Some time ago I had the chance to see an excellent theatrical adaptation of Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz and so I’ve decided to scribble a few words about the novel by – undoubtedly – my favorite Polish writer of all time.
Gombrowicz’s style is hysterical. It’s dynamic, fast-paced, full of linguistic quirks and rich in philosophical themes. His characters are usually set in situations which make them consider their identities in relation with the surrounding world (society, culture, etc.) what was inspired by author’s own experiences.
Cosmos is his last novel and, I think, his most interesting one. A story about Witold and his friend Fuks who stay in a guesthouse in Zakopane is a surreal, postmodern and multi-dimensional tale about language, perception and – as always in case of Gombrowicz’s works – concealed perversion. To be honest, I don’t know why I’m forcing those crime story patterns everywhere but in case of Cosmos we have a very specific pattern of such kind, where both of the mentioned characters start to notice how different elements of their surroundings seem to have an unclear meaning which they try to uncover. Quite early we can infer that it’s not so easy, if not impossible:
I don’t know how to tell this . . . this story . . . because I’m telling it ex post. The arrow, for instance . . . The arrow, for instance . . . The arrow, at that time, at supper, was no more important than Leon’s chess, or the newspaper, or tea, everything—equally important, everything—was contributing to a given moment, a kind of consonance, the buzzing of a swarm. But today, ex post, I know it was the arrow that was the most important, so in telling this I move it to the forefront, from a myriad of undifferentiated facts I extract the configuration of the future. But how can one describe something except ex post? Can nothing be ever truly expressed, rendered in its anonymous becoming, can no one ever render the babbling of the nascent moment, how is it that, born out of chaos, we can never encounter it again, no sooner do we look than order . . . and form . . . are born under our very eyes?
A great deal of the plot is dedicated to those reflections about our understanding of reality, the way we give meaning to its elements and what relations there are between time, space, external objects, our imagination etc. There’s a lot to say about how it can be viewed from the perspective of ontology, individuality, relativism, philosophy of Heidegger, Husserl and so on, but I’m not here to write academic analyzes.
What I love about the novel as well as the entirety of Gombrowicz’s writings are those attempts to make a sense out of the surrounding world what is juxtaposed with an overwhelming absurd of it all. Since I’ve read Ferdydurke in high school I’ve been drawn to such theme quite strongly in literature – and not only. I cannot really imagine its full character without the way how Gombrowicz plays with Polish language and creates a very original style, however it doesn’t mean that nobody else cannot appreciate it in other languages. Translation of Cosmos by Danuta Borchardt (published in 2005 by Yale University Press) is excellent and though I’ve read only fragments by far, I can recommend it without any doubts.