Pornografia

One major bit of Polish literary news of the past month or so, of course, is that Witold Gombrowicz’s remarkable final novel, PORNOGRAFIA, has finally been published in English in a direct translation from the Polish (by Danuta Borchardt). Here’s the Publishers Weekly review (from July):

Pornografia Witold Gombrowicz, trans. from the Polish by Danuta Borchardt. Grove, $23 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1925-4
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 frustrated as they discover that the two have no interest in one another, and the games are momentarily stopped by a local murder and a directive to assassinate a rogue member of the Polish resistance. Gombrowicz connects these threads magnificently in a tense climax that imbues his novel with a deep sense of the absurd and multiplies its complexity. Gombrowicz is a relentless psychoanalyzer and a consummate stylist; his prose is precise and forceful, and the narrator’s strained attempts to elucidate why he takes such pleasure at soiling youth creepily evoke authentic pride and disgust. Borchardt’s translation (the first into English from the original Polish) is a model of consistency, maintaining a manic tone as it navigates between lengthy, comma-spliced sentences and sharp, declarative thrusts. (Nov.)

With the book pretty well publicized in advance (starred review in PW, Three Percent, The Quarterly Conversation), I’m surprised it hasn’t been reviewed more widely since its release, especially given the general surge of interest (and re/publication) that Gombrowicz has enjoyed the past few years, and the great review by Neil Gordon that Cosmos got in the New York Times. (The recent demise of Kirkus Reviews, however, suggests the problem may have more to do with the state of reviewing than with the book itself or Grove’s publicity machine.) Salonica World Lit, a wonderful international literature blog written by Monica Carter of Skylight Books in Los Angeles, is the one place I’ve found online that has a post-publication review of it (and of a lot of other Central-East European titles besides: the blog is definitely worth following). But that seems to be it so far. Hopefully Grove will release the paperback soon since the book should by rights find its way onto every “Introduction to World/Western/European/Modernist Literature” syllabus in the country. The hardcover, in the meantime, is totally hot:

One response to “Pornografia

  1. Pingback: Interview with Pornografia translator Danuta Borchardt on PRI’s The World « Bacacay: The Polish Literature Weblog

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