Czarny Pies's Reviews > La Pornographie

La Pornographie by Witold Gombrowicz
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it was ok
bookshelves: polish-lit
Recommended for: Those who are willing to accord considerable license to Poets.
Read 2 times. Last read April 8, 2018 to April 9, 2018.

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 tragedy. Surprisingly Gombrowicz is very highly regarded today in Poland.

The novel is about pornography to the extent the two major protagonists Witold and his doppelganger Frederic seek to achieve fulfillment by attempting to manipulate the lives of two adolescents Henia and Karol. The fail at their prime objective which is to push the two into a sexual relationship. However, a new opportunity for diversion occurs when a rogue member in of the Armia Krajowa in flight from his unit arrives at the country estate where the main characters live. The superiors of the Armia Krajowa order the estate owner to kill the deserter. None of the adults are prepared to accept the responsibility so Witold and Frederic ask Karol and Henia do it. This time the two teenagers comply and quickly move to perform the act.

According to Gombrowicz "La Pornographie" provides the clearest statement of the dominant theme of his career which is that society imposes roles on its members. In Ferdydurke Gombrowicz shows society imposing immaturity on the young. In "La Pornographie" the young are trapped in immaturity while their elders are prisoners of adulthood.

The problem for me is the gulf between the fantasy land created by Gombrowicz what the reality was in Poland. In 1943 childhood did not exist in the country. During WWII, six million Poles roughly 30% of the nation's population were killed. Every one lived in daily fear of being killed. Procuring food was highly dangerous and most people were severely undernourished. The adolescents of the generation of Henia and Karol were not even being educated as the Germans closed the country's secondary schools and killed the teachers in 1939.

It is difficult to say what Gombrowicz knew of the situation in Poland during WWII or when he learned because he left Poland in 1939 and never returned. In my view, Gombrowicz makes light of a profoundly tragic time in Poland's history. In defense of Gombrowicz, it must be acknowledged that he does not try to present his story as being historically accurate. The characters and their actions clearly belong to the realm of the theatrical farce or of the operetta.

On a final note, the French translation by Georges Lisowski that I read is very good. Lisowksi manages to situate Gombrowicz into the French Absurdist-Nouveau Roman tendency which makes for very enjoyable reading. Lisowksi translates "pierogi z białym serem" as "raviolis au fromage' which I found to be inspired. Gombrowicz was ultimately a dreadful Pole and a wonderful Frenchman.
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Reading Progress

April 8, 2018 – Started Reading
April 8, 2018 – Started Reading
April 8, 2018 – Shelved
April 8, 2018 – Shelved as: polish-lit
April 8, 2018 – Finished Reading
April 9, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Julie (new)

Julie I like your review, Czarny, but this sounds like an utterly distasteful book. I can't imagine reading it.


Czarny Pies Julie wrote: "I like your review, Czarny, but this sounds like an utterly distasteful book. I can't imagine reading it."

It is utterly distasteful. You understood my review perfectly.


message 3: by Peter (new)

Peter A very profound and interesting Review, Czarny. So far I have shied away reading Gombrowicz. Maybe it's about time to start.


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