Polish, Hybrid, and Otherwise: Exilic Discourse in Joseph Conrad and Witold Gombrowicz 9781472543158, 9781441140791, 9781441153005

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Polish, Hybrid, and Otherwise: Exilic Discourse in Joseph Conrad and Witold Gombrowicz
 9781472543158, 9781441140791, 9781441153005

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Acknowledgments A number of individuals have contributed to this project in different ways. Some might not be aware of the significance of their role. First of all, at the University of Toronto, I would like to thank Roland Le Huenen, Director of the Centre for Comparative Literature, for his support over my years as a doctoral student at the center; Samuel Solecki of the English Department for his frank and insightful critiques of some of the more recondite samples of my writing on the theory and practice of exile; Tamara Trojanowska — my guide through the rough terrain of modern Polonistics studies — for her unwavering intellectual support; and last but not least my former dissertation advisor, Thomas Lahusen, who was responsible for initially suggesting some of the productive parallels (and also pointing to important differences) in the life stories and writings of Conrad and Gombrowicz. Special thanks go also to Linda Hutcheon for her generosity with time and counsel on matters literary but not only; and to Ms. Aphrodite Gardner and Mr. Bao Nyugen, the wonderful staff at the Centre. A number of other individuals have been part of this project in various capacities and locations. I want to thank Halina Stephan (of Ohio State University), whose anthology on Polish-American expatriate writers (Amsterdam, 2003) started me thinking about some of the issues explored in this work; my friend the Toronto writer Daniel Karpiński, for incomparable discussions on the varia of exile and creativity (some fueled by highly suspect munitions-grade Czech liqueurs); Jennifer Levine of Victoria College (at the University of Toronto) for suggesting, apropos of Joyce, that the categories of modernism and postmodernism are far less rigid, stable, or sequestered than is facilely accepted these days; finally the poet Reza Baraheni of the Centre for Comparative Literature for the initial illumination on the potential worth of “working through” Gombrowicz the exilic one more time. It is to him that I owe the formulation of exile as a third zone. A travel grant from the Associates of the University of Toronto allowed me to go to London and peruse pipe-smoke-infused Conradiana holdings at the British Library. At Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, I would like in particular to thank Graham Sherriff and Susan Klein for expert vii

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

assistance with the archive’s superb Gombrowicz and Conrad folios. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where the manuscript was completed, I wish to thank my colleagues Harriet Murav, Valeria Sobol, David Cooper, Michael Finke and Mark Steinberg. Their questions, suggestions, and candid criticisms have enriched this book enormously. A semester leave from teaching duties, undertaken under the auspices of the University’s Campus Research Board, allowed me time to revisit the leading concepts guiding the study and rethink some of the argumentation pertaining to Gombrowicz’s and Conrad’s stratagems of textual identity maintenance. Discussions with a number of talented, well-read students in three of my graduate seminars, “Problems in Polish Literature: Émigrés and Exiles, 1791–1991,” “Modernism and its Aftereffects” and “Reality and Structure” helped purify the theoretical elements of the work both on the disciplinary level of Polish studies and on the multidisciplinary registers of comparativist thought. An earlier version of Chapter 4, “Toward Heterotopia: The Case of TransAtlantyk,” was published in the Winter 2009 issue of Slavic Review. An extract from Chapter 6 appeared as “Rituals at the Limits of Literature: A New Reading of Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos” in The Sarmatian Review (September 2007), and in an abbreviated Polish edition as “Wyprawa na krańce literatury — nowe spojrzenie na Kosmos,” in Kresy (September 2006). A number of core arguments of Chapters 2 and 3 were rehearsed in an essay, “The Nation as Pathology: Representations of Community in Joseph Conrad and Witold Gombrowicz,” published in New Perspectives on Polish Culture, edited by Tamara Trojanowska (New York, 2011). I have been blessed to work with an exceptional editor at Continuum. Haaris Naqvi is a fellow lover of Gombrowicz who appreciates his Central European brand of absurdism and difference as well as about anyone else I can name. Haaris’ quiet confidence and collegial manner took much of the stress out of the final stages of the manuscript preparation process. He is a model of courtesy and professionalism. Also and especially I wish to thank my parents, Dr. Zbigniew and Mrs. Elżbieta Gasyna, for giving me reason to explore some of these questions in the first place; the narrative of their emigration from Poland with four children in tow during the darkest part of the endgame of the People’s Republic was a permanent fixture in much of my early thinking about territory, exile, and identity. Finally, words of unending gratitude go to my wife Sarah for her support and intimate involvement with this project during the many stages of my graduate studies in Toronto as well as now, in the American stage of our lives. The arrival of my daughter Sophie Charlotte — the delight of my life — halfway through the revisions process introduced me to a new future reader. This book is dedicated to Sarah and Sophie. viii

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Abbreviations AN C F HOD K N TA

Joseph Conrad, “Author’s note” [1917] to Nostromo (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1976). Witold Gombrowicz, Cosmos. Trans. Eric Mosbacher and Alastair Hamilton (New York: Grove Press, 1985). Witold Gombrowicz, Ferdydurke. Trans. Danuta Borchardt (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000). Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (New York: Norton, 1971). Witold Gombrowicz, Kosmos (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2001). Joseph Conrad, Nostromo (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1976). Witold Gombrowicz, Trans-Atlantyk. Trans. Carolyn French and Nina Karsov (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).

For complete bibliographical records, see “Bibliography.”

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A Note on Translations All translations of foreign-language citations are mine, unless indicated otherwise. For citations from Gombrowicz’s novels and other writings, I have included the Polish original (together with my translation) wherever I deem the existing English version to be incomplete or deficient, usually because of stylistic variance, lack of lexical precision or other inaccuracies. Otherwise I have cited the English translation. This is especially the case with Kosmos/Cosmos, since the “standard” Mosbacher version represents something of an optimistic (and incomplete) transcription of two earlier translations, the German and the French, whereas the new Borchardt English translation — published just as I was completing Chapter 6 — while generally faithful and certainly more than serviceable, is nonetheless not without its flaws.

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Glossary Dwudziestolecie The period between the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the outbreak of the Second World War, corresponding to 20 years of independence for the reborn Polish Republic (Rzeczpospolita) and, specifically, an age of cultural and artistic rebirth. See Chapter 3. Gawęda A lively Polish baroque literary form (1650–1700) marked by a high degree of orality and narrative multivocality. In many cases gawędas were performed semi-publicly by Sarmatian squires eager to share the tales of their travels and adventures abroad with audiences at home (usually in the salons of their manors). See Chapter 4. Góral, górale (pl.), góralka (f.) Much mythologized Polish highlanders, górale live in towns and villages in the Tatra Mountains, speak an anachronistic dialect of Polish and cultivate a distinct style of architecture, art, and dress. They can also be found on the Slovak side of the Tatras. See Chapter 6. Kresy Before the Second World War, this term was used to designate Poland’s eastern borderland regions. Today these areas, for the most part, are in Lithuania, Belorussia, and Ukraine. Prior to the 1939 these regions contained large populations of ethnic minorities. See Chapter 4. Pensjonat Pension. A family owned and/or operated inn or chalet. Similar in concept to a bed-and-breakfast, but with daily meals provided and vacation-length stays encouraged, they were and remain ideal lodging for university students on their winter or summer breaks. See Chapter 6. Rzeczpospolita Chapter 3.

The Polish Republic (literally, “The Commonwealth”). See

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G L O S S A RY

Sarmatia, Sarmatism A quasi-utopian pastoral philosophy of life, founded in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth during the latter part of the seventeenth century, in the wake of the Thirty Years War. Sarmatia also refers to a mythic name of Poland and its putative “original” inhabitants. See Chapter 4. Szlachta, szlachcic Historically, and in particular prior to the Second World War and the subsequent Communist takeover, this term referred to the Polish small nobility and landed gentry, a numerically large social stratum (up to 10 percent of the population) one rung below the aristocracy proper and the great magnate families. A szlachcic is a member of this class. See Chapters 3 and 4.

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Introduction The Spaces and Trajectories of Exile As Joseph Conrad was nearing the finishing point, in 1904, of his monumental novel Nostromo, an epic narrative on populist revolution and imperial interests set in an unnamed South American country (traditionally read as a cipher for his lost homeland of Poland), he likened his mood to that of a patient recovering from a “dangerous illness.”1 In a letter to his editor Conrad affirmed that the manuscript was, at long last, “Finished! Finished!” He then immediately declared that “I wasn’t sure I would survive . . . I feel no elation. The strain has been too great for that.”2 For Conrad then, plainly, the process of producing his most ambitious and longest novel — it would, in time, become a keystone text of European modernism — had turned out to be a devastating ordeal, a test of will that had brought him perilously close to nervous collapse. The novelist, playwright, and essayist Witold Gombrowicz was another Pole who produced his most memorable work under conditions of prolonged personal crisis. For him — and this mirrors Conrad’s experiences — that period of intense creativity was paradoxically triggered by a life-altering transatlantic journey and exilic rupture from his homeland. In Gombrowicz’s case, a steamship voyage to Argentina and Brazil in early August 1939, as part of a cultural mission cum business trip, ended in the abject desperation of completely unanticipated exile: the carefree nature of his initial stay in Buenos Aires changed dramatically once news reached him that Europe had gone to war with Hitler’s invasion of his homeland. Unable — but on the evidence, ultimately also unwilling — to risk a treacherous sea journey back to Poland to fight for his country, Gombrowicz chose instead to become an inadvertent refugee. He would remain in Argentina for another 23 years, the first 15 of which took the form of an extended emergency as he struggled daily to survive as a writer (the material hardships were finally alleviated in 1962 when he received a literary fellowship from the Ford Foundation; 1 Letter to Edward Garnett (Jean-Aubry 1927, vol. 1: 335). 2 Letter of September 1, 1904 (Jean-Aubry 1927, vol. 1: 332–4).

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he returned to Europe that same year, settling first in West Germany and then permanently in France3). During that “Argentinean” period, Gombrowicz nevertheless produced the novel Trans-Atlantyk, an extraordinary treatise on the nature of exile and identity, and their intersections with language. And the philosophical problems he grappled with while in Argentina were later to provide the material for the novel Cosmos, a darkly metaphysical thriller about the fluid nature of identity and one’s precarious control over language and, by extension, over the techniques of representation and the very conceits of representability — the core matter of art. Gombrowicz’s expatriation, which befell him when he was already a rather well-known author in Poland, was a consequence of events so sudden, so utterly unexpected, that over the next two decades both his writings and his private struggles would bear the brunt of violent dislocation with which he wrestled as part of a total commitment to reconcile his existential condition as an other, as a displaced person, with his artistic calling. The argument that has guided my thinking and writing about the texts and biographies of these two authors is that the exceptional strain that they underwent has a great deal to do with the layering of identity that is precipitated by the experience of cultural rupture. Conrad — not unlike Gombrowicz — was compelled into exile by political events beyond his immediate control (in his case, the realpolitik of nineteenth-century European empire-building). As with Gombrowicz, Conrad’s exilic affiliation was protean — he initially settled in the south of France, then nominally in London, although as a merchant mariner for nearly 20 years, his real (exilic) home were the seven seas. Ultimately — and perhaps fittingly for him as a member of the Polish gentry — Conrad would conclude his protracted transplantation by settling down in one of the Home Counties, Kent. It was during that extended retreat (both from sailing and from urban modernity) that he labored over his most complex novels dealing with urban modernity including, crucially, Nostromo. English, moreover, was Conrad’s third language, acquired while he was in his twenties, and he explored its registers in Nostromo while seeking to address and connect with a still relatively unfamiliar (Anglo-American) readership. Further, Conrad was a one-time colonial subject (his former homeland had been divided among three colonizing empires some 60 years before his birth) confronting the forces of empire in his writing; finally, in his former capacity as officer of the British marine he had circumnavigated the globe many times in the service of imperial enterprise. While for Gombrowicz exile deterritorialized but also multiplied, by the factor of distantiation, his essential protest against Western bourgeois culture and Polish culture in particular, Conrad’s travels and sequential 3 In Western Europe, Gombrowicz divided his time between Paris and the south of France; he would never visit Poland again.

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INTRODUCTION

displacements came to foreground a sense of mutual foreignness between himself and his reader, while also offering him an alternate angle of vision for his art. Above all, however, Conrad and Gombrowicz for most of their writing careers were struggling with language, and specifically with control over representation: as Conrad contrived to master the English idiom and produce a genuine “English novel,” he not only had to make a Herculean effort to undo, or overcome, the influence of his native Polish syntax, but also and more crucially to negotiate his Polish past, exemplified by the emotional charge that words such as “nation,” “homeland,” “exile,” “empire” or “revolution” held for him. With Gombrowicz, analogous negotiations occurred principally on the level of form and style — categorically rejecting the option of exploiting the languages of his hosting countries, Gombrowicz returned to the Polish language but, remarkably, distilling it in his literary oeuvre to an unprecedented level of formal purity and stylistic severity. In negotiating questions of identity, language, and the experience of expatriation in the two authors’ respective milieus, this study addresses two issues. These are (a) Conrad’s and Gombrowicz’s games with identity that helped make both of them the intensely interesting (but also exasperating) figures that they are to literary scholars and biographers alike; and (b) the location of their narratives both within the taxonomy of exilic discourse and along the continuum of modernist and postmodernist poetics. The two authors have not been considered together in this fashion in English, except in a short recent article by the American Conradian Alex Kurczaba, who isolated a number of affinities in their autobiographical writing in spite, as he put it, of the apparent heterogeneity of their poetics and politics and the stark difference in their émigré predicaments.4 In order to properly satisfy the question of what kind of writers and exiles Conrad and Gombrowicz were, in setting out the discursive horizon of this study I am guided by three fundamental assumptions. The first is that the Conradian and Gombrowiczian narratives represent the two respective end-posts in the project of modernism. Conrad, questioning many of the cultural assumptions of Victorian and Edwardian England, elaborates a modernist poetics at an early point in his literary career, around 1900, with the publication of such works as Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness. Gombrowicz, having first emerged at a modernist high watermark in Polish letters during the mid-1930s, begins to engage a new program of poetics 4 See Alex Kurczaba 1993: 73–5. In his essay Kurczaba also briefly mentions a 1986 Polish monograph by Aniela Kowalska, entitled Conrad i Gombrowicz w walce o swoją wybitność [Conrad’s and Gombrowicz’s quest for fame] and predicated on similarities detected in their modernist technique of inscribing the self in autobiographical writing.

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during the 1950s and 1960s. In the progressive5 deformation of his scriptive selves and personae, Gombrowicz’s later narrative style could be properly termed postmodernist. Thus while the “mature” Conrad will be read here, for the most part, as an early modernist author, Gombrowicz launches his oeuvre already as a latemodernist author writing out of an avant-gardist position of negation and dissent. However, nearly all his exilic corpus will come to reflect a fatigue with the slogans and conceits of vanguardism, and a reorientation toward a poststructuralist and postmodernist position with respect to such notions as the autonomy of textuality (especially within the framework of national literatures that are perforce marked with a political tinge) and the contested status of authorship, as well as the limits of both constructs as phenomena that are primarily linguistic. The second premise is that, for reasons which I explore in the pages that follow, text and bios for exiled writers are often intertwined more intimately than for those who do not experience forced or voluntary displacement and separation from the homeland, its cultural history and literary (meta-)narratives and the range of social, communal, political, and emotional, relationships and associations that such a move necessitates. I elaborate on the principal reasons for this in Chapter 1. To outline it briefly here, my position is that for cultural émigrés and exiles, the sense of linguistic otherness becomes compounded with the geographical and social, and that this existential condition does much to bring the otherness of language to the fore, especially for those who rely on language for their métier. The third and final premise is that Conrad and Gombrowicz should be treated as first and foremost Polish writers. Indeed, far from disappearing or dissipating, this “Polishness” becomes accented in exile: it is amplified, distorted, concealed by willing omission — or indeed some combination of all three strategies. This process is inextricable from — and, in my view not necessarily mutually exclusive with — the possibility of assuming cosmopolitan identities for the social and cultural spheres in their adoptive countries, that is, for “performing” one’s self as an/other in the public realm of the host country. The matrix of personal and artistic responses to exile, then, is what frames my inquiry; superimposed on this essential process is both authors’ fascination with the question of style and form itself. This fascination, bordering on obsession in both of their cases, finds full articulation in their narratives. The discourses of exile and exilic identity, and the distinguishing qualities of 5 I deliberate on the choice of words here. What I wish to indicate is the movement through certain formal possibilities and strategies in self-inscription, but not outright linear evolution from any lower form to higher or even more refined ones. It is hoped that “progression” signifies the sense of freer modification, alteration, and improvisation of narrative technique and the interchange between the alternatives.

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INTRODUCTION

modern and postmodern texts as well as those of the transitional narrative that problematizes and subverts them, form the subject of the first two chapters. Chapter 1 elaborates some key problems surrounding exilic discourses and then locates the two authors within the continuum of modernist and postmodernist thinking about exile and exilic identity construction more generally. I foreground the importance of language for exiles and argue that both Conrad and Gombrowicz relied on language to articulate an exilic space of hope; in placing their faith in the logics of logocentrism, both were implicitly engaging the notion of heterotopia. The term comes to us via Michel Foucault’s theorization, first submitted in his landmark The Order of Things, of “interstitial” spaces between dominant discourses (usually considered to be self-evident, neutral, and “natural”) and problematical silences between words, and likewise of various nodal points along which these operate in culture and consciousness alike (Foucault 1970: xix–xx). Heterotopia thus forms a strategic form of inquiry and meaning-generation that operates within the “nonplace of language,” and specifically within hidden zones that separate our normative systems of classification, indeed our orders of things. For Foucault these normative ordering paradigms are possessed of their own “hidden networks” which determine the ways in which aspects of any culture “confront one another” within a “system of elements” or a grid established in language and corroborated though empirical examination (1970: xx). Heterotopic spaces and discursive operations, then, for Foucault constitute a site of potential resistance, a counter-discourse that undermines our sense of comfortable familiarity because it runs counter to our “universal laws” and breaks up the ordering “surfaces.” By subtly demonstrating the “exotic charm of another system of thought,” a heterotopic mode of being — here the political charge of Foucault’s formulation becomes manifest as he combines a language practice with a questioning of grand narratives of modernity — may reveal a disconcerting “limitation of our own” order of things behind a seemingly intransigent and “natural” power structure (1970: xv). Finally, as in a carnival setting, heterotopias can also be understood to undermine the hierarchies of language itself — the instrument through which social laws are enunciated and power procedurally reified. However, it is important not to confuse this rhetorical movement with the desire for organic wholeness and resolution characteristic of utopian thinking. In emphatic distinction in particular to carnivalesque utopianism — which seeks above all a temporary suspension of hierarchies — the language practice of heterotopia finds propulsion precisely in the condition of discontinuity, in the apparent irreconcilability of opposites, in irredeemable rupture, doubt; it also rejects the false sublations of antinomies that have traditionally sustained utopian thought.6 6 For a critique of this dialectic, particularly the idea that far from proposing an empty space to be mastered, utopias in fact disorient paradigms of thought and action (and by

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In Chapter 2, I examine a number of principal modes of theorizing the muchcontested break (or filiation) between modernism and postmodernism; in an attempt to correctly situate Gombrowicz’s poetics, I plot the avant-garde as a modernist artistic, literary, and philosophical phenomenon, though one that has survived in one form or another in our own era of postmodern global cultural exchange. I thus delineate the relationship between postmodernism and globalization and query the logic of such seemingly natural concepts as nation, community, and exile within the context of identity politics (and the landscapes after the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s). I then read Gombrowicz against Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of a “minor literature,” elaborated in their seminal book on Franz Kafka, to conclude that Gombrowicz efforts to stipulate an autonomous East European subject were tantamount to an affirmation of a poetics of “minority.”7 Finally I return to a discussion of Conrad’s narrative technique and some of his favored textual devices such as temporal disruption, layering of embedded narrative and the use of multiple narrators, to suggest that particularly in his ambivalent inscription of subjectivity, including that of his own bicultural persona, Conrad writing epitomizes an ex-centric, deterritorialized modernism of the hybrid and outsider.8 In Chapter 3, I probe deeper into the “life writing” of Gombrowicz and Conrad, seeking to account for some of the misunderstandings and disputes that to this day surround their situation as exiles and as, respectively, modernist and early postmodernist authors. I argue that because both were expatriate authors who (therefore) maneuvered between cultures and linguistic spaces, Conrad the modern and Gombrowicz the postmodern still make a rather uneasy fit within the stylistic rubrics of these movements. The fact that their place within these movements is still frequently disputed by critics is, furthermore, a sign of an essential liminality of their oeuvre, which is in turn reflected by their cultural in-betweenness. These textual and paratextual conditions severely problematize smooth “generic” readings and forestall narrative closure. My analysis seeks in particular to point to the modifications, discontinuities, and shifts with respect to language, in order to domesticate the peculiar predicament — though one that is obviously familiar to exiles — of functioning between languages, of belonging to one and the other cultural space, of assimilating hybrid subjectivity through praxis. While both of them were inveterate self-mythologizers, Conrad, in particular, developed a thick and elaborate system of public smokescreens. By locating the sources of these introducing play thus foreclose teleologies of political action). See Marin 1973; see also Hill 1982. 7 See Deleuze and Guattari 1986: esp. ch. 3, “What is a minor literature?,” where the theory of minor literature is tested with respect to the positionality and poetics of Franz Kafka as a German-Jewish writer in “colonial” Bohemia. 8 Cf. Said 1993: xviii–xx.

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identity games in the life writings of these two authors, specifically their essays, memoirs, and personal correspondence, I try to suggest some of the reasons why both of them, but again especially Conrad, are frequently misread today, or worse are read tendentiously with trendy theoretical apparatuses (e.g. post-colonial discourses for Conrad or queer theory for Gombrowicz) and are found lacking in one way or another. It is also here that I examine the templates of cultural and political affiliation particularly as they emerge in Gombrowicz’s Diary and A Kind of Testament, and in Conrad’s A Personal Record and “Last essays” — templates that were crucial for him for the creation of a literary persona within a vocabulary of exilic displacement. My discussion proceeds from a firm belief that the policies of negotiation between the various spaces of the polis are indispensable to an understanding of Conrad’s and Gombrowicz’s trajectory both as exilic authors and as prominent cultural figures. The zone of the political also emerges as one of the main sources and justifications for their identity games as a whole. As intertexts to A Personal Record and the Diary, I draw references to Conrad’s selected letters and Gombrowicz’s double-volume Polish Memories and Travels in Argentina (Wspomnienia polskie and Wędrówki po Argentynie). In all these narratives we see the authors’ attempts to produce partly opaque but strategically engaged manifestoes of subjectivity. In the magisterial three-volume Diary, one of the most extraordinary projects of literary self-creation in all of Polish literature, the concern with the constituent aspects of selfhood is inextricable from the problem of the exilic, including painful distantiation from one’s proper cultural and linguistic spaces and the very possibility of a viable marketplace in exile. In effect, in both the Diary and A Personal Record the authors embark on the fabrication of a productive literary persona speaking in a new textual voice, thereby hoping to reach new audiences. As literary autobiographies, both texts are moreover concerned with constructing exceptionalist images of the author–exile. Yet, because of the inherent instability and imperfection of language for representing an unmediated (“authentic”) authorial voice, the reader encounters in these self-analytical texts instances of what Paul De Man once termed “blindness and insight” — a misrepresentation immanent in any attempt at “transparent” self-inscription caused by the fact that such self-inscription is, in fact, impossible.9 In my attempt to historicize these texts, and in isolating these moments of narratological blindness inextricably fused with the act of writing itself, I will approach these two narratives using broadly deconstructivist strategies, seeking in them the “spoors” or “traces . . . left behind” by authorial intentionality (Derrida 1976: 61), or, to put it in a more dynamic way, 9 See De Man 1983: 106–11, 140–1.

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those occasions where it is language itself which reveals that which the author intended to conceal, and vice versa. Chapters 4 and 5 are structured by a set of comparatist operations, in which I discuss Gombrowicz’s and Conrad’s principal heterotopic novels, respectively Trans-Atlantyk (1953) and Nostromo (1904), seeking to show how both authors’ linguistic zones are elaborated and textually maintained. I treat these two works not only as primary statements of each writer’s exilic discourse but also as remarkably cognate experiments in world-making. Several factors account for the fact that the terse, clipped mini-novel Trans-Atlantyk and the protracted and macaronic Nostromo represent an exciting subject for a comparatist analysis. First of all, both were written by expatriate authors and their stories are set in lands that are “foreign” and unfamiliar. Both present the outsider’s perspective on the social order and are narrated by subjects intent on displaying this contrapuntal/ minor perspective while at the same time feeling compelled, by the forces of circumstance, to leave some sort of (textual) imprint or record of their own subjectivity. Further, the setting of both novels flirts with the iconography of utopia. The action of Nostromo, for example, is set in an unspecified but already independent, that is to say de facto post-colonial (Said 1993: xvii), nation-state located in South America during the 1860s or 1870s; Trans-Atlantyk is “situated” in Buenos Aires in 1939–40. Until quite recently in the Western and in particular the European imagination, South America functioned as the mythopoeic other, a land of both El Dorado and of sheer revolutionary potentiality.10 However, in each work the idea(l) of utopian aspiration (and its ultimate failure) is presented in a manner that is inflected as much by the authors’ relationship with the other place (or non-place, u-topos) as by their very historicity — which, precisely because it contains a kernel of a personal tragedy that inflects their worldview, contains crucial distortions of the zeitgeist. Nostromo was produced near the zenith of the project of British/Western European imperialism, with the years 1890–1905 corresponding to the British Empire at its apex as the seat of global economic and military power, and clear signs in the novel reflect the fact that this specific cultural moment is already tainted by a creeping decadence. In other words, the Victorian logic of orderly progress is constructed11 on top of a putrefying morass of duplicity, rapine, and oppression of the weaker, abject “native” or colonial subject — a kind of homo sacer. From its position as an ironic mouthpiece of a dominant monoculture, Nostromo inscribes both the abject failure of idealist nationalism and the futility “latent in imperialist philanthropy” (Said 1993: xviii). This apparent involution is, in my view, grounded in Conrad’s essential skepticism, which one 10 See McHale 1987: 50–1. 11 See Arata 1999: 120–1.

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critic characterized as an anti-humanist though moralist view of the impossibility of authentic “social progress” (Gurko 1962: 121–2). But this cynical distance from the principal narratives of the age, too, is existential, that is to say to a critical degree rooted in and reified by Conrad’s personal experiences as a exilic quasirefugee, as an other. Trans-Atlantyk, which I read as an early postmodernist work composed in the wake of the cataclysms of both World Wars and against the backdrop of Communist expansion in East-Central Europe and elsewhere, parodies utopian landscapes of collectivities and dismantles the cultural conditions that call for them. Gombrowicz’s second novel, further, embarks on a linguistic satire of (as well as a spectacular gloss on) the strongly escapist movement of seventeenthcentury Poland known as Sarmatian baroque. The work is written in a polysemic style that employs Sarmatian themes and language, in particular a narrative genre known as gawęda, all the while polemicizing the highly ambivalent legacy of Sarmatian philosophies on modern Polish letters and culture, from patriotic romanticism to the most militant strains of the interwar avant-garde.12 The crucial point of contact for Trans-Atlantyk and Nostromo, however, are for me the heterotopic structures of the narratives themselves. While all narrative comes into being within the “other” place of language, a space which can be delineated with no geographic index or indeed any other spatial fix, aside from the engagement and conceptual consumption (reconstruction?) of the text by the reader, the overall stress of the heavily fictionalized and exoticized narrative worlds falls on their autonomy and their apartness from the parallel everyday world, even if they both are analogies of that world. By writing this I do not mean that either of these works belongs to the genre of the fantastic or any of its evolutions, such as the Gothic thriller or the Magical Realist epic. Nor are they to be pleasurably constructed by the reader in the manner of certain postmodernist narratives, such as Raymond Queneau’s 1947 Exercices de style [Exercises in Style] which retells a banal narrative in 99 ways, each of which within a different formal mien, thus obliterating the possibility of narrative privilege in addition to subverting the idea of the authoritative original, or Italo Calvino’s extravagant 1979 Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore [If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler], in which the act of reading is presented as an intimate experience, a channeling of a desire for unity and meaning that is akin to lovemaking. Far from it. Nostromo, for example, gives the impression — it is, however, only an 12 See Thompson for a detailed discussion of Sarmatia and the Polish literary baroque and Gombrowicz’s parodic subversions of these styles (1979: 80–9, 123–8). Thompson is surely right in concluding that “in the dialectic of literary development [Gombrowicz] was a powerful and much needed agent of negation” (1979: 131).

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impression — of an consummately self-sufficient microcosm of signs and symbols, imitative of the confident worldview characteristic of the bourgeois novel and of the ambition of mimetic textual representation more generally. The world it presents has been scrupulously delineated with its main variables controlled, deployed as they were within a space conceptually paralleling the authorizing discourses of South American colonial struggles for independence. It is only through close reading that one may discern the efforts Conrad expended, through his manipulations of his narrators and of temporality, to give an effect or illusion of such narrative unity of character, symbol, and action, and then perceive the text’s real task, which is to show the effect of swift dissolution of any such givens and authorizing discourses when the social ground is shaken by political upheaval in medias res. The trajectory of the plot also demonstrates the crucial ways in which a social order and political doxa are re-created after the fact, and pressed into the service of various mythologies and other discursive instruments of reification, including those of European and American authorizing centers (in the novel, the frequent references to Paris and San Francisco symbolically recall the intellectual and financial capital, respectively embodied in Martin Decoud and Holroyd, an American industrialist, for whom no first name is given). Trans-Atlantyk, for its part, represents a picaresque, highly stylized parody of a subject’s experiencing of the spaces and hopes of exile, which through sheer (biographical) chance happen to be situated in a South American post-colonial world. In part Gombrowicz’s refutation of such classics of Polish literature as Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz and Sienkiewicz’s exquisitely mythopoeic Trilogy,13 in part a dialogue with the Sarmatian idyll as a viable technique of the self, in part a specular tract on the incertitudes of emigration, but as a hybrid narrative, all these things and more, Trans-Atlantyk exhausts any reading focused principally on isolating correspondences with literary traditions and tracing anxieties of influence. In the end, the narrative insists on its own autonomy, and while it is certainly the case that texts may speak to other texts, in this case the speech act is laughter.14 Instead, the heterotopic nature of these narratives is transmitted by two textual conditions. First, the textual spaces are constructed precisely within discretely configured interstices of familiar worlds.15 Second, in their emplotment and ideational frameworks, Trans-Atlantyk and Nostromo highlight the sovereignty of language as an instrument for constructing a world, rather than their contiguity 13 See Thompson 1979: 84–9. 14 Indeed, Trans-Atlantyk closes with an outburst of infectious laughter. 15 For modes of theorization of possible worlds in fiction and historiography, see e.g. Doležel 1998; Lloyd-Jones et al., eds. 1982.

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INTRODUCTION

with or analogies to specific known worlds per se (which have always already been mediated by language, as the instrument of someone else). Put another way, the techniques of producing a zone, the originary stress on the notion of form and deformation, foreground aspects of the linguistic rather than strictly the narratological or the mimetic. And the foundation of such narrative zones, and the underlying principle behind the captivating promise of difference that they can offer readers, is heterotopia. In his influential 1987 study Postmodernist Fiction, Brian McHale reconceptualizes Foucault’s notion of heterotopia by mapping it onto a linguistic zone for application in the polemical space of postmodern narratives (McHale 1987: 40–5). According to McHale, the operative logic of heterotopia, by seeking out the interstitial moments and the counter-discourses, by penetrating the lacunae in our representations of our world(s) and ourselves, reflects the foundational logic of postmodern écriture. Taken as a corpus, such writing operates in fundamental opposition to modernist fiction in the very orientation of its philosophical concerns: The dominant of modernist fiction is epistemological. That is, modernist fiction deploys strategies which engage and foreground questions such as . . . “How can I interpret this world of which I am a part? And what am I in it?” Other typical modernist questions might be added: What is there to be known?; Who knows it?; How do they know it, and with what degree of certainty?; How is knowledge transmitted from one knower to another, and with what degree of reliability?; . . . What are the limits of the knowable? (McHale 1987: 9)

By contrast, the dominant of postmodernist fiction, for McHale, is ontological. The crucial distinction here is the fact that postmodernist writing attempts, strategically [to] foreground questions [that could be called] “post-cognitive”: “Which world is this? What is to be done in it?” . . . Other typical postmodernist questions bear either on the ontology of the literary text itself or on the ontology of the world which it projects, for instance: What is a world?; What kinds of world are there, how are they constituted, and how do they differ?; What happens when different kinds of world are placed in confrontation, or when boundaries between worlds are violated?; What is the mode of existence of a text, and what is the mode of existence of the world (or worlds) it projects?; How is a projected world structured? (McHale 1987: 9–10)

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It is of crucial import that no categorical division of the two dominant modes of literary engagement of the last century can ever be perfectly satisfactory. In addition to a rather selective lens with which he chooses texts for discussion, McHale’s taxonomy is, in particular, hindered by overstatement of the specific preoccupations ascendant in each movement. He tends to view heterotopic counter-discourse as a discrete postmodern genre, but certain elements of such zone-creating fictions, especially those that question the foundation of civilization and the “world,” are in evidence in a classically modernist narrative such as Nostromo. As I show in Chapter 5, in this novel the foundation of social mechanisms and cultural givens is obfuscated through technique of their emplotment into the text as figures and leitmotifs, specifically through their imbrication within a number of disparate, though interrelated, récits of various degree of reliability which comprise the textual fabric. The effect is akin to deconstruction via inscription of plural subjectivity. Under this rubric — of worlds made and unmade through subjective emplotment — one could also cite premodern narratives such as Tristram Shandy, Gargantua and Pentagruel, and perhaps most compellingly, Don Quixote. All of these texts seem to prefigure the postmodern notion of semiotic free-play and the deployment of floating signifiers which pollute the official version, by introducing, for example, subaltern points of view that destabilize ostensibly self-evident epistemological binaries. Each of them, in the process, submits to the reader a fictional world in which the “raw material” of textuality (that is, language) becomes deformed or thickened by a palimpsestic layering of things that point to a triumphant subjective signification,16 which undercuts the legitimating power of official discourse. Therefore, while McHale’s move to associate the logic of heterotopia with postmodern writing has certain merit, I would venture that a number of its functions are applicable to certain modernist novels as well (and other genres, too), even if the drive to question the very substance of reality (through heterotopic or metatextual subversion) emerges as a dominant motivating principle of those narratives properly considered postmodern. For my reading of Trans-Atlantyk as an early postmodernist text, then, I will employ Foucault’s original formulation of this concept on the strictly formal register — as an imaginary vocabulary of the other, an alternative mode of seeing the spaces between discourses and regulatory spaces of the mind (and society), a modality, finally, for structurally subverting and thus undoing the formats of the “order of things.” While Conrad’s narrative relies on fragmentation of the account and the dispersion of the narrative into incomplete and non-authoritative versions in order to undermine the notion of a monolithic narratological thrust and its reliability, 16 See Fincham 2001: 5–6.

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thereby foregrounding the artificial constructedness of language as a tool and, especially, as an instrument of power, in Trans-Atlantyk it is the idiosyncratic language itself which defamiliarizes the reader. In Nostromo, the self-sufficiency of Conrad’s imagined/possible world posits an exilic realm in flux. This fluid sense of reality, underscored by an insistent autonomy of language, defies both the narrators’ and the reader’s attempts at ordering and, more to the point, satisfactorily explicating the disparate social and political phenomena described in the text; both are forced into a corner, as it were, obliged to take on an active “reconstructing” role by the text’s poetics of temporal overlay and thematic dispersal. By its very nature then, the textual “action” seems to exceed the purview of the narrators, it surpasses the total grasp of their particular situatedness within their world — and, along the way, it also tests the readers’ reconstructive prowess, if not their patience. As a final and perhaps most emphatic point of contact, both works may be read as allegories of nation and nation-making by and for exiles; they were authored by individuals who for differing reasons were forced out of their own country. As such, Nostromo and Trans-Atlantyk triangulate their concerns with national and cultural identity with the practices of Western colonialism and its many legacies on cultural form and cultural expression. Thus while each work is concerned with the construction of a self-sufficient linguistic zone, the resulting textual worlds in places appear, to a certain extent, contiguous. While for Conrad expatriation from Poland at the age of 17 was a necessary evil, confronted by an obsessive work ethic and eventually overmastered in a number of ways; for Gombrowicz the suddenness of his farewell to his homeland constituted nothing less than an existential shock. I think that a proper understanding of his work is incomplete without the acknowledgment that by the time of his departure in 1939 Gombrowicz was already a household name in Poland. In fact, he enjoyed a degree of notoriety as a young bohemian literat (literary talent) and, with the 1937 novel Ferdydurke, established himself as high priest of Poland’s (nonetheless provincial) avant-garde. In September 1939, with the war in Europe raging and he himself away in South America on “vacation,” this sense of grounding and existential safety — which he anyway resisted while reveling in the paradoxical security of the role of an official provocateur — were suddenly commandeered. But, to put the matter in the most direct manner possible, this unexpected displacement would prove to be a boon for his creative horizons. Enlisting his sense of abject deterritorialization and marginality in Argentina as both an artistic prosthesis and an existential tabula rasa, and locating this exilic freedom a new point of reckoning with Polish literature and the Western cultural heritage more broadly, Gombrowicz would shift his poetics from localized avantgardist protest toward universalizing the exilic condition — and, in the process, 13

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valorizing the position of the rootless man, the homeless émigré who has lost everything, as a source of illumination on the problem of cultural housedness versus individual self-actualization. In addition to liberating him from Polish provinciality and its manias, this was perhaps the only position a creative person could take in the wake of the genocides of the Second World War and the shadow of the Holocaust. Over the course of the following two decades, Gombrowicz would produce three paradigmatic works of postmodernist exilic fiction: TransAtlantyk, the Diary, a three-volume rumination on the possibility of subjective autonomy, and the 1965 anti-novel Kosmos (Cosmos). My reading of the latter rests on the proposition that while all three are postmodern in their core philosophical concerns, it is in particular in Cosmos in which the epistemology of a modernist subject, here a shorthand for both a source of (self-reflexive yet vital) knowledge and a narratological instrument through which this knowledge can be reified, is systematically disarmed, refuted, dismembered. In Chapter 6, I discuss Cosmos as Gombrowicz’s most pessimistic intervention that traces the rise — and the fall — of the postmodern subject. In this work, language as an object of an esthetic categorical imperative (of presence). The project fails around an immature yet overdetermined narrator who is incapable of rising beyond the subjective and thus collapses onto himself and his own conceits; in his search for order the narrator plummets into a heterotopic interstice which he is unable to interpret or, what is worse for him, firmly place within any category of knowledge. I thus read Cosmos as Gombrowicz’s ultimate, unremittingly negative, indictment of the future of the novel as a productive form for reflecting the realities of the subject. In the relativizing model of postmodern historiography as elaborated by the literary historian Hayden White, a fact is not considered reality but is rather “an event under description” (White 1978: 43). That is to say, whereas events, as pre-linguistic, pre-narrated phenomena, are part of the real, a fact is a phenomenon belonging to the symbolic realm (or order) of discourse. It is shaped and to an extent formulated by the type of questions that are asked about the specific event under consideration. In my discussion of Cosmos I demonstrate what happens to apparently innocent and anodyne textual “events” once they are filtered by a hyperconscious, obsessively fact-gathering narrator — a subject who finds himself constantly confronted by ontological challenges to his scriptive authority and ends up metaphorically buried under a surfeit of facts and interpretations that defy ordering within any of the taxonomies of knowledge to which he has access (not to say mastery). Indeed, in Cosmos the desire for total knowledge and narratological hypermnesia, detached from the teleology of the subject as much as from the drive for any objective narrative unity and order, is shown to be an illusion that had been promulgated by the very conceits of the modernist project. And once 14

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the self-serving nature of the grand narratives of modernity and those of science and the Enlightenment is exposed as coercive myths of power, Cosmos proceeds to deliver a bleak vision of postmodern subjectivity, one that is simultaneously fueled by the yearning for order and undercut by the untrammelled and chaotic forces of libidinal desire — in this case one for which the erotic as such is undergirded, in an almost orthodox Freudian fashion, by (phantasms of) sublimated violence. In Chapter 6 I also query the liminal positionality of the exilic subject, showing that, suspended between the forces of desire, which can slide into chaos at any time, but are not necessarily creative, and those of order, which are contingent and thus artificial but innately coercive, Cosmos’ narrator has nowhere to turn to help him explain the ever more bizarre “deformations” and mysteries of existence he encounters. In the end, moreover, naked “reality” asserts itself as standing before, and greater than, all the devices he has at his disposal (in both artistic and scientific endeavors) in his effort to represent it — and so control it, lay it to rest as it were. Gombrowicz’s last novel shows that, tragically, the attempt by this hyperaware postmodern subject to master his desires and also discourse, thereby claiming a measure of autonomy, while relying on the grand narratives (including, additionally, such leading ideas as Tradition, Nation, Family, Heteronormativity) for its structure, must culminate in failure. However, one important consequence of the inscription of that particular failure is that it results in a literary work, Cosmos, thus meta-textually both refuting and redeeming the potential of the work of art as an instrument of liberation. So, where the early/Polish Gombrowicz embodies high modernist and avantgardist écriture, his later writings in fact revel in the realization of that impossible self of post-war/postmodern discourse. Faced with this narratological mise-enabîme — for any attempt at representation merely replicates the essential lack in the localized setting of a text or an artwork — Gombrowicz’s poetics will increasingly focus on incompleteness, on the plurality of speaking selves, the lack of formal coherence amongst them, the inexorable immaturity of form of the resulting voice that speaks authoritatively or at least officially (i.e.: subjectivity, the self of, and through, inscription), and finally on the process of subjective becoming and becoming-by-writing. As the above outline may suggest, then, this study seeks to foreground the modes in which Conrad’s and Gombrowicz’s writing and their techniques of inscribing the subject come to embody their iconoclasm as émigré authors, and to no lesser an extent, as hyphenated Poles. However, aside from the fundamental issue of their exilic status, I also look at them together because of their liminality as (respectively) authors of modernist and postmodern fiction, and because of a 15

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number of striking similarities in their mature artistic vision. In this regard, the textual inscription of imagined worlds and the role of language for reification of the imagined as a concrete reality, implicit to the processes of transformation of raw perception into communal beliefs, données, or ideologically inflected “facts” which is the business of politics, religion, science, indeed of every form of authoritative discourse, forms a dramatic point of correspondence. In addition, they are read together here because of the analogies detectable in the chronicles of their struggles with the reading public, in the plural nature of their emigration — and in the stages of their non-writing careers — as well as the protracted and multifaceted quality of their quest for artistic recognition and (though this may strike the reader as surprising) fame. Furthermore, Gombrowicz and Conrad strike a similar chord in their long searches for an ideal reader and their self-perceived pedagogical function as public oracles, in the nature of their instruction to that elusive reader and to the reading public at large. It is in large part because they were exiles that the notion of the ideal reader, though usually localized at the level of specific social groups such as “émigré Poles,” other writers, the critical and intellectual establishment, “urbane Londoners,” readers of autobiographies and so on, would sometimes expand and metastasize to become a synecdoche, in effect, for the Nation. Last but not least, they are interesting to study because of the incontrovertible fact that their “situation” within the literary tradition (or traditions, since both men are claimed by more than one canon) still remains contested today. Again, even though there have been a number of intriguing attempts of late to re-read Gombrowicz,17 for example by domesticating him as a species of a cosmopolitan Euro-Argentine author,18 this is particularly the case with Conrad. All these factors suggest that another tactical examination of their principal works is in order, not least for the potentialities of the juxtaposition of a minor-noble Polish/Argentine/West European/late-modernist/queer exile Gombrowicz with his minor-noble Polish/Russian/Colonial-French/British-Imperial/early-modernist/ family man counterpart. In the Conclusion, I place a certain amount of faith in the operative logics of heterotopia, as a kind of existentialist and individual reckoning with the idea of difference. I should explain that in so doing I am not attempting to be idealistic but rather (if anything) prescriptive. Given that globalization and international migration already amount to full discourses that have spawned their own discontents 17 See e.g. Markowski 2004; Legierski 1999: Jarzębski 2000; see also Garand 2005. 18 See e.g. Alicia Borinsky’s curious essay “Gombrowicz’s tango: an argentine snapshot” (1998). The essay concludes with the cryptic — and to my mind, unsubstantiated and indeed near-incomprehensible — remark that by the time of his departure from Buenos Aires for Europe, Gombrowicz had become a “reluctant Argentine-in-exile whose foreignness is exalted by tango” (1998: 162).

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(much of this has to do with the fluctuations of global and international finance, which have created new classes of migrants at all levels of the socioeconomic scale), what I wish to communicate is that if, on the level of techniques of the self, a heterotopic imagination could enter into dialogue with the inherently selfreifying and seemingly inevitable discourses of globalization, then this could portend some good news for the other. And if there is anything new that globalization can teach us, it is that we all — not just the exiles and the migrants — are potentially other, by the very virtues of the movements we undertake. On a more parenthetical note, apropos of the idea of heterotopia, it may be useful to draw the reader’s attention to the differences between the Foucauldian concept and the notion of utopia. These are not complementary or supplementary discourses, in large part because heterotopia is not a discourse at all but rather a technique of the self, and thus a form of analysis of knowledge; it is, further, performative, a type of practice. While both are linguistic and textual zones, nonplaces located in an autonomous space–time, one has to do with the community and the coherence of desires and identities in it. As a textual imaginary exercise, utopia, as Louis Marin has put it, involves the simulation (or simulacrum) of a global harmony in an ideal world. The other, Heterotopia, functions principally on the level of the individual-who-perceives, as much as possible between discursive spaces, precisely within the overlooked interstices and lacunae. Moreover, while heterotopias can certainly be oriented toward a collectivity, for the most part they have to do with individual fates and the experimental mediation between textual zones and identity. That is to say, as techniques of being and thinking they are a solution on the level of the individual (and perhaps especially the creative artist); they are concerned with the negotiation of texts, artifacts, cultures, and languages, with the ultimate goal of deeper intersubjective self-knowledge. Overall, by reading Gombrowicz and Conrad against each other, it is hoped that the present study will not only establish their outsider status vis-à-vis the theory and practice of dominant epistemologies of the subject over the course of the twentieth century (in a gloss form) and provide commentary on some of the lessons on the dialectics of cultural liminality and political imperialism as articulated by two of modern Poland’s most important exiled writers. It is also my hope here that this work will aid in determining the extent to which both the dominant and the subterranean discourses of modernism and postmodernism were engaged by two of the most intriguing “outsiders” of twentieth-century Western literature in the construction of their exilic identities. While ascribing the precise differentiating effect of exile on one’s poetics and even on something as intimate and multifaceted as a worldview is no easy task and perhaps perilous (for how can one really know?), I hope that by tracing the extent to which the subjective 17

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realities of one’s identity within a specific culture and time are created within and between the spaces of the logos, the reader will be able to share the profundity of this connection. And though the removal of familiar givens which then forces a retreat into language practice — the zone of heterotopia — as the only space of hope of any certainly, represents an extreme in exilic discourse, which is precisely what transpired in the case of Joseph Conrad and Witold Gombrowicz.

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CHAPTER 1

The Condition Known as Exile The objects with which the literary scholar deals are always given him as mediated ones. And it is with the uncovering of this mediation that literary theory should be concerned. Peter Bürger

The essential self, a subjective self-consciousness that exists in time and space, precedes the self that can be said to exist in text. This self, inhabiting a certain spatial and temporal matrix, moreover, anticipates and mediates the scriptive figurations of the writing subject. This is not to say that the question of identity must dominate every sphere of endeavor. Rather, identity flavors writing with sets of associations, choices of subject matter, contexts for memories, either filtered or left raw and festering; with formal and stylistic reverberations, with intertextual connections of various kinds; with what one is likely to have read in one’s childhood and youth. What seems to count above all, then, is the ideational space of the community or the nation — and if the nation should today be considered to be an imaginary construct, as some maintain,1 so much the better, since the impact of the things I am invoking is principally on the imagination, on the deployment and use of symbols and signs of belonging. In the instance of Joseph Conrad and Witold Gombrowicz my concern is with the effect of this national imaginary on the delineation of their own hybrid and exilic identity, both in their practice of everyday life, and in their narratives. It is for that reason that Conrad’s and Gombrowicz’s Polishness was not effaced in exile. Instead, their Polish identity emerged both amplified and distorted in the spaces of exile, a process that principally engaged the notion of hybridity, the hybrid self producing a hybrid text, the hybrid text irrupting into culture as an other, as an intervention of alterity. By the term hybridity, in the context of 1 See e.g. the “Introduction” to Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1991) as well as Chapters 2 and 3 below on the rise of the concept of national identity as something supplementing and then supplanting smaller units of loyalty and affiliation, such as the tribe and the clan.

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exilic writers, I indicate a condition of cultural in-betweenness that allows for the fabrication of an identity that is more than a sum of the constituent parts of the cultural imaginaries and the linguistic landscapes of the former homeland and the place of expatriation. Hybridity as a state of being is the special province of exilic artists and intellectuals, perhaps more so than other groups of expatriates. It is their province by virtue of the fact that they more than others must wrestle with issues of language by the very nature of their métier: it is after all the instrument of their craft. Often, but not always and not inevitably, the sense of intercultural reciprocity is made into a cornerstone of artistic identity and finds its reflection in the techniques of articulating the scriptive self. The hybrid subject then is “performed” in the public sphere, for an author must necessarily exist as a public person, even if he or she lives the life of a recluse, and even if ensconced within a painfully exclusive linguistic or cultural ghetto. Therefore, without putting too fine a point on it, what exiles most frequently produce are exilic texts, works which may themselves, however, belong to a number of stylistic, generic, or discursive categories. Frequently — but again not always — such works are exilic meta-texts, works broadly “about” the condition and the pressures of expatriation, and which document the construction of a new exilic public self as inextricable from the development of new literary, and sometimes linguistic, selves.2 And then, if these expatriated or exiled authors persist at the business of writing long enough and with sufficient tenacity, what may emerge from the total body of such narratives is an outline of an exilic discourse. By exilic discourse I mean a corpus of texts and supplementary writings such as letters, essays, and interviews that point to one’s acceptance of the essential indeterminacy of life and the protean nature of associations, affiliations, and dreams, and which also offer an individuated set of solutions for overcoming the loneliness, the essential (and thus also existential) deracination, the blinding disorientation, and the sudden shifting of horizons of thought and action wrought by emigration’s ruptures. The exilic and the hybrid, therefore, as condition and strategy respectively, are intimately tied to the limits of the prison house of being which is language itself, and the ways in which perception is systematized in an “elementary structure of signification”3 in order both to generate and to “detain” meaning.4 To show the degree to which they are dialogically intertwined — that is, how one depends on the other for self-articulation and the shaping of a worldview — is a chief theoretical objective here. 2 For a typology of exilic experience available to the modern writer and of artistic positions found in modern (mainly Western) fiction, see for example Robinson’s “Introduction” to Altogether Elsewhere (1994) as well as Susan Suleiman’s fine discussion in the “Introduction” to Exile and Creativity (1998). 3 A. J. Greimas, cited in Hawkes 1977: 88. 4 See Jameson 1972: 163–5.

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But there is another issue that needs to be addressed at the outset, for it is a theme that guides my overall approach to the two writers: all culture and experience ultimately involves a dialectic, if for no other reason than simply because it is in the nature of choice itself to be dialectical. Yet the usual view that exile represents a kind of trauma should not obviate the notion of exile as a potential opportunity, as a paradoxically privileged existential condition which allows one to seek out new creative spaces and thus transcend or sidestep the limitations of monological, that is, monolingual and monocultural, discourses. Indeed, it is something of an emigrant creed, though not always articulated with equal insistence from author to author, to beware of dominant ideologies, orthodoxies, and other “common-sense” approaches handed down by impersonal tradition. Likewise, exiles tend to be suspicious of seemingly normative forms of authority and legitimatization masquerading behind unwavering systems of coercion, of the idea of the “norm” itself, and indeed of systems of signification taken for granted as “natural,” “neutral,” “inevitable” or “self-evident.” I would suggest that this is so in large part because, insofar as these notions have often been tools or surrogates of the nation and of patriotic discourses, they belong to the sphere of centripetal obligations. Finally, it is something of an exile’s imperative to approach culture, in Edward Said’s remarkable formulation, “contrapuntally,” the reverberation of the native land echoing in the cultural practices or linguistic forms of the native country or vice versa, yet always asymmetrically and ambivalently — for only one of the two can typically constitute the privileged space; for Said himself, expatriation, and political exile in particular, was painful and terrifying to experience.5 The notion of (exilic) displacement/deracination in the modern context thus obliquely suggests the conflict between discourses of nationalism and transnationalism/cosmopolitanism. Exiles, after all, are rejects from a nation’s formulation of itself (usually dictated by the top power structure) and are ejected onto terra infirma, frequently forced to begin again, indeed ex nihilo. That first term, nationalism, may be defined as a subject’s affiliation with and faith in the native culture and identification with the sphere of the domestic. The second, transnationalism, reflects affiliation with groups which unlike the nation are united not necessarily by ethnic or religious commonalities so much as a certain shared condition (here, expatriation itself), and the attendant set of new quotidian realities. Those may include such factors as the need to re-invent one’s persona to account for a new bicultural identity in a monocultural (because foreign in nature, in essence, even if institutionally multicultural and socially pluralistic in reality) context of the hosting place, and to decide on one’s linguistic community and choice of readership. We 5 See his essay “Reflections on exile” (Said 1994: esp. 147–8).

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may broadly posit that the first type of response to expatriation is centripetal in nature and encompasses a series of defensive reactions to the loss of a formerly stable sense of self, agency, and setting — “stable” here signifying an identity that over time comes to be accepted as dominant and my own and is validated by collective (national) and — perhaps as important — temporal identification.6 In this model, reactions to the loss of home may range from paralysing nostalgia to the sometimes comforting but frequently stifling self-isolation in ethnic or linguistic enclaves. The second response is centrifugal in nature. Within those same initially unfamiliar, but gradually uncovered and perhaps even assimilated spaces of exile, it seeks to forge dialogic complements to those earlier notions of self and agency that have become invalidated in the new emigrant milieu. In most though not all scenarios of expatriation, the first response, then, represents that force which pulls the writer toward the sphere of his or her native language and the emigrant communities. The second is what pushes him or her out, guided by compulsion as much as curiosity, in the direction of the language and cultural zones of the adoptive land. However, this second orientation is also what launches him or her out of time, as it were, out of synchrony with the former nation’s orbit and toward a new temporality, represented by another nation’s time, which the exile will stitch together using the new culture or language. This is but a rough guide: the effects of exile and the displacements brought with it can often appear paradoxical. Sometimes, very fruitful contacts with the adopted culture may lead to a nuanced return to the writer’s native letters and language.7 In other instances, exilic nostalgia finds a neutralizing counterbalance when a writer reaches out to the host country’s audience, using its own language and cultural lexicon. The apparently paradoxical exilic responses to the question of language — not only the realization of the not entirely unexpected otherness of the other’s language but also the utter otherness of language as such8 — speak to the potential of language as a polemical and ideological space and as a cathected tool for articulating the scriptive self. In their use of language, and especially when language is considered as a function and a correlative of identity, that is, in the Heideggerian sense of language as a “prison house” of being, wherein meaning is ascribed through the living body,9 Conrad and Gombrowicz are iconoclastic authors. Specifically, my position is that 6 In the sense of the “real time” of the nation and its institutions; cf. Bhabha 1990. 7 As for example is illustrated in the case of James Joyce versus Samuel Beckett — two Irish contemporaries, both of whom for a time, lived in Paris and were in (infrequent) contact with one another. The first returned to the geographic spaces and linguistic landscapes of his native Ireland (and Dublin in particular) in nearly all of his writing. The metaphysical concerns of the second meant that Ireland was not indispensable as figure or as trope; Beckett, moreover, wrote in French as often as he did in his native tongue. 8 See e.g. Kristeva 1991; Derrida 1998. 9 See Heidegger 1962: 40–2.

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they are simultaneously figures of their time, with their writings apposite representatives of its cultural trends and major philosophical ideas, and iconoclastic in their poetics or their politics, especially with regard to the homeland. The term iconoclasm in its secondary definition refers to the practice of attacking cherished beliefs or institutions.10 Gombrowicz, as I will show in the chapter on TransAtlantyk, engages a persona of the iconoclastic with regard to Polish national form and, no less, the expected and sanctioned identities and practices of Polish émigré artists, especially in their post-war manifestations.11 Though initially seduced by the notion of form and its potential not only to circumscribe via ritual but also to liberate, or, as Ewa Thompson puts it, between the “submission to the symmetries of the system and a desire to exercise the force of [will]” (Thompson 1979: 54), he remained unconvinced both by the national form/ritual of the newly reborn country after 1920 and by the tendentious and shallow avant-gardism of many of his contemporaries.12 As Gombrowicz saw it, form, especially when imposed from without, distorted and effectively deformed the subject who assumed it, especially those in a minority situation, such as exiles or the acolytes in a movement, on whom form was forced by virtue of their subaltern status. Suspended in-between, yet certain not only of the imposing ascendancy of form, indeed its omnipresence as “the communicative framework between people and also the impulse in man . . . to finish what is unfinished and add to what has already been built,” but also of his own will to oppose form in order to liberate the “inner self” (Thompson 1979: 150), Gombrowicz became a consummate destroyer of forms and formal -isms. It is a central paradox of his poetics, however, that while embarking on the dismantling of tenacious “weak” forms he himself remained trapped within a form of his own making, that of the formal dialectic between logos and the corporeal, in particular desire. Conrad’s iconoclasm, perhaps more subtle and amorphous, and less insistent in its literary manifestations,13 but as with Gombrowicz backed by the full resonance 10 Gage Canadian Dictionary. 11 See the “Introduction” to the Wydawnictwo Literackie edition of Ferdydurke (Gombrowicz 2000d), 20–5. 12 See e.g. the first sections of Polish Memories. That text is the source of the following axiom, occasioned by Gombrowicz’s encounters, in Warsaw and Zakopane, with the painter and theorist S. I. Witkiewicz: “w Polsce wyższość i niższość nie są zdolne do współżycia, a tylko wzajemnie siebie grążą w farsę” (Gombrowicz 1990: 126: “in Poland superiority and inferiority are incapable of cohabiting; instead they plunge one another into farce”). Compare the first four sections of de Roux, ed. 1969, and the first volume of the Diary (Gombrowicz 2000a). 13 Though perhaps not, if one considers that the literary autobiography A Personal Record, ostensibly a record of his becoming an author and his conversion to “Britishness,” was also, in part at least, a direct response to (and reworking of) his uncle and one-time guardian Tadeusz Bobrowski’s Pamiętnik mojego życia [My Memoirs], which were published a

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of his exilic identity politics, questions and problematizes the notion of the modern(-ist) self. It also problematizes and frustrates the notion of identity tout court, in the sense of a monad of being. The dynamic is well illustrated in the following summing-up of Conrad’s “exceptional life” by one of his foremost scholars: Conrad was a unique phenomenon in the history of letters. His was a very unusual life, clearly divided into four distinct stages, each unlike the others. There were seventeen years of childhood and youth in partitioned Poland under the shadow of neighbouring autocratic powers . . . Then followed four years of early manhood in Marseille, which had a formative effect . . . and proved to be a kind of “rite of passage” into the political, marine and emotional aspects of his adult life. Next came twenty years of service with the British Merchant Navy, a period which was decisive in shaping his mature self. The remaining years of his life were spent creating his literary identity. His life was like a succession of jumps into four distinct realities . . . [The] years of childhood and youth in Poland left a very strong imprint on [his] life, personality and works . . . [Polish] national culture, mind, and ethos . . . is deeply ingrained in his character and texts. (Krajka 1999: 41, 48–9)

Wiesław Krajka is surely correct to view the years Conrad spent “creating his literary identity” as central to a proper appreciation of the man. Especially during that fourth and last period Conrad elaborated a dual public “performative” self, eventually dubbed homo duplex.14 His perspective on himself as a psychically bifurcated subject resulted in a fascinating textual and epistolary creation — but it was one which further complicated, rather than facilitated, our understanding of Conrad as subject. I shall return to the notion of the homo duplex and unpack its layered meanings below. However, before suggesting that Gombrowicz and Conrad frequently wrote against the grain of their respective milieus and cultural practices, that they were intellectual mavericks who transgressed, each in his own way, the parameters of the expected in their philosophy of writing, we must demarcate the key characteristics of these milieus. By the same token it will be necessary to recapitulate what the dominant discourses and counterdiscourses of the time had to say on year after the latter’s death and caused a minor furore in his part of Poland (Najder 1983: 342–3). The fact, moreover, that Conrad’s first novel, Almayer’s Folly, was in part written and revised in Poland where he returned in 1893 to visit the ailing Bobrowski on his rural estate (Fletcher 1999: 67), also complicates his later claims of unequivocal dislocation from Poland and implanted sense of Britishness, as well as speaking eloquently to the iconoclastic motifs in his transformation from a life of adventure and errance on the seas to becoming a settled-down (and then soon married) author. 14 See Said 1975: 103–4.

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the subject of identity, language, national affiliation, including the search for an “ideal writer”–audience–“ideal reader” nexus, as well as the roles assigned to contemporary literary criticism.

MODERNISM AND ITS “POSTS” If one could design a test for such a thing, the dominant mood of the humanities in the Western Academy today (aside from the recurrent anxiety about imminent rationalization of the humanities in the name of synergistic efficiencies) might well turn out to be one of a persistent hangover from the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s. The climate of interventionist social discourses and “identity politics” that is the wars’ legacy has had the effect of rendering the interconnectedness between textuality and politics — especially of the interventionist, recuperative kind — manifestly transparent.15 The landscape after the wars, on the other hand, has frequently reflected carefully considered attempts at de-politicization of texts and the cultural realities that had produced them, encouraging a critical return to uncontaminated discussions of ethnicity, national affiliation and identity of authors as separate from if not entirely irrelevant to authorial political positionalities. But are such, let us call them, post-historicist inquiries adequate in light of the current cultural moment of our increasingly pluralistic interconnected society? Or should updates on now classic paradigms of politicized criticism — ranging from Edward Said’s seminal reconceptualization of Orientalism as a mode of textual oppression, to Paul Gilroy’s and Homi Bhabha’s work on cultural hybridity, finally to Gayatri Spivak’s elaboration of the subaltern as an ambivalent subject/point of insertion into cultural production — be entertained.16 The leading problem here in fact is one of historicity: how do we read the works of exilic authors against these still potent legislative regulations of texts as political vessels for identity politics? For instance, does Conrad become a racist because of his ambivalent depiction of black African slaves in the Heart of Darkness, as Chinua Achebe famously claimed back during the fractious 1970s?17 Does Gombrowicz’s upperclass background disqualify him — as Marxist critics in Poland and elsewhere 15 See Sollors 1986: 250–62, on cultural syncretism and “ethnogenesis” in North America; cf. Hutcheon 1989. 16 In particular, see Said 1979, 1983, 1993; Gilroy 1993; Spivak 1988; Bhabha 1998. 17 The Nigerian author’s firebrand essay An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (actually a keynote lecture delivered at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1975) has been reprinted in many places and contexts; one that gathers it and similar (postcolonial/non-Western) interventions into Conradian discourse is Hamner, ed. 1990.

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would have it — from being a spokesman for queer self-liberation and selfactualization?18 And what of their ambivalent relationship to both their homelands and their adoptive ones? Does their professed cosmopolitanism constitute an instance of treacherous anti-nationalism? Does it make them suspicious subjects, somehow dangerous to the security of the commonweal? It would appear that when we speak of modalities of exilic displacement in the context of globalization today, authorial political positions necessarily return to the agenda, smuggled in through the backdoor of identity politics, and a new approach for interrogating interstitial or deterritorialized texts against the background of cultural or ethnic “essences” is required. One such recent intervention, the critic Nico Israel’s notion of an outlandish literature, which he defines as literary production situated on the disruptive and potentially subversive plane between the two distinct meta-discourses (and experiences) of exile and diaspora, shows promise for reading modernist and especially postmodern writings penned by expatriates.19 Where I engage the binary of diasporic communities versus the exilic experience qua individual alterity, I build on this foundation, noting however that Israel’s formulation itself is an enlargement and refinement of George Steiner’s notion of extraterritoriality and extraterritorial literature — a literature in this instance situated between the meta-discourses of national traditions and canons, at an angle to them, essentially other.20 My point of departure for reading Gombrowicz and his “era” is the symptomatic (though occasionally misdiagnosed) critical divide between what constitutes the modernist text and its various “posts.” The majority of critics who have contributed to the debate are in accord that over last four decades or so, new quasi-revolutionary discursive spaces have been forged in Western cultural praxis and that they have arisen in order to contest the prevailing Western “grand meta-narratives” of modernity (Lyotard 1984: 18). The latter are comprised of self-reifying philosophical and cultural récits which have long both created and enforced the traditional sense of national identity and artistic function, including the politically inflected bipolar “us–them” rhetoric of the polity.21 Specifically in the case of cultural discourses, the analogue for the dialectics of “us versus them” was the master–subaltern binary promulgated by proponents of traditional nationalism and imperialism alike. Compounding the rise of socially interventionist discourses conceived to counter such essentialist hegemonic positions 18 See Płonowska Ziarek 1998. 19 See Israel 2000: 20–30. 20 As far as I can tell, this word first appears in Steiner’s collection of essays Extraterritorial (1971). 21 See Calinescu 1987: 274–5.

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in the production and consumption of culture, including the national,22 were the ideologically disturbing (because organized) “gatherings” of “others.” To the extent that these registered on the radar screens of the collective consciousness, or for that matter, the mass media, they attested to the viability of alterity as a valid discursive position. Homi Bhabha has referred to this disjunctive phenomenon as DissemiNation, a concept/practice that reflects the extraordinary “scattering” of peoples and their narratives during the second half of the twentieth century. For Bhabha, DissemiNation, is directly coupled with the discursive coming-into-being of postmodern alterity. As a function of the processes and stories of migration, it has given rise to a coming together “of exiles and émigrés and refugees, gatherings on the edge of ‘foreign’ cultures; gatherings on the frontiers; gatherings in the ghettos or cafés or city centers; gatherings in the half-life, half-light of foreign tongues, or in the uncanny fluency of another’s language . . . gathering the memories of underdevelopment, of other worlds lived retroactively” (Bhabha 1990: 291). Given that the nature of cultural selection is dialectical, it is no surprise that such discursive spaces as those invoked by Bhabha did not appear in an ideological vacuum. Rather, their proponents and critics alike readily admit that they have been fought for by formerly disenfranchised groups, a category in which we may include exiles writing from a position of peripherality vis-à-vis either the metropoles and cultural centers in general,23 or their own national or regional cultural center.24 Whether or not such a mode of conceptualizing culture in the era of globalization is effective is another matter altogether. The question has to do mainly with the ways in which globalization and its effects are conceptualized, whether as a mostly new form of capitalist society reflecting postmodern philosophies of production, consumption, and labor movements (i.e. something genuinely new), or as an extension of modernist forms and praxes (something old requiring an already familiar vocabulary of resistance).25 Either way, however, within the context of inclusion and renegotiation of cultural dominants and their shadow positions, the concept of difference has been particularly elusive both as a social construct and as a limit-experience of “our”26 modernity. The various 22 See Kolodny 1985: 291–9. 23 Under this rubric, consider someone like Milan Kundera after 1968 and before 1990, writing as a Czech émigré in Rennes, where he taught literature during the 1970s. 24 Here, we might use the example of Kundera again, but this time as a Czech émigré writing away from, but perhaps with an ultimate objective oriented toward, his own (i.e. Czech) cultural center, Prague. 25 See Hardt and Negri 2001: 143–5. 26 The term “our,” of course, remains relative and essentialist today. I am not immune to the ironies of otherizing all those who do not seem to belong under this rubric, as a discursive a priori. Generally, however, I mean the West/the first world, as well as those

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methodologies of theorizing difference, then, were salutary for opening up a new space of contestation. Among other things, they demonstrated that the traditional ways of reading exiled writers were simply too stifling and tendentious, almost inevitably placing their work in the straitjackets of outworn cultural assumptions, amongst which the heimlich–unheimlich dialectic of the sense of housedness and exile — which we see problematized in Nico Israel’s notion of outlandish literature — was taken as especially self-evident.27

“WHO, WHICH GOMBROWICZ?” “GOMBROWICZ, GOMBROWICZ” The discourse of difference, taken both as a explicatory matrix for categorizing experiential, epistemological truths and as a discrete textual category for the inscription of certain forms of subjectivity, seems like an auspicious discursive zero-point for both Conrad’s and Gombrowicz’s writings. Writers like Gombrowicz — whose work is usually included under the broad category of expatriate post/modernism and the avant-garde — were pushed out of their homelands for a great many reasons, some of them political and others strictly artistic. They are united by the common necessity of starting anew amid the relative insecurity of expatriate loci. For this reason, their relationship with the homeland was destined to remain one of shifting loyalties, while their affiliation to the adopted home could be described as one of uncertain, and indeed sometimes very precarious, belonging (perhaps because they were rarely institutionally “validated”28). In such a list one may include figures as diverse as James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Milan Kundera, but also cultural hybrids like Joseph Brodsky, Samuel Beckett and Frantz Fanon, as well as literary critics/philologists such as Erich Auerbach, Roman Jakobson, even Julia Kristeva.29 Now, Gombrowicz has not written what could be termed a definitive hopeful places in which “progress” and “development” has brought the standard of living indices, especially where the regard for human rights is concerned, closer to what “we” enjoy or are constitutionally and legislatively guaranteed. For other ways of coupling postmodernity, alterity, and the question of equality (especially where human rights are concerned), see e.g. Taylor 1992; Bauman 2000; Žižek 1993; Miyoshi 1993. 27 See Bhabha 1990: 2–3 for a detailed analysis of these categories. 28 Frequently, as Hannah Arendt has pointed out in her iconic essay “We refugees” (1943), this kind of expatriation, including her own, was usually undertaken without the benefit of commissions on multiculturalism or international committees on refugee rights to which many immigrants and refugees have access today. 29 The list is in no way exhaustive, for it omits legions of visual artists, social scientists and philosophers who became exiles at one point or another during the great migrations of the twentieth century.

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autobiography that sums up a life and aims at a comforting illusion of intimacy and more to the point, transparency, that is, one which would unambiguously explicate his decision to remain an exile. While works like Trans-Atlantyk or, more explicitly, the Diary, in form and style follow one autobiographical mode or another — I explore this dynamics in depth in Chapters 3 and 4 — their actual lifewriting thrust is stylistically deformed and generically displaced and subverted for esthetic effects. Perhaps Travels in Argentina remains, aside from volumes of correspondence, the closest approach to a typical autobiography. Yet even there, as I argue in Chapter 3, the speaking subject is so configured as to conform to a specific culturally sanctioned mission. We should also consider the fact that questions of motivations may have been elided to a greater degree than is typical in Gombrowicz’s writings because the one central life-changing event of expatriation fell upon him so swiftly and unexpectedly as to constitute a kind of trauma. Indeed, despite the freedom it would provide him for the elaborating of his writing subject, Gombrowicz would be condemned to struggle with exile’s crucial role in his life. As we know, the chain of contingent events that occasioned his emigration was so unequivocal and irrevocable as to render it impossible to argue with (and obviously it could not be ignored); it could only be mythologized. Ironically, though his own emigration was both unintended and unwanted, Gombrowicz has made a significant contribution to exilic discourse of the second part of the twentieth century, a genre whose main focus is the use and abuse (in the sense of probing the limits) of language as both tool and a self-sufficient, self-regulating signifying system (Hawkes 1977: 16). In particular, Gombrowicz’s professed quasi-structuralist faith in logocentrism (Thompson 1979: 150), his allegiance to the transformational and redemptive power of the word, may have functioned as a temporary tactical evasion of the emigrant’s imperative or compulsion to scrutinize his deracination from the expected “form” and, later, his increasingly split allegiances (which was seen by some as his deviations from expected “Polish” forms). All the same, numerous meditations, sometimes oblique, often coded and usually provocative, on the experience of exile can be found in many of his works, the Diary and A Kind of Testament especially. And if Gombrowicz could be situated on the vanguard of what I will call a postmodern, post-war relative subjectivity, a mode of viewing the self “contrapuntally,” then his later work especially displays a bifocal perspective whereby the exilic other is always already implicit and in dialogue with (a dominant perception of) the self.30 As the heading of this section (from Trans-Atlantyk) tries to indicate, for Gombrowicz, in contrast to Conrad, exilic rupture found its reflection in his 30 For a discussion on the elaboration of the contrapuntal self in exilic authors, see Miłosz 1994: 39.

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ambivalent use of neologism and linguistic play which aimed to destabilize solid categories of things (or categories generally deemed solid). The model is first encountered in Ferdydurke and is developed in the exilic narratives, TransAtlantyk in particular. This form of experimentation seems to be a natural legacy of his avant-gardist formation in interwar Poland (along with S. I. Witkiewicz, Bruno Schulz and the poets of the Skamander group) (Maciąg 1992: 20–7, 128–9). But the avant-garde as a movement was rather marginal on the literary scene of his new exilic home, Argentina. There, during the decades following the Second World War, the vogue was turning toward high modernist writing and, in truly rarefied circles such as the Sur group, toward postmodernist cosmopolitanism in art.31 On the other hand, for the Polish émigré communities, including, one is led to believe, the Polish “colony” in Argentina, traumatized as they were by the losses suffered in the war and by the further betrayal of Yalta and subsequent summits of the victors, any programs of art for art’s sake would have seemed irresponsible or, at the very least, incompatible with the putative obligations of émigré artists confronting openly hostile forces. Rather, the post-war émigré artists and intellectuals in Gombrowicz’s epoch were expected to devote themselves and their art to working on behalf of the once again oppressed nation.32 By the early 1960s, when Gombrowicz abandoned South America in favor of West Germany and finally France, the avant-gardist stream in literature had once again shifted its orientation and its choice of enemies. The new literary form, exemplified by the nouveau-roman, for Gombrowicz represented “ascetic” and “pedantic” worship at the altar of form. In fact, he considered structuralists, both critics and authors, as a formalist phenomenon that is infinitely removed from his own work and from the directions of his philosophical quests:

31 For a manifesto of the new directions of Argentinean writing during the 1940s and 1950s, see the essay by Jorge Luis Borges “The Argentine writer and tradition,” where he suggests that “the idea that a literature must define itself in terms of its national traits is a relatively new concept . . . and the cult of local color is a recent European cult which the nationalists ought to reject as foreign” (Borges 1964: 180–1). Instead, Argentine writers are in his view in a situation analogous to that of Irish writers vis-à-vis English literature and culture: “we Argentines . . . can handle all the European themes, handle them without superstition, with an irreverence which can have . . . fortunate consequences” (Borges 1964: 184). It is interesting that Gombrowicz’s own position is not philosophically opposed to Borges’s — both writers oppose “provincialism” and textual nationalism, however defined. However, Gombrowicz’s literary mode returns to “local color,” attempting to re-inject Polish thematics “with a difference” into the cosmopolitan West and posit the East European subject as an autonomous other with a status equal to that of the Western subject’s. I return to this question in Chapters 3 and 4. 32 Gombrowicz exposes this tension in the scene of confrontation with the envoy of the Polish Embassy in Buenos Aires, in Trans-Atlantyk. See Chapters 4 and 5, below.

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Jakby . . . odwracając się ode mnie, w innym zmierzali kierunku . . . Zapewne, najważniejsze co nas dzieli, to że oni są z nauki, a ja ze sztuki. Zalatują uniwersytetem . . . ich maniery mnie rażą, ich język jest zanadto wywindowany . . . Gdy ja chcę być rozluźnieniem, oni są kurczowi, napięci, sztywni, i zacietrzewieni . . . i gdy ja dażę “ku sobie” oni wciąż . . . dyszą żądzą samounicestwienia, chcą wyjść z siebie, opuścić siebie. Obiekt. Obiekywizm. (Gombrowicz 2000c: 231–2) It is as though, turning away from me, they were proceeding in a different direction. Certainly, what most divides us is the fact that they are coming from scholarship, and I came from art. They reek of the Academy. Their manners are an affront to me, their language is overly exalted. Whereas I strive to loosen things, they are uptight, tense, stiff, furious. And where I seek ways “towards myself ,” they constantly breathe the desire for self-obliteration, as though they wanted to exit from themselves, abscond from themselves. An object. Objectivity.

