 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Alternately comic seduction, crime fiction, and morality tale about how we cope in wartime, Pornografia is really an allegory of Poland's role as pawn as the Major Powers broker their wars. The title is more accurately translated as "voyeurism" which gives you a much better sense of what's between the covers. Gombrowicz is not the warmest of writers - but he makes no apologies for that. Instead, his singular omnipotent voice gives the book its multilayered resonance, sense of vertigo, and, yes, ...more
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Gombrowicz's 'Pornography' is a deeply transgressive work, but not in the way that its title suggests - Gombrowicz's biggest joke. It plays its hand with understated subtlety and sly absurdism, which could well be taken for dullness. 'Death in Venice', played for laughs?

The title has been criticised as inappropriate or misleading. I think it is perfect. Without it, the book would hardly make sense. The title undercuts the languidly unfolding portrayal of a couple of old Polish duffers, remindin
Oct 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: polska, borrowed, wwii, spicy
Gombrowicz is an ultra delicate seismometer of everything human - sensing and analysing any tiniest emotion, look, gesture, wink, hesitation to the smallest detail. At the same time (or maybe because of that) the plot is very engaging and the ending quite surprising. A rewarding read from the first page to the last.
Luka Urbac
Oct 27, 2015 rated it liked it
I was left alone, disappointed, as is always the case when something comes to fulfillment—because fulfillment is always murky, insufficiently clear, devoid of the greatness and purity of the undertaking.
Feb 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Why was (the boy) in brackets?
Tatao Burduli
I really did not get the fuss about the book. Although some reviews claim that it grasps people's psychology well, I think that it a bit of the opposite - the narrator and his "friend" obviously have deep mental health issues. They overthink, overexplain and extradimenstionally misinterpret every action, every word and every tiny glance of the kids into something very psychologically mature and sophisticated. Therefore, I think this book is overrated in many ways. What I can kind of give it to i ...more
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Witold Marian Gombrowicz (August 4, 1904 in Małoszyce, near Kielce, Congress Poland, Russian Empire – July 24, 1969 in Vence, near Nice, France) was a Polish novelist and dramatist. His works are characterized by deep psychological analysis, a certain sense of paradox and an absurd, anti-nationalist flavor. In 1937 he published his first novel, Ferdydurke, which presented many of his usual themes: ...more