Sunday, June 7, 2009

Witold Gombrowicz's Cosmos

Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos is one of the most perfectly pitched pieces of modernist writing I know. Probably modern literature’s subtlest depiction of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the novel presents a darkly comic narration of the tempests that begin crashing in teacups in minds doomed to notice too much--or rather doomed to ascribe significance to everything noticed.

I admit that while reading Gombrowicz’s first chapters I kept telling myself the tale’s brilliantly idiotic tension had to break sooner or later; the writer couldn’t keep up such a pitch of fevered nonsense over the whole course of the book’s few hundred pages. And in fact he couldn’t. About a third into the novel the tension slacks ever so slightly: the fall comes, in my judgment, just after the comic duo of renters, Fuchs and Witold (the writer simply gives the narrator his own name), finish searching the servant Aglaia’s room. But this drop in tension--which probably results from the transpiring of just a bit too much actual action--doesn't change the fact that the opening chapters are nothing short of dazzling. Never has utter banality been pumped to such a beautiful pitch of aimless menace.

For readers of Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Max Jacob--this novel should not be missed. Gombrowicz is a master in the same company.

Check Gombrowicz's Cosmos at

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