Though he would argue in his Diary and elsewhere that indeed he was “the first structuralist” (Thompson 1979: 100), with his radical discourse of subjectivity and his formal dialectics of form and chaos, of culture and the corporeal, Gombrowicz, in his new role as a European exile, again found himself producing counterdiscourses and defending his iconoclastic narratives.33

“JC DROPPED INTO LITERATURE CASUALLY” We now travel back over half a century to a balance-of-power Europe, a continent still unaffected by the World Wars, the dissolution of great empires and the questioning of the logics of national belonging. A commonplace of Conrad criticism has been to read him as a canonical author of complicated narratives that tell of exotic adventures and pose profound moral questions, in the tradition of many great nineteenth-century English novelists. This ultimately oversimplified but persistent narrative identity is one to which he has been consigned in the collective imagination of many non-specialist readers, and unfortunately it is on occasion echoed in serious criticism (Mulhern 1990: 254–5). In this model, Conrad’s choice of language, much like his exile, is viewed as almost immaterial to his eventual writing career as an “English novelist.” For example, the influential mid-century critic F. R. Leavis went as far as to suggest that Conrad’s “themes and interests 33 See Gombrowicz 2000c: 231–3.

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actually called for the English language rather than any other.”34 This, however, seems very much like placing the cart before the horse, notwithstanding the few choice phrases Conrad disseminated to bolster this illusion, for example the oftenquoted remark that if he had not written “in English [he] would never have written at all” (Conrad 1949a: vi). Why? Because as I will argue, language, to those who are exiled, expatriated, or otherwise deterritorialized, is of primordial importance to the techniques of the self. As “the essence of the equation,” language assumes a central role in the maintenance of exilic identity (Breytenbach 1994: 14). Thus it is not strictly about adopting a choice of themes for writing: it is all about choosing to adopt a language. Without resorting to essentialism of another kind, if we treat Conrad primarily as an exilic writer, it will be clear that he engaged both the late Victorian and early modernist cultural contexts with his own brand of difference.35 Analogously with Gombrowicz, by dint of his transplantation from Poland, Conrad was set on a course of ongoing negotiation between his public and private self in his writings. However, the results of the negotiations were almost diametrically opposed, linguistically speaking: in order to fulfil himself as an exilic subject, Conrad felt he needed to make the giant leap of adopting the language of his adopted land, his second after France. With the exception of a number of newspaper articles and other marginalia written in Spanish and later in French, Gombrowicz never did so. One of the major motifs in Conrad’s novels and tales is the exploration of the interlocked issues of identity and language. Not too surprisingly, when such themes are engaged, especially in the early writing set “on the sea,” they are frequently filtered through the hegemonic discourse of British/Western imperial world order.36 As a son of landowning European gentry and essentially an “antirevolutionist” at heart (and from the age of 12 until his departure from Poland, raised by one, his maternal uncle Tadeusz Bobrowski), Conrad could claim a sort of mediated sympathy with such a worldview. More to the point, perhaps, his employ in the British merchant marine encouraged and metaphorically extended this kind of self-identification, especially in cases of direct confrontation with “the natives” encountered in the never neutral sites of the harbor or the trade post. And yet in a large number of texts, even those set in exotic and marginal/ colonial spaces, the drama of identity formation is highlighted and controlled apart from such broader social variables as the direct consideration of class or national belonging. In works like Heart of Darkness or “An outpost of progress” 34 Leavis ic cited in Mulhern 1990: 355. 35 See Mulhern 1990: 255–6. 36 The tale “An outpost of progress” (1898) in his Tales of Unrest is an important exception. And certainly the publication of the short novel Heart of Darkness announces a major paradigm shift. See below.

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for example, what man is brutally confronted with is not so much the exotic as himself — more precisely, his civilization’s shadow side — as I will show below. It is not entirely surprising, then, that the ship should form a staple of the early Conradian plot.37 In Conrad the ship constitutes an idealized social locus amenable to formal experimentation; it provides both a communal environment and a special form of discourse for exclusive use by those “in the service.” It functions both as a microcosm and a prototypical site for social interaction, at least for the society of men working toward the same general objective, such as safe passage, the completion of a contract or carrying out the various “civilizing” (and also merely banal and commercial) tasks of empires, all within a temporally and spatially circumscribed because continually improvised though never entirely sui generis set of conditions. Witness the following invocation of sea life with which the classic story “Youth” opens: We were sitting round a mahogany table that reflected the bottle, the claret-glasses, and our faces as we leaned on our elbows. There was a director of companies, an accountant, a lawyer, Marlow, and myself . . . We all began life in the merchant service. Between the five of us there was the strong bond of the sea, and also the fellowship of the craft, which no amount of enthusiasm for yachting, cruising, and so on can give, since one is only the amusement of life and the other is life itself. Marlow . . . told the story . . . of a voyage: “Yes, I have seen a little of the Eastern seas; but what I remember best is my first voyage there. You fellows know that there are those voyages that seem ordered for the illustration of life, that might stand for a symbol of existence.” (Conrad 1957: 9–10, my emphasis)

As Fredric Jameson points out, the ship and more specifically the strategic containment of plot architectonics within the “non-place of the sea,”38 is a space where real labor is accomplished in the name of a stated interest (a national or a capital one). As such it represents an element by which “an imperial [most frequently British] capitalism draws its scattered beachheads and outposts together, through which it slowly realizes its sometimes violent, sometimes silent and corrosive, penetration of the outlying precapitalist zones of the world” (Jameson 1981: 213). Invoking not only the ideal of work/community but also the limits of both 37 Of course Conrad does not abandon the ship entirely. One of his most poignant meditations on sea life and identity occurs in The Shadow-Line (1917). 38 Jameson 1981: 213; for a rich discussion of the non-place of the sea as a contestatory locus of heterotopic identity, see Cesare Cesarino’s absorbing Modernity at Sea (2002).

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constructs, Conrad is operating here within both the Victorian and the modernist literary tradition, proceeding from a stance of ambivalence that to me represents a hallmark of Conradian (exilic) difference. While the ship constitutes an ambivalent signifier, used simultaneously to extol the prowess and the imagination of the British marine and to castigate the innate brutality of conquest, be it political or economic, Conrad routinely falls back on his skepticism about civilizing missions for his final word. In this way he calls into question the true essences (and motivations) behind the veneer of positivist humanism that has been fueling the Western imperialist project,39 and for which the ship constitutes at once an indispensable tool and a transcendental icon, a penetrating symbol of “modernity.” It is for this reason that we will seek in vain for any textual evidence of Victorian enthusiasm for expansion that is not immediately subverted by irony; nor is the narrative an apologia, reluctant or otherwise, for imperialism as praxis, even if Conrad does end up extolling one of its most important instruments. In the end Conrad’s difference, specifically his liminal status within turn-of-the-century England, allows him to claim a legitimate space from which his criticism of British society’s pragmatic institutional excesses and its innate racism can be validated; difference is also what fuels his doubts of the contemporary alternatives to the existing status quo proposed by social critics, socialism in particular.40 Having lived through one kind of revolutionary foment and perhaps longing for an orderly social space, Conrad has some claim to speak to revolution both from a position of intimacy/interiority and that of distance/exteriority. This duality lies at the heart of the experiential argument, and is often invoked in Conrad criticism.41 In fact Conrad himself alludes to this condition in a number of autobiographical and political texts, though certainly without pretending that he is confessing and without laying all his technical cards on the table. His repudiation of the radical options open to those reformers and revolutionaries who would remake the world in their own image (both Marxist and nationalist, it seems) is edifying: The ferocity and imbecility of an autocratic rule rejecting all legality and in fact basing itself upon complete moral anarchism provokes the no less imbecile and atrocious answer 39 To say nothing of its Eastern “autocratic” counterpart, that of tsarist Russia. 40 Note that during this time, other options for social organization were equally if not more totalizing. They included various manifestations of Marxism, early fascist totalitarianism (e.g. the Italian, officially organized in 1919 as the Fascist Movement) and aggressive chauvinistic nationalism in both the major and the newly formed or reconstituted, i.e. post-Versailles, states on the outskirts of Europe. 41 See e.g. Najder 1983, 1997; Schwarz 2001; Said 1975; Karl 1979; Knapp Hay 1993; Israel 2000.

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of a purely Utopian revolutionism encompassing destruction by the first means to hand, in the strange conviction that a fundamental change of hearts must follow the downfall of any given human institutions.42

What Conrad, the perennial outsider, seems to be advocating here, then, is a staunchly traditionalist position, somewhat along the lines of uncle Bobrowski’s small-C conservatism characteristic of Poland’s provincial landowning class, and in stark distinction — in fact explicitly opposed — to his father, Apollo Korzeniowski’s insurrectionary ambition, which was the more common view in partitioned Poland especially in the second half of the nineteenth century.43 It has been frequently asserted that early in his writing career Conrad appropriated the language of the (dominant) other in order to express the (adapting) self, while ultimately remaining something of an other himself within the British cultural milieu. For example, his English speech would remain heavily accented and replete with foreign (Polish, French) phraseology and syntax until his death. Because of this, a number of contemporary critics and writers, including close friends such as John Galsworthy, perhaps inadvertently pigeonholed him as a “foreign” author transplanted to the British soil.44 Conrad’s treble exilic status, his trajectory from Poland to England via Provence and Belgium, and especially his decision to ultimately become an “English” novelist, is vital to contextualize his pattern of selective affiliation. Conrad’s insistence on England as his de facto home,45 while continuing to maintain his sense of difference with reference to British culture, marks a dramatic contrast to Gombrowicz’s resolute choice to remain within the sphere of Polish letters while dissimulating his own difference to it (to be sure, as an exile the latter was already once-removed from the authorizing “centers” of Polish letters, and was carried further away from the major concerns animating Polish fiction as his expatriation continued). Difference, however, is the star that guided both of their identity negotiations, and the consequences of their decisions on each author’s readership and his status within the respective 42 The passage is from his 1920 “Author’s note” to Under Western Eyes (Conrad 1989: 51). Conrad is referring to the unique pre- and post-revolutionary Russian milieu, but the general thrust of his worldview holds for other models of social organization as well. For example his “Author’s note” to The Secret Agent contains a cognate view of contemporary social forces in Western Europe. 43 See Zamoyski 2000: 89–94. 44 See Najder 1983. 45 In the notes to the “Knopf document,” a kind of literary and biographical introduction to the author, published in 1913, Conrad firmly maintains that he “always intended to be a British seaman” (Stape, ed. 2000: 75) who then went on to remain in England as a British subject when his sailing life was ended, perhaps prematurely, by exhaustion and illness. See also his corrections to the effect that this was in no way a twist of fate but rather the result of a deliberately taken path (Stape, ed. 2000: 61, see also 73–7).

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literary traditions both in the country of birth and the lands of exile cannot be trivialized. The section that follows aims to develop a typology of Conrad’s and Gombrowicz’s responses to exile,46 with the discourses of modernist and postmodernist art/society, and the modes of persona negotiations available under their aegis, as a conceptual backdrop. However, superimposed over the problem of nationhood and belonging to (or rejecting) a specific polis or cultural affiliation, which forms the synchronic axis for this study, is the issue of a “temporal” or diachronic taxonomy of another, more explicitly textual kind. As I suggested above, in terms of Western literary history, Conrad and Gombrowicz are two book-ends of modernist poetics. My reading, then, operates along two axes which will of necessity interpenetrate; insofar as the two authors’ status as expatriate Poles is primary here, the discussion of the modes of modernist poetics will be framed by the discourses of exile.

ON THE CONRADIAN DOUBLE MAN A master of paradox, Conrad writes one of the earliest epilogues for the Europe of Empire, the novella The Heart of Darkness,47 while partaking in the awakening of a modern(ist) sensibility in which texts are produced presumably to be consumed for their own formal esthetic ends, as works of art that celebrate the subjective.48 This penchant for narrative ambivalence — and for intertextual multivalence — as a tactic is well-documented in Conrad scholarship. Laura Chrisman, for example, suggests that Conrad wanted to “encourage” his readers in the British metropole to discern the “dominatory relationship” between the imperial metropolis and the colonies as a complex one — if not revolutionary (Chrisman 2001: 415). Other critics have noted that the vacillations between the two structuring poles of his writing, that is the form and content of representation, constituted a liberating space that allowed Conrad to “create and re-create” his writerly and public personae as he saw fit (Schwarz 2001: 7). 46 These main factors prompting exile include the spectre of political or religious oppression at home, the desire to transcend one’s given place in the world, and the need to dissociate oneself from one’s native linguistic and cultural spaces in order to attain greater purity in one’s art. 47 “Youth” and Lord Jim can be critical, in places scathing; however, this attitude is most vividly in evidence in his inscription of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness; see Chapter 2, below; cf. Fletcher 1999: 56–62. 48 See Wohl (2002) for a general survey of the characteristics of modernist narratives (and art); see Calinescu (1987) for a persuasive periodization of the modernist movement, especially in the fields of literature and poetry, with a special focus on the role of organized artistic movements and their various political goals.

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While its trademark is ambivalence, Conrad’s oeuvre is also marked by a poetics of transition. Indeed, it is the case in nearly all of Conrad’s fiction that the narrative is only partly decoupled from the function of social commentary that texts played for most of the European nineteenth century, with the writings of such authors as Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky, and Flaubert perhaps an apotheosis of the bourgeois novel and the confident social panopticon of its narrators.49 If Conrad is a modernist author, his is a modernism in which the primacy of expression of the fragmented self and the contestation of the données and assumptions guiding the “natural” world is both supported and undercut by the content. It is as though the form, with its sudden temporal shifts, the multiplication of the narrators, was outwardly “designed” to defamiliarize the reader. The content, that is the story actually told, the fabula of formalist discourse, both reassures the reader, for the stories told and the characters inhabiting them seem to be “typical” ones, and provokes existential anxiety when their structure, over the course of the reading, is revealed to be anything but ordinary or conventional. In a section of The Political Unconscious devoted to Conrad’s place in the pantheon of twentieth-century authors, Fredric Jameson provides an elegant introduction to the problem of his narratives’ discursive in-betweenness and partial generic engagement, especially as regards the modernist ethos of fragmentation of the speaking voice and the ascent of the poetics of subjectivity. Jameson begins by reminding the reader that the absorption of interior states of being is what distinguished the style of many of Conrad’s contemporaries, especially those self-consciously producing “high literature”: Nothing is more alien to the . . . closure of high naturalism than the works of Joseph Conrad. Perhaps for that very reason, even after eighty years, his place is still unstable . . . and his work unclassifiable, spilling out of high literature into light reading and romance, reclaiming great areas of diversion and distraction by the most demanding practice of style and écriture alike, floating uncertainly somewhere in between Proust and Robert Louis Stevenson. Conrad marks, indeed, a strategic fault line in the emergence of contemporary narrative, a place from which the structure of twentieth-century literary and cultural institutions becomes visible as it could not be in the heterogeneity of Balzacian registers . . . In Conrad we can sense the emergence not merely of what will be contemporary modernism . . . but also, still tangibly juxtaposed with it, of what will variously be called popular culture or mass culture.50 49 As are, for instance, the writings of Dickens, Dostoevsky, and Sienkiewicz, to give but three culturally divergent yet representative authors who would have inevitably figured on Conrad’s reading lists. 50 Jameson 1981: 206. With respect to Conrad’s reception in England and elsewhere, Norman Sherry points out that especially early on there was a common recognition

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According to Jameson, Conrad goes a long way toward imagining — indeed begetting — the processes of narrative reification of high modernist literary principles which will occupy literature for the next half-century. For Jameson, the zone of the political (and the dialectical processes of history itself) in the Conradian text, no longer an objective value or a donnée as it had been configured in the realist novel, becomes sublimated into the mechanics of the text and stylistic registers; that is, it becomes structurally deployed within “the [text’s] very form” (Jameson 1981: 280). As I intend to show in my analysis of Nostromo in Chapter 5, in order to create a new textual zone for that work Conrad was compelled to go back to the incunabula of the novelistic genre, to trace the foundations of the novel as a mirror of a “reality,” real or illusory, and in a sense to reinvent the nature of the relationship between the individual and the social event. One might say that as we move, in an approximately chronological progression, through Conrad’s and Gombrowicz’s major works, the decline of a modernist poetics of interiority is succeeded by the rise of a poetics of difference. Specifically, one witnesses the project of modernism first critically engaged as an “after” of naturalist realism and of the “confident edifice” that novels normally constructed (Said 1975: 137), in Conradian texts like Nostromo and Heart of Darkness. It is next thoroughly worked over using modernism’s own tools, through recourse to a formalist epistemology of the subject and the call for unity of content and form, for example in his Under Western Eyes; both of these notions are further elaborated in works such as Gombrowicz’s Ferdydurke only to be refuted as sterile and dishonest. Finally modernist subjectivity is discarded with the parodist poetics of Trans-Atlantyk, the delineation of multiple contingent subjectivities in the Diary, and is ultimately abandoned as a false solution to the problem of inscribing subjectivity and describing the world with Cosmos. As the structural axis for diachronic analysis, this rough epochal model can help access the centrality of language, foregrounded by the experience of exile, within the central problematic of identity and national affiliation for Conrad and Gombrowicz. Specifically, exile as an epistemological limit-experience complicates the modernist discourses of subjective artistic production and the exploration of the scriptive selves, revealing cracks in apparently solid methodologies when the producer of the text is removed from the frequently protective mantle of the nation/community, and must carry out among contemporary critics and reviewers “of those characteristics that would prevent Conrad’s becoming a ‘popular’ writer” (Sherry 1973: 1). But if Conrad was mislabeled and condemned to the margins, he could fight against such a situation only through new writing. According to Sherry, this paradoxical situation did much to establish the path for Conrad’s later popularity and fame, specifically “the late flowering” of his reputation in the marketplace following the publication of Chance at a moment when, Sherry contends, Conrad’s “greatest work was [already] done” (1973: 1).

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his craft away from its linguistic and cultural reservoir. Yet, beyond the geographical and cultural displacement, exile deterritorializes also because it foregrounds linguistic displacement and thus offers the possibility of a linguistic “resurrection” using “another instrument” while simultaneously removing notions of the natural/familiar “target reader” (Kristeva 1991: 15). Instead, then, a writer must learn to first imagine and then agree to textually service a new reader who in reality might not automatically sympathize with the range of artistic aims, esthetic concerns, styles, and philosophies offered, as these have become inflected by the vastly individuated experience of exile and foreignness. To give but two concrete examples, Conrad’s obsession with the figure of Russian autocracy and his related notion of fidelity to an idea (which is frequently revealed as a mere “sustaining illusion”) is unquestionably a direct consequence of his father Apollo’s labors as a revolutionary leader. And these in turn were historically dictated to some degree, if not outright determined, by the situation of the “enslaved” Polish nation in the nineteenth century, but also influenced by the specific cultural baggage of the Polish national mythos,51 especially the Romantic martyrological imperative then still in force of self-sacrifice to the nation or — even more quixotic — the idea of the nation when the former was physically non-existent. When Conrad incorporates his interpretation of such personally key notions as national revolt in his writings, it may well be in an effort to work through their legacy on his own worldview, to say nothing of his exilic status: revolt is what colonial ethnics did. But such ideas and the ideologies backing them were foreign to his metropolitan British readership, unknown and unknowable to the social experience of a culture that was then the center of a worldwide empire. This deterritorialization à rebours may explain the reasons why Conrad strategically abstracts the grand political picture in the majority of his novels in favor of synecdochal self-enclosed social microcosms; surely, the latter “setting” would be more easily comprehensible to his contemporary reader than depictions of clashes and insurrections taking place on a faraway Eastern European plain, or beyond. The two tropes that ended up displacing bona fide Polish thematics in his writing — except for the tale “Prince Roman” and some of the life writings, where they are invoked directly — were those of the ship and the voyage. Ships, as argued above, as modes of transport and as shelter, were microcosms of the ordinary world and its quotidian conflicts. Perhaps of greater significance to Conrad’s poetics is the fact that they were also, to some degree, variations of the original heterotopia of Noah’s Ark, with all the implicit utopian and dystopic potentials available to be textually exploited. The voyage, on the most banal level of signification, certainly 51 See e.g. Jabłkowska’s discussion of Conrad’s ambivalence to Russia; see also Najder 1997.

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articulates a deterritorializing ingredient which could contribute to one’s practical education. But the notion of a voyage also incorporated a metaphorical and indeed an epistemological prerogative, as in a voyage of “self-discovery” whose hoped-for trajectory was always toward the heart of the self and the mysteries of existence. Thus we can reject the idea that before composing Nostromo and the other land-based narratives that followed, Conrad simply only wrote of what he knew. Equally insufficient is the straightforward biographical argument, namely that the seafaring environment was Conrad’s natural habitat for almost two decades of his adult life and that the marine novels were therefore concerned with inscribing the essentially autobiographical. Rather, on the evidence, Conrad distilled universal social themes in an experimental narrative structure which he mapped onto locations that (a) were familiar to him and (b) might be relatively familiar — or at least more familiar than the misty Eastern European plain — to a sizeable portion of his British readership, that is, other “agents” of the empire, in that term’s loosest definition. If this strategy did not meet with glowing commercial success, it was perhaps because Conrad’s early novels were decidedly not mere straightforward maritime adventure tales and moreover were full of inscrutable foreigners (as opposed to adventurous British sailors) whose textual centrality would have compounded the narrative’s already prolix form and difficult structure. As far as is known, Conrad’s first self-reference as homo duplex, or a double man, occurs in a 1903 letter to Kazimierz Waliszewski, a Polish historian then living in Paris (Najder 1983: 295). At that time Conrad was in the midst of completing Nostromo, the first of his novels not set on the sea. Perhaps writing about the full breadth of social issues — not just explorations of moral issues centrifugally enlarged from sea-faring contexts — is what prompted Conrad to face his own duality of career and language. However, the first intimation of the plurality of his life story and of his view of himself as fragmented and/or multiple, may have registered as early as 1890. Conrad, briefly on-land in the exotic Canary Islands, wrote a letter to his cousin Marguerite Poradowska, in which he reported that: “the screw turns, taking me into the unknown. Happily there is another I who roams all over Europe, who is at this moment with you, who will go before you to Poland. Another I who moves from one place to another with great ease, who can even be in two places at once” (Conrad 1940: 10–11, my emphasis). As we can see, initially the self is split geographically, as opposed to psychic bifurcation; however, some kind of disjunctive blueprint that cannot be ascribed to romantic transcendentalist notions of motion seemed in the offing. Conrad may not have been fully aware of its implications, but the fissure apparently represented a matter of some gravity for him: “Don’t laugh!” he admonishes Poradowska before adding, “however, I permit you to say ‘how foolish he is!’ ” (1940: 11). 40

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As he negotiated this homo duplex persona, the public figure of a Polish émigré who managed, through or perhaps despite his expatriation, to liberate himself from the mandatory patriotism of Polish national martyrdom — especially as it came to be personified by the communal legend of his father — began increasingly to be coupled with an equally civic, largely self-fashioned, image of the provincial (in the sense of his location, not choice of themes) British novelist. As one-time friend and collaborator Ford Madox Ford put it, with a trace of irony perhaps, in a “personal remembrance”52 published shortly after Conrad’s death in 1924, Conrad, though “above all things . . . a Pole of the last century,” actively sought to become and “to be taken for . . . an English country gentleman” as early as 1900 (F. M. Ford 1989: 57, 55). According to Ford, Conrad desired this identity modification “with a passion” (1989: 55), not least because the Great Britain of Conrad’s inner eye, admittedly a glorious if fictionalized and at bottom imaginary construct, could be emotionally employed to counter Russia, the depraved partitioning power held directly accountable for destroying the Korzeniowski family’s life in Poland: For that was Britain of Conrad’s early vision: an immense power standing for liberty and hospitality for refugees; vigilant over a Pax Britannica that embraced the world. With an all-powerful navy she had an all-powerful purse. She was stable, reasonable, disciplined; her hierarchies standing in their orders, her classes settled, her services capable . . . And ready to face Russia with fleet or purse when or wherever they should meet. (F. M. Ford 1989: 56)

Here, Ford has associated Conrad’s apparent desire to “become” British to the (oedipal) loss of Poland as the transcendental signifier of the fatherland. After all Poland had indeed been lost: it had been carved up, enslaved, and effaced from the map of Europe. Conrad’s father was driven to an early death as a consequence of his revolutionary opposition to the partitioning empires. Yet such an explanation, while adequately accounting for Conrad’s need to re-imagine his host country to fit ideologically within a personal mythology, is not entirely reassuring. The picture painted by Ford of Conrad’s attitudes toward Britain tends overly toward the impressionistic. For example, no mention is made of the kind of exceptionalism which must have underpinned Conrad’s view of Britain as a civilizing and 52 As such the narrative is freed from the pretensions of objectivity or for that matter trustworthiness, as Ford himself was honest enough to admit. In the preface Ford describes his text as “the rendering of an affair intended first of all to make you see [here Ford is borrowing from Conrad’s own famous authorial note to The Nigger of the Narcissus] the subject in his scenery. It contains no documentation at all; for it no dates have been looked up; even all the quotations but two have been left unverified, coming from the writer’s memory” (F. M. Ford 1989: vi).

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benevolent imperial power, in light of his largely negative view of European imperialism as such, and his own personal experience as a victim of Russian imperialism in particular. On the other hand, Conrad’s lack of sympathy for the Irish national cause, which Najder ascribes to the fact that the Irish “tradition of statehood was . . . much more remote” (Najder 1983: 437) and which Conrad actively regarded as rebellion,53 seems to suggest a strongly selective vision of British activities in the colonies,54 again especially when cast in light of Poland’s desire to “separate” from Russia in 1830–31, 1848, and finally in 1863. For another early biographer, Albert Guerard, Conrad’s exceptionalist view of British colonial practices “and the imperialism of other nations” is symptomatic and in fact “usual” (Guerard 1967: 34), since it is seen to be derived from Conrad’s contention that the idea of liberty “can only be found under the English flag all over the world” (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 288). Though he had written a number of ideologically driven tracts (such as “Autocracy and war”), Conrad was not a politician; but even if he had been, there would be no requirement for him to remain unconditionally consistent on every issue for the duration of his life. However, any view of Conrad that would posit the writer in perpetual, awestruck admiration of the great beacon of British liberty and its benevolent global presence owes more to an overreading of the conclusion of A Personal Record, where Conrad waxes eloquent about the symbolic power of the British flag, than to any solid grounding in the facts. In addition, ostensibly expurgated from the homo duplex identity, or perhaps displaced from the clear opposition of the Polish childhood and the British seafaring, literary, and landowning stages of Conrad’s life, was that key interregnum stage in Marseille.55 This period represented four years of liminal indeterminacy and possibility during which Conrad, for the most part a carefree “prodigal boulevardier,” took part in his first transoceanic voyages with the French merchant 53 See Najder 1983: 414–15, 437. 54 It may be useful here to compare Conrad with Joyce, who as a Catholic Irishman (though an exiled one) was writing from the inside. In The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen reflects on a conversation he just had with his English dean of studies at his university: “The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit . . . I have not made or accepted its words . . . My soul frets in the shadow of his language” (Joyce 1983: 223). It is no mystery why Stephen frets; his logocentric–metaphysical anxiety has its roots in the political real. The language of the British overlords, to the non-assimilated Irish, represented Empire, oppression, and abjection. The sentiment of domination by logos continues in Ulysses: in a conversation with Mr. Deasy, the anglophile master of the school for boys where Stephen teaches part-time, Stephen remarks, “I fear these big words . . . which make us so unhappy” (Joyce 2000: 38, my emphasis). 55 A number of these events — and certainly Conrad’s mindset of the time — are recuperated in the quasi-autobiographical tales that form part of The Mirror of the Sea (1968b).

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marine,56 and attempted suicide after having gambled his money away in Monte Carlo, following what appears to be a failed arms-smuggling operation off the coast of Spain. Clearly, then, Conrad’s notions of his own duality were subject to cautious modulation.57 It should be noted that before the onset of cultural hybridization which increasingly marks the ethos of (or at least underscores) the Western subject,58 the two constituents of one’s self-perception as a double subject would of necessity exist in a dialectic. This may have been Conrad’s trouble at the outset of his emigrant journey. It must have been difficult for him to assume both forms, fully, with total ideological commitment to each. And yet, by all accounts, Conrad persisted in seeing himself as a homo duplex, to a degree that critics — including Edward Said — have termed excessive and obsessive (Said 1975: 130–2). In a more temperate reading, Cedric Watts’ exposition of Conrad’s duality or what he calls “janiformity,” and the tension evident between the binaries of his personality, not only with regard to questions of ethnicity, is instructive, if only for its dialectical identity figurations: Conrad was a patriotic Pole who became a British Citizen. He was “a Polish nobleman cased in British tar.” He was a seaman who laboriously rose to the peak of his career as a captain in the Merchant Navy, yet abandoned that career to try his luck as a creative writer. His manner retained both an aristocratic air of command and the neurotic intensity of a ruthlessly dedicated artist. (Watts 1993: 7–8).

By contrast, our own era — the ascendant of the postmodern and the hybrid — celebrates and to an extent heretofore unseen institutionalizes the notion that the hybrid subject is more than the sum of its ethnic or cultural (or even personality) “components.” Part and parcel of the politics of contemporary subject construction is the fact that these constituent aspects may be arbitrated, engaged, emphasized, 56 Conrad traveled around the French West Indies and for a brief time stayed in South America (Venezuela and/or Columbia). The reference to “prodigal boulevardier” is from Nostromo; this is how Martin Decoud is described in the early parts of the novel. 57 Watts 1993: 17–20, 144. On the other hand, a number of autobiographical motifs and themes find their way into Conrad’s fictions. To restrict ourselves to the work analyzed here, Nostromo, Fidanza is partially modelled on Conrad’s first mate (and his partner in the smuggling syndicate), the Provencal sailor Dominic Cervoni, and perhaps the Conrad of the Marseille years provided a model for the doubting intellectual Martin Decoud in Nostromo (see also Najder 1983: 176–8). For a list of other biographical and autobiographical correspondences in the work, see Watts 1993: 141–8. 58 Perhaps this paradigm is not restricted to the contemporary Western subject; rather, one’s partaking in the ethos of postmodernity is all that may be required for the elaboration of hybrid identities. For a more detailed discussion see Paul Gilroy, Gayatri Spivak, Edouard Glissant and Homi Bhabha, or the films and film criticism of Trinh T. Minh-ha.

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or demoted at will within one total individuality, the space of one subject. Neither at the time of his landing in England nor his later debut as a writer could Conrad genuinely benefit from the performance of a hybrid self — unlike, for example, the Argentinean Gombrowicz returning to France and, by extension, the Polish expatriate sphere in the early 1960s — not least because it was difficult for the outsider to pinpoint what it was exactly that Poland, then an “imaginary” country, signified outside its erstwhile borders, other than the ideal of a lost fatherland whose restoration was, or was not, a cause worth dying for.59 But even though the option of enacting the role of an émigré of Polish Romantic mythopoeia was effectively shut off to him and indeed at odds with his youth and lack of any personal political or revolutionary involvement (which could have precipitated broken-hearted exile and, with it, perhaps a lifetime of lament, as it does for the eponymous hero of the story “Prince Roman”), Conrad transferred some of the salient qualities of such an identity into the British context anyway. The obvious mode of transmission was his parents’ direct revolutionary experience, which affected the young Conrad in the most personally intense manner conceivable. Watts points out that Conrad at 11, the age at which he was orphaned, was already “bitterly familiar” with a number of themes “which were later to be so prominent in his writings.” These include isolation and loneliness, early and tragic death, the clarion call of Polish nationalism, self-sacrifice for a noble cause, and what he terms “beleaguered solidarity” (Watts 1993: 11). But such a self-image must of necessity also incorporate a number of glaring paradoxes which Watts, to his credit, does not ignore, for instance the fact that “loyalty may entail subversion or betrayal, that there may be conflicts between the claims of honour, the claims of the law and the claims of affection” (1993: 11). Conrad’s assumed and evolving British identity, then, excluded or displaced the possibility of the “Polish émigré” subject; however, such a patently dialectical construction of the subject also had a perhaps unintended salutary effect: it was the harbinger of a new kind of cultural hybrid for Europe. Ford is quite wrong, in other words, to hypothesize that Conrad desired to be an “English country gentleman” and leave it at that. Conrad may have written in a letter to a fellow Polish expatriate in Great Britain, Spiridion Kliszczewski, that “when speaking, writing, or thinking in English, the word ‘home’ always means for me the hospitable shores of Great Britain” (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 81). But what about the times when Conrad was thinking or speaking or writing in Polish or in French? As Eloise Knapp Hay has argued in an essay on Conrad’s negotiations between his Eastern and Western “selves” and sets of memories, “Conrad borrow[ed] highly loaded emotions from 59 As a cultural phenomenon, a poetics of martyrology set the standard for nineteenthcentury European nationalism (see Zamoyski 2000: 269–95).

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his Polish associations and tailor[ed] them . . . [H]is ‘point of view’ at sea and on land was English, but . . . this did not mean he had ‘become an Englishman.’ ”60 Specifically, I would suggest that the homo duplex construct announced the possibility of difference for a subject functioning in the authorizing epicenter of the empire, and that Conrad’s negotiations between the two aspects are perhaps what accounts for his refusal of knighthood a few months before his death 1924 (would an English country gentleman be likely to refuse such an honor?), since, as he argued, he was already of noble Polish birth and therefore could not be titled. Considering that by 1924 the nobility in Poland possessed only nominal status, whether Conrad’s nuance was properly appreciated by his addressees is a separate matter altogether. And yet, at the same time, it was precisely this ongoing process of identity negotiation which to some in Poland came to be regarded as treason or abandonment of the homeland. The charge came most vividly in an indictment by Eliza Orzeszkowa, a well-known positivist writer and social critic. In what has come to be known as the Lutosławski–Orzeszkowa affair, Wincenty Lutosławski, a Polish literary historian and philosopher then living in England, put forth the notion that exilic writers can serve the national cultural (and political) “cause” from abroad, when called upon. In a staunch refutation of this principle Orzeszkowa cited Conrad as a prime example of the émigré as a deserter who turns his back on the nation’s plight and uses his considerable talents for other ends.61 Conrad’s reaction to Orzeszkowa, as his biographers show, was symptomatically ambivalent. In her study of Conrad’s political affiliations (and novels), Knapp Hay proposes that Conrad tacitly agreed with Orzeszkowa’s premise, “that whereas there might be good causes for emigration, the voluntary exile of a creative artist during a nation’s time of need would be indefensible” (Knapp Hay 1963: 59). The middle course of his identity politics, however, was to maintain that he was not a “creative artist” at the time of his departure from Poland, that his exile was not exactly voluntary since his hand had been forced by the revolutionary legacy of his parents62 and finally that, following a long career at the sea he settled in the country that had hosted him for almost two decades with the intention of becoming an author “writing in English” (Knapp Hay 1963: 56–62). It is no small paradox, however, that exile, compounded by the homelessness and displacement of his marine career (though this was willingly assumed and apparently longed for, and not imposed), is what allowed Conrad to decisively re-engage his Polish “phase” as a function 60 See Knapp Hay 1993: 26. The quotations within my citation are from Conrad’s letter to Kazimierz Waliszewski. 61 See Najder 1983: 255. 62 For further discussion see Najder 1983: 254–8; 1997: “Introduction”; Watts 1993: 51–4.

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of an ethical prerogative. As Andrzej Busza suggests, these identity negotiations made it possible for Conrad at last to prove a “fidelity to the preliminary stage of his life, to his Polish . . . heritage, with its tradition of self-government, its chivalrous view of moral restraints and an exaggerated respect for individual rights, which he had imbibed” — Busza claims — in the “moral atmosphere of the houses that sheltered his hazardous childhood.”63 In other words, Conrad’s return to sustaining Polish values (and perhaps its illusions) followed a path no less vicissitudinous than that of his marine voyages. And, for the most part the reckoning with Poland came only after, and to an extent as a consequence of, those voyages. Yet if one considers Conrad’s emigration in the context of ethnographic theories that in exilic discourse are the obverse of the interest in linguistic spaces and the formal possibilities for art, another fact is readily manifest. Conrad’s conservative and Continental “landed-gentry” brand of difference, imported from a “Slavic” hinterland and grafted onto the British literary realm, where it was turned to confront the realities of British imperial subjects, was a crucial part of a broader process of the migration of ideas from outlying spheres to the centers of empires.64 In fact Conrad traced a path for later settlers from the marginal or ex-colonial spaces to Britain and its metropolis, a process which accelerated throughout the twentieth century with the decline and eventual dissolution of the empire, and as alternatives to the dominant worldview came to light. As Said puts it, texts like Nostromo specifically “enabled” a generation of writers to engage the rich “ironies” (1993: xix) initially activated by Conrad’s ambivalence to such notions as empire and progress. The textual enactment of Conrad’s eclectic conservatism is thus analogous to that of the assimilated Irishman Bram Stoker, and is countered by the flamboyant and equally aristocratic sense of difference in the techniques of the self of another famous Irishman writing in and about England, Oscar Wilde. All three, at more or less the same time, injected a brand of difference that made possible the articulation of the other within British literary experience.65 Theirs, moreover, was an alterity that did not belong to the colonial configuration in a 63 Busza 2000: 146. According to Busza, it is in “this spirit of piety to his national and family past that [Conrad] first conceived A Personal Record” (2000: 146). I will return to this hypothesis in Chapter 3 which considers this text together with Gombrowicz’s Diary as strategic rather than not de facto autobiographies/memoirs. 64 Thus London, much as Paris, Vienna, or Berlin and later, and in a very different form, New York, became exilic cities par excellence by the end of the nineteenth century. 65 The Irish literary critic Declan Kiberd, for example, observes that, “equipped by an analytical colonial education to pen the most rigorous critiques of their masters, Irish writers [such as Wilde] were enabled to offer witty deconstructions of British imperial culture . . . [The] deconstruction of his beloved binaries was at once the colonizer’s darkest fear and deepest need [because it freed the imperial subject from his enforced masculinist administrative identities]” (Kiberd 2000: lxv–lxix, my emphasis).

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strict sense, and thus did not automatically activate the expected dialectic of master and subaltern. It could be argued that Conrad’s writings in particular helped forge a polemical space for a poetics of difference in the works of such literary others or outsiders as (the post-colonial) V. S. Naipaul or Salman Rushdie and that they are, oddly enough, Conrad’s “unnatural” heirs (this despite the former’s seemingly insider view on “manly” work and camaraderie on the decks of imperial British ships).66 When Conrad writes of London in Heart of Darkness that “this also has been one of the dark places of the earth” (HOD 5), for the Roman legions who conquered and civilized the British Isles, much as Kurtz and Co. attempted to bring civilization to the riverine inhabitants of the Congo, he is in a sense subverting the language of the center, turning it on its head, de-constructing the doxa. The end result of this is a recuperation of the other, though perhaps not unexpectedly without the direct inscription of the other’s worldview. This category of alterity, moreover, includes the other — that is, the “uncivilized” brute — inhabiting the Briton’s deep cultural memory, his own shadowy heart of darkness.67 Furthermore, as an outsider and a social conservative at a time of fledgling English self-criticism usually launched from socialist/leftist positions (such as that of his close friend and fellow adventurer–author, Cunninghame Graham68), Conrad not only wrote against the zeitgeist; his very identity, both in the sense of the public persona and the more private self, was seemingly turned against it. In an oft-cited December 1885 letter to Kliszczewski, Conrad offers the following reaction to Joseph Chamberlain’s69 victory in the British general election and to the notion of full enfranchisement in general (and this does not even include women, who were not given the right to vote in Great Britain until after the First World War): 66 See Watts 1993: 186–7; Sanga 2001: 453–5, who reads Heart of Darkness against The Satanic Verses — especially sections on post-colonial “reversing” (as a strategy of resistance) of the colonizer’s “journey” into the interior, “from center to periphery” (Sanga 2001: 453), and on colonial imitation versus post-colonial mimicry (the latter term implying difference and a self-reflexive gesture of parody). In Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, the protagonist’s riverine military expedition into the heart of the subcontinent’s jungle also submits to a differential ratiocination that is the hallmark of Conradian confrontations of the metropolitan subject with the austere and foreign “logic” of the wilderness. 67 Marlow’s statement echoes Benjamin’s Israeli’s famous exhortation to Daniel O’Connell (an Irishman), when the latter derided his Jewishness: “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages, mine were priests in the temple of Salomon” (see Bartlett 1955: 511). The difference is that Conrad’s target was England and London, while Disraeli was effectively denigrating the Irish. 68 Graham (1852–1936) was once arrested and beaten by police in Trafalgar Square for asserting the right to free speech. Later, as a Member of Parliament, Graham was frequently suspended for demanding free education, rights for women, stronger trade unions and the like. 69 Conrad wrongly identifies Chamberlain — a Whig — as a social democrat (see Najder 1983, 88).

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By this time, you, I and the rest of the “right thinking” have been grievously disappointed by the result of the General Election. The newly enfranchised idiots have satisfied the yearnings of Mr. Chamberlain’s herd by cooking the national goose according to his recipe . . . The International Socialist Association are triumphant, and every disreputable ragamuffin in Europe feels that the day of universal brotherhood . . . The downward movement is hardly perceptible yet, and the clever men who started it may flatter themselves with the progress . . . England was the only barrier to the pressure of infernal doctrines born in continental back-slums. Now there is nothing! . . . The whole herd of idiotic humanity are moving in that direction at the bidding of unscrupulous rascals and a few sincere, but dangerous, lunatics.70

The date of Conrad’s tirade — the image of continental back-slums resonates especially with Marxist notions of the spectre of lumpenproletarian revolutions — coincides with the beginnings of Conrad’s writing career, when he remained on-land for prolonged periods and witnessed the events first hand. While this anti-populist and reactionary stance would, it is true, undergo a number of modifications, his remained very much the landed-gentry perspective on social movements of hoi polloi, suspicious of the urban mass and its collective emotive power (we see this position most strongly in Conrad’s 1907 novella The Secret Agent). This is not to suggest, as Najder does (1964: 31), that Conrad’s “irrational” fear of the mass constituted something of an anti-modern(ist) neurosis. Apparently, Najder asserts, Conrad on occasion felt anxious on the streets of the imperial metropolis and even began avoiding the capital later in his life. However, his penchant for reading the “personalities” in individual faces in the anonymous London crowds, which seemingly provoked some strong reactions, can be ascribed as easily — but far more sympathetically — to a vivid imagination as to an innate psychological disturbance.71 More tellingly, in Nostromo, Conrad’s most intensely political novel whose subject matter is the synchronic and almost sublime event of a revolution,72 there is nothing tendentious, ideologically speaking, about his 70 In Jean-Aubry vol. 2: 84, my emphasis. Conrad here is uncharacteristically conflating socialism as an interventionist discourse with socialism as a kind of coercive mass movement — “the iron rule of a militarism [sic] despotism” (Jean-Aubry: 84) — controlling “the herd” (but perhaps anticipating the social thrust and class construction that would be in evidence in the Russian Revolution some two decades later, with his conclusion that “socialism must inevitably end in Ceasarism” [Jean-Aubry: 84]). See also his letter to childhood friend Janina Taube (later Baroness de Brunnow), October 2, 1897, in which Conrad emphatically states that he has “never had any ambition to write for the all-powerful the masses. I have no liking for democracy and democracy has no liking for me!” (cited in Fletcher 1999: 76). 71 In this context, see Berthoud’s discussion. 72 See Jameson 1981: 125. Jameson argues that Conrad’s depiction of the events of Sulacan revolution is ideologically anchored in the theory of ressentiment which Conrad

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representation of the desires and hopes of “the People.” To the contrary; their leader, Nostromo, initially at least, is accorded the status of an elemental force, as much beyond considerations of good and evil as the force of nature itself.73 Finally, as an emigrant from a non-place located on the outer flanks of Europe who nonetheless managed to gain admittance to the finest literary spheres of his adopted home, albeit at the cost of having to renounce his native tongue as a scriptive instrument, Conrad in some significant ways anticipated the trajectories of writers such as Jerzy Kosiński, Milan Kundera and Danilo Kiš, from a peripheral “other Europe” to the literary center and often on to international recognition. The difference is that with the rise of the discourses of hybrid subjects and diasporic spaces through the latter part of the twentieth century, the aforementioned writers and others of their generations were less impeded from remaining within the linguistic sphere of the native tongue and in some cases were encouraged to engage the exilic one selectively, strategically, liberally.74 That being said, Conrad’s trajectory and identity negotiations are not the only factors that problematize the traditional categories of emigration and exile. Another element of his legacy that continues to trouble the literary taxonomists concerns the critical positioning of the Conradian text today. This issue has perhaps less to do with authorial identity and poetics than with the current critical landscape in which the narratives are read (or not read). We find ourselves in an peculiar predicament where not only the narratives but also the criticism of Conrad continues to merit new investigation, for, despite the number and variety of critical approaches and attempts at classification, Conrad still manages to elude the reader, as though the Conradian imagination had foreseen certain modern paradigms of reading and interpretation, and had attempted to exceed their conceptual limits. It would appear that the best of Conrad’s works activate (or at least are amenable to presumably shares with “all the great counterrevolutionary nineteenth-century historians” — a characteristically sweeping Jamesonian claim (Jameson 1981: 117, my emphasis). He is more on the mark when he observes that Conrad’s own political views, rather than, say, the passive legacy of Romanticism on Conrad’s imagination, are responsible both for the sentimentalization of certain events (what he calls melodrama) and for the schematization of binary forces which the novel plays off one another in order to affect its inscription of History (see Chapter 5). 73 More specifically, Nostromo is neutral until his corrupting “transformation” and consequent individuation that follow his sole act of rebellion against the masters who had employed him (see Chapter 5). 74 The journey of Salman Rushdie, possibly the most iconic exiled writer in the Englishspeaking world today, was no less peripatetic or ambivalent. His specific exilic condition, in an ironic postmodern turn, transgresses the concept of geographical space as such because — in an inadvertent and tragic echo of the discourse of terrorist programs — with the imposition of the fatwah, no place could be fully “home” (in the sense of a sure and trustworthy refuge) for Rushdie because no place could entirely guarantee his safety (cf. Israel 2000: 123–7).

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a reading with) such a rich profusion of discourses that the critic cannot forcibly fit the text into one or two dominant modes of seeing: the loose ends problematize the orthodox readings, the narratives retain their sense of open-ended difference. This may be because the Conradian corpus, in fact, belongs neither to post-colonial nor British literature in a strict sense, and shares little with Polish literature of the period. (On the other hand, critics have noted a number of subtle influences of nineteenth-century Polish poetry and prose, both Romantic and positivist, as well as of the Polish baroque,75 with regard to such things as character modeling and thematic development, if not the specific setting.76) The Conradian text, in short, encourages reading against the grain in ways that deny the politics of nomenclature and challenges the cultural givens, including those of our own era. One could say that all great literature does this but my question springs from a technical query: how do Conrad’s narratives achieve their affective power? I think that it is the interstitial and the liminal aspect of Conrad’s imagination — and then in terms of the poetics, the exilic — that particularly complicates authoritative readings, preventing textual closure. Insofar as the latter is dependent on semantic accessibility and narrative finality, a similar predicament can be said to exist with regard to the critical discourse about his works. To show how this comes to be, in the chapters that follow I will attempt to recuperate those elements of textual and intertextual indeterminacy which, far from offering dialogic links (in the Bakhtinian sense of establishing sure links and pathways of communication) with the reader, actually detach the author from the text through a narrative technique that might be termed the Conradian sublime.77 A complex and altogether ambivalent entity, laced with irony throughout, the Conradian narrative runs counter to the expected channels of critical investigation. Note, for example, the instances where subtle hinting to the reader about ultimate “truths” that we encounter in Dostoevsky (Bakhtin’s main test-case apart from Rabelais) are turned on their head in Conrad; instead, such “winking” references tend to steer the reader toward dead ends, onto the shoals of impenetrable contradictions. Simply put, Conrad’s corpus is evasive and deceptive, perhaps fittingly so for a

75 See Tarnawski 1958: 70–73, for an intriguing comparison of Conrad’s mediated narrative (e.g. his use of a second narrator Marlow who “takes over” the story) with the Polish baroque form, gawęda. See also Chapter 4, where I analyze Gombrowicz’s use and abuse of this literary/oral form in Trans-Atlantyk. 76 Again, the sole exception is the short story “Prince Roman” (see Tarnawski 1958: 62–78; Krajka 1993: 42–8, for credible attempts at establishing a lineage; see also Najder 1997). 77 I want to thank Sam Solecki and Thomas Lahusen (both of the University of Toronto) for initially bringing my attention to the indeterminacy of many of Conrad’s texts and to the consequent paradoxes of their reception.

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man who, in a note to a prospective publisher, slyly wrote that “JC dropped into literature casually.”78 As one particularly keen reader of Conrad, Frank Kermode, acknowledged, Conrad was acutely responsive to “the conflict between the proprieties and the mutinous text of interpretation” (Kermode 1983: 138). While a high modernist like James Joyce may have announced that he wrote Ulysses to “keep the professors busy,” that is, to embed the “secrets” and contradictions of his narrative in a way that would challenge the professional reader/critic but often pass unnoticed by the non-specialist, Conrad “would not have said so” even if his own struggles “between propriety and secrecy” were also intense (Kermode 1983: 138–9). To Kermode’s mind, such inscriptions of contradictions, counter-discourses and other narrative motifs that problematize smooth textures is more productively analyzed when coupled with the leitmotif of (textual and psychic) doubling: Conrad took as high view of art and a low view of his public, which . . . forced him into a situation sometimes reflected in his characters, a dédoublement. There is one writer who labours to save the “dense” reader from confusion, disappointment, and worry; and another dedicated to interpretation, to secrets, though at the same time he fears them as enemies of order, sequence, and message. (Kermode 1983: 140)

It is this dual and opposed Conrad I hope to adumbrate in Chapter 3 on life writing, with an aim to expose the still somewhat occluded markers of his exilic discourse in the epistolary as well as literary self-inscriptions. In the following chapter, we shall move (chronologically) ahead in order to focus more closely on the theories of cultural production of the last 50 or so years, particularly the models of conceptualizing literary praxis, in order to contextualize the place of exilic narratives in the broader story of modernism and its “posts.” As with Conrad, Gombrowicz’s poetics occupies an interstitial place between the leading practices of modernity and the modes of speaking about the (exilic) subject. Thus it is to this problematics of postmodernist self-inscription that we now turn, without, however, ignoring the rich contrasts with the modernist referent, as embodied in particular in Conrad and a number of other writers of his generation.

78 Moore 2000: 60. In connection with this, see “The Knopf Document” (Moore 2000: 57–72). The Moore volume is highly productive for tracing Conrad’s self-mythologizing in both A Personal Record and The Mirror of the Sea. See in particular sections discussing Conrad’s biographical “corrections” the aim of which was to make the life story correspond more closely with the manufactured public persona of a sea-dog-turned-author.

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CHAPTER 2

Crossing the Thresholds of Modernist Discourse GOMBROWICZ AND THE CONTESTED LOGICS OF POSTMODERNISM Because otherness, deterritorialization, and a certain self-reflexive stance of marginality are potent themes in Gombrowicz’s (and Conrad’s) life/work, one might be tempted to ascribe their outsider status to the experience of profound displacement brought on by exile. However, as we saw, one must exercise care establishing such seemingly normative links, for the paths and trajectories of the exilic experience are manifold. What is more, these routes are irreducible to simple categorical paradigms. Rather, the pathways of exile can be productively analyzed as a matrix of reactions and potentialities: these by and large resist taxonomic imperatives. Not unlike the discourses of exile, the concepts of modernism and postmodernism do not form stable categories with unanimously settled fault lines. In fact, few topics in literary studies over the last three decades have raised as much discussion as questions surrounding the precise demarcations between the two movements, whether such demarcations can be said to exist at all, whether it is productive to (continue to) discuss the idea, and the qualities that a work of art must demonstrate prior to admittance to either pantheon.1 Approached from today’s perspective, when multiplication, cross-pollination and contestation of discourses seem to be the order of the day, the major artistic movements of modernity are subject to multiple ideologically inflected categorizations and modes of periodization. For example, a text that may fulfil all the requirements of modernist esthetics to 1 For some productive approaches and typologies, see Calinescu 1987; Bürger 1984, 1992; Hutcheon 1988, 1989; Huyssen 1986; Jameson 1991; Bertens 1995; on the contours of the current debate on the forms and limits of modernism, see, among others, Levenson 1998; Lewis 2007; Gay 2008; Scholes 2006.

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one critic (or circle) could be historicized as decadent art by another: such, for instance, is the current status of Dadaist art/performance of the First Word War period or the dramas of Oscar Wilde.2 Or, what some will see as an expression of the esthetic avant-garde may appear precariously reactionary to others, as in the case of German expressionism in dance and film,3 or some manifestations of futurist and constructivist art co-opted by fascism or communism.4 This has been the case ever since postmodernism qua category emerged as a mode of conceptualizing literary difference. Consider one of the earliest interventions, John Barth’s enumeration, dating from 1980 and thus already somewhat antiquated — of writers and poets he considers postmodern: By my count, the American fictionalists most commonly included in the canon, besides the three of us at Tübingen [that is, Barth, William Gass and John Hawkes] are Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Stanley Elkin, Thomas Pynchon, and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Several critics widen the net to include Saul Bellow and Norman Mailer, different as those two writers would appear to be. Others look beyond the United States to Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, and . . . Vladimir Nabokov as engendering spirits of the “movement;” others yet insist upon including . . . Raymond Queneau, the French “new novelists” . . . and the expatriate Argentine Julio Cortazar . . . I myself will not join any literary club that doesn’t include the expatriate Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the semi-expatriate Italian Italo Calvino . . . Anticipations of the “postmodern literary aesthetic” have been traced through the great modernists of the first half of the twentieth century . . . through their nineteenth-century predecessors — Alfred Jarry, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé . . . back to Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1767) and Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1615) . . . On the other hand, among certain commentators the sifting gets exceedingly fine.5

Already in 1980, then, the taxonomy offered in “The literature of replenishment” freely mixes and in places explodes generic and temporal categories usually proffered by literary historians. Equally interesting is the fact that among the writers he views as postmodernist Barth lists at least five émigré or expatriate authors. Yet even before the matrix of exilic discourses is superimposed on the primary 2 See Calinescu 1987: ch. 3, on decadence. 3 In essence, this is Susan Manning’s thesis in her monograph Ecstasy and the Demon (1993) which treats German expressionism, and the dancer Mary Wigman in particular, as a proto-Nazi phenomenon. 4 See Calinescu 1987: ch. 2, on the avant-garde. 5 Barth 1996: 274. Barth then goes on to look within his own categories and provide trenchant mini-analyzes of the authors in his list, as well as critiques of the periodizations of a number of prominent American literary scholars including Irving Howe, Ihab Hassan and Hugh Kenner.

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epochal classification, one encounters several conceptual difficulties of what an exilic text — or an exilic author — is, and how the exilic can be extricated from (a) the domestic literature of the same language and (b) from work produced by “expatriates,” “self-exiles,” “travelers” and “nomads.” This problem of classification is by no means restricted to literary works, that is, is not limited to quarrels over practices of post/modernism or limitations of “classically” modernist or postmodernist works, and the issue is not simply one of intellectual myopia or the limits of horizon imposed by one’s particular historicity.6 Ann Kaplan refers to precisely this difficulty of cataloguing cultural production when she writes: Much of the confusion and passionate, sometimes acrimonious, debates about postmodernism have been due to critics not carefully distinguishing the specific terrain involved in any one scholar’s, journalist’s or policy-maker’s voice. Postmodern literary and aesthetic theory is one thing; postmodernism as an abstract philosophical category another; postmodernism taken up by, or applied to, international capitalism [i.e. globalization] . . . yet different again. (Kaplan 2002: 249)

The post-Frankfurt School critic Peter Bürger likely would concur with such an assessment of the contested ideas and ideologies of our “postmodern condition.” His writing espouses the view that scholars of postmodernity run against a major obstacle of definition for the description of almost every mode of social organization, including the ways that political, sociological, and economic discourses are delineated and sustained (Bürger 1992: 32). Against the seemingly protean and adaptable background of Western international capitalism, the backdrop for the emergence of “epochal” boundaries of modernist cultural production remains contested. And the problem stems from the fact that any stipulation of epochal canonicity locks the objects under its gaze into a vulnerable ahistorical stasis, and in trying to reify abstract notions it inevitably over-generalizes and hence banalizes their form or function: Deep economic, technical, and social changes can be observed . . . when compared with the second half of the nineteenth century, but the dominant mode of production has remained the same: private appropriation of collectively produced surplus value. Social democratic governments in Western Europe have learned only too clearly that, despite the increasing significance of governmental intervention in economic matters, the maximization of profit remains the driving force in social reproduction. We should therefore

6 See e.g. Bloom 1995: 163–6.

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be cautious about interpreting the current changes and not evaluate them prematurely . . . In art, talk of the “post-modern” shares the defects of the sociological concept of the post-modern . . . [it] prematurely postulates an epochal threshold which . . . can be indicated only abstractly. (Bürger 1992: 33–4, my emphasis)

For Bürger, then, the problems with much of the “post-modern talk” are precipitate and overanxious definition and a confused causality that misapprehends what symptoms of social processes and transformations mean for their the results. However, any diagnosis such as this, though provocative, will also call attention to its own historicity (he was writing in the late 1980s). Indeed, the main problem with epochal onomastics is that those living during a given era may find it impossible to perceive anything beyond the broad outlines; it is for this reason that the long view tends to be overdetermined and hence by definition reductive. As Leszek Kołakowski argues (after a Hegelian schema): No age and no civilization is capable of conceptually identifying itself. This can be done only after its final demise, and even then, as we know too well, such an identification is never certain or universally accepted. Both the general “morphology” of civilizations and the description of their constitutive characteristics are notoriously controversial and heavily loaded with ideological biases, whether they express a need for self-assertion by comparison with the past or a malaise in one’s own cultural environment and the resulting nostalgia for the good times of old. (Kołakowski 1990: 291)

Specifically, then, what Bürger may have overlooked is the vast transformations caused by the cracking open of the grand Western meta-narratives or coercive illusions of progress and the “attainable telos of historical change,” and also what Zygmunt Bauman terms the “privatization” of modernist tasks and duties, to the point where it is no longer possible to speak of mass movements or ideologies except, grimly, those of mass consumption (Bauman 2000: 29). Bauman notes of this epochal change that although “legislative action of the society as a whole” has not been discarded, “the emphasis (together with, importantly, the burden of responsibility) has shifted decisively towards the self-assertion of the individual. This . . . has been reflected in the relocation of ethical/political discourse from the frame of the ‘just society’ to that of ‘human rights,’ that is refocusing that discourse on the right of individuals to stay different and to pick and choose at will their own models of happiness and fitting life-style” (Bauman 2000: 29). The cultural transformations toward the postmodern condition, as diagnosed by 55

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Bauman, amounting in effect to a paradigm shift, and the attendant sense of individual accountability they helped usher in, account for the momentous exploration of subaltern and marginal voices in areas of artistic production and social organization now taken for granted in the West. It has also brought about something more abstract: a marked change of the zeitgeist, especially in metropolitan locations, among the increasingly mobile, cosmopolitan, and technocratic citizenry that calls them home. The dominant discourse of postmodernism, then, represents a new platform from which there is perhaps no going back,7 except perhaps by a global cataclysm of some kind.8 Nor is postmodernism, strictly speaking, exclusively a feature of Western social praxis.9 As Bauman notes, because of the subtlety with which the role of the individual has been reconfigured over the last two generations, the definitions of modernity and postmodernity have become increasingly fluid, and hence definitionally less amenable to the totalizing claims of description, except indirectly, by metonymy.10 It is therefore not so much a question of prematurity in describing the world (and specifically the West as once again the “authorizing” center) and today’s cultural moment in terms of grand categories as Bürger would have it, as of systemic impossibility: the subject under inquiry is too protean and too quicksilver to capture and arrest, innately resistant to such a linguistic fix. Nonetheless, despite Bürger’s apparent omission of the motivational import of individual mobilization and the linguistic “petrifaction” of phenomena by the act of naming, the disavowal of postmodernism in favor of the logic of the avant-garde (as a category of resistance) is not without its merits. Bürger’s claim revolves around the negation, by the avant-garde, of the claim, made by modernism, to the autonomy of art; that is, through a position of engagement and provocation, the continental avant-garde sought to annul modernist art’s claimed (and prized) separation from social praxis. Interestingly, this position, together with the clarion call to reconsider the polemical significance of avant-garde art, rhetorically parallels the forms avant-gardism espoused by Witold Gombrowicz in his exilic, 7 Cf. Hardt and Negri 2001: 205–18; cf. the section on nuclear weapons, 345–8. 8 On the other hand, some may argue that, on the contrary, the basic paradigm of social has indeed shifted from the era of industrial capital to our own age of globalization, since it is not so much “private” as centralized corporate appropriation (on a massive scale) which fuels globalized capital, and moreover that the driving force of the (post)modern economy is no longer restricted to surplus value being produced in the industrial sphere but now includes the transfer of technology and of information itself, so that knowledge, no longer an instrumental quality, has become both the object and the objective of value production. 9 See Kaplan 2002: 252. 10 See Bauman 2000, 2. Bauman suggests that “fluidity” is the leading metaphor for “the present stage of the modern era” — that is, the postmodern.

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post-war writing. That is, Bürger’s intervention reverberates with Gombrowicz’s conception of the ideal functioning of a work of art as a total esthetic object within a social space. The Gombrowiczian model is structurally and formally dialectical: the prose and dramatic works, as untrammelled experimental fictions, defamiliarize the reader/viewer, while later texts such as the Diary and other protoautobiographical narratives seek to strategically re-familiarize the reader within the context of an intersubjective philosophical system — a discursive battleground for a dialectic of (cultural) form and deformation — they simultaneously delineate. Yet while Bürger’s view may be useful to designating epochal breaks between art forms and discourses, the basic point is somewhat broader. Postmodernist theorizations of the world of ideas, as well as whatever fault lines there are which separate them from what came before, can potentially be as unstable, as relative and as contradictory as those of any discourses which refrain from, or are denied the opportunity of, making claims of universal value for themselves. It is in the end this formal reticence to reify which has differentiated postmodernist philosophy and postmodernist art from the previous models; unlike say modernist or Romantic cultural paradigms, they a priori valorize multiplicity and heterogeneity of viewpoints; as heterodox constructs, they tend to be suspicious of any dominant cultural discourses, and occasionally they question their desirability outright. Thus, it is a matter of some importance in the debate about modernism and its incomplete or unfinished historical break, to stringently define our terms of reference. What are the modernist and postmodernist poetics that Conrad and Gombrowicz respectively engage? In what follows, then, the term “modernism” is a shorthand for the following definition: an esthetic and philosophical movement that appeared first in Europe and North America in the later part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth. It stands for that moment in the history of ideas when art began to be produced largely for its own esthetic sake, and an artistic Weltanschauung shaped by the rejection of naturalism and the pretence to mimesis that had both been longed for and to an extent taken for granted in classical realism. Instead, modernism oriented itself toward formal experimentation with the ultimate objective of plumbing the individual (artistic) psyche and states of existence. Thus literary modernism — in the definition employed in this study — distanced itself from problems of social responsibility that had animated nineteenth-century realist/bourgeois fiction, and generally disengaged itself from the goings on in the social space (but not at all from the problems of social existence, as for instance Joyce’s Ulysses11 pertinently demonstrates). Modernist 11 As studies by Hugh Kenner (Ulysses, Revised edition, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), Declan Kiberd (2000), Lewis (2007) and Scholes (2006), to name but a few, attest.

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artists charged realist art with reflecting and, by virtue of its very existence and its privileged dissemination, unquestioningly reifying the dominant social praxes: those of the bourgeois classes primarily in capitalist states (Bürger 1984: 47–9). Disavowing further engagement with praxis or with social didacticism and reification, modernist fiction became increasingly concerned with techniques for faithful transcription of the subjective interior states, specifically the “real duration” of one’s “experience of time” (Roberts 1993: 46). In other words, modernist narrative began to privilege the logic of inner duration of “streams of experience,” as conceptualized by Henri Bergson, over and effectively in opposition to the putatively more objective “world of space and time” and the logics of causality of the realist novel (and of bourgeois society).12 Indeed, it was in their technical manipulability of chronological time and the fracturing of perception, which they felt closer approached the authentic experiencing of subjective being-in-time, that modernist authors like Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust and Joseph Conrad were at their most innovative, argues Roberts: While novelists such as Arnold Bennett . . . and John Galsworthy . . . continued to write in the accepted realist mode, using an omniscient narrator, a chronologically sequential narrative and the accumulation of details of social and public life, modernist novelists sought radical redefinitions of the real. One such redefinition is based on the view that, since the individual always perceives reality through his or her own consciousness, the contents and structure represent the only accessible reality . . . The novel was a particularly suitable form for the exploration of such perceptions, because of the possibility of manipulating the reader’s experience of time by . . . disruption of narrative chronology, and the possibility of representing the nature of consciousness by describing events through the awareness [of them] of one of more characters. (Roberts 1993: 46) 12 Schütz 1967: 45. Schütz points out that the objective world of space and time and the notion of an (uncomplicated) inner consciousness and the specific duration of its experiencing of time are in a false binary as static phenomena. In neither case, in fact, is time as smooth or homogeneous as is normally assumed; rather, the experiencing of each is nodal and subject to ongoing negotiation and revision: “what we . . . experience as duration is not a being that is discrete and well-defined but a constant transition between now-thus to a new now-thus. The stream of consciousness by its very nature has not yet been caught up in the net of reflection” (1967: 45–63). Moreover, to Schütz reflection, “being a function of the intellect” (but also of language), belongs “essentially” to the external zone, the “spatiotemporal world of everyday life” (1967: 45). Schütz’s thesis is further complicated when we reflect that language as such belongs to both the unconscious (imaginary) and the external (symbolic) zones (in the fissure between the signifier and the signified), as Lacan has shown. However, the general distinction between interiority and exteriority is useful for showing the opposition between the modernist treatment of time subjectively experienced to that in classical realism.

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In suggesting a historical disjuncture between these two dominants, modernism and postmodernism, I thus follow the theoretical itinerary delineated by such critics as Andreas Huyssen, Matei Calinescu, Linda Hutcheon, Hans Bertens, Jean-François Lyotard, William Spanos and others who define postmodernism as not only an epochal but also a linguistic (or literary) turn,13 within the broader setting of a cultural rupture, along the dialectical break of inner (sidereal) versus external (capitalist, common) time. Here, Spanos’ description of this historical and ideational fissure — especially in the context of the two World Wars — is particularly apt: The literary revolution called Modernism that took place at the end of the nineteenth century in reaction against the European middle-class ethos and reached its apogee in the work of such writers as Marcel Proust, Stephane Mallarmé, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf . . . was, ideologically, revolt against the Western humanistic tradition, and aesthetically, against the “Aristotelian” tradition. The modern movement continues to the present to be characterized by its “anti-Westernism” and its “anti-Aristotelianism.” By the time of World War II, which witnessed . . . the emergence of existentialism not merely as a philosophy but as a mode of consciousness, the “anti-Aristotelianism” of the modern movement underwent a metamorphosis so profound that it has become necessary . . . to differentiate between an early . . . modernism and a later “postmodernism.” (Spanos 1995: 17–18)

The literary avant-garde, in this context, and in my use of this term to describe Gombrowicz’s early writings, may be symptomatically situated as a radicalized and, to a degree that is more significant than is commonly posited, a politicized form of modernist art. Crucially, however, in so doing the work of the avantgarde formally rejected the modernist claim to autonomy in favor of strategically re-implementing the work of art in the praxis of life, within an ultimately revolutionary yet sometimes giddily self-destructive ethos (Calinescu 1987: 110–11). Bürger emphasizes that the difference between the modernist and the avant-garde work of art stemmed not only from “radically different . . . theoretical emphases” (Schulte-Sasse 1984: xv), but also, and centrally, from fundamental differences in the key strategies of negation. According to Schulte-Sasse (in his Foreword to Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde) the advent of the avant-garde, for Bürger,

13 See the “Bibliography” for complete references. The sections elaborating the theoretical apparatus are typically found in the introductory chapters.

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may be understandable as an attack on traditional writing techniques . . . [and] an intensification of artistic autonomy and its effect on the foundation of a special realm called aesthetic experience . . . [But] the development of the avant-garde has nothing to do with a critical consciousness about language. Rather, . . . the turning point . . . is determined by the extent to which art comprehended the mode in which it functioned in bourgeois society, its comprehension of its own social status . . . The avant-garde can only be understood as an attack meant to alter the institutionalized commerce with art. The social roles of the modernist and the avant-garde artist are, thus, radically different. (Schulte-Sasse 1984: xiv–xv)

In contrast to Bürger, Calinescu for example posits two distinct avant-gardes, the esthetic and the political. In his reading, the adherents of the first orientation desire no association with the praxis of life, while those of the second seek full enmeshment in contemporary life, not only in order to explore its revolutionary potentiality, but also to explicitly reify its art-affirming, though sometimes life-draining, force. The avant-garde’s immanent death-drive — a kind of eschatological distortion of the Futurists’ demand for a new more mechanized future (112–13) — proves to be the movement’s ultimate undoing after a short-lived though explosive tenure as an official cultural opposition (to bourgeois culture). As can be seen from even a casual glance at the collapse of the avant-garde, roughly coinciding with the beginning of the Second World War, such a distinction is historically justified. According to another theorist of the modernism–postmodernism–avant-garde nexus, Andreas Huyssen, “elitist” modernism and “politicized” avant-garde both defined their identity and roles in relation to two contemporary phenomena: traditional bourgeois high culture, that is, a twin tradition of Romantic Idealism and the instrumentalism of “enlightened realism,” and popular/vernacular art and literature which was increasingly becoming transformed into commercial mass culture (Huyssen 1986: ix). He rightly points out that a number of avant-gardist manifestos — the Italian Futurists grouped around Marinetti, for one — contained quite explicit directives with respect to the desired destruction of the world as we know it in order to recast it in a new light. These in turn, he says, derived from the realm of the mystical, the transcendental and the sacred which frequently makes spectral appearances in revolutionary discourses from the French Revolution onwards.14 Therefore, for Huyssen, both modernism and the avant-garde operated in opposition to cultural tradition and the specific cultural pasts, toward a more or less revolutionary futurity that could only result from if not the destruction then at least the total subversion of the legacies. 14 See e.g. Marx 1907; Zamoyski 2000; Hardt and Negri 2001.

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Reading Huyssen’s argument against some other major theorists of the postmodern condition, such as Jameson, Lyotard, and Hutcheon, we note several structural queries. For example, while they all submit the broad conceptual categories such as avant-garde, mass culture and (post-)modernity to an extensive periodization, the last three do not attach such great value to the notion of a divide. Rather, they read the entry of the new era as a differentiating and problematizing chapter of modernity, as a new step along the continuum of the modern. This formal admission can take the form either of neo-modernist praxis reaffirmed by reinvention or regenerated by the postmoderns, or by conscious departure from modernist programs which nonetheless remains in some sort of communication with the subject of its opposition.15 What they seem to hold in common, on the other hand, is that within half a century after its ascent, modernism both as ethos and as ethic, that is, as a philosophical movement and as theoretical framework for investigating the function of art, experienced a fundamental crisis of representation.16 After the Second World War, specifically, a number of modernist artists and theorists (many had been killed in the war, of course) began to seek a renewed mode of legitimation, a cultural, artistic, and philosophical heir. Following in modernism’s footsteps, or better, rejecting in their turn the negations of modernist theories, came the increasingly non-universalist, fragmented, non-normative, seemingly non-coercive17 and increasingly supple ideologies (and anti-ideologies) of postmodernism. For the most part, the reaction to the always already posited worldview of modernism were small-I ideologies, modalities of conceiving the world in such a way as to distance the new from the former (modernist) anxiety of opposition between art and praxis, and instead affirm the idea that this undecidability issues less from our (individual) consciousness or the failure of (communal) social policing than from the limitations of our signifying systems.18 15 See Jameson’s writings on Lyotard (Jameson 1991: 59). These diverging critical trajectories may be explained by the fact that both Huyssen and Jameson depart from an updated form of Marxism that incorporates the work of Louis Althusser and the Frankfurt School, while the other critics, Calinescu in particular, appear suspicious of the all-purpose Marxist tendency to conflate the cultural and the political with the strictly economic. 16 Hence, for example, Theodore Adorno’s bitter statement that poetry — that is, autonomous art divorced from praxis — after Auschwitz is not only morally but crucially also ontologically untenable. See Carey (1992: 182–216), for a tracing of the death spiral of the modernism(s) of the elites. 17 Of course it could be that those new manifestations were simply more subtly coercive than their predecessors, articulating themselves against discourses of political correctness which tended to marginalize iconoclasts and silence dissent despite their pretensions to pluralistic inclusivity. 18 See in particular Roland Barthes’s iconic study Mythologies (1957) on the interrelationships of art and cultural myth (of both the Right and the Left).

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The primary question of relations between the two movements, therefore, concerns both historical and ideological filiation and a spectral after-effect of affect (rather than a total epochal rupture, the traumatic reconfiguration of the world following the end of the Second World War notwithstanding). Most theorists of postmodernism contend that the movement in particular has questioned and subverted the messianic faith of modernist artistic production (Hutcheon 1989: 11), and been involved, systemically, in a critique of self-imposed limitations of modernist discourses in their searches for the autonomy of art, the purity of form, the role of “the enunciating subject” and the limits of enunciation itself (Hutcheon 1988: 74–5). Further, postmodernist discourse rescinds the seemingly systemic dependence on technological progress as a form of social prosthesis (Bertens 1995: 5). To many theorists of postmodernism, the total effect of modernity’s intellectual thrust has been to subject artistic discourses to unacceptable reductions.19 On the other hand, some critics suggest that postmodernism as a cultural moment is still ruled by the bourgeois class and a bourgeois sensibility, claiming that contemporary consumer/mass society, which operates by chronically provoking consumerist desire and filling it only partially and insufficiently, has managed to contain and even commodify cultural production under the putative aegis of inclusivity, including elitist culture once thought the unique preserve of high modernist art (Wohl 2002: 599). Bourgeois culture, according to Wohl, for example, self-reflexively proved that it was “capable of assimilating marginal themes” (2002: 599), the articulation of which had once been a crucial, perhaps the central, project of high modernism. Even if we consider the above to be a rough approximation of cultural praxes in flux, it is evident that no matter which itinerary we choose to follow in situating the exact nature of their filiations, modernism’s spectral presence within the horizon of postmodernist cultural production may not be discounted. On the other hand, the radical thrust of the avant-garde, much as its essential elitist valence, its posture as “natural aristocracy” (Carey 1992: 71–82), becomes largely sublimated in the increasingly problematized spaces of postmodernist art in the wake of the upheavals and displacements brought on by the Second World War. This basic relation is operational whether one views postmodernism as a crisis, a continuation or a break from what came before. Because its esthetic modules largely survived the Second World War, if only in the capacity of subterranean movements or counter-discourses of high art used to combat the omnipresence of mass culture (and mass consumption), the avant-garde’s program of positioning itself in a disruptive binary with the dominant/hegemonic discourse can be said 19 This is more apparent in the applied arts such as architecture and design than in literary production (see Bürger 1992: 33–46).

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to be more certain and confident in its foundational philosophical orientation than that of de-centered, deliberately non-essentialist postmodernist thought. Of course, the obverse of such institutionalized confidence is the possibility of formally or ideologically tendentious art, which the neo-avant-garde has certainly embodied in some of its more banal enunciations (most modern art galleries will contain examples of such work). Whether viewed as a proclamation of an ending, as Fredric Jameson puts it (1991: 1) or “a period of slackening” as Lyotard describes the era in La condition postmoderne (1984: 71), early postmodernist culture, valorizing a return to the vernacular and its semiotic free-play that serves to mask a fundamental loss of realities, seems both to have originated in crisis and simultaneously offered a set of ready-made prescriptions for combating it.20 Born as they were out of a crisis of representation, the discourses of early postmodernism at times assumed a histrionic tone of a millenarian collapse.21 However, to be understood correctly, both terms, as well as the avant-garde’s flirtatious negotiation with the esthetic and ideological choices offered by orthodox modernist and postmodernist thought, must be concretely historicized. With the fading and loss of faith in the great narratives of Progress, Nation, Family/Patriarchy, Reason of State and Heteronormativity — which had served the cultural center because they reified its perception of itself and proposed a normative system of values — it is no surprise that even the avant-garde has turned to ever-greater irony and formal abstraction (its modes of engagement could be reduced to mere cultural repetition within new contexts) for the articulation of its ideological positions. In fact the post-war avant-garde, where it survived, can be read both a localized and circumscribed counter-indication to the reckless idealism of pre-war movements such as Marinetti’s Futurists.22 The avant-garde, always operating 20 Geoffrey Bennington points out an interesting paradox in Lyotard’s position. If the postmodern indeed reflects “the decline or the loss of credibility of grand narratives, it is difficult to describe it in terms of a grand narrative of technology . . . notably in the domain of computer technology” (Bennington: 123), in which Lyotard is necessarily a believer (see Lyotard 1984: 15, 31–41). The faith in a better tomorrow through technology in postmodernist thinking also reveals an important homology with the political (or politicized) avant-garde of the first half of the twentieth century; see the following note. 21 See Jameson’s critique of this “periodizing” tendency, in the essay “Postmodernism, or, the cultural logic of late capitalism” (1991: 1–3). 22 For the Italian Futurists, with their battle-cries and blinded optimism in the primacy of a technocratic future, war — as a mode of cultural purification and longed-for catharsis through violence — was attractive as an esthetic experience and “beautiful” because it combined the putrefaction of death with a technological potentiality/futurity in one clear swoop. It was deemed beautiful also because in war the annihilation of old (bourgeois) objects and values by the machinery of war is seen as the right path toward a better or at least different, less decadent, tomorrow.

