by Witold Gombrowicz [translated from the Polish by Danuta Borchardt]
Argentina, 1953 & 1957
In this semi-autobiographical & semi-Rabelaisian romp supposedly composed as a parody of a gawęda--an outmoded form of Polish folk literature having to do with the lives of the nobility and hence, as you might imagine, a "literary fiction" subgenre the likes of which your humble non-aristocratic and non-Polish scribe hadn't even heard of before scrounging around in the stylistic muck for some background dirt on the fake-count Gombrowicz--a near peso-less Polish writer winningly introduced as "the Great Shit Genius Gombrowicz" gets stranded in Buenos Aires in August 1939, wins friends and influences people in the Polish émigré community to such an extent that he's eventually asked to oversee a duel to the death between an Argentinean and a Pole on the Pampas as the parallel "mighty Battle" of WWII takes place "across the water" (34), and etc. & amusing etc. until the novel runs out of pages on page 166. With this Great Shit Summary now behind us, please allow me to devote what remains of my second sentence to the awarding of farcical high marks to Trans-Atlantyk for its shit genius of an anti-captatio benevolentiae ("I'm not inviting anyone to eat these old noodles of mine, the turnips that may even be raw, because they're in a common pewter bowl, Lean, Paltry, even Embarassing withal, cooked in the oil of my Sins, of my Embarrassments, these my heavy grits, Dark, together with this black gruel of mine, oh, you better not put them in your mouth, unless 'tis for my eternal damnation and degradation, on my Life's unending road and up this arduous and wearisome Mountain of mine" ), its shit genius descriptive verve ("Minister Kosiubidzki, Felix, was one of the strangest people I had ever come across in my life. Lean thickish, somewhat fattish, his nose also somewhat Lean Thickish, his eye wishy-washy, his fingers narrow thickish and likewise his leg narrow and thickish or fattish, while his baldness was as if brass-colored, onto which he combed his sparse black rufous hair; he liked to flash his eyeball, and ever so often he flashed it" ), and--last but not least--its memorable dialogue which, even a well-bred shithead like you must admit, while not always of genius caliber, is still undeniably and even emphatically shitty (17-18):
He said: "What kind of a thickhead are you, are you utterly stupid, can't you see there is a war on, at this moment we need Great Men at all cost because without them Devil only knows what will happen, and that is why I, the Minister, am here to enhance our Nation's Greatness, oh, what will I do with you, perchance I must smash you in the kisser..." But he broke off, flashed his eyeball again and said: "Wait now. So you are a Literatus? What on earth have you scribbled, what? Books maybe?" He called: "Podsrotski-boy, Podsrotski-boy, come here..." When the Councilor Podsrotski came running, the minister flashed his eyeball at him, and then softly palavered with him, flashing his Eyeball at me. Hence I just hear them saying: "Shithead!" Then again: "Shithead!" Then the Councilor to the Minister says: "Shithead!" The Minister to the Councilor: "He is surely some kind of a shithead, but his Eye, his Nose look well-bred!" Says the Councilor: "The eye, the nose, not bad, even though he's a shithead, and his brow looks well-bred too!" Says the Minister: "He is a shithead all right, no doubt about it, because you are all shitheads, I too am a shithead, shithead, they too are shitheads, who will know the difference, who knows anything, nobody knows anything, nobody understands anything, shit, shit..."
"The Great Shit Genius Gombrowicz"
For more on the fox in the henhouse of the 20th century Polish-Argentinean novel, Dwight of A Common Reader has posted on Borchardt's "alternative translation" of Gombrowicz's Trans-Atlantyk