Friday, April 26, 2013

On youth excerpt from...
by Witold Gombrowicz

At first glance he was perfectly ordinary, serene and friendly, obedient and even eager.  Torn between the child and the grown man (and this made him both innocently naive and pitilessly experienced) he was neither the one nor the other, but he was a third term, he was youth, violent and uncontrolled, surrendering him to cruelty, restraint and obedience, and condemning him to slavery and humiliation.  He was inferior because he was young.  Imperfect because he was young.  Sensual because he was young.  Carnal because he was young.  Destructive because he was young.  And, in his very youthfulness, he was despicable.  The oddest thing of all was that his smile, the most elegant thing about him, was the very mechanism that dragged him into humiliation, because this child could not defend himself, disarmed as he was by his constant desire to laugh.

This excerpt is from the version translated from a French translation (not from the original Polish) by Alastair Hamilton.  Though it reads well, there has since been an English translation made directly from the original Polish by Danuta Borchardt, who did fantastic work translating Ferdydurke

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Survival of the species while you wonder if life has a purpose excerpt from...
Agape Agape
by William Gaddis

How could, all going backward braced myself against that heap like a pillar of salt whole thing yes, the unswerving punctuality of chance, clock without the clockmaker perfectly simple in word and deed says Plato, God wouldn't lie or change because he's perfect so it's God God God, virtue and beauty and no mad or senseless person can be God's friend no, make yourselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake says Tolstoy, nothing senseless about that is there? Strive for absolute chastity for the good of the neighborhood whole purpose of life to be part of God's kingdom only way to get there's absolute chastity, husband and wife live like brother and sister nothing mad about that is there?  Dress up like a muzhik float around the house look like Noah's Ark whole performance out of the greatest fiction ever created, take God out of the equation you've got nothing left not even love no, had that somewhere if I had that letter Wagner wrote to Rockel where love's lost sight of because everything we do, think, take and give is in fear of the end, the greatest most desperate fiction of the afterlife ever created yes, the denial of death, what this whole mad escapade's all about, isn't it Levochka? Good God how you fight it!  Your man Pozdnyshev in The Kreutzer Sonata wallowing in the slime of debauchery he tells us, keeps stripping away the fictions right down to what it's really all about and then he can't face it, not just love no, only you, the choice of one man or woman over all the others says the lady on the train won't have it will you, Pozdnyshev.  Supposed to be something noble and ideal but it's just something sordid that brings us down to the level of pigs.  Natural? a natural human activity? No no no, eating's natural, something you enjoy but this is unnatural and loathsome, honeymoon's shameful and tedious, nothing sacred for us about marriage nothing to it but copulation, couple of months you've learned to hate the sight of each other ready to poison her or shoot yourself good God man, when you felt the blade go into her didn't what it's really all about stare you in the face?  Some nonsense there about mankind following some ideal that's the fiction isn't it?  What Plato's poets and honeyed muse are all about, you strip it clean stop short and run because you really know don't you, not like pigs and rabbits reproducing themselves as fast as they can but you hold it at arm's length, even say animals seem to know their offspring mean survival of the species while you wonder if life has a purpose and that's it isn't it!  That you're being used, used, used, that you're being used by nature simply to perpetuate the family line, the social tribe, the white race, the species just like your pigs and rabbits and that's what you resent, what you hate, what you go through hell for and she knew it too didn't she?  Knew what her body was for, like animals know yes and she knew you thought you owned her body, why you're terrified by a woman bearing down on you in a ballgown because you know those bare arms and shoulders, you know those breasts aren't just playthings she's offering to you posing as an instrument of pleasure but bigger the better there's gallons, there's the promise of gallons of survival of the species like a yes, like a huge brood mare.  Pleasure yes, yes it's beautifully done jealousy and the whole un, unreasonable the whole madness...

Note:  The novel's name is properly accented AgapÄ“ Agape, but I was having difficulty inserting the accent.