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in the realm of concrete images, and aiming the content and form of its message at group and even mass reception, in its postmodern reconsiderations largely restricted itself to the visual and architectural arts. On the other hand, canonical big-L Literature, and to an extent even the structuralist text that prompted early postmodernist theorizations of the novel, in the post-war era resisted, or became ideologically immune to, the direct revolutionary magnetisms of the avant-garde.

THE GOMBROWICZIAN VANGUARD It is as singular manifestations of the former artistic method that I read the postmodern avant-gardism of such of Gombrowicz works as the Diary and Cosmos. These works stand in opposition to big-L literature’s slide toward technocratic ascendancy witnessed during the late 1950s and 1960s. The function of the novel, as structuralist écriture, was once again abstracted from the praxis of life and oriented toward formal dimensions and potentialities of art, as was seen, for example, with the French nouveau roman.23 With his earthy concerns and his iconoclastic didacticism Gombrowicz appears oddly humanist and on the surface, perhaps anachronistic — not unlike early post-colonial writers such as Gabriel García Márquez, or the existentialist Camus or the post-socialist Sartre in confrontation with their form-saturated nouveau roman contemporaries like Robbe-Grillet, Butor, or Queneau, laboring away in their literary workshops [ouvroirs]. But the esthetic avant-garde did not only become channelled into prose production, its conceptual frameworks were preserved in critical practice, as structuralism. Thus we arrive at a curious situation where the theory of the novel and to an extent literary criticism affirmed life (witness the celebration of cultural production and our human foibles in a text like Barthes’s Mythologies [1957]), whereas the practice of the novel largely affirmed form. Gombrowicz’s final novel, Cosmos, in my view, is an attempt to integrate the formal study of life and the somatic, in the sense of Rabelaisian erotics, with the study of art in one total work: hence, perhaps, the grandiloquence of the title. One could conclude from this that it was the nouveau-roman, rather than structuralism, that can be considered as the true heir of Russian Formalism. This is a point made in passing by Fredric Jameson; in his study of formalism and structuralism he cites Viktor Shklovsky’s remark that the inheritance made by one literary school to another proceeds indirectly, “not from father to son, but from

23 Art, perhaps with a big-A, since structuralism was a neo-formalist attitude in which the purity of art was idolized.

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uncle to nephew.”24 The new “formal” novel recuperated a number of key theoretical concepts first elaborated by Russian Formalists such as Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynyanov and other members of Opoyaz (The Society for the Investigation of Poetic Language) concerning the primacy of form of art, especially the role of the device for generating meaning,25 and for the textual enactment of literariness as such (Jameson 1972: 43–51). In his foundational essay “Art as technique” Shklovsky formulates the credo that “art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object: the object is not important” (1998: 18). The task of art, in fact, should consist of making objects “unfamiliar,” to render forms difficult to grasp, in this way de-automatizing perception and thereby prolonging the process of perception which, in the end, should be the “aesthetic goal” of all art (Shklovsky 1998: 21). Specifically, the formalists’ thesis that prose writing, in opposition to such genres as reportage, constitutes a play of devices that are encoded by the author and thereby made formally strange (ostranenie) and difficult (zatrudnenie), in order to be deciphered by the specialists or “ideal readers” who possess a modicum of theoretical knowledge and consciously seek to oppose the automatization of perception,26 resonates strongly with the nouveau-romancers’ “new realist” approaches to the production of narrative.27 In another key respect, however, the post-war avant-garde work of art performed something new with the nouveau roman. In a radical about-face, it began to forge a literature which was not only overtly divorced from life praxis and but also freed from the teleological prerogative of temporal transparency and order. In its specific claim to esthetic avant-gardism, then, the new novel departed from formalist theory; the latter, despite their posture of a secret knowledge, maintained that art should retain a socially useful, if not outright didactic, function.28 The ascent of “anti-humanist” narratological technocracy is readily apparent in works such as Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy or The Erasers, where one would hesitate before assigning any clear temporal scheme or indeed separate the characters’ “lived reality” from their recollections. To the contrary, in works such as those the stated 24 25 26 27 28

Jameson 1972: 53; cf 101–2 for a later qualification of this view. See Shklovsky 1998: 17–20. See Jameson 1972: 51–4. See Robbe-Grillet, “The use of theory” (1965: 7–15). Once the formalist ideal found itself to be in contradiction to Marxist–Leninist thought, particularly in its revisionist Stalinist vein, the stubborn insistence on literariness came into conflict with the praxis of life and the desire for a socially reflective art and criticism. The former was snuffed out by 1929 (see Jameson 1972: ix, 43). While the formalists’ impulse for a “formal” method was seen as too far removed from social reality by the new Soviet masters of discourse, their unnatural heir, Stalinist art and criticism, in particular, promulgated a coercive mechanism for a kind of forced enlightenment and, in its postulated ability to change individual and mass consciousness, acceded to the status of a “total” art, reflective of the aspirations of a total(itarian) state (see also Groys 1992: 30–66).

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key objective was to highlight the formal qualities of language as a self-enclosed system of signification.29 The exotic settings, while defamiliarizing in themselves, instead of “prolonging perception” as such for the most part deterritorialized the reader culturally and ideologically. Thus, ultimately, the post-war avant-garde work of art, while flirting with earlier — modernist — ethnographic and linguistic discourses, asserted language as a universal though not fully revealed system of codes that can produce distinct layers of instrumental meaning, without, however, giving readers access to the great code of logos.30 To illustrate the mechanics of the structuralist novel, or at the very least the kind of novel eagerly taken up by structuralist critics, as it engages and/or disengages some of the discourses of the avant-garde and modernism, it may be useful to briefly examine an emblematic nouveau-roman text such as the 1957 Jealousy. It is on the level of architectonics that the novel dramatizes and, to some, embodies the ambivalence, palpable in post-war Western societies, to culture generally and high art specifically. The work’s formal ambiguity and non-committal mode of narration self-reflexively inscribe the crisis of autonomous high-modernist textuality while longing for a new set of solutions to the problem of representation. By the very absence of a clearly articulated futurity it hints at motion, at a new role for the reader, at a new literature to come, in some form, when the current paralysis by stasis and the return of bourgeois triumphalism will have finally been overcome. Jealousy does not actually suggest tactics or methods for overcoming the status quo, apart from embodying Robbe-Grillet’s structuralist axiom that the reality in/of the new novel is “both more solid and more immediate,” proceeding from the tenet that it is “first of all by their presence that objects and gestures establish themselves” (Robbe-Grillet 1965: 21, emphasis in the original). However, some of the major rhetorical figures in the text, such as the depiction of coloniality and its consequences, the strategy of negation (inscribed as a dialectic of discourse and counter-discourse), the refraction of realities and the role of the ego as the agency where realities, such as they are, are localized and amalgamated, all suggest that a time of revolt and fundamental change is near, in the offing somewhere. The work gives off an impression that subterranean forces, the forces of alterity, are already mobilizing, that the quiet “native chants” and the monotonous movements of the plantation workers (Robbe-Grillet 1989: 83–5) may in fact contain secret meanings unintelligible to the gaze (and the ears) of the dominant subject. What Robbe-Grillet’s novel cries out for in its tightly wound and obsessive depiction 29 See Kermode 1983: 60–7; cf. Robbe-Grillet’s two-part nouveau-roman manifesto, “A future for the novel” (1956) and “New novel, new man” (1961), in Robbe-Grillet 1965: 15–25, 133–43. 30 On logocentrisms old and new, see Barthes 1967; Derrida 1976: 6–26; see Kermode 1983: 52–132, for a summary of the positions.

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of discrete moments of reality and (almost interchangeable) fabulistic scenes of nothingness, it seems to me, is some new and explosive articulation of difference. As I will go on to show in detail in Chapter 6, Gombrowicz’s Cosmos engages some of the same themes of order, patriarchy, and revolution, toward conclusions that are no less disturbing than Robbe-Grillet’s but certainly more explicitly dystopic. Yet even if the reader fully appreciates the interpenetrations between the avant-garde and postmodernism, to place Gombrowicz as an avant-garde postmodernist writer may raise some questions. Such a positioning, after all, seems to be oppose, or at least to undercut, a critical tendency to read him as a high modernist.31 To be sure, the pre-war “Polish” Gombrowicz of Ferdydurke and Iwona, Princess of Burgundy both wrote out of, and helped forge, an indigenous Polish modernist tradition.32 And this was a discrete near-autonomous artistic movement that combined genres and formal prescriptions in ways as different from those of the Młoda Polska avant-gardists as they were from the work of futurists like Aleksander Wat and others in the poetic circles such as Skamander.33 However, his later writings, precisely in their articulation of a new way of conceiving form and deformation, in their subterranean mobilization of less-sanctioned aspects of subjectivity,34 straddle the postmodern divide and spill over toward a postmodern poetics in Trans-Atlantyk, the Diary and most potently Cosmos. In those texts Gombrowicz becomes increasingly preoccupied with locating and delineating a (postmodern) subject who, for him, exists on an inherently deterritorialized plane. In the Diary this other is the Pole specifically and the East European generally, and Gombrowicz’s task is to integrate this figure into the Western cultural arena as an autonomous and different subject, and not as one always-already known and defined.35 The “subject” of Gombrowicz’s later poetics, in other words, is the subject of self-definition. However, as a semiotic problem “the Pole” for Gombrowicz represented a cultural construct that was far from undifferentiated, and the more Gombrowicz labored at elaborating its perimeters the less consonant with the prevailing official conceptions of Polish identity and Polish culture his “subject” became. In 31 See e.g. Legierski 1999: “Introduction”; Jarzębski 2000: 33–4. 32 See, in particular, Legierski’s study Modernizm Gombrowicza (1999). 33 As Gombrowicz himself acknowledges (see de Roux, ed. 1969: 27). Thompson points out that while his Gombrowicz’s first play, Iwona, Princess of Burgundia, was published in Skamander magazine, he never joined “the Skamanderites” (Thompson 1979: 18). 34 The first volume of the Diary opens with the following invocation of subjectivity, justly celebrated for its unequivocality: “Monday: Me. Tuesday: Me. Wednesday: Me. Thursday: Me” (Gombrowicz 1988, vol. 1: 2). On the release and dissimulation of the authorial “I,” see also de Roux, ed. 1969: 103–4. 35 See e.g. Gombrowicz 2000a: 13–14, 18–19, 21–2, 89–92; 2000b: 15, 20–6, 41, 71; 2000c: 251–2, 285–6.

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fact, this course was almost inevitable, as Gombrowicz’s objective was first and foremost to expose and activate the Polish other — the contrarian figure who, once authenticated by textual praxis, could then be deployed to counterpose the Western European artistic and intellectual subject. In A Kind of Testament, for example, Gombrowicz states emphatically that his literary intention, with TransAtlantyk in particular, was “to extract the Pole out of himself so that he could be just a human being. That is, to make the Pole into an anti-Pole” (de Roux, ed. 1969: 89). Along the same vein, in the first volume of the Diary, the Polish/East European experiential lessons of having been history’s losers are viewed as a possible antidote to Western European intellectual triumphalism and its bourgeois complacency (Gombrowicz 1988, vol. 1: 23–5, 34–6). In the novels, the other is a postmodern subject placed either in an exilic setting, as in Trans-Atlantyk, or is in some other way culturally or geographically displaced, as in Cosmos. Either way, the Gombrowiczian subject yearns for a measure of subjectivity with which to affect change and confront the metaphysical otherness of the world, its authorizing centers, and its subterranean mysteries. Since an object of this study is the nature of transition and the transitional narrative, the works mentioned above are singled out because they are novel forms of engagement with what appears to be a new literature, suspended between discrete national and literary spaces and also between temporal artistic classifications. Neither a modernist nor a postmodernist, neither fully a Polish exile in the traditional mold nor a classically cosmopolitan émigré conversant with and contentedly plugged into the cultural spaces and institutions of the host, Gombrowicz imagines a unique existentialist space to be filled with a new discourse. As it happened, his textual solution represented an anti-discourse whose specific modes of operation do much to bridge the sometimes contradictory assumptions of the avant-garde with those of the postmodernists. In A Kind of Testament, Gombrowicz provides perhaps the clearest indication of his artistic position. He describes himself as an artist of contradiction and his art as a product of contradiction (de Roux, ed. 1969: 61). A little further on, noting the peculiar paradox that his narratives, while destroying some forms and deforming others, were simultaneously creating new ones, Gombrowicz concludes: “sprzeczność, która jest śmiercią filozofa, jest życiem artysty . . . sztuka rodzi się ze sprzeczności” (de Roux, ed. 1969: 61: “contradiction, which is the death of philosophy, represents pure vitality for the artist. For art is born of contradiction”). In subsequent sections of A Kind of Testament, Gombrowicz will echo this maxim on several occasions, for example with the Whitmanesque: “Jeszcze raz powtórzę, łączenie przeciwieństw jest najlepszą metodą twórczą” (de Roux, ed. 1969: 106: “I shall say it once again: the best artistic method is one that seeks to unite the opposites”). Interestingly enough, 68

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Conrad also considered facing — and working through — antinomies as central to the act of writing. In one of his many epistolary mini-manifestoes he writes: “The only legitimate basis of creative work lies in the courageous recognition of all the irreconcilable antagonisms that make our life so enigmatic, so burdensome, so fascinating, so dangerous — so full of hope.”36 For this reason, the label of an esthetic avant-gardist postmodernist, if labels are needed, remains perhaps the most accurate description for Gombrowicz’s artistic activity and his own conception of his writing.37 Though he only admitted this in one of his last works (in A Kind of Testament, in fact), Gombrowicz considered the social function of his writings, such as his exilic call to the Poles to renounce the pressures of the nation and the national form, to be his fundamental obligations as an author — which is to say a figure existing ineluctably, though perhaps with some reluctance, in the public eye. To be postmodern, then, was to accept this responsibility. Here Gombrowicz’s “re-emergence” in Western Europe on the invitation of the Ford Foundation in part testified to his taking on of this role. To be avant-gardist was to battle the public’s ongoing assumptions and misreadings all the same, and on occasion to undercut this responsibility and role through various rhetorics of abstraction and negation.38 To my mind, the third and final volume of the Diary offers the ultimate proof of the ongoing negotiations taking place in this domain. However, when I write that the early (or the “Polish”) Gombrowicz was a high modernist/avant-garde writer, and the exilic Gombrowicz a postmodernist one, this is not to say that he received some special license to demolish traditional literature or topple the binary oppositions between patria and exile immediately upon arrival in Buenos Aires. But the shift in his poetics did in fact have to do with the influence of the exilic spaces and modes of conceiving the world. I would suggest that the war years and specifically the changes in the “modern temper”39 during the post-war period exerted an uncanny effect. Mass migrations and displacements were one social factor with global reach; the rise of state socialism and the cultural/political bipolarity that it soon led to would prove to be another. Still, the parsing of the exilic with modernist and postmodernist discourses is 36 In Jean-Aubry 1927, vol. 2: 348–9. 37 And he says as much in A Kind of Testament (de Roux, ed. 1969: 105). On Gombrowicz’s early Polish avant-gardism, at the time opposed to the high modernist abstraction of the Skamander group of poets, see Gombrowicz 2000a: 254. There Gombrowicz attacks the Skamanderites for an immature communal and self-censoring attachment to formal genres at the cost of denying one’s own individuality (Gombrowicz 2000a: 251–3). For a formulation of Gombrowicz’s later “dialogic” view of himself as an artist of contradiction and of art itself a product of contradiction, see Gombrowicz 2000c: 197. 38 See Głowacka 1998: 65–75. 39 See Ch. 3, n. 2.

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none too easily discernible in his writing. That emigration and social and cultural displacement had a direct influence on his corpus is self-evident and irrefutable.40 My position is, first, that the avant-gardist inclinations of Gombrowicz’s thought were accentuated and in some ways aggravated in exile, because there they were separated from the natural social and cultural context of his Polish themes and his domestic identity; second, that his reply to exile’s challenge was a postmodern turn to language the result of which was has elaboration of heterotopic discourse. But perhaps this line of inquiry can be pushed farther, following Barth’s instinctive pulling of the exilic writers into the orbit of the postmoderns. Perhaps in the postmodern age the expatriated writer, perforce positioned in an ex-centric and deterritorialized space against dominant cultural form (for the sake of convenience, let us call it the “national norm”) and thus deprived of many of its givens and pressures, is uniquely qualified to uphold the tradition of the avant-garde. How? The goal of the avant-garde was always to focus the reader/viewer’s attention on the crisis of culture, speaking from a certain position of interiority. The exiled author is often able to universalize this task by pointing to crises both within the native form and within the hegemonic culture of the exilic home, indeed the notion of culture as such, but this time from a deterritorialized, socially insecure, “contrapuntal” and thus acutely deautomatized perspective. Such, it appears, is the place of Gombrowicz within the broad discourses of exile and post/modernity. Summarizing his debut on the French intellectual scene in the early 1960s, Gombrowicz illustrated his exilic and cultural predicament with a characteristic set of contradictions: Wyczuwam jednak, że polityka krąży wokół mnie . . . najgorsza z dzikich małp paryskiej dżungli [sic]. O zmroku czuję jak zacieśniają się pewne obieże, wyciągają po mnie pewne macki . . . Grozi mi przede wszystkim “polski szlachcic” i w dodatku “emigrant”, z czego już nietrudno przewekslować na “antysemitę”, a nawet na “faszystę” . . . Bronić się? Protestować? . . . Wprawdzie, wiem, kompromituje mnie to w oczach awantgardy, studenterii, lewicy, jakbym nieomal był autorem Quo Vadis; a przecież lewica, nie zaś prawica, stanowi naturalny teren mej ekspansji. Niestety, powtarza się stara historia z czasów kiedy to prawica widziała we mnie “bolszewika”, a dla lewicy byłem nieznośnym anachronizmem. Ale upatruję w tym poniekąd moją misję dziejową: . . . wejść w Paryż z niewinną nonszalancją, jako konserwatysta-burzyciel, hreczkosiej-awantgardzista, lewicowiec prawicowy, prawicowiec lewicowy, sarmata argentyński, arystokratyczny

40 Not surprisingly, this is especially the case in the more “autobiographical” writings such as the Diary, A Kind of Testament and Polish Memories and other writings for Kultura, as well as his correspondence, than in the novels.

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plebejusz, artysta antyartystyczny, dojrzalec niedojrzały, anarchista zdyscyplinowany, sztucznie szczery, szczerze sztuczny. To wam dobrze zrobi . . . i mnie! (Gombrowicz 2000c: 196–7) I feel, however, that politics is encircling me . . . the worst of the wild monkeys of the Parisian jungle. At dusk I feel the cinctures growing tighter and extending their feelers for me . . . The “Polish squire” and “émigré” are beginning to hurt, as they are not all that difficult to exchange for “anti-Semite” or even “fascist” . . . Should I defend myself? Protest? . . . Yes, I know that this compromises me in the eyes of the avant-garde, students, and the left, as if I were the author of Quo Vadis; while it is the left and not the right that is the natural territory of my expansion. Unfortunately the old story from times when the right saw me as a “Bolshevik” and the left as an unbearable anachronism is repeating itself. But I do see something of my historical mission in all this: . . . to make an entrance in Paris with an innocent nonchalance, as a conservative seditionist, provincial avant-garde, rightist leftist, leftist rightist, Argentine Sarmatian, aristocratic plebeian, antiartistic artist, immature adult, disciplined anarchist, and a person who is artificially candid and candidly artificial. This will do all of us, you and me . . . a lot of good! (Gombrowicz 1988, vol. 3: 154–5, emphasis in the original)

As I indicated in Chapter 1, the political — a kind of repressed for pre-war modernists — makes a startling return here, for this Cold War émigré. Politics is what stamps one’s passport precisely because the Cold War ethos seeks (needs) easily defined affiliations. For Gombrowicz, what opposes politics is heterotopic, interstitial discourse, that is, a scriptive elaboration of an exilic imagination; the heterotopic home in language emerges here as the sole satisfactory form for any “synthetic” philosophy for life that can take into account the two poles of all the antinomies existing within one as a writing subject, and as subject to culture and politics. This, then, is Gombrowicz’s stated “historical mission;” in the chapters that follow, we shall see where its demands take him.

CONRAD AND THE MODERN(- IST) TEMPER While Gombrowicz’s writings span the modernist–postmodernist divide, and move toward a postmodern poetics during the exilic period with the unrelenting questioning of the cultural doxa and the possibility for autonomy for writing subjects within a given culture, the greater part of the Conradian oeuvre is at home in the matrix of writers and poets who wrought the modernist narrative into being. Thus, any proper appreciation of his works must return to the early years 71

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of continental modernism as a reaction to the pretence of realist/mimetic art. In plumbing the inner tensions and paradoxes of Conrad’s thought, I am principally interested in those moments of transition where his turn toward a modernist poetics becomes crystallized, specifically the catalytic function of exile for this as a discursive process. Again, as with the transitional, dialectical Gombrowicz, we encounter a problem of classification: where ought the temporal and formal brackets of modernist esthetics be drawn, especially once we have accounted for the fact that the movement was far from uniform across cultural spaces and disciplines, and that it engaged a multitude of artistic genres with a degree of cross-fertilization that was perhaps unprecedented? As I suggested earlier, if the term “movement” appears problematic it is perhaps because of its historicity. What is crucial is that modernism, as such, was not a club; rather it reflected a cultural zeitgeist in which authors and literary critics began to read one other with increasing consequence so that the theory of literature began to complement, as opposed to critiquing, its practice. What the modernists shared, in the plumbing of the relationship between the writing subject to the outside world, was a fundamental shift of perspective toward self-reflexive (that is to say experiential) interiority, concomitant with a sense of a crisis of representation (Lewis 2007: 3–10). With the above in mind we might better appreciate Andrzej Busza’s emphasis on the existential essence of Conrad’s (modernist) turn to subjectivity: When Conrad describes the universe as a spectacle, he is not trying to make an ontological statement about the nature of the world; his purpose, rather, is to emphasize man’s, and especially the artist’s, role as a perceiving subject, whose “appointed task,” as he calls it, is to try to comprehend reality and endow it with value . . . With Conrad, the entire existential burden has shifted to man. (Busza 2000: 154)

Conrad’s modernism, then, is not principally anti-representationalism or what Kermode has termed “decreation,” a kind of technical introversion of selfinscription (Kermode 1983: 109). Rather, it represents a policy of ironic portrayal of subjects’ struggles in an indifferent cosmos.41 Traveling life’s byways, one tests one’s beliefs and illusions as an individual agent against the social forces that press on one from all sides: forces exerted by civilization itself. This “social” ascendant of Conrad’s esthetics works to negate the negations of many other modernists, in 41 See Said’s discussion, in his Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, of Conrad’s metaphor of the “knitting machine” as the impersonal law of the universe. The idea was first elaborated in a 1897 letter to John Galsworthy (see Said 1966: 33–6).

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favor of affirming necessary “sustaining illusions,” even when, perhaps especially when, one recognizes that these are in fact false.42 It is for this reason, then, that Conrad can be said to be an iconoclastic modernist, rarely producing a text that is disengaged from the “real” to the point of emptying itself of exteriority or of social and moral imperatives. Considering the importance of the social element to Conrad’s work, it is certainly ironic that from his own deterritorialized perch, and as a sometimes detached and sometimes engaged witness, the ambivalent outsider Conrad took a stand on the threshold of modernism, gesturing to a new denaturalized literature, to a literary work made difficult. Of course the dominant genre that coincided chronologically with the epochs of European industrial capitalism and imperialism was classic realism. According to Catherine Belsey, high realism, as a reflection and reification of the dominant classes and their concerns, successfully “perform[ed] the work of ideology” (Belsey 2002: 69). Specifically, what the realist novel offered the reader was “the position of subject as the origin both of understanding and of action in accordance with that understanding . . . The movement of realist narrative towards closure ensure[d] the reinstatement of order, sometimes a new order, sometimes the old restored, but always intelligible because familiar” (Belsey 2002: 62, 69). This nostalgia for order and consequence and the dissolution of great ordering narratives constitutes the major distinguishing mark between the modern and the postmodern literary praxes.43 In structuralist, Barthesian terms, the classic realist text tended toward the lisible. The dialectic of closure and disclosure in this paradigm always deferred to authorial intention: it was predicated on the reader’s acceptance of the author’s narratological authority and an ultimate acquiescence, be it docile or defiant, to this asymmetry.44 Modernist narrative largely upheld the ordering prerogative, though with a greater emphasis on subjective experience as a determinant of semantic coherence of texts. However, this move itself allowed for the ordering processes — including to some extent, the increasingly transparent narrative of Race, Nation, Family, and Empire — and the author’s relationship to them, to be questioned. As Juhl points out, today it is commonly understood that an author’s “statement about his own intention is only one kind of evidence 42 See Busza 2000: 161. For another take on Conrad’s topos of fidelity and humanity’s seemingly innate need for false but necessary sustaining illusions, see Najder’s Conrad in Perspective (1997). 43 Bauman writes, apropos of the postmodern era, “it is only recently that we have begun to realize the extent to which modern thought is prompted by the cravings for order” (Bauman 1976: 28; see also Kermode 1983: 65–8). 44 See Kermode 1983, “Local and provincial restrictions,” for a discussion of the types of docile and defiant readers and the texts that reinforce or undermine such readers (52–70). Kermode uses Barthes’ essay S/Z (Paris: éditions de Seuil, 1970) as his point of departure.

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of intention and constitutes . . . by no means incontrovertible evidence of his intention.”45 But the concept of the intentional fallacy is not restricted to authorial intentionality or his or her desire for narrative transparency or, alternatively, for self-camouflage.46 For structuralists like Foucault and Barthes, later poststructuralists such as Derrida, and those critics like Said and Kermode who were influenced by continental literary theory, interference with the original project could be said to “begin at the beginning” (Said 1975: 12). Dismantling the impossible dream of mimetic representation that had propelled the realist novel, these critics concluded that the unity of the speaking subject is illusory no matter what type of text he or she is “authorizing.” This is the case not only because authorial authority is amenable to “primordial molestation” which undercuts his or her intentionality (Said 1975: 13), but also because semiotic structures function by the principle of metonymy/metaphor and are thus necessarily subject to semantic deferral. At the high point of the critique of authorial intentionality, Derrida famously referred to this notion as différance, positing that meaning itself is never entirely present in language — that is, a text, an enunciation — at any given moment, but rather is conceived within a relational system of signification that must necessarily remain incomplete and subject to infinite deferral.47 A key divergence between the (post) structuralists and their Anglo-American counterparts, such as Kermode, Said, and George Steiner, should be noted here. While the Anglo-American critics have usually made it a point to recuperate authorial intentionality in a dialectical reflex that shows concern for the historical and biographical persona, for critics like Barthes or Foucault the author has become abstracted, officially buried by Foucault in his 1969 essay “What is an author?” For the poststructuralists in France and elsewhere, then, especially in the scriptible text of expectations disturbed, the reader is the only agency who speaks, that is, who interprets the language of the text and reconstructs the configurations of semantic chains. As Foucault memorably put it, “dans le texte, seul parle le lecteur”: whatever traces of the authorial authority may have once existed have become sublated into a relational politics of language, into a nexus of power–knowledge relations governing all utterance and all systems of signification.48 Conrad, as I noted earlier, falls between these two sets of cultural and philological markers (i.e. realist reification carried on by modernist subjectivity and poststructuralist infinite doubt). Almost all of his work explicitly opposes the confident ordering and the tendency to social reification found in the classic Realist 45 46 47 48

Juhl 1983: 212, my emphasis. See Wimsatt and Beardsley’s formulation of the intentional fallacy (Wimsatt 1954). See Derrida 1973: 27–73. See e.g. Barthes 1977: 158–65; Foucault 1984: 105–20.

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novel. It often refuses to speak of or to the bourgeoisie and if it speaks to or of the industrialist or the imperialist of the dominant classes, it does so with ironic detachment (though involuted narration such as the use of unreliable narrators) and doses of ambivalence (through a voicing of alterity) which together have the effect of questioning, and occasionally unmaking, the narrative speakers’ utterances or their pretensions to authority. Moreover, some of Conrad’s best novels — most notably Nostromo — are constructed in such a way as to render access difficult for the despised common/weak reader (temporal shifts being one example), as though predicated on the modernist notion that “the textual pleasure of a privileged minority of ‘successful readers’ [is] in part contingent on the knowledge that a significant proportion of the . . . readers are guaranteed to fail” (Greaney 2002: 168). However, it would be unfair to suggest that Conrad’s poetics fostered complexity merely for its own sake. Rather, for Conrad, if a literary text was to function as a work of art, its structure had to contribute to the esthetic valence of the whole, it had to defamiliarize a given set of “normal” and thereby occluding realities in order to access deeper, more authentic subjective experience more directly. In Conrad order and the desire for order, exploded by the faithful inscription of subjectivity, are recuperated on the moral register, though here too the desire to represent the inner experience authentically does much to pollute the epistemological categories and show their putative stability to be phantom. For example, virtually at the zenith of the Western imperialist project, Conrad writes the text of Heart of Darkness. This novella, essentially a literary embodiment of passages and images49 from the near-contemporaneous Casement Report,50 stands today as one of the earliest counter-texts to the grand narrative of Western colonization. In Roger Casement’s pioneering 1904 “Report,”51 Belgian occupation of the Congo 49 The impact of Casement’s report was facilitated by a revolutionary new device called the Kodachrome, which he brought along to Africa with him to help document his experience; see also below. 50 While Heart of Darkness was first, by four years (in its serial version in Blackwood’s Magazine), it was published in a book form only in 1902 (See Kimbrough’s edition: Conrad 1971: 2). 51 In his “Congo diary,” Conrad reports meeting Casement in June 1890 at the trading post of Matadi (Najder 1983: 127–8). Conrad writes of their encounter: “I should consider [this] as a great pleasure under any circumstances and now it becomes a positive piece of luck. Thinks, speaks well, most intelligent and very sympathetic” (Conrad 1971: 110; cf. Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 120–4, 129–30). Apparently Casement later approached Conrad to collaborate with him on the Congo project, but Conrad refused. We may speculate that he had his own set of responses to what he saw playing out in the farthest outposts (see Reilly 1996: 155–6). Some ten years later, Conrad mentioned in latter to Cunninghame Graham that meeting Casement had made a powerful impression in him, even though he detected in Casement “a touch of the conquistador” (Letter of December 26, 1903 [Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 324–6]).

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under King Leopold II was equated to hell on earth. However, in that work the excesses and atrocities documented were committed in the name of someone else’s empire, by other people, by the “not-us.” Conrad’s textual performance in Heart of Darkness is to train the gaze inward, onto the European imperial “I” which perforce also includes the British. It should also be noted that Heart of Darkness was published some 30 years before George Orwell, in his Burmese Days, made criticisms of British imperial practices and the rise of nationalist sentiment in the colonies acceptable for the consumption of the middle class.52 What was it that pushed Conrad toward confrontation (to anthropomorphize the idea of a communal will) with the performative self of empire in this novella? Of course, it is true that British imperialism here is unsullied, as the imperial will depicted there was that of the Belgian Empire, with Brussels of the late 1800s the “focus” of the adventure of colonization, attracting “daredevils from every part of the world . . . missionaries, honest folk and rogues . . . to enter upon engagements that would enable them to exercise their various talents . . . in the heart of what [the explorer H. M.] Stanley had called the Dark Continent” (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 121). However, the broader effect of Conrad’s intervention is nonetheless an interrogation of a collective Western narrative of the will-to-empire and its underlying motivations and tropology. The background is sufficiently familiar as to require only a brief recapitulation: as late as 1898, Lord Stanley wrote indulgingly in praise of Belgium’s King Leopold II’s efforts to “civilize” his African domain. His panegyric included these words: “Who can doubt that God chose the King for His instrument to redeem this vast slave park . . . Leopold found the Congo . . . cursed by cannibalism, savagery, and despair; and he has been trying with a patience, which I can never sufficiently admire, to relieve it of its horrors, rescue it from its oppressors, and save it from perdition.”53 For Conrad, fellow traveler to the “heart” of the same realm, matters were far less certain and without doubt a lot less polarized. To be sure, his own personal interest was less vested than Stanley’s; the latter’s “exploits” in Africa, and notably his finding Livingstone’s party, made him world-famous (JeanAubry vol. 1: 89). On the other hand, Conrad’s employ as a sailor for the Société Anonyme Belge pour le Commerce du Haut-Congo made him at the very least a cog within the broader imperial engine. What is it that accounts for the stark differences in assumptions? Was it, as Nico Israel argues, his sense of “outlandishness” and his triple-exile status, the dawning of a contrapuntal perspective?54 52 As will be shown, Conrad’s own attitudes to British imperialism (in opposition to the practices of other European powers), were nothing if not ambivalent. 53 Cited in Conrad 1971: 86. 54 See Israel 2000: 1–18, 23–8.

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Did his triangulation of identity ultimately cause Conrad to identify with both the colonizer and the colonized in the contentious adventure of imperial exploration/ exploitation of Africa, and the Belgian commercial presence specifically,55 in turn compelling him to write at least partially in opposition to the major tropes of the Western metanarratives of modernity? If the mediated narration (via Conrad’s self-assured “British” stand-in, Marlow) of Kurtz’s accumulation of surplus capital gone awry, and the ivory trader’s concomitant descent into demiurgic madness in the heart of the Belgian Congo, which reaches crescendo in the “exposition of method” (HOD 51) and concludes with Kurtz’s order to “exterminate all the brutes!” (HOD 51), remains troubling even today, it is because of the corrosive ambivalence that pervades the account. Indeed, the text offers neither an explicit apology for Euro-imperialism nor a call to nationally or tribally conscious self-enfranchising action. The expected dialectic of progress and savagery remains in place, for the most part; however, both poles of the binary are subverted by Conrad’s repeated demonstrations of the obverse of the stereotyped figures on each side. Thus the Europeans are “enlightened” but also overburdened and to an extent cowed by 2000 years of often murderous civilization, since the times of the Roman conquest of “dark” Britain (in a stunning symmetry that the novella proposes with respect to Britain’s global role in around 1900), and by their mechanical drive to expansion and cultural domination of the other. The native Africans, for their part, are depicted as ignorant, superstitious, and incurious, but they are also clearly victims of another’s gaze, discourse, and brutal subjugation. Though it hardly needs stressing that descriptions of the natives as “savage” reflect the worst of the classic tropes of imperialist jargon from the turn of the century, their deployment throughout this text is laced with irony and implicit though subtle moral censure — too subtle, perhaps, for some. And, while Marlow pronounces that what redeemed imperialism and colonial exploration was specifically an “idea only . . . and an unselfish belief in the idea” (HOD 7), this statement too is not as facile or unproblematic as might be wished for, especially once we consider that the rest of the narrative leaves the reader to meditate on the full cultural and political implications of this “idea.” This ideational assertion of Marlow’s is, in fact, followed immediately by another statement in which ideology is sublated by the pragmatics of imperialist and racist discourse. The all-consuming, putatively innocent “idea,” in reality, amounts to little more than a

55 In Last Essays Conrad would describe the goings-on in the Belgian Congo as “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration” (1949b: 25–6).

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fetish, a totem. Displacing the natural target of desire (for conquest) it constitutes, in Marlow’s words, “something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to” (HOD 7). Linguistically obscuring the real business of the Europeans in Africa and other “blank” spaces of the globe, it establishes la mission civilizatrice essentially as a foil for “the conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly fatter noses than ourselves” (HOD 7), by those who fancied themselves as “conquerors” but who were, in fact, ordinary colonial administrators. Acts of brutality couched by exculpatory language by the masters of discourse: such was Conrad’s judgment of the project of Euro-American imperialism, as inflected by his experience in the Congo. What Heart of Darkness proposes, in other words, is truly writing-in-between, an extraterritorial literature. It represents a primer on modernist inscription of ambivalence, where the narrator’s uncertainly about what kind of world it is he is perceiving and describing — his epistemological anxiety in Brian McHale’s sense — comes to fill the canvas, transforming the focal point from the objectivizing to the fully subjective plane. In this regard, Marlow’s monologue functions as a self-reflexive textual mechanism that unravels layer after layer of cultural doxa and ethical données. And, though some might well be tempted to question its language, the readers and critics of today are at risk, Conradian critic Cedric Watts warns, of appearing “ideologically narcissistic if they belabor all those past literary works which do not reflect today’s prejudices” (Watts 1993: 181), that is, if they ignore Fredric Jameson’s admonishment to always historicize. In her analysis of the work’s “framing effect,” wherein Marlow mediates his tale of riverine exploration to a group of men on a boat on the River Thames, “the great . . . British waterway which flows through London as the nerve-center of a far-flung empire,” Merle Williams notes that the sense of ambivalence pervading the narrative is apparent already in the opening scene: [Marlow’s words] deflate the putative assurance of his listeners who are all at ease with their professional status and financial achievement, by reversing the familiar hierarchy. The ancient Britons are figured as the savage inhabitants of an inhospitable, remote island . . . subdued by a sophisticated emissary of Roman . . . culture. This disconcerting reminder of the transience and relativity of civilisations is mapped onto Marlow’s experience of European expansionism in Africa. (Williams 2001: 109)

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because for the protagonist the very ideal of European civilization is overturned,56 threatening a kind of moral recidivism first delineated in Conrad’s earliest critique of colonialism, “An outpost of progress,” readers must contend with a further involution: For Marlow the Romans are not colonizers but unrepentant conquerors, although that distinction breaks down under the weight of proven Belgian rapacity in the Congo. The valences are reversed, so that the avowal of brutal exploitation begins to seem preferable to the pretence of sustained economic commitment and missionary zeal. This, in turn, calls in question Marlow’s plea for the superiority of British colonial practices and a solid dedication to work . . . Yet Marlow is tempted to redeem patent abuses [of European imperialism] by conjuring up a validating idea. (Williams 2001: 109–10)

The narratological lessons of the disconnection between logos, desire, and the construction of social and political facts would be applied to the texts to follow the conceptual breakthrough of Heart of Darkness. This textual “dramatization of the agon of baffled and yearning subjectivity” seeking both “root and rationale” (Williams 2001: 110), is followed, five years later, by a vastly greater creation of intersubjective social history. This next novel would present an alternative or heterodiscursive history set in the post-colonial spaces of South America, and in so doing capture the main problematics of nation- and mythology-building in a strikingly prescient fashion. The narrative strategy of that novel, Nostromo, enlarges upon the modernist narrative structure in the tale of the Congo. Specifically, Conrad expands the fractured time scheme of the narration and fills up the discursive space with the vast architecture of the narrative itself, to the point where individual subjectivity, no longer able to comment, no matter how ambivalently, on the unfolding events and its own place within the schema, becomes swallowed up by the “vast indifference of things.” This effect is invoked with particular force in the arena of political concepts: Martin Decoud, the individualist intellectual, will come to experience first-hand the indifference of all ideology to the individual’s struggles after a mere (?) 15 days’ isolation on a small island on the Gulf of Sulaco, only a mile or so away from the town. A year after the publication of Nostromo, Conrad began to engage with didactic political writing more openly, in this way marking a period of change in orientation toward Poland from what could be described as the willed indifference of 56 See Lothe 2001: 191.

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the new émigré to a solemn concern for the fates of his former compatriots.57 This policy was particularly evident in the non-fiction writings where the subject matter was imperial Russia or Russian policies toward subject peoples. The most explicit of such texts devoted to the dangers of Russian imperialism, and directly inflected by his family’s experience in Russian-occupied Poland,58 is the essay “Autocracy and war” (1905). In this provocative but also notoriously programmatic text, tsarist Russia is portrayed as the menacing néant whose autocracy and inherent lack of social liberties not only endanger its neighbors but also pose a general risk to civilization as such. In a series of political essays that followed, including “Poland revisited” (1915), “A note on the Polish problem” (1916), “The crime of partition” (1919) and finally the quasi-autobiographical A Personal Record of 1912, Russia is again political enemy number one: it represents the greatest obstacle to the long dream of Polish independence.59 In truth, the catalog of ideas surrounding Russia and questions of “national character” and “national will” was clearly central in Conrad’s mind in the years following Nostromo. Thinking about nationhood evidently engaged nationalist sentiment, long laying dormant. The fruit of this meditation was the 1911 novel Under Western Eyes. In his “Author’s note” accompanying the novel Conrad writes: “My greatest anxiety was in being able to strike and sustain the note of scrupulous impartiality. The obligation of absolute fairness was imposed on me historically and hereditarily, by the peculiar experience of race and family . . . I had never been called before to a greater effort of detachment: detachment from all passions, prejudices and even from personal memories” (Conrad 1989: 49–50). However, though the demands of truthfulness which is the kernel of authentic art may have been of primary import to Conrad (1989: 50), the claim to objective historicity is complicated by his delineation of the protagonist Razumov. In a typically modernist strategy that aims to fill in the subjective plane, Conrad sets up a kind of sympathetic equivalence between Razumov and himself in terms of identity construction and the desperate pressures to identify with some group or community. Growing up, not unlike the orphaned Conrad himself, as “nobody’s child” in the provinces, and now a stranger in the metropolis (St Petersburg), Razumov “feels rather more keenly than another would that he is a Russian — or he is nothing” (Conrad 57 See Najder 1964: 26–7; Najder 1983: chapters covering the years 1914–19. 58 Particularly important here — and under-theorized by many scholars and biographers of Conrad — is the period of exile (when Conrad was a boy), to central Russia from Warsaw after the failed Polish uprising of 1863, in which Conrad’s father, Apollo Korzeniowski, was a co-conspirator and something of a spiritual and intellectual leader. 59 Three of the four essays were originally written for a English literary journal The Fortnightly Review (“Autocracy and war” and “The crime of partition”) and the newspaper The Daily News (“Poland revisited”), they are collected together in Notes on Life and Letters (Conrad 1949c: 115–78).

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1989: 50). This type of dialectical redoubling of identity is typical of Conrad’s statements about his own ethnic, cultural, and linguistic predicament, not least among which is the adamant assertion, mentioned earlier, that if he had not written in English he would never have written at all. The symmetry is nothing short of stunning. Further, the vacillations of Conrad’s attitudes to Russia plainly demonstrate that questions of identity — at all times relational and intersubjective — continued to play a major role throughout his expatriation and his dual career of sailor and author. However, the novels mentioned earlier must not be simply (or not solely) viewed as political manifestos written by an outsider unsure of the durability of his affiliations or the ultimate price of his loyalties. They can and perhaps should be viewed first of all as modernist narratives that aim to interrogate the poetics of identity and place, and at the same time flash the centrality of politics for the construction of both. The difference is subtle; however, within Conrad’s large and varied oeuvre the outlines of a heterotopic discourse are best glimpsed in precisely those works in which the esthetic concerns selectively engage the political or the didactic/moral elements. The three texts where this is most successfully the case are Nostromo, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes. Though all three, to a certain extent, masquerade as more accessible genres (an exotic adventure story of revolution, a detective tale and a classic full-blown novel in the “Russian” mold) they are modernist works because in the end they were produced primarily not to please the “average reader” for whom, as noted, Conrad felt nothing if not contempt, even though this attitude pointedly contributed to his poverty. Rather, they are intended to be “consumed” on their own merits as objects of esthetic and moral contemplation. That being the case, a closer examination of the works reveals a remarkable inner tension: the style of narration may be experimental, and the narratives themselves too prolix and difficult for some to bother with, but the depiction of the characters, with the exception of the maverick Marlow who is allowed to speak at length, remains for the most part traditional in its range of expression. Conrad does not plumb the depths of first-person subjectivity: if the Conradian textual self can be said to be fragmented, it is principally because the information supplied by various external narrators is incomplete or unreliable in nature. Witness, for example, the “compilation” style of the commentary on Nostromo’s stature in Costaguanero society, or the competing versions of Jim’s moral fall according to various commentators, in Lord Jim. Moreover, as mentioned, the characters’ utterances are constantly undermined by authorial irony, and irony, linked as it is to satire, does not constitute a modernist innovation as such. As Northrop Frye observes, both are found, indeed originate, in antiquity and reach formal sophistication as early 81

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as the medieval era, with the romance genre (Frye 1957: 230–7). Further, if the textual interpellation and attendant ideological coercion60 that are the hallmark of the traditional novel and sustain the bourgeois novel can be said to be unsuccessful here, it is not necessarily because of any inherent dialogism of the text itself or any of the more usual tools of the modernist arsenal such as ideological subversion, narrative doubling, or textual fragmentation in which the real and the oneiric commingle with equal expositional privilege. Instead, the reifying ideological pressure of the text is exposed and undermined principally because the very numerosity of opposing and supplementary versions makes it impossible to trust completely the authority of any official one, including those of the narrators describing themselves and what supposedly are their notions of the world.61 What Conrad was particularly interested in showing, in my view, is the impossibility of reification of a vision of the world when the assumptions guiding its construction are a priori subject to the subjective and subjectivizing gaze of agents/ speakers. Conceptually, then, we are not very far removed from the postmodern constructivism of Hayden White’s theorization of modern historiography or Foucault’s notion of the reifying gaze of the specialist (whose claims to authority have latterly come under critical scrutiny, in part due to Foucault’s own writings on power and reification). On the other hand, while the fragmentation of the Conradian textual experience is well within the perimeters of modernist poetics of the subject(ive), an entire arsenal of narrative techniques as interior monologue or indirect free/stream-of-consciousness self-inscription, frequently explored by his contemporaries, remains untapped. One could conclude, therefore, that something within his own poetics is clearly preventing Conrad from pursuing the modalities of more overtly self-sufficient modernist art, epitomized in English letters by works by writers such as Woolf, Joyce, and Lawrence.62 The real question is what accounts for this circumscribing factor, and many readings of Conrad address this with the speculative conclusion that the staunch realist in Conrad, perhaps an echo of his youthful exposure to nineteenth-century Polish and French literature, has sustained his concern with such ideas (and ideals) as the sense of duty, the fidelity to ideas, the prerogative of work as redeemer and so forth.63 In the end, Conradian narrative, though experimental in its nature especially with regard to the disruption of narrative chronology and not content to rest on 60 See Belsey 2002: 68–9; Jameson 1981: 212. 61 See Said 1975: 103–10. 62 For a particularly perspicacious disquisition on the differences in their poetics, see Stevenson 1992: 17–67. 63 Frequently they cite Conrad’s own assertions that moral and didactic responsibility toward society is central to the purview of public figures, including published authors (see especially Najder 1997; Said 1975; Berthoud 1978; Sherry, ed. 1973; Schwarz 2001).

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the laurels of classical realism for the description of the world and character, is only partially autonomous. It is decoupled from the function of social commentary that had been ascribed to the ideological porte-parole of the bourgeois novel of the nineteenth century, only sporadically, in strategic modes. Still, Conrad would certainly have been familiar with the general aura of modernist art, with the leading figures of modernist literary criticism, and with modernism in other fields of artistic production.64 One of his main modes of engagement with modernist praxis was through a turn to subversive social didacticism, which in British letters could be found in writings by fin de siècle decadents such as Wilde or (somewhat later) by modernist satirists like Waugh.65 Conrad’s use of these techniques, especially in Under Western Eyes,66 tends to affiliate his work with the theories of the Russian Formalists, discussed earlier. For while it is doubtless true that British and anglophone writers and critics of Conrad’s own era, chief amongst them Henry James,67 called for a re-evaluation of the links between reality and its esthetic representation in a work of fiction by emphasizing the formal qualities of the novel, the formalists were far more insistent and consequential in their literary program. Conrad’s esthetics specifically resonate with the formalists’ push to make literature strange and non-realistic by pointing to the use of the device, to the constructedness which all writing evinces. The novel, in the end, is certainly not “reality”; it may attempt to replicate specific realities or even “reality” as such but, if successful, it is principally a work of art, a technical form with a specific esthetic purpose. As such, then, the novel represents both artifice and simulacrum,68 to varying degrees and in different modes. Interestingly, that was Conrad’s point exactly in the “Author’s note” to Under Western Eyes. What is implicitly understood but goes unsaid in the note is that readerly displacement is best generated through definable narrative techniques. In his note Conrad remains tight-lipped about what those are specifically; his discussion of technique there as elsewhere repeats a number of platitudes and generalizations, while the real work of fashioning his (modernist) narrative goes on in secret, as ritual or a kind of occult art. Thus, even though his narratives can be said to theorize the novel as a genre, the Conrad of the preface does not directly theorize his novels or, more to the point, anywhere describe his 64 Such as impressionist and cubist painting (see Schwarz’s discussion of some correspondences: 2001). 65 See e.g. Cunningham 1993: 44; Roberts 1993: 45–52. 66 Conradian ambivalent didacticism also provides a kind of counterpoint to the insistent moralism of nineteenth-century novelists such as Balzac, Dickens, and Turgenev, and in some key ways the work can be seen as a retort to Dostoevsky’s didacticism in Crime and Punishment. 67 See James’ essay “The art of fiction” (1896). 68 “Simulacrum” is used here in its primary, that is Platonic and mimetic sense, as a copy of an extant reality that is subject to description and cognitive interpretation.

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artistic technique as “modernist” or predominantly formal in any way (I shall expand on this point in Chapter 5, in my discussion of Nostromo). On the other hand, one can readily examine the effects his labors produced. The narrative estrangement in Under Western Eyes, Nostromo, and The Secret Agent constantly questions the solidity of the ground upon which the narrators’ assertions are founded; further, insofar as the textual platform from which the reader surveys the action is amenable to shifts and tremors as well, the readers’ certitudes are likewise queried. In other words, the sets of assumptions that we as readers make about a narrative’s formal integrity are subject to authorial manipulation. For example in The Secret Agent, at the outset the reader will most likely sympathetically share Verloc’s faux-naiveté with respect to Stevie’s role in the Greenwich bombing mission, but without realizing Stevie’s dispensability to it. Our perspective on the power triangle Verloc–Stevie–Winnie is programmed to shift, however, once we witness Verloc’s maneuvers to evade responsibility for Stevie’s death. It is only then that Verloc is fully revealed as a villain and that the reader may instinctively transfer his or her empathy to the putative victim, Mrs. Vinnie Verloc or, if one is less driven by character sympathy, to no-one (and let it be said that The Secret Agent is nothing if not a game with readerly sympathies, being a satire on the sentimental domestic novel as well as the detective story). In Under Western Eyes, the narration’s framing/dislocating effect propels the reader toward a realization that what he or she has just finished reading is at best an edited version of the “facts” at hand.69 This will in turn render the narrator, who had, anyway, been long protesting that he is not an expert on Russian culture and society, even less reliable than one usually expects one’s narrators to be regarding logics of presentation and the linearity of the organization of the themes and events. Indeed, to the extent that the language teacher is unreliable about certain rudiments, a rereading of the book might be in order, if only to determine the extent of his cultural miscomprehension (it is certainly ironic that Conrad should charge a language teacher with the task of “translating” the experience of another). According to Kermode, the work’s structure of delayed signification, together with its concealment of the real chronology, allows the readers to follow Razumov’s activities in Geneva before we discover out that he “has accepted employment as a spy for Mikulin” (Kermode 1983: 141). Kermode characterizes the modernist turn here as one of “entrusting the narration to an observer who is not only limited and prejudiced but pretends to neither omniscience nor omnicommunicativeness” (1983: 141, my emphasis) The language teacher qua formal device, Kermode concludes, insures “fair play to the Russians” — whom Conrad sometimes in some 69 See in particular Frank Kermode’s reading of this novel (1983: 139–53).

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of his political writings — by reminding the reader “that their actions are being reported through a rather ‘dense’ medium” (Kermode 1983: 141). Where in Under Western Eyes Conrad questions the authority of representation and the depiction of characters and actions by a subject who de facto disavows objectivity, in Nostromo the very “authorization” and production of reality will be subject to continual revision through competing versions. All of these fabulistic sub-versions, moreover, are inflected by a kind of narratorial subjectivity which does its best to pose as cool historical objectivity, as well as by the narrators’ desire to leave a mark on posterity, to contribute to the new nation, their republic under construction. In Nostromo Conrad began breaking original representational ground, simultaneously activating a new (exilic) discourse of identity and place. Both of these process will be examine in detail in Chapter 5.

EXILE AND LIMINALITY: A “MINORITY” REPORT As I noted in the introductory comments, perhaps the central text in which Gombrowicz promulgates a rhetoric of exile is the Diary. This three-volume literary and philosophical autobiography had as its main objective the recuperation of new forms of literary subjectivity and agency for the Polish/East European subject. The Diary, however, also represents a kind of postmodernist writing in which the scriptive self is constantly at the mercy of deviation and play, and hence necessarily sacrifices autobiographic “truth” and personal engagement in ideas to the exigencies of form and the needs of the experimental exilic personae to whom Gombrowicz gives a voice.70 Of interest here is the fact that from his exilic mooring, Gombrowicz writes not only against Polish literary tradition but also against the perceived cultural hegemony of Western Europe, and perhaps especially France. To many East Europeans of the time, France represented the cultural epicenter of Western intellectual culture; additionally, for many la ville lumière carried the special connotations as the consummate exilic city and a space of liberal expression, an impression possibly dating back at least to Adam Mickiewicz’s groundbreaking lectures on Polish literature and history at the Collège de France during the 1840s, and perhaps to the even earlier association of Prince Czartoryski and his coterie of exiled politicians, army officers, disinherited nobles and social activists with the city. The subject of Poland, as well as the conceits and anxieties of Polish diasporic communities, emerges as the main target of the second postmodern 70 See A Kind of Testament for a typology of these personae and their various missions (de Roux, ed. 1969: 102–3); cf. Chapter 3 below.

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Gombrowiczian narrative, Trans-Atlantyk. In that work the mordant parodies of Polish cultural practices are intended as an antidote to the suffocating and overbearing legacy of Polish national myths from the Romantics on, and the country’s political humiliation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries at the hands of its three partitioning powers. The politics of provocative disdain for nationalist/ patriotic narratives, the questioning of cultural dominants, the deconstruction of national identity and “character” chiefly through revealing such constructs to be desperate and desperately maintained fictions — these in my view constitute the philosophical core of both Trans-Atlantyk and The Diary. In their articulation of a counter-discourse of exilic identity, these works in particular are fitting instances of a type of writing that Deleuze and Guattari, in their monograph on Franz Kafka, termed “minor literature.”71 Viewed as purely a literary phenomenon, “minority” carries strong affinities with the general aura of fragmentation of (meta)discourses and increasing cultural relativism which, together with the linguistic turn (or différance in the Derridean shorthand) can be said to be the hallmarks of postmodernity.72 However, for Deleuze and Guattari, minor literature does not belong to postmodern poetics in a strict sense; rather, the genre is conceptually coupled with certain techniques of deployment and the social functioning of avant-gardist texts. Thus if, as I have been proposing, we make the subtle theoretical shift to view the later Gombrowiczian text as representative of a specific postmodernist/ avant-gardist esthetic, then minority literature presents an elegant solution to the problems of situating his exilic discourse. Indeed, one of the dominant elements of Gombrowicz’s postmodernist poetics is its general orientation toward the peripheral, the contrapuntal, the liminal, the “not-yet-formed” and the formally deviant. Such a set of literary interests and narratorial techniques closely correspond to the notion of minor literature which has, Deleuze and Guattari maintain, three basic functions or identifying characteristics. First, a minor literature is the language of a minority within a major language. The discrete social space studied in their work is that of Jewish writers in the German tradition. However, the principle readily applies to any cultural milieu that produces a significant body of literature, and in this sense twentieth-century Polish literature certainly qualifies, even if a large percentage of the literary output was for various reasons limited to domestic consumption. On another level the element of the minor, in its specifically Polish twentieth-century application, is the exilic and expatriate corpus: such writing is “minor” specifically by dint of its geographic exteriority and by its forcible deterritorialization versus the authorizing cultural center which is metropolitan Poland. Furthermore, 71 See Deleuze and Guattari 1986: ch. 3, “What is a minor literature?” 72 Cf. Bielharz 2000: 122–6, 152–7.

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key to Deleuze and Guattari’s formula is the fact that texts belonging to minor literature are deterritorialized and “heavily otherized” as a structural precondition, in their very essence, as an objective-in-itself apart from any consideration of their relationship to cultural centers (Deleuze and Guattari 1986: 16). Gombrowicz’s exilic and self-marginalizing status and, particularly in Trans-Atlantyk, the linguistic and stylistic forms he adapts, seem to qualify on all counts. This is a difficult narrative for readers to absorb (perhaps even more so in the English translation currently available, which has taken certain stylistic liberties), both from the point of view of its style and its content. In fact, several times in the Diary Gombrowicz bemoans the fact that some of his “weaker” readers found the novel’s language so strange and incomprehensible that, for example, they wrote letters of reproach to the publisher asking the writer to explain why exactly he felt compelled to “capitalize words in the middle of the sentence” (Gombrowicz 2000a: 26). In this regard, Gombrowicz’s linguistic reworking of the gawęda form, which I address in more detail in Chapter 4, can be read tropologically as a function of deracination from the linguistic reservoir of his native Polish: his adaptation of Sarmatian narrative can be seen as synecdochal of all the myriad peculiar jargons and accentuations that diasporic/exilic speakers employ in the texts or in their speech, especially as their distance from the native tongue grows. The point is that expatriate “jargons” are divergent from the language as spoken in the metropolitan homeland, and the ever-increasing temporal distance only serves to compound the sense of geographic deterritorialization. The exilic language, in this sense, fulfils the function of an “other” language; it reiterates the predisposition toward monolingualism within the metropole (Derrida 1998: 9–21). As I will argue in Chapter 4, Gombrowicz in Trans-Atlantyk will push the notions of “difference” and “divergence” to a logical breaking point. In the absence in the place of exile of any nourishing deep reservoir of language and culture, and given his ideological opposition to the then-available Polish identities, including the literary ones, of which the most popular in the post-war period was that of the dissident yet still somehow nationalistic writer,73 he will search beyond the modes and styles of contemporary fiction altogether. In a dialectical resolution of his own sense of difference, Gombrowicz seeks out an antiquarian textual/oral form formerly employed for the telling of seventeenth-century adventures, in the process re-energizing and re-historicizing the Polish Baroque in a characteristically ambivalent postmodern gesture. One can appreciate Gombrowicz’s nod to the past in his parodic endeavor. Even though the tradition of exaggeration that was part and parcel of the Sarmatian style made it appear artificially inflated and 73 See for instance his own reflections on the subject in the first volume of the Diary (Gombrowicz 2000a: 29–30).

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thus an ideal subject for the satirist, there is a gesture of acknowledgment of the life-affirming vigor of the baroque Polish language by virtue of its having been selected as the springboard for his own new narrative form. The second characteristic of a minor literature is its heavy political investment. A minor literature, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is a cramped space, in which each “individual intrigue . . . connects immediately to politics” (Deleuze and Guattari 1986: 17). That this was a perennial predicament for Gombrowicz is clear — one merely needs to do is read the Diary or A Kind of Testament at random. The situation, as we have now come to appreciate it, was a compound one: Gombrowicz was politicized both as a consequence of his exilic status from communist Eastern Europe, which immediately subjected his writings to a explicitly “political” reception, and because his depictions of the Polish émigré communities in Argentina not only parodied the conventions and complexes of Polish life but also opposed the traditional patriotism of the Polish expatriates.74 Needless to say, his refusal to join any faction of intellectual “resistance” groups would have been viewed by many as betrayal or even, as we have seen in Conrad’s case with the Orzeszkowa attack, as treason; his adamant claims to autonomy would likely have exacerbated the reactions to his textual provocations. It is mainly for utilitarian propagandist reasons that in Trans-Atlantyk the chief of the Polish Legation is looking to “use” the good name of “Gombrowicz.” For nothing would bolster the claim (made to the Argentineans and anyone else who would listen) that Poland, too, has given its share of “great writers” quite as effectively as producing one right there and then (TA 21). The envoy also tries to employ “Gombrowicz” to write short reviews in émigré journals “praising our own”: “Tego Propaganda wymaga i trzeba by wiedziano, ze Naród nasz w geniuszów obfity” (TA 22: “Propaganda requires this, for they need to know that our nation is replete with geniuses”). The narrative “Gombrowicz,” for his part, does his utmost to expose the emptiness of the envoy’s propagandistic–patriotic program;75 however, as I will show in my discussion of the work, he is unable to shake off the emotional charge of the propaganda until he himself has managed to construct an alternative exilic discourse and philosophy of the subject, activated by the logic of heterotopia. 74 Both the domestic and exilic forms were depicted as hollow and farcical (see Chapter 2, below, on Trans-Atlantyk). 75 The degree to which Gombrowicz persists in his exposition may help explain the ambivalence toward Trans-Atlantyk felt by critics as astute as Czesław Miłosz. For while Miłosz was overall receptive to the formal experimentation in the work, he maintained that Gombrowicz seemed numb and to an extent intellectually flippant toward the authentic needs of the Polish national struggle both during the Second World War and then under the communist rule (see Gombrowicz 2000b: 26–7). See Chapter 3, below, for my discussion of the relationship between Gombrowicz and Miłosz as two of post-war Poland’s pre-eminent exiles.

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The third attribute of minor literature, for Deleuze and Guattari, is that “anything in them takes on a collective value” (Deleuze and Guattari 1986: 17). This last trait, though in the main applicable to Gombrowicz’s work, may require some qualification in light of my earlier labeling of Gombrowicz as an iconoclast. It is a standard biographical argument that Gombrowicz time and again asserted the right of the individual to be autonomous, sovereign, and detached from overdetermined associations with the nation or normative national ideologies.76 His basic philosophical orientation is not really in dispute here. However, by dint of the publication of provocative and politically charged texts such as Trans-Atlantyk, Gombrowicz was forcefully enlisted into a collective receptivity of his work. This is likely why, in passages in The Diary dating from around the time of TransAtlantyk’s publication, he uses the plural second person in addressing his reader [“Wy”]. The invocation of “wy” (you — a community) seems to result directly from the recognition that even though his writing was intended for individual reception, he was destined to be read by a community of exiles and expatriates congregated around two or three major émigré journals in the West, in addition to circles of readers in Poland who smuggled in contraband copies of his novels for distribution amongst trusted friends. In the next chapter I will go on to argue that the use of the second person was part of a general strategy to establish a sense of his separateness in the face of the narrative of a Polish cultural collective speaking in one voice. It represented a profound attempt to outmaneuver the place that “Polish literature,” that is, the pundits and the (collective) exilic imagination, seemed to be offering him. It was in the end a strategy of positing himself as a minor writer, a writer of “youth,” “liminality,” “immaturity,” of protean form — a writer of autonomous subjectivity. It goes without saying that Gombrowicz’s intricate and sometimes contradictory program has been enormously influential in Poland, spawning several generations of epigones and a rich and varied critical legacy. Though Gombrowicz may have outwardly disavowed such a public function for his life, it seems like an appropriate tribute for a man who, faithful to the politically avant-gardist, postmodernist role as an engaged author, having accepted the new freedoms and the creative space of emigration, could not help but assume the part of an intellectual and patriotic leader even if this patriotism and leadership at times seemed in spite of himself. I would suggest, by way of conclusion, that Conrad’s novels and tales at first glance appear to escape the stamp of cultural minority. Indeed, he seems to have attempted the opposite goal, that of writing within a mode of Western universalism 76 See e.g. Jerzy Jarzębski’s essay “Gombrowicz: ucieczka z rodzinnego domu” (“Escape from the family home”: Jarzębski 2000: 10–34).

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of a kind, based on common themes and archetypal characters, a corpus aiming to integrate, for all its hybridity, with the major movements of British literature.77 That this should pass is not entirely surprising. The modernist movement, for the most part, constituted an agglomeration of elites who belonged to a kind of cultural “majority” (while criticizing some of its cultural practices) (Carey 1992: 70–1). The ethos of postmodernist discourses and writings, on the other hand, opens a polemic space for the minor and the other — or at the very least, for the correct minor and other — with no uncertain institutional vigor. Still, in the last analysis, Conrad’s self-fashioned trajectory, via the modernist text, out of alterity and toward a sense of belonging within metropolitan culture was only partial and perhaps not entirely successful. As I suggested above and will elaborate in the following chapter, Conrad, though eventually ensconced within the worlds of English letters and British publishing, remained in many ways a “Polish” writer, an eclectic outsider with an accent, a “funny name” and a silent bitterness. His was the role of the displaced nobleman never fully at home in the British Isles or, it could and has been argued, within the vast and luxurious house of the English language.78 Moreover, this is precisely how he was viewed by a sizeable segment of the critical establishment. To Virginia Woolf, for example, he represented a unique, half-British and half-foreign hybrid, a figure out of place and perhaps out of his time, a “guest” with the “most perfect manners, the brightest eyes, and . . . a strong foreign accent.”79 Najder’s concluding remarks in his biography of Conrad — the gold standard in Conrad scholarship — focus in on the recluse aspect, suggesting that Conrad’s ultimate act of exile was his self-imposed move away from the intellectual centers of his adopted land to settle in the Kent countryside. He moved “out of the earshot of gossip, beyond the reach of hostesses,” as Woolf memorably put it in her remembrance.80 Even before setting into the lifestyle of a country gentleman–writer, however, Conrad would often complain of his isolation to his “fellow craftsmen.”81 To be sure, some of this was selfinflicted; however, his social alienation would have been compounded by the long periods of material poverty and the legacy of his errance. In a letter to one of his closest associates, John Galsworthy, written on the occasion of reaching the

77 And eventually, with the publication of the tale Chance (1913), achieving a measure of popular success. 78 For example, in Jean-Aubry 1927; Najder 1983; Guerard 1967; Berthoud 1978; Fletcher 1999. 79 Virginia Woolf, cited in Najder 1983: 491, my emphasis. 80 Cited in Najder 1983: 491. 81 Conrad first employed the term “fellow craftsman” in a letter to Arnold Bennett, November 6, 1902 (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 305–7).

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half-way mark of Nostromo,82 Conrad professed that he was “strangely growing into a . . . mental and moral outcast. I hear nothing — think of nothing — I reflect upon nothing — I cut myself off — and with all that I can just only keep going” (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 317). Of course, though Conrad’s complaint could be read as an instance of self-isolation necessary to literary creation, it is first and foremost symbolic of his general sense of loneliness. Ironically, as Edward Said pointed out in his study of Conrad’s letters, correspondence — that is to say language, that unwieldy tool — was borne out as the main channel for overcoming his sense of solitude, including the linguistic.83 On the other hand, dedicated readers of Conrad’s correspondence my have the impression that Conrad frequently wrote against a sense of all-pervading difficulty and even futility. Far from constituting a vehicle for the centring of the exilic persona, the process of writing, of being a writer, was something that had to be confronted, negotiated, and overcome — on an ongoing basis. The following excerpt from a 1899 letter to E. L. Sanderson is suggestive of Conrad’s ongoing struggles precisely with being a writer: Whatever the cause, the struggle is hard . . . So I turn in this vicious circle and the work itself becomes like the work in a treadmill, — a thing without joy, — a punishing task . . . It is strange. The unreality of it seems to enter one’s real life, penetrate into the bones, make the very heartbeats pulsate illusions through the arteries. One’s will becomes the slave of hallucinations, responds only to shadowy impulses, waits on imagination alone. A strange state, . . . a kind of fiery trial of untruthfulness . . . One goes through it, — and there is nothing to show at the end. Nothing! Nothing! Nothing! (Letter of October 12, 1899 [Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 281–4])

On that last count Conrad was to be proved wrong (or at least premature). What emerged, to “show at the end,” is a significant corpus of transitional modernist literature, as well as the clear outlines of an exilic discourse, grounded in the faith in the potentiality of language itself and comprised of letters such as the one quoted above, the aforementioned novels, articles, and other self-reflective writing, including his political essays. These, under the collective subheading of life writing, form the subject of the next chapter, where they will be read, together with Gombrowicz’s coded autobiographical writings and in particular the Diary, as ciphered documents attesting to an intricate process of exilic identity formation. Since a writer labors in order to be read by someone, I will also examine the

82 Letter to John Galsworthy, August 22, 1903 (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 317). 83 See Said 1966: “Introduction,” ch. 1.

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relationship between the authorial roles/personae in these works and the gradual establishment of a new “exilic” readership, as well as both men’s negotiation between their self-appointed obligations to not only their former or imagined “domestic” audiences but also the expectations of the new adoptive ones.

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Life Writing He told me that directly his father died he lit out into the wide world on his own, and had been on the move till he fetched up against this famous . . . business. Marlow in Conrad, Victory

POLISH, HYBRID, OR OTHERWISE: LANGUAGE AND THE POETICS OF DIFFERENCE We now turn from questions of theorizing cultural production to the problematics of narrating a (literary) life. Here, I discuss representative texts of the later Gombrowiczian oeuvre, including the Diary, A Kind of Testament and Polish Memories, together with a corresponding number of “quasi-autobiographical” works of Conrad’s, among them A Personal Record and selections from his letters to acquaintances and friends.1 I also turn my attention to several of Conrad’s “political essays,” written typically for British journals, and later reprinted with revisions in the volume Notes on Life and Letters. The two discursive axes guiding the study as a whole, that is, the synchronous axis of national identity and the diachronic axis of the discourses of (post-)modernity and exile, remain useful in the structuring of the writing subject as a hybridized iconoclast (of the national sacrum). Accordingly I consider Gombrowicz’s writings against notions of postmodern subjectivity as background and intertext to questions of his style and the prerogatives of his artistic engagement, whereas my discussion of Conrad’s narratives will be framed here by the epistemological concerns and formal experimentalism of early modernist fiction, the poetics and formal concerns of which synchronize with the concerns his later works articulate. But because the subject matter of the majority of these narratives tends toward the autobiographical in one way or another, my reading here will underscore the special role of the 1 The majority of these letters are collected by Jean-Aubry (1927) and Garnett (1928). Many of the originals are held in the British Museum in London and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

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authors’ exilic experience for their poetics of self-inscription. The distinction, so particular to exiled writers, between the (centrifugal) role of homo poeticus that justifies them as artists, and that of the (centripetal) homo politicus imposed on them sometimes unwillingly and occasionally unwittingly, by their act of exile or emigration, is foundational for differentiating the specific topographies of their autobiographical narratives. This is so because such texts, as opposed to expressly belletristic works, explicitly (which is not to say transparently) reference life’s key moments and decisions and conjecture on their import to one’s artistic existence. In short, the scriptive modality involves a manipulation of autobiographical writing whereby the dissemination of personal data is strategically countered by the production of a myth of the exilic individual (also the myth of the artist) governed by various mechanisms of self-justification, in a narratological system where strict chronological biography is moreover subject to linguistic play and cultural disjunction. By drawing out the matrix of exile and heterotopic possibility, I want to show how the exilic condition and the linguistic spaces interpenetrate, leading to the formation of an exilic polemics and of a new discourse: that is, their philosophies of writing the self. As I noted in the Introduction, exile and migration understood as both a total experience and as a collective trope feed into and, by the same token, foreground the modernist project in that they force the individual to confront a fundamental set of concerns about the writing self. More specifically, exile compels one to postulate one’s essential identity as fluid and potentially fractured, perhaps inescapably so. Far from longing for a sense of any (utopic) organic wholeness that had been both the task and the conceit in the self-justification of the realist novel, the goal of modern(-ist) art to either represent the fracturing effect immanent in acts of fiction writing, or to seek a form of self-integration of the writing subject who finds itself confronted with this fracturing effect, or indeed both.2 Such foundational problems of self-inscription were intimately coupled with epistemological queries related 2 See e.g. Showalter 2000: xvi–xviii. Showalter refers to Virginia Woolf’s 1924 essay “Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Brown.” In that seminal text the novelist put forth the argument that beginning “on or around December 1910, all human relations have shifted . . . and when human relations change, there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature” (Woolf 1996: 24). Showalter points out that neither the nature of character nor the major relationships that animate literature — such as that between master and slave or husband and wife — could be “sufficiently represented by the literary conventions of the Edwardians, such as reliance on material evidence and external facts . . . As her own generation of writers struggled with a new way of capturing character . . . readers would have to get used to ‘a season of fragments or failures’; they would have . . . to tolerate ‘spasmodic, the obscure’ ” (Showalter 2000: xvi–xvii). Woolf, for her part, was careful to note that the human character prompting these literary evolutions did not change suddenly; however, for the sake of the argument she asked her readers to “agree to place . . . these changes about the year 1910” (Woolf 1996: 24).

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to the probing of limits of representation. They also found resonance with the Husserlian notion of the horizon of the possible and its active reconstitution within both one’s inner narrative duration and the objectivizing time of history. More indirectly, they are linked to problems of new knowledge derived from existential truth valuations, occasioned but at the same time tested by the modernist work of art and its involutions.3 Such textual phenomena as the refraction of the subject into discrete vocalities, the representation of simultaneous multiple realities, or viewing the narrative thrust as a reflection of subconscious drives — all these belong to the modernist textual imagination. The general crisis of mimetic representation that, as most agree, begins with the questioning of the omniscient narrators in prose and the move toward the subjective in poetics, and more emphatically with the narrative dispersion of the symbolists and the decadent catastrophism of the futurists, opens the door to new channels for textual introspection and self-analysis. Freud’s investigations into the unconscious processes and their symbolic reification on the conscious level is also instrumental to this process, both as a form of clinical presentation and a symbolic reification of social praxes and, more to the point, anxieties. When the total Conradian oeuvre is considered against the modernist exemplars of his age, most commentators will agree that at a certain point of his writing career, certainly by the time of publication of Lord Jim, Conrad became a modernist writer. Most are in accord that his approach to modernism was ambivalent and eclectic, so much so that it caused him to simultaneously search for an elusive ideal reader who could appreciate his technical innovations, and to feel dejected at being misunderstood (and ignored) by the average/mass reader and misread by tendentious critics.4 As Greaney argues, this strategy was bound to prove difficult to enact without textual and supratextual prostheses: Caught between speaking for everyone and writing for no one, positioned at the interface between high art and popular culture, Conrad was given to proud affirmations of the universality of art but found that he could in no sense entertain the general reader . . . . He was the most reluctant of modernists; and he will continue to be read seriously . . . because he exhibits all the breathtaking innovations of modernism without losing sight of everything that it sacrificed in the bid to make it new. (Greaney 2002: 169, emphasis in the original)

3 For some recent considerations of the climate, preconditions, and modalities of the modernist turn toward interior subjective experience, see e.g. Scholes 2006; Lewis 2007; Gay 2008; Levenson 1998. 4 See e.g. Kermode 1983: 14, 41–2.

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This then may explain the reasons why we witness a dichotomy in Conrad’s esthetics: the earliest tales tend to fall within the broad category of adventure tales; moreover, texts such as Almayer’s Folly and The Nigger of the Narcissus recount the story of a writer finding his voice and wielding, without immediately mastering, a foreign linguistic instrument. As I pointed out in the previous chapter, with the creation of the figure of Marlow (in Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim,5 and Youth) Conrad discovers his “future” English self (Greaney 2002: 58); the oblique self-endorsement in turn stabilizes the directions of his fiction. Marlow thus comes to represent, at one and the same time, a textual shadow, Conrad’s doppelganger and a dialectical distancing/refamiliarizing textual device. In short, Marlow is scripted as a modernist narrative strategy.6 It is noteworthy, also, that the insertion of a master “monologist” as the new center of the narrative allowed the Conradian text to retain a degree of orality, supporting his contention that these works were “tales,” not novels. Thus, critics who view Marlow primarily as a “pseudonym” for the author were guilty of overstating the evidence, perhaps in a quest for organic unity. More likely, Marlow represents a Conrad sous rature; on one level he constitutes “a fictive proxy who permits the author to absent himself from the texts,” facilitating a reconfiguration of the narrative for maximum literary effect, as opposed to aiming to achieve transparency.7 However, the trajectory does not conclude there. On another plane, together with the manufacture of a scriptive voice and the attendant plural persona, at once “extraterritorial,”8 outlandish/Polish and British, Conrad undertakes the active process of constructing an exilic self, that is “writing it in,” that is articulating a need for it, delineating it, engaging it textually and finally testing it in the marketplace. As I indicated earlier, allegory and metonymy are two particularly auspicious modes of representing the foreign, alienated, or exilic subject.9 As rhetorical figures they both denote gestures and mimed movements that attempt to duplicate a missing verbal or cultural signifier and seek to bridge the lacunae between the sets of acculturated meanings found in the homeland and the place of exile. The self in exile is required to perform both the quotidian and the exceptional tasks differently than the pre-rupture subject (whatever its degree of domestic unhousedness may have been); in order to meet these demands, one’s identity may often need to be

5 Both these were written in the period 1898–1900, but not published together until 1902 (see Zabel 1958: xv–xvi, xliv). 6 See also the discussion of Marlow as a major modernist figure in Conrad’s texts in Stevenson 1992: 22–8; Said 1975. 7 See, in this respect, Greaney 2002: 59. 8 See Steiner’s “Introduction” to his Extraterritorial (1971). 9 See Miłosz 1994: 36–7.

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forcibly reconstituted. The above gloss, moreover, refers only to the “performative” and quotidian surface. Beneath, in the subterranean channels and pathways of the ego, is forged something of a total, syncretic exilic identity which evaluates plausible artistic responses to expatriation and chooses from among them. In Conrad’s case, the poetics of modernism and the sense of split or dual identity, his fractured, estranged, and deterritorialized homo duplex persona, outlined in the previous chapter, functioned as an esthetic phenomenon and combined to structure his literary and esthetic program. For Gombrowicz, an analogous synchronizing function was fulfilled by the myth of the avant-gardist provocateur and author of a minor literature, who assaulted his favorite “targets” (Nation/Nationalism, Culture, Literature, Emigration) from an abject, deterritorialized position as an unwilling exile to a marginal cultural space. Writing the Subject: What is Exilic Discourse? The fact that Conrad and Gombrowicz, exiles both, followed widely disparate paths when it came to the language of their writing constitutes the major differentiating factor in this study. It means, among other things, that exile, even while enforcing an identity regime which is essentially similar for most of its subjects, does not present a set of master challenges to be countered with a single nostrum. To account for this situation we must seek ways of plotting the fundamental issue of language, both as an instrument of one’s craft and as a technique of the self which is one of the chief determinants of one’s identity, onto Gombrowicz’s and Conrad’s core narratological preoccupations. These include the struggle with essential otherness (including that of the other within oneself), the strategies of overcoming the ruptures of exile, the sense of a writerly role or responsibility as a public voice within a given society, the desire to be understood by a sympathetic readership and, finally, the dilemma of negotiating the fundamental sensation of one’s (exilic) difference. Current theory on exile proliferates and, though nearly all positions predicated on the concept of separation and displacement from the native land or region, precisely how this rupture is constituted has been subject to much debate. Some exilic writings celebrate exilic possibility, while in others the resultant void is described as terrifying and even traumatic. But, while for many exiles, emigrants, and otherwise displaced persons, expatriation is principally synonymous with the obliteration of the horizons of the known and the familiar, a number of other emigrant writers and critics have proposed more optimistically that the prospects of a new life in an acquired cultural and linguistic zone also raise the alternative that something can be gained or “found” in translation. In other words, the counterpoint to the dominant thesis of exilic loss is that the experience of linguistic and 97

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cultural distantiation can produce esthetic or thematic gain, as part and parcel of the affirmation of a new exilic epistemology of the self.10 In fact, according to perhaps the most prominent critic of exile, Edward Said, expatriation need not and in fact must not be essentialized negatively, even if a number of his writings on the subject, the essay “Reflections on exile” in particular, in places read like a lament of and for the transcendentally disinherited. For Said, conceptualizing exile, be it state- or self-imposed, predominantly in terms of its “terminal loss” (Said 1994: 137), not only misses the point but also forecloses an important opportunity for the deterritorialized subject.11 While Said admits that the experience of exile is “horrible to experience,” he also — as though in the grips of an infernal dialectic within himself qua exile and literary critic — allows that the phenomenon is “strangely compelling to think about” (1994: 137). In “Reflections on exile” he offers glimpses of a more hopeful interpretation, rooted in a selfreflexive recognition of exilic rupture that, instead of paralysing an author in a stasis of homesickness and nostalgia, engenders original vision structured around multiple strata of perception. He writes that “while most people are principally aware of one culture, one setting, [and] one home, exiles are aware of at least two, and this plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that — to borrow a phrase from music — is contrapuntal” (1994: 147). That is to say, Said suggests, “both the new and the old environments are vivid, actual, occurring together, resulting in a unique pleasure of dual apprehension,” especially if the individual is conscious of other juxtapositions which can challenge orthodox judgments, those of the native as well as adoptive culture (1994: 148). This opens the possibility for the expatriated person to live “out of time” as it were, at least out of synchrony with the temporality of the nation and the consensus-building obligations and ideological programs. As I argued elsewhere,12 one of Poland’s pre-eminent exiles in America, Czesław Miłosz, would have readily agreed with the positive aspects of such a diagnosis. In “Notes on exile” Miłosz develops an isomorphic (because derived from a rather different set of experiences) theory of binary perception. He writes that “exile displaces the primordial privileged place” — in his personal case, this lieu de mémoire is Vilnius,13 the city of his youth, and the surrounding Lithuanian 10 11 12 13

See Filipowicz 1990: 157–72. See Said 1994: 137, 148. Cf. Gasyna 2003: 333–4. In a preface to the second volume of his collaborative study of French history and culture, Lieux de mémoire (1984), Pierre Nora describes “a realm of memory” as any site or artifact whose cultural meaning — and thus its semiotic functioning as a symbol for a nation or a community — has been subjected to ideologically determined reifications (e.g. “the land” and its produce, the cathedral, national museums, memorials to a nation’s the

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province — and creates “two centres” which in the extreme “will interfere with one other,” but under ideal circumstances will synchronize and “coalesce . . . as a happy solution” (Miłosz 1994: 38). A writer capable of forming such discrete zones in his mind, Miłosz proposes, will be able not only to negotiate longings for a sense of his own origins but also overcome his new peripheral social and cultural status without becoming entrapped in a Proustian search to recapture the twin topoi of lost time and privileged (because native and own/owned) environment. Following this program of accommodating exilic difference the émigré writer or artist is thus offered not only new ideological and cultural vistas to work with, but also and especially a new way of seeing (Miłosz 1994: 39) which “reconstructs” the sense of absence metonymically and thereby reaffirms the new exilic identity. Thus while the experience of exile frequently introduces a terrifying existential state, it also abounds in possibilities closed off to those with one home, and equally to those who are homeward bound and who define themselves in reference to the “domestic” sphere. Whatever their specific positions, however, most exilic discourses tend to privilege forced or political emigration over voluntary or even incidental expatriation, a fact not unrelated to the irreversibility and thus the ineluctable finality of the former (Robinson 1994: 14). Said unambiguously states that an exile or a refugee is someone who cannot go home again (Said 1994: 144); expatriates, on the other hand, rarely face torture or death if and when they do return. Sometimes all they face is a dismal reception or outright indifference: such, for example, was the intermittent fate of Henry Miller once back in America in the 1940s after a sojourn in Paris, and in the more contemporary Polish context, former exilic luminaries like Sławomir Mrożek. The distinction between the two categories is, as so many of them tend to be in exilic discourse, primarily political. The shadow of the polis can, of course, hang over state banishment and self-banishment alike; both, it seems to me, are opposed to expatriation in the strict sense.14 And yet, much as a taxonomy of exiled writers might be desirable for understanding the functions, forms, and rationales of exilic discourses, one also must contend with a number of figures who problematize the matrix. One such writer was James Joyce, who famously deserted (or was it abandoned? or escaped? or dead, etc.). Certainly, this can be experienced on an individual register; see the preface to the first volume. 14 The phenomenon of political exile, which has enjoyed a long tradition in literature, is perhaps presided over by two figures: Dante reigns as the pre-eminent representative of this phenomenon in premodern literature — an embodiment of separation from the native privileged locus of the Florentine city-state. And in the (post-)modern era, this iconic role has given to artists fleeing political oppression and totalitarian regimes, and both their number and their places of departure have proliferated in the last decades.

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evaded?) the physical Ireland of his discontented adolescence only to return to it, again and again, with an obsessiveness that bordered on the pathological, over the course of his writing career lived out in a number of “classical” exilic locations in continental Europe.15 To my mind, Gombrowicz’s and Conrad’s stories of expatriation from Poland constitute two more instances of such problematization. First, consider the case of Gombrowicz’s “accidental” expatriation. In August of 1939, as a young but already established literary figure with a volume of short stories, a major play and a revolutionary novel under his belt, he boarded a transAtlantic passenger ship Bolesław Chrobry on her maiden voyage from the port of Gdynia to the Polish diaspora communities in South American ports of call. Several days after his arrival in Buenos Aires, Hitler’s war machine burst into Poland; as we now know — I discuss this in detail in Chapter 4 — Gombrowicz had less than a week to decide whether to attempt a return to Europe or to remain in South America. Not only did he stay, at that exact moment becoming a voluntary expatriate in the taxonomy of emigrant configurations, but within several weeks the Polish state itself ceased to exist. Thus Gombrowicz became a bona fide refugee from occupied Rzeczpospolita, a democratic republic obliterated by a foreign power which soon established a genocidal regime over the land.16 Conrad’s tale of expatriation from native Poland to France and thence England appears perhaps less contentious, but only on the surface (and on back covers 15 Which is to say that some exiled writers (and “voluntary” expatriates in particular) may not consider the linguistic or cultural reservoir of the homeland at all comforting. Here, Joyce provides an ideal example, since he left Ireland precisely because he considered all of its available cultural forms to be stultifying. His self-exile was undertaken in part in order to determine the total scope of his artistic/writerly personality as beyond and apart from his nation and, simultaneously, in order to access a state of artistic transparency with respect to the fashioning of a new literature and heretofore undiscovered ways of voicing the subject. Nonetheless, the question remains: “Why did such writers return to the native land for the subject matter of their work?” Joyce’s Dedalus confesses at the conclusion of the fictional autobiography cum Bildungsroman A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that he must leave Ireland in order to be able to confront it properly — indeed to forge its “uncreated conscience . . . in the smithy of [his] soul” (Joyce 1983: 253). Yet, in the following “installment” of the Dedalus saga, Ulysses, Joyce returns Stephen to Dublin after less than a year abroad, as a failed author and unsuccessful “creator,” other than perhaps of his own mythology. Joyce, unlike his protagonist, remained in peripatetic exile on the Continent — though like Stephen he returned briefly to Ireland for his mother’s funeral — and relied on maps of the Irish capital, together with voluminous fact-checking correspondence with brother Stanislaus, for his monumental reconstruction of the city of his youth (see Anderson 1967: esp. 45–69). 16 As a number of biographical studies have pointed out, Gombrowicz initially responded to the patriotic call of the fatherland in distress. For example Ewa Thompson remarks that Gombrowicz presented himself at the Polish Embassy in Buenos Aires “and underwent a medical examination to determine his fitness for military service. Classified 4-F, that is, unable to serve for medical reasons, he then decided not to return to Europe” (Thompson 1979: 20).

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of paperback editions of his novels).17 As Zdzisław Najder pointed out in the introduction to Conrad’s Polish Background, the events surrounding Conrad’s emigration were not only extremely complicated but also marked with a stamp of tragedy — the tragedy of inevitability (Najder 1983: 10–19). Poland, partitioned amongst three neighboring empires at the close of the eighteenth century, was subjected to what might most accurately be described as a colonial policy of varying degrees of intensity from one occupying power to another, and even from generation to generation. Polishness, then, functioned as an idea only, in the abstract; but it was also an idea solidly bolstered by a revolutionary zeal of its intellectual and artistic elites, by the varied cultural and spiritual legacy left by Poland’s past achievements and — perhaps most important — by a rich body of literature that authenticated the national sentiment in its own language. Finally, and this would pass even the most rigorous litmus test of imperialist realpolitik, there physically existed a region in East-Central Europe in which the majority of the population was ethnically Polish and viewed itself as a nation, though one under foreign occupation.18 Father Apollo’s passionate involvement in the doomed 1861–63 insurrection against Russia, and the subsequent conviction and exile of his family, would almost inexorably have destined Conrad, had he stayed in Poland, for Russian military service, which for sons of convicted “traitors” could last as long as 25 years. Najder notes that once it became clear that Conrad would not be allowed to move to a part of Poland under the less oppressive Austrian administration and there naturalize as an Austrian citizen, exile was the only remaining alternative. Insofar as such a path was a popular and honorable one for dispossessed Polish nobility and former revolutionaries and soldiers to follow during the Partitions era, Conrad was not breaking any new ground by simply leaving (Najder 1964: 12–15). It is in this fashion, as an evasion of virtual enslavement in the military and a possible death sentence at the hands of an empire so utterly despised by Apollo, that Conrad became a de facto exile at 17.

17 Consider, for example, the narrative logics behind the following biographical note, from the Dent Edition of Youth and Gaspar Ruiz: “Joseph Conrad, whose surname was Korzeniowski, was a Pole, and his boyhood was spent in Cracow. From an early age he was a reading boy . . . His first love was the sea, his earliest determination to become an English seaman. And so in 1877 he joined an English steamer bound for the sea of Azov and England; and before long found himself at Lowestoft. Then he became an Englishman” (Conrad 1957: 182, my emphasis). The note continues in a similar mode of unquestioning causality for some paragraphs, hastily omitting, among other things, the story of the Korzeniowskis’ forced exile in Russia, Conrad’s (mis-)adventures in southern France and Bobrowski’s tutelage of the young Conrad following Apollo’s death. 18 See also Conrad’s musings on this topic in an essay in his Notes on Life and Letters, occasioned by a voyage to Poland en famille in 1914 (1949c: 150–3).

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What sort of exilic spaces did Gombrowicz and Conrad encounter, and how did their sense of identity bear the brunt of the dislocations? To be sure, both would experience on their own skin the deterritorialization which attends expatriation and the associated move into the discontinuous zone of otherness and cultural displacement. However, as witnessed by their choice of writing language, their intended audiences for this writing and finally their maneuvers to gain position within the literary circles of both the adopted and the native homelands, the consequence of emigration turned out to be quite discrete for each in terms of the range of exilic responses and in relation to one’s self-identification as a displaced person.19 Aside from the apparent biographical dissimilarities (such as their age, and the fact that Gombrowicz’s writing career was already well under way) the first divergence is the direct effect of the exilic locales. Conrad arrives in Marseilles as a young man thirsty for adventure. By contrast, even though the image of the trans-Atlantic voyage there too loomed as a figure, for Gombrowicz one trip would evidently be sufficient for some time. He would remain “cut off” and “anonymous” in Argentina (Gombrowicz 2000a: 204), a land initially dismissed as “a country of cows where art was not valued” (de Roux, ed. 1969: 69), for nearly quarter of a century.20 Some have suggested that the forced move to a location that, from the European metropolitan perspective would have been considered “developing,” may have constituted a hidden blessing.21 And in fact in one passage in the first volume of the Diary Gombrowicz refers to Argentina as a place “mercifully devoid of national geniuses” (2000a: 14, my emphasis). This relative absence of the pressures of authorizing discourses may have aided Gombrowicz in anchoring a cornerstone of identity. By displacing him further from the major currents of European culture and in this way redoubling his acute sense of cultural marginality, the sojourn in Argentina, far from representing an event to recover from, provided both the distantiation necessary for him to function effectively as a writer and a context in which to refine the formal dialectics which underpin his

19 See A Kind of Testament or Polish Memories for a summary of Gombrowicz’s travels and positions on exile; for Conrad’s changing views on Poland and England, see Najder 1983. 20 Similar sentiments are expressed throughout the Diary; see e.g. Gombrowicz 2000a: 213–14; 2000b: 241–4. 21 Ewa Thompson notes that his encounter of “the ‘other’ Argentina: young, unrefined, and unadulterated . . . by European culture” (1979: 22) proved to be a liberating experience with permanent consequences, insofar as it reaffirmed Gombrowicz’s propensity toward youth, immaturity, incompleteness. Gombrowicz himself announces something to this effect in a passage in one of the later passages in the Diary (see Gombrowicz 2000b: 166).

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narratives.22 As Włodzimierz Maciąg suggests, in Argentina Gombrowicz was finally able to elaborate his poetics of the corporeal (refleksję biologiczną) as a root of his exilic subjectivity: It was only in Argentina that Gombrowicz began to construct characters who orient themselves or rather are driven by an energy that is concentrated within themselves, within their bodies — an energy that increasingly becomes linked to the erotic. This sense of the corporeal . . . freed from cultural conventions — that is to say “youth,” “immaturity,” “inferiority” — becomes increasingly privileged as a kind of existential framework. (Maciąg 1992: 135)

By the time Gombrowicz finally returned to Europe, and especially to Paris, hegemonic culture and the idea of domination of the corporeal and of the erotic by hegemonic “culture,” that is domination by the older and the major of the younger and the minor, consolidated itself as his ideological target. Despite the fact that Gombrowicz was invited to Berlin by an organization as iconic as the Ford Foundation, by a series of strategic deterritorializations inflected by the experiential role of Argentina,23 of which many are narrated in the Diary and others can be pieced together by a careful reader,24 he was able to reinforce his liminal status relative to European society as a whole. In 1964 he would write: “W Paryżu czułem się jako Polak . . . czyli ambasador kultur młodszych . . . To wszystko zasilało moją diatrybe przeciw starości Paryża” (Gombrowicz 2000c: 126: “In Paris I felt like a Pole . . . that is, as an ambassador of “younger” cultures . . . All this re-energized my diatribe against the agedness of Paris”). Simultaneously, Gombrowicz sought to buttress his peripheral situation as a Polish writer in France. It was necessary, then, that Polish should remain the language of his fiction and his polemics (such as the Diary itself). Generally speaking, his dialectically maintained liminal or “minor” status was meant to operate both on the cultural register and on the level of the daily goings-on of an author seeking a readership as well as markets to penetrate if not exactly conquer. On second thought, perhaps conquest was after all the goal, despite the insistence on the posture of “minority,” youth and incomplete form:

22 Gombrowicz made several textual overtures on this subject, both in A Kind of Testament and the Diary (see Gombrowicz 2000b: 24–5; 2000c: 122; de Roux, ed. 1969: ch. 6, esp. pp. 69–79, where he writes: “I needed this . . . distance from Europe and from literature” [my translation]). 23 See in particular Gombrowicz 2000c: 126–7. 24 See e.g. Thompson 1979: 20–2, 102–4.

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W Paryżu nie byłem od roku 1928-go. Trzydzieści pięć lat. Obijałem się wtedy o Paryż jako nic nie znaczący student. Dziś Witold Gombrowicz przybywa do Paryża, a zatem recepcje, wywiady, rozmowy, narady . . . i trzeba przecież zorganizować sobie efekt, jadę do Paryża żeby zdobywać . . . Już sporo ludzi wciągnietych zostało w tę bitwę i oni oczekują ode mnie efektu . . . męczy mnie konieczność, o której wiem, że jest nieunikniona — to, że ja w Paryżu będę musiał być wrogiem Paryża . . . . Połkną mnie zbyt łatwo, jeśli nie stanę kością w gardle — nie zdołam zaistnieć, jeśli mnie nie poczują jako wroga.25 I have not been to Paris since 1928. Thirty-five years. At that time I wandered about the streets as an insignificant student. Today, however, Witold Gombrowicz is arriving in Paris, and so there will be interviews, receptions, conversations, discussions . . . One needs to make some impression, after all, and I am going to Paris to conquer . . . Already a number of people have been implicated in the battle and they are expecting results of me . . . I am haunted by the inevitable necessity that once in Paris I will have to become the enemy of Paris . . . They will swallow me too easily unless I become a bone in their throat; I will not succeed in existing unless they see me as their enemy.

By contrast, Conrad once wrote to a publisher that he believed that England had little use for Polish stories and Polish themes, even if some of them contained universal value or interest. Conrad’s capitulation to this admission may help explain the relative paucity of narratives devoted to the problematics of his native country (Najder 1983: 342). Yet perhaps that would be the wrong way of positing the problem. After all Poland does emerge as a central figure in his texts, a signifier of a homeland left behind by so many of his narrators and secondary characters. It is within this oblique zone of recollection that the notion of the homeland as a reservoir of cultural reference and a chronic reminder of an alternative past finds its fullest articulation.26 Perhaps it appears self-evident, but if Conrad had not been an expatriate, exiles and emigrants of every stripe would likely not have inhabited his books. Only two of his short stories explicitly address the Polish exile problem. In “Amy Foster,” Conrad imagines a Polish exile in a state of abjection, a sacrificial man, an Agambenian homo sacer. Yanko Goorall, the titular hero, finds himself shipwrecked in the British Isles. In this new linguistic context he is rendered into 25 Gombrowicz 2000c: 107; see also Gombrowicz 2000c: 108–14, 117–22. 26 This fact may help explain why, for example, in Nostromo the Italian Old Viola invokes Garibaldi when catching news of a nationalist uprising in Sulaco, and why the Goulds go to great lengths to reproduce a British club atmosphere in their Spanish-colonial villa. See my discussion in Chapter 5.

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a deaf mute, and his lack of language in turn magnifies his otherness and his sense of social insecurity.27 Goorall may be a highlander from the Carpathian mountains and therefore not a classic nineteenth-century Pole of high literature, but his always already liminal — or perhaps better, outlandish — subject position within Conrad’s cultural topography is precisely what amplifies his new exilic situation. Nico Israel picks up on this point nicely when he writes: Goorall’s foreignness melds into a literal stereotype or stamp of difference. By placing stress on the distantiating “they,” the text posits the incommensurability of Goorall’s behavior with the quotidian mores of English village life: he is destined never to be “one of us” . . . Goorall’s struggle to overcome la différence essentielle des races is . . . doomed to fail. A word that resonates throughout the story and, in fact, throughout early Conrad, “immense” often carries the charge of a kind of cultural terror . . . The very size of Yanko’s problems become impossible to chart in ethnographic discourse, necessitating the vocabulary of romantic lament: “Ah, he was different!” (Israel 2000: 33–5, emphasis in the original)

The notion of tragic exilic difference — first engaged here — is explored again in the story “Prince Roman,” where Conrad for the first and only time explicitly engages a Polish setting and the attendant sense of historical exceptionalism. This specifically “Polish” poetics of place imbues the tale of Conrad’s grandfather’s friend (the story is based on the life of Roman Sanguszko, a member of a prominent Polish-Lithuanian aristocratic family) with nostalgia and sentimental resonance. Left alone after the tragic death of his wife (which briefly anticipates the 1830–1 Polish Uprising), Prince Roman becomes first an internal and then a de facto exile; first defeated by a ruthless enemy and then abandoned by events beyond his control and the indifference of putative friends, he is in one sense a Conradian synecdoche of his nation: abandoned, betrayed, left to the fates. However, in that story too, Conrad’s language — at that moment in his writing trajectory still clearly incapable of withstanding the pressure of a certain kind of communal/national past — emerges by turns Romantic and martyrological; witness this invocation of place and fate: The speaker was of Polish nationality, that nationality not so much alive as surviving, which persists in thinking, breathing, speaking, hoping, and suffering in its grave, railed in by a million of bayonets and triple-sealed with the seals of three great empires . . . How much remained in that sense of duty, revealed to him [Prince Roman] in sorrow? How

27 See Israel 2000: 32–3.

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much of his awakened love for his native country? That country which demands to be loved as no other country has ever been loved, with the mournful affection one bears to the unforgotten dead and with the unextinguishable fire of a hopeless passion which only a living, breathing, warm ideal can kindle in our breasts for our pride, for our weariness, for our exultation, for our undoing.28

Conrad speaks of desperate love and a doomed cause; Gombrowicz of rejection of the common doxa and the ritualized sense of victimhood, in order to gain a degree of (existential, spiritual) autonomy. Placing Conrad’s life writing next to Gombrowicz’s, one thus notes a significant shift in exilic poetics. First, Gombrowiczian narratives perform what has been next to impossible in Conrad’s texts: the narrator directly recounting his own story and transferring his specific force of interiority, thus effecting his self-inscription, such as it is, with attendant deformations. By contrast, in The World, the Critic and the Text, Edward Said describes the Conradian account as one in which direct communication between the narrator and the reader is next to impossible, so that the information conveyed is always second- or even third-hand (Said 1983: 100–3). A further contrast in their exilic poetics is that, while Conrad returns to Poland in his texts infrequently and, it seems, extremely reticently, two of Gombrowicz’s novels (aside from Ferdydurke) are set in the former homeland. The action of Cosmos takes place in pre-war Poland of Gombrowicz’s youth, while the events in Pornografia are retro-projected onto a wartime Poland which Gombrowicz did not personally experience and which, as he himself stresses in the preface, is to be considered an “imaginary”29 Poland (it represents, nonetheless, a return to a kind of Polish specificity that Conrad would attempt only once). Indeed, for Gombrowicz, the displacement and new horizons occasioned by exile exhilarate, though only after a sense of deterritorialization is acknowledged and traversed. In a striking passage in the Diary, he writes that circumstances have obliged him to launch his career from zero three times, and that none of these occasions has spared him “even an ounce of humiliation.” And yet, in the next sentence, as he prepares a response to Emile Cioran’s essay on the pains and losses of expatriation, Gombrowicz celebrates exile’s advantages in a triumphant fashion: Look: the elite of the nation gets expelled beyond its borders. It can think, feel, write from the outside. It gains distance. It achieves an immense sense of internal freedom. All the ties binding you to the nation are broken. One can feel more fully oneself. In the general 28 Conrad 1955: 50–1; emphasis mine. 29 See Gombrowicz’s commentary in the preface to the Wydawnictwo Literackie edition of Pornografia (2001b: 5).

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commotion all the former forms loosen . . . What an opportunity! A dreamt-of moment! You would expect that the stronger individuals . . . should roar like lions. Why don’t they roar? Why did the voices of these people fade once abroad? (Gombrowicz 2000a: 66, emphasis in the original)

To paraphrase Gombrowicz, only representatives of a universal culture can survive anywhere. Those hailing from what he dubs “immature” cultures (in this context, Polish or Romanian voices, and more generally voices in a minor key) tend to close in on themselves and flee for the relative security of the diaspora communities once abroad. Being culturally “younger” and not fully formed as autonomous individuals, as this possibility is foreclosed by the cultural praxis in the countries of their birth, they scarcely know who they are; indeed they frequently become terrified of their own exilic and thus transgressive (though for others, liberating!) potentialities as subjects. Because of this self-reflective angst they are reluctant to entertain any change in their self-image that could be attributed to exile. Paradoxically, then, they become more characteristically Polish (or Romanian) in emigration than they would had they remained behind.30 Gombrowicz’s standpoint embodies authentic affirmation of the exilic imperative to draw from one’s newly autonomous (because unhoused) personal situation. In “Reply to Cioran”31 Gombrowicz contends, pace Said, that an author who “allows himself to wilt” when removed from the security blanket of the nation and its literary institutions and circles, is no writer at all, or is but an embryo of a writer (Gombrowicz 2000a: 66). Gombrowicz is counting here on the power of individual agency: strictly speaking, it is not the experience of exile which displaces us and is ultimately responsible for the terror of isolation, but the experience of writing itself. In a negation characteristic of Gombrowicz’s dialectical stance toward his public,32 he then concludes with the inference that, au fond, it makes little difference whether the cafe in which the (existential) torment and anguish but also the pleasure of writing take place happens to be in a square in one’s native town or halfway

30 See Gombrowicz 2000a: 66–7. 31 The essay was commissioned by Jerzy Giedroyc (the editor for Kultura who published most of Gombrowicz’s writings post-1939) and later reprinted in toto in the first volume of the Diary (1988). 32 It was clear by the mid-fifties that readers in Poland, many of whom were unsympathetic to exiles and other “deserters,” would eventually read smuggled copies of Kultura, and some may have been looking for signs of “weakness.” Some of the morbid interest in the psychic states of expatriates would likely have been stimulated by the news of poet Jan Lechoń’s suicide in New York in 1956. Moreover, it was part and parcel of the PRL government’s official line to describe exiled authors as “weak” and “unhealthy,” both physically and morally (see Bikont and Szczęsna 2004).

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around the globe.33 The reality of things, as is so often the case, would prove far more complex; Gombrowicz’s dislocations and their secondary after-effects will be explored presently.

CHARTING THE HYBRID SELF If It’s Monday, It Must Be Me: Some Paradoxes of The Gombrowiczian Subject as an Other

In one of the interviews with the French literary critic Dominique de Roux that comprise A Kind of Testament, Gombrowicz presents a summary of the major themes of The Diary. Actually, let us begin again. In one of his “interviews” with de Roux, Gombrowicz, “prompted” by the critic, offers a summary of major themes: the section is structured in such a way as to appear to “authorize” de Roux to assemble a catalog of narrative problems, yet the list itself, in a mischievous turn, is in fact entirely of Gombrowicz’s own making:34 Można z grubsza rozróżnić kilka głównych wątków . . . a) Co pan o sobie pisze, żeby siebie uwypuklić, wytłumaczyć, żeby sobą groszyć, zaskoczyć, zadziwić . . . na przykład impresje, wspomnienia, relacje z podróży, wyznania i zwierzenia (jednak!). b) Komentarze do własnej twórczości i wojna z krytyką. c) Wojna z literaturą i sztuką w ogóle; ataki na poezję czystą; ataki na malarstwo, atak na Paryż . . . d) Wojna z filozofią, a w szczególności z egzystencjalizmem, katolicyzmem, marksizmem i, ostatnio, ze strukturalizmem. e) Wojna z Polską i problematyka kultur drugorzędnych. f) O pańskim “człowieku”, takim, jak pan go widzi: jako wytwórcę i niewolnika formy; jako istotę “niedo” (niedostateczną, niedojrzałą). g) Ekscentryczności, igraszki, figle, mistyfikacje. Zabawa z czytelnikami. h) Strony o charakterze wyłacznie artystycznym — humor lub liryzm przeważnie. (de Roux, ed.1969:102)

33 See Gombrowicz 2000a: 68. 34 See in this regard Thompson 1979: 25; Jarzębski gives a detailed account of the authorial negotiations between Gombrowicz and de Roux in the essay “Dziwna historia Testamentu” [the strange story of Testament] (2000: 213–19). Note that Gombrowicz’s games with textual intentionality are somewhat less evident in the English translation that follows.

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One may distinguish a number general concerns: a) What I write about myself to throw myself into relief, to explain myself, or to provoke the reader’s indignation, to surprise him, astonish him . . . impressions, memories, accounts of journeys, confessions and secrets (because there are some of those, too). b) Commentaries on my work and my polemic with the critics. c) My war with literature and art in general; the attacks on pure poetry, on painting, on Paris . . . d) My war against philosophy and, particularly, against Existentialism, Catholicism, Marxism and, more recently, against Structuralism. e) My war against Poland and secondary cultures. f) My observations on man, creature and creator of Form, an inadequate, immature being. g) The eccentricities, the little lies, the jokes, the hoaxes — games with the reader. h) The pages of an exclusively artistic nature — humour and lyricism, principally. (Gombrowicz 1973: 115–16; my emphasis)

Well then! Given such a seemingly exhaustive inventory, fully fleshed out as it were, it would appear that the critic’s job has been done for him (indeed, the categories seem carefully constructed, and each appears stylishly self-sufficient). However, a few points of elaboration must be added. First, as noted, the above list belongs to Gombrowicz, not to de Roux, since Gombrowicz is the actual author of A Kind of Testament. Gombrowicz is especially playful here when he “corrects” and supplements de Roux’s enumeration — in reality his own — with the statement that immediately follows the list: “Nic nie mam przeciw takiej segregacji, pod warunkiem żeby te punkty razem pomieszać. Bo mój Dziennik to groch z kapustą i prawie każde zdanie kilku bogom naraz służy” (de Roux, ed. 1969: 102–3: “I have nothing against such a classification, so long as the items are mixed up together, because my Diary is a kind of goulash in which almost every sentence serves several masters at once”). Thus, what we have at work here are the twin postmodern imperatives of narrative indeterminacy and incompleteness through superabundance. As we will see, these two topoi govern the strategies of narrative inscription in Trans-Atlantyk and Cosmos, respectively. Next, a supplement is needed with respect to the actual parameters of that notquite-autobiographical and yet not entirely fictive “I” figure that gives voice to the Diary. In A Kind of Testament Gombrowicz underscores the relationship between the liminality of the voice and the sense of perverse, transgressive “freedom to” which marginal status can liberate in a speaking subject. Exilic deterritorialization, for Gombrowicz, also accounts for that voice’s sustained aggression:

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Gdy zastanawiam się nad Dziennikiem, próbuję zrozumieć, dlaczego to moje zwyczajne “ja”, raz wypuszczone na wolność, taką agresywność wykazało. Bo . . . to przecież dopiero tutaj zdobyłem się na konsekwetną opozycję wobec całej prawie kultury współczesnej . . . Czy nie dlatego, że to moje “ja” było tak maleńkie za olbrzymim oceanem, marginesowe, anonimowe, prywatne? . . . Nie miałem nic do stracenia . . . Byłem niczym, więc mogłem pozwolić sobie na wszystko. (de Roux, ed. 1969: 103) Whenever I ponder The Diary, I try to understand why it is that my “ordinary I”, once set free, exhibited such aggression. Because . . . it was only here that I was able to mount serious opposition to nearly all of contemporary culture . . . Was it perhaps because of the fact that this “I” of mine was so tiny on the other side of the enormous ocean, so marginal, anonymous, private? . . . I had nothing to lose . . . I was nobody, therefore I could permit myself anything.

That is a subtly cunning authorial “admission.” Seemingly a consequence of cultural deterritorialization felt in Argentina, Gombrowicz’s aggressive “I” is also linked to a (belated) opposition to contemporary culture, specifically the Western model which Gombrowicz for the most part encountered indirectly since the contacts were made through the filter of specific Argentinean realities. And as I argued above, Argentina was then, and to an extent remains today, a somewhat marginal space in the greater Western project. On the other hand by the point that passage was composed (the mid-1950s), Gombrowicz had become more than superficially familiar with Western artistic production and cultural models;35 moreover, he had insistently contested a number of tropes of modern European culture in his previous texts. For example, in Ferdydurke Gombrowicz diagnoses and counters the practice — popularized after the Second World War and employed extensively in fascism and state socialism, respectively with Hitler Youth and Komsomol — of treating the youth as a discrete social group that is amenable to being politicized and thus de-individualized, and of attempting to market “ideas” to young people on that basis; in short to convert them to the new creed. In Ferdydurke Gombrowicz takes a forceful stand against mass movements in general, against migrations to cities and the resultant embourgeoisement of the suburbs, against the universal myth of progress and self-improvement — all of these phenomena seem to him inherent to the processes of socialization and acculturation in Western modernity.36 35 In addition to theoretical and “bookish” familiarity, Gombrowicz had toured Western Europe extensively in the years prior to the Second World War, and had even spent two years studying in Paris during the late 1920s and early 1930s. 36 See Jarzębski and Zawadzki 2000: 26–7.

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Therefore it is disingenuous, though quite in keeping with the manner of the liminal/unhoused émigré, for Gombrowicz to suggest that the Diary constitutes the first instance of aggressive rebellion against cultural authorizing centers and praxes. Referring to his authorial persona as a “zwyczajne ja” [ordinary “I”] further complicates the problem of the speaking subject. This apparent self-abnegation, in fact, is a false lead; there is no such thing as an “ordinary” “I” in fiction, since any such “I” is a fabricated composite designed to perform several functions at once, among which the transparent enunciation of authorial positions being one though perhaps not the most important. Though the Diary may masquerade as one, it is emphatically not a memoir. Rather, it represents a work of fiction(alization), more specifically a work in which the narrative “I,” already always a fictive figuration and to some degree because textualized, undergoes constant negotiation. Gombrowicz, in other words, has laid a trap for the naive reader. In point of fact, it appears that the “I” encountered in the Diary undertakes a trajectory among three points on the conceptual compass. The seemingly most translucent figure is the one presenting strictly autobiographical information. Even in such apparently innocent passages, however, Gombrowicz strategically deploys the family chronicler voice in such a way as to help forge the (dis)guise of a minor-culture émigré, a figure ambivalently situated away from the centers of culture, between empires and away from metropoles. The “I” also frequently assumes the stance of political engagement. For example, Gombrowicz’s avantgardist–postmodernist narrator makes frequent use of the pulpit of the Diary to rally for authentic art, in ways that I will examine shortly. In all, Gombrowicz’s achievement in this work is to naturalize the culturally familiar “I” persona of the literary memoir genre while inscribing something akin to a treatise on personal liberation from culture.37 Throughout, the philosophical and esthetic dimensions of Gombrowicz’s dialectical system are given primacy with an almost intimidating consistency,38 especially where they intersect with currents of contemporary thought, Marxism, nationalism, existentialism, and structuralism in particular. The speaking subject in the Diary and A Kind of Testament appears especially ciphered when read against the more “familiar” narrator in Polish Memories and Travels in Argentina. The I-voice of those texts seems to belong to a subject embarking on a project of explication if not outright confession. Indeed, in Travels in Argentina and Polish Memories, a collection of essays initially intended for a Polish expatriate radio program, Gombrowicz takes on an almost stereotypical role of the Polish 37 A rather strange predicament to be in for someone who, in the mid-1950s, had still two of his four novels to write! 38 Cf. Barańczak 1994: xiv–xix.

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émigré intellectual, and the text at first glance is bereft of the rich polyphonies, associational strings and reverberations that mark his other quasi-autobiographical texts. This is by all appearances an ideationally compressed “Gombrowicz,” vendor of an urbane exilic persona. Still, the reader should be wary of the apparent frankness of this putatively confessional impulse, for the strategies of revelation, concealment, and negotiation of the “zwyczajne ja” reproduce those elaborated in the Diary and A Kind of Testament exactly, though with less tactical manipulation, so that if his dialectics of form appears attenuated, it is only by contrast. In practice Gombrowicz’s dialectics of cultural relativity operate in the following way: an announcement may be made to the effect that he has just finished reading this or that text of a given author or critic, Western, or “domestic.” In the ensuing analysis of the text, in which more often than not he is registering his disagreement, Gombrowicz will proceed from one of the two points of the dialectic.39 Throughout, his strategy of constant destabilization and distortion of the I-voice (which it is ostensibly the text’s job to adumbrate for the reader) will serve to aggravate the sense of ambivalence of the utterance made palpable by about-turns and sudden changes in tone and voice. Momentarily, we shall see how the process operates in a number of iconic passages devoted to the construction of the émigré subject. The first lines of The Diary: “Monday: Me, Tuesday: Me, Wednesday: Me, Thursday: Me . . .” signal unambiguously an intention to fill the unfolding textual space with the subjective (Gombrowicz 2000a: 2). At the same time, Gombrowicz is acutely aware of the fact that the subject as such cannot exist or perform in a vacuum: his speech act exists only, and only to the extent that, it is received by an interlocutor. In this first section he thus launches a literary mission of sorts: an avant-gardist polemic with the then already well-known Czesław Miłosz, or more precisely, a Miłoszian monologue about the role of art and the social responsibility of artists (if indeed any such a formula could be stipulated). It is important to recall that at that juncture in his career, immediately on his emigration, Miłosz temporarily ceased writing poetry in favor of political works. The particular Miłosz whom Gombrowicz was seeking to counter (and discount) was the dissident Miłosz, the author of The Captive Mind and The Seizure of Power, texts in which the desire to clear his name as a traitor to Poland and a communist appeaser was a central concern. This was a Miłosz strategically expiating himself before his new public in diaspora, and not the Manichean metaphysician behind such works as Voices of Poor People or Three Winters. 39 Notable examples of Gombrowicz’s dialogues with contemporary Western authors include his reading of Jean Genet’s Les Pompes funèbres (Gombrowicz 2000c: 133–6) and Sartre’s L’Être et le néant (Gombrowicz 2000c: 119–22).

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Evidently reaching for a manifesto-like tone, at the beginning of the first volume of the Diary, right in the middle of a passage about the Poles generally and the possibility of an authentic East European subjectivity specifically (which he ultimately refutes), Gombrowicz makes the first of his many sudden shifts from second person to first person plural narration.40 Such modulations of voice, as I have suggested, were not executed simply for the sake of style. Since in the polemical introduction to the discourse of Polishness and his perceived contribution to it with which the Diary opens, Gombrowicz is explicitly engaging Miłosz, it is probably not incidental that these sections were honeycombed with a lofty and indeed “Olympian” equanimity of Miłosz’s rhetoric, or in the very least a fine imitation of such a narrative mode. In fact, the measured and “objective” ahistorical detachment of such passages is clearly at odds with Gombrowicz’s own earthy interest in the potentialities of life and the corporeal in general. But, if we look closer, if we seek out the hidden questioning of the binary of body–history, and specifically the irruption of the other (that is of Miłosz qua historian) “into the selfsame” (here meaning the putative purity of Gombrowicz’s poetics),41 we may then note those passages in which Gombrowicz grows impatient with mere formal gaming. At those moments the narrative technique appears more muscular, the text palpably mobilizes against Miłosz, and the immanent tension between aspirations to historical objectivity and the necessarily subjectivizing vision of the artist comes into the fore, though never, it seems, at the cost of the text’s overall critical program. One passage where this inner tension is in especially sharp focus concerns the discussion of autonomous art and literature of the future. Gombrowicz’s tone at the outset is exquisitely programmatic. He is imitating the tone of pre-war avantgarde authors for whom futurity implied the negation of an imagined community — indeed the very ideal of a community, since both implied a futurity founded on the validation of the achievements of the past and the present — in favor of the individual. He launches his exposition with a generalist cultural hypothesis: Gradually we are becoming sated with today’s feelings. Our symphony is getting close to the moment when the baritone rises and sings . . . The song of the future, however, will not be born under a pen that is excessively tied to the present . . . Those impending tastes, tomorrow’s issues, the awaiting spiritual states, concepts, feelings: how can they be born under a pen that strives only to consolidate today’s vision, today’s contradictions? Genuinely ambitious art . . . must destroy today’s ideas in the name of impending ones. (Gombrowicz 1988, vol. 1: 19, 18) 40 See Gombrowicz 2000a: 17–19; 1988, vol. 1: 30–1 for the English translation. 41 For a more detailed discussion of this dynamic, see Belsey 2002: 116.

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We should note that this negation of the present, Gombrowicz’s stipulation of a specific Polish cultural program and his dialectical antagonism to it, is far more emphatic in the Polish original. In the original Dziennik, the use of the plural “you” constitutes a defamiliarizing technique which the English translation often fails fully to convey. In the English version, the casual reader may misread some of the “yous” as singular, increasing the risk that these sections will be viewed as a summons to individual action (of course, in one way, they are). But in the original, the challenge to the collectivity, to Polish literature in general, paradoxical in light of Gombrowicz’s professed individualism, is quite unmistakable.42 For the anglophone reader, then, it is imperative to keep in mind that the task of the translator, as Walter Benjamin observed, should consist in finding “the intended effect upon the language of the translation in the echo of the original” (1985: 76, my emphasis). In other words, it is important to note Gombrowicz’s invocation of the second person plural pronoun in his arguments, as well as his sense of apartness from his addressees, for example in the following condemnation of anti-communist writing from the post-war era: Revolutions, wars, cataclysms — what does this fluff mean when compared to the fundamental horror of existence? You say that there has been nothing like it before? You forget that no lesser atrocities take place in the nearest hospital. You say that millions are dying? You forget millions have been dying, without a moment’s respite, since the beginning of time. You are horrified and dumbfounded by that terror because your imagination has fallen asleep and you forget that we rub against hell with our every step. (Gombrowicz 1988, vol. 1: 17, my emphasis)

A moment later, when he charges Polish dissident writers with reducing all problems of existence to the one “antinomy between East and West,” Gombrowicz writes that, in doing so, “you must inevitably conform to patterns that you yourself create.”43 Here, in fact, the English translator, Lillian Vallee, for some reason capitulated before the unrelenting force of Gombrowicz’s attack, placing the reflexive singular pronoun “yourself” rather than the plural (The French version, for example, retains the “vous”). What Gombrowicz actually writes is this: “Sprowadzając wszystko do tej jednej antynomii, . . . musicie — to jest nieuninknione — ulec schematom, które sami stwarzacie” (2000a: 31). It is quite obvious from reading the Polish that he is addressing himself to a group.

42 The text performs this function in Allan Kosko’s French translation of Dziennik equally well. 43 See Gombrowicz 1988, vol. 1: 17, my emphasis.

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The moment of “slippage” or symbolic substitution, that is, the point at which it becomes clear that Gombrowicz’s subject matter is after all Polish cultural milieu and Polish writers, occurs immediately following the passage cited. It is signaled by the switch to the second person plural, which until that point had been Gombrowicz’s usual form in Dziennik for addressing the Poles. And, considering the matter more intertextually, this is also Gombrowicz’s form of address to the men and women of letters of the interwar period, the Dwudziestolecie, whom he excoriates in Ferdydurke for the offence of producing and re-producing secondrate modernist texts, as much as for their conformity, their excessive dependence on “the power of form.”44 The paragraph in question begins innocently enough, with the third person plural. Gombrowicz’s first criticism of contemporary anti-communist writing is: they “exaggerate” — “they” referring not only to the political Miłosz, but also to Western European dystopian socialist writers like George Orwell. But just two sentences later, he substitutes the more direct plural “you.” It is here that it appears that Gombrowicz places his personal stamp of engagement, making the Polish anti-communist writers of the post-war generation his main target. These writers, some of whom were depicted with great pathos by Miłosz in The Captive Mind, are seen here as weak, merely topical, and formally and ideologically “tendentious.” Consequently this generation of playwrights and novelists is especially pliable to service the “the new masters,” whoever they may be now or in the foreseeable future. It is proof of remarkable intellectual consistency that much later, in fact as late as the third volume in 1968, a similar attack would be levelled from France at populist anti-communists of the successive generation, including Marek Hłasko and Leopold Tyrmand. Both of them began their creative careers as authors of a tough masculine literature of and about “the street”; by 1968 both were exiles like Gombrowicz. Hłasko defected to the West immediately after the post-Stalinist “thaw” of the mid-fifties; Tyrmand left as part of the Polish-Jewish exodus of the 44 F 84. See ch. 4, “Przedmowa do Filidora dzieckiem podszytego” (“A preface to ‘The child runs deep in Filidor’ ”), an interregnum “avant-garde manifesto” section of the novel. Here Gombrowicz berates those who would “worship” at the high altar of Art. While his second-rate contemporaries busy themselves venerating Art, in so doing turning their backs both on the people and on the fundamental reality of things, there is no-one left to slap their backsides (pupa), thereby keeping them honest. Along the same vein, Gombrowicz instructs his contemporaries that real art is art that is not self-enslaved by form: “For you form is not something that is human and alive, something — I’d say — practical and everyday, but just a feature for the holidays . . . Instead of art serving you, you serve art — and with a sheeplike docility you let it impede your development . . . Here it is: the time has come . . . make and effort to overcome form, to liberate yourselves from it. Stop identifying yourselves with that which delimits you. You, artists, try to avoid all expression of yourselves. Don’t trust your own words. Be on guard against all your beliefs and do not trust your feelings” (F 81, 84).

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late 1960s. The short passage below is characteristic of Gombrowicz’s determination to elucidate and counter the purported weaknesses of the contemporary Polish literary form: Tyrmand’s dominant characteristic — indeed the defining characteristic of all those who were constructed by post-war communist Poland — is a certain lack of crystallization. They are like muddy water, unable to settle in layers; the degree to which life interferes with them is simply too great. (Gombrowicz 2000c: 274, my emphasis)

Thus, even though Gombrowicz insisted on the autonomy of art and the sovereignty of the individual as an atemporal figure, apart from history though certainly blessed with a sharp historical memory, even in 1968 he remained to a large degree dependent on that which he battled, namely Poland’s history, culture, and literary production. This paradox constitutes part of a broader paradigm. As mentioned earlier, Gombrowicz sidestepped the main currents of the literary life of the places of exile. Even in France, and by then no longer entirely unknown or forgotten, he tended to remain on the outside, within the peripheral spaces, elaborating his contrapuntal discourse (again unlike such exiles as Cioran or Nabokov). His general orientation thus remained one of displacement, with his writing conducted from the sometimes self-imposed margins toward Polish culture (which he also regarded as peripheral) and toward Polish readers, who he felt required repeated instruction on how to read and not read his work.45 Conrad and “Orphaning” In the Diary and Polish Memories, as in Conrad’s A Personal Record, the focus sometimes oscillates from the creation and maintenance of exilic worlds/personae to the unique problems and experiences of the exiled individual confronted by the titanic pressure of the past. For both writers, the inhumanity of history and its institutions, including those of cultural orthodoxy that govern endorsed modes of textual inscription, represents a cause for alarm and a figure to actively contest in the narratives. For Conrad, specifically, texts such as A Personal Record may affirm their author’s exilic British/hybrid identity, but also offer a gesture of opposition to imperial institutions and/or colonial life from his own past. Interestingly, in Gombrowicz, and especially in A Kind of Testament, we too find an echo of empire, which as in Conrad comes to be primordially linked to the vicissitudes or 45 Cf. Gombrowicz’s five point artistic “Programme,” delineated in the first volume of the Diary as conclusion to his critique of the persistent and to him unjustifiable cult of the Positivist author Henryk Sienkiewicz in Poland (Gombrowicz 2000a: 164–5).

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traumas of childhood experience. The empire that figures in the background for both men is specifically the Russian (and the Soviet in the case of Gombrowicz’s Polish period). It is in those moments of textual self-reflexivity (vis-à-vis empire) that the authors portray themselves most emphatically and least ambiguously as Poles, though in reality these stipulations of identity require annotation, for the signals of affiliation were in both cases strategic as much as ancestral. In the closing stages of A Personal Record, before announcing his ultimate loyalty to Great Britain and the red ensign, and not Poland, Conrad associates his family’s status as Polish nobles with the British peerage in a way that underscores, with some nuance, the affinities between those two social systems, against “imported” Russian autocracy or “indigenous” Ukrainian feudalism of Conrad’s domestic cultural space. What must not pass unnoticed, however, is the fact that Conrad does this while demonstrating to his British audience the hopelessness of remaining faithful to the Polish cause alone (Najder 1983: 343). For the same reason, the symbolic substitution of the British colors for the Polish at the end of A Personal Record can also be read as synecdoche. To set the stage, the passage in question, in which the reader is returned to the early days of Conrad’s sailing career, occurs immediately after a dramatic description of Conrad’s arrival in a Malay harbor on the South China Sea. There, he notices a departing British ship: The Red Ensign! In the pellucid colourless atmosphere bathing the drab and grey masses of that southern land, it was as far as the eye could reach the only spot of ardent colour . . . The Red Ensign — the . . . protecting warm bit of bunting, destined for so many years to be the only roof over my head (Conrad 1949a: 137–8, my emphasis).

As his biographical données show, the protective mantle of his British hosts would become naturalized: Britain grew to represent more than a symbolic home once Conrad finally came ashore for good. For Gombrowicz, by contrast, his essential “Polishness,” while never fundamentally in question, would nevertheless remain under review by the Polish cultural institutions and Polonia agencies he continued to combat in his writings.46 The paradigm against which he combated was a familiar one to émigré artists: many Polish exiles after the Second World War had trouble seeing him as a patriot in the correctly politicized nationalist sense, and he was even viewed by some as a traitor to the cause. Within the People’s Republic, on the other hand, he was frequently ignored, censored, or else dismissed outright by officialdom as a decadent formalist — perhaps the strongest condemnation the regime could then mete out on out-of-favor artists. 46 See e.g. Thompson 1979: 21–5, 103–4; Chapter 4, below.

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On the surface, it may appear that Conrad attempted to efface some of the salient features of his Polishness as a strategic element in his transformation into a British author; here the marine career surely helped as a distancing mechanism. I have already noted the relative dearth of Polish subject matter, even in texts in which a Polish “exilic” protagonist might be apposite.47 On the other hand, it is true that he very made forays into such thematics in his essays and his other texts that comprise his life writing. Conrad, as is well known, was throughout his life an eager letter writer and though only a part of these writings have survived,48 the documentation provides a fertile ground for the critics to work through the problem of Conrad’s self-definition. As Said put it, Conrad’s correspondence offers us “an almost embarrassingly rich testimonial to the intensity of his intellectual life” (Said 1966: vii). Some of the first commentators on Conrad’s epistolary life, such as Georges Jean-Aubry, maintained that Conrad sought full disclosure and made transparency the primary goal of his letters, at least whenever he was addressing his acquaintances or men of letters like himself. For example it was Jean-Aubry — an early translator of his work into French — who remarked that “the numerous documents . . . addressed in the course of thirty years to his earliest literary friends, . . . to his admirers, English or foreign, old or young, to whom he wrote with an inexhaustible and generous warmth . . . show the man and the author to have been in complete accord” (Jean-Aubry 1927, vol. 1: 163, my emphasis). In Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, Said cautiously agreed that “if Conrad wrote of himself [in the letters], of the problem of self-definition, with such sustained urgency, some of what he wrote must have had meaning for his fiction” (Said 1966: vii). However, his analysis of Conrad’s correspondence culminates with, as he puts it, a “curious” discovery that the letters represent the ongoing fabrication and reification of a “public personality that was to camouflage his deeper and more problematic difficulties with himself and with his work” (Said 1966: vii–viii, my emphasis). It is beyond the scope of this study to revisit the question of Conrad’s correspondence as a primary index of his persona creation; in any event that objective was met head-on in Said’s survey. My contention is that much of what Said concluded about the function of the letters — that as a mode of strategic self-inscription they constituted an important facet of his voyage of self-discovery — applies likewise to his “autobiographical” writing and, in 47 See Tarnawski 1984: 109. Such a figure could have been textually “at home” as one of the dispossessed Europeans in Nostromo, one of the anarchists in the London of The Secret Agent or one of the liminal figures lurking in the non-legislated and marginal spaces of émigré Geneva in Under Western Eyes. 48 For example, almost all of his correspondence to Bobrowski was destroyed in a fire in 1917.

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more general ways, also to his political essays, which are in their essence position papers. Aside from the seminal import of correspondence for delineating Conrad’s exilic identity, a number of key essays devoted to issues Polish require revisiting for what they say (and choose not to say, or merely imply) about the subject of identity formation and maintenance. Several of them were collected for a Polish (exilic) readership under the uniform title Szkice Polityczne (“Political sketches,” published by an émigré press in London in 1975). The pieces comprising this volume were culled mainly from Notes on Life and Letters, but also include two of Conrad’s “Author’s notes.” Arranged together in this manner, that is to say artificially and intentionally as a set of political writings, for a Polish reader the essays will gesture toward the idea of Poland as both a vaunted symbol and a subject of grave difficulty for the author (for example he offers that “this volume [including these embarrassed introductory remarks] is as near as I shall ever come to deshabillé in public; and perhaps it will do something to help towards a better vision of the man” [i.e. himself]).49 One has to read somewhat against the grain to detect this motif in the original (unless one studies the essays in the identical sequence). But considering that four of the essays in the collection deal directly with Poland, this may not be entirely unexpected. 50 It is also no secret that the idea of Poland — and the Polish problem — constituted a versatile tropological backdrop that was highly useful for Conrad in his polemics with his political bêtes noires, chief among which are the roles of two of Poland’s partitioning powers, Russia and Germany, on the European geopolitical arena. Germany’s rapidly mounting international prestige in Europe circa 1900, at the expense of Britain’s unquestioned supremacy, clearly rankled. On the evidence, one may be tempted to say that in Conrad’s political writings that nation and indeed the entire geographical region is officially dismissed as a kind of no-place.51 This characterization is symmetrical with his earlier negation of “autocratic Russia” as le néant,52 but the motives are likely very different. In Notes on Life and Letters Germany is described as a bland region 49 See Conrad 1949c: vi. In the remainder of the passage he figuratively offers his “weary” body for readerly inspection. 50 See also Knapp Hay’s analysis of Conrad’s “fatalism” with respect to the Polish national cause, which expressed itself as “passive resistance” (Knapp Hay 1963: 330–1). 51 Perhaps Conrad’s viewpoint was in an emotional symmetry with the situation of Poland as a country existing in the heart only, but found on no map, for most of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth. See also V. Vaquin, writing on Alfred Jarry’s proto- surrealist 1896 play Ubu Roi, in which the action was famously taking place in Poland, that is, nowhere. 52 In fact, here Conrad is referring to an inscription apparently commissioned by Bismarck for a commemorative ring upon the conclusion of his tour of duty as Prussian Minister in St Petersburg (see Conrad 1949b: 94–5, 99–101).

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of which he knows next to nothing. Indeed Conrad writes with uncharacteristic defiance that Germany represents a geographical space which scarcely manages to draw his attention, except as a “threatening phantom” (Conrad 1949c: 164), as he traverses it by train during a voyage to Poland. This great traveler, who on several occasions sailed across the world prompted by nothing more than mere curiosity, a priori relinquishes knowledge of Poland’s western neighbor: Germany is that part of the earth’s solid surface of which I know the least . . . I may well say of it vidi tantum; and the very little I saw of it was through the window of a railway carriage at express speed . . . I was so incurious that I would have liked to have fallen asleep on the shores of England and opened my eyes, if it were possible, only on the other side of the Silesian frontier . . . I let myself be carried through Germany as if it were pure space, without sights, without sounds. ( Conrad 1949c: 146–7, 163–4, my emphasis)

Like the “Heart of Africa” of imperialist ambition, Germany is rendered as a blank space on the map. In a patent transcription of an imperialist dialectic, the geographically nameless becomes inconsequential in itself, and by inference inferior. Moreover, by being effaced from the map Germany is symbolically made to share Poland’s unhappy fate. Russia, on the other hand, is depicted as a metaphysical blankness, its vast size and power negated in strict proportion with the tsardom’s negations of basic liberties and freedoms for its subjects and subject peoples.53 If Germany and Russia are represented, by double inversion, as “non-places” (at least imaginatively) by an exiled writer hailing from a “non-country” situated between them, his inscription of Poland and of Kraków in particular belongs to an atemporal zone of heterotopic discourse. Conrad’s return to the city of his boyhood during the summer of 1914 is described in the essay “Poland revisited” as an operation in “retracing of footsteps in the road of life” (1949c: 163). He writes in Notes on Life and Letters that whereas for his son Borys the trip to Kraków was merely an “interesting adventure,” part of an upper-class European education, for him it embodied an altogether different type of encounter. It came to represent a kind of pilgrimage to the spaces of an old identity long superseded, to an imaginative space in which time and space, freed from external referents, would take on autonomous, highly suggestive qualities, and the present and the past could freely commingle. This, Conrad’s final reunion with Kraków, transpires on a silent night, “bright with moonlight,” and though he writes that the voyage to 53 Indeed, in “Autocracy and war” Conrad goes so far as to theorize that Russia is a “country held by an evil spell,” and that its government’s “worst crime against humanity [is] the ruthless destruction of innumerable minds” (1949b: 102–5).

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Poland gave him a glimpse of his own “personality returning from another world, to revisit the glimpses of old moons” (1949c: 164), the total effect is uncanny: “I felt so much like a ghost that the discovery that I could remember such material things as the right turn to take and the general direction of the street gave me a moment of wistful surprise” (1949c: 164). Furthermore, although he admits that he has changed in ways both fundamental and obvious, he makes a return to an essentially unchanged city. Kraków is still synchronous with the chronotopes and topographies of memory, as though “exterior” chronological time in the old royal capital had been suspended during Conrad’s absence. During this return trip to Poland and to Polish language (in his family, English was the lingua franca), Kraków indeed “hovers” within Conrad’s own interior tropological time and space: The Square, immense in its solitude, was full to the brim of moonlight . . . I noticed with infinite satisfaction that the unnecessary trees the Municipality insisted upon sticking between the stones had been steadily refusing to grow. They were not a bit bigger than the poor victims I could remember. Also, the paving operations seemed to be exactly at the same point at which I left them forty years before. (Conrad 1949c: 165, my emphasis).

The reference to “solitude” in the depiction of the market square is interesting phraseology to say the least. Whose solitude can this refer to if not Conrad’s own? In its subjugation of the objective “contemporary” city of 1914 to the memory/ ideal of the subjective/interior city, the passage is a remarkable piece of mnemotechnics. On one level Conrad is giving full vent to nostalgia, which as Proust would remind us, represents the after-effects of not so much spatial as temporal displacement. On another level, considering the tribulations of Polish cultural history and the regime of Russification and Prussification during the Partitions in particular, to refer to the trees as “poor victims” is an especially cathected turn of metaphor. No doubt these were not the same trees that Conrad remembers from his childhood, 40 years earlier. But that mere fact is almost immaterial; they are far more noteworthy as signs of childhood and errance. What seems to really count here is their perennial metonymic status as innocents objected to someone’s coercive will (enchainment, almost pilloried between stones, is an image of imprisonment par excellence), as well as their tangible resistance to this force. However, that the objective passage of time as well as the fact that Conrad is not guided solely by nostalgia or simply an ideological agenda,54 is signaled by 54 The essay “Poland revisited” dates from 1915 when Europe was at war and the fate of Polish independence far from determined.

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the change of personages and their configurations. Conrad is describing himself, perhaps with a twinge of irony, as a foreigner, as one who is “holding forth in a strange language to a youth on whose arm he leaned” (1949c: 165). Presumably, this is precisely how Conrad would have appeared to the policeman patrolling the square. Taking his eldest son Borys on an evening walk through Kraków’s Starówka (Old Town), in effect the zone of Conrad’s father, the fatherland (given that Apollo Korzeniowski was a prominent citizen of the city after his much-publicized return from Siberian exile), Conrad not only demarcates the imaginative space of his father, and of their perambulations of old, but also symbolically reclaims the fatherland as his own. He is gesturing both to a time long gone when such perambulations with his father were possible, and to his present hybridity as a dual subject. He thus metonymically completes the cycle of personal and paternal peregrinations — a history, as we know well, whose Polish chapter ended in tragedy, with Apollo’s (and Ewa’s) premature death. At another point during their perambulations along empty streets of the Old Town, Conrad returns in his thoughts to his childhood: “there issued out of my aroused memory, a small boy of eleven, wending his way, not very fast, to a preparatory school for day-pupils on the second floor of the third house down from the Florian Gate . . . I was rather indifferent to school troubles. I had a private gnawing worm of my own. This was the time of my father’s last illness” (1949c: 167). The account of Conrad’s promenade with Borys through the streets of old Kraków is next juxtaposed with the memory of Apollo Korzeniowski’s funeral procession; that was Conrad’s final walk, as it were, with his father: In the moonlight-flooded silence of the old town of glorious tombs and tragic memories I could see again the small boy of that day following a hearse; a space kept clear in which I walked alone, conscious of an enormous following . . . the rows of bared heads on the pavements with fixed, serious eyes . . . Half the population had turned out on that fine May afternoon. (Conrad 1949c: 169)

The funeral procession, then, would have wound its way along the streets of the Old Town (roughly) from the south to the north, passing through the town square in front of St Mary’s Church, then moving toward the Florian Gate (thus along Floriańska Street), and finally out of the Old Town.55 The stroll with Borys takes 55 Conrad 1949c: 169. The procession’s exact route has been reconstructed by Najder in his biography of Conrad. Najder also points out that on that first nocturnal walk through Kraków with his son, Conrad was accompanied by Józef Hieronim Retinger and his wife Otylia (see Najder 1983: 397–400; cf. Tarnawski 1984: 123–4).

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them along a narrow Old Town street and onto “the great Market Square . . . the centre of its affairs” (Conrad 1949c: 165). Emerging onto the square Conrad and Borys distinguish “the unequal massive towers of St Mary’s Church” on the right, and the “Florian Gate, thick and squat” off in the distance (Conrad 1949c: 166). This would suggest that they entered the square from the south side (the church site on the square is oriented to the east; this is why it stands at a distinct angle to the adjacent townhouses), and that on the walk they may very well have been following the path of the Korzeniowski funeral cortège.56 The nuances of Conrad’s account of the evening promenade tend to conceal the enormity of personal (and symbolic) signification invested in its retelling. The description both defuses and condenses to the level of anecdote the full emotional charge of what was, in fact, a triumphant return of the former victim and orphan, now unquestionably a survivor and paterfamilias with a legacy of his own in the making. To anticipate somewhat the spatial and imaginary demarcations established in a strict dialectic in TransAtlantyk, the fatherland, both in the sense of the native land and specifically as his father’s space, and the “sonland,” the exilic space of potential new identities, are here reconciled through the discreet logic of the return. Though Notes on Life and Letters focus only on that last momentous voyage to Poland at the outbreak of the First World War (which in turn forced an early and difficult return to England) Conrad in fact traveled to Poland on three occasions. The first “homecoming” took place in 1890, toward the end of his career with the merchant marine, and its chief purpose was evidently to comfort the ailing Bobrowski at his country estate,57 before setting out on what would turn out to be a life-altering journey to the Belgian Congo. From their correspondence we learn that the visit was adjourned on several occasions due to Conrad’s obligations with his employers, including his examination for the certificate of “Competency as Master” and his first command, in 1888–89, as captain of the barque Otago, which voyaged from Bangkok to Melbourne via Singapore.58 Conrad’s naturalization as British subject in 1886 further delayed things.59 Perhaps because of the interruptions, the planning of the homecoming apparently caused both Bobrowski and 56 Conrad 1949c: 166–7. The textual account leaves the reader on the main square; it is impossible to tell where the Conrads may have been at the moment when Joseph says, “Let’s go back to the hotel, my boy . . . It’s getting late” (Conrad 1949c: 170). Conrad’s “literary” departures from the walk’s established itinerary are plotted in Najder 1983: esp. 398–9, 582. 57 See Fletcher 1999: 52; cf. Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 110–17. 58 The exact itinerary is traced by Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 104–13, and more extensively in Sherry 1971 and Fletcher 1999. 59 On the other hand, his new status also made it safer to travel to Russian Poland, as Conrad was no longer a Russian subject and was able to travel on a British passport (see JeanAubry vol. 1: 88–9).

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Conrad much anxiety.60 To expedite matters, Conrad resigned his command and eventually returned to London from whence he traveled to Bobrowski’s estate, Kazimierówka. Arriving in February 1890, he was to remain in Poland for about two months.61 The second voyage ensued in the summer of 1893, and again Conrad spent time at Kazimierówka on his way home from a voyage to Australia. Apparently, he had with him a part of the manuscript of Almayer’s Folly; it is not known whether he showed it to Bobrowski.62 The third and final, month-long excursion to Kraków, Zakopane, and Warsaw in 1914, that is at a point when Conrad was already an internationally known and translated writer, and immediately after the publication of Chance which would make him a popular one, was undertaken en famille. It can be considered as something of a tribute to his hybridized homo duplex persona, with Conrad revisiting Poland and Polish problematics as a British novelist, and receiving an overwhelmingly positive welcome.63 In A Personal Record, as in the other works explicitly devoted to Poland, the “land surveys” Conrad conducts are also maps of textual and linguistic zones; as such they point to the spaces of heterotopia. More than autobiographical exercises, these writings, A Personal Record in particular, embody a turn toward language; in part they are an assessment of narrative spaces available to Conrad the exile making a conceptual return to his now estranged land and the former selves that once inhabited it. Yet it is more than that, of course. A Personal Record also charts the genesis and the writing of Conrad’s literary debut, Almayer’s Folly, and articulates his artistic credo (writing as both an esthetic and pedagogical act) with philosophical precision (Tarnawski 1984: 109). A Personal Record also seeks to address the subject of Conrad’s “foreignness” and present, again in a tactical exposition, a record of his “anomalous origins and experiences” to his British literary audience (Najder 1983: 341). These textual prerogatives correspond to an important development in terms of identity creation. It could be argued that in the British merchant marine Conrad was one foreigner among many; the knowledge of

60 Bobrowski went straight to the heart of the matter, rebuking his nephew for his abrupt changes of plans: “you do not tell me how long you think you are going to remain in Australia. You know that I do not wish to influence you, but for an old man who has not long to live, time is a matter of some interest, and also to know that he may possibly see again those who are dear to him” (Letter of September 24, 1888 [Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 113]). 61 See Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 123. Unfortunately, very little is known of his activities during this interval (since the early stages of biography of Conrad are often reconstructed or substantiated from the contemporaneous correspondence, especially Bobrowski’s to Conrad, and obviously they had no need for them to write to each other when Conrad was in Kazimierówka). 62 See Fletcher 1999: 66. 63 On the nature of the welcome and Conrad’s reunions with his old friends and new literary contacts, see Fletcher 1999: 101–4; Najder 1983: 400–5.

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the language, in fact, presented a much greater problem to assimilation than one’s ethnic background, since the marine willingly recruited British colonial subjects from all corners of the empire. In A Personal Record, Conrad for the first time overtly serves public notice of his otherness as a literary figure. It was perhaps a case of literature catching up with life. As has been noted, in addition to his persistently strong accent whenever he spoke English, Conrad was broadly “Slavonic” in appearance and generally emanated a nimbus of foreignness to his friends and acquaintances (including his literary agents and even close friends such as Ford, Edward Garnett, J. B. Pinker and John Galsworthy) and others who met him. And to the extent that Conrad was an other, linguistically speaking, his otherness was amplified aurally (his own wife, for instance, bemoaned the fact that whenever he fell ill, Conrad reverted to Polish and would thus in a sense become a stranger to her [Najder, ed. 1964: 29]). To the reading public, select though it was initially, the details of Conrad’s past and the specific fact of his strong accent in spoken English would of course have remained for the most part unknown, even though it was well established that he had come from a Polish province of Russia and had been a sailor before becoming a novelist. In A Personal Record Conrad embarks on setting the record of the public performative self straight, by tying his Polish past to his British persona in a sustained manner — much as he had done for his sailing career in the companion volume The Mirror of the Sea. However, in the “Author’s note” Conrad shifts the emphasis by making his decision to come to England and to write in English a question of “adoption” by “the genius of the language,” so that “all [he] can claim . . . is the right to be believed that . . . if he had not written in English he would not have written at all” (Conrad 1949a: v–vi). As we can now appreciate, the story was far more complex: the teleological spin is clearly a form of narrative convenience. Finally, as Knapp Hay suggests, there was also a matter of family obligations to resolve. The work, and in particular its introduction, “A familiar preface,” was addressed to his two sons who grew up not speaking Polish and for whom Poland, especially Conrad’s “personal” Poland, represented a blank space on the map, at least until the 1914 voyage en famille.64 Of course, Polishness must have meant different things to different people — or different readers, for that matter. No doubt, Najder is correct when he observes that “readers of Conrad find it difficult to understand and interpret him solely with the English cultural context; it is commonly felt that some additional clues are necessary” (Najder, ed. 1964: 28). However, the identity negotiations undertaken in A Personal Record 64 See Knapp Hay 1993: 36. Conrad’s memoir, she argues, thus served to familiarize his public in Britain with his Polishness, and also to flesh out this concept to those close to him.

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give only a partial solution. Conrad’s use of distancing devices, among them the “debonair note of the reminiscences” and the “screen of discreet self-irony” that appears whenever he mentions intimate or emotional subjects, in addition to more overt self-mythologizing tactics such as sentimentalism and hyperbole, make it generally impossible for even the most devoted biographers like Najder to take all his posturings “at face value either artistically or psychologically” (Najder 1983: 342). A major destabilizing factor for Conrad’s identity inscription and maintenance in this work, in my view, is its backdrop of imperial presences. Clearly, the discourse of empire has to be placed in a context (and a hierarchy) before Conrad the ex-colonial Russian subject could take his place as an non-compromised subject in, and of, the British Empire. In A Personal Record the opposition between these two powers is mediated through maneuvers in estrangement. Russian imperial presence, which in effect forms the background of Conrad’s exile, is pilloried as an inhuman regime of brutality and sheer incomprehensibility, very much as it had been in the earlier “Autocracy and war.” At the same time his sympathetic association with the Polish nobility, which to him was relatively similar to Britain’s — that is, conservative yet humanist in principle, sure of its values and thus unlikely to be shaken or distorted by revolution — announces his personal alliance with the West and lays out its parameters. The process is perhaps best illustrated in A Personal Record by a family anecdote in which Conrad tells of his grand uncle Nicholas B.65 and his peregrinations in imperial Russia during the Napoleonic retreat of the winter of 1812. We are told that one day, on the brink of starvation, this distinguished officer and his two compatriots were forced to kill and consume a large dog they had found in the frozen hinterland “on the outskirts of a village” (Conrad 1949a: 33). The incident launches Conrad on a meditation on the essential nobility of Polish officers as opposed, one imagines, to Russian or Cossack soldiers, who in similar circumstances may have eaten the poor beast with no mental anguish. Nicholas, on the other hand, “had eaten him [the dog] on active service . . . and, in a manner, for the sake of his country” (Conrad 1949a: 34). In fact this passage labors hard to imbue the whole episode with a mythopoeic, patriotic aura. Nicholas, Conrad writes, “had eaten to appease his hunger, no doubt, but also for the sake of an unappeasable and patriotic desire, in the glow of a great faith that lives still, and in the pursuit of a great illusion kindled like a false beacon . . . Looked at in that light it appears a sweet and decorous meal” (Conrad 1949a: 35). Yet perhaps because the Napoleonic adventure ended in 65 Mikołaj Bobrowski (1792–1864) was brother of Conrad’s maternal grandfather. He served as aide-de-camp to one of Napoleon commanders and fought in the Russian campaign of 1812 (see Conrad 1949a: 322 n).

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ultimate defeat and did not bring about Polish independence, as had been hoped, Conrad ends on a mordant note that broadcasts his growing reluctance to ascribe any altruistic motivations to the West; he concludes that it has been Poland’s fate to “starve for upwards of a hundred years on a diet of false hopes and — well — dog” (Conrad 1949a: 46). This textual instance of ambivalence to the West is not incidental. The gnawing suspicion that “the West” did not necessarily and in all ways see itself as a great beacon of light for oppressed peoples yearning for emancipation, but that instead operated according to its own interests more often than not dictated by the desire for capital, territorial, and/or political expansion,66 is sustained here via the “emotional catharsis” of writing about the Polish national predicament.67 The numerous passages in which Conrad configures himself as a liminal subject between cultural spaces suggest that his ambivalence to empire (which can be seen as a figure in other texts dating from the major phase) operates in ways both predictable and unexpected. What we can be more certain of are the sources of the tension. Given his exilic background and vicissitudes one will not be much surprised by Conrad’s suspicion of dominant discourses and his ironic treatment of politics more generally. On the other hand, when empire becomes coupled with the topos of imaginary/narrative returns to principal contested lieux de mémoire that hold a special emotional valence, such as the old royal capital or the Polish uplands, the text begins to speak from a distinct anti-imperial perspective. We could say that Conrad’s final recuperation of the British Empire as a space both different and better than the others, is dependent on his acceptance and valorization of his own difference within it. This, in turn, makes his broadly conservative politics a far less odd thing to behold; ultimately, the Conradian homo politicus reflects the twin logics (difference/community) guiding his negotiations of identity and place. As a particular “realm of memory,” Conrad’s home in Warsaw would of course for always remain tinged with a mark of tragedy. Warsaw is where his father was arrested for anti-Russian agitation, and it was from Warsaw that the Korzeniowskis were sent into exile. As for Kraków, as we saw the old royal capital served as the locus of family tragedy and lonely adolescence: it was the city of orphanage, and only in 1914, during that visit with his own son, did it become a site of carefully orchestrated reterritorialization. But the Polish countryside, usually associated with an impoverished but dignified existence typical of the once quasi-imperial 66 The initial kernels of this attitude were, of course, found in works like Heart of Darkness and Nostromo (cf. Knapp Hay 1993: 27–33, especially her intertextual reading of Conrad’s liminal self-positioning in “Autocracy and war”). 67 See Tarnawski 1984: 105–7.

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szlachta, remained a positively charged locus, even if there too brushes with the forces and whims of empire were inevitable. The predicament is illuminated in Bobrowski’s correspondence with his nephew (Bobrowski 1979), peppered as it is with complaints about the obduracy of the gubernatorial administration. Nonetheless, the conceptual coupling of “land” with core existential values holds for the various leased properties in Podolia where the Korzeniowskis lived when first married, as it does for the refuge of Bobrowski’s estate where Conrad spent his Polish summers and where he returned on two of his three trips from abroad. In contrast with the nearly Arcadian purity of the countryside, it is the city that emerges as a site of foment in Conradian narratives, for example in The Secret Agent, where London is configured as a hotbed of anarchy, or in Nostromo or Under Western Eyes, where Sulaco and Geneva/St Petersburg are the respective epicenters of political volatility and moral degeneracy. Gombrowicz and the “Aunties” Bucolic country estates of various kinds also figure in Gombrowicz’s writing, both the prose and dramatic works such as Ferdydurke, Pornografia, Trans-Atlantyk, ślub, and to an extent even Cosmos and the memoirs (particularly Polish Memories and A Kind of Testament). However, compared to Conrad’s memories of the childhood/province, which operate on the psychological register and involve the projection of his subsequent otherness and nostalgia, Gombrowicz’s memory work principally invokes the symbolic zone, and emphasizes problems of form, class, and nation, as well as deviation from these communal markers.68 Perhaps because he is not chiefly interested in establishing a psychological profile of an emigrant, Gombrowicz sounds a stern warning to anyone who would (over)read his texts psychoanalytically or as outright chronicles of a sentimental education (Gombrowicz 2000a: 223–4). On the other hand, his inscriptions of childhood experience attest to the fact that the dialectic of orthodoxy–alterity has here, as elsewhere in his writing, been retrospectively applied to the Polish years; in one sense, Gombrowicz’s formal imaginary is analogous to the empire–colonial binary witnessed in Conrad. In Gombrowicz’s accounts of his early years this dialectic is implanted in his anecdotes about such matters as the formality of his upbringing, the mannerisms of his social class, or the unnaturalness of his contacts with the outside world (de Roux, ed. 1969: 7–20). In A Kind of Testament where he depicts his childhood and domestic situation, the background of empire in terms of his class allegiance and more generally the correlations between class and (the possibility of) autonomous subjectivity provide an initial site of identity construction 68 See e.g. Gombrowicz 1990: 21–5, 33–6.

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and contestation. Note, for example, that the ancestral Gombrowicz estate in the Lithuanian province was confiscated in the wake of the uprising of 1863, as a result of which the family were forced by the tsarist authorities to relocate to a series of less and less stately properties, ending up at Małoszyce, a modest house in the Sandomierz province, not far from Kraków, and “close to a main crossroad” (de Roux, ed. 1969: 26). Yet rather than view this move as an instance of social degeneration, Gombrowicz immediately connects the anecdotal with an intimate realm of the writerly imagination, a relation which then foregrounds a range of formal concerns stimulated by close contact with figures at both ends of the hierarchy of social subjectivity, from the aristocrat to the peasant. Reportedly, despite the relative privations of the humble dwelling, life in Małoszyce contained some bona fide compensations. For the most part the life of the ziemiaństwo (landowners), even those less well-off, was isolated, stifling, and formally artificial. Especially when contrasted with the professional and educated middle classes, whose “daily work brought them in confrontation with everyday realities” (Gombrowicz 1990: 24), Gombrowicz’s own “small szlachta” class and the Polish upper strata in general, he writes, had no grounding in reality. And if they were indeed “untested by life” — as he claims — this is in large part due to the lack of any “significant contact” with it (1990: 24). In the Polish provinces, as Gombrowicz knew them, class echelons were clearly demarcated: the working classes worked and served, according to their station in life and their ability; the upper classes, while nominally free, were far from liberated because of a formal imprisonment in a set of social straightjacket that made them seem “grotesque” and “idiotic” in the eyes of the “people” (Gombrowicz 1990: 25). For Gombrowicz the First World War, apart from shaking him out of childhood self-absorption and his theretofore placid life with the various sickly “aunties” who doted on him, irreversibly altered the dynamics of these relations. This is why, when paradoxically reproduced in Ferdydurke, both the caricature “aunties” and the grotesque social relationships between the państwo (landowning classes) and the chamstwo (peasants), emerge as subversive: by 1937 their natural context no longer existed in anything approaching a pure form. Nor was a return to any such rustic Arcadia socially feasible, in light of the rapid urbanization and associated processes of migration seen during decades of the interwar republic (dwudziestolecie).69 It was at Małoszyce, moreover, that Gombrowicz caught glimpses of imperial Russian, German, and Austrian troop movements on route to various battlefields 69 See F 222–5; for the textual paradigm shift of the przechwycenie (kidnapping) by the aunties, see 229–37, starting with the (contextually) stunning line, “Józio! A co ty tu robisz, malcze?” (Joey! And what are you doing here, my boy?); see also Jarzębski 2000.

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of the First World War. This initial contact seemingly established a primordial connection with the male homosocial world that would recur, with minor variations, in all his works: The odor of brutality rose around us, invaded, excited us all — though by virtue of my class I was protected from any direct contact with the war effort. Nonetheless, the front passed our way four times, the far-off rumble of artillery at times growing louder; conflagrations, attacking battalions, battalions retreating, corpses lying there by the pond — and we local boys collected the spent shells, old bayonets, bits and pieces of war material . . . My sense of eroticism, fed by war, by stories of rape, by the smell of soldierly sweat, by the memory of the songs they sang, made me turn away from my salon upbringing . . . away from the aristocrat in me and towards the slave, toward bodies and toil. (de Roux, ed. 1969: 12–13, my emphasis)

The passage is remarkable not only for its evocation of details of military esthetics, apparently imbibed with all the senses, but also because of the fact that the major questions animating Gombrowicz’s writing are all present and accounted for, albeit some in embryonic form. One notes also his interest in class and status which borders on the obsessive, his emergent homoerotic poetics, the fascination with the corporeal generally, and last but not least, a formal dialectics of the speaking subject as a figure trapped within form. Here, as Gombrowicz tells it, the formal limits of identity remain tightly class-bound, directly reflecting some of the main intersubjective configurations found in Ferdydurke, for example the opposition between the państwo and the służba (domestic servants) in chapters 8 and 14 (F esp. 236–86). Later on, evidently inflected by the experience of exile and the issue of ownership of language, the Gombrowiczian poetics of identity creation begins to shift to a more properly relational, proto-structuralist level. Thus for example in Trans-Atlantyk the primary opposition of identity is set up between the language and culture of the native inhabitant and that of the deterritorialized foreigner. In Cosmos the games of identity formation and maintenance are predominantly linguistic: the self is wrapped up in a binary of the master of discourse/narrative and the interlocutor who sometimes is able to resist the charge with his own subjectivity/version as a counter, but sometimes is co-opted to accept the speaking subject’s telling of the events, by extension conceding that subject’s linguistic subjectivity as dominant and sovereign. It was, however, in Warsaw, where the family lived during the school year so that Gombrowicz could attend an elite lyceum, that one of the main foundational identity dramas took place. The background was the 1920 Bolshevik invasion of Poland, which Gombrowicz mentions only in passing in Polish Memories, 130

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perhaps because the topic would have been censored anyway should the book or the individual sketches composing it ever reach communist Poland. The personal pressure of this decisive confrontation between a classist instrument of expansion/domination (Bolshevism) and a collective “national” resistance to it (Polish nationalism) proved transformational. Uncharacteristically, though perhaps in a way that was self-consistent with his dialectical imaginary and possibly also linked to the traumatic excitement of wartime memories, Gombrowicz is quite vague about his memories and reactions of the time (this moment of “forgetting” is uncharacteristic also because in his other writings Gombrowicz claims that his recollection of the even the most minor incidents from his childhood is nothing if not lucid). He does make the admission that the prevailing sentiment during the fateful summer of 1920 — though possibly only within his own social sphere — was a “fear of revolution” (Gombrowicz 1990: 31). The statement, however, is paradoxical not only because Gombrowicz reports that while growing up he was drawn to the roughness and authenticity of the peasant and the “lower orders,” but also because he believed that the existing mannerist social order in Poland stunted any authentic expression, and thus needed to be dismantled anyway. The events of that “dramatic summer” (Gombrowicz 1990: 30), specifically “the heated defense of Warsaw, and Piłsudski’s victorious counteroffensive” (1990: 33), forced Gombrowicz vicariously to seek a way out of the confrontation of great narratives of nation and class playing out before his very eyes. The contrarian discourse of maverick individualism offered just such a means of escape. The phenomenon of war generally and the conflict of 1920 specifically is what made him aware of “the fundamental meaning of the I” and of the value of the individual (wagę jednostki), which in his view was traditionally discounted in Poland, especially when contrasted with the rise of the poetics of individual subjectivity — one of the chief projects of the Enlightenment — in Western Europe (Gombrowicz 1990: 32–3). Yet while the insistence on autonomy is internally consistent with the overall Gombrowiczian poetics, his statements in Polish Memories are problematic. Indeed Gombrowicz appears to have conflated literature with politics: whereas many Western European novelists and dramatists of the nineteenth century focused on the fates of individuals freed from obligations to the nation to an extent generally unseen in Polish literature of the time, social phenomena such as forced enlistment in the national army of “young inexperienced men” (Gombrowicz 1990: 32) in times of war were a reality throughout Europe, not just in Poland. Likewise near-universal, though with slight regional variations in discourse, was the notion of patriotic sacrifice to the nation. In the end, however, Gombrowicz’s argument, once stripped of hyperbole, is this: (a) he was a priori unable and 131

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unwilling to consider the “ultimate sacrifice” of his life for the nation and (b) his retelling of his reactions to the wars waged during his youth is realized first and foremost through the prism of an individual sensibility, as far abstracted from the mythopoeic collective/national experience of those events as feasible. Thus, ostentatiously sublimating an entire collective experience onto the personal register, Gombrowicz is ultimately only being self-consistent when he concludes with some pomp that the year of Polish “collective triumph,” 1920, “formed me into what I have remained to this day — an individual” (Gombrowicz 1990: 33). Toward the Heart of the Modern Self The contrast of Gombrowicz’s reactions to the cultural dialectics of the subject with Conrad’s is instructive. Even though Conrad sought to maintain a greater “objectivizing” personal distance from it in such writings as A Personal Record, the nexus of empire/Russia as one antipode of his political experience represented much more than just a childhood memory. Russia, specifically, cast a lengthy shadow as a memento of his parents’ untimely deaths. Many commentators, including the psychoanalyst Gustav Morf in the 1940s (1976: 10–50) and, more recently and perhaps with a greater degree of nuance, such critics as Zdzisław Najder, Norman Sherry, Daniel Schwarz and Ian Watt, have suggested that Conrad did not fully come to terms with this troubled cultural inheritance. For Conrad “empire” signified Russia in its primordial connotation as a force of absolutism — or the Ceasarism depicted in Nostromo70 — prepared to destroy everything standing in the way of its grab for power. It is characteristic that this primary function was not assigned to the British Empire which at the time was the world’s pre-eminent, or even to the Belgian Empire (the “civilizing” atrocities he had witnessed in the Congo had been committed in its name). Rather, in Conrad’s political essays and also in Under Western Eyes, it is specifically Russian history and its affairs of state, which come automatically linked with the imperial épistémè and with imperial techniques of power. The Société Anonyme pour le Commerce du Haut-Congo, for its part, represents civilized humanity impulsively denying its heritage and its (civilizing) mission — or alternatively submitting to the primal urge for naked conquest when facing a weaker or somehow vulnerable other. Indeed, empire for Conrad is a calculated political expression of a willto-power on a massive scale; on another level empire represents a linguistic structure in which power denotes control over representation. To remain within the Foucauldian conception of the power–knowledge–language nexus, wherein 70 See e.g. Conrad 1976: 334–6.

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authority over naming things is legislated from within a theoretical “excess” of potential signifiers over signifieds that only specialized power and a “specialist” gaze can produce,71 for Conrad the sign for imperial oppression corresponded in its most personal dimension to the Russian Partitions of Poland. In particular, Conrad objected to the distortions of Polish history made by tsarist Russia to suit its own propagandist agendas, wherein ostensible heroes of the struggle for independence including, of course, his parents, were publicly paraded and exiled to Siberia as “traitors.” This especially manifest in the instance of the failed Polish Uprising of 1863, as its aftermath saw the Korzeniowski family sharing the exiles’ fate, and the question one might wish to ask is “How does a child square the idea of treason with his loving parents?” This of course remains in the realm of speculation, but Conrad was certainly old enough by the time of his family’s exile to realize that they were being punished by foreign-speaking strangers (Conrad himself spoke very little Russian, perhaps as a matter of principle), and were sent far away to live among them in abjection, as pariahs. The dedication to a photograph which little Conrad sent to his grandmother in 1863 — it constitutes the earliest known example of his writing) on which are inscribed the words: “To my dear Granny who helped me send pastries to my poor Daddy in prison — grandson, Pole–Catholic and szlachcic, Konrad,”72 renders it clear that at the tender age of five Conrad’s core identity was already politicized. It is largely beside the point to ask whether the dedication was dictated by his mother or someone else, or whether it sprang from Konradek’s — as he was then called — own imagination and emotions.73 The more crucial issue, as the adult Conrad remarked in the “Author’s note” to A Personal Record, is the fact that even his sympathizers in Britain referred to him “a son of a Revolutionist.” Conrad saw this “distortion” of history as above all a linguistic consequence of imperial Russia’s influence to which the well-wishers had fallen victim, since for Poles the uprisings of 1831 and 1863 were not revolutions at all but rather “revolts against foreign domination” (Conrad 1949a: vii). They were, properly speaking, rebellions only as far as the occupiers were concerned (Conrad 1949a: viii). Conrad’s subsequent life writings contain numerous further traces of the distancing identity mechanisms, their textual negotiations and their effects of his politics of the self. As Eloise Knapp Hay observed in a recent essay, the task of “reconstructing” and re-contextualizing the Western/British and Eastern/Polish constituents in his writing and his cultural tenets and prejudices is no easy one because much of the evidence is contradictory, and the author’s publicly stated 71 See Foucault 1973: xii–xvii, 109–14. 72 See Najder 1983: plates following 266 and 645 n. 73 Konradek is a diminutive for Konrad, and could be rendered as “Little Conrad.”

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positions protean (Knapp Hay 1993: 21–5). Nonetheless, under the influence of Najder’s seminal biographical study Knapp Hay has isolated some of the key components and major changes in worldview within a useful conceptual and chronological taxonomy. The crucial moments of transformation, for Knapp Hay, are the years 1900, 1914, and 1919. The corresponding focal points for Conrad’s engagement are, respectively, the need to respond to Orzeszkowa’s assault on the rationale for his departure from Poland, the Korzeniowski family visit to Kraków and subsequent escape from Poland as the First World War erupted and the regaining of Polish independence in the wake of Versailles. We may, following Tarnawski’s suggestion, add the years 1908–10 which frame the writing of A Personal Record, a period during which Conrad would have needed to work out some kind of conceptual schema for his multiple life. Tarnawski, for his part, has no doubts as to what the main struggles in Conrad’s mind must have been — without, however, actually substantiating his impressions: Why did he decide, halfway through his literary career . . . to turn to autobiography and write his reminiscences? There must have been some very good reason for his doing so . . . He had made an assured position for himself in the world of English letters, and knew that his future lay in England . . . The time had come for him to state his relationship with Poland clearly and unambiguously. 1908–9 were not like the period of Lord Jim — that time of . . . endeavour to establish his own truth — but were rather a period of defensive crystallization. His sense of having made the right decision in choosing England was strengthened by his increasing success . . . It was now the world’s judgment of him that he wanted to challenge . . . The moment had at last come for him to give a public and authoritative version of the whole affair. (Tarnawski 1984: 104–6)

This list of public and private goals, not unlike Gombrowicz’s taxonomy of his literary objectives in A Kind of Testament, appears exceedingly reasonable and comforting, imparting a sense of an organic wholeness of one’s authorial identity and literary trajectory. Unfortunately, as with Gombrowicz, any such unity is at odds with Conrad’s well-documented torments with his hybrid homo duplex persona, to which Tarnawski, to his credit, does in fact allude. However, in a rhetorical flourish Tarnawski relegates the complexities of autobiographical writing, the mediated inscription of identity in such writing and the problem of writing about intimate details (even if evasively) in one’s third language, as inconsequential. Yet, in autobiographical and quasi-autobiographical writings, as in all narratives, the relation between life and text is, as Peter Bürger suggests, always mediated. In all cases a writer needs to develop a program of strategic 134

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negotiation in order to channel the first into the second.74 As I argued earlier, both identity and narrative are constructions, not givens; they both operate by a principle of selection and metonymy (that is, substitution). In sum, the relations between life and text cannot be so easily or comfortably established; moreover, they are never as unbroken or easily accounted for as romanticizing biographers like to pretend they are. However, let us restrict ourselves to the more ciphered and less transparent writings, which are devoted explicitly to the elaboration of strategic authorial figures rather than to direct confessions of intentionality. First of all, A Personal Record cannot be regarded as a work of autobiography, except on a very superficial level, as an oblique attempt. It rather constitutes something of a conscious, thus premeditated, narratological working through of a public persona for the British stage, with the elaboration of a poetics of exile as a significant (for my purposes the most significant) side effect. The relationship with Poland is portrayed in a fashion that is nothing if not ambivalent and open-ended, particularly considering that a number of episodes and tales dealing with Poland are near-calques of passages from uncle Bobrowski’s Memoirs.75 In other words, we must begin asking ourselves who in A Personal Record is authorizing what and why? The version of “the whole affair” — Tarnawski above is presumably referring to emigration to England and the putative “abandonment” of Poland — as described in the work was a “public” one to be sure, but whatever authority the text may have possessed in terms of legitimization and reification of a given worldview was almost entirely a function of its genre. That is to say, insofar as it is (at most) a quasi-autobiography, the work presents a calculated textual reality and for that it needs to linguistically fabricate and encode a specific reality-construct. The authority of language as the medium of representation is thus at the root of the problem, and when Tarnawski repeats Novalis’ axiom of intersubjectivity that Conrad cited as the epigraph to A Personal Record — “It is certain my conviction gains infinitely the moment another soul will believe in it” — we might wish to ask ourselves whether the most important other whom Conrad wished to convince was not (the other within) himself. Najder (1964: 27) remarks that, having dealt with the shaming of the Orzeszkowa incident, Conrad conceptually returned to Poland to dwell on it at length only when the possibility to visit it surfaced, that is, in 1914. Knapp Hay likewise finds the year 1914 notable, but for her its seminal role has to do with Conrad’s marked shift of emphasis toward Poland. Knapp Hay’s findings situate 74 See De Man 1979: 919–23. On the nature of the filiation between life and autobiographical text, and for some extensive theorizations of the nature of the “mediation,” see e.g. Eakin 1985; Jay1984; Olney, ed. 1980. 75 See Najder 1983: 342–3.

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Conrad as a writing subject, much as Najder did, vacillating between empires; however, in addition to positing the narrative’s temporal and geographic liminality, she also locates it psychically between memories of German and Russian imperial juggernauts and the promise of a futurity76 in a no less imperial Britain: The “high ground” from which Conrad writes [e.g. in Heart of Darkness and Under Western Eyes] . . . provides a vantage point from which to slip in and out of the minds of his English narrators. This ground lies squarely between East and West as Conrad describes them, very much where Conrad’s father had located Poland . . . “between Muscovy and Europe” . . . The ground is both Slavic and Polish. (Knapp Hay 1993: 32–3, emphasis in the original)

What is the precise role of the British Empire and imperialism within this model of conceptualizing cultural liminality? For Knapp Hay, Conrad’s identity politics around 1900 epitomize the ambivalent homo duplex: he appears uncertain of belonging in either cultural sphere and very possibly still smarts from Orzeszkowa’s charge of artistic treason. Through the development of Marlow, his Englished surrogate of this period, Conrad is at last able to differentiate British advanced colonialism from that of more rapacious imperial powers. This bifurcation constitutes the crucial first step in Conrad’s road to acceptance of his adoptive land on its own terms. But one must also be receptive to the screening implicit in such a displacement: though critical of the excesses of civilization, Marlow as a dyed-in-the-wool British subject simultaneously serves as a mouthpiece for the articulation of the social doxa. We thus arrive at a situation in which the logic of Marlow’s defense of Britain’s share of the “conquest of the earth” in Heart of Darkness — which Knapp Hay describes as “obscure” (1993: 32) in the context of England’s leading role in the scramble for Africa — can be both endorsed and criticized, depending on which of the functions of Marlowas-literary-device we focus. Indisputably, for Conrad, a number of the praxes of British imperialism might have echoed the three partitions of Poland and the attendant redrawing of the maps of central Europe. But Marlow, the agency that speaks77 in Heart of Darkness, would be unlikely to have ever entertained any such notions or drawn such comparisons, given both his British background 76 Note that the idea that Poland might sometime soon regain its independence would not appear plausible in 1914. Moreover, a permanent return to Poland, even post-1919, was impracticable for a man who had by that point become a British author and family man. 77 Marlow is the speaker both in the sense of an authorial voice and in the Foucauldian connotation of a more purely linguistic presence, which makes it irrelevant who — that is, which specific textual moment of subjective individuation — is speaking. On agency and authority in texts, see Foucault 1988.

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and whatever experiences or ersatz “personal” history we can envision him having. So did Conrad, the self-avowed moralist, attempt to wiggle out of epochal accountability via Marlow? I think it unlikely, mainly because Conrad would not have perceived any equivalence between European colonialism in Africa and elsewhere and the annihilation of a major European nation-state through a complex conspiracy of its neighboring states.78 And that is due not only to some instinctive privileging of his native Polish nationalist claim, but simply because Conrad, operating very much within the zeitgeist of his adoptive place and class, there as in Nostromo seemed to believe in at least some of the rhetoric of the mission civilizatrice — specifically the claim that British-sourced institutions were grafting culture and order onto the formerly “blank spaces” of the map. One should also note that British commerce, which in the broadest terms was Conrad’s employer, was very much instrumental to this mission. Therefore, insofar as Conrad’s complicity in the colonial project was a function of his service with the merchant marine, an outward refutation of its activities and to a lesser extent the ideologies fueling it would be tantamount to overturning a cornerstone of his identity and possibly — since to some extent we are what we create — his self-worth. Conrad’s “saving illusions” may thus have been of use for resolving this particular paradox, or at least learning how to live with it. Thus we cannot really say that in 1900, Conrad the reluctant British subject was actively writing against his time or its mores — not yet. To be sure, he wrote against certain abstractions which may have been central to the conceits of “Rule Britannia” as a purveyor of civilizing imperial capitalism, and allowed Marlow to speak to others (the idea of national superiority, for one). But when he engaged the discourse of empire or invoked it as textual figure, no conscious association was made between Britain’s administrative activities overseas and tsarist Russia’s dismemberment of its neighbor to the west. Now, though the central tenets of the discourse of “empire” would become far more nuanced in his later writing, prior to 1919 Conrad did not always walk such a fine line. As I pointed out earlier, Albert Guerard (1967: 34) observes that, especially early on and perhaps as a direct result of his travels under the British ensign, Conrad tended to view Anglo imperialism as nothing if not a positive force. His rather staunch position was that “British red” on world political maps was “good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done in there.”79 However, Najder argues that in the wake of the Boer War, Conrad’s outlook on the entire British colonial enterprise began to shift. Conrad’s letter to a cousin in which he confesses to having “very complex feelings” on the subject 78 Cf. Said 1993: xx. 79 Conrad 1949b: 17, cited in Guerard 1967: 34 n; see also Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 120–2.

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of the war displays a rising ambivalence: Conrad admits that that while the Boers were no doubt struggling “in good faith” for national independence, “the idea of Liberty can only be found under the English flag all over the world.”80 He then goes on to label (or dismiss) the Boers as “un peuple essentiellement despotique, like by the way all the Dutch” (Najder 1964: 231). In his bombastic Remembrance Ford Madox Ford (1989: 258–60) alludes to Conrad’s denigration of British imperialism as an extension of middle-class propriety, the customs of which are merely sublimations of mob violence. As such, given the right fuel and/or a craving for entertainment, the mob — even one composed of middle-class British subjects — will need little prodding to come together against the other, “to tear you to pieces — precisely as a foreigner” (F. M. Ford 1989: 259). According to Ford, Conrad liked to contrast British metropolitan and colonial racism, which he considered an extension of the worst in middle-class prejudices — epitomized by Kipling and his “you bloody-niggerisms” (F. M. Ford 1989: 259) — with the presumed civility of the French who, in their own colonies, “regarded black or tan or black and tan as all one humanity with themselves, intermarrying, working peacefully side by side, and side by side . . . drinking their aperitifs” (F. M. Ford 1989: 260). According to Conrad, as Ford declares with characteristic fanfare, the French provided the nigger [sic!] with exactly the same mairies, frescoes, statuary in the midst of jungles, representation in Paris and maddening regulations for obtaining permis de chasse or money from the Post Office as are provided in any French town from Pont L’Evèque to Aigues Mortes. That seemed to Conrad the way to colonise: and indeed one never heard of any Secessionist movements in the French colonies, from Algeria to Annam.81

Further along the same passage, Ford highlights an ideological disjuncture between the early and later Conrad — without, unfortunately, gesturing to the sources of the contradiction. Ford writes: “be that is it may, with all his gloomily fatalistic views of the incapacity of Anglo-Saxons as colonists other than by butchery . . . in Heart of Darkness it is a French, not a British, ship-of-war that bombards the unanswering bush from the tepid seas of African coasts” (F. M. 80 Letter to Karola Zagórska, Christmas 1899 (Najder 1964: 231; for more detailed commentary, see Najder 1983: 261). 81 F. M. Ford 1989: 261. A colonial insider such as Frantz Fanon, would surely take a somewhat different view of the conditions of French colonial rule, and of the secessionist movements that exploded French Africa (including the important distinction in both theory and praxis between the national “independentist” and the “liberationist” movements). These did, it is true, come later; but their seeds were sown through the procedures and assumptions of the colonial administration of the kind reproduced in Ford’s description (see Fanon 1968: 51–97).

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Ford 1989: 260). In the Remembrance Ford was clearly content to let the sense of disconnection stand, maintaining in another passage that while for Conrad “the British Empire was . . . the perfection of human perfections . . . all its politicians, all its public officials, police, military officers . . . and policies were of an imbecility that put them in intelligence below the first lieutenant of the French navy you could come across” (F. M. Ford 1989: 45). But where Ford concludes by setting up a firm antinomy between the initial and the final place of emigration, again he largely discounts the Russian element. My own position is that the evolution of the Conradian sense of difference culminated with articulating a middle, ex-colonial and personally emancipationist ground between the empires he knew, those that he remembered from his brutalized Polish childhood, and those that were idealized either via his vocation or via one of his “sustaining illusions.” In fact, what makes even Conrad’s early writings unique — and Ford in fact seems to hint at this in his tirade against imperialism in his mention of Conrad’s conspicuous foreignness — is that when his outlook differed from that of the established opinion in ways that might be frowned upon by its proponents, he was always able to fall back on his second, broadly Slavic identity. Polishness thus implied a difference that was not so much colonial (and hence saddled with the dialectic of subaltern “inferiority”) or even post-colonial as specifically extraterritorial, that is, different and/or othered, but a priori equal. This sense of Polish identity, then, formed a counterpoint to Conrad’s former sailing career whenever the latter came back metaphorically to haunt him as a writer, that is, when he was unable to obtain the requisite distance from the focal topoi of his life with the merchant marine. Indeed, in all likelihood Conrad would not have initially sought any such distance, and it is really only with the deepening of the problematics of individuality versus community and with the invention of his mouthpiece Marlow, that the problem of “empire” came to interpenetrate with that of the “Polish question.” Such vacillations point to a kind of self-reflexive interiority mitigated by difference in his poetics of identity: Conrad was a British Master Mariner and eventually became a British subject; however, he never ceased being a Pole. It is in this way that the Conradian self in his texts on British subjects contrasts with the self of pure observing exteriority, for example in travel writings by emissaries from powers that rivalled British imperial ambitions, such as France, America, Russia, Germany, and Japan. The undisputable subjective centrality of such figures, in addition to their status as figures of empire, equipped their writerly identities with a certain institutional freedom to articulate critical viewpoints lacked by or not evident to those inside.82 Ultimately Conrad, even 82 For example see the writings of Marx on Britain or of de Tocqueville on America.

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though an exile and thus a kind of guest in Britain, was both a “Nostromo” and a cargador: in concrete ways his sailing career was embedded in the empire’s operations and implicit to its modes of self-justification. In short, as a merchant mariner Conrad directly represented empire’s “material interests,” so, even though he may well have remained an ethnic outsider, Conrad was decidedly an insider through his vocation under the British ensign, and became doubly an insider when he finally settled in England because by that time he had been well initiated into the running of the imperial enterprise. His various addresses, whether in London (the imperial center), or in choice residences in the Home Counties (the pastoral retreat of those who made both the center and the empire function), redoubled his imperial interiority since they shadowed the itineraries of many of the great agents of empire. In other words, he remained geographically close to the hub of the shipping business, the zone of his former life, though he certainly did not need to. For even as things stood, the bulk of his communications with publishers and agents, who were almost invariably based in London, was conducted through correspondence and not personal contact. To be sure, as a “Jack-ashore” writer (F. M. Ford 1989 264), Conrad could disregard certain ill-fitting elements of his commercial past and its implications on his total identity. But he could not dispense with his past completely. It is this tension, then, that manifested itself as textual ambivalence; it represents yet another instance of Conrad’s homo duplex subjectivity. By 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War, as Najder remarks, “the whole situation” deepened and complicated (1964: 27). The political personae and the private temperaments began an intimate tango: Conrad had come increasingly to terms with Britain and the right of empire, pace Ford, and began to devote more of his energies explicitly to Poland, as he gradually “became convinced that the political revival of the country was possible” (Najder 1964: 27). Conrad’s involvement with Polish national problems combined what could be termed largely symbolic undertakings as a publicist and author of letters and articles for the press with real literary accomplishments;83 the two objectives were at last united in the 1915 political essay “A note on the Polish problem.” At the same time his political stance, while fundamentally “conservative” in terms of the underlying socio-political principle, began increasingly to chart a middle way between the discourses of empire and of the colonial subaltern, and also between the concrete traditions of the West and those of the East, as inflected both by his own increasingly mythologized travel experience and his increasingly exilic imagination. Accordingly, Conrad began to vacillate between espousing democracy — which, 83 See Arnold Bennett’s wistful assessment of Conrad’s efforts to persuade the British public opinion to be more pro-Polish, cited in Najder 1983: 404, cf. 416–17, 423–5.

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when not lampooned in letters to associates as rule of the ignorant mob or dismissed in high-ironic tones in the novels (such as Nostromo, see 334–5), seemed to fit the bill as the best of the available configurations for governance — and the rule of traditional conservative elites. Knapp Hay remarks that while Conrad’s triangulation between West, East, and his private split (Polish/exilic) allegiances was in evidence already in the 1905 “Autocracy and war” (Knapp Hay 1993: 27), the tactical choice to situate Poland interstitially as a cultural and political entity, that is in between those two blocs, was ultimately a function of the First World War. Its aftermath not only posited the Wilsonian imperative to grant independence to smaller European ethnic and cultural groups as a corrective of the entrenched realpolitik (Knapp Hay 1993: 36), but also substantiated Conrad’s feelings that the Western powers, in particular France and Britain, were in fact indifferent to the Polish national cause both prior to and during the war.84 Najder observes that Conrad’s Kraków friend Józef Retinger was tireless in his efforts to internationalize the Polish question by putting pressure on Western politicians “to take the initiative in the matter” and that Conrad was “full of admiration” at Retinger’s unwavering commitment to the cause. It may be that his friend’s doggedness is in the end what convinced Conrad to enter the fray himself (Najder 1983: 415). The regaining, in 1919, of Polish independence seems to have had a number of paradoxical effects on Conrad’s position. Most tangibly, the aftermath of Versailles represented the culmination of the great national hope that had been implanted synecdochally in Partition-era Polish society and which epitomized the life work of his parents. Earlier that same year Conrad wrote the political essay “The crime of partition” in which he continued the notion, first advanced in “A note on the Polish problem,” where he had called for a joint Franco-British protectorate to govern Poland for 20 years, that the intermittently sympathetic Western Powers such as France and England ought to pull Poland into their sphere of influence by helping set and negotiate its eventual borders. That Conrad would publicly make such a declaration is little short of astonishing, since the statement overtly advocates the discourse of empire, specifically the practice of imperial redrawing of borders of the colonial possessions, for the ostensible protection of Poland’s territorial claims. On a symbolic level, then, in addition to soberly recognizing their international political prestige, Conrad posits England and France as discursive legitimators and brokers for a West-centric Polish claim. One might say that in his identity politics, Conrad the double man charted his own middle way. It was a path that combined a distanced affirmation of empire 84 For instance, Najder notes that as late as 1916 the British government considered the Polish question to be strictly “Russia’s internal affair” (see Najder 1983: 415–17).

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(and his own position as a subject and former “agent” of one) with a kind of playful historicizing duplicity which tended to mitigate affiliation by ironically deflating the rhetoric of the mission civilizatrice and cultural privilege. The culmination of his exilic persona was a man in between politics and languages, a man whose father was a Polish nationalist but whose children would be English (the older one, Borys, even fought in the First World War — for the British85). However, as Najder suggests, the lack of a community with which he could identify without reservation haunted Conrad well after he became successful and secure in Britain: “his national background revealed itself not only in the characteristics he possessed but also in those he lacked . . . and he plainly lacked the feeling of belonging to some concrete social group.”86 This deterritorializing move in turn led him to continue thinking of himself as a “British sailor” for years after he came on land for good. Najder continues his portrait of a paradoxical man: Politically he always remained an outsider. He did not understand the new, emerging social forces and at the same time he was outspokenly contemptuous of the contemporary socio-economic order of material interests. He was an isolated man, but this very isolation . . . made it possible for him to see problems which escaped many writers more tightly entangled in prevailing social conditions . . . His Polish background made Conrad a man disinherited [but] exceptionally conscious of the sinister brutalities hidden behind the ornate façade of bourgeois political optimism. (Najder 1964: 31)

Seeking a kind of psychological “truth,” Najder’s compelling biographical portrait here, as elsewhere, offers a strong impression of Conrad as a sum of all the interplays of his various personae.87 My study, on the other hand, is animated by questions of a more technical nature, grounded in the logic of narrative and the construction of linguistic zones. And thus it is to the narratives that our attention shall presently turn. In the next chapter, I shall attempt to establish the logics of postmodernist exilic heterotopia in its pure state, with Gombrowicz’s Trans-Atlantyk. In Chapter 5, I travel back to Conrad’s Nostromo to witness the 85 Najder reports that Borys’ decision to volunteer for the army caused Conrad a great deal of torment, especially after learning that Borys suffered shell shock in an artillery attack (1983: 408–9, 430–5). 86 Najder 1964: 31, see also 32–4. 87 For a discussion on “truth” with/and historical transparency see White, 40–5. On truth and autobiographical transparency, see studies in structuralist and poststructuralist criticism which, in opposing ways, ground utterance and thus subjectivity and the writerly self within the contingent (and already-always refracted, occluded, culturally mediated) realm of language, for example Barthes 1977, Derrida 1976 and 1998, deMan 1979, Eco 1995, and Foucault 1988.

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demarcation of political, exilic, and imaginary zones within an eclectic modernist poetics which, in an attempt to defamiliarize the narrative zones and thereby “make you see” these textual realities more directly, resulted in a vast and multivalent outpouring of language.

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CHAPTER 4

Toward Heterotopia The Case of Trans-Atlantyk Nie chcesz czym Innym, czym Nowym stać się? . . . Oj, wypuścić Chłopaków z ojcowskiej klatki, a niech i po bezdrożach polatają, niechże i do Nieznanego zajrzą!1 Gonzalo in Gombrowicz, Trans-Atlantyk

When Trans-Atlantyk, Gombrowicz’s second and most experimental novel was first published in 1953 by the émigré Polish Instytut Literacki in Paris, the immediate critical response was near unanimous in its outrage.2 Pre-eminent state-sanctioned literary pundits in Poland and émigré circles in Paris, London, and elsewhere, normally miles apart on questions of ideology and narratology, were united, especially, in a curious aversion to pass comment on the novel’s philosophical and formal concerns. Yet these concerns, delineating a radically intersubjective vision of social functioning — which Gombrowicz would later christen the “Interhuman Church” because he saw the networks and relations between individuals as fundamentally institutionalized and ritualized — were audaciously manifest in Trans-Atlantyk and were crucial to the author’s literary program generally.3 Instead, the initial response — such as Wacław Zbyszewski’s denunciatory essay “Dezerter,”4 sundry “open letters” from fuming readers within 1 “Don’t you want to become something else, someone New? . . . Oh, let the Boys out of the paternal cage, Let them roam in the wilderness, let them glimpse the Unknown!” 2 The novel was originally published in Polish. See Brodsky (1980: 461–3) and Chwin (2001: 121–3), for summaries of these early voices, especially once the novel became available in Poland after October 1956. 3 This intersubjective vision was first promulgated in his debut Ferdydurke, published in Poland in 1937 (Warsaw: Towarzystwo Wydawnicze “Rój”). In the novel, the ideational pressure of communal identity, which Gombrowicz termed “form,” on the development of individual autonomy and subjectivity, was enacted through narrative doubling and confrontations between individuals such as teachers or landowners, wielding institutionalized power, and their pupils or subjects. 4 The title largely speaks for itself. The piece appeared in Wiadomości of London (January 27, 1952). Chapters from the book had been published in installments in Jerzy

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the Polish diaspora in the West and a barrage of condemnations issuing from such official media channels of the Communist Party in Poland as Trybuna Ludu, Sztandar Młodych and Twórczość — was limited to unsophisticated interpretations of the novel that made scant distinction between logos and bios.5 Consequently, determining Trans-Atlantyk to be more or less a straight memoir (taking their cue from the fact that its protagonist is named “Witold Gombrowicz”) and charging the exiled author variously with patriotic apostasy or moral degeneracy, leading opinion makers in Poland such as Jerzy Lovell6 and lesser-known commentators like Zbyszewski or Stefan Kisielewski7 who represented (respectively) émigré or domestic esprit de corps, all read the novel’s complex formal dialectics, and in particular Gombrowicz’s use of an anachronistic literary style, as proof of deviation from an approved ideal of expatriate Polishness.8 In fact, Trans-Atlantyk, as I will argue here, is in its essence a bravura performance of autonomous language deployed by a deracinated — because exilic — speaking subject. Yet the appreciation of the book as above all a textual confrontation with the condition of exile Giedroyc’s émigré journal Kultura in 1951 and 1952. 5 See for example the back-and-forth attacks on and defenses of Gombrowicz published in Kultura between 1951 and 1954. Gombrowicz i krytycy (Łapiński, ed. 1984) contains an invaluable index of commentaries on the writer in Polish, English, Spanish, and other languages, as well as a comprehensive bibliography of Gombrowicz’s oeuvre; for the 1951–4 period, see 766–72, 796–7. On Gombrowicz’s uncompromising (and thus frequently misread) attitude to the functions and role of literature, see also Czesław Miłosz’s meditation “Podzwonne” [An elegy to Gombrowicz], in his Zaczynając od moich ulic, (2006: 423–30, esp. 424–5, 428), where Miłosz points out that never in his career, not even in the midst of the most difficult personal circumstances as the early years in Argentina no doubt constituted, did Gombrowicz compromise himself in any way in his writing. Despite his marked antagonism toward the writer, Tadeusz Kępinski’s analysis of Gombrowicz’s three Prefaces to Trans-Atlantyk — responses to the persisting critiques of the novel — is also of interest, as Kępinski notes a number of “modifications” in Gombrowicz’s views about his intentions for the novel (1988: 339–409). 6 In his “Patriota a rebours?” (Lovell 1954). 7 Cf. Gombrowicz 2000b: 14, 70–4. 8 This was typically portrayed as abandonment of the homeland, verging on treason, paralleling his decision to stay in South America in 1939. The most clamorous commentaries from the 1951–54 period include reviews and feuilletons published in the domestic venues but also in émigré reviews such as Wiadomości, which assumed a particularly hostile stance to the work. Among the critics — in Poland and abroad — who took up the polemic and came to Gombrowicz’s defense are Józef Wittlin (see his “Apologia Gombrowicza” [1951], which was also used as a preface to the first edition of Trans-Atlantyk, as “Uwagi wstępne”; sections of this text reprinted in Łapiński, ed. 1984: 83–92); Jeleński 1957: 31–42; and last but not least, the then-doyen of Polish literary criticism and one-time king of Socialist Realist orthodoxy, Artur Sandauer, in his seminal study of post-war writing, Bez taryfy ulgowej (1959: 37–65). Sandauer began championing Gombrowicz’s writings particularly during the 1956–57 thaw, when he rejected the Socialist Realist doctrine (see Brodsky 1980: 469). Stefan Kisielewski’s review “O Gombrowiczu żałosnym i Hannie Malewskiej w Londynie” [Baleful Gombrowicz and Hanna Malewska in London] appeared in Tygodnik Powszechny in 1957.

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has permeated mainstream Gombrowicz criticism only relatively recently.9 The literalist, personalist tone that dominated much of the initial discussion of the work — and vestiges of it persisted even until the 1990s10 — instead tended to marshal pseudo-psychological analysis (author qua deviant) with, perhaps not surprisingly, echoes of tendentious Socialist Realist thinking that viewed the creative act as intrinsic to the dialectical processes of (national) history. Such interpretations often resulted in Gombrowicz being denounced as an enemy of the people and the national cause during the Cold War era when Poland had once more (as it had in the nineteenth century) become a quasi-colonized space, dependent on moral sustenance from intellectuals, spiritual leaders and creative artists expatriated to free lands. This viewpoint is encapsulated in a polemic by one Wacław Kozłowski, a journalist and fellow émigré in Argentina, who alleged that in Trans-Atlantyk “Gombrowicz systematycznie obrzydza Polakom wszystko, co polskie” (“Gombrowicz systematically makes odious to Poles everything that is Polish”), and even charged the author with being a communist agent determined to besmirch the reputation of Poles everywhere.11 Gombrowicz’s defense against such charges of moral and patriotic apostasy, mounted from Buenos Aires where he lived throughout the war and post-war

9 See Michał Paweł Markowski’s discussion (2004: 9–33), of the traditional “thematic” readings of Gombrowicz the polemicist and “critic” (2004: 16), especially 13–19, where Markowski develops the thesis that “no other Polish writer” devoted as much effort to creating (wynalezienie) or more specifically inventing (wynajdywanie) a language with which to comment on the unknown depth that is the world (2004: 14) — essentially the unheimlich discourse of the self-deterritorialized writing subject, writing on and of the margin (2004: 19); cf. 344–6 on the deracinated writer, with Gombrowicz posited as an exorbitant (wykolejony, wyrzucony sam z siebie). In a more general meta-textual register, see Legierski’s (1999) summary of the history of Gombrowicz criticism from the moment of the socialist thaw of 1955–57, when Gombrowicz ceased to be a persona non grata in Poland, until the time of his own monograph; his frustration with the early Gombrowiczian critical industry is clearly apparent when for example he writes that “[Gombrowicza] prowokacje w awangardowym stylu drażniły pimkowatych uczniów, przemawiających z namaszczeniem ex cathedra” (Legierski 1999: 17: “Gombrowicz’s vanguardist provocations clearly unsettled the more pedantic of his readers, who uttered their pronouncements with priestly, decorous solemnity”). What were the grounds for such spiteful readings? Legierski’s discussion points to “mozolny akademizm i intertekstualne zagubienie” (1999: 391: “tedious academism and intertextual befuddlement”). 10 And even later. See e.g. Kępinski 2006, a text that, for all of its claims of scholarly detachment and objectivity, nonetheless remains oddly ambivalent about Gombrowicz’s professed iconoclasm with respect to violating, in Trans-Atlantyk, the “national sacrum” of the Romantic martyrological imperative, and his insistence on Poland’s provincial status (2006: 254–86). Reading Kępinski, one has the uneasy feeling that the critic is blaming Gombrowicz for the negative press that his provocations garnered. 11 See Kozłowski 1954: 6.

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years, was an assertion of the autonomy of the text.12 The record shows that he took an active interest — occasionally bordering on obsession — in the quarrels, domestic and diasporic, that his novel engendered. Indeed, he seemed to relish — in the pages of his Diary, at any rate — the self-assigned role of adjudicator providing running commentary on the textual controversies: for example, he would reprint responses he had sent to readers who had attacked him in public diatribes and private letters. In addition, the Diary, also published (in installments) by the émigré house that had brought out the novel, betrays the fact that Gombrowicz indeed intended Trans-Atlantyk to score a direct hit from afar on the nationalist doxa of Polish culture, both domestic and expatriate,13 the author’s somewhat obscure location within the psycho-geography of Polish diaspora notwithstanding. The book certainly crashed onto the Polish émigré cultural marketplace, at that time centered in Paris, like a meteor.14 But if we are to believe Gombrowicz’s extra-diagetical pronouncements on his novel, Trans-Atlantyk was not primarily concerned with exploding the Polish/ diasporic social order as such; that was the ostensible domain of the Diary, a work that in many ways defies characterization, but could perhaps be described as the protracted literary record cum sardonic mock-confession of an iconoclast experimenting with identity mystification (it eventually ran to three volumes).15 Trans-Atlantyk, moreover, was decidedly not intended to be read as merely an allegory of Polish complexes, such as the Romantic–martyrological imperative of self-sacrifice to the fatherland (to which no sympathy is given in the novel); nor was it simply an unconventional account of emigration tout court. The exposition of these themes was salutary to Gombrowicz’s design, to be sure. But was that design? Gombrowicz stated in the Diary, and much later, in interviews with

12 See especially his meditation in the second volume of the Diary (Gombrowicz 2000b: 18–30). 13 As does his final word on the subject (of himself and his art), Rozmowy z Gombrowiczem (de Roux, ed. 1969: 88–9; see also the following note. 14 See e.g. Giedroyc 2006: 177; Suchanow 2005: 156–8; Miłosz 2006: 141–2; for the author’s own perspective on the storm brewing around his work and his name, see the first volume of his Diary (2000a: esp. 26–9, 36–7). 15 Markowski, author of an illuminating recent (2004) study of Gombrowicz, suggests that Dziennik is essentially a parody of forms, and not to be looked to as a source of the official documented “truth” by and about Gombrowicz. I largely agree with this position, as Gombrowicz was a master of literary manipulations. However — and I think Markowski would concur here — it is nonetheless an unmatched document for scholarly illumination about Gombrowicz, and that illumination often comes not only when we read the Diary against the grain, but specifically also against Gombrowicz’s own stated often cleverly disguised) “literary” intentions for the text. See especially Markowski 2004: 22–5, 303–10, 331–3; see also Gombrowicz’s rebuttal of his critics (Markowski 2004: 32).

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Dominique de Roux (his French translator) that the central idea of Trans-Atlantyk was rooted in the representation of his personal existential condition, characterized as “loss, uncertainty, humiliation . . . and a mad hope of beauty that I may yet be able to assimilate.”16 In other words Trans-Atlantyk emerged through the triangulation of loss, alterity, and potentiality, that is, as an exilic discourse of a deracinated subject. The work’s deeper intent was to textually affirm the liberty of the individual — the narrator “Witold Gombrowicz” functions as synecdoche — who finds himself invested in a personal drama of self-making that posits him against the nation, against the norm of the imagined cultural community. In Trans-Atlantyk this individual finds himself pulled in opposite directions by the (centripetal) memory of the homeland, and by the exotic (centrifugal) possibilities of the place of exile. Above all, it is an individual for whom the search for autonomy — and specifically the language in which this search may be articulated — ultimately overrides at once nostalgia for home and the desire for cultural immersion in the hosting country. The Gombrowiczian quest thus leads the subject to propose that, in the end, the sole viable exilic “homeland” is the realm of language.17 What seems especially striking about Gombrowicz’s imperative is not so much the stipulation of a discrete paradigm of exilic discourse as such, but rather the problems implicit to its construction, and in particular the development of unique textual structures as a function of the condition of exile. It is this matrix, specifically the fabrication and maintenance of an exilic zone, which forms my main concern here. In my view Trans-Atlantyk seeks to relate the acceptance and gradual overcoming of individual alterity within the refuge of language. The story it tells is the story of the creation of what I shall call a “drive to heterotopia,” a rhetorical strategy wherein the pressures of exilic acculturation are defused by a tactical choosing of a home in an entirely “other” place — the non-place (or zone) of language. These queries thus refocus the narrative of exilic rupture and renegotiated belonging from a metaphysical lament of “Why?” (or “Why me?”), to a more technical “How?” How to inscribe the sense of doubt and essential instability immanent to exile. To the extent to which Gombrowicz’s exilic movement posits an autonomous subject-in-language (his narratological double, so to speak), the questions one wants to ask of his book include: “How does exilic discourse penetrate the textual fabric?” “What are the mechanisms of its deployment in 16 Gombrowicz 1969: 80–1. 17 See Gombrowicz 2000a: 19–30; 2000b: 25–7. See also his “Reply to Cioran” (Gombrowicz 2000a: 66–9), where he affirms the potentialities of exilic becoming as a function of severance from the familiar and the complacent, in favor of enthusiastic immersion into “excessive freedom” in the spaces of the ex-patria.

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the work’s structure?” “How does this text reflect a state of spatial rupture and a preoccupation with the interstitial,18 and with the minor — in the sense meant by Deleuze and Guattari?”19 And finally, the primary impulse driving this line of inquiry: “In what ways are the signs of what I will call heterotopia, after Michel Foucault, made manifest in this work?” First, Trans-Atlantyk brings to light a structural opposition of two discourses, especially in its more autobiographically transparent first part.20 One is an antiutopian récit of deviation and instability which seems to announce the obliteration of native environments, and more broadly the destruction of familiar forms, in exile. Its dialectical counterpart, rather than gesturing toward a model of utopian émigré forgetting, instead deploys a sidereal logic, the logic of heterotopia — a discourse that operates within what is described in The Order of Things, as the “non-place of language.” According to Foucault, a heterotopia is a discontinuous zone localized in the “interstitial blanks” that separate our normative systems of classification, indeed our orders of things. For Foucault these normative ordering paradigms are possessed of their own “hidden networks” which determine the ways in which aspects of any culture “confront one another,” within a “system of elements” or a grid established in language and corroborated though empirical examination and the law (Foucault 1970: xx). Heterotopic spaces and discourses, then, for Foucault undermine our sense of comfortable familiarity and sense of situatedness because they run counter to our “universal laws”; they break up the ordering “surfaces.” By demonstrating the “exotic charm of another system of thought” they can also reveal the disconcerting “limitations of our own” mentalities (Foucault 1970: xv). The notion of heterotopic discourse as unraveller of hierarchies and as a counter-practice proved decisive for Gombrowicz’s artistic program as it is this space (or rather again, a non-space, a linguistic zone) that provides a partial substitute for the lost homeland in his exilic texts. To put it differently, it is within the non-place of language that nostalgic longings for a return may be superseded by a new system of classification based on a “contrapuntal” mode of perception,21 a multifaceted artistic vision in which the cultural dominants of the native land (and also its counter-discourses), and those of the hosting country can synchronize within a text.22 But although the utopia–heterotopia couplet does not constitute a natural antinomy — in this case utopia and dystopia would be the expected 18 19 20 21 22

See Foucault’s “Preface” to his The Order of Things (1970). See Deleuze and Guattari 1986: ch. 3. See Suchanow 2005: esp. 47–81. See Said 1994: 148. See Miłosz 1994: 36–9.

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opposition, with the quotidian “reality” stepping in as the synthetic resolution (or letdown) — in Trans-Atlantyk the theme of dystopia is also configured dialectically with heterotopia though the superimposition of a second binary. Forming the ideational framework for the novel, this second opposition is sustained through the conflict between the fatherland (ojczyzna) on the one hand and the “son’s land” (synczyzna) on the other.23 Heterotopia thus emerges as a possible other (or an alternative) to both the discourse of utopian longings and the discourse of dystopian laments that exilic individuals may experience; the heterotopic worldview of Trans-Atlantyk, ultimately, emerges as a critique of both positions. The essential coerciveness and instability of the patriarchal space is signaled early in the novel. While ojczyzna represents the possibility of a viable Polish expatriate identity, this identity is irremediably overdetermined as it is abidingly constructed — Gombrowicz shows — within a dominant ethos of patriotism, and motivated by nostalgia for a status quo ante. Its counterpart, synczyzna, for Gombrowicz certainly allows escape from the conceptual strangleholds of patria and the prerogatives of patriotism; however, sons who geographically or conceptually flee the domestic space and fly too close to the sources of life-affirming illumination without an ironclad strategy of self-realization run the risk of selfdissolution in the exilic chaos. Nonetheless, Synczyzna at least offers a freedom to fabricate new identities, which as one critic suggests can be constructed independently of any patriarchal or national form.24 The possibility of viable “transatlantic” filial identities available to an East European expatriate is inscribed in this work through the figure of Gonzalo, an Argentine millionaire dandy (and possible paedophile).25 With all of his own “deviations,” of which more later, Gonzalo fulfils the paradoxical role of the cultural master to the impecunious, and thus easily overmasters “Gombrowicz,” the émigré unsure of his own status. Gonzalo has a plan to figuratively and then literally seduce Ignacy, a handsome Polish youth configured as a metonymy of exilic becoming which may — or ought to — be undertaken apart from the strictures of national patriarchy. Gonzalo’s main objective, therefore, is to re-orient

23 This term is felicitously translated in both the English- and French-language versions of the novel as “filistria” (versus patria). 24 See Berressem 1997: 104. 25 Knut Grimstad is one contemporary critic who makes this claim explicitly (2005: 60, 66); cf TA 37–40. Here Gonzalo refers to his appetite, nay hunger, for “Young ones — Boys” (TA 37), as opposed to the narrator who is in his mid-thirties; this, however, is further contextualized — and complicated — by his stated preference for “a Craftsman, now a Labourer or an Apprentice, or a Scullery Lad or a Soldier, or a Sailor” (TA 38). It is difficult to defend the notion that he is a paedophile from the reference to “Boys” alone.

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Ignacy, a passive but not entirely docile “son,” away from the normative sphere of the fatherland and toward the hazy potentialities of youthful desire. The narrator initially oscillates between the zone of the father (loyalty to nation) and that of the son (alterity, and the possibility of “frightful” erotic deviation as part and parcel of exilic self-actualization), but without ever reaching any firm resolution. Instead, these opposing prerogatives are formally reconciled through heterotopic discourse — the author’s discourse on language — and in fact the book resolves its existential drama by ceasing to speak altogether: it culminates in a scene of frenzied, out-of-control laughter which masks the metaphysical dread of otherness as much and as effectively as it mocks the poverty of the main configurations of exilic alternatives. However, if it is part of the novel’s teleology that the binary opposition it delineates must lead to a fatal collision — one that is (un-)happily resolved on the last page by laughter — it is so precisely because only one of the potential modes of organization typically triumphs to form a serviceable exilic identity. What is implicitly at stake in Trans-Atlantyk, therefore, is the very survival of the creative subject when suddenly exposed to its own otherness,26 and enveloped in a “contradictory system” of alterities and deprivations, but also sudden “euphoric possibilities”27 that exilic status can so frequently produce. Gombrowicz’s exilic discourse in the novel is launched with the displacement occasioned by a trans-oceanic sea voyage, in what critics have variously described as a liminal or threshold locus.28 The textual “Gombrowicz” — best kept in quotation marks, since this figure is protean — declares the three-week voyage to be a dreamlike state of forgetting, including the “forgetting” of identity: “Exquisitely pleasurable the sail from Gdynia to Buenos Aires, and somewhat loath was I to go ashore, for 20 days a man between Sky and water, nothing remembered, bathed in air, melted in wave, through-blown with wind” (TA 3). Poised at the moment of transatlantic liminality,29 which the narrator shared with the “real-life” author, the text’s first discursive function is to foreground the obvious option presented to the suddenly deterritorialized subject, and far more important, expose its symbology as coercive. A strategic passage from an established cultural order to a new potential one is set in motion by the narrator’s refusal to submit to the filial duties

26 Of course the experience of alterity in its various registers does not require the condition of exile; however, expatriation foregrounds the other and simultaneously foreshortens our distance from this other, so that we may (even) coincide with the other’s “otherness” (see de Certeau 1986: 68–78). 27 On the dialectics of euphoria–despondency in exilic identity construction, see Naficy 1993: 1–7. 28 For example, for Berressem, the narrators’ voyage is an embodiment of a “smooth . . . deterritorialized space” (1997: 105); for Malić, it constitutes a “zero-point” (1984: 236). 29 See Kristeva 1984: 20–30.

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required of the faithful Polish citizen at the outbreak of the war. This rejection of the patriarchal order is ratified as “Gombrowicz” turns his back on the Polish nation and its state religion, here symbolized by the departing ship Bolesław Chrobry,30 with the following malediction of the people and “place”: Sail on, you Compatriots, to your People! Sail to that holy Nation of yours haply Cursed! Sail to that St. Monster Dark, dying for ages yet unable to die! . . . Sail, sail, so he will not suffer you to Live or Die but keep you forever between Being and Non-being . . . Sail to that Madman, to that St. Bedlamite of yours . . . so that he may Torment, Torture you by those leaps and frenzies of his, drown you in blood . . . by Torturing torture you, Children of yours, wives, to Death, to Agony . . . With this Curse, turning my back on the Ship, I entered the Town. (TA 6–7)

Yet while the author’s real-life voyage (and subsequent expatriation) in 1939 structures the narration and imposes a strict linear chronology,31 geographical displacement as such serves merely as a prompt, initiating the more decisive narrative of autonomous expatriate becoming.32 It is commonly held in Gombrowicz criticism that narrative self-consciousness in his works is a function of the primordial clash between form and chaos — the binary that “orders” nearly all his writing. Here, specifically, it operates within an interstitial space, in the lacunae separating the legislated parameters of the old and the freedoms engendered or at the very least imagined by the new, though without sustained commitment to either. It is for this reason that the notion of ambivalence immanent in early-stage expatriation is first subsumed into an ethos of the individual: the individual is thrust against the cultural dialectic of (coercive) normativity vs. (deviant) alterity and forced to commit to some forms but not others. If one considers the cornerstone of Gombrowicz’s artistic credo, namely the belief that the individual must

30 It is purely incidental, though surely not without some symbolic significance, that the Piast monarch King Bolesław Chrobry was one of the champions of Christianity in medieval Poland, as well as a legendary unifier of the Polish nation. 31 See Jerzy Jarzębski’s moving essay “W Buenos Aires — po trzydziestu pięciu latach” [Buenos Aires, after 35 years] (Jarzębski 2000: 220–35). 32 While for Gombrowicz exile coincides with the outbreak of the Second World War, the exact causal relation is oblique, since his decision to remain in Argentina, as opposed to returning to war-torn Poland by any means necessary, was in the end a voluntary act (the novel contains a number of playful references to this process [TA 5–6]). Exile effectively provided Gombrowicz an opportunity to escape the quagmire of yet another panEuropean conflict, which in any event was widely thought to be forthcoming — according to Gombrowicz, “perhaps sometime in the new year [1940]” (see Rita Gombrowicz 1993: 14–15).

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under no circumstances be asked to give up his life for a communal abstraction or ideal,33 one can well anticipate the tensions to come. And as we can see, the maxim holds true even when one is called by “Compatriots” to run home to face Hitler’s Germany (the St Bedlamite of the previous passage). Yet, immediately following this daring affirmation of autonomy, the situation becomes notably complicated through the appearance of Pan Cieciszowski.34 As the narrator’s well-settled émigré relation, this figure functions in the text as an exilic presence so non-committal (or slippery) as to announce that he is “not so mad as to have any views These Days or not to have them” (TA 8). Cieciszowski is a foil but he also serves as a tragicomic distraction, so it is most productive to view the narrator’s encounter with him as a miniature treatise on émigré ambivalence. Herewith a fragment of Pan Czieciszowski’s oft-recited “counseling” session: “No Remedy! I understand your Sorrow, but you can’t jump over the ocean, so I approve of your Resolution or disapprove and well you did to remain here, but perchance you did Not.” “Is’t your view?” “I’m not so mad as to have any views These Days or not to have them. But now that you have tarried here, get ye anon to the Legation or do not get ye there and Report your presence there or do not Report it, for if you Report your presence or you do not Report it, you may be in great trouble or you may not” . . . “Is this your counsel?” “Miserable Man, you’d do better to Die, be Lost, quiet, hush, but do not go to them ’cause if they stick to you they will not come unstuck! Take my Counsel, you had better to keep with Foreigners, with them, be lost amidst Foreigners, be Dissolved, but may God save you from the Legation and likewise from the Compatriots for they are Bad, Wicked, Hell-sent, they will only bite you, bite you to bits!” Whereupon I say: “Think you so?” To this he exclaimed: “God forbid that you shun the Legation or Compatriots living here ’cause if you shun them, you they will Bite, you they will bite to bits! . . . Fret not, with the Compatriots I will make you acquainted . . . somehow wangle you in I will, wangle . . . or no.” (TA 7–8, my emphasis)

33 As he affirms in the Diary, “the individual is something more fundamental than the nation. He takes precedence over the nation” (Gombrowicz 2000a: 16). 34 The figure of Cieciszowski, apparently modelled after a distant relative of the author’s, is a metonymy for the “in-between” émigré, paralysed into inaction by a primary sense of liminality and attendant ambivalence, trudging softly and back and forth between the host culture and the patriotic/anachronistic agencies of the expatriate “colony.”

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What is elucidated in this passage, besides Gombrowicz’s fondness for farce and a theatricalized grotesque, is the fact that the destruction of the old Polish order cannot be realized in the place of exile precisely because, and so long as, patriotic agencies like the Legation (Foreign Affairs Mission) continue to provide a moral compass for émigré comportment and enforce its sense of group identity by dictum. If the transplanted pre-1939 forms of class distinctions and modes of decorum are zealously guarded and faithfully reproduced in Argentina by Polish expatriates, for Gombrowicz this is not only in an effort to reinforce a communal identity but also and principally as an exercise in power politics that figuratively extends the zone of the fatherland beyond its legislated, that is properly national, borders. By adumbrating these collective norms and prescribed selves, Trans-Atlantyk exposes one latent underside of the émigré project — a fatuous vocabulary of gestures and poses, unnaturally exaggerated (as simulacra projected on walls for general edification tend to be) because removed from their cultural source and forcibly reconstituted in an opposition to local forms.35 To give but one example from this richly iconographic novel: The Legation plenipotentiaries organize a duel between Gonzalo and Ignacy’s father, the major, ostensibly to impress upon the Argentineans the virtues of Polish valor, so as “to demonstrate to these foreigners our fierce Manhood, our incomparable Honour, our unwavering Holy Faith, our sacred Blood” at a time when “ ’tis important that the Manliness of ours is not hidden under a bushel, and indeed is to all four sides of the world trumpeted to the greater fame of our name . . . when we at Berlin, at Berlin, to Berlin!” (TA 63–4). However, once put into motion, the proceedings are interrupted by a cleverly choreographed rabbit hunt during which the Legation diplomats and their Argentinean society guests just “happen upon” the Polish ex-army major and Gonzalo and find them engaged, improbably, in a tableau vivant of chivalric postures. Here, too, what begins as an exhibition of national(-ist) self-flattery and masculinist vigor soon becomes incapable of withstanding its putative gravitas and collapses into theatrical performance — genre: farce (TA 75–9). The parodic mode of the novel’s first part continues with burlesque exaggerations of rank and class obsessions among the Polish diaspora, or Polonia. Attacking the mechanical worship of calcified forms of social interaction among the Polish gentry, Gombrowicz’s narrator repeatedly refers to the Polish ambassador as nothing less than “His Gracious Excellency the Envoy” and performs deep bows before addressing him.36 In a similar tone of mock ceremony stretched into caricature, the envoy’s disdainful dismissal of all native-born Argentines as

35 Cf. Berressem 1997: 108. 36 See the narrator’s initial exchange with the Embassy dignitaries (TA 11–16).

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“foreigners” metaphorically underscores the xenophobia exhibited by some within Gombrowicz’s pre-war Poland toward (for example) those on the periphery of the nation — the kresy — or toward communities marginalized by the increasingly nationalistic cultural discourse of the later 1930s (such as the Lithuanian, “Ruthenian” and Silesian minorities, or unassimilated Jews of the shtetlekh).37 For Gombrowicz the attitude and set of assumptions that fed it are patently absurd since, as he writes in the Diary, on the broader European arena Poles themselves were already cultural parvenus, their own country already peripheral.38 In Trans-Atlantyk, the narrator’s deepening patriotic quagmire vis-à-vis his homeland’s wartime “hour of need” is foregrounded and then exploded by Gonzalo, the paradoxical extraterritorial. It is he who introduces the image of Poland as a “martyr” nation — but then immediately subverts it, by realigning it structurally within a father–son metaphor. Are the sons of Poland, Gonzalo asks, forever condemned to return home when the fatherland calls, to die in unequal struggles for hopeless causes? And must the word “Poland” forever bring to mind the needless sacrifice of sons in the nation’s quixotic losses or at best pyrrhic victories? Must it signify, ultimately, the negation of autonomous subjects in the face of coercion by the community and its symbologies (TA 55–7)? Following this arraignment of the Polish Romantic martyrological impulse, the second movement of the novel leaves it to readers to ponder the repercussions of the enforced dialectic between fathers (and fatherlands) and sons (and sonlands). As I will show, aside from affirming exilic potentialities for autonomous individuals, sovereign subjects who can think and perhaps love differently, Gombrowicz can only pity the predicament of those who for various reasons refuse to self-liberate. The second element of Gombrowicz’s exilic discourse traces the emergence of an extraterritorial imagination within the stylistic aspects of the narration itself. To this end the traditional bastion of Romantic poetic language with its martyrological ethos, which Gombrowicz anyway considered to be an artificial accretion on the

37 For an elaboration cum deconstruction of interwar Poland’s (semi-official) policy of positional exceptionalism, see Gombrowicz 2004: esp. 120–3, 146–8, 165–9, 177–88. For a sampling of additional contextual commentary on the troubled treatment of minorities in interwar Poland, especially the chauvinism exhibited toward the Borderland Poles and increasingly, as the 1930s wore on, the Jews in Poland, see in particular Miłosz, “Narodowości” [Nationalities] (2001: 105–23, 220–1; 2006: 28–32, 37–54; Giedroyc 2006: 46–52, 66–8; Hoffman 1997: 159–200; Paczkowski 2003: 1–36. 38 Cf. Gombrowicz 2000b: 20. On the subject of marginality, Gombrowicz’s position may have been more indicative of the international realities — either before 1939 or during the 1950s — than his own cultural hypersensitivity to the dialectic of master and servant, metropolitan versus provincial subject, which was in turn tropologically mediated in the novels through the self-reflexive synecdoches of immaturity/youth/fluidity of incomplete form versus maturity/completeness of form.

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Polish literary trajectory, is almost entirely bypassed (other than as a subject of blunt satire, as for example with the exposition of the semi secret society of the Chevaliers of the Spur, and their patriotic repertoire of mutual tortures, in part two of the novel). In its stead, Gombrowicz makes a strategic return to the Polish baroque, a cultural moment in which the poetic language had not yet become irrevocably severed from the vernacular, and where high literary forms commingled, more or less freely, with vulgar speech (Płonowska-Ziarek 1998: 217). The resultant vigorous though playful language, with its atmosphere of suspended ranks and toppled hierarchies reminiscent of a Rabelaisian carnival as theorized by Mikhail Bakhtin, constitutes an original assemblage, a neo-baroque hybrid, essentially a heteroglossia.39 This linguistic platform, then, becomes a forum for the creation of exilic spaces and identities. It announces that the zone of the sonland, if it can be said to exist at all, defies spatio-temporal characterization and can be accessed solely through language. As mentioned in the Introduction, Gombrowicz’s account of his twentiethcentury expatriation is effectuated through a return to another prized institution of the Polish baroque: the gawęda genre. Similar to the kind of skaz narrative studied and theorized by Bakhtin, gawęda relies heavily on an impression of unmediated orality which likens the resulting text to a dramatic performance.40 A major difference between gawęda and skaz, however, is that for Bakhtin the latter frequently employs a naive and somewhat transparent narrator, or alternately uneducated though cunning rogues — the plut, shut, and durak in Bakhtin’s gallery of

39 The language of Trans-Atlantyk is a fitting example of the Bakhtinian concept of heteroglossia in the sourcing of new linguistic forms, through the isolation of a multitude of distinct languages (not solely dialects) within each individual one, of which both the dominant mode and the subordinates, are in all cases zadan (posited) as such within a system by social convention, and thus all are in the end arbitrary. Any one of these heterogeneous “languages” can be freely activated by an originary creative impulse (see Morson and Emerson 1990: 141–3). 40 In Bakhtin’s theory of literature, skaz narration is characterized as a written, often parodic genre, in which the narrator is “not in control” of a work which is being created “in process . . . and without revisions.” The similarity with gawęda is reinforced in the stipulation that, even though a written genre, skaz is nonetheless most often (but not always, depending on whether the value of the utterance is parodic, as well as on the specific subject being parodied) oriented toward the “idiosyncrasies” of orality, dialects, and stylization in particular (Morson and Emerson 1990: 153–4; cf. Bakhtin 1984: 185–8, 189–94, 224–5). Bakhtin defines skaz as a discourse that is oriented expressly “toward oral speech and its corresponding language characteristics,” and more specifically “towards someone else’s speech,” meaning that the actual storyteller “is not a literary person [but] belongs in most cases to the lower social strata, to the common people — and he brings with him oral speech” (Bakhtin 1984: 191–2, my emphasis).

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subaltern characters [knave, scoundrel, and fool]. The speech of “Gombrowicz,” on the other hand, with its profusion of Latinisms, its extensive intertextuality and use of citation, and its ornate descriptive vocabulary (Thompson 1979: 80–1), presumes a cultivated speaker belonging to the Polish squirearchy. According to Catherine Leach, the memoir form of the gawęda was especially popular among the landed gentry (szlachta). As befits a genre that blended a number of diverse textual elements and styles, such memoirs, in addition to highlighting the accumulated wisdom of the narrator or his exciting exotic experiences, also served to underscore the range of his literary talents (Leach 1976: lvi). Jan Chryzostom Pasek’s memoir,41 The Writings of Jan Chryzostom Pasek, a Squire of the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania, completed toward the end of the seventeenth century, is perhaps the best-known and most influential of such accounts. For Leach, the narrative derives its unusual emotive potency by engaging a number of genres which are not, in fact, wholly compatible. The resulting stylistic goulash is perhaps the chief identifying characteristic of Pasek’s work; the novel is composed of: Elements of the epic and the picaresque novel; elements of the chivalric romance (with its tales of brave Polish soldiers who defend gentrywomen, fulfill the royal trust, guard the king’s honor, and court lovely foreign damsels); elements of the campaign tale (with its vivid battle scenes and camp settings); elements of the chronicle (with its discussion of motives, political affairs, speeches and documents, and evaluations of events); and elements of the diary (with its year-by-year notations and formulas) and the family album (with its collections of documents, letters, reports of profits from wheat sales, property dealings) . . . The Memoirs contain three different structural and stylistic planes: the narrative (“epic”), the rhetorical, and the historical (“diary”). The unifying principle of organization is the autobiographical hero . . . Pasek [who] performs a triple function as author, narrator, and main hero. (Leach 1976: lvii–lviii)

Polysemic gawęda narratives such as Pasek’s were normally not transcribed onto 41 Leach situates the Polish baroque memoir as distinct from the journal or the diary form. The latter two are concerned with “registering the present,” while the former should be regarded as a literary work “of reminiscence about the past, based upon the author’s direct or indirect experience” and hence allowing for “greater freedom in selecting material and constructing the narrative [and] for more refinement in constructing a central figure, [which also] presupposes a greater degree of self-consciousness and greater selfdeception” (Leach 1976: liv). Taken together, these devices load the narrative toward “a fictional treatment” of its subject matter by the reader.

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paper.42 Rather, these exotic tales of adventure, gallantry, and courtly savoir-vivre would be recounted in front of small enthusiastic audiences, with repeated retellings of specific exciting passages guaranteeing a smooth and measured delivery. It is little wonder that gawędas emerged as one of the most popular forms of literary entertainment and performance for the Sarmatian szlachta who had retreated to the countryside en masse following urban decline in the wake of the Swedish–Polish wars of the 1640s, and attempted to construct an Arcadia away from the decay of the cities (Barańczak 1994: xvi–xvii). It is also worth noting that as a literary genre, gawęda is specifically autochthonous; it represents a discrete Polish style, a fact Gombrowicz surely appreciated. Gombrowicz’s textual re-creation with difference of a seventeenth-century gawędziarz-narrator in the style of Jan Chryzostom Pasek thus makes for a significant development for two reasons. First, in terms of Polish literary history, Trans-Atlantyk scrupulously mimics the narrative mode of a Sarmatian raconteur, even as he ultimately mocks Sarmatian custom, its exaggerations, boasting, and ultimate pretence. As Ewa Thompson shows, Gombrowicz in Trans-Atlantyk stylistically duplicates the Sarmatian narrative’s fragmentary mode of recital, which is subject to “abrupt tense changes” and is replete with unfinished phrases, “dazzling exclamatory utterances” and “abbreviated character descriptions” (Thompson 1979: 80–2). These qualities, together with whimsical spelling that frequently follows rules that govern pronunciation rather than strict orthography, substantiate the impression of unmediated orality (Barańczak 1994: xvii). With the opening invocation: “I feel a need to relate here for Family, kin, and friends of mine the beginning of these my adventures, now ten years old, in the Argentinean capital” (TA 3), the narrator also immediately establishes a sense of urgency, at the same time inviting the reader to partake in the ritual performance he is about to enact. In this way gawęda as a device transports the plot, catches up with the story and retroactively fixes it in a carnivalesque chronotope,43 which here is the unique conjunction of slowed temporality, fragmentary narratorial interiority and hybrid locus. Another key feature of the use of a gawęda form is related more intimately to exilic discourse. Gombrowicz’s linguistic de- and re-construction project functions as a metaphor for the detachment from a common linguistic source invariably 42 Indeed, Pasek’s narrative was not published in its entirety until 1836, when a run of 250 copies was commissioned by Count Edward Raczyński of Poznań and, apparently, caused something of a literary furore (see Leach 1976: xvi). 43 The chronotope, as a Bakhtinian construct, is defined as a privileged junction of time and place. Each individual chronotope possesses a unique narrative combination of language, speech genres, and structures. For a taxonomy of major chronotopes found in Western literature, see Morson and Emerson 1990: 372–418.

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experienced in exile, and confirms the possibility of unique expatriate genres and jargons as forms that will not be necessarily cognate with the grammatical and syntactical orthodoxies in the homeland. In effect Gombrowicz pushes the notions of difference and divergence to a logical conclusion, espousing a grammatical analogue which, by virtue of its point of “generic” departure represents a disjunction; it is severed from modernity (the gawęda form stands apart from the major discourses of literary modernity, and hence could be seen as a kind of evolutionary dead end in literary history). In the absence in the place of exile of a deeply nourishing cultural reservoir, for his first postmodernist text Gombrowicz dispenses with contemporaneity altogether, substituting for it the incunabula, the originary traces, of linguistic and cultural vigor judged most apposite for the foundation of his para-universe. To this end he clinically bypasses the language of modern(-ist) exilic dystopia and makes a self-reflexive, ironic return to a (quasi-) utopian fountainhead. Ultimately, the ongoing interchange in the architectonics of the book with the Sarmatian topos and its discrete language(s) signals an attempt to synthesize a heterotopia in exile, a mode of enunciation grounded, like much of the avant-garde, in the revolutionary potentiality of the logos. Hence the resulting “topography” of linguistic heterotopia in Trans-Atlantyk, to further localize Gombrowicz’s objective, represents a culmination of a polyphonic, syncretic dialogue with erstwhile grammars and styles for the inscription of autonomous subjectivity. For the cornerstone of the Gombrowiczian literary project in Trans-Atlantyk — though this may sound self-evident — is his native language. As many critics of this work have noted, the intrinsic flexibility of Polish grammar yields a great capability for reordering, without compromising overall semantic integrity. In linguistic systems where word order assumes a correspondingly greater role within sentences, such as French and English, this type of play would produce near-chaos, and translations into those languages judiciously avoid reproducing Gombrowicz’s solecisms. On the other hand, the innate potential for substitution in the playful Polish of Gombrowicz’s exilic discourse, as Thompson concludes, exposes “the latent structures” of grammar and more generally “activates new linguistic potentialities . . . that have long been lying fallow.”44 Gombrowicz then distils and amplifies the elasticity of Polish by applying an ersatz oral form in which rhythm was still more vital. What he finally obtains is a highly compliant tool for semantic gaming, an exceedingly limber syntax wherein individual parts of speech can be easily rearranged (or capitalized), depending on the emphasis

44 Thompson 1979: 111. In other words, the practice is quite removed from the methodical accidentality of Dada or the logical fragmentation of language in Beckett.

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sought. And it was through repetition with difference that the narrator generates and then defines his own textual identity and decodes the otherness of his setting. Thus, when viewed strictly in terms of its linguistic innovations, Trans-Atlantyk ultimately emerges as a celebration of the rhythmic qualities of language; it is a work that self-consciously acknowledges the creative function, the jouissance of language.45

GENESIS AND AMNESIA: A BOOK OF LAUGHTER AND/OR FORGETTING In one of the many surprising passages in the Diary wherein he permits himself to speak freely and “directly” (or so we are led to believe) about the problematics of exilic authorship and the struggles involved in maintaining a culturally hybrid identity, Gombrowicz relates the originary creative impulse that (again, we have to take his word for it) led to Trans-Atlantyk: One evening, I began to amuse myself by composing reminiscences of my first weeks in Buenos Aires. However, through the very weight of the past I was overcome by a sensation of being an anachronism, draped in an atavistic style, implicated in some ancient sclerosis. And I derived such immense pleasure from this sensation that I immediately set down with the idea of creating a text that would form an antique memoir of those days. But . . . as so often happens, the narrative line began to slip away from me; what had been conceived as a straightforward chronicle of those first days transformed itself . . . through a thousand concessions made to Form, into a strange and fantastic creature, a product of a multitude of impulses, stimuli, exhilarations. And Poland came to the foreground because I was writing about the Poles, primarily. If I ended up writing a book that is anachronistic in style it is because I sensed that Poland itself was an anachronism, and as such ideally suited to a decorative theatrical narrative . . . Then the book appears. Outrage [oburzenie]. Letters. For and against. But my role is now clearly delineated [jasno określona]. My second entrance into my native literature (some 15 years after Ferdydurke) was made under the sign of revolt against my homeland. (Gombrowicz 2000b: 19–21)

One of the keys to understanding Gombrowicz’s narratological program is to 45 Trans-Atlantyk is also a highly musical work, and its contrapuntal structure and the systems of stressing and intonation are more amenable to reading aloud, in line with the intended effect of the baroque gawęda narrative, which was after all akin to a “spokenword,” performative, narrative genre.

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conceive of deterritorialization as an element that is inherent in his work,46 a function of his conception of Poland as a peripheral player in the chronicles of European culture. In Polish Memories he states explicitly that the Polish state, “freshly minted” in 1919, “had to leave to others great discoveries in philosophy, science, and art, technological and other breakthroughs; we were consigned to the role of the pupil whose greatest achievement can be at best rapid assimilation of others’ accomplishments” (Gombrowicz 2004: 93). When Gombrowicz posits in the Diary and later works such as A Kind of Testament and Polish Memories that everything in Poland that is regarded as culturally novel has already been accomplished elsewhere, I argue that his motivation is not exilic bitterness but rather his self-consciousness as a latecomer: an epigone possessed of the insight that the essentially “immature” status of Polish cultural production must first be acknowledged in order to ever be overcome,47 but thereby an epigone liberated from the “complex of secondhandedness” (Gombrowicz 2004: 93). Only frank acceptance of the cultural lag can spark off a catharsis of form, creating an imaginative space needed for the construction of original narrative voices, original new subjects. Trans-Atlantyk can thus be as seen as a paradoxical but required step for shaping “national” growth and, more to the point, the development of autonomous subjects who compose a nation without strictly identifying with it, or docilely submitting to its collective imaginaries: I strove towards a moment when a Pole could say: I belong to a subordinate, forgotten, secondary [podrzędny] race. With Pride. For, as you’ve likely noticed, such an utterance exalts as much as it debases. It debases me in my character of a member of a group, but it elevates me, individually, above the collective; look, I did not allow myself to be deceived; I am capable of situating myself in the world. However, our literature, denuded always of any elements of individualism, has historically been capable of affirming only the nation. (Gombrowicz 2000b: 22–3).

This dialectic turn is complemented with a proposition so characteristically “Gombrowiczian,” so characteristically provocative, that it cannot be glossed over: 46 See Deleuze and Guattari 1986: ch. 1. 47 See Gombrowicz 2000a: 32–3; 38–40; 2004: 25–7 (on Poland’s “modest contribution to world culture”), 76–7, 87–100, and esp. 123–4, where Gombrowicz points out that the Wawel Castle complex — perhaps Poland’s most intensely concentrated artistic monument — was constructed and outfitted almost entirely by foreign architects and artisans who had been invited to Kraków by a succession of Polish rulers. See also his essay “wielka Kompromitacja Formy i jej Degradacja” [The great compromise and degradation of form] (Gombrowicz 1973: 35–40).

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We have been the most committed patriots in the world. Does this not imply the potential for the coolest, most rationalist anti-patriotism . . . till now feared as some a bastard thought, contemptuously dismissed as anarchy? Until now, our convulsive history, our national poverty, is what has delimited our borders. Until now, our desperate love for the fatherland [ojczyzna] has made us utterly dependent on it. (Gombrowicz 2000b: 25).

The Diary thus offers a prescription for a new form of independent Polishness,48 albeit in an oblique fashion: he tells readers to look for it in that “outrageous” novel of his, Trans-Atlantyk. What Gombrowicz proposes through the agency of this narrative is a radical manifesto or better a subversive anti-manifesto of cosmic autonomy.49 His is the view that twentieth-century Poles, exhausted from the stream of successive tragedies that shaped their history since the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth’s decline in the early eighteenth century, have long harbored a set of dual and opposed sentiments for the fatherland. The resultant sense of national consciousness operated in a gross asymmetry, where one observed incontrovertible patriotism drowning out dissenting voices, but also a secret self-loathing. A plethora of national holidays and festivals attested to a chivalric past (though one covered by the mist of legend) when the country’s prestige was at a zenith; this, however, was countered by the “Polish legend of national martyrdom” (Płonowska Ziarek 1998: 225) — the legacy of humiliation reified by the more recent instances of defeat which were more difficult to romanticize.50 This bifurcated cultural identity, wherein the “good patriotic Pole” (think Józef Piłsudski) was forever shadowed by a potentially demonic double (think Feliks Dzierzyński)51 traced its origins in the era before the Partitions and loss of independence in 1795. However, 48 One finds echoes of the Iranian social critics Jalal Al-e Ahmad and other early scholars of Orientalism and post-coloniality who warned against the force-fed “Westoxication” of the subaltern subject in Gombrowicz’s appeal to the collective from a position of an authorizing agency (see Al-e Ahmad 1997). Generally, it would be wise to view Gombrowicz’s proclamations on nation with some reserve, not only because of his propensity toward subversive provocation, often engaged in his guise as an anti-bard, but also because of the somewhat histrionic voicing of the national alter ego and the subsequent articulation of a counterposed “ego ideal,” of an ersatz imago, in passages such as the one above. However, considering that this section of the Diary forms part of his initial reaction to critiques of Trans-Atlantyk tendered by émigré readers and pundits, Gombrowicz could perhaps be taken at his word. 49 Gombrowicz’s tendency in his narratives to establish subversive oppositions that prey on the symbolic and psychological complexes and introduce structural turbulence or ideational impurities, is well documented (see e.g. Berressem 1998: 90–8, 124–7). 50 Gombrowicz reiterates this position in several of his works (see e.g. Gombrowicz 2000a: 122–4, 143–4, 232–3; 2000b: 20–7). 51 And see Miłosz’s Rodzinna Europa, where these two scions of the Polish gentry

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the duality became structurally ensconced after the rebirth of the Rzeczpospolita (Second Polish Republic) after 1919. The resulting asymmetry in modern Polish identity construction called for a psychic rupture,52 a posture of doublespeak wherein one publicly sanctified the national doxa only to curse them privately. By proposing a structural doublet of “Gombrowicz” (the national subject in need of liberation) and “Gonzalo” (the paradoxical, queer liberator), Trans-Atlantyk sanctions what until then had been suppressed as heresy to the national creed:53 the idea of the Pole as a (potential) other, the Pole as a member of a younger culture, the Pole as ex-centric.54 Thus the pointed critical reactions when the novel appeared may have been justified after a fashion; on a visceral level they seemed to recognize the fact that Gombrowicz was all along deeply committed to “Poland,” even if his commitment was that of an avant-gardist, a destroyer of communal certitudes and rituals, an iconoclast disdainful of the September 1939 “Requiem mass”55 for the stricken nation. A second component of Gombrowicz’s exilic drive toward autonomy can be read in the scene of the narrator’s confrontation with big-C Culture, in the form of a thinly disguised Jorge Luis Borges,56 Gombrowicz’s contemporary and Argentina’s poet laureate.57 In the altercation with Borges and members of the Buenos Aires literary elite, the narrator is pressed into attack by members of the Legation who bemoan the fact that a local writer is at the center of the celebration, while “the Great Polish Author, Genius” remains ignored (TA 32). Gombrowicz

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— contemporaries nearly — and their itineraries through nascent East European modernity, are (shockingly?) compared and contrasted (2001: 62–3). Czesław Miłosz referred to this internal splitting as ketman, a term that referred to a survival strategy among intellectuals in East-Central Europe who found themselves forced to learn new rules of survival under communist regimes (see his The Captive Mind [1953]). In this political treatise Miłosz undertakes a socio-historical analysis of the life of four Polish writers active before and after the 1945 Communist takeover of the country. The concept of ketman as an instrument of political survival is elaborated in the introductory chapter. See also Płonowska Ziarek 1998: 216. See Thompson 1979: 120–1; cf. Płonowska Ziarek 1998: 225–6. See Gombrowicz 1969: 89, 91. See TA 31–5; cf. Reinaldo Arenas’ take on this rivalry (1994: 80–1). And, if Gombrowicz can be believed, apparently his inadvertent rival. It is worth noting that all major confrontations that transpire during this quest for heterotopia are resolved through the atavistic institution of a literal or figurative duel. Only the first of the three staged duels implicates the narrator directly. The second duel, an “empty” gunfight between Tomasz and Gonzalo, is inscribed as a metonymic confrontation between the fatherland’s weighty institutions and the unlegislated potentials of life in the sonland. The final duel scene, this time involving Tomasz and Ignacy in a dialogic reversal of patricide, represents the definitive clash between these two zones, ultimately culminating in an anti-climax since the only real solution Gombrowicz can (for the moment) advance is an outburst of neutralizing — but also outrageous — laughter.

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here shows not only the clash of individual artistic egos, of two highly-prized “cultural ambassadors,” but also, as the Lacanian critic Hanjo Berressem demonstrates in an intriguing reading, of two poetics.58 As a number of studies of Gombrowicz, such as those by Grimstad, Płonowska Ziarek, Jarzębski59 and Markowski, have demonstrated, the fundamental clash portrayed in this scene pits intertextual techniques of authorial self-realization against the performative mode. In Berressem’s reading, in particular, the novel tracks a collision course between the Gombrowiczian poetics of the conscious writerly self striving for autonomy, and its relation to both unconscious life and the institutions of culture, and the Borgesian subject, a conjurer of narrative identities who remains in perpetual possession of the cultural heritage and thus embodies a literary “library of Babel” (Berressem 1997: 117). The encyclopaedic breadth of Borges’ expertise makes him appear “exceptionally intelligent” (TA 32) and, to the extent that he “himself all the more ensubtled, distilled, in every utterance of his . . . enormously subtle intelligence” (TA 32), this (meta-)narrative Borges comes to epitomize the cultural dominant in general; he personifies high modernist art praxis that constantly reflects itself and its form — but also its fundamental “lack of being” — onto itself (Berressem 1997: 118). For Berressem, this essential emptiness is in the end what accounts for the cold sterility that marks the “gran escritor’s” style (TA 33). His sublime recital ultimately constitutes little other than a “clever juggling act” (Berressem 1997: 118–19), a manipulation of sterile things for a dubious, though indubitably solipsistic, esthetic credit. Berressem argues that in the duel scene Gombrowicz not only depicts the impossibility of original utterance in the face of an overpowering cultural heritage, but also casts doubts on the viability of an epistemological exploration of subjectivity, that is, the very existence of a traditionally understood speaking/ writing subject. After all, confronted with the monument of cultural and literary history, even a narcissistic subject must of necessity be turned into a cultural copy. Accordingly, when “Gombrowicz,” thoroughly beaten by the unassailable ratiocinations of his adversary, is reduced to exclaiming “merde, merde!,” “Borges’ deftly shows that even this utterance constitutes an instance of cultural imitation 58 See Berressem 1997: 117–18. To be fair to Borges, any claims to his own ambassadorship are problematized as much by the textual cosmopolitanism he espoused as by the assertion, in “Argentine writing and tradition,” that local writers should not preoccupy themselves with describing Argentinean “color” and the domestic realities. Rather their task, in order to be counted among fully realized artists, should be to engage European themes and speak to a global culture. In brief, Borges’s prescription for the success of his fellow writers on the world stage rests on their being capable of becoming “universal” subjects (Borges 1964: 181–4). As even a cursory reading of the Diary or A Kind of Testament reveals, this model of writerly subjectivity would not be entirely unfamiliar to Gombrowicz. 59 In particular in his Gra w Gombrowicza [The Gombrowicz game] (1982: 399–416).

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— if not a cliché.60 Thus the narrator in Trans-Atlantyk, a double outsider due to his exilic status and due to what might be taken to be an anachronistic poetics, can “only engage in repetition” (Berressem 1997: 119); the originary gesture always already belongs to another agent, speaker, or text. One may, however, argue against the essentialist logic of that claim, since on a certain level the same can be said for every text or utterance ever since the deployment of the original logos. Berressem seems to have ignored what the narrative is actually doing, that is, its inherent performativity; as such the text requires the presence of familiar figures, stock images and distinctly intelligible rhetorical moves for its success and impact with “the audience.” In the poetics of TransAtlantyk it is not the speech act itself, and not merely the desire to form a new self in language, but rather the specific modes of speaking that together mark an exilic consciousness wherein the possibilities of heterotopia can be tested. So even though the narrator stutters and falls in his scene with “Borges,” for Gombrowicz it is the cliquish modernists who are misguided because ultimately tendentious, overly dependent on calcified form. Specifically, the urbane intertextuality they espoused and their richly saturated cultural indices, for all their insistence on self-reflexive autonomy, were imitative: in invoking the words of the greats, Trans-Atlantyk’s Borges both reproduced and enshrined them. Conversely, for the narrator — or better, on the narratological level — the neo-baroque gawęda style, “Gombrowicz’s” provincial style, while appearing clumsy and self-conscious, in the end represents a recuperation of an original textual form.61 The narrator’s self-consciously liminal status and his uncertainty as a subject are insistently confirmed by the lack of cultural prestige suffered by his homeland vis-à-vis the greater Western civilization, and this crucial problem of negotiating one’s cultural and literary identity politics forms the third and final constituent in Gombrowicz’s exilic discourse. The Poland Gombrowicz left behind in late summer of 1939 is predominantly a consumer of foreign ideas,62 and in this 60 Gombrowicz here is repeating an exclamation allegedly attributed to the French imperial general Pierre Jacques Étienne Cambronne, immediately upon his side’s surrender at the Battle of Waterloo — just as he is about to experience his own fiasco, handed to him by “Borges” (see also Berressem 1997: 119–22). 61 Despite this, and even though Gombrowicz scores a point against the intertextual subjectivity of the modernist elite — it may be parodied here from an early postmodernist perspective, but it was a technique of self-inscription that he, too, once explored, in Ferdydurke — the dialectics of originality and imitation nonetheless remain deeply etched in this text as a problem to work through on a subject’s path toward autonomy. On the parodist styles of early postmodernism, see e.g. Spanos 1995; Hutcheon 1988: esp. ch. 8. 62 On the Poles’ traditional self-conscious epigonality, their dialectic of inferiority–superiority in relation to their neighbors, and their inability (beginning before the Age of Enlightenment), to transform major Western artistic and literary ideas into a unique form, see e.g. Miłosz’s ruminations in Rodzinna Europa (1959: 66–99), on interwar

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regard it is already quasi-colonial; it belongs to the domain of the represented and the subaltern,63 in Edward Said’s sense of the term.64 As mentioned, Poland’s cultural immaturity and the resulting insufficiency of form insured that the Poles since the end of the baroque period have endured a “West-struck” national selfconsciousness.65 Thus Gombrowicz’s own dislocating self-exile to a “developing country . . . mercifully devoid of national geniuses of its own,” as he puts it in his Diary66 — aside from openly cosmopolitan figures like Borges and Cortazar — displaces him even further, as it were, from the main currents of European culture, and redoubles his sense of marginality. Most important, through the maintenance of this émigré space, and his ongoing insistence on Argentina’s provincialness — despite ample evidence to the contrary, the literary group associated with the journal Sur being only one tangible example — Gombrowicz obtained a sounding board against which his literary subjectivity, engaged using a literary form that preceded Poland’s formal decline, could take shape unimpeded. Indeed, as a geographical backdrop to Trans-Atlantyk, Argentina — especially the “other” Argentina of the pampas and resort towns visited during low season — came to function as a prompt, or better as a counterpoint, to his variations on problems of form, almost invariably Polish cultural form.67 The focus remained

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nationalism and the Polish brand of Catholicism (which was for him akin to a Roman corset of imported liturgy that, when taken off or broken, would expose an inner chaos of an eclectic mix of unsystematized, because not fully assimilated, “Western” forms and beliefs). In contrast to the vast Slavic empire to the east, Russia, Poland has historically been largely incapable of transforming Western concepts to its own objectives employing original forms: this too, for Miłosz, is the common fate of peripheral cultures. See Miłosz (1959, 146–72) on the relation between Polish and Russian nation-making since the Partitions of Poland (Rosja); cf. Gombrowicz 2004: 90–3. The “represented,” in Said’s now-classic system, are the Orientalized: they are voiceless subjects unable to or more often forbidden from representing themselves. For Said, the policies of their self-perception and their representation are always already the task of another, either dictated or strongly reinforced by dominant (chiefly Western European but also North American) authorizing centers (see Said 1979: 20–2). In Orientalism the concept of the “subaltern” is employed as a synonym for “Oriental.” However, as is well known, Said cautions that within the Orientalist enterprise, “Oriental” was “often meant as a derogatory expression signifying a lesser breed of human being,” no matter which parts of the world they hailed from (Said 1979: 340). The prototype of this practice in Polish history is surely the phenomenon of elected, mainly foreign (Western European) kings, principally during an era of budding national consciousness which begins with the Reformation era and culminates in the European Enlightenment. My emphasis; cf. Gombrowicz 2000b: 136–9. It is certainly ironic that Gombrowicz would become an exile precisely because the beacon-of-light Europeans have launched a war of unparalleled brutality against one another, a technological war justified in part by modish not to say avant-gardist theories of social and scientific determinism. In connection with this observation, see Markowski’s superb deconstruction of Gombrowicz’s portrayal (this one can be found in the Diary, but the paradigm remains the same) of the uncanny otherness of objects in the Argentinean port town of Goya

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on the notion of reconceptualizing the Polish cultural imaginary through a rhetoric of youthful potentiality versus calcified form. It was only within such anonymous spaces that Gombrowicz’s initial émigré displacement could be renegotiated by working through the semi-mythologized national past (the “ancient sclerosis”), which resulted in the re-affirmation of a Baroque style for the architectonics of his most outraged and outrageous novel. This unique subject positionality is still another means through which the discontinuity of the exile experience and the writing about expatriation materialized, for Gombrowicz, as the site of heterotopia. As a “non-place” of language, the textual fabric of Trans-Atlantyk became a site of exchange where a collective Polish past and the author’s (nationless) present could be productively reconciled through a formulation of a new artistic future.68 In one of the more provocative sections of the Diary, Gombrowicz summarizes both his soi-disant peripheral status and his agonized and belated “entry” into international literature: On reading this diary of mine, what impression are you left with? Is it not as though some provincial from a Polish hinterland has walked into an immense, quivering factory, and began promenading along its hallways as though he were walking along a path in his own garden? Here he beholds a red hot oven, where existentialisms are produced, and there is Sartre himself, busy fabricating his axiom of “liberty–responsibility” from molten lead. Over here you have bottomless pots where ideologies, worldviews and beliefs are constantly brewed. Here, the cauldron of Catholicism. Further over, the steelworks of Marxism, the hammers of psychoanalysis, and over by the wall the artesian wells of Hegel and the sergers of phenomenology . . . And as the factory whirs, whistles and shakes, it produces ever more perfected instruments, which in turn streamline, refine, quicken production; thus everything becomes more magnificent . . . As for me, I keep walking amongst the steaming, piping machinery and here and there I stop by to examine one of the products (as I would a pear or plum in my garden) and say “Hmm, this is maybe a bit too hard.” Or: “No, this, I think, seems too rich.” Or still: “To hell with this, it’s far too stiff, not comfortable at all!” Or even: “Now this wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t so hot.” (Gombrowicz 2000a: 120–1) (Markowski 2004: 86–9), as well as his discussion of the concept of otherness in Cosmos (Gombrowicz 2005: 145–55), specifically the dynamics of “odnoszenie się, czyli relacyjność” (“relatedness or inter-relatedness”) (Gombrowicz 2005: 155) of objects to one another and to the ordering consciousness of the narrative voice. This later concept of otherness has its root in tracing the exilic otherness of a Polish queer minor noble author living out his personal drama, virtually unknown, under the vast and indifferent skies of Argentina. 68 See also McHale 1987: 44–5.

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Aside from recruiting his rather naive (and disingenuous) hreczkosiej/wieśniak (peasant) persona, Gombrowicz is also ratifying here the marginality of his own position relative to Western centers of cultural production. This reification resonates strongly with the broader perception of provinciality that intermittently comes to the fore in debates over the most accurate placement of Polish culture — as it has again in recent years in the writings of Andrzej Stasiuk, Krzysztof Czyżewski and Ryszard Kapuściński, to offer only examples of prominent figures.69 This myth, of a redeeming Polish provincialness, is frequently used to counter the exceptionalist mythology of Poland that has been disseminated by its cultural agencies since the regaining of independence in 1919, namely the idée fixe of Poland as a major European culture, which despite its downfalls always again on the brink of re-emergence and greatness (the overworked Phoenix metaphor of Poland “rising up again” is typically revivified here).70 This somewhat aggrandizing self-image, based principally on propagandist romanticizations of the national heritage which more often than not concealed significant failings in the mist of a semi-legendary past, was variously conscripted after the Second World War both by émigré institutions (which Gombrowicz officially opposed) and the official organs of the Communist government (which it appears he merely pitied). It is clear that combating these collective delusions was at the nucleus of Gombrowicz’s transatlantic deconstruction of the Polish ideological and cultural imaginary. Thus we are left with a burning question. How can the marginal East European subject who adds his voice to the grand European narrative be rendered original? Confronted with seemingly paradoxical positions, the reader has much to learn from the unsaid, from what Gombrowicz likely did not intend to assume center 69 See e.g. Andrzej Stasiuk’s novella Opowieści galicyjskie (2003), as well as his collaboration with the Ukrainian writer Jurij Andruchowycz, Moja Europa, Dwa eseje o Europie zwanej Środkową (2001); Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Dom dzienny, dom nocny (2003). The valorization of Poland as province was also a leitmotif of Ryszard Kapuściński’s Lapidaria series (1990–2007); in this context see Gasyna 2008. 70 These prevailing attitudes are felicitously synthesized by the noted Polish–British historian Adam Zamoyski in The Polish Way (1987). Zamoyski stresses that there has been justifiable consternation over the fact that of the “six major” nations of Europe, “the Germans, the French, the English, the Italians, the Spanish and the Poles [note that Russia is excluded from this list, presumably for constituting something of an “Asiatic-style” empire, rather than a European nation-state], the first five have between them created everything that Europe stands for, while the Poles seem to have contributed virtually nothing.” His contention is that “a closer inspection” — which is the object of his study — “will reveal that their [the Poles’] influence has been much greater than is commonly thought.” However, Zamoyski concedes that “the cause and the effect” of Poland’s marginality are encapsulated in “a certain distance between the Poles and their sister people” in Europe — specifically in the fact that of the six only Polish society was not constructed “on the spiritual foundations laid by the Roman Empire” (Zamoyski 1987: 7, my emphasis).

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stage in this work but which nevertheless makes an indelible impression. Reading Trans-Atlantyk (or even the Diary) against the grain — that is, by employing the same interstitial approach to the subject as Gombrowicz articulates in TransAtlantyk — it should now be possible to gesture to a possible moment of blindness in authorial intentionality. The crucial element in reconstructing a writer’s historical context and more specifically the moments of textual blindness, after Paul de Man, consists in a recuperative maneuver that takes into account concrete historicity of a specific text and its contexts.71 The latter mode proposes strategies for close reading that, beyond mere attempts at reconstruction of a given literary tradition or style, reflect the fusion of “the horizon of the interpreter’s historical present with that of the text in its historical past” (Kermode 1983: 203). As de Man suggests, “moments of blindness” which are beyond the subjective purview of an author, are inextricably tied up with the act of writing itself; they are immanent in both the conceit and the actual processes of subjective representation (de Man 1983: 106–11, 140–1). One may indicate some of these discontinuities and paradoxes in evidence in Gombrowicz’s poetics and his views on culture its discontents. For example, the signifying chain from an initial posture of opposition, to pained ambivalence to Poland and Poles, and finally the renegotiated return to authentic Polish form (the Sarmatian Baroque) reveals a classic aporia, paralleling the oscillations noted in the Diary toward the reception of this novel in Poland and in the émigrés’ Paris. I would suggest that Gombrowicz is caught in his time, as it were, while attempting a textual rectification of an earlier position. After Jacques Derrida, we can suggest that Gombrowicz’s trace or spoor, that photographic negative of his intentionality,72 is precisely his overinvested opposition to (Polish) myth and simultaneous obsession with the various pressures it can exert on a communal sense of self (and thus a polity), from hysterical declarations of national self-sacrifice and martyrdom (TA 56–7, 89), to the romantic enactments of a cathected death drive via heroic duels (to defend honor) (TA 53–6, 65–6). Certainly in Trans-Atlantyk one detects the recurring motif of patriotism; however, it is not merely a rebours, merely turned on its head, parodied, or subverted. Rather, the evident ongoing destruction of old forms (of the patria) is intimately coupled with the construction of a new literary experience and a new literary consciousness (especially for Polish literature), which is nevertheless subject to an ideational delay.73 Insofar as this esthetic movement is in fact both different and deferred — since Gombrowicz’s goal is to postulate an autonomous literature 71 I am here employing Frank Kermode’s explications of these terms (see Kermode 1983: 26–30, 201–5). 72 See Derrida 1976: 10–18, 60–1. 73 See Gombrowicz 2000b: 18–21, 29, and 20.

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which nonetheless uses Polish thematics and responds to the needs of Polish/exilic readers, those ones who would later be courted in the Diary — the text captures the Derridean notion of slippage of semantic intentionality, or différance, in an exceptionally engaging way.74 The formula that best expresses this dynamics is as follows: Gombrowicz’s writing engages a process of creating literature comprised of a Polish mnemosyne together with an emergent exilic sense of difference where signification of symbolically charged icons (for instance, nation, subjectivity, exile, and in particular the Romantic imagination) is subject to deferral, so that it becomes re-engaged within a new formal dialectic of home (patria) and elsewhere (heterotopia). It would thus be incorrect to suggest a lack of concern about Poland on Gombrowicz’s part — if that were the case, surely he would not have returned to the problematic of Polishness again and again in his writings, using all the resourcefulness, cunning, and literary contacts at his disposal. As another example, consider his volume of short essays entitled Polish Memories and Travels in Argentina.75 The work was initially intended as a series of radio talks, written during the late 1950s and then suppressed until they were unearthed by Jerzy Giedroyc (from among Gombrowicz’s papers archived by his widow, Rita), who then decided to publish them in one collection (Giedroyc 2006: 343–4). If one thinks of contemporary NPR or BBC radio equivalents, then the matter seems self-evident: a controversial author hopes to break new ground, perhaps with the aim of increasing popular visibility — and if the interviews go very well, book sales. But Polish émigré radio in the Cold War era was nothing like the BBC as far as political functionality and social visibility were concerned (Giedroyc 2006: 342–3); on the other hand, radio surely offered a more effective way to reach audiences in Poland from abroad than “forbidden” texts could. In other words, if Gombrowicz was aware that radio waves travel more freely across political borders than do books and are less vulnerable to the static of censorship, as he must have been, the real question then becomes to what extent did he use that fact to his political advantage.76 Further complicating this calculus is the matter of politics of place: considering his preoccupation with form and his favorite cultural adversaries — that is, institutionalized bourgeois culture and its nationalistic undertones — Gombrowicz could have composed entire treatises on problems of 74 For modes of conceiving the concept of différance as “differing,” “deferring” and “detour” and as an interplay of absence and presence both on the level of psyche and enunciation (and text), see in particular Gayatri Spivak’s elaboration in her “Preface” for Of Grammatology (Spivak 1970: xliii–xlv). 75 The first half of that double volume was recently published in English by Yale University Press as Polish Memories, trans. Bill Johnston (2004). 76 See that work’s two introductory sections, “Gęba i twarz” [The mug and the face] and “Dyskusja radiowa która nie doszła do skutku” [A radio interview that did not come to be] (Gombrowicz 1990: 7–13, 15–19).

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cultural “deviation” in his expatriate home, Argentina, and had them translated by young littérateurs of his cafe acquaintance, such as Virgilio Piñera, who had earlier helped him render Ferdydurke into Spanish. In this way Gombrowicz could have potentially secured a new exilic readership — or at least some choice new foes. Yet the evidence shows that largely he did not write about Argentina, except as a frequently anecdotal counterpoint to his variations on problems of form, and frequently on Polish form.

FROM MARGINALIZATION TO HETEROTOPIA As we have seen, the program of self-liberation laid out in Trans-Atlantyk transcends the standard binary of affiliation–repudiation attendant on expatriation and refuses to bow down to any nostalgias aimed at recapturing a lost privileged space (coinciding with the homeland77); nor does not afford the author the luxury of dystopic laments of those who become cut off from the culture’s authorizing centers and retreat into the role of fabulists of bitterness.78 What remains, then, is to delineate the parameters of Gombrowicz’s heterotopic zone in the novel. The principle at work is one of systemic hybridization; Trans-Atlantyk normalizes carnivalesque disorder and discursively “fills in” the fissures between established paradigms. This dynamic comes more plainly into view in TransAtlantyk’s second part with its clear lines of demarcation between, for example, the Poles and the Argentineans, or the patriots and the “deviants.” The deformations of identity and place are echoed by narratological distortions on a number of other registers of meaning: the ideological, the erotic and most importantly the symbolic.79 The resulting heterogeneity of forms is underscored not only by fantastic and protean creatures (for example seen roaming about Gonzalo’s palace and grounds, of which more in a moment, and Gonzalo the “Bull . . . or . . . Cow” himself [TA 36], of course), but also by a hybrid mode of the narration itself, which aims to tell an essentially postmodern allegory of an individual’s self-actualization through language within a hybrid space, using a genre seemingly culled from an idyllic past.80 If, as Foucault contends, heterotopia must be understood primarily 77 See Miłosz 1994: 37. 78 E. M. Cioran, an exile in France and Gombrowicz’s contemporary, savagely decried the second of the two possibilities: Such émigrés, he wrote, form close-knit groups “to get up subscriptions, to bleed each other white in order to publish their regrets, their cries, their echoless appeals . . . The little émigré reviews appear at the cost of almost indecent sacrifices and renunciations” (1994: 151). 79 See Płonowska Ziarek 1998: 227–39. 80 See Płonowska Ziarek 1998: 220–1.

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as a disruption of the familiar normative order of things (Foucault 1970: xvi), then Gombrowicz’s exilic imagination functions as the agent of propulsion toward the realm of the other, toward the potentiality of metamorphosis. The specific narratological locus, that is the non-place, where the impurities, discontinuities, and other subversive challenges to the system of signification can be localized is Gonzalo’s estancia. It is here that the narrator and a number of other key figures — such as Tomasz, Ignacy, and the Legation diplomats — come to resolve (or not) their differences. The palace is situated and, by virtue of a high fence, symbolically otherized, in the interstices between the styles of the cultural dominant, as represented by its exterior forms, and the style of the subaltern, implied by the shadowy and fundamentally proletarian characters (parobki) lurking within. The narrator chances upon and nearly trips over several such nocturnal subjects asleep along the length of a hallway, but immediately situates them within a differential frame of cultural relativism: “I keep going. The corridor long. I perceived that here lads Employed on the estancia were lodged at night . . . the which surprised me since it would be more proper if in the Farmhouses a perch were assigned to them . . . yet every master according to his own mind governs and Heeds Not his Neighbour’s Creeds” (TA 92–3, my emphasis). Outside the palace, “Gombrowicz” encounters merely the disorder of civilizational abundance, a rendering of the surfaces of Western culture that has collapsed into a quasi-cubist heap presumably because it could not bear its weight: “After the Gates have opened, a Drive before us, murky, humid — the which leads to the Palace, heavily gilded, of Moorish, or Renaissance, of Gothic and likewise Romanesque architecture” (TA 80). The palace grounds, on the other hand, are an orgy of excess, signaling mannerist over-reliance on the potential of forms, all equally seductive but at the same time oddly hollow in their plasticity. Along with the narrator, the reader now enters a realm of superabundance of form (in other words, decadence) and consumerist paradise gone amok, with Gonzalo serving as the poster boy for Matei Calinescu’s postmodern kitschman.81 The grounds, we are told, are “a-quiver with Hummingbirds, Flies, huge, golden, Butterflies of many hues, Parrots divers” (TA 80). In this “other” Eden, the order of nature is — perhaps not surprisingly — perturbed; as evening falls, the various creatures convened on the palace grounds for the guests’ admiration revert to the instinctive laws of classification. They begin violently to protest the juxtapositions of this proto-utopian space; unable to withstand the close proximity to one another they proceed to “bite each other” amid “the buzzing of Flies, the squawking of Parrots, the growling of dogs” 81 See Calinescu on Kitsch (1987: ch. 4), for an analysis of this term with reference to the postmodernist zeitgeist and Western consumerist paradigms.

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(TA 81–2), and “other voices, titterings, night squeals of who knows what Animals” (TA 85). The cornucopia of life-forms in Gonzalo’s zoological Tower of Babel is culturally refracted — here at least, art imitates life — both by the host’s sartorial choices which highlight his indeterminate, shape-shifting, “lace Skirt” and “Sandals or perchance Pumps” wearing in-betweenness (TA 82–3), and by the collections of works of art which fill the estancia. The latter metonymically point to the accumulated content of the whole of Western civilization as not only valuable cultural capital but also cultural surfeit: A hall large with divers things filled . . . Salons the which with Plafonds, Parquets, Stuccos, Panellings, and likewise Bays, Columns, Paintings, Statues, further on Cupids and Refectories, Pilasters, Tapestries, Carpets and also Palms and Flagons too, Vases Filigreen, of crystal, of jasper, caskets, rosewood baskets, chests, cithers, Venetian and even Florentine, and likewise incrustated with filigree. And one upon the other crammed, one with the other, there a Triptych under a Vase, yonder a Carpet upon a Candelabra, a Cupid next to a Goblin, and here in an Armchair a Madonna, there a Column from who knows whence and wherefore, and next to it a Shield and even a Platter. (TA 80, 91)

Such intimate proximity of the mass of objects, of contrasting periods and styles to be integrated within this new matrix of form proves unendurable to the outside observer, so violently do they compete for one’s esthetic response. On the other hand, Gonzalo the masterly kitschman coexists with his catalog of “Treasures” with facility (TA 80); in fact he revels in this cultural superabundance, at one point casually breaking a precious vase as if to underscore the point that the accumulated surplus value of the objects “cheapens” each one individually (TA 81). As with the dogs biting each other, so too, in a flight of metaphor, the objets themselves begin to enter into violent copular relationships: “Mark [Gonzalo says] . . . as that Madonna that Chinese-Indian dragon bites, and this green Persian carpet that Murillo of mine, and these Cornices those statues . . . they will bite each other to bits” (TA 81). Next, moving from consumption to narrative production, Gonzalo gestures to the physical discord and semantic surfeit found in his library. Solemn competition for cultural primacy is the chief identifying marker of the multiple narratives crammed (and stacked in piles) in this putative space of learning. In their anthropomorphized desire for ascendancy the objects vie for the reader’s undivided attention, as though demanding our conversion as well — which is perhaps why Gonzalo, to remain master, relies on hired readers to “consume” the piles of texts and documents, while he himself remains autonomous, “uncontaminated,” 173

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master. Gonzalo’s esthetic response instead is to bemoan the oddly stultifying excess of (discursive) freedom thereby engendered: “what trouble I have with [the library]! God’s curse, for these are the most precious, the most esteemed Works of geniuses, of the leading minds of Mankind only, but what, look ye, if they Bite each other, Bite, and also Cheapen from their own superabundance” (TA 81–2). Gonzalo’s heterotopic postmodern estancia, then, incarnates Borges’ urbane intertextuality come undone. Initially, the visitors, deterritorialized by unfamiliar sites and sights can do little but stare “with reverence [at these] and other extraordinary masterpieces” (TA 80) scattered around the phantasmagoric estancia. Yet the narrator soon experiences a sense of existential void, “as if stranded in a field, and moreover Empty, as in an Empty Barn and as if there were just straw, empty” (TA 84). Confronted with an apparently casual prodigality of objects both Western and “exotic,” a profusion of dissonant things made to interpolate on one site, in a seeming embodiment of simultaneous exilic opportunities ready for the taking, the narrator comments that “any Thought, any resolution [is] as stubble, as Straw, as a Stalk through-blown with wind on a dry plain” (TA 86). However, this initial confusion — analogous to incipient exilic indeterminacy of the book’s first part, hence the initial confrontation with alterity — lasts only a moment. “Gombrowicz” soon finds a practicable solution to the ideational jigsaw, noting that the discrete styles and tendencies within Gonzalo’s palace have become “yoked together by violence” (TA 91); indeed they have been re-systematized within a new textual and libidinal economy. The heterotopia proposed by the novel, therefore, emerges as a site of normalization of mestizo identity and hybrid desire: Indeed two Dogs, one of which an imp, Pekinese, but with a brushtail, and the other a Shepherd — but as if with a rat’s tail and Bulldog’s muzzle — together across the room, biting each other, ran. Next I espied another doggie, a St. Bernard with a pointer, a Spitz laced, but apparently with a Tom Cat somewhere in the cellars it had paired. And one with the other couples as it goes, a Dog perchance with a cat or with a Wolverine, with a Goose; and a hen, perchance with a rat, Flaming, Fevering, and a Rat with a Cow perchance . . . And Tomasz asks in surprise: “What breed of dog is this?” Replied Gonzalo: “These are my indoor doggies.” (TA 81, 85)

In one sense, the ordering teleology and the modes of its justification have shifted to the level of the postmodern pleasure principle, which revels in the celebration of the minor and the dissimilar (that is, these freaks and monsters are my — Gonzalo’s — indoor doggies; they are objects that exist for him, for his 174

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subjective pleasure). However, the mixing of genera in Gonzalo’s garden and the maintenance of hybridization also bring to mind their intertextual counterpart, Polish Sarmatian baroque narrative. In the work that could be said to constitute the formal prototype for TransAtlantyk, Jan Chryzostom Pasek’s classic of the Sarmatian (tall) tale-telling, The Writings of Jan Chryzostom Pasek, a Squire of the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania, completed toward the end of the seventeenth century, the author gives an account of the various animal species found on his estate grounds and marvels at their non-violent cohabitation: I was always particularly fond of training wild animals so that they grew tame; and these would not only live with the dogs but also, with the dogs, join in the chase after their wild brothers. Somebody would come to visit me and a fox would be in the yard, frolicking with the greyhounds; my guest would enter the house and a hunting dog is lying under the table with a hare seated on him. Should somebody who does not know me meet me riding to the chase, he would look, and here he’d see several handsome greyhounds, several pointers with a fox among them, here a marten, there a badger, an otter; behind my horse gambols a hare with little bells, a hawk is on the hunter’s arm, a raven flies above the dogs, sometimes lighting upon a greyhound and so letting itself be borne again; and then the man would cross himself: “For God’s sake! This is a wizard: every type of beast is walking there amongst the dogs. What are they seeking? Why are they not going after those in their midst?” (Leach, ed. 1976: 255–6)

It is difficult not to detect a filiation between Pan Pasek’s “renown[ed]” bestiary depicted in the Writings of Jan Chryzostom (this passage immediately follows the lengthy meditation on Pasek’s trained otter, which was apparently famous all over the kingdom and eventually bestowed upon King Jan III Sobieski himself) and Gombrowicz’s re-adjustment of the taxonomic and natural orders of his own hybrid space (qua espace libre). Specifically, what is enacted in Trans-Atlantyk is a postmodernist subversion of the original template, with Jan Pasek — or better, the spectral presence of Pasek’s narrative voice — and Gonzalo accorded the role of estate-owning representatives, respectively, of the novel’s paternal and other iconographies (note that the novel does not offer any filial iconography beyond the ideal of youthful/queer beauty and passive receptivity). However, in Gombrowicz, the casual juxtaposition of incompatible things makes a major structural advance relative to Pasek’s more neutral exposition: the highly curious and indeed quasiutopian (and thus classically Sarmatian) co-existence of disparate orders within one incomparable locus gives way to imbrication and interbreeding among these 175

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orders. We are thus moving from a phenomenological exercise of Pasek’s poetics to an ontological one in Gombrowicz’s récit, as we progress from the exposition of the oddities of “this” familiar world in a baroque narrative to the stipulation of the normalcy of a possible other/abnormal world of an early postmodernist one. What coagulates within the luxurious zoological and biological heterogeneity of Gonzalo’s garden, guided by a formal freedom of pastiche, is a new libidinal economy — the now legitimated law of the sovereign other, at least within the walls.82 Thus, when more quasi-canine but essentially hybridized creatures scurry by, and “Gombrowicz” and Tomasz again pause to inquire as to their breeds, it is no longer surprising that Gonzalo should transform their innocent question about physical attributes into one about the essential taxonomy of things. When Tomasz suggests that one particular dog “belike a Setter, but a meager lop-ear ’tis for as if a Hamster’s ears it has” (TA 82), Gonzalo corrects this by informing him that “a Wolfhound Bitch he had, the which perchance with a Hamster it must have coupled, and although afterwards mated with a Setter, pups with a Hamster’s ears it whelped” (TA 82). And when specifically questioned, “And this one — of what breed?,” Gonzalo explains to Witold, “these are my lapdogs” (TA 82, my emphasis). For Gonzalo, master of the domain, hybrid structures have become normative. As in Foucault’s celebrated enumeration, in the preface to The Order of Things, of the “Emperor’s animals” from Borges’ fictive Chinese Encyclopedia (the intertextual circle closes) where real ontological distinctions are made between animals that “belong to the Emperor,” “are embalmed” and those that have “just broken the water pitcher” (Foucault 1970: xiv–xv), here, too, the standard empirical methods of the classification have been elided. Instead, in this new form of organizing knowledge, the real world as we know interpolates with a new “possible order” (Foucault 1970: xvi) of the other. Specifically in Trans-Atlantyk, the unsynchronized anarchic realm of Gonzalo’s palace, the exilic space par excellence situated in a third zone, in the interstice of the fatherland and sonland, is the site of origin for new potentialities of being. This fact in turn not only problematizes the narrator’s ultimate sense of loyalty (beyond the program of ambivalence learned from Pan Cieciszowski) but also, and more importantly, affirms alternative topographies for him to consider. The new taxonomy is clearly compelling, both physically and intellectually: “a strange Creature slipped away clumsily: a calf not a calf, a Dog large but with hooves and as if hunchbacked; black as a Ram but bleating like a goat . . . I resolved to scrutinize this impurity” (TA 118, my emphasis). Throughout this axiomatic descent into para-order, another, more properly postmodern phenomenon emerges within the 82 See Grimstad 2005: 58–62; cf. Płonowska Ziarek 1998: 229–37.

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texture of this novel. It is the disintegration of stable epistemological boundaries, which causes separate worlds to “mingle with escalating intimacy” in a space where “hallucinations turn real [and] metaphors [can] become literal” (McHale 1987: 45). The reader is invited to immerse gradually within this new autonomous space, the zone of heterotopia where language and form connect to produce unexpected but potentially liberating cultural paradigms and techniques of the self. Within this possible autonomous realm hybrid chronological periods and impure systems of classification collapse onto one another, or else “mate” and recombine in copular relationships that resist external ordering imperatives.83 Most important, as I have argued here, this specific exilic universe into which Gombrowicz escapes, a universe governed by the logos and the individual will of the subject, also quite self-consciously ignores the onerous prerogative, so frequently imposed on émigré artists by “Compatriots,” to become mouthpieces to the interests of nation and homeland. For Gombrowicz the costs involved in presuming to speak for (or worse, in the name of) the nation as such were simply unjustifiable: they involved relinquishing too great a portion of one’s autonomy and ultimately, subjectivity. When Gombrowicz did feel compelled to take a stand for or against the national self, he would do so on his own terms, through writings such as Trans-Atlantyk — completing the cycle of exilic discourse animated by his transatlantic voyage of 1939. As a narrative situated in the unlikely interstitial spaces between the Polish and the Western European literary canons, and between the poetics of late modernist écriture and a new wave of decentered postmodernist self-inscription, TransAtlantyk was an act of provocation to Polish readers and institutions — and insofar as it advocates an “otherized” Argentina, perhaps also to the premise of Western European cultural triumphalism.84 Considered within a necessarily ethnocentric context, the textual project of Trans-Atlantyk was tantamount to a revolution against the atavistic condition of literature in Poland as first and foremost a prized 83 One important way in which the concepts of “hybridity” and “deformation” were positioned in Gombrowicz’s practices of the self was to help ratify his rejection of the sexual law of the majority. Trans-Atlantyk has been productively read in terms of queer theory, illuminating Gombrowicz’s struggles with negotiating his sexual orientation while under scrutiny of a patriarchal culture, not only in Poland but also in Argentina, where homosexuals during Gombrowicz’s time were contemptuously referred to as putos (the use of this term in Trans-Atlantyk is almost certainly an ironic one, though with conspicuous personal connotations which are surely not insignificant). For a discussion of the implications of Gombrowicz’s queerness or bisexuality and the development of a personal manifesto of deformation against the “law of the majority,” see Płonowska Ziarek 1998: 213–25; see also Soltysik 1998: esp. 252–60; cf. Grimstad 2005. 84 See e.g. Głowacka (1998: 80–8) and Holmgren (1998: 289–99) on the scope of provocations in Gombrowicz’s work and his disavowal of the cult of Great National Authors, y compris his own.

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national property. It should not be entirely surprising, then, that the vehicle for accomplishing this objective was a parody of prized cultural possessions and an assertion of autonomous individuality (though, paradoxically, it took the patronage of other Poles representing one of modern Poland’s most “prized cultural possessions” — namely his champions at the house of Kultura, including Józef Wittlin, Konstanty Jeleński, Zygmunt, and Zofia Hertz and last but not least editor-in-chief Giedroyc himself — to shepherd these writings into publication85). Gombrowicz never86 gave up the belief that this communally reified positioning of literature and art in general as a national treasure, and of their creators as spokespersons for the nation, was ultimately responsible for the problem of thematic recycling and for idealized and “softened ways of thinking” about art and its relationship to praxis (“sielskie złagodzone myślenie”: Gombrowicz 1990; 10). Published at an “interstitial” phase in European literary history, at a transition in poetics between modernist rigor and postmodernist autonomy,87 yet still long before the end of the Cold War had made such distinctions as “domestic author” and “émigré author” obsolete in most of Europe, Trans-Atlantyk helped precipitate a crucial debate on the subjectivity of exilic writing. What it contributed, specifically, was a line of defense for the subject’s prerogative to choose language, the zone libre of heterotopia — and the freedom of non-alignment when confronted by legion enticements of the ideological age, each striving to subsume individual autonomy into a collective program of one kind or another.

85 This point is made eloquently by Margański (2004: 14–16). 86 See e.g. his final work, Rozmowy z Gombrowiczem (de Roux, ed. 1969: esp. 35–41). 87 One of the earliest commentators to notice the novel’s transitional poetics and its synthetic vanguardism as a work of art (“w Trans-Atlantyku czuje się tchnienie nowej sztuki”) was Yugoslav critic Zdravko Malić, whose discussion dates back to 1970 (see Malić 1984: 255–6).

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CHAPTER 5

Imagined Nations, Fractured Narrations The Politics of Language and Poetics of Territoriality in Nostromo [C]ontrary to what one is often most tempted to believe, the master . . . does not have exclusive possession of anything . . . Because language is not his natural possession, he can, thanks to that very fact, pretend historically, through the rape of a cultural usurpation — always essentially colonial — to appropriate it in order to impose it as “his own.” Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, or, the Prosthesis of Origin

In the previous chapter we examined Gombrowicz’s confrontation with the demons of modern Polish history, specifically the ethos of sacrifice of the individual in the interest of patriotic collective agencies. One must realize, however, that this communitarian philosophy was hardly an invention of the twentieth century in Poland. In fact it traces its discursive and disciplining power back to the loss of Polish independence, the calculated partitions of the land among three neighboring empires — tsarist Russia, Hapsburg Austria and the Kingdom of Prussia — that occurred at the close of the eighteenth century, and the reduction of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth to colony status throughout the nineteenth. The trauma of national annihilation as a dismembering event (even if, to a large extent, Poland–Lithuania had been a republic of the gentry prior to Partition and the logic of Polish national identity excluded significant portions of the total population, the peasantry and indentured serfs for instance) was coupled with a wave of expatriation of military men, politicians, artists, activists, and intellectuals to perceived centers of liberalism in Western Europe (a phenomenon known in Polish historiography as the Great Emigration). What began semi-spontaneously as a movement out of formerly Polish lands into places where exiles could count on a modicum of sympathy if not concrete support — Napoleonic France, mainly, but 179

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also the newly independent United States of America — culminated, in time, with the formation of a kind of second conscience for the Polish national idea, framed within a broader discourse of European Romanticism.1 In its specific Polish iteration, the Romantic/nationalist ethos, in particular as reflected by prose and poetry of the two nineteenth-century bards, Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki, implied a willing sacrifice of the sons and daughters of the enslaved fatherland at the altar of the National Idea, in the name of “national resurrection and universal justice” (Mikos 2002: 8). In practical terms, the spirit of Romanticism consumed itself in three doomed uprisings against imperial might; these occurred roughly once per generation: 1794, 1830, and 1863. The romantic legacy of fighting — and frequently dying — in the name of the nation (itself a corpse, to be revived, Phoenix-like, through the blood sacrifice of the Polish people), twinned with an emergence of exilic/émigré communities which agitated for the Polish cause from beyond its (non-existent) borders, combined into a preponderant position in the discourse of Polish communal identity and, consequently, in the logic of its national self-determination. The consequences of this martyrological spiritualization would persist among the succeeding generations, to form a central trope of national identity well into the third decade of the twentieth century, at which point the Polish state would again be dismembered and the narrative of peregrinic émigré activism as a second national consciousness would resume with redoubled urgency. In the Diary and particularly in Trans-Atlantyk Gombrowicz is responding precisely to those communal/mythopoeic challenges to the autonomous Polish subject, with the elaboration of heterotopic self-creation emerging triumphant as the third way (between discourses of national self-sacrifice and national treason, let us say). Conrad’s place within this discourse brings us much closer to its originary zero-point: the conceptual spaces of his works reveal a working through the legacies of Polish romanticism and the harrowing fates of those who — like his parents — fought for an independent Poland, lost and were forced into exile, a humiliating errance or social pariahdom. As someone who literally imbibed Polish romantic literature and a near-mystical devotion to the national cause with his mother’s milk, Conrad was most likely thoroughly familiar with the collective 1 Its epitome was perhaps the institution of the Hôtel Lambert, an opulent Parisian hôtel particulier belonging to Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski. For a time, the hôtel served as a veritable house of the official opposition and was the prime gathering place for Polish émigrés of all description (though principally of the liberal patriotic stripe), as well as superstars like Frédéric Chopin and Adam Mickiewicz, in addition to various European guests of honor such as George Sand, Balzac, Hector Berlioz, Eugène Delacroix and Franz Liszt. For the idea of the exilic voice as Poland’s second (sometimes more vital) consciousness, see e.g. Zamoyski 2000; Miłosz 1983; Mikos 2002.

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import of insurrectionary invocations (which were in any case omnipresent in Poland’s literary canon of the period), such as the following, from the Third Part of Adam Mickiewicz’s iconic 1823–32 work in verse, Dziady [Forefathers’ eve]: The Tsar of the North’s triumph, victor over — children. They gave a drum signal, they opened the town hall — I saw them: behind each walked guards, with bayonets all. Small wasted boys, they looked as if just drafted With shaven heads; their legs were heavily fettered. Poor boys! They youngest, poor soul, ten-years old, no more, Complained that he could not lift the chains which he wore . . . They brought Janczewski out; I recognized him there at once, He looked shabby, black, thin, but strangely noble his stance . . . He shook his leg chains showing he could bear the burden. They lashed the horse, the kibitka [prison wagon] hurtled ahead, He took off his hat, rose, and straining his voice then Shouted three times: “Poland has not lost her life yet! . . . That hand and that head remain ever in my eye And will remain in my mind, and on my life’s road Like a compass will point, lead to virtue’s abode; If I forget them, O You, God high in heaven, Forget about me then.2

Nostromo is the one work of his major phase where Conrad fully enlists the idea of the insurrectionary martyrological spirit as both a founding discourse and an a priori justification for a violent coming-into-being of a new state that secedes from a larger entity. The story of the Latin American province of Sulaco, then, contains a number of clear reverberations of the Polish cause célèbre of the nineteenth century — though, as we shall soon see, with significant “mythic” twists and departures. As was shown in the previous chapter, Michel Foucault’s discourse of heterotopia stands for a non-place (which is quasi-utopian though not a classic utopia), a zone built up of and amongst interstices of discrete modes of discourses — usually of master discourses. It is localized at intersections of itineraries of various (though usually orthodox) cultural, linguistic, and imaginative potentialities for language. The logic of hetero-topia as an expression of an (ideal) exilic space does not, however, preclude its forming a refuge for and of language, for it is constructed within the space and the performative instrumentality of language. As 2 This English translation, by Michael Mikos, is found in Mikos’ anthology of Polish Romantic literature (2002: 47–8).

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delineated in Trans-Atlantyk, heterotopic thought is what permitted the narrator to alternate between confines of nostalgia and possibilities of new belonging. It also created the conceptual space necessary to Gombrowicz’s “return” to Polish thematics as a free agent, coursing his own middle way — the third zone of exile. Consider the following account of the main operative tactic: The novel’s construction the measure of my success: it is a gradual sinking into a deeper and deeper phantasmagoria, the growth of my own autonomous reality . . . it is not Poland that is the subject; the subject, as always, is I, I alone, these are my adventures, not Poland’s . . . It is not a satire. It is not a “settling of accounts with the national conscience” . . . This is not a fruit of an early pondering of the Polish question — I was writing about myself — myself in Buenos Aires — only later did I begin to think about Poland . . . One way or another, it was this ship that took me back to Poland.3 Yes, I make my return, but no longer as a wild man . . . I now return with specific demands. I know what I can exact from my fellow Poles and I know what I can give them in return. It is thus that I have become a citizen.4

Gombrowicz’s heterotopia, then, refracted by the potentialities of exilic écriture, is grounded in this appeal for a new compact with language and especially the language of the myth of the homeland — and, to situate it more precisely, the homeland’s mythopoeic call to communal action and the logic of collectivity at the expense of individuality.5 By contrast, what strikes the reader of Nostromo is the overwhelming presence and presentness of language, the simultaneity of competing and incompatible narratives. Conrad’s longest novel, written during 1903–4 and published at the end of that period, presents a dizzyingly kaleidoscopic vision of a country and a history that exist only in the authorial imagination, but appear deceptively approachable: the sympathetic pseudo-omniscience of its narrators fosters an illusion of a 3 Here the translators for reasons unknown omit the crucial reference to “the period of [his] exile” (czas mojego wygnania). 4 Gombrowicz 1988, vol. 2: 19–20 (“Udała mi się ta konstrukcja, to stopniowe wgłębianie się w coraz dalszą fantastyczność, narastanie własnej, autonomicznej rzeczywistości . . . nie Polska jest tematem, tematem, jak zawsze, jestem ja, ja sam, to są moje przygody, nie Polski . . . Nie jest satyrą. Nie jest “rozrachunkiem narodowego sumienia” . . . To nie owoc uprzedniego przemyślenia sprawy polskiej — o sobie pisałem — o sobie w Buenos Aires — o Polsce zacząłem myśleć dopiero potem . . . Tak czy owak, ja na tym statku powróciłem do Polski. Skończył się czas mojego wygnania. Powróciłem, ale już nie jako dzikus . . . powracam z określonymi zadaniami, wiem czego mam domagać się od narodu i wiem co w zamian mogę mu dać. Oto stałem się obywatelem”: Gombrowicz 2000b: 29–30, my emphasis). 5 Cf. Gombrowicz 2000b: 21–4.

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readerly point of entry. Conrad’s narrative innovations, refined from earlier works such as Lord Jim, in particular the development of multiple perspectives that both render and refract, parallax-like, a deferred and only partially adumbrated set of meanings,6 are at last here displayed in fully fleshed-out form. Yet, I also see Nostromo as an exilic narrative, perhaps the definitive embodiment of Conrad’s exilic discourse, and a kind of home-through-language. How did Conrad’s heterotopia end up being so complex and overbuilt? Precisely, it would seem, because it offered a form of linguistic refuge. As a vast construction zone with several intersecting plot levels, the novel figures as a wall of language, metonymically signaling a house (or fortress) of language which, ultimately, is the sole place where the exile, the stranger fundamentally unhoused and caught “between” languages, can feel at home. Its frequent shifts of the perspectival and perceptual planes, its temporal disruptions, the reliance on partial revelation of signifying chains and the multiple descriptions of the same action or object:7 combined, all of these factors produce something akin to a conceptual relativity, an application, avant la lettre, of the Einsteinian law governing the universe to the world of narrative. Conrad’s narratological license, especially the “freedom in the uses of narrative point of view” and the mobility of his viewpoint (subdivided into four general categories: temporal, visual, narratorial and analogical), soon pulls the rug of the familiar from under the readers’ feet (Watts 1988: 42–4). The dialogic reliance on fractured and complementary narrations also signals the rise of a (modernist) narrative subjectivity which disperses and thereby ceases to mirror any external reality in favor of a self-reflexive textual consciousness (Stevenson 1992: 18). This in turn opens up a space of formal interiority as a new, and newly experimental, focus of narrative. Like a number of writers of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century, Conrad in Nostromo partakes in what Sartre has called a very general “modernist phenomenon”: an attempt to “distort time,” deprive it of “its past and its future; decapitate it” (Sartre 1957: 84). The mixing of individual futures with (a perception of) discursive freedom is delivered through disorienting metaleptic shifts that, unlike the plots of most realist novels that this text effectively parodies, follow the line of social and not individual signification (in other words, they are concerned with drawing political, not personal, schemes and “fates,”8 despite each major character’s efforts to leave an imprint on

6 See Berthoud 1978: 80–90. 7 This is analogous to what Jameson refers to as “absent presences” in the “presentation of sense-data” (Jameson 1981: 272–8). 8 In Conrad’s novel, Nostromo and Decoud are perhaps the two individuals who most intensely embody this sense of disorientation and alienation which culminates in feelings of betrayal and abandonment.

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big-H History and thus alter the future, either by “making” history or by opposing its impersonal forces). In the presentation of the (post-)colonial spaces of language and identity Nostromo, very like Trans-Atlantyk, revels in the inscription of the marginal, the minor, the dispossessed and the deterritorialized (in Deleuze’s sense) onto an irregular and porous textual canvas. This backdrop is a priori unstable, amenable to what Michał Głowiński, in another context, characterized as “metaphysical leakage” (metafizyczne prześwity): that is, those moments in representation when seemingly transcendental laws — such as those of power — become visible and reveal their place within systems of human construction.9 In Nostromo, this inscription is superimposed with the coming-into-being of an autochthonous version of South American history and a correspondingly invested social subject who “inhabits” this history. Precisely because not yet formed, this subject is constantly at risk from competing versions and subversions of the “truth” of events. Interestingly, setting the story in a wholly fictive but exhaustively elaborated part of the South American continent also has the effect of naturalizing its political readings — fittingly, I think, for a land of “ungovernable excess that dominates life,” where the pressure for continual change seems the order of the day (Said 1975: 117). However, the evidence of the text shows that politics comes after, as an after of the inscription and maintenance of an imaginative zone, as I will try to elaborate shortly. In other words, the political forms only one layer of Conrad’s heterotopia, though it could be said that it is the most readily apparent. Nostromo sets up a fictive South American state as a site of the inscription of self-legitimizing “post-imperial” nascent nationalisms. Conrad thus arrives at a textual environment in which mythopoeia is pivotal to creating a nation, a polity and, by extension, a public (i.e. always already politicized) self. The nation — as we saw earlier — is hardly a unitary entity; nor are the various definitions of what a nation is and does, or even where it comes from. In the essay “Enjoy your nation as yourself” Slavoj Žižek proposes that the modern nation is characterized by a retroactive compensatory creation of myths of communal roots or “ethnic origin” which are used to prop up the construct of “Nation-qua-Thing.”10 Writing on the construction of Jewish national/cultural identity, Sander Gilman likewise argues that national states “build their mythologies into their creation” (Gilman 2003: vi) as an immanent process. Indeed, for all the insistence of nationalist discourses, a nation and a national culture do not grow naturally from some mythopoeic 9 See the “Afterword” to Pornografia, in the Wydawnictwo Literackie edition (Gombrowicz 2001: 158). 10 Žižek 1993: 232. For a broader discussion of communal reification of the “idea of the nation, an idea whose cultural compulsion lies in the impossible unity . . . as a symbolic force” see also Bhabha 1990: 1–7.

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“essence”; far from representing natural or inevitable expressions of tradition or even of spontaneous invention, they are elaborate fabrications guided by, as Homi Bhabha puts it, little more than a set of signs that point to a “rhetoric of universality.”11 Precisely as constructions, though, they are both emblems and reifications of the order-drive of modernity. As the Australian cultural theorist Peter Beilharz writes, nationalism as a modality for inscribing the law of a community is for the most part an innovation of the Western modern condition: The people, the citizens have to be made . . . this story is coextensive with the process of nation-building and modern state building . . . cultures have to be constructed as prostheses of different kinds, as do nations . . . The nation-state becomes the dominant form of collective transcendence. The nation-state is the modern expression of group immortality, expressed symbolically as the ideology of nationalism. (Beilharz 2000: 150)

One of Conrad’s principal objectives for Nostromo, I argue, is to show that if such ideological indices of the philosophy of history are necessarily subject to ongoing mediation and modification, it is so because they are dependent on the contingent forces of revolution and reaction exerted on the “agents” of history, those who narrate this history, as well as their passive subjects. Conrad’s preferred means of accomplishing this destabilizing “ideological” effect is through intersubjective character development, effected in tandem with strategically deployed textual revelations of seminal nation-building events; this is to say, politics tests the mettle of individuals and finds them wanting, in most cases, with respect to the demands of the real and of Realpolitik, as well as the corporeal. Thus in Nostromo Martin Decoud, the failed idealist, pays the highest price when confronted with the “vast indifference of things” and the failure of progressive aspiration to affect said “things” toward what to him would be a satisfactory conclusion: faced with an existential impasse, he has no choice but to commit suicide. The titular hero, Nostromo himself, once a devoted agent of the vox populi, quietly accumulates wealth following a spectacular theft of silver ingots from his employer — and utterly compromises his own myth, at least to himself. The major players to whom the reader has what might be termed psychological access, whose actions are presented at length, who enjoy the narrator’s sympathetic (even if ironic) attention or are given their own voice via limited interior monologue or the epistolary form12 — the list includes the “Creole” intellectual Decoud, Old Viola 11 See Bhabha 1990: 293–9. 12 A key example is Decoud’s letter to his “favorite” (N 191) Parisian sister (see N of the text (including the narrator’s intercessions). Besides giving the reader a glimpse of Decoud’s

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and the prototypical “Man of the People” (N 14), the Capataz de Cargadores himself — are all souls dispossessed to a varying extent. Disinherited or ejected from various old world powers,13 they exist in a suspended state between the former empire and hopes of authentic belonging in the New World. This interstitial position imbues them with revolutionary valence which in turn renders them both into subject and object of insurrectionary discourse. General Sotillo’s diatribe against Imperial Interests (of modernity), here embodied by the captured Captain Mitchell: “You arrogant Englishman! . . . You foreigners come here to rob our country of its wealth. You never have enough! Your audacity knows no bounds!” (N 278), is a good example of this rhetorical model. As textual presences, these figures are potentially on both sides of the revolution. Alternatively, as appears to be the case with the chief capitalist, Charles Gould, the exiles in this book have chosen migration and the attendant displacement in order to complete a civilizing or self-actualizing task (and make some money in the process). In other words, their passage to the New World is motivated by the desire for bourgeois self-improvement against the temptations of the unlegislated (or at any rate, undergoverned) spaces of the periphery.14 Shadowing and enlarging upon the discursive pattern of Heart of Darkness, where by virtue of being shielded from dialogic instruments such as the interpolation of witnesses, individual “reality” is subtly altered by masters of discourse to a point where brutal exploitation of natives can be portrayed as their emancipation, in Nostromo the nature of individual subjective perception itself, its creation and the techniques of its maintenance (often via the prosthesis of sustaining illusions), are subjected to unrelenting interrogation. inner psychic mechanisms, the letter provides a close analysis of central revolutionary and counter-revolutionary events, complete with detailed conversations and commentary and a fair bit of philosophical speculation for good measure. It opens with the very de facto — but also ironic — challenge to the metropole, and coming from Decoud perhaps doubly ironic because the author as a cultural hybrid and member of both zones admits (boasts?) of having had a part in its creation: “Prepare our little circle in Paris for the birth of another South American Republic. One more or less, what does it matter? They may come into the world like evil flowers [this is almost certainly a reference to Baudelaire, and very chic on Decoud’s part] on a hotbed of rotten institutions; but the seed of this one has germinated in your brother’s brain” (N 191, my emphasis). 13 In this regard, Old Viola’s enduring but also patently nostalgic dedication to the nationalist Garibaldi and the causes of Italian unity and independence is particularly poignant though also quixotic. 14 The two drives exist in a kind of hidden dialectic, but are finally set off in Conrad’s depiction of Nostromo’s transformation from leader/pacifier of the mob to a quasi-capitalist preoccupied with “growing rich” slowly, thus appropriating and reproducing the language of the mercantile overlords in order to simultaneously mask and justify his “reactionary” theft of a boatful of silver, the very currency of progress which it had been his task to lead to safe harbor.

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ON THE INSCRIPTION OF A ZONE Typical approaches to reading the vast world of Costaguana and its secessionist republic tend to emphasize the impenetrability of the textual experience for the nondevotee reader.15 However, the deployment of such narrative effects as unreliable subjective narration, temporal disruption and a fractured polyphonic narration of history (in the making)16 — classically modernist techniques all — is not usually associated with exilic discourse in the Conradian critical tradition in English, except for acknowledgments that Conrad was indeed an expatriated east European and that he frequently felt estranged in a linguistic milieu that he struggled to make his own.17 I wish to suggest that the above narrative techniques are reflections and, more specifically, tropes for the metaphysical sensation of unhousedness which is the daily bread of exiles and émigrés, and that it is language itself that provides the (only) way out. Far from representing an ultimate obstacle, then, language in the modernist-exilic narrative becomes the very instrument through which abjection and deterritorialization may be overcome. Put differently, by writing in the way he did (in an exhaustive and exhausting mode of trying “to make the reader see”) Conrad worked his way out of an exilic quandary and into the free zone of heterotopia,18 with the logic of heterotopia in turn responsible, in effect, for his modernist stylistic interventions. Nowhere is this process more evident than in Nostromo. Indeed, Conrad launches the discourse of heterotopia as soon as he furnishes a name and a shape to his fictive realm, his first large work on social problematics not strictly bound with the sea.19 The Province and later the post-revolutionary seceded Republic of Costaguana constitutes, for the most part, a pure creation of the novelistic imagination. Some critics, such as Ian Watt, consider the work to be an incarnation of the historical novel, one whose general subject matter is “a mosaic” of “processes of contemporary history,” especially the nation-building problems found in many regions of South America during the second half of the nineteenth century (Watt 1988: 1–20). But Watt concludes that there is a certain “floating quality” to both the history and the geography (1988: 19). In this reading he recalls Christopher Isherwood’s observation, made in the 1949 travel novel The Condor and the Cows, that “Nostromo is still, after forty-five years, a 15 This is actually not solely a feature of Nostromo; Conrad’s style as a whole is often described as “overwrought” and “congested.” See e.g. Berthoud (1978: 23–6) for an overview of Conrad’s solecisms and other linguistic lapses that compromise narrative clarity in his works. 16 See Lothe (1989: 189–93) for perhaps the clearest discussion of the narrative breakdown. 17 Cedric Watts’s (1993) and Edward Said’s (1975) studies are important exceptions. 18 For some general overviews of Conrad’s politics of place, see Najder 1983; Gurko 1962; Karl 1979; Morf 1976; Watt 1979; Israel 2000; Berthoud 1978. 19 It is not for nothing that Nostromo is subtitled “A tale of the seaboard.”

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wonderfully lifelike picture of a backward South American state — never mind which” (Watt 1988: 18), and concludes that Conrad’s primary objective was esthetic fictionalization. Thus, readers beware: an overeager search for scraps of “authentic” specificity may miss the crucial idea of the work’s design, namely the creation of an autonomous world onto which are plotted the broader demands of the real, including the quest for social self-fulfilment of individuals of influence. To be sure, the political, as a transforming social force, rides in on the coattails of these interests, but by no means does it interfere with or lessen the essentially heterotopic aspect of Conrad’s endeavor. Nonetheless, it is possible (if only to have it out of the way) to delineate a geographical and historical composite of an Occidental province situated on the Pacific coast of South America, whose capital may be “fixed” as being some 500 miles north of Valparaiso, Chile. That would ostensibly emplot Sulaco onto one of the coastal provinces of today’s northern Chile, though Conrad wrote that he also had aspects of the Colombian and Venezuelan littoral in mind.20 In fact, it would not be overstating the case to say that the entire imaginative space of the South American continent bristles with synecdochal and mythopoeic potentiality as an other for Old Europe.21 Still, the configuration of the strictly geographical zone is not the main issue; what interests me is Conrad’s delineation of exilic spaces. Such spaces, together with the linguistic zone, give the major indices of heterotopia, and are articulated both within the frame of the novel (which is to say in the interstices of language and the social and political discourses) and on the level of meta-text — in the complex system of Conrad’s negotiation of his experience as a thrice-displaced person forced, each and every time, to imagine his worlds anew. The stylistic force with which Conrad emplots a complete new world at the beginning of the novel is immediately striking: in its comprehensiveness and the air of self-sufficiency it projects, the depiction of the geographical (no-)place of the novel with which chapter 1, “The silver of the mine” opens, draws vivid parallels with the originary Utopia, Thomas More’s 1516 Latin work. Transplanted, as many critics maintain, from a seaside region of the south American continent, likely Peru (Adams 1975: viii), and yet “existing,” somewhere, in the physical 20 He had visited the two countries briefly during his voyage on the Sainte Antoine, a barque chartered by his employer in Marseilles, one Jean-Baptiste Delestang (see Najder 1983: 43–4). 21 In his study of Conrad’s narrative craft, Watts emphasizes that aside from extensive research into contemporary literary sources, Conrad heavily relied on his friend Cunninghame Graham’s first-hand knowledge of South and Central America (1993: 144–5, 174). Graham had worked and traveled extensively in the region during the 1860s (cf. McHale 1987).

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form of an island, More’s “Utopia,” once definitively localized (this occurs only in the beginning of Book II), is portrayed thus: The island of the Utopians is two hundred miles across in the middle part where it is widest, and is nowhere much narrower than this except toward the two ends. These ends, drawn toward one another as if in a five-hundred-mile circle, make the island crescentshaped like a new moon. Between the horns of the crescent, which are about eleven miles apart, the sea enters and spreads into a broad bay. Being sheltered from the wind by the surrounding land, the bay is never rough, but quiet and smooth instead, like a big lake. Thus, nearly the whole inner coast is one great harbor, across which ships pass in every direction . . . What with shallows on one side, and rocks on the other, the entrance into the bay is very dangerous. The channels are known only to the Utopians, so hardly any strangers enter the bay without one of their [Utopians’] pilots; and even they themselves could not enter safely if they did not direct themselves by some landmarks on the coast. (More 1975: 31)

Contrast this, if you will, with Conrad’s depiction of the harbor of Sulaco, a zone fixed rather more firmly in place and definitively in time through numerous references to European explorers and their cultural artifacts and technologies, but otherwise spectacularly utopique, both geographically and semiotically. In the citation that follows, I have underlined “Utopian” signifiers and placed the contemporary Western ones in italics, though the juxtaposition of the two passages should make Conrad’s heterotopic engagement with More’s text obvious enough: The clumsy deep-sea galleons of the conquerors that, needing a brisk gale to move at all, would lie becalmed, where your modern ship built on clipper lines forges ahead by the mere flapping of her sails, had been barred out of Sulaco by the prevailing calms of its vast gulf. Some harbours of the earth are made difficult of access by the treachery of sunken rocks and the tempests of their shores. Sulaco had found an inviolable sanctuary from the temptations of a trading world in the solemn hush of the deep Golfo Placido as if within an enormous semi-circular and unroofed temple open to the ocean, with its walls of lofty mountains . . . the shadow on the sky on one side, with the round patch of blue haze blurring the bright skirt of the horizon on the other, mark the two outermost points of bend which bears the name of Golfo Placido, because never a strong wind had been known to blow upon its waters. On crossing the imaginary line drawn from Punta Mala to [the peninsula of] Azuera the ships from Europe lose at once the strong breezes of the ocean. They become the prey of capricious airs that play with them for thirty hours at a stretch sometimes . . . From that low end of the Great Isabel [Island] the eye plunges through an opening two miles

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away, as abrupt as if chopped with an axe22 out of the regular sweep of the coast, right into the harbour of Sulaco. It is an oblong, lake-like piece of water. (N 17–20)

Conrad’s Sulaco then — the bay and the eponymous town — is textually delineated as Utopia in miniature. Semicircular in aspect, protected by fortuitous features of geography, situated within an eminently advantageous location for commerce and the building of a new just society, it resembles rather than simply recalling the aspect of the original. As Benedict Anderson points out, European figurations of utopias were not straightforward depictions of imaginary “lost Edens.” Rather, they were modelled on “real discoveries” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and presented contemporary ready-made societies as alternatives to the Western cultural or political systems (Anderson 1991: 69). The reason for this was dual. Utopias, Anderson continues, embodied a criticism of “contemporary societies” both because the humanist preoccupations of the Renaissance and onward allowed for the inscription of pluralist views in cultural practice (and for dreaming-up secular alternatives in “this” world), and because the discoveries of “grandiose civilizations hitherto only rumored, or completely unknown . . . had ended the necessity for seeking models in a vanished antiquity” (Anderson 1991: 69, emphasis in the original). Unlike the beneficent zone of More’s Utopia, however, the region of Sulaco and, by extension the Republic of Costaguana, is afflicted with a curse, of which the reader is told on the first page, in one of the introductory framing passages. The land is haunted by “spectral” though “tenacious” gringos (N 18), white men whose stated objective was progress but whose real commission was rapine. Indeed, the ersatz utopia of Sulaco, symbolically broadcast by Conrad’s allusions to More’s Renaissance ur-text, in its status of a nostalgic could-havebeen of unarticulated desire has become corrupted by banal human greed, the will-to-sovereignty which had long tainted the putative beneficence of European territorial expansion into the New World. Thus the text is far from a straightforward reworking of More’s text. Nor is it its opposite, an outright dystopia of the kind popularized throughout the first half of the twentieth century by such authors as Zamyatin, Orwell, or Huxley, and which the individual subject finds himself pitted against a monolithic power, usually 22 Conrad’s choice of words indicates the likelihood of human intervention in altering the physiognomy of the region, just as, in Thomas More’s version, Utopia was transformed from a peninsula into an island though an act of engineering carried out by one Utopus, the legendary founder/godhead. Utopus, the reader learns, had the original inhabitants cut a channel fifteen miles wide “where their land joined the continent, and caused the sea to flow around their country” (More 1975: 31).

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a paranoid totalitarian rule of the far left or the right,23 or of a bureaucratic and ideologically anodyne kind (concerned only with its own power maintenance), and must harness (but first awaken) the latent force of his own humanity, hidden deep within himself, in order to even have a hope of survival — in the last analysis, a strongly sentimental literature. Instead, Nostromo draws on the linguistic and symbolically encoded presentation of capitalist desire and an allied will-tomodernity — and the power of modern capital(ism) is, at least on paper, one that is devoid of sentiment, operating as it does (again, on paper at least) employing a consummately rational lexicon of reason: the profit motive. These impersonal forces, the “Material Interests” in the novel’s shorthand, are in turn represented via the principal agents who embody and make the narrative as it were (including local history itself); yet Material Interests appear also as a metaphysical figure, as an alibi for a power that actually exceeds the grasp of those living through — and emotionally chronicling — the events, which then in turn necessitates the language and symbolism of myth as both a prosthesis of origin and as a way to achieve the hoped for mastery over the unfolding “social text.” Yet the discourse of Material Interests as manifest destiny is not the sole “writer” of the history of Costaguana. Nor is there merely one history. On the structural level, the contemporary social and political récit of Costaguana is in fact framed by a synchronic native myth of cursed gringos. This legend, according to Michael Greaney, “asserts its authority by tempting the novel’s would-be history-makers — Decoud, Gould, and Nostromo — to defy its finality. Conrad’s use of the voices of the dispossessed to utter a dire allegorical warning about San Tomé is [a] political gesture. Nostromo opens with a story of recuperation . . . enfolded in a counter story of enslavement” (Greaney 2002: 124). Political or merely spectral, the native voice, and especially the specific economy of its textual deployment, is of no small consequence. While the poor and the common folk of Costaguana are denied overt access to instruments of representation (and thereby, to self-enfranchisement), far from effacing them outright from the narrative as “precolonial” or premodern,24 Conrad rhetorically points to their problematic presence, thereby re-inscribing an essential measure of textual multiplicity. The appearance of the “Indians” at the opening of the narrative, first of all, obstructs the expected dominant récit of western progress and modernity. The “natives” cannot be wished away, eliminated, or entirely enslaved (on the other hand, they do provide a source of cheap labor). Second, granting the 23 See Bauman 2000: 53–63, for a critique of the twentieth-century dystopias and a typology of anxieties, which he dubs “the fears of Supreme Command Officers,” that had produced and continued to reify them. 24 See Greaney 2002: 123–4.

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autochthonous story a focal, framing primacy, Nostromo structurally reproduces the tension of the absent indigenous voices: while they have been disinherited from their own land (somewhat like Polish nobles of the nineteenth century under Russian occupation — but perhaps insufficiently so for Conrad), they can never be fully silenced, no matter how strong the Europeans’ desire for their effacement or for ideological abstraction. Furthermore, their curse, in addition to being an occult though very human counterforce to the conceit of the historical right of — seemingly impersonal — Material Interests, may be considered a way of reminding the reader that the subaltern can, indeed, speak of its oppression. It is thus possible that by raising a native oral narrative to the primacy of a structuring dystopic metaphor for the scripting of a modern “postcolonial” history, Conrad may have been performing a recuperative gesture, as Greaney contends, but it is not self-evident, given Conrad’s attitudes, as I will show below. Suffice it to say for the moment that this type of multivoiced, unresolved, and therefore provocative ambivalence underwrites Conrad’s poetics of heterotopia in the novel. Conrad began his récit of revolution in an unnamed republic on the seaboard shortly after the publication and relative success of a volume of stories entitled Typhoon.25 Unlike a number of other novels dating from his major phase (1900– 12), most notably The Secret Agent, Conrad intended his South American novel from the outset to be a work on a large scale and a political exposition of a kind (he maintained that the work would remain his “largest canvas”26). However, as with a number of his tales, including the earliest, such as Almayer’s Folly, as well as some of the technically most accomplished, such as Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness, the inspiration for this novel can apparently be traced to a single, apparently factual incident, described in the 1917 “Author’s note” to Nostromo. It centers on a story that Conrad had heard about a self- justified theft of a “lighterful of silver, somewhere on the Tierra Firme seaboard during the troubles of a revolution” (AN 9). From that seemingly insignificant episode, filtered through Conrad’s favored device, the mediated narrative,27 was constructed a grand tale of elemental social upheaval. Nostromo marks a new stage for the Conradian narrative in another way, too: this the first of the major novels created from inspiration of a literary and intertextual type more than on direct personal experience.28 25 That volume, Conrad later said, left him depleted and uncertain as to his direction as a writer, for “it seemed somehow that there was nothing more in the world to write about” (see AN 9). 26 See “Author’s note” to A Personal Record (Conrad 1949a: xv). 27 Conrad writes that he read about the thief’s tale in a “shabby volume” — a biography of an American seaman, picked up by chance “outside a second-hand bookshop” (AN 9). This then implies that the resulting narrative is twice removed from any echoes of the original account and its context. 28 For further elaboration, see Knapp Hay 1963: 164.

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Likewise extravagant is the social canvas projected by the novel: Sulaco is a place where cosmopolitan characters like Martin Decoud and the English financier Sir John, Italian sailors and old revolutionaries like Nostromo and Giorgio Viola, barbarous warriors like General Montero, idealistic Creole aristocrats like Don José Avellanos, and cultural hybrids like Charles Gould can all speak, mingle, and do battles for the riches of the San Tomé silver mine. (Guimond and Maynard 2001: 325)

But for all its narratological, geographical, and even mythic vastness, Nostromo forces the reader to confront the idea of beginnings. It traces the fabrication of an imagined world, both the interior one of private dreams or fates and the exterior one of a common political destiny. For Edward Said, “the cast” of this novel, for all its “extravagant range of national and social origins,” is bound together by only two inner affinities and structuring factors — “unflagging” interest in the material fortunes of Costaguana (the mine and the railroad in particular), and an equally ardent desire for archival self-preservation for a posterity that is both weighed down and justified by an “extraordinary preoccupation with the past” (Said 1975: 100). For Said, the junction of a storied past and a possibly glorious future that is contingent on a series of events taking place in the dramatic and indeed epic present,29 accounts for the major characters’ extreme anxiety about “both keeping and leaving a personal “record” of . . . thoughts and action” (1975: 100). As a narratological experiment, then, Nostromo proposes a sublimation of history and historical writing about what is, in the end, a political and economic upheaval, into a condition of auto-referentiality. To the extent that such inscription is dependent upon subjectivity, or at the very least is subjectively worked over by a writer’s world-view, his various esthetic prerogatives, and his historicity, that is, his being-in-(and of)-his-own-time, the process reveals history to be a fiction, and reality little more than a sustained illusion, whose correlative is the illusion of autonomous subjectivity itself.30 Yet precisely because it is a novel of beginnings and their subjectivized inscription, Nostromo represents, as well, consummate exilic literature. It may 29 A present which thereby emerges as entirely comprehensible. See Mendelsohn (2004: 47–9), for a discussion of the nature of the present in epic and drama. 30 To Nietzsche the writing of history was an exercise in fictionalizing since the process organized knowledge as a function of the will-to-power, with language as a principal tool for articulating power structures, since only those in access to instruments of power would typically be commissioned to inscribe history (see his “Uses and abuses of history for life” [1874; Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben], in Untimely Meditations [1876; Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen], Cambridge University Press, 1997). Cf. Hayden White (1978) who, in parallel with Hans-Georg Gadamer, adapts this construct in his discussion of (post)modern historiographical subjectivity and modes of its self-inscription.

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be useful here to recall the figure of the biographical author, hovering beyond the text. To begin with nothing, to fabricate an entire world from scraps, associations, metaphors, all of which have been set down within someone else’s national and cultural frame and filled with others’ domestic refuse: more often than not, such is the physical fate of the exile, the refugee or the migrant. And anyway, why would the text not reflect Conrad’s exilic existence and modes of imagining worlds, at least on the tropological/symbolic level? Indeed, the social landscape of Costaguana encountered in the first sections represents a kind of refugee camp, with the respective strata and power structures more or less intact. The republic is in fact peopled by immigrants and opportunistic escapees, economic and exmilitia mercenaries ready to remake the world in their own remade or made-over (because exilic) image, and ruled over by lords of finance. In this new space of freedom they recycle eternal dreams of progress and emancipation (for the most part of European provenance). Moreover, to the indigenous mestizos, the ruling Riberists who had been installed in their position through Gould and Holroyd’s intercession (and thus are backed by both local and foreign capital), embody a European “aristocratic party.” They are ideologically countered by an urban proletariat that will grow increasingly aggressive over the course of the narration, before settling into a new role as members of a quasi-industrialized labor force at the end.31 Still, any durable notions of emancipation and brotherhood and the various visions of a utopian or even a just new society are involuntarily compromised by the protagonists’ deferral to the logic of material interests, so that declamations of a new order will be enforced by forms of organization often seen in refugee camps: the true guarantor of the “material interests” here is martial, not communitarian, not diplomatic, not jurisprudential. The revolution narrated in the novel, then — precisely because it is militaristic, hence extraterritorial, in origin, not grounded in the wishes of the proletariat — assures the maintenance of a quasi-feudal, proto-industrial brave new world; yet that world of the new status quo is still justified by a primary appeal of — and to — material interests which, ultimately, serve to conceal the instrumental power of (capitalist) ideology behind a logic that is seemingly impersonal but ultimately inhuman. Further, the social fabric of the new republic, bereft of (occasionally) progressive intellectuals such as Decoud and their subtle (humanizing?) influence in the corridors of power, must inevitably go on to fit the mold of neo-colonial protectorates. It is in this fashion that the Costaguana as described by Captain Mitchell in the last chapter can be seen as a prototype for South American banana republics and neo-colonial

31 Lothe 1989: 222; cf. Jameson 1981: 269–77, on the proletariat’s emergence as an aftereffect of Sulaco’s secession.

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dictatorships of more recent memory,32 as per Isherwood’s observation. If Conrad can be said to have been affected by the position of the revolutionary disenfranchised, it is curious that in Nostromo he discounts the perspective of the people, aside from its symbolic — and deeply flawed, because fundamentally narcissistic — prowess embodied by the Capataz. It is not as though no place existed for sustained revolutionary discourse in this text — a novel devoted to the cycle of revolution, proclamation, and reaction. This seems at first blush like a missed opportunity for Conrad to create an emancipationist discourse, for it is not only my view that a presentation of the political viewpoint of “the people” could have given an authentic revolutionary substance to this novel, in anticipation of such post-First World War writers as George Orwell or Louis-Ferdinand Céline, had Conrad in fact intended it. After all, the eponymous protagonist of Nostromo is explicitly described as a populist hero (AN 11–13), at least initially. Not only that, he embodies the action hero of the people, structurally opposed to the man of reflection, the journalist Decoud. It is not an exaggeration, then, to say that the work in its very texture incorporates a material interest also in the fates of proletarian movements. And yet, immediately upon the completion of his deliberations on the folk epic hero, Conrad’s focus shifts to the existential and moral drama of a figure perhaps more like himself — the ambivalent agent and the one true intellectual within the Sulaco separatist movement. Decoud. Like Conrad, Decoud is an “adopted child of Western Europe” (N 138), a “boulevardier” who imagines himself “Parisian to the tips of his fingers” (N 134–5). Decoud tacitly supports the rise of a popular republic but at the same time sees in it an implicit travesty of ideals even in the very moment of its birth.33 Moreover, just like the elder statesman Avellanos, Decoud finds himself implicated in the power structure of material interests both by virtue of his social standing and by the company he keeps. Further, with his successful courtship of Avellanos’ debutante daughter Antonia, Decoud’s place “in the higher spheres of society” (N 134) seems assured, if not solely by the choice of friends, then by the promise of an advantageous marriage. It is noteworthy too that Decoud is the only character who is given direct epistolary access to the creation of a “master” narrative: Conrad devotes 18 pages 32 See Berthoud 1978: 95–6. Keith Carabine’s comments on the acuity of Conrad’s political vision deserve to be cited at length. He notes that Nostromo “examines the attempt to graft Western capitalist enterprise, cultural norms, and political institutions, upon the stock of a peasant, superstitious, economically underdeveloped country, recently emerging from Spanish colonial rule, and governed by a series of “pronunciamentos” which have rendered the country chronically unstable.” As such, Carabine goes on to argue, the novel “is both an analysis and a prophecy of the issues and conflicts that have dominated Third World countries” (Carabine 1984: ix). 33 See Decoud’s ruminations on the subject while on his silver-saving mission with Nostromo (N 219–23; cf. Decoud’s letter to his Parisian sister (esp. N 191–202).

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to Decoud’s account of the events in the form of a missive to his sister in Paris. In other words most likely it is Decoud, not dyed-in-the-wool conservatives like Charles Gould or Holroyd (as Fredric Jameson argues in The Political unconscious), and certainly not the subjects of folk legends such as Nostromo, who embodies the ideological position closest to Conrad’s own. And this is a worldview in which the program of the dominant — in which Conrad likely wanted to believe whenever he consciously aligned himself with orthodox political agendas — is undercut by skepticism, subverted by a measure of subjective ambivalence. This is an essentially contrapuntal angle of vision, reflective of an ideologically hybrid — ultimately exilic — subject position. Still, as Eloise Knapp Hay contends, Conrad’s vision of the intersection of personal and common goals (i.e. his biopolitics), while prescient in his imagining of the darker facets of Latin American emancipationist polities, was not altogether bleak. Indeed, the narrative offers a possibility of redemption via a moral imperative. Nostromo brings into play a hidden dialectic between the world of ideas and the world of work and action (which, on one level, correspond to the two sides of Conrad’s homo duplex). These are respectively embodied by the mannerist skeptic Decoud and the adventurist Nostromo. Their uneasy and at times near-lethal companionship (on the lighter transporting the silver across the Gulf of Sulaco) brings the dialectic into full tension. After the opposition between “man of action” and the “man of reflection” becomes temporarily sublated in the former’s favor with the suicide of the latter, we witness a secondary binary opposition forming on the plot’s moral register: With the demise of Martin Decoud and the ascent of Dr. Monygham in the last part [which takes place c. 1891, some three years after the “main action”] we mark a rejection of ideas . . . and an invocation of a moral sensibility . . . as the proper guide for political action. For all his perspicacity, Martin Decoud lacks Monygham’s conviction that there can be law and justice which are founded not on material interests but on moral principles. (Knapp Hay 1963: 214)

This is a plausible reading; however, it is not universally satisfying. Aside from the somewhat contentious notion that Conrad’s abandonment of ideas in favor of concrete “actions,” as in the final “action” of Decoud’s suicide, was definitive, the division of psychic impulses and desires into neat and immutable categories does not altogether stand up to scrutiny. In his 1989 study of Conrad’s narrative techniques, Jakob Lothe calls attention to the fact that the initial binary coupling is never stable. Not only is Decoud a priori not averse to action — after all he is the one who helped engineer the war of succession — but the Capataz too 196

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undergoes a fundamental “change of character” after the theft of the silver (Lothe 1989: 197). For Lothe, Nostromo, initially the natural man of the people, finds himself “suspended between the earlier, unproblematic state as a “magnificent and unconscious wild beast” and the new “man” confronting . . . a problem to which he eventually succumbs.”34 After performing his final task for the syndicate of material interests, the Capataz emerges ultimately as an ambivalent agent “burdened with new problems” (Lothe 1989: 197). Formerly an “indispensable” instrument, Nostromo transcends the role of the surrogate, gaining a measure of autonomous subjectivity in the process. This is the payoff from the kind of personal commitment which eluded the “brilliant intellectual” Decoud (Bloom 1986: 6–7). For Decoud the failure of reason (i.e. of the Enlightenment philosophy of the subject) in the face of actions beyond his control is akin to the failure of myth among the devout: it leads to abject emptiness and the annihilation of an identity founded on reason’s ability to work out any problem. Suicide, then, remains the only reasonable course of action left: slave to reason no longer, his sharp sense of irony turned at last on himself (the most vulnerable subject), Decoud kills himself by drowning (N 412). Nostromo’s end, too, is tragic, but it at least is fully inscribed into the post-feudal logic of “the people” — as an ostensible trespasser on someone’s private land, and thus a potential threat to the right of property, he is summarily shot. The second component of Conrad’s heterotopic imagination in Nostromo operates on the linguistic level. The novel employs a strategy of inscription of textual marginalia as a counter-indicator to the orthodoxy of the narrative itself, so that the minor becomes progressively configured against the narrative flow (in the sense of the thrust of the dominant, a drive to dominance by and over language). Of specific interest is the predicament of minor/subaltern figures — that is, those that may shed light upon Conrad’s sense of his own exilic positionality. Their situation is peculiar, to say the least: even though marginal subjects obtain occasional access to direct representation, they are made to pay a bitter price for the privilege. The Jewish “hide merchant” from Esmeralda, Señor Hirsch, provides the clearest instance of this dynamic of abject foreignness: he is a subject perennially outside the common space, a wanderer doomed to errance, both physical and existential. Hirsch’s textual predicament strikes me as representative of early modernist texts, but also of colonial texts. We have to look no further than Ulysses, written a little over a decade later, to see another merchant identified and occasionally stigmatized by his Jewishness (this time, he sells real estate advertising space), Leopold Bloom, whose stunningly generous depiction in the text reterritorializes 34 Lothe 1989: 197; see N 340.

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him into his full humanity, right down to the thoughts that pass though his head while he sits on the commode after breakfast. Possibly thanks to his adamantly cosmopolitan worldview, Joyce was able to divest himself of the “soft” AngloIrish anti-Semitism of his generation, whereas Conrad was, it seems to me, quite willing to service an English-speaking audience that presumably shared this type of prejudice.35 But it is not sufficient to leave the matter at that. On the most general level, the second Dreyfus trial in 1906 split the cultural or epochal difference of the modern West; its reverberations throughout Europe showed that even soft anti-Semitism is a repugnant thing. In her reading of Nostromo, Elaine Jordan contends that Hirsch embodies a troubling presence that Conrad’s narrative is at pains to negotiate. Hirsch as the other is treated symptomatically, as “the abysmal Jew in whom cowardice and commercial interest outweigh all other concerns” (Jordan 1996: 5). One wonders whether Conrad’s contempt has to do with the cowardice per se or the racial stereotype and one concludes, regretfully, that the depictions in the text of Hirsch’s comportment while facing danger support the latter finding. And yet one must recognize the Conradian paradox contained in the passages devoted to Hirsch, especially after the contretemps on Nostromo’s boat. After all, Hirsch performs one of the few outright acts of defiance in the novel, spitting in the face of his torturer.36 How may we account for such contradictions? It seems to me that the price, or more precisely the consequence of representing the subaltern/ marginal in this book is either narrative excision or outright annihilation from the revolutionary state of Sulaco and its ongoing inscription. In his status as a subaltern, this figure is “spoken for” and always already represented by someone else, to cite Said’s iconic formulation. The “foreignness” is redacted or highlighted in conformity with the dominant discursive line. Thus, troublingly, though in a fashion consistent with contemporary anti-Semitic representations of Jewish bodies and bodies “on the frontier,” Hirsch’s depictions focus on his deformations and his failures of character. In line with the pseudo-science of physiognomy that Conrad occasionally invoked for his character types, he is thus structurally posited as a suspicious figure and an incomplete subject. (As Sander Gilman argues, Hirsch is deformed and, in part because of this, a less-than-fully-male subject.37) The second, and no more encouraging alternative, concerns the liminal figure who is placed under erasure: the character or the utterance he enunciates is crossed 35 Cf. Gillon 1994: 50–3. 36 Jordan 1996: 5. Jordan’s assertion is not entirely correct, however, and a possible consequence of tendentious reading. In fact, the one overt act of defiance which haunts the entire novel since it activates the curse of material interests is most obviously Gould junior’s return to the San Tomé mine, against his father’s stern and unequivocal admonishment. 37 See Gilman 2003: ix–x, 113–23.

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out of the narrative. Indeed Hirsch finds himself structurally expunged from the fabula in which he performed not only as the outsider and pest that “nobody wants to have around,”38 and thus a homo sacer who may be sacrificed because he is afforded no protection under the common law,39 but also because he an embarrassment to prescriptive male revolutionary social roles (a “real man” would not have feigned death, when questioned by another).40 For, according to the logics of male performativity governing this narrative, congruent with the impersonal force of history and war, real men are fearless; they must be prepared, as Nostromo had showed himself to be, to confront any challenge. The paradox is signaled by Adam Gillon, who suggests that while the description of Hirsch is certainly anti-Semitic, especially in the scene where his mutilated body is discovered resting in a Christ-like posture,41 Hirsch the outsider comes to symbolize indirectly Conrad’s own “psychological state of mind,” his self-torments as an other (Gillon 1994: 53). He points to Conrad’s anxiety that the “newly conquered ground upon which he stood might shift under his feet and that [the] country which he had adopted might not adopt him” (Gillon 1994: 53). This may very well be the case. In the final analysis ample irony resides in the fact that Conrad, himself an outsider at the time of the work’s publication, was unwilling to move beyond stereotype and accord unambiguous dignity to another liminary figure. So, in the building of an imaginary community of a new nation, Conrad seems to show that, regrettably, there may often be no choice but to expurgate the other, especially the other who unremittingly contests the dominant myths. However, the category of alterity soon enlarges to incorporate figures who, under typical circumstances, are often masters of discourse. In the revolutionary setting of this text, it will in due course include the intellectual class, partially embodied by the ambivalent Decoud and specifically his fall from an earlier safe ground of the 38 Jordan 1996: 5. It is not incidental that the more central male characters, Nostromo and Decoud, go as far blame the Jew among them for their anticipated failure of the “desperate affair” (N 225) of transporting the silver: “his being here is a miracle of fear . . . in an affair like ours a man like this ought to be thrown overboard,” Nostromo tells Decoud immediately prior to the fateful collision with Sotillo’s steamship (N 230, see also 230–1, 236–8). 39 For an elaboration of this antique Roman term in the context of modernity, see Agamben 1998: 8–12. 40 See Jordan on “proscriptive” (i.e. “alien to modern political and ethical perspectives”) and “positive” (as in, ambivalent to the dominant or even defiant) male roles in Conrad’s novel (Jordan 1996: 2–7). 41 For example, Hirsch’s corpse is said to have a “constrained, toppling attitude — the shoulders projecting forward, the head sunk low upon the breast.” Nostromo then “distinguished the arms behind his [Hirsch’s] back, and wrenched so terribly that the two clenched fists, lashed together, had been forced up higher than the shoulder-blades. From there his eyes traced in one instantaneous glance the hide rope going upwards from the tied wrists over a heavy beam” (N 352, see also 371–2).

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sustaining illusion of highbrow irony into self-abnegation brought by isolation. The novel shows that when irony, whose natural target is an interlocutor, turns inward on the speaking subject, as was the case when Decoud found himself alone on Great Isabel after the transfer of the silver, that subject gradually corrodes and breaks apart. Victim of “disillusioned” and suicidal “weariness” (N 412) and no longer “fit to grapple with himself single-handed” (N 418), Decoud enters a vortex of “immense melancholy” from which there can be no escape (N 409). While for Nostromo, Decoud — one of the “hombres finos that invented laws and governments and barren tasks for the people” (N 406) — had perhaps perished by accident or perhaps had “disappeared” with the four ingots expressly in order to “haunt” Nostromo later on through blackmail, or to “cast a spell” (N 406–7, 412–13, 434–5), the narrator shows that Decoud’s last days on earth were almost entirely bereft of purposeful action of the kind Nostromo had mechanically imputed to him (N 408–11). The official version — the one which Nostromo would help promulgate — was that “the young apostle of Separation had died for his idea by an ever-lamented accident” (N 408). However, for the narrator the “truth” was that Decoud, “the brilliant Costaguanero of the boulevards had died from solitude and want of faith in himself and others” (N 408). The course of this decline from a state of self-otherizing (“Decoud caught himself entertaining a doubt of his own individuality” [N 409]) to self-abrogation (“Decoud lost all belief in the reality of his action past and future . . . Both his intelligence and his passion were swallowed up easily in this great unbroken solitude” [N 409]), required a mere 15 days of isolation. In the end, however, the specific matter of the subaltern represents a different kind of textual marginalization and ejection. I agree that the spectre of Hirsch haunts the spaces of this novel and bears on our reading of it, but again this “haunting” is just as ambivalent as its inscription. Clearly, if Conrad’s intention had for some reason been simply to annihilate an offending textual nuisance (of his own making), he could have eliminated Hirsch in any number of spectacular ways. Yet Hirsch returns — in a spectral manner and Christlike42 (possibly a reference also to the Polish Romantic–martyrological view of itself as the Christ of Nations). Conrad’s metaphor, then, makes it plain that Hirsch’s posthumous presence in the text is not simply vampiric, but that rather that like Decoud’s haughty irony and Nostromo’s notions of honor and self-conceit, it incorporates a symbolic moral dimension. Viewed from this perspective, Nostromo’s thievery also acquires a direct moral valance, since it was Nostromo, as an anti-disciple, who by his indifference sold Hirsch away to the darkness (“ ‘It was the worst darkness of the Golfo,’ the Capataz assented” [N 357]), the watery maelstrom that followed, and 42 See Gillon 1994: 56–7.

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the subsequent deadly inquisition by Sotillo, all for a boatful of silver ingots.43 The fact that Conrad’s heterotopia is marked by ambivalence to “the natives” is one of the disturbing signs which hint at the extent to which he was a victim of his time and its prejudices. The figure of the native, functioning in the novel both as a signifier of originary utopias lost or destroyed by the arrival of the European mission civilisatrice and as a troubling contrapuntal presence which resists the status imposed on it by the Europeans (Reilly 1996: 155–6), recalls Conrad to the ideational horizons — and limitations — of his historicity. However, to the extent that these indigenous figures are allowed to hold up a civilizational mirror which forces the West to confront its own hierarchies and beliefs, Conrad is interrogating the central cultural assumptions of his epoch. While it is largely true that no direct voice is accorded to the other in the Conradian text except as stereotypical utterance, and that alterity is for the most part discursively marginalized, the text does offer symbolic representations and metaphoric presences that again ruffle the smooth categories of subjective representation, much in the same way as they did in Heart of Darkness. To put it another way, the native can be detected in the textual background, where he appears as a primal (universal?) memory of the land, and also as a dialectical presence vis-à-vis the forces of modernity, a talisman or curse. So while Conrad is not directly conversing with the other, alterity makes a definite mark on the discursive spaces of this exilic novel. This subaltern may on occasion coincide with the colonial subject or with “the tame Indian” who shyly accepts a drink offered to him and who, when he speaks at all, utters monosyllables (N 40). However, I would argue that in this shadowy textual presence and minor speech acts he is the paradoxical other who defamiliarizes the dominant ex-European subject. By his very incidence he renders this metropolitan subject appear less familiar on conquered ground, and thereby helps usher in a measure of hybridity.44 As a space for the articulation of exilic dreams, Nostromo represents heterotopic thinking also as a site of localization for émigré possibilities and intertwining fates, that is, as a non-place of contested imaginative futurities. The semiotic configurations of heterotopia in Nostromo, as in Trans-Atlantyk, are registered within the zone of the hybrid, with the South American locus serving as a contact point for a number of distinct exilic imaginations. Territorial displacement, moreover, brings with it not only the feeling of dispossession but also, considering that in Nostromo the setting is a colonial one, a sense of marvel that can act as “an aestheticizing, legitimizing supplement to appropriation” for the at-once displaced 43 Furthering the parallels with Christian imagery, note also Nostromo’s figurative association with Judas, who received 30 pieces of silver for his betrayal. See Matthew 26.14-16; 27.3. 44 On marginal “discursive” presences, see also Fanon 1968: Bhabha 1988; Said 1975.

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and conquering subject.45 Thus the family residence of one of the principal imperial/colonial subjects, the Goulds, is rightly the central symbol of hybrid space and cultural imbrication. Because of its special status it may be useful to detail its denominative features. First and foremost, the Gould property represents the recuperative dream of the foreigner. It offers the reply to the metaphysical query Conrad placed immediately before his description of the villa: “Perhaps the mere fact of being born in the country did make a difference” (N 53). As a hybrid object the Gould property refracts the character of its owner, whom Don Avellanos describes as someone with “all the English qualities of character with a truly patriotic heart” (N 53). As such, Casa Gould restores the signs and signposts of “home” not only for the relatively infrequent visitors from the British metropole but also for the locals. Thus for Don Avellanos, the native Costaguanero, the Gould villa incarnates a certain inimitable, though imperial and evidently exportable, British ethos: “Don José chose to come over at tea-time because the English rite at Doña Emilia’s house reminded him of the time when he lived in London as Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of St James. He did not like tea” (N 54). The Villa, moreover, is a consummately hybrid space; as part of the collection of liminal figures in the novel, it is synchronous, out of orbit with historical time. Further, even though it is inhabited by an English family, the palazzo, “one of the finest specimens in Sulaco” (N 50), is distinctly New World. Its central feature is a large quadrangle “whose paved space is the true hearthstone of a South American house, where the quiet hours of domestic life are marked by the shifting of light and shadow on the flagstone” (N 54). However, this hybrid space in which one might be expected to while away the “quiet hours” is in fact highly problematic. For one thing, it is replete with the anxiety of representational paradigms, juxtapositions, and styles. Conrad, in one sense, anticipates Gombrowicz’s techniques in Trans-Atlantyk of breathing life into the hybrid object/poetics which has been deployed into an epistemologically uncertain zone. As I have argued, for the moment the poetics of alterity and hybridity bears on a scrupulous delineation and containment of the other: here Conrad’s move is classically modernist. While he is not averse to calling attention to the cluster of disturbances amongst incongruent objects and styles forced into tight ideational quarters, clearly something of an overarching ordering paradigm has been set in place in this hybrid domestic world, attempts were made to naturalize and assimilate the numerosity of objects, to neutralize their internal tension, the difference in their provenance and their essential incompatibility that is not yet 45 See Emery 2002: 293; cf. Greenblatt 1991: 70–80, on whom Emery relies for his argument on the representation of exiles in colonial contexts.

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a form of celebratory kitsch, finally their explicit potential (as in Trans-Atlantyk) for revolutionary violence: The ceiling of the largest drawing-room of the Casa Gould extended its white level above . . . The loftiness dwarfed the mixture of heavy, straight-backed Spanish chairs of brown wood with leathern seats, and European furniture, low, cushioned all over, like squat little monsters gorged to bursting with steel springs and horsehair. There were knick-knacks on little tables, mirrors let into the wall above marble consoles, square spaces of carpet under the two groups of armchairs, each presided over by a deep sofa; smaller rugs scattered all over the floor of red tiles . . . Mrs Gould loved the patio of her Spanish house. A broad flight of stone steps was overlooked silently from a niche in the wall by a Madonna in blue robes with the crowned child sitting on her arm. (N 54–5, 68, my emphasis)

Within the intricate symbology of hybridity and the perturbed abundance of items “presiding” over or “dwarfing” adjacent spaces, of “monsters” “gorging” on pre-industrial (horsehair) and industrial (steel) products, compare for example the Goulds’ decorative Madonna, properly residing in its little niche, with the one surveyed by Witold in Gonzalo’s palace on the pampas, examined in the previous chapter. Nonetheless, even though it appears normative and “proscriptive” by contrast, in the end Casa Gould comprises a denaturalized, slightly surreal and hallucinatory, indeed a marvelous space, where the subjective is given reign — and thus again modernist in terms of the guiding poetics. It is, moreover, presided over by an appositely ethereal creature. Here, Conrad has shifted the site for the inscription of hybridizing domesticity to the female. Mr. Gould, for his part, evidently imposes only solid values and identities on his subjective space. The narrator states that “Mrs Gould, with her little head and shining coils of hair, sitting in a cloud of muslin and lace before a slender mahogany table, resembled a fairy posed lightly before dainty philtres dispensed out of vessels of silver and porcelain” (N 55). This form of the female principle operates in a dialectic with the male, her innate compassion for the other and her mesure placed in strict opposition to the will of brave and fearless men, described above, who would reshape the world and make a mark on history in the name of money, power, or personal glory. Finally, on the level of characterization, where Conrad structurally posits the Gould household and the Nostromo–Decoud couplet as formal embodiments of exilic possibilities and opportunities seized or lost, he presents the figure of Dr. Monygham as principally a cautionary tale about the failure of the exilic imagination. In their expatriate predicament, both the Goulds and Nostromo–Decoud 203

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have managed to create something, if not necessarily durable or absolutely original, then at least innovative and thus symbolically significant. For Charles Gould, this achievement was (the semblance of) political order in a post-revolutionary capitalist context, the Goulds’ joint achievement was the creation of wealth sectored off and liberated from nostalgia, carried out within a domestic sphere in which the mores of the vanquishing social classes of the old homeland were unproblematically reproduced. For Nostromo, the completed task was a robust personal mythology which substituted for material or political gain, at least until the fall — the tragic theft.46 Finally, for Decoud, it was, for a time at least, a solipsistic philosophical credo coupled with a program of intellectual bravado (however, as noted, this program would fail before the demands of the real, in large part due to its discursive superficiality). But, as the narrator explicitly stresses, Dr. Monygham, though a “wise” and well-experienced man of unquestionable intelligence and education (N 260), had apparently created nothing. Unlike Señor Hirsch, the subaltern and paradoxical other with whom the text can dispense but whose spectre continues to haunt the living, Dr. Monygham remains a disruptive and shadowy, if not quite phantasmal, narrative presence. And where Hirsch represents a paradox on the level of poetics, Monygham is an intra-textual enigma, a flesh-and-blood “paradox” for the expatriates themselves, “not liked by the Europeans” because of his “outward aspect” of the outcast (N 260). His irregular personal narrative, not readily subject to classification, and more to the point, the gaps in his story, render him suspect to the great narrative of progress and European civilizing mission in which the other Westerners are implicated as star actors, minor players or even malfeasants. By contrast, “the doctor made no secret of it that he had lived for years in the wildest parts of the Republic, wondering with almost unknown Indian tribes in the great forests of the far interior where the great rivers have their sources” (N 260). Within the broader story of European conquest of the New World, such a set of experiences would normally make for a splendid prelude to a career of classifying and discovering, with the European physician’s “superior” gaze, its technical “privilege” as “depository and source of clarity”47 about the rest of the world forming his surest instrument. For a physician, such an authoritative/authorizing gaze would assume a role structurally analogous to the legitimizing status of Gould’s financial backing, or Decoud’s quasi-Cartesian intellectual training and pseudo-Voltairean satirical impulse when 46 In his “Author’s note” to Nostromo, Conrad explains Nostromo’s motivations as a character in the following way: “I did not hesitate in making that central figure an Italian . . . Had he been an Anglo-Saxon he would have tried to get into the local politics. But Nostromo does not aspire to be a leader in a personal game. He does not want to raise himself above the mass. He is content to feel himself a power — within the People” (AN 12). 47 See Foucault 1973: xii–iii, xvi–ii.

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confronting the incomplete project of national self-articulation. This, however, was not to be Monygham’s case. Conrad seems to disrupt the grand narratives of progress and scientism by demonstrating their general nearimpossibility, and perhaps also their ideological violence if not absurdity, though the failure of one synecdochal figure. For if the dream of progress is to work at all, all its agents must be reliable (nourished by sustaining illusions if necessary). As was the case with Nostromo the surrogate who became a thief to save his vainglory (and much else besides) and, intertextually, with Kurtz in Heart of Darkness who reinterpreted the white man’s burden in such a way as to fashion himself into a force of destiny and a sort of divinity, Monygham fails in the role ascribed to him by class expectation and social positioning. Set loose “for years” in the wild interior — a blank slate indeed for performing the tasks of the grand narratives, that is, for cataloguing phenomena and imposing meaning — Monygham advances neither the state of Western knowledge nor his own pocketbook. Despite the formidable tools with which Anglo-Irish medical training would have furnished him, his travels bring him no personal fame, nothing discovered to which he can lend his name. Indeed, as a cog in the machinery of Western rationalism Monygham the scientist fails on three accounts to do justice to the great narrative which had fashioned him and his ilk. As a potential anthropologist he fails to collect information about the Indian tribes among which he had lived. As the narrator affirms, despite decades of penetration by the white colonizer, they remain still “almost unknown.” As a naturalist he learns nothing about “the great forests of the far interior” and, more damningly in the eyes of his community, he shares nothing of whatever practical knowledge he may have acquired on his journeys — either for its own sake or as a potential source of profit for other Europeans in Sulaco. Finally, as a geographer, he contributes no new wisdom about the great rivers or “their sources” (N 260). Conrad’s narrator is clear about Monygham’s presumed failure in terms of the meta-discourse of progress: It was mere aimless wandering; he had written nothing,48 collected nothing, brought nothing for science out of the twilight of the forests, which seemed to cling to his battered personality limping about Sulaco . . . It was also known that he had lived in a state of destitution till the arrival of the Goulds from Europe. Don Carlos and Dona Emilia had taken up the mad English doctor, when it became apparent that for all his savage independence

48 In this respect, is Monygham not unlike Conrad of the merchant marine period: a wanderer who traveled for years from port to port, almost anonymously, and wrote next to nothing until the very end of his time on the open seas?

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he could be tamed by kindness. Whatever the reason, Dr. Monygham, a personage in the administration of the Gould Concession . . . remained somehow outside the pale. (N 260–1, my emphasis)

In this litany of failures, the fact that at one point Monygham was tortured by the native leaders of Costaguana, Guzman Bento’s lieutenants, during a regime purge, is cited as an extenuating circumstance for his subsequent eccentricity, but nothing more: it does not appear he had any useful knowledge to offer. Conrad himself, on the other hand, seems far less unequivocal about the failure of science in the face of the much graver attack on myth, which was a central tenet of the Western rationalist project. Within this meta-narrative, let us recall, the natives are transformed into savages: their customs and legends become reinscribed as primitive superstitions; their spirituality as a source of brutality and occult sanguinary power. Monygham’s inability to contribute to science and the project of classifying alterity, in other words his savage independence, becomes a source of recuperation, a fountainhead of potential reparations. In this manner Conrad further radicalizes his poetics of ambivalence toward the cost of progress (real and imaginative) of the non-Western world, earlier inscribed into his rendering of European penetration of Africa in Heart of Darkness. And so in Nostromo the great rivers of Costaguana are allowed to remain mysterious and perhaps unknowable, the native inhabitants of the interior are spared the anthropologist’s gaze and are restored to their obscurity and thereby their dignity; the virgin forests can rest sure in their impenetrable vastness. Conrad’s textual heterotopia then, as I see it, consists of according a special epistemological status to the originary, of the elemental, to the incunabula of myth. The centrality of notions of the origin is re-established on the imaginative register. Man’s work cannot and indeed must not consist of stripping it of its fundamental mystery. This I think helps explain one of the central functions of the “spectral gringos” legend that frames the narrative. Conrad positions this account at a strategic moment of the opening passage, as an interregnum or bridge between the (largely) mythic past and the imagined future, between the historical background of this outpost of the New World and the contemporary geographic description of the Republic of Sulaco — and finally between the men of action and men of reflection who, as though betting on their ability and their finance to counter the curse’s evident power of contagion, all pine for the province’s transformation in their own image.49 49 By contrast, Gombrowicz subversion of the Polish Sarmatian–Romantic mythos in Trans-Atlantyk suggests that the parodist’s object is an outmoded social construction. It is, however, one that is useful for his particular artistic mission, which is to articulate

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THE SITES OF CONRAD’S HETERODISCURSIVITY: PREFACES AND POSTSCRIPTS The heterotopic ascendant of Nostromo, I have maintained, operates on the imaginary rather than the purely linguistic register. With Nostromo Conrad elaborates a theory of the exilic novel, an intention actually announced already in the “Author’s note.” But, as if to underscore the new exilic poetics in effect here, the prefatory note accompanying Nostromo (in most of its editions) dates from more than a decade after the publication of the novel (1917). The “Author’s note” should, however, be read together with the novel as one document, as it is central to a proper understanding of his exilic project. For a number of critics, such as Guerard, Conrad’s “Author’s notes” are taken to be transparent accompaniments to his novels: he writes, for example, that the note to Nostromo “is a lovely arabesque in which real reality and fictional reality come closer and closer together; it is no little justified by the novel it introduces” (Guerard 1967: 178). That the piece is complementary there can be no doubt: what is most interesting, however, is the sense of sweeping disconnection it has for readers. We should not be surprised to find that although the note starts off as a straightforward mediation on the creative process by an established writer at the summit of his form, it soon becomes clear that, despite appearances to the contrary, Conrad’s objective is not simply to recall the moment of creative inspiration which is the justification of his art. Conrad’s most explicit declaration about the esthetic objectives for his art is in any event contained in another — and somewhat more famous — preface, that to The Nigger of the Narcissus. In it he writes that, in order to be successful, art and literature must find ways of transporting the reader out of his quotidian environment. Literature, especially, should provide a means of raising consciousness, for both esthetic and moral ends — in order, “above all else, to make you see.”50 With his artistic credo thus out there to be read by the world, the note to Conrad’s grandest work, rather than revisit problems of reflexivity, swerves off in another direction which to my mind represents the third zone of exilic discourse. Indeed, the note serves as a splendid example of the intricate dialectic at work in Conrad’s writing, a bifurcation which is embodied by an inner dialogue between two textual personae. The first could be characterized as the modernist author emerging from an exhausting period of producing a massive and various complexes and mannerisms of the Polish expatriates in Buenos Aires, whether its elite be political or industrial/entrepreneurial. On the other hand, as I argued in the previous chapter, Sarmatian language and literary styles are celebrated for their emotive power and directness. 50 Conrad’s essay on the theory and practice of writing, “Henry James,” enlarges on this program but retains the essential sentiment (see Conrad 1949b: 13).

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difficult text, a process I described in the Introduction. The second is an avuncular explicator who, in a somewhat apologetic manner and with heavy deliberation comments on the origins of the text without, however, letting the reader in on just how emotionally and physically draining the process had been for him.51 It should be said that Conrad did not keep his special difficulties with this text a secret from his literary associates and friends. Recall again the letter to John Galsworthy, cited in the Introduction: “Finished! Finished! . . . wasn’t sure I would survive . . . I feel no elation. The strain has been too great for that.”52 Statements of this type (they can be multiplied) suggest that Conrad had developed a network of sympathetic writers and other men of letters on whom he could rely when he needed consolation; he would make frequent use of them. Later on that same day, for example, in a note to William Rothenstein, Conrad admits apropos of Nostromo that he is not satisfied with the ultimate outcome: “It is something — but not the thing I tried for. There is no exultation, none of that temporary sense of achievement which is so soothing . . . The strain has been too great, has lasted too long. But I am ready for more” (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 336, emphasis in the original). And earlier on that summer, in another missive to Rothenstein, Conrad complains that the stress of writing itself was becoming quite unbearable for him: “I am not myself and shall not be myself until I am born again after Nostromo is finished . . . Je tombe de fatigue.”53 A similar sentiment appears in a letter to Galsworthy dated November 30, 1903, where writing is again compared to an “incurable illness.” Here Conrad makes this complaint: “Impossible to write, while the brain rots in incoherent images. It is sometimes quite alarming” (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 322). Alarming or not, the point is that the face Conrad presented to his reading public would be rather different. In the “Author’s note,” by unexpectedly focusing in on aspects of the story that could be termed secondary or even minor, Conrad qua exegete of his own text smoothes over many of the text’s complexities. What he offers, in fact, is a quasi-Romantic account of moments of initial “inspiration,” of certain technical problems of representation of political insurrections, of his readings (real and fictive, as Guerard deftly observes) that purportedly supplied the details and the context — all apparently in an attempt to render the text more accessible to the “average” reader. Yet, as we recall from Chapter 3, above, on life writing, that was exactly the kind of reader whom Conrad the modernist stylist abhorred,54 as when he complains in a 1902 letter to another friend: “Oh; que j’envie le technicien et le savant qui écrivent pour des gens qui non seulement comprennent le sujet mais 51 For a broader discussion of Conrad’s writerly vicissitudes, see Najder 1983: esp. 171–3, 197–9, 226–8, 352–3. 52 Letter of September 1, 1904 (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 332–4). 53 Letter of June 27, 1904 (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 330). 54 See Guerard 1967: 3; see also Najder 1983; Kermode 1983.

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sont aussi, pour la plupart, capables de comprendre la méthode.”55 And yet, secret sharers “qui comprennent la méthode” or no, Conrad’s prefatory meditations do not give away any of the authorial or textual secrets to come in the novel that immediately follows, much less expose the mechanics of its narratological authority, rationalize its multiple chronological shifts, or even account for the fractured recommencements of the story told in a sometimes discordant chorus of voices. Since a similar dialectical procedure is at play in the notes to such later works as Under Western Eyes and A Personal Record, one might conclude that their purpose has less to do with authorial explication than, paradoxically, with modalities of modernist distantiation. In their status as meta-textual devices, the notes force the critical reader to return to the narrative — but then only to find further contradictions stemming from their antecedent status. In fact the novel must be seen as an autonomous and self-sufficient work; the notes to it are purposely misleading. They offer false leads to the careless or the easily satisfied reader. It is in this manner that Nostromo theorizes itself as a novel and a discourse: the notes can be seen as attempts to both mask and recuperate the narrative as an esthetic object, that is, as an object of pleasure in which the theory of writing waits to be revealed to the careful reader. But this dual and opposed action embodies a further paradox, because in addition to validating the innovations of the narrative in a somewhat cunning if not arch manner, the notes at the same time go to great lengths to negate or discursively diffuse their impact. As mentioned, the tension engendered by juxtaposing the two texts gives off a strong impression of evasion. As a general paradigm of the textual dialectics, Conrad is willing to offer up only explanatory statements dealing with the “minor” questions of the work’s composition, its origins, or with any number of general political abstractions. Specifically, in the note to Nostromo, the central problem of textual poetics is almost altogether elided in favor of something almost tangential (in terms of a critical reaction) to the vast discursive mechanism the novel activates, its central metaphors or again its experimentalist structure. For instance, Conrad shares very little of the “absurd rhythm of exploitation and misrule, of revolution and counterrevolution” in a text in which “life (as form, colour, movement) reaches us before any coherent understanding of it” (Guerard 1967: 178, 175). Finally the note, despite a strong tone of forthrightness, reveals next to nothing about how the reader might best interact with a narrative which moves in such a rhythm. Rather, as Guerard maintains, the reader is placed in the position of Captain Mitchell’s “privileged listener” from the concluding sections of the narrative (Guerard 1967: 175). He is that “mute interlocutor” expected to 55 From Lettres françaises, cited in Vidan 1958: 28.

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be “stunned and . . . annihilated mentally by the sudden surfeit of sights, sounds, names, facts, and complicated information imperfectly apprehended” (Guerard 1967: 175). The account of the novel’s origin thus forms a metonym for the story of beginnings presented in the novel; it does not, however, meaningfully illuminate Conrad’s process. Why, then, would he deliberately create notes — ostensibly explicatory documents — that in fact cancel out or at the very least defer the full import of the modernist narratives par excellence that follow? One answer may be that given his deeply embedded aversion to the common reader, Conrad seems to have been engaged in developing two almost contradictory poetics, a phenomenon closely shadowing his homo duplex persona. Each component corresponds to one of the selves comprising his cultural and writerly “duality.” Each also reflects and buttresses one of the two points of the identity compass. The narrative techniques of his novels, especially those from the major phase,56 grew more experimental with each successive work, though the intensification remained well within the pragmatics of early modernist narrative technique. Perhaps it is misleading to say that in Conrad the work of art never completely abandoned the praxis of life in its representation of specific moments or problems of existence. On the contrary: the desire to make the reader “above all . . . see” also incorporated a practical exegetical component within the overall moral/impressionistic program. In a critique of a travel novel written by Cunninghame Graham, Conrad referred to this process as a “contribution not towards mere knowledge but towards truth — to truth hidden in men, in things, in life, in nature — to the truth only exceptional men can see, and not every exceptional man can present to the ordinary dim eyes of the crowd.”57 This then would imply an ongoing negotiation between the formal modernist technique and attempts at direct narrative affect in the reader — a hypothesis further buttressed by another piece of correspondence, Conrad’s 1899 letter Sir Hugh Clifford. In it, Conrad states that “the whole of truth lies in the presentation; therefore the expression should be studied in the interest of veracity. This is the only morality of art apart from subject.”58 So while Conrad insists that for him a work of fiction is at its most convincing when it presents a “picture of mental states,”59 he is no high modernist like Joyce of Woolf with respect to the limits of narration, so that, as I suggested earlier, one searches in vain in his novels for the development of the interior monologue or for formal logics of inner narrative association (In The Political Unconscious Fredric Jameson arrives 56 See Berthoud 1978: 186. The phrase describes the totality of Conrad’s writings between, roughly, 1897 and 1912. 57 Letter to the Hon. Mrs. Bontine, December 4, 1898 (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 258–9, emphasis in the original). 58 Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 279–81, emphasis in the original. 59 Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 280.

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at a similar conclusion in his discussion of Nostromo and Lord Jim, arguing that “Conrad is . . . premodern in that he has not been able to discover the transpersonal standpoint of, say, Joycean narrative [1981: 271, my emphasis]). The particular predicament of the Conradian text cum preface is that after encountering the note to Nostromo the reader might reasonably expect a traditional — stylistically speaking — narrative to follow, in the manner of popular fiction or adventure stories (which Conrad also attempted on several occasions, particularly with popular tales like “Benavides” and “Gaspar Luis”60). This is the kind of narrative he seems to evoke when he writes, for example that “such are in very truth the obscure origins of Nostromo — the book. From that moment, I suppose, it had to be. Yet even then I hesitated, as if warned by the instinct for self-preservation from venturing on a distant and toilsome journey into a land full of intrigues and revolutions. But it had to be done” (AN 11). The overall effect of this is all the more disorienting insofar as this exercise in dispersion is imposed on the reader, in this way tingeing the reception of the text and predisposing certain modes of approach in favor of others. Precisely because the notes appear to have been written in another register, they tend to encourage misreadings, reinforcing misperceptions of the authorial persona as an avuncular storyteller for whom writing a “difficult” text that might alienate readers would constitute something utterly unexpected, out of character or inadvertent. The notes, in the end, offer little other than blind alleys: they can by no means be relied on to present a way out of the difficulties of the text, even though in their tone and style they promise exactly that. In other words, Conrad is being characteristically modernist here to introduce such a patently false lead. If Nostromo can be said to theorize itself, it does so both as a novel, which is to say an artistic space, and as a polemical space, specifically as an immanent critique of the realist novel. What Nostromo initiates is a theory of the novel elaborated concomitantly with the unfolding of the plot, that is, as its architectonics are untangled by the reader or the critic. The note as a literary object (or event) serves to recuperate the authorial predicament of creating a textual zone located within such and such conceptual “space” and inhabited by such and such personages. In the end the mystery within stands, as does the apparent process of negation where Conrad at the outset imitates a realist adventure narrative and then immediately subjects it to structural and temporal distortion. In light of this, if the note does not, strictly speaking, function as an explanation, it is logically because of the novel’s overall autonomy, the self-sufficiency of its poetics, its heterotopic contours. And 60 Najder is one of several leading critics who characterized the “South American” stories which followed Nostromo as “trashy” and patently written for money or for cinematic adaptation — and Conrad disparaged the cinema as “a silly stunt for silly people” (see Najder 1983: 305, 408, 456).

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so a certain duality persists: Conrad the modernist experimentalist categorically committed to his craft is the actual figure behind the narrative. Conrad in his guise of the traditional realist, and more specifically the public persona of Conrad as a Polish country squire transplanted to an estate in the Home Counties, and as an Edwardian “popular” author for the middlebrow imagination, stands in front of the text, and as such misleads the way. The parting impression, therefore, is that Conrad’s heterotopia exists really only for kindred spirits. Those who feel that they need to rely on authorial notes for explanations and contextualized familiarizations of the reading to come are sure to be disappointed, and waylaid. Thus in the “Author’s note” Conrad is far from exculpating himself for the difficulties to come. The disconnection of the styles is not merely disingenuous or merely a distancing mechanism: it is a trap. As an exercise in authorial mythopoeia, the “Author’s note” to Nostromo is also remarkable for its treatment of intertextuality. Conrad is almost challenging the reader to conjecture on which of his other narratives might offer clues to the mysteries of the personages depicted in this one. “Those who have read certain pages of mine,” he writes, “will see at once what I mean when I say that Dominic, the padrone of the Tremolino, might under given circumstances have been a Nostromo.”61 Along the same line of strategic intertextual revelation is Conrad’s insertion of a fictional text “authored” by one of the characters in the novel, Don Avellanos, as a supposed background source he consulted while “learn[ing] about” the history of the entirely fictive republic of Costaguana (AN 11). In an involution bound to take many readers by surprise, he adds that Don Avellanos’ treatise “was never published — the reader will discover why — and I am in fact the only person in the world possessed of its contents” (AN 11). This cunning stratagem contains and then formally closes off the realm of the external referent, akin to Conrad formally giving himself novelistic carte blanche for constructing his “authentic and unchallengeable world,”62 and for imagining its specific historicity. Likewise significant is that work’s title: to name the fictive work History of Fifty Years of Misrule cues the reader up for a “privileged” interpretive framework — a specific mode of reading, of delving into the story of processes of discourse-legitimization

61 AN 12. Here, Conrad is referring to Dominic Cervoni, an arms-smuggler and adventurer whom he met in Marseille. These “certain pages” include the collection of pseudoautobiographical short stories The Mirror of the Sea (1906) as well as two novels, The Shadow-Line (1917) and The Rover (1923). The latter appeared after the publication of the note, but Conrad was known to have been working on his “Napoleonic” tale on and off for a number of years. 62 Guerard 1967: 179. Guerard contends that the world-making exercise, or in other words the realism of Nostromo, is “so successful that we are tempted to give it no thought” (1967: 179).

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Conrad is about to relate. For example, his calling attention to the centrality of misrule in Costaguanan politics — a term that implies if not anarchy exactly, then certainly a degree of atavistic disorder — will likely bolster readers’ identification with the progressive/mercantile elements of the social fabric of Sulaco and their faith in Material Interests, which somehow, inexplicably, can be trusted to usher in order and security in the land. And it is through the ironic undermining and subtle deconstruction of the faith in such meta-narratives which were, in truth, credos repeated almost unreflectively in the centers of Western power at the time of Conrad’s writing, that the work’s heterotopic gesture legitimates itself as a subject position and as an exilic (counter-)discourse. As a countersign against the forces of Material Interests which, if left to their devices, will bring utilitarian “progress” and the rule of law to the new republic, Conrad pits Nostromo, the elemental man of the people. The Cargador symbolizes the principle of populism — of this we may be sure from reading the “Author’s note,” since here the motive is straightforward. Conrad writes that in comparison to Holroyd and the other Sulaco capitalists, Nostromo’s lineage “had to be more ancient still. He is a man with the weight of countless generations behind him and no parentage to speak of . . . Like the People” (AN 12–13). The same sentiment is expressed in a 1904 letter to Cunninghame Graham, where Conrad remarks about his creation that Nostromo is “a romantic mouthpiece of the ‘people’ which (I mean ‘the people’) frequently experience the very feelings to which he gives utterance” (Jean-Aubry vol. 1: 337–8). However, as one critic has pointed out, Nostromo’s role is freighted with the instruments of its own destruction, insofar as he symbolizes both the revolutionary mob whose leader he will have become and the newly disaffected “post-revolutionary” proletariat that soon begins to identify with his exceptional ability (Erdinast-Vulcan 1996: 140). Let us recall that Nostromo’s first appearance in the story is the description by Captain Mitchell — the one narrative voice seemingly unable to resist thematic condensation and simplification — as an “invaluable fellow” (N 23) and a “man absolutely above reproach” (N 24) as far as serving the stakeholders of Material Interests goes (though he is also a vain man, obsessed with his image). Thus Nostromo is initially affiliated with forces of domination and reaction, which had restored dictator Ribiera after a popular uprising against his regime — and whom Mitchell serves, as well, though in his personal case it is though sheer ignorance. As mentioned above, Nostromo’s metamorphosis and his awakened class-consciousness follow directly from his putative betrayal. Though the old revolutionary Giorgio Viola had long tried (and failed) to instil a class-conscious identity into Nostromo with his discourse of “the rich” and their “dogs,” it is only after the betrayal that Nostromo, in a kind of reverse Faustian, self-reflexive move, is able to recognize 213

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the proletarian in himself: he now defiantly describes himself as “the best dog of the rich, of the aristocrats, of these fine men who can only talk and betray the people” (N 386). Nostromo therefore embodies the original double agent of Conrad’s imagination, doubly powerful because acutely aware of his importance to both sets of “masters” — the mercantile capitalists and the people — and of the potential for (revolutionary) violence through which he is able to affect the fates of either one, or indeed both. However, such revolutionary potentiality cannot be maintained during periods of peace and the return to normality following the republic’s successful secession. For this reason, as Erdinast-Vulcan observes, once bereft of “the trust and admiration” of a community that looked up to him and “sustained him as a hero” (1996: 140), Nostromo must fail in the role of an ex-proletarian emancipated not by class action but rather the sudden acquisition of wealth. For this reason, his relationship with the object of his putative liberation, the concealed silver ingots, becomes transformed, by the narrative’s end, into one of subjection and finally abjection. In his mission as former commander of the mob and a symbolic leader of the new urban proletariat which replaced the mob following the republic’s secession and its normalization, Nostromo comes in particular to represent the failure of the myth of social progress. His theft of the silver ingots has rendered him secretly wealthy — a paradoxical position for a native leader. His personal currency, on the other hand, is inextricably tied to his vanity, which precludes any acts of affectation or unnaturalness, easily detected by the people; any such actions would obviously contradict his standing as the Natural Man. In the “Author’s note” Conrad describes the now-wealthy Nostromo living in Sulaco “years afterwards . . . with a stake in the country,” walking along “the modernized streets” of the town as an “enigmatical patron of the new revolutionary agitation” and still “essentially a man of the People” (AN 13). However, such a progression is not at all supported by the events of the novel. By his “famous and desperate” (N 222) act of selfemancipation by plunder, Nostromo has lost the historical (and vaguely Marxian) wager of his underclass. The price of (the grand narrative of) progress, therefore, as Conrad unequivocally shows, is a kind of haunting corruption; or, to express the basic relation in a more sinister way, corruption is inscribed in the very heart of the social praxis as one of the main currencies of progress — though often cleverly concealed within the seemingly anodyne discourses of material interests — and it irredeemably impinges on the affairs of the allegedly disinterested “natural man” of “the People” as it does on the advocates of the mission civilisatrice, whatever its eventual forms. It is owing to this same dynamic that Monygham who, it might be argued, remained true to his principles, was ultimately destined to become an outcast within the broader project of republican post-colonial self-articulation. 214

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To insure survival in the heady universe of Conradian heterotopia, it would appear that principles need to be tempered by sustaining illusions, whether in philosophical discourse (for example, as in Decoud’s even-handed dismissal of the utopia of New World nations and simultaneous agitation for the creation of a republic through armed secession) or in exilic persona-building. It is so perhaps because illusions, that is, the building blocks of ersatz realities which come to the fore in confrontation with new and unforeseen realities of expatriation, are inscribed in the heart of exilic thinking. And while Conrad was no naïf either as a displaced emigrant or as an essentially politicized (because exiled) figure, he seems to have continued to hold on to his. More important, perhaps, Conrad in Nostromo demonstrates that the state, even an exilic New World republic composed of exiles and migrants ready to remake the nation with their idealism and their purpose, does not provide the solution to the needs of individual subjectivity. In other words, state-sponsored heterotopias (i.e. formalist political utopias, however defined) fail both on the level of praxis and the level of myth. They are too deeply invested, linguistically speaking, in the production of iconographies that seek to reify the necessarily communal synchronization and internal “coherence” of myth and action (Marin 1990: 11–12). And because those are inherently meant for communal consumption they are of necessity coercive and insufficiently heterogeneous (or hybrid) for the individuals who were actually meant to live in them. It is for this reason that the contours of utopias wash away when confronted with the material body and desires of the individual; they recede into the mist of (their own) nostalgic mythopoeia. In Utopics, Louis Marin observes that proper names of utopian spaces in fiction frequently contain an element of negation (Marin 1990: 87): even the term “u-topia” cancels out the very possibility of a place; any positive spatial fix it may have as an ideal community is immediately subverted by onomastics. So it is only proper that Costaguana, a putative utopia come undone, should translate as a “coast of guano,” a republic of (civilisational? natural? exilic?) refuse and refugees (and so, by rather curious linguistic slippage, also a refuge). No, the solution can only come on the level of individual utterance, within the hybridized no-place of language which, as Conrad shows with this text, is both a space of hope and an instrument for cutting down the sustaining illusions of imaginary communities. I have argued here that Conrad in his texts exhibited little regard for the “common reader,” with each new novel or tale after 1897 elaborating on the experimentation and the distancing mechanisms of the previous narratives. Paradoxically, in spite of constructing such formidable textual edifices as Nostromo, Conrad still continued to complain about being misunderstood by his readers. Exile, in the Conradian text, was perhaps the major differentiating factor which estranged the works and complicated their reception. On the other hand 215

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exilic experience filtered through problematics of origins resulted, with Nostromo, in an experiment of heterotopic poetics that offered a forum for the exilic imagination. It is almost regrettable, then, that it offered these solutions to a very select group of readers, numerically speaking. Or was the private Conrad content with concealing himself within an supersaturated textual structure, a vast narrative so clearly devoted to the portrayals of the public sphere (and yet alienating to the average member of the reading public)? Insofar as Nostromo may be said to be about constructing worlds and finding a refuge in logos, we see Conrad the writer enveloping himself with words, with textual fabrics, shrouding himself with plot versions and marginal subversions, with competing fabulae and possibilities, with authoritarian tellings and seditious counterplots — in short questioning the very possibility of representation of cultural essences and of political life as it is prosecuted in medias res. At the same time, as we saw in Chapter 3, Conrad was hard at work strategically developing something akin to a total expatriate persona, through which he hoped to introduce himself to his broader public in England, thus aiming to domesticate his sense of difference. Not for the first or the last time, then, the text and the man were seemingly running in oppositions — or was it rather a question of Conrad hedging his bets?

*** As should be clear by now, I have been treating Nostromo and Gombrowicz’s Trans-Atlantyk as allegories of nation-making by and for exiles as autonomous subjects. Both works develop a discourse in which nostalgia, and the weight of the past, is dialectically countered by new potentialities and futurity’s eternal promise (in the Other Place). Interestingly, when personally confronted with the not-yet overdetermined polemical spaces of their respective corners of the emigrant’s world, both authors chose to imagine themselves to their hosts as rather wizened and aloof emissaries of a venerable European civilization, and not necessarily (or no longer) as its iconoclasts.63 Gombrowicz shows by analogy that European cultures have already passed through the struggles for subjectivity and national form, often at the expense of neighbors who were heavily otherized and objectified in the process, much as his own homeland itself had been since the end of the eighteenth century (and in fact remained until after his death, with a short interregnum of the interwar period, the Dwudziestolecie). Conrad calls on ideas of honor and quixotic sacrifice to a greater commonality (as for instance 63 With regard to Gombrowicz in particular, this is unexpected and rather paradoxical in light of his enduring fascination with youth, imperfection, and malleable “immature” form.

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in the story “Prince Roman”) to draw out an essence of a Polish/Slavic/Eastern European archaic authenticity which he juxtaposes with the relentless modernity of the British imperial project. In this respect, then, the writing subject is instinctively conservative; Conrad and Gombrowicz long seem reluctant to espouse the cultural practices of their new world, instead focusing on the difficulties of colonial and post-colonial regions experience with administering their own fates. One might speculate that this position is a textual echo of the instability and missteps experienced by newly independent Poland after 1919, which both men witnessed either directly or indirectly.64 For Gombrowicz, Argentinean cultural production remained, as noted, a source of special rancor; he persisted bitterly enumerating its perceived formal weaknesses often without troubling to probe the culture’s depths. Very occasionally, a coded tribute would be made to the Retiro, the “sailors”/queer district of Buenos Aires (Gombrowicz 2000a: 208), also frequented by poor writers of the younger generation. However, in such instances Gombrowicz’s (homo-)erotic quests, only faintly alluded to in his work, mingled with esthetic concerns and life-in-process, life as potentiality, dangerously implied personal degradation and humiliation. So while the Retiro contained for Gombrowicz some of the secret of a “life at once blooming and degraded” (“sekret życia rozkwitającego, a zarazem poniżonego”), and its reality as a synecdoche of authentic Argentinean existence began to replace certain Polish cultural essences (Gombrowicz 2000a: 209), the uneasy dialectic of Polish language/ European culture remained as a kind of intellectual touchstone. Indeed it was only very gradually that Argentina came to symbolize the vigor of youth, the state of healthy imperfection. One may say that by the time of his migration to Western Europe, those qualities were no longer seen as depraved or, more to the point, de-formed, particularly when contrasted with what he — once again an outsider, and by then an old man — read as a moribund and decadent Western Europe, with a petrified and anonymous Paris of the concert hall and the art gallery,65 and a technocratic Berlin of the existentialist’s nightmare,66 both metropoles additionally grappling with spectres of fascism, either as nuclei of the creed or former sites of collaboration. And imperfection and movement, as Gombrowicz would put it in A Kind of Testament, trumped perfection and stasis every time as a site of artistic stimulus (de Roux, ed. 1969: 70–1). In the end Gombrowicz, like so many 64 It is also curious that even though they were both writing contrapuntally and against the grain, as it were, they remained rather mute on the subject of the displacement and massacres of the native populations of South America which were part and parcel of imperial Europe’s expansion into South America — though it is true that Gombrowicz briefly raises the issue elsewhere, in his collected essays on Argentina (see Gombrowicz 1990). 65 See Gombrowicz 2000c: 118–22. 66 See Gombrowicz 2000c: 140, 153–5, 179–80, 184–5.

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of his characters, seems to have been suspended in an impure opposition between authentic selfhood (as a representative of a younger culture) and joyous alterity (de Roux, ed. 1969: 70–1), in which neither conceptual pole was fully acceptable, but both were sequentially inevitable for those trapped in the vacillation, as Gombrowicz found himself in consequence of a philosophical system ultimately of his own construction.67 Conrad, for his part, approached the subject of post-colonial legitimacy via a binary of progress–entropy which he shared with a number of writers of his generation (though a binary that would be categorically subverted by later modernists such as Joyce or Céline). He also proceeded from a hierarchical view of cultural essences that, while problematized by the witnessing of the white man’s burden gone awry in the Belgian Congo, was in the end incapable of directly affirming minority/alterity and remained, perhaps to the end, essentially unresolved. The discourse of cultural form was thus a leading function of Conrad’s dual subjectivity as a member of the empire and as a non-citizen of a non-place. That said, his life story (and his greatest novel) reveals the imaginary “European” vision as dominant, even if in Nostromo real attempts are made to animate the discourse of revolution from within, and crack open the Enlightenment discourse of progress to reveal its troubling discontents. Still, while it is true that whatever validity the Western program may have in Nostromo is here and there undercut by irony, little doubt remains that those living in the periphery and in the colony will eventually end up “Western” or Westernized, or will be positively affected through contacts with the West (both as a cultural presence and a moral force) and its material interests — the imperial power politics masquerading behind this term notwithstanding. In any event the alternatives to social organization, as Conrad then saw at the time, were Eastern empire (such as Japan’s) or state socialism, national(ist) or international: throughout his life Conrad feared and abhorred the latter, while in “Autocracy and war” he felt he had unceremoniously dismantled whatever political or moral credentials may have been possessed by the former. Already prominent in Nostromo, the valorization of Western philosophy of the subject as the only possible space of hope for that subject, and in particular for questions of interpellation of the other and the functions of the normative gaze, would be re-emphasized in Conrad’s greatest European novel, Under Western Eyes, written several years later. Of that work’s temporal and narrative schemes, Boris Ford writes: “the West [in the form of the professor of English] is there first, and with it the Western eyes” (B. Ford 1989: 25) While such a relativizing position might not necessarily imply moral authority or a clearer gaze, the Western subject’s 67 See Gombrowicz 2000c: esp. 107–57.

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status as master legitimator, broker, and explicator of occult truths (consider that Under Western Eyes is in a very real sense the language teacher’s book and only indirectly Razumov’s account) certainly illuminates the foundational ideas behind Conrad’s poetics of the subject, first elaborated in his “Tale of the seaboard.”

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CHAPTER 6

The Conditional Narrativity of Cosmos Lunęło. Gombrowicz, Kosmos

THE ONTOLOGY OF A POSTMODERN TEXT In 1965, just as the problem of inscribing the emerging “post-modern” subject was beginning to entrance literary critics,1 Witold Gombrowicz, by then having left Argentina to settle in the south of France, was applying the final touches to what was to be his last novel, Cosmos. Janus-faced, Cosmos represents at once his most concentrated attempt at a postmodernist poetics and a coda to the poetics of subjective failure. The novel treats the gradual waning of the authority of language (and so the autonomy of the subject) to a degree far greater than Trans-Atlantyk, which as we recall culminates with a carnivalesque explosion of laughter which temporarily dissolves strict hierarchies of home and exile, and self and other, but which, aside from reaffirming the individual’s right to an exilic space of freedom, does not offer a final solution to the problem of mastering reality through language (language is part of the parody, but does not resolve the sense of existential anxiety of otherness and displacement). By contrast, in Cosmos the main contours of an insidious “metaphysical horror” [metafizyczna groza] (Jarzębski 2000: 32) with which the narrative opens are swiftly displaced onto the ontological plane. There they are coupled with a coming-into-being of an alternative mode of perception which the narrator forges as both his agency and his anxiety about what it is that he is witnessing escalate. The apparent goal, then, is re-construction of the rules governing seeing and of causality. In attempting this, the text endeavors a (not always intended) demarcation of a raw possible “other” world by confirming the 1 See e.g. Hassan 1963, 1967; Sontag 1967: 3–14, 196–208; Kermode 1966; Fiedler 1975.

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impossibility of ordering this world. The basic movement in the work, then, is vertical and akin to Foucault’s elaboration of heterotopic discourse that relies on the force of accident and the domestication of signs of alterity. Advancing beyond earlier battlegrounds in which we witnessed Gombrowicz’s confrontation with his exilic role and its political and existential viability, Cosmos is something of a narrative to end all narratives. It forms the kropka nad i [“the dot over the i”] (Gombrowicz 2000b: 164) that dialectically completes Gombrowicz’s poetics by returning him, paradoxically, to the subject matter of (his) youth: immaturity, imperfection, and the seductive power of the form–chaos binary and formal potentiality in general. However, this deeply problematized return to an earlier thematics also serves to illustrate Gombrowicz’s view that the modernist project of ordering the world and delineating its limits by stipulating a subject’s place in it, all in the service of a teleological program — to say nothing of various ideological agendas which sought to provide justification for our toil and effort — incorporates a dangerous self-deception. This is because any such ordering enterprise was bound to be moored in, and hence reproduce, the a priori contingencies and connections enforced by a text’s and an author’s own historicity. On the other hand, as Jerzy Jarzębski observes in his discussion of the continuities and discontinuities in Gombrowicz’s poetics, the phenomenon of a “raw, naked world,” ontically “divorced from a viewpoint,” is “unpalatable” for the subject: it simply cannot be assimilated (jest nieprzyswajalny). In other words, it is in the nature of the subjective cognition to seek to control the phenomenal world, to invest it with shape and meaning, which are nonetheless always “accidental . . . deprived of a higher sanctioning power.” The world, Jarzębski suggests, can be manipulated at will but it may not be “possessed” or made over into “my world” (Jarzębski 2000: 32) by the subject who speaks. It is clear, then, that at stake here with this novel is the fundamental notion of reality. But what is reality, what is a world, Gombrowicz asks? How can the subject construct order and form from the chaos of phenomena and random objects that surround him or her? And why is it, as the narrator inquires of himself (and of the reader), that “born as we are out of Chaos, we [can] never establish contact with it? No sooner do we look at it than order, pattern, shape is born under our eyes” (C 31). My aim here is to show how, by interrogating those aspects of the phenomenal world that defy automatic definition or classification, by folding the narrative back against the limits of perception, the work announces the dissolution of modern narrative subjectivity into a mise-en-abîme of competing simulacra, imposed upon what appears to be a vast (indeed “cosmic”) indifference of the world. Cosmos, as a phenomenological “limit-experience” and a markedly negative vision of postmodern literature, constitutes a deliberate killing off of the 221

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cogito via its own destructive (because arbitrary, anchored in contingency) logics and language. The novel engages and then immediately subverts the conventions of the detective story, a favored bourgeois form. As befits works of this genre, a crime is central to the architectonics of Cosmos. In this case, however, the offence is an absurd one: a hung sparrow discovered “by chance” by the narrator and his companion while the two are on a holiday in the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland. So far, so good — or so it would seem. In reality the situation is semiologically fraught; the preceding introductory sentence in fact obscures a proper understanding of what is at stake in the text and meta-text of Cosmos. The narrative makes it obvious that this “discovery” is both by chance and obviously also not by chance, since the event has been pre-inscribed textually, and Cosmos is a work of fiction. That is to say, without the “find” being made, there would be no story to tell. And this suggest in turn that the meta-text, that is, the discourse of narratorial construction, constantly foregrounds its own constructedness in a manner that makes the authorial interference in narrative creation quite impossible to ignore.2 Equally unsettling in Cosmos is the inscription of the narrator’s investigation and, on the level of the meta-text, the investigation of the motivations and pathways of the investigation, which in effect assumes the shape of a compulsive interrogation of the world of everyday objects and of the faculty of perception itself. Objects, utterances, possible clues, deformities in the appearance or eccentricities in the behavior of the other guests in the pensjonat (chalet) in which the narrator is lodging — all these factors are subsumed into an obsessive program of ordering and classifying.3 This search in turn is not merely effected out of boredom or anxiety;4 rather, its object is exegetical, hermeneutic; it serves a privileged instrumental truth, including funding a solution to the riddle of the hung bird and the ensuing riddles of further hangings, as well as some kind of an explanation for the deformations and deviations going on all around him. But the resulting textual superabundance, doubling, inversion, and repetition in the end constitute little beyond semiological onanism. The narrator’s examination, by multiplying cognitive pathways and folding them onto themselves, by proposing and then immediately repudiating entire systems of correspondences, by constantly displaying the arbitrariness of both civilizational norms and the teleology of his particular search within a specific chronotope, is clearly doomed to fail. With it fails the illusion, central to the humanist-progressivist project of emancipation ever since the Enlightenment, and subsequently adapted by the modernists to sustain their 2 See Barthes 1967: 40–6. 3 See Gombrowicz’s own commentary on this process, in de Roux, ed. 1969: 92–4. 4 Of course it is exactly that at first (see e.g. C 34–5).

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subjective microcosms, of the classifiability of universal truths and values.5 For, as Gombrowicz shows, our techniques of forging order out of the chaos of existence — of mastering the narrative, as it were — are arbitrary and equally grounded in the contingency of human needs and aspirations, including systems of communication, that is, semiotic systems. Cosmos thus constitutes perhaps the most explicit example of the Gombrowiczian philosophy of language. His poetics of systemic doubling, inversion, and repetition plays with the idea of creating meaning, and of ordering the forces of desire, out of the “chaotic anthill” of perception (Legierski 1999: 178), without, however, offering any expected “readerly” solace. It may well be true, as Jarzębski suggests, that in Cosmos the source of the semiotic experiments is the author himself and that this “demiurgic” element proves to be a new source of existential terror for the Gombrowiczian subject (Jarzębski 2000: 202). However, that assertion, accurate as it is, does not to my mind exhaust the poetics of this novel. The demiurge now (i.e. in Cosmos), like the deviant earlier (e.g. in Ferdydurke, Iwona, ślub, or Pornografia), is in fact a phantasmal other; and to be able to bear the full brunt of the possible systems of thought of the other is precisely to be postmodern. Foucault gestures to this new acceptance in his “Preface” to The Order of Things, showing how metaphysical anxiety about confronting another system (equally contingent as our own) is replaced by laughter: This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought — our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography — breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion on existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. The passage quotes a “certain Chinese encyclopedia” in which it is written that “animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.” In the wonderment of this taxonomy . . . what transgresses the boundaries of all imagination, of all possible thought, is simply that alphabetical series (a, b, c, d) which links each of those categories to all the others. (Foucault 1970: xv–xvi)

My view is that the place where the fantastic and the other from the Chinese encyclopedia can meet is within the immaterial sound of the voice that is reading, 5 Compare Foucault’s critique (1970: 44, 59).

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in the non-place of language which is the space of heterotopia. Cosmos constitutes Gombrowicz’s final installment in the construction of such a space in exile.

POETICS OF (SUBJECTIVE) FAILURE What, then, is Gombrowicz’s Cosmos? While stylistically and thematically the work retains something of the aura of the nouveau-roman, Gombrowicz’s final novel is really about the engagement and dissatisfaction with the currents in contemporary literature and a distinctly postmodernist refusal to arrive at any positivist solution to the problems of narrativity and of the subject who is narrating and is becoming narrated. Still, the influences and authorial dialogues which this work reflects require comment. First, thematically and structurally one notes this book’s uneasy dialectical engagement with nouveau-roman esthetics. Even though by 1965 the nouveau-roman’s influence was on the wane, the genre represented the kind of narrative Gombrowicz wrote against, while certainly recognizing the technical innovations of its practitioners, Alain Robbe-Grillet in particular.6 Especially in Eric Mosbacher’s English version of the work, compiled from earlier French and German direct translations, the grammatical structuring of some passages and even the text’s physical appearance on the page tend to give the impression that the author/narrating subject is concerned with positions and functions of each object or person described, and ultimately with depiction of static forms of being and differences between them. This aura in the English version was so powerful, in fact, that I returned to the original and reread it with this unexpected possible “anxiety of influence” in mind. I would suggest that while the style of the nouveau-roman recurs as a phantom figure in the text, it is not really substantiated in the architectonics, especially in terms of the linear temporal scheme of Gombrowicz’s novel where, by contrast, the nouveau-roman relishes loop structures, circularity, recursion, and repetition.7 Readers of Cosmos swiftly realize that, in fact, each object or person depicted in this narrative plays an emphatically kinetic and phenomenal role and is defined specifically by the potentiality of its being, including the potentiality of meaningful exchange, of creating, sustaining, or defining a series of causal links, indeed a self-sufficient cosmos. Each event, too, potentially fits in, in ways to be determined, with the greater scheme or logic, the delineation of which constitutes the principal task for the narrator. If the objects are represented apparently as merely 6 See Gombrowicz 2000c; de Roux, ed. 1969. 7 See Robbe-Grillet’s essay “On Several Obsolete Notions” (1965: 25–47), esp. 29–34 on structures and teleologies of “the story.”

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“being” “there,” in succession and in a kind of exposed objectivizing physicality, it is so principally because the narrator is interested in, or more precisely becomes gradually obsessed with, their potentials for becoming parts in a causal series, and with finding a specific motivating teleology for constructing such series in the first place. What counts, therefore, is the objects’ possible importance, the sense of their contingency with other things, and finally the politics of their relation to an ultimately occluded and unrepresentable and yet forever sought-after totality which, too, is always already subjective. In other words, as readers of this text we find ourselves consistently propelled forward, toward some end that is analogous to the inevitable and self-sufficient a, b, c, d, e procession which so engaged Foucault in his reading of Borges’ Chinese taxonomy. We will look in vain in Cosmos for subjective involutions of the type inscribed in, for example, Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy, in which the readerly hermeneutic desire for narrative closure are substituted,8 in effect, by repetition of entire narrative units with subtle difference. Thus the textual experience of Jealousy deceives one’s expectations of a readerly (lisible) narrative; as Kermode suggests, after Barthes, “the sense in which we, skillfully enough, see through a text [is] frustrated; we are checked at the surface” (Kermode 1983: 106). In other words Robbe-Grillet’s narrator (though in fact the word “narrator” is somewhat inaccurate here) is no Sherlock Holmes. If he were, he would seize upon a small observed detail and render an hypothesis, which could explicate and account for all the other details collected and duly noted. With the suspected reality revealed, the story could end with an actual or implied resolution of the characters’ inner conflict: were Franck and A . . . in fact having an affair, thus substantiating the narrator’s jealousy? Did they in fact perish in a fiery automobile crash? But the narrator in Jealousy is not interested in the grounds of knowledge and its objects. He is not “epistemological” in his basic orientation. By contrast, in the Gombrowiczian universe Witold is frankly obsessed with finding a whole, that “thread running through all these things” (C 86) amid the “oppressive profusion of . . . links and clues” (C 36), and then to move from organizing this knowledge toward obtaining mastery of the authorizing structures of his world as such, to comprehend its dynamics as a system. At the same time, as Francesco Cataluccio points out in his Preface to Gombrowicz’s Przewodnik po filozofii w sześć godzin i kwadrans [A guide through philosophy in six and a quarter hours], any pretence to objectivity in this novel is radically abstracted: The objective world does not exist; it is unknowable like the Kantian noumenon. Every

8 See Kermode 1983: 67–8.

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individual forms his own reality, but the order imposed on such a reality is highly personal, isolated, private. The order that we impose on the world, according to Gombrowicz, is boundlessly subjective. There are as many worlds as there are subjects who thought them up. (Cataluccio 1995: 16–18)

This essential textual subjectivity, then, is one reason why the narrator “Witold” feels compelled to go to such great lengths in his investigations of objects and events witnessed: with a mounting desperation as the story progresses (or fails to progress), he is seeking to determine their ontological status and impose on them their proper place in the symbolic order of things. And he is conspicuously unsatisfied with simply noting that they do in fact exist and take up space and then leaving the matter to rest — even though it causes him utmost fatigue and anxiety to continue his indexing work: “Byłem roztargniony, jakże męcząca ta obfitość, wciąż wywalająca nowe osoby, zdarzenia, rzeczy, żebyż raz przerwał się ten cały strumień” (K 95) (“I was distracted. How exhausting was this superabundance and the excess from which new persons, events and things constantly emerged”: C 109). The psychological overbearance reported here represents a significant departure from the poetics of the nouveau-roman, while sharing its rejection of the normative teleology of the bourgeois novel and especially the nineteenth-century realist narrative. Specifically, Cosmos ignores the nouveau-roman tendency to disrupt chronology and the hierarchies of events (which then perforce privileges the reader as co-conspirator in the task of narrative re-construction), in favor of recuperating the narrator’s prerogative of ordering the world for the reader, even though the enterprise is doomed to failure.9 In the English version the inadvertent nouveau-romanization of the text has the unwelcome effect, to my mind, of bluntly countering the logic of the narration by masking the obsessiveness of the narrator’s gaze and desire for ordering, and concealing the weaving chains of linguistic dispersion and association produced by this process. For it is the gaze, in the end, which can be held responsible for making the narrator’s descriptions and repetitions appear patently subjective, that is, for his refusal to restore any sort of narratorial objectivity. This effect, then, represents the opposite of the esthetics of the nouveau roman, whose modus operandi was the undermining of the Cartesian assumptions behind the bourgeois realist novel (in particular those concerning the inner logics of narrative time and plot teleology) and especially the refusal to provide any further “explanations of the world.” The world, this world of ours, and the objects in it, Robbe-Grillet wrote, are “neither significant nor absurd,” nor for that matter, cruel; rather, the world simply “is” (1965: 19). Robbe-Grillet’s 9 See also K 33, 54, 86.

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conceptualization and privileging of chosisme,10 as in the essays in the volume For a New Novel forms the philosophical foundation of the “exploration” (1965: 134) of the nouveau-roman. By contrast, what Witold the narrator is desperately searching for is a program of rational explanations for behaviors, in the traditional signification of “rational” as amenable to empirical authentication and reification by the subject who is perceiving, and of “behaviors” in the sense of helping outline and then maintain a psychological profile of the subject. Indeed, Gombrowicz allows the narrator to intermittently rise above the world of confusion that surrounds him and his story. This is especially evident at the beginning and end of chapter or section breaks, where he “removes” himself from narrative flow to extradiagetically emphasize his precarious grip on the reality he is apprehending, while at the same time leaving little doubt that it is in fact he who is in charge of the retelling.11 A fine example is found at the beginning of the final chapter: resigned to recounting the conclusion of the story he has woven thus far, Witold admits that “I shall find it difficult to tell the rest of this story. Incidentally, I am not sure that it is one. Such a continual accumulation and disintegration of things can hardly be called a story” (C 153). This and similar meta-textual interjections reinforce Witold’s status as a narrating subject attempting to forge order from what, to him, constitutes an undifferentiated, strange, and vaguely terrifying reality — even though this is an order that nonetheless constantly threatens to descend into chaos again with the accumulation of ubiquitous new details (Legierski 1999: 149–50). Cosmos, then, is Witold’s “highly personal, isolated, private” world; it is delineated and focused by his narratorial gaze and hence self-sufficient. In other words there is no external referent, no winking authorial presence to which the reader can appeal; that figure is already fully inscribed in the text, and shares some of the reader’s frustrations. Further, Witold is frankly obsessed with the world, to an extent readers may find troubling. As the main textual fabricator and (re-)constructor, he has as his desperate task is to fill the horror of the sidereal void, to tame the existential strangeness of his cosmos. The narrator of Cosmos, in short, is launched on a major metaphysical quest — a quest obscured by his anxiety about the order of things. It is largely because it is he who is constructing his world, responding to the optic and ontological challenge posed by the “blackness,” the “chaos” and the

10 His hope is that the representation of objects and gestures will help render them “hard, unalterable, eternally present” and help them lose their “instability and their pseudomystery, that suspect interiority which Roland Barthes has called ‘the romantic heart of things’ ” (Robbe-Grillet 1965: 21). 11 See e.g. C 31, 87, 101, 105, 112, 133.

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“perversion”12 of what he encounters, that Witold rises beyond those moralistic readings of the book that make much of his apparent deviations and “seediness.”13 His narratological mannerisms, such as repetitions, games with analogy, metonymic associations and play of signs, render his confusion about signs more apparent to the reader.14 A concrete instance of this includes Gombrowicz’s oneword sentences: the most devious of these is the famous free-floating “Berg.” and its variations; perhaps the most enigmatic is “Lunęło.” on the last page of the text (K 148). These phrases function much as their analogues in Samuel Beckett, containing within them the ideational force and also the anxiety of entire universes. Moreover, they represent hinges or pivots which give insight into pure consciousness, so that in the course of reading Cosmos the reader may be surprised that he has halted to contemplate them as esthetic objects. They alternate with long lists of occasionally discordant things or objects arranged into series and systems of correspondances (Legierski 1999: 151). The musical and rhythmical nature of Gombrowicz’s language, the limpid structures of grammatical play, also gives the readerly effect of a mounting tension, psychological but also erotic, culminating with a moment of jouissance — in part represented by a final masturbatory “Berg.,” the spectacular “Lunęło.” of the ultimate paragraph (K 148). To illustrate the narrator’s precarious control over the world he is charged with describing, consider the novel’s seemingly innocuous opening paragraphs: I’ll tell you about another, even more curious adventure . . . Sweat, there goes Fuchs, me I’m behind him, trouser-legs, heels, sand, we plod on, plod on, earth, ruts, clumps, glitter from shiny pebbles, glare, the heat buzzes, shimmers, everything black in the sunlight, little houses, fences, fields, woods, this road, this march, where from, how, what can you say, to tell the truth I was sick of my father and mother, and my family in general, and besides I wanted to get at least one exam out of the way, and also make a change, get away from it all, go somewhere far away for a while. I left for Zakopane, I’m walking along Krupówki Street, thinking where could I find a cheap little pension when I run into Fuchs, blond, faded red mug, protruding, a glance smeared with apathy, but he was happy to see me, and I was happy too, how are you, what are you doing here, I’m looking for a room, so am I, I’ve got an address — he said — of a small manor-house where it’s cheaper because it’s a long way out, almost in the bare countryside. So on we walk, trouser-legs, heels in the sand, the road and the heat, I look 12 Regarding this all-too-common critical charge, see Gombrowicz’s rebuttal in A Kind of Testament (de Roux, ed. 1969: 51–2, 124–8). 13 See the back cover of Mosbacher’s version; there the narrator is described as “a seedy, pathetic and witty student, who is charming and appalling by turns.” 14 See Legierski 1999: 162–78.

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down, earth and sand, the shiny pebbles sparkle, one, two, one, two, trouser-legs, heels, sweat, sleepy eyes, tired, I had slept badly in the train, and nothing besides this pacing down below. He stopped. – Should we rest a moment? – Is it far now? – Not far.15

The story rushes forward, with almost no full stops; in fact, the first two paragraphs are expressed in just five sentences. The total effect of this “introduction” to Witold’s tale, I think, was that of staccato recitation of an introduction to a disturbing event, with excitedly juxtaposed discordant elements which follow one another into a kind of existential void. It is as though the narrator, in addition to attempting quickly to set the “conventional” scene, felt anxious to set in motion the actual fibula (and thus plot): the startling and frankly traumatic inability to effect ordering in a situation, which soon grows in scope and significance to become tantamount to a “world,” in which he has found himself and which — paradoxically — is also to some extent of his own making. After all it was his decision to leave Warsaw for Zakopane in the first place, his choice to double up with Fuchs at the pensjonat seemingly chosen at random, and so forth.16 But the ongoing modifications of the essential récit function also as a kind of hinge; they are the mechanism through which the reader is offered a glimpse into the narrator’s obsessive, proto-hypermnesiac, phantasmal states. As another concrete example of repetition and revision, consider the English phrase “fifty-fifty,” in the original first spoken by Fuchs speculating that the hung bird was the work of common hooligans (K 11). This English expression will reappear at least ten times in different contexts, uttered by various characters. The effect is one of a narrator who has seemingly clutched onto this expression as a symbolically charged mathematical constant of possibility. But once the term has entered his descriptive vocabulary, it is then reproduced over the course of his dialectical ordering quest as various possible arrangements of the correspondances between objects and series that flash in front of him. This formal recycling 15 My translation. I have retained the Polish convention of initiating dialogue with a dash, as opposed to quotation marks. The tension that this style imparts to the physical text as the eye scans it matches well the tension mounting within the narrative itself. 16 Crucially, it was the action of the other — specifically Fuchs — that results in the discovery of the sparrow and the lodging in the Wojtys family pensjonat. In other words, sometimes we face situations where we are obliged to make sense of a world that has been “made” for us by others.

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allows the reader to trace how certain words, phrases, and so on, once deployed into the universe of this narrative, are transformed into autonomous objects. They become bits of pure language floating around, chora-like, within the narratorial consciousness, circulating throughout the textual space and attaching themselves to other series, sometimes as a logical consequence of previous utterances and at other times parasitically, either via free association or for some other reason for which the narrator cannot cognitively account. Thus, moving from the zones of language, the heterotopias of Trans-Atlantyk (and Nostromo), and taking a turn from the reasoned dialectic of the Diary, in which an exilic subject was suspended between form and the drive to form (or entelechy) on the one hand, and chaos or at least entropy on the other, we turn to the conceptual minefield that is the special universe of Cosmos. Once Conrad’s texts are factored in, the progression is from textual worlds that were in a sense ready-made, such as was the case with Nostromo, even if there the process involved an autonomous fictive realm with its own particular genius loci, to a zone under perpetual construction and deformation. With Cosmos, in fact, we witness a final transition from residual modernist poetics toward a consummately postmodernist text. In the modernist narrative, the reader was confronted with a set of universally agreed-upon rules of action and reaction, with predictable consequences for events. This is no longer the case in Cosmos. We are also shifting from texts in which the narration existed to be filled, and occasionally distorted, with the subjectivity of the artist, to a linguistic space in which the narrative world and the rules governing it are continually in the circular process of being created, revised, subverted, and annulled. One might finally posit Trans-Atlantyk as transitional within this schema, as a text in which modernist techniques of inscription of subjective autonomy enter in a disruptive dialectic with the ongoing formation of a linguistic heterotopic zone. The figure responsible for creating the protean worlds of Cosmos is the speaking agent — or the “agency that speaks,” if one abstracts the author in favor of a linguistic subjectivity with an evident politics of autonomy. In Cosmos, this narrator interrogates the world employing a strategy totally distinct from that of his modernist predecessors. To return to McHale again, the postmodernist investigation into the world, in contrast to the epistemological concerns of the modernists, is guided by a line of enquiry that ventures question like: “What is a world?” “How many possible worlds are there, how do they differ, how to access them?” “What is a subject?” (Foucault famously titled his response to Barthes and his querying of the locations of “authority” “What is an author?”) Thus, while modernists like Conrad (and Joyce, Proust, and Mann) were interested in rewriting a tradition and subverting a certain way of looking at the world — frequently an imperial and homosocial world of the classic bourgeois 230

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novel, but a world that had already been stipulated and only needed to be reinscribed from an unrepentantly subjective viewpoint — in Cosmos Witold starts at the very beginning of subjectivity, with the discourse of ordering contingent objects and desires. As he proceeds, he himself decided on the rules which will define the readerly perception of the world and things, and their relations to other people and other things. For this reason, Cosmos could be termed an auto-fiction: it is a fictional work which describes its own creation and narrative emplotment following a specific logic of perception; in other words, it is a fiction about the protean and unregulated figuration of the world. The thrust of the narration to a large degree engages the process by which the world, as we know it, with all its extraordinary mysteries and paradoxes, comes to be ordered; that is, it becomes transformed, domesticated into a communal “text,” and is thereby rendered “ordinary” and self-evident. Some recent critics of the work, among them Berressem and to a lesser extent Legierski, consider Cosmos to be an example of “metaphysical detective” fiction. They are following up on Gombrowicz’s own suggestion (2000c: 203–4) that a text about the creation and interpellation of reality will necessarily contain some elements of the detective story, even if these are then immediately subverted for parodic or subversive objectives. Included under the aegis of “metaphysical detective” fiction are works that distort or destabilize traditional detective-story conventions with the aim, or else the effect, of positing questions about the mysteries of being itself. In Looking Awry, Slavoj Žižek writes of the nature of narrativity that “the experience of a linear “organic” flow of events is a necessary illusion that masks the fact that it is the ending that retroactively confers the consistency of a whole on the preceding events. What is masked is the radical contingency of the enchainment, the fact that at every point things might have turned out otherwise” (Žižek 1991: 69, my emphasis). In Cosmos the descriptions of objects, utterances, possible clues, deformities in appearance or eccentricities in behavior observed are all subsumed into this kind of a fortiori classification. Further, as Frank Kermode recognizes, a detective story of the traditional kind is particularly explicit in terms of its expectation of the reader. What is needed is a certain readerly docility, a willing abandonment to the legislative authority of the text, which may presumably be relied upon — despite the bending of plot elements and details — to suit a particular hermeneutical procedure, that is, the solving of a mystery that temporally predates the narrative. The process is dialogic, since at the same time as it colonizes the reader, the detective-genre text “is required to provide, by variously enigmatic clues, all the evidence concerning the true character of those earlier events that the investigator and the reader require to reconstruct them” (Kermode 1983: 56–7, my emphasis). The traditional detective story, moreover, both depends 231

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on and derives its affective power from “the kind of social and political organization that finds its fulfillment in the imposed certainties of the well-made world . . . where investigation or inquisition on behalf of the achievement of a total, that is, preordained or teleologically determined structure . . . is the defining activity” (Spanos 1995: 25). The detective in this model is given a vertical authority. He is “certain in the beginning that ‘everything hangs together, everything can be comprehended in time’ and thus ‘keeps moving forward . . . tracking down the extraordinary,’ ”17 in order to neutralize and obviate its powers of contagion. It is for this reason that the detective story represents a dominant self-authorizing genre for the bourgeois and the totalitarian state alike (Spanos 1995: 26). Postmodern narrative, on the other hand, subverts the traditional modes of reading as well as any expectation of docility, both readerly (that is to say, social) and structural (i.e. narratological) relative to a text’s hermeneutical quest. It is as a consequence of this process that both the world and logos are rendered suspect, with the narrator figuring as both the conveyor and prey of this suspicion. The ontological status of textual evidence, as that of the world itself, remains ambiguous or ultimately indecipherable (in terms of an exhaustive knowledge archive of the subject). It is no accident, as Spanos points out, that the “paradigmatic archetype of the postmodern literary imagination is the antidetective story” (1995: 25), a text that develops a “metaphysical” detective plot. Among Gombrowicz’s contemporaries, writers who have explored this genre, with local variation, include Robbe-Grillet (Les Gommes), Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose), Vladimir Nabokov (The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Ada), Italo Calvino (Invisible Cities) and Borges (in many of his Ficciones). As we ponder this list of names we may conclude that such experimentation is restricted to postmodernist literature. Interestingly, however, the general paradigm also includes a number of minor-key works by earlier writers, such as Edgar Allen Poe’s “A purloined letter,” certain of Nicolai Gogol’s Petersburg Tales and perhaps even Conrad’s The Secret Agent. On the other hand the detective story as a genre is a recent one, closely linked to the rise of bourgeois society and the particular congestion and interpenetration of destinies and desires (and anonymous criminality) characteristic of the modern cityscape.18 It is difficult to say how far back one could go while still maintaining the purity of the concept. If Cosmos indeed represents the metaphysical detective story, then what is at stake is the nature of the world as we see it, specifically as the narrator perceives 17 Spanos 1995: 25, my emphasis. The text in Spanos’ citation is Victims of Duty, starring Sherlock Holmes, that most assured and unerring of detectives and inquisitors of modern life. 18 See Spanos 1995: 18–19.

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it — in short, an ontology of the subject. Immediately, this provision brings us to the question of reception: What might the reader’s role be in Gombrowicz’s endeavor?19 What is Gombrowicz playing with here, aside from the expectations of gentle readers? Czesław Miłosz has remarked that the action in Cosmos principally concerns the rules governing focalization: the ways in which we perceive what is around us, as well as the ways we create chains of signification out of the objects and phenomena under our gaze — that is, how we “enchain” narration, to return to Žižek’s phraseology. In The History of Polish Literature Miłosz writes: Gombrowicz’s destructive talent has always been directed toward depriving the reader of his certainties and his presumed values. In Cosmos he casts doubt on the very nature of the act by which we apprehend the simplest objects . . . Cosmos opens up a terrifying dimension where any laws ruling human behaviour as well as those ruling matter are dissolved — since they are dependent upon an observer who arbitrarily picks this and not that point of departure for a whole series of reasonings. (Miłosz 1983: 436)

Miłosz implies that these central moments of decision in Cosmos inherently offer their own narratological critique, insofar as they arise from intertextual lines of inquiry. In other words, the structure of the narrative itself represents one of those coercive systems or “series of reasonings,” whose own specific zero-point is the discovery of the hung sparrow, a “point of departure” that itself is rooted in contingency precisely because the discovery is an accidental one. Let us then defer to the text’s power of suggestion, and in our capacity as detectives trace an analogous line of critical inquiry the purview of which, as in the text itself, combines the laws of contingency with a dialectics of cultural essences or essential states of being. In his short study on modern philosophy, Gombrowicz identifies Immanuel Kant as the progenitor of the age of great subjective skepticism from which cultural praxis in the West has not yet emerged and which it is perhaps doomed to reproduce (Gombrowicz 1995: 60–1). Given the essential contingency of the associations which Cosmos accumulates and then immediately decouples, Kant’s own Critique 19 When, a few years back, I lectured on Cosmos (the English text) for a senior undergraduate course in Literary Studies at Victoria College at the Universty of Toronto, the book’s effect was little short of polarizing. To some, the text embodied “literary masturbation.” To others, it represented “a detective story, but one made up of chains of empty signifiers.” The dissolution of grammar in the scene in the end was seen by a number of students as “the return to the transcendental signifier” in Julia Kristeva’s sense (1984: 35–9) — the pre-linguistic state in which language “washes around” around the “speaking subject” who thereby feels once again unified. One student responding to the Mosbacher version shared the wonderful insight that reading bad translations can provide its own special (perverse?) pleasure.

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of Pure Reason might be a good place to start for making sense of Gombrowicz’s textual performance. In Book 2, chapter 2, “The transcendental dialectic,” Kant creates an oppositional method of dogmatic theses and their empirical antitheses to test temporal reality (Kant 1929: 393–421). While in fact the entire Kantian antinomial principle of transcendental logic is relevant to Gombrowicz’s poetics, the fourth antinomy dovetails particularly well with the action of Cosmos, specifically the modes of metaphysical gaming that animate the work. In the section on the “Fourth conflict” of the “Transcendental ideas,” Kant’s thesis postulates the following: in the world that we can apprehend with our senses, there exists “as its part or its cause, a being that is absolutely necessary” (Kant 1929: 415). The antithesis states that there is nothing necessary in the world, and that indeed in the “series of states [that exist] in the world . . . everything is contingent” (Kant 1929: 417–18). In the thesis, then, Kant posits a “cosmological argument” (1929: 417) which relies on an inexorable teleological dimension to the world and the modes in which we generate meaning in and of the world. This position suggests the existence of a greater transcendental purpose, a theological being behind the formation of our world, usually in the form of a divine agent or another force that has fashioned the world (including language, given to us to represent it) as a reflection of his greatness, or for some other reason, still unknown. The first viewpoint, broadly, reflects the core notions of Western Judaeo-Christian metaphysics; the second embodies those of classical philology. The Kantian antithesis, in its disavowal of a transcendental organizational principle, leads to the inference that, on the civilizational level the reason we work so hard to establish a sense of order in the world is to retain our sanity, for we are intellectually and cognitively incapable of enduring states of chaos. Since it is concerned with “causal connection of a series of appearances” (Kant 1929: 417), what the antithesis presupposes is the essential arbitrariness of our systems of ordering the world, including the normative grand narratives of the Enlightenment, long taken for granted in part because they belonged to our historicity (we were born into them) and because they appeared to be innocuous. Like the ideologies of the right which like to pretend that they are not ideologies at all but rather the natural results of measured deliberation on issues, the grand meta-narratives, flaunting their putative “common sense” inclusivity, have made it easy for the majority to agree on the doxa that guide their governing principles. Modern philosophical thought, which subverts this premise to question the stability or inevitability of our discursive systems, seeks to query the “meta-” aspect of these organizing principles. Alternatively, after Foucault, it endeavors to analyze the interpenetrations between systems of perception and the structures of power maintenance, as they bear on the organization of modern life. Poststructuralist 234

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theory has proved to be one of the most persistent interrogative forces; questioning specifically the “meta-” element of discourses and the role of language as an instrument of social reification, poststructuralism has attempted to render manifest the largely occluded interpenetrations between language, knowledge, and power — deemed transparent, obvious, or unimportant by the previous model — and reposition them as deliberate constructions. Foucault’s The Order of Things and The Discourse on Language, both of which examine the couplings between knowledge, language, subjectivity, and power, show that these interrelationships are inevitable and that resistance to the dominant doxa, in order to be successful, must aim to recuperate power, including power over naming — that is, over language — wherever and by whatever means it can.20 In contrast to Foucault and the later theorists of socially interventionist discourses inspired by his work, such as feminist and post-colonial theory, Gombrowicz does not appear especially preoccupied with either explicating or exposing any dominant power systems behind the systems of perception or even resisting them with a revolutionary program of emancipation or cultural insertion. His ambit, as was shown, works on the level of the individual utterance, on the level of language — it is essentially heterotopic. Moreover, he seems even less concerned about exposing the modes of organization of “the powers that be” behind our conceptualizations of the world than was his great contemporary in Argentina, Jorge Luis Borges. In the classic short fiction “Tlön, uqbar, orbis tertius,” Borges suggested the possibility that there may exist major conspiratorial forces at work behind the modern world, and that these forces create systems of knowledge for their own ends, and also for our docile consumption. This process, described as the “intrusion of [the] fantastic world into the world of reality,” for Borges is “inhuman” (Borges 1964: 16–17). Its very otherness incriminates both the procedures whereby realities “as we know them” are constructed and the nature of the transformation of “events” into “facts” by impersonal power, including the power over language.21 In the Borgesian allegory, the progressive dominance of power over reality and then eventually consciousness itself, textually embodied by a “new knowledge” called Tlön which, “it is conjectured . . . is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebraists” (Borges 1964: 7–8), could justly be termed demiurgic and demoniac. The unnamed Borgesian narrator feels that he has a good sense of the true nature of this arcane society and its penetration into cultural production:

20 See, in this respect, Lyotard 1984: 30–55. 21 See White 1980: 5–10.

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Around 1944, a person doing research for the newspaper The American (of Nashville, Tennessee), brought to light in a Memphis library the forty volumes of the First Encyclopedia of Tlön. Even today there is a controversy over whether this discovery was accidental or whether it was permitted by the directors of the still nebulous Orbis Tertius. The latter is more likely . . . The fact is that the international press infinitely proclaimed the “find” . . . Almost immediately, reality yielded on more than one account. The truth is that it longed to yield. Ten years ago any symmetry with a semblance of order — dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism — was sufficient to entrance the minds of men. How could one but submit to Tlön, to the minute and vast evidence of an orderly planet? The contact and the habit of Tlön have disintegrated this world . . . already the teaching of its harmonious history (filled with moving episodes) has wiped out the one which governed in my childhood. Numismatology, pharmacology and archaeology have been reformed. (Borges 1964: 17–18, my emphasis)

Borges’ superb parable of total(itarian) power transforming the logics of social functioning and forcing the substitution of one past/future couplet for another in ways previously inconceivable,22 predates Cosmos by over a decade. But there is a deep symmetry here with Gombrowicz’s dystopian vision of intersubjectivity: both texts are chiefly concerned with our enchantment with the appearance of rigor and with the (impossible) dream of philosophically and semiologically orderly cosmos. Still, I think that strictly on the political as opposed to the ontological register, Gombrowicz would have viewed the largely undetected irruption and progression of discursive influence over intellectuals and those controlling mass mediation of knowledge — key to the poetics of Borges’ text — as selfevident and ultimately deserving only of contempt. After all, for Gombrowicz, the individual’s job (and especially the intellectual’s) is to resist any such forms of influence, which are as pervasive as they are inevitable.23 Interestingly, the narrator of “Tlön, uqbar, orbis tertius,” confronted by the sober realization that the “world will be Tlön” (Borges 1964: 18), capitulates 22 As did, for example, fascist and Soviet anti-modernist techniques of power maintenance, through their thorough refutations of competing (modernist) cultural praxes as, respectively, decadent, and antirevolutionary/reactionary. 23 This stance is routinely articulated in the Diary. As a point of departure to Gombrowicz’s intellectual positions, see Dziennik 1953–1956 (2000a). For Gombrowicz’s suspicions of artistic canons, see 2000a: 39–43; for a discussion of forms of collective consciousness, see 2000a: 45–51 (Catholicism), 135–40 (Marxism); for nationalism, see 2000a: 260–3; on his critique of Polish literature and the Polish collective national/cultural consciousness, see 2000a: esp. 2–31; for his resistance to existentialism as an alternative form of individual resistance, see 2000a: 279–97. For further elaborations and dialectical counterdiscourses, see also vols. 2 and 3 (Gombrowicz 2000b, 2000c).

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before the force of history. The narrator tells us that, “in the still days at the Adrogué hotel” (1964: 18), he persists in revising a translation of Urn Burial, a 300-year-old work on the discovery of Stone Age artifacts in northern England by the English scientist and author Sir Thomas Browne — a translation he knows will never be published because the old languages of the world, “English and French and mere Spanish,” will soon “disappear from the globe” (Borges 1964: 18). The narrator’s submission to the logic of the unfolding events — specifically the palimpsestic erasure (indeed the burial) of the emblems and icons of one epoch by those of another — may be real; however, his intellectual work takes on the form of active, if ultimately futile, resistance. Either way his mind will not be colonized, but that might not, probably will not, be enough to secure his subjective autonomy.24 Indeed, eventually (imminently?) the world will be Tlön. By contrast Gombrowicz’s engagement with discourses of power and authority, no less averse to colonization by discourse, instead concentrates on one of the corollaries of the techniques of power maintenance. Cosmos surveys the paradoxical pressures that are exerted on an individual who has been suddenly given a temporary reprieve from some of the rules with which civilization couches us; like the heretic, he fashions his own self-reflective order, or else tries or is compelled to create (the illusion of) such ritualized space in the epistemological vacuum that ensues, before either chaos or meta-discourses of power threaten to close in again. Cosmos thus reads like Robinson Crusoe for the mind. It presents an open ideational and archival space to be re-colonized and mastered using the self-reflexive discourse of the subject. While on the topic on the production of space, a few words need to be said about the setting of Cosmos, since it is the launch pad for the metaphysical quest that follows. Unlike the statement on the cover of the first English (Mosbacher) edition that the action is taking place in “provincial Poland” (C 1985), Zakopane is Poland’s premier mountain resort and as such rightly or wrongly epitomizes the idea of a privileged space. The location is also one that has been historically prized by the national consciousness. Considering the long tradition of suspension of cultural norms that travel to “hotspots” can occasion, we should also note the venerable practice, going back at least to the Romantics, of trips to the mountains in order 24 Of the paradox that an unpublished manuscript may be a form or resistance, Michael Wood writes intriguingly that “the ‘indecision’ of the narrator’s translation is a direct answer to the emphatic certainty of the ruling system; and the unpublished text is an instance of the invisible work that remains when the visible world has gone wrong . . . The world of Tlön is rigorously idealist; in it, there are no facts, only phenomena. But the two conditions look alike, flourish in the same hedgerow. The task of translation grows between them, where what is lost or obscured, may also be preserved and retrieved; where fact and phenomenon continually translate into each other and remain at play” (Wood 2003).

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to partake in extraordinary experiences. For those Poles who could not afford to embark on a grand tour of the Alps, Zakopane and environs provided an authentic if circumscribed25 alpine headland which guaranteed a geographic paradigm shift. In fact Zakopane, both as an exotic location and as a trope of the imagination, was, and to an extent remains today, a place to go see and to be seen. Moreover, like its more famous alpine equivalents — Innsbrück, Davos, Annecy — Zakopane as a cultural locus also embodies the promise of difference, opening the traveler up to possibilities of counter-cultural and avant-gardist artistic form.26 Finally, as a privileged space, historically prized by the Polish national consciousness, Zakopane is the final stop on the itinerary from “ordinary” Poland of the plain and the forest27 to extraordinary Poland of the mountainous frontier, with the surrounding High Tatras forming a headland where one may go to encounter the sublime. Now, in Cosmos the budding sentimental narrative — for the sake of schematic convenience, let us say a Bildungsroman form — becomes subverted almost immediately, right on the second page, with the encounter with the hanging sparrow and the sense of “shrieking eccentricity” this generates in Witold and his companion Fuchs (C 10). From this new, reconfigured zero-point, the book embarks on a voyage into an autonomous linguistic zone with a self-sufficient logic sustained by the narrator as he progresses through his exposition of the inexplicable events and actions that, together, comprise his “eccentric” summer vacation. Therefore, given the essential parameters of this text, specifically the assertion that this is an exercise in world-making, a sustained test of perception, how do we make sense of the increasing deviation of the narrative. How to speak about what “Witold” is doing? What kind of text is he producing for our consumption?

GOMBROWICZ, LACAN, AND AFTER Expanding on the Kantian notion of the arbitrariness of the world in which the subject feels compelled to order things in a causality, we move now to trace one of the key logic operational in Cosmos, the logic of desire. For the narrator, the 25 The Tatra mountains are a comparatively minuscule Alpine chain (and thus all the more precious to the Poles and the Slovaks who share them), consisting of several compact ranges. Of these, only a small number of peaks, ridges, and cirques are within Polish territory; the rest are on the Slovak side. 26 In fact, during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Zakopane emerged as a major artistic center within Austrian-occupied Galicja, with a penchant for attracting avantgarde art and thought (congregated around the two Witkiewiczs). 27 For example, according to Miłosz hills and other large topographic deviations from równina (the plain) represent “a luxury” in the communal Polish imagination (2001: ch. 1).

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operational logics are split between ontic and libidinal pursuits. Each can be traced in the architectonics of the novel as a figure emergent in one of the “series” of objects and phenomena assembled by the narrator in his search to discover the semiology of the world around him. The fact that each of the series will lead the narrator inexorably, via its own inner design, to a particularly violent assertion of subjectivity that even he, despite his overwhelming solipsism, cannot support, is largely what accounts for the seemingly ambiguous and unsatisfactory ending of the narrative.28 To elaborate this narratological process, a Lacanian analysis of the text will be particularly auspicious, as such a reading will demonstrate the interpenetrability of the ordering forces of language and of desire. My own reading, then, builds from Hanjo Berressem’s influential Lacanian study of Cosmos (in its English edition). In Lines of Desire: Reading Gombrowicz’s Fiction with Lacan, Berressem’s main focus is on two of the textual Gombrowicz’s obsessions: the forces of desire, and the rules that govern interdependency and mutual subject creation via contacts with the other. Moving from text to theory and back again, Berressem explicitly declares that in reading Gombrowicz with Lacan he hopes to find, in the commonality of their styles, “some of [the] legitimation” for Lacanian theorizations of psychodynamics (Berressem 1997: 33). To the question governing our discussion, how is the Gombrowiczian subject and the world constituted, one plausible answer may be that such a subject is formed and reified by the projection of images onto other subjects and by an “obsessive system” (Berressem 1997: 210) of “paranoiac knowledge” (Berressem 1997: 223) that organizes the divergent fragments into an ambivalent and still protean unity. Berressem reads Gombrowicz’s novel as a “deconstruction” of the detective genre (1997: 198), without explicitly labeling the work as postmodern. However, as argued above, insofar as Cosmos foregoes any hope of a finalized stable order from the chaos of collected “evidence” (i.e. of self-evident, autonomous things), its poetics unmistakably belongs on the postmodern side of the ledger. The work also structurally eradicates any solution to the initial riddle: he contends that the “teleological momentum” of the genre (i.e. the narratorial quest to find a solution) is subverted to demonstrate, ultimately, that “ultimate truth” is nothing other than “metaphysical illusion” (Berressem 1997: 197–8). Berressem suggests that Gombrowicz has sustained the impression of textual indeterminacy through two textual figures. The first is a successive accumulations of objects and facts that pollute and destabilize “normative” arrangements of things. The second is a sequence of displacements, whereby each new reality can be approached and “glimpsed” as a coherent system — as when Witold arranges 28 See also Jarzębski 2000: 33.

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objects and phenomena in series — but then is made immediately to recede in favor of other, cognate, forms. This second function is accomplished through the re-organizing of existing things in a way that voids all previous “orders.” However, it also renders transparent the ontological phase of the project. The main agent in charge of the detective/ontological project of world construction is the narrator Witold. It is instructive to note the processes of inclusion and exclusion that bear on Fuchs, Witold’s traveling companion and co-detective. For a time the narrator positions Fuchs as a dialogic “other” who complements his own subjectivity. If we consider the narrative as a test case of Ricoeur’s phenomenology of the subject, we could say that the role of such an “other” is to aid the subject in feeling more “subjective” precisely by injecting one’s own otherness into the self’s ideational space. Put another way, the other reifies the imaginary spaces of the self.29 But aside from functioning as an intersubjective other, Fuchs is also an other tout court. He constitutes a disruptive presence in the text, a rival subjectivity and also a source of an alternate though equally arbitrary version; as such he aggravates Witold’s sense of narratological anxiety. However, over time, as the narrator’s subjectivity and his desire to wrest control over the series-formation asserts itself as dominant, Fuchs is deemed no longer necessary. Dismissed as an “idiot” (C 74), an incomplete and inferior subject whose primitive “id” disrupts the narrator’s egoist project (C 72, 75), Fuchs is ejected by the logic of the text. At one point Witold-narrator even asks: “did the idiot want to go on playing the sleuth?” — a kind of final dispensing with this particular other as a figure of contestation (C 74). Within the Lacanian model, the textual spaces of Cosmos can be understood as a gradual mapping of two disparate obsessive systems, on which the narrator seems fixated: the motif of hangings, and the motif of mouths which is combined with the cognate theme of oral and other penetrations (note, too, the convenient Freudian grouping of these two, death and penetration, as the two sides of the erotic drive, and Gombrowicz’s likely parodying of any such clear divisions). Unlike the traditional detective story, there is no conclusive explanation for the initial image: was the hanging of the sparrow in fact a crime? If so, who committed it? In this respect, on the symbolic register text’s structure, with its “delirium of interpretation” (Berressem 1997: 210), comes to mirror the impossibility of ever reaching an origin or an ultimate truth. In terms of detective emplotment, in lieu of a logical superstructure that would provide answers, the reader is confronted by a mise-en-abîme rationale of superimpositions, palimpsests, and associations, all of which recede even as they momentarily capture our attention.30 This continual 29 Ricoeur 1990: 12–15, 49–54, and passim. 30 See Berressem 1997: 198–9.

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“surplus of things” not only corrupts any illusion of unity but also vitiates the possibility of semantic closure. For all the accumulation of objects and patterns, therefore, and despite its construction of repetition and belated revelation, the work remains a narrative of circularity, a “temporal and logical loop” (Berressem 1997: 202). The random and arbitrary appearance of uncontrollable, superfluous elements, including the teapot in Part I that displaces Lena from the narrator’s gaze (C 66–8), and the priest in Part II who hinders the emergent erotics of the group and arouses an “embarrassing” sensation of perversion and “sin” in the narrator (C 99–103), makes it all the more difficult to close the series into any coherent system. Unlike the pieces of evidence in the classic detective story in which every object has its own temporal and spatial “home,” here the objects that the two sleuths study, such as a needle stuck into the “middle of a table” in Katasia’s room (C 63), Katasia’s distorted mouth (C 19, 26) or the piece of wood “hanging by a bit of thread” (C 37), have no semiotic “ownership.” They are not part any discernible causal signifying chain. And so “the labyrinth,” and the associated infinite regress of objects without fixed referents, keeps expanding: There was such a proliferation, such a multitude of things and places and events . . . What was I looking for? . . . A basic theme, a leitmotif, an axis, something of which I could take firm hold and use as a basis . . . But distraction, not only my personal, inner distraction, but also coming from without, from the chaos, profusion and excess of things, prevented me from concentrating. One trifle distracted me from another, everything was equally important and unimportant. (C 86–7)

Discourse, however, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and various ideological interventions are soon staged. First, Leo, the paterfamilias, ruled by a kind of perverse practicality, obliquely suggests a positivist solution to the mystery at hand. He is the earliest character to bring up one of the grand narratives of modernity as a means of accounting for the complexity and disorder of the world. “organization” is Leo’s code word for the grand narrative of science (C 46); it stands for the organizing principle of the young technocratic generation, the generation of his bourgeois son-in-law Louis. However, when Louis somewhat naively proposes that the “rational organization of society and of the world” (C 46) is theoretically possible with “the right training,” Leo immediately rebuffs both the technique and its governing assumptions as “fiddlesticks” (C 47). In fact Leo strikes Louis where it hurts, exposing the bleakly formalist element of scientific thought. He challenges Louis to “explain to the immaculate tabula rasa of my mind just how you with 241

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your scientific training are going to get about organizing the world, what your objectives and methods are going to be, how you are going to tackle the problem, what model you are going to follow, where and how you are going to begin” (C 47). So whilst Leo may be rejecting formalism with an arch Gombrowiczian curtsy to chłopski rozum (the common sense of simple folk), what he is specifically refuting is scientific materialism in favor of a more private and eccentric set of organizing principles. Instead, Leo’s personal cosmogony is guided by an eclectic pleasure principle, which we could refer to as the realm of “Berg.” However, the notion of an objectivizing scientific apparatus, passionately advocated by Leo but then left hanging, so to speak, for a time seems like a fruitful point of insertion for understanding the world. For science, as an interpretive mode, contains the potential for insight beyond mere enumeration and repetition. The problem with the latter, for Witold, is that they really amount to nothing other than frustrated mantras when not spanned by any ideational framework. Witold is therefore quite right to mock Fuchs for the latter’s excessive reliance on cataloguing and generating self-reflexive patterns without any analysis (C 75–6). Science then, might after all offer some means of deepening the meditation and at last discovering “the thread running through all these things.”31 But for the moment, grand concepts such as “rational” and “organization” must seem relatively void to Witold in light of his inability to come to terms with something as (apparently) banal as a piece of dangling wood and a hung sparrow. Indeed, Leo’s, Louis’ and Witold’s modes of “organizing” are all revealed as equally inadequate in their capacity as explanatory (meta)narratives, in this text written, as it were, under the sign of “organization.” Cosmos thus inscribes the failure of organizing mechanisms precisely by showing their inherent dependence upon ideology, which is — for Gombrowicz — as it must have for the Borges of “Tlön” — an instrument of pure coercion that both masks and attempts to neutralize the drive to implement these mechanisms. Moreover, while the “rational organization of the world” might be a promising solution in theory, scientific or otherwise, the tools it uses and the objectives it sets for itself must be unsatisfactory for someone in Witold’s predicament, since the mystery under his investigation is metaphysical, and as such beyond the lexicon of empirical validation. Ultimately Witold becomes imprisoned by his hyperawareness of the fact that he himself represents a part of the chaos and as such is himself accountable for making systematic connections. His ultimate solution is a strategic gesture of evasion; he makes peace with his own (and his setting’s) ontological status as indeterminate, and with the inevitability of our all too human desire for order: 31 C 86. Its obverse is the “realm of hieroglyphics, where occult and mysterious things took place” (C 72). Witold feels that he has gone over to that “other side” after killing Lena’s cat.

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The word “permutations” used by Louis suggested all the permutations and combinations going on in my own mind, in fact I was drowning in them at that moment . . . The dreadful, baffling, bewildering thing was that I could never be sure to what extent I was myself the creator of the permutations and combinations taking place all around me . . . And was it really so strange, after all, for one mouth to lead to another since everything always led to something else? There was always something behind everything . . . (C 54–5, 36)

The central moment of catharsis for the Lacanian reading is Witold’s strangling of Lena’s cat. This act activates the Deleuzian image of the Möbius strip, where the outer realms, that is, signifiers (the acts of hanging and the hung objects themselves, as semiotic units), and the inner realms of signifieds represented by the mouths and the oral penetrations, become “sutured” together on “a single side” (Berressem 1997: 216). Witold’s direct though quite “accidental” action of hanging the cat thus allows him to affect change, bringing his own desire into the logic of the correspondences and creating the illusion of choice through the “magic of metonymy” (Legierski 1999: 172–4). For Berressem, this move represents the decisive moment of Gombrowicz’s poetics, for it is here that knowledge establishes itself as obsessional and paranoiac. The strangling also constitutes a concrete erotic gesture which, as Witold hopes, will help him “get closer” to Lena, after the unfortunate blocking (or displacement) of her nude image by the teapot in the bedroom scene. However, Witold himself remains uncertain as to the extent to which he has short-circuited the logics of desire. After strangling and hanging the creature, he admits: “But (and here I had to watch my step, be very careful) . . . I belonged to both configurations . . . had I not in a way myself constructed a bridge connecting the whole?” (C 101). Berressem concludes by suggesting that in Lacan’s system, ideational traps such as the one in Cosmos are a product of consciousness itself, which constantly attempts to interrogate the “thingness” of things and the subjectivity of subjects through language. Because the symbols and the images we use are arbitrary, any worlds that we might create, insofar as we create them and refer to them in language, are perforce arbitrary also. However, such an admission does not entirely exhaust the problems of the work. As we recall, at one point Witold remarks in resignation that storytelling always implies an ex post facto ordering and relating of givens and objects. The paradox is that narration, as a search for a privileged form for ordering the discrete elements and surfaces, implies a continual destruction of other, potential forms, and also of alternate modes of seeing “the order of things.” Therefore, any “cosmos” that we arrange will necessarily exclude all possible other worlds, so that in the end we never really have the opportunity 243

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to experience chaos. At most, following Foucault’s suggestion, we may catch a glimpse of it in those “interstitial” — or heterotopic — moments that leak out (if the reader will forgive the Daliesque image) of the intervals between discourses, words, and things (Foucault 1970: xvi). Witold’s admission of his glimpse of infinite voids of signification, against which humanity forever mobilizes, represents a key moment of tragic self-knowledge: “Born as we are out of Chaos,” he protests, “can we never establish contact with it?” The answer comes swiftly and it is in the negative: “No sooner do we look at it than order, pattern, shape is born under our eyes” (C 31). The implication is clear: the teleological imperative, and along with it, the desire for coherence, no matter how arbitrary, remains the human default of consciousness. We simply cannot seem to escape the ordering paradigm; at the same time, tragically, the will-to-order is largely what is responsible on the one hand, a tendency for totalitarian thought and, on the other, the social neuroses that characterize of modern society. Berressem does not comment on the moral/existential elements of this text. While these come to light symbolically with the figure of the priest and the newlyweds in Part II, they can be detected throughout the text as a shadowy counter-discourse, not unlike the gothic gloom permeating the textual aura of the earlier novel, Pornografia. Ultimately, though, the postmodern subjectivity articulated in Gombrowicz’s final novel comes down to one of two axes of his dialectical philosophy of life. The subject can elect to incarnate a kind of psychoneurotic modernity of the self, comprising epistemological quests as part of an inhuman signifying system. But this quest is doomed to failure more or less from the start precisely because the system — and nature itself — is inhuman and in the end unknowable, while the “scientific” and “rational” models of ordering or managing nature are revealed, at least here, as reductive, tendentious fictions. Ultimately, in the novel, with Louis’ suicide, they are symbolically exposed as untenable. Alternatively, the subject can abandon himself to solipsistic anarchy, in which obscurantist mysticism reigns, in the style of Leo’s devotion to his ejaculatory but in the end sterile Berging. Suspended between such alternatives, that is, Witold’s paranoiac obsession with the authority of perception and language, Louis’ naive materialist faith, and Leo’s atavistic desertion of philosophy in favor of complacent and decadent abandonment to life’s little pleasures, does there exist any other viable option for a philosophy for/of life? It is perhaps this question that forms the novel’s broadest framing narrative. Gombrowicz admitted that while writing Cosmos he was searching for a new form and new formal possibilities for the work of art. With the key text of the exilic self (Trans-Atlantyk) and the inscription of a literary/philosophical credo (the Diary) now behind him, one senses that the objective with this narrative 244

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was to plumb the depths of his poetics and to see what lay on the other side of the abyss. When I suggested that Cosmos represents a return to a semiology of youthfulness first encountered in the debut novel Ferdydurke — which was ruled by such questions as being versus becoming, the development of a dialectic of intersubjective essences, the struggle for form versus deformation32 — that statement was incomplete, and now hopefully we can see why. The topos of the return is in Cosmos predicated upon a dialectic of past-future which in fact legislates the entire text, imparting an austere extradiagetic note to the narrative, for the ostensible point of departure (i.e. a “past”) is structurally preset to be the site of failure. The opening passage, introducing the reader to a 20-something Witold escaping his own past — which very clearly signifies family, the capital, the cultural hierarchy — reinstates Gombrowicz, and here I mean the exiled author and not the belletristic character, in the discourse of a futile domestic past from which there is only one exit: literal escape (that is, exile). But from another angle it seems ironic that Gombrowicz, by the mid-1960s relatively well known in Europe, should make such a return from his expatriate Parisian/alpine milieu of the time to a specific Polish one for his final treatise on subjectivity, despite his announcement in the third volume of the Diary that his objective while in France was to do battle with the pillars of the intellectual and literary establishment, including Sartre, Genet, Robbe-Grillet, Butor, and so on. Why, then, did he refuse to engage with them on their own home turf, as it were? The choice of setting/context, away from the French metropole and/or province (as in Sartre), but also away from more properly exotic localities (such as those encountered in Genet and Robbe-Grillet), while by no means invalidating the enterprise, in the end seems perplexing and inexplicable given the totality of Gombrowicz’s provocations. But there is more to this particular story.33 For this book of personal failure and a settling of accounts with his own exilic predicament also contains a blunt critique of the failures of Western culture. The metaphysics of failure lace the poetics of the narrative, and it is in the exposure of failure that Gombrowicz anticipates the discourses of those among the postmoderns who have called for the reconsideration of the great myths that have thus far sustained Western civilization.34 In the depiction of an ontological crisis occasioned by the dissonant element of the dead 32 See especially the two “Prefaces” and the narrator’s intertextual musings in Gombrowicz’s Pamiętnik z okresu dojrzewania [Memoir of a time of immaturity], Gombrowicz 1933: 4–11. 33 Then there is always the analogy of the “spatial fix” between periphery and center: in Cosmos Zakopane is to Warsaw as, for example, Férolles (a small Loire valley town in the Département of Centre) was to Paris in Sartre’s “The Childhood of a Leader.” 34 The text did perhaps allow Gombrowicz to claim a small (or maybe not so small) personal victory. The book so patently about failure won Gombrowicz the International Publishers’ Prize, finally lifting him out of obscurity.

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sparrow, Gombrowicz first rejects science and positivism by hanging, in a moment of pure conceptual luminosity, their enthusiastic proponent Louis.35 He then silences organized religion by penetrating the priest’s mouth with his metonymic finger, thereby privileging the body over logos and figuratively reproducing the ascendance of pleasure and the phallus over explication and over philosophy or philology. Finally he shows that decadence, which is to say, pleasure for its own stylistic sake, is on its own incapable of accounting for the appearance of irregularity, of chronic subjective doubt, of the accident, of crisis itself; rather, decadence is their symptom. I should note here that, though amounting to masturbation in the case of Leo’s various “Bergs,” decadence was one of the founding principles of elite or “high” modernism, as John Carey recently demonstrated.36 Thus are summarily dismissed the chief narratives that have for over 100 years propelled the major streams of Western modernity. Leo, the precociously modern compulsive pleasure seeker and discursive self-authorizer, may indeed be the author of the final textual spasm, and thus have the last laugh. It is, however, a hollow laugh. This is because reality — brought back violently via the dramatic one-word sentence on the last page of the novel (“Lunęło.”), the moment after which everything would necessarily be different — asserts itself as standing before and greater than all the techniques and devices we use in our efforts to grasp and arrest, that is, represent it. Perhaps more importantly, this moment of transcendental clarity, “Lunęło.,” sends the narrator back whence he came: to the beginning of things and texts. We are told that he has returned to Warsaw, the signifying center; he has been restored to the lunch of “chicken and rice,” that represents the triumph of the cultural norm, and to “warfare with my father” which symbolizes his longstanding conflict with the paternal order (Gombrowicz 1985: 166). That is, he has come back to the basic configuration of things he had hoped to escape while in Zakopane, where for a time he was both free and compelled by circumstances, by the very mystery of existence, to produce his own script. However, in this flight, eerily echoing the uncanny desire for escape in the opening passages of Gombrowicz’s first novel, the narrator is patently under-equipped to forge anything new,37 aside from a histrionic yearning, fueled by a thirst for (experiential) knowledge but undercut 35 The failure of myth of science and progress as symbolized by the suicide (?) of Louis resonates strongly with a near-analogous suicide of another existential humanist, weighed down by the inability of his “sustaining illusion” to provide any durable answers to his abject predicament: Nostromo’s reluctant companion on the fateful journey to the Isabels, Martin Decoud. 36 See Carey 1992. 37 However, the Witold of Ferdydurke will certainly have learned a thing or two about the nature of intersubjectivity by the work’s conclusion. See the next note.

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by his abject lack of agency, for a new intersubjective discourse.38 That novel, Ferdydurke, in effect opened with an existential shiver: We wtorek obudziłem się o tej porze bezdusznej i nikłej, kiedy właściwie noc się już skończyła, a świt nie zdążył jeszcze zacząć się na dobre. Zbudzony nagle, chciałem pędzić taksówką na dworzec, zdawało mi się bowiem, że wyjeżdżam — dopiero w następnej minucie z biedą rozeznałem, że pociąg dla mnie na dworcu nie stoi, nie wybiła żadna godzina . . . Ciało moje bało się nieznośnie, uciskając strachem mego ducha, duch uciskał ciało i każda najdrobniejsza fibra kurczyła się w oczekiwaniu, że nic się nie stanie, nic się nie odmieni, nic nigdy nie nastąpi i cokolwiek by się przedsięwzieło, nie pocznie się nic i nic. (Ferdydurke 33) Tuesday morning I awoke at that pale and lifeless hour when night is almost gone but dawn has not yet come into its own. Awakened suddenly, I wanted to take a taxi and dash to the railroad station, thinking I was due to leave, when, in the next minute, I realized to my chagrin that no train was waiting for me at the station, that no hour had struck . . . My body, unbearably frightened, crushed my spirit with fear, and my spirit crushed my body, whose tiniest fibres cringed in apprehension that nothing would ever happen, nothing ever change, that nothing would ever come to pass, and whatever I undertook, nothing, but nothing, would ever come of it. (F 1)

At that precise moment, in a move that is typical for the early Gombrowicz but in a way that would seem out of character in the exilic texts to come, the narrator offers a major clue that ensures the reader will understand the chiefly metaphysical and eschatological component of his anxiety: “Był to lęk nieistnienia, strach niebytu, niepokój nieżycia, obawa nierzeczywistości, krzyk biologiczny, wszystkich komórek moich wobec wewnętrznego rozdarcia, rozproszenia i rozproszkowania” 38 In Ferdydurke, once firmly established within the intersubjective/discursive couplet with Zosia, Witold experiences the following revelation which to him is correlated with freedom for the subject: “O trzeci! Pomocy, ratunku! Przybądź, trzeci człowieku, do nas dwojga, przyjdź, zjaw się, niech się ciebie uczepię, wybaw! Niech przybędzie tu zaraz, natychmiast, trzeci człowiek, obcy, nieznany, . . . jak fala morska niech uderzy swoją obcością w tę swojskość parującą . . . O trzeci, przyjdź, daj mi postawę oporu . . . przyjdź, siło, odczep mnie, odtrąć i oddal!” (Ferdydurke 292, emphasis in the original). (“Oh, for a third person! Help, rescue us! Oh, may a third human being come to the two of us, oh, salvation, come and let me latch onto you, save us! Let a third human being come now, forthwith, a stranger, cold and indifferent . . . like an ocean wave let him hit this steaming domesticity with his separateness . . . Oh, come, you third one, come, give me a base from which to oppose her . . . come, great power, unhitch me, knock me aside and carry me away”: F 280).

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(Ferdydurke 33) (“It was the dread of nonexistence, the terror of extinction, it was the angst of nonlife, the fear of unreality, a biological scream of all my cells in the face of an inner disintegration when all would be blown to pieces and scattered to the winds”: F 1). In the worldscope of Cosmos, on the other hand, Witold possesses the firm certainty that he really exists in space, that he is functioning between concrete temporal markers; on the other hand, he grows increasingly unsure both of the structures he is perceiving and eventually even of the rules that govern perception. However, this loss of horizon, paradoxically, rebounds him back to subjectivity, to being-in-time, to ipseity, and to existence-through-language. Though language, as a tool, is not the prime suspect for Witold, its instrumental use for ordering his particular cosmos and furnishing his knowledge archive foregrounds its susceptibility to the laws of contingency. Language, then, is the law but it is also the adjudicator in the service of the demiurge. Gombrowicz, by that point habituated to playing his identity games in between the spaces of languages, cultures, and writings, was as good a judge of language as anyone. When all else around began its inevitable representational collapse, as at the end of Leo’s triumphant jouissance and his final “Berg.,” there was at least language left. Language, and free associational thought, thus consciousness, thus our essential condition and our “narratological” enchainment as conscious beings: these are perhaps the only realities to which one can remain faithful. However, they need not necessarily avert us from our desires, such as planning to commit a murder: Uciszył się zupełnie i nic nie było słychać, ja myślałem wróbel Lena patyk Lena kot w usta miód warga wywichnąć ściana grudka rysa palec Ludwik krzaki wisi wiszą usta Lena sam tam czajnik kot patyk płot droga Ludwik ksiądz mur kot patyk wróbel kot Ludwik wisi patyk wisi wróbel wisi Ludwik kot powieszę ― ― ―. (K 148) He quietened down completely and total silence prevailed. I thought sparrow Lena bit of wood cat in the mouth honey disfigured lip little clump of earth tear in the wallpaper finger Louis young trees hanging Lena lonely there teapot cat bit of wood fence road Louis priest wall cat bit of wood sparrow cat Louis hanged bit of wood hanged sparrow hanged Louis cat I’m going to hang . . . (C 165–6).

Gombrowicz leaves it to us to complete this ultimate series, “I am going to hang . . . Lena.” But then, all of a sudden, there comes the masterstroke: “Lunęło.”39 39 Gombrowicz 2001: 148. In Mosbacher, this phrase rendered as the unsatisfactory: “Suddenly it started raining.” This rather anodyne sentence completely obscuring the

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The symmetry and the power of reality are thereby re-established, primal cravings are nipped in the bud, the latent lines of desire are stymied. Indeed, we may say thing with certainty about this astonishing associational chain, it is that if indeed “languageality” represents the conditional space of (heterotopic) freedom, and I submit it does, it is preceded by the libidinal economy of the subject for whom sex might, under certain phenomenological conditions, equal murder. In other words, Gombrowicz the narratological demiurge in parting scores a purely Nietzschean point: what we like to call morality comes after — as an after-effect, not always intentional, of the imposition of subjectivity and all the struggles involved in its maintenance.

sheer violence and definitiveness of Gombrowicz’s moment of natural/narratological intervention. Rendering “Lunęło.” as “Suddenly it started pouring.” (I retain the original punctuation), Borchardt’s translation is only marginally better at conveying the sense of an abrupt and drastic, all-encompassing deluge (see Gombrowicz 2005: 188); a phrase such as “Suddenly, a downpour” would perhaps be the best approximation, but even it is too wordy.

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Conclusion Identity and its Displacements: Some Closing Axioms As we have seen, heterotopias are almost by definition unstable spaces. Both an absent utopia and a linguistic zone of individual freedom, a heterotopia announces the modality of contestation, signaling a counter-discourse in which a poetics of transition may intersect with liminal identity figurations to produce new hybridized subjects. Fellow travelers across national imaginaries and spectral cartographies, Joseph Conrad and Witold Gombrowicz were in foundational ways rather similar in the negotiation of their otherness and their discovery of a mode of linguistic focalization which would, ultimately, prove itself as the most secure home for the subject. Expatriation and deterritorialization were their constant companions as well as were, to varying degrees, ill health and chronic poverty.1 Both men also shared a profound concern with winning over and maintaining lines of communication with an elusive “ideal reader” in the former homeland and in the host country (for Gombrowicz this meant mainly France, but — as we saw — toward the end of his Argentinean stage he grew quite fond of the New World’s artistic possibilities). Finally, neither writer really felt at home within the places of exile, despite their efforts to domesticate their new homelands and renegotiate their otherness, thus aligning themselves, or at least their public personae, to the new realities. In the late 1990s a critical anthology of Gombrowicz’s writings and letters appeared in Poland under the polemic title Walka o sławę2 (which may be translated as “Gombrowicz: a quest for fame”). The title to my mind is a fitting way 1 Interestingly, both attained a level of financial comfort only toward the end of the fifth decade of their lives, following which their output declined in quantity. 2 In two volumes. Vol. 1, Walka o sławę: Korespondencja Witolda Gombrowicza z Józefem Wittlinem, Jarosławem Iwaszkiewiczem, Arturem Sandauerem. Ed. Jerzy Jarzębski. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1996; and vol. 2, Walka o sławę: Korespondencja Witolda Gombrowicza z Konstantym A. Jeleńskim, François Bondym, Dominikiem de Roux. Ed. Jerzy Jarzębski. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1998.

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of accounting for Gombrowicz’s in-between status and his intermittent attempts to counter it, to become known as a major European author (and he did enjoy something of a late flourishing of fame with his return to Western Europe). Yet Gombrowicz’s existential and psychic predicament certainly resonates in Conrad’s case as well; after all, they both shared the exile’s condition; moreover, in emigration both had to negotiate their status as subjects from a colonial and/or from the Continent’s margins. As I have tried to show, their philosophical and esthetic orientations were opposed to that of their time and many of their contemporaries. They were not necessarily ahead or behind their age, but generally at an oblique angle to its conceits and ambitions; however, some of their notions about literature and the functions of art, elaborated from a contrapuntal extraterritorial perspective, the perspective of “minority,” simply ran counter to the leading ideas animating their eras. In one of this interviews with de Roux, Gombrowicz remarked that he was an existentialist avant la lettre, having written Ferdydurke, his treatise on the “immanence” of the subject and the essential intersubjectivity of the process of identity-construction, several years before Sartre’s formulation of the theory of “le regard d’autrui.”3 With Trans-Atlantyk, he made the claim of updating and (thereby) subverting the Polish Romantic/communitarian tradition, which was a dominant mythology of post-war Poland, and refiguring its doxa by clearly demonstrating its historical failures, its ideational deficiencies, its overall failure as a collective symbol of any potency — and the consequences of this on the evolution of modern Polish culture. Conrad, outwardly less insistent and more understated in his enunciations on identity and culture explored, through Nostromo, a cognate problematics in a more abstract setting of an imagined community which, by all indications, was in the midst of a liberationist post-colonial revolution. In this work, too, the reader may be able to detect the imbrications of a romantic prerogative for individual heroism and personal glory with a more starkly pragmatic imperative of “material interests” that attend to concrete consensus-building tasks; and there, too, the relation to Polish social experience is unmistakable, since these two narrative themes metonymically embody the two major itineraries of nineteenth-century Polish nationalism-without-a-nation — that is, Romanticism (sacrifice at the nation’s altar) and Positivism (organic work for the imaginary community of the nation). Elsewhere, for example in the political essays and his reminiscences and correspondence, Conrad would write more explicitly about Poland and the predicament 3 See Gombrowicz’s “Preface” to the English edition of Pornografia (1985: 8); cf. de Roux, ed. 1969. Note, too, that this was also several years after Alfred Schütz’s pioneering — though more phenomenologically driven — work on the “intersubjective” construction of the social subject.

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of the marginalized and the oppressed. However, he would do so increasingly from the perspective of a writer hailing from a metropolitan center, a subject position that seemingly offered him a measure of detachment fitting to a properly “British” writer he (hoped, thought) he had become. Few would be fooled, however: for instance, Conrad’s dialogue with — or more precisely diatribe against — Fyodor Dostoevsky on the prerogative of individual will vis-à-vis the claims of collectivity in Under Western Eyes reveals Conrad engaging precisely with the problem of representing the self within a socio-political structure from an ironic perspective of those who wield power (the fact that in so doing he performs a narrative synthesis of positivist character development and modernist narratological involution, Conrad can be said to stake his claim somewhere along the literary continuum between observers of the social praxis like Prus and Maupassant, and the modernist inscribers of subjective interiority — which is nonetheless inflected by social or class position — such as Joyce, Proust, or Kafka). But Nostromo, as I showed in Chapter 5, revolves around an inscription of the liminal and the interstitial. On the surface an adventurer’s tale, the work epitomizes a modernist (counter-)discourse in which the narrative schema with its disruptive temporal organization and overwhelming thematic purview anticipates the abrupt shifts of time, mood, place, and voice/speaker found in the focalization of (colonial) subalternity in properly high-modernist texts such as Ulysses. The Secret Agent, a detective story which plays with the metaphysics and construction of reality (with reality understood increasingly as a linguistic construct inextricably coupled with power and the subject position of the speaker), strikes a conceptual middle ground between the world as it can be adumbrated and securely “locked down” by a possessor of the superior gaze, such as a phenomenological explicator along the lines of Sherlock Holmes (or an omniscient and socially and pedagogically engaged narrator of the nineteenth-century bourgeois novel), and the ontological pessimism underlining Gombrowicz’s subjective universe (which is at the same time locus and context of the detective’s failure) elaborated in Cosmos. Such examples could be multiplied, for the invocation of threshold zones and interstitial discourses in the work of Conrad and Gombrowicz represents something akin to a narratological precondition or an ideological, writerly a priori. From Conrad the reluctant modernist to Gombrowicz the author of middle-way heterotopias and sinister postmodern anti-novels, our journey has covered a number of discursive territories and textual topographies. The synchronous axis guiding this study, that of identity and exile, has shown that two writers’ continued search for acceptance by an ideal(-ized) community existed in a binary with their ongoing ritualization of the hybridity of their public personae. On the diachronic axis, that of the discourses of modernism and postmodernism and their evolution, we saw the 252

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projects of the grand (meta-)narratives countered by ambivalent modernist poetics such as Conrad’s ambivalent inscription of the markers of empire, coloniality, and progress. This ambivalence may well be attributable to their sense of exilic potentiality and cultural difference, a kind of artistic countersign. We also witnessed how the dominant discourses of their era — both the Polish (Romanticism, patriotism) and the Western (the rise of the individual, the waning of authorizing centers) were further undercut, in Gombrowicz, by a properly postmodernist realization that language’s “syntactic excess” subverts narrativity precisely by lacerating smooth semantic surfaces, including those of the meta-narratives themselves, as well as that of subjectivity as such (Roll 1993: 187). We are left with the questions that Gombrowicz posed almost 40 years ago with Cosmos. Whither postmodernism? Whither the subject in the world, Western, or otherwise? In a recent interview with Le Monde magazine, Salman Rushdie characterized the plight of the (post-)modern exiled writer as that of a broker and mediator of multiple realities, before concluding that these realities are increasingly permeating literature — and so, society — in general. To Rushdie they are a consequence of the interpenetrability of ideologies, markets (literary and otherwise) and subjectivities which had previously been kept apart in cultural experience. In other words, they are a direct function of the globalization of the world of ideas which, even despite the apparent setback of fundamentalist events such as 9/11, appears as the promising by-product of the otherwise maligned globalization of capital, especially for those who live in cosmopolitan urban centers. One can easily concur with Rushdie’s declaration that the days of cultural isolationism of whatever kind must now be conclusively over: Les citadins croisent chaque jour des immigrants, des réfugiés, des gens hantés pas d’autres religions, confrontés à une autre histoire. Ils reçoivent chaque jour des nouvelles du monde entier, qui les concernent. Les livres qui racontent l’histoire d’un New York wasp et tout blanc, ou d’un Paris sans Africains ou sans Arabes, fuient leur responsibilité artistique . . . Je n’ai pas choisi d’écrire à la croisée des mondes, je n’ai pas choisi d’imaginer des personnages qui adorent le rock’n’roll autant que les ghazals indiens. J’y ai été forcé par ma vie fragmentée du voyageur, de banni, de migrant. La littérature devient hybride, éclectique, comme hier le jazz. (Joignot 2004: 28)

It is pointless to argue whether these hybridizing movements — whereby literature is becoming eclectic, like jazz — are actually occurring or not, or to what extent. Globalization — of ideas, capital, languages, cultural styles and practices — has been a motive force in modern societies some time now; in fact, for some 253

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commentators it is a function of the conditions of late capitalism itself.4 Rather, we should take the opportunity to respond to the new possibilities for dialogue and understanding that these hitherto mutually exclusive worlds/realities have now ushered in. The philosopher Zygmunt Bauman remarked on one occasion that the postmodern subject, for him epitomized by Jacques Derrida (though Bauman himself would have qualified by the same token), is increasingly an exilic/hybrid/ métis/cosmopolitan one. Such a subject, inherently multiple, more than the sum of its constituent parts, languages, and cultural spaces, Bauman suggests in a Gombrowiczian gesture, can feel “at home” — if at all — only in the spaces of language (Bauman 2000: 206–7). And yet these postmodern globalized subjects, ourselves, requiring not so much a nation (for our homelands — whatever their names may be — are in effect imaginary) as an interconnected global structure to function, are nonetheless reminded of the gravitational pull of the national space during times of crisis, whether we be exiles or hosts (or merely embody that central conceit of the Enlightenment: citizenship).5 When the experiencing of time and place itself is amplified and aurally and spatially “thickened,” such as during wartime, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters, it is difficult and sometimes dangerous to escape the gravitational pull of these bedrock loyalties and “fundamental” realities. It is especially then that community and the need for the concept of community asserts itself and realizes itself most surely through the community of language. It is my sense that for exiles and emigrants existing interstitially between languages and cultures, and those others who are forced to abandon their native language for some other, the need for community is intensified, operating in crisis mode far more frequently than for those who feel at home within given languages or cultures. This is why language is a central preoccupation for émigrés and expatriates, and why the logic of heterotopia, as an au fond existential process of discovering for oneself a home in language, for all its inherent dialectical intimacy/otherness,6 remains so vital to exilic discourses. It is widely agreed that the contemporary cultures of the West constitute the only locus where postmodernism can be said to issue more or less “naturally” from modernism, without the conceptual compression or decapitation of tradition by postcolonial discourses, as in the West’s former colonies, or by sudden ambivalent ideological upheaval as in, for example, Eastern Europe or in certain 4 See Hardt and Negri 2001: 8–9. 5 See Eric Cazdyn, who contrasts the individual’s “residual” identification with nation — which he calls “the primary unit by which people locate themselves in the world” — to the bottom-line ideologies of political–economic stakeholders, for whom the nation’s stock is irrelevant (2004: 416). Cazdyn attributes this disjunction to “the unevenness of the different levels of the social formation” (2004: 417). 6 See Derrida 1998: 20–5.

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Latin American regions.7 And while our current postmodern condition (despite the recent return to exclusionary retrenchment behind various lines of national identity figurations and ethnic or party affiliation, apparent both in the USA and Western European nations, and on the increase since the global economic slowdown of 2007–9) is still welcoming of the hybrid subject qua other, at least in theory, the unrelenting paradox is that we, that is, Western subjects are also the primary agents responsible for the processes which have created this subject, globalization chief among them. Our actions and ideologies thus continue to recuperate the world of capital and Material Interests, and so by extension recapitulate the dominant doxa, as inevitable and triumphant, even in the millenarian context of “late capitalism” that characteristically questions any such certainties. Thus, as subjects in/of the West and in the other regions where the postmodernism–globalization conglomerate can be said to be dominant, we are the side-effects of this world: it is what has produced us and our ambivalence, that is, our current janiform condition of timid fascination with the other and deepseated suspicion of the orders of the great narratives. The epistemology of the subject (including the exilic), is always performed in real time, even if for the exilic subject reality appears out-of-time, in addition to being and/or feeling out-of-place. Postmodernity as ethos and ethic today thus still needs to retrain its authorizing gaze to account for the otherness of the real as much as it needs it in order to rationalize the reality of the other. What is urgently needed then, is a much more direct acknowledgment of the fact that for many of those who live it, cultural hybridity may represent a welcome result of such experiences as exile, expatriation, or refugeeship, but that those earlier experiences themselves were often a consequence of dislocations brought on by forces steered by the West, by our capital, our consumption, our ideological primacy and political intent for those “other” cultures and peoples. No doubt it is a wonderful thing to be able to feel at home within plural spaces, as Conrad and Gombrowicz sought to feel for most of their writing careers, and as Rushdie says he does today (with the Fatwā against him now lifted); however, frequently the path to such a concluding state of grace is marked by tragedy, loneliness, and despair. Thus what we should seek and promote within our own culture is reality with the other, acknowledging the prerogatives of both ipseity/identity 7 With regard to the first, see e.g. Kovačević 2008; for the multivalent praxes of Latin American postmodernism, a good if polemical (because this tour-de-force also engages feminist and queer theory discourses in its battle for a voice) place to start may be the Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera (1987) or — to bring the discussion closer to the domains traveled by Gombrowicz — the critical writings by Arenas or Borges, perhaps beginning with the latter’s essay “The Argentine writer and tradition” (1964: 177–85), discussed in Chapters 1 and 4 of this study.

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and the potentiality of heterotopia wrought on by the presence of the other. If our approaches to cultural understanding ignore this crucial nexus of plural reality and alterity, then they will carry on setting the tone for the conceptualization of alterity; they will continue imposing “acceptable” identities for the cultural other, inhabiting the Third Zone of exile, either as the fearsome and mythic Big Other to be opposed or as the hybridized and domesticated consumable other, already always delineated and hence phenomenologically antiseptic, anodyne, ultimately harmless.8 And if that should be case, then the cultural presumption of our own sustaining illusions, the modes in which we seek out the other to manufacture and consume as an object of our presumed magnanimity and pleasure may — as Gombrowicz unforgettably showed in his last, greatest novel — only amount to so much bamberging in the Berg.

8 This subject position is not unlike that of the East Central European “other” whom Gombrowicz configures (and personally opposes) in the Diary — one a priori defined and located “in context” by the Western metropole, thereby domesticated, denuded of any authentic will-to-power, and reduced to a postural and gestural vocabulary, and so empty and inconsequential because ultimately it’s second-hand, impotent.

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Index Academy, Western 25 Achebe, Chinua 25 Adorno, Theodore 61 n. 16 adventure tales, Conrad 96, 211 esthetic avant-garde 60, 69 allegory 13, 96 Borgesian 235 in Conrad 216 in Gombrowicz 216 Trans-Atlantyk as 171 alterity 27, 256 in Gombrowicz 153, 218 in Robbe-Grillet 66 in Cosmos 221 in Trans-Atlantyk 148, 151 alterity–orthodoxy dialectic 128 ambivalence, Conrad and 36–51, 77, 78, 127, 135 Anderson, Benedict 19 n. 1, 190 Anglo-American critics 74 anti-communist writers, Gombrowicz on 115–16 anti-humanism 65–6 anti-Semitism 197–8 anti-utopia, Trans-Atlantyk as 149 Argentina and Gombrowicz 102–3, 110, 166, 217 literary scene postwar 30 Auerbach, Erich 28 auto-fiction, Cosmos as 231 autocracy, Russian, Conrad’s views 39, 80–1, 126 avant-garde 60, 63–4, 70 avant-gardism and Bürger 59–60 Calinescu on 59, 60 and Gombrowicz 56–7, 64, 70, 97 and Młoda Polska 67 Bakhtin, Mikhail 50, 156–7, 158 n. 44 Barth, John 53 Barthes, Roland 73, 74 Mythologies 61 n. 18, 64 Bauman, Zygmunt 55–6, 73 n. 43, 191 n. 23, 254 Beckett, Samuel 22 n. 7, 28, 159 n. 44, 228

Beilharz, Peter 185 Belgian Empire, Conrad on 132 Belgium, occupation of the Congo 75–6, 79 Belsey, Catherine 73 Benjamin, Walter 114 Bergson, Henri 58 Berressem, Hanjo 164–5, 231 Lines of Desire 239, 240, 241, 243, 244 Bhabha, Homi 22 n. 6, 25, 27, 28 n. 27, 43 n. 58, 185 Bildungsroman 100 n. 16, 238 binary perception theory (Miłosz) 99 bios 4, 145 Bobrowski, Tadeusz (Conrad’s uncle) 23–4 n. 13, 32, 35, 101 n. 17, 118 n. 48, 123, 124 and 124 n. 61, 128 Memoirs 23 n. 13, 128, 135 Boer War 137–8 Bolshevik invasion of Poland 130–1 Borinsky, Alicia 16 Borges, Jorge Luis fictive Chinese encyclopedia 176, 223 as a figure in Trans-Atlantyk (Gombrowicz) 163, 164, 165 “The Argentine writer and tradition” 30 n. 31, 164 n. 59 “Tlön, uqbar, orbis tertius” 235–7 bourgeoisie, and culture 60, 62 British culture, Conrad and 35, 41–2, 137, 139–40 British Empire 8 Conrad and 127, 132, 136 British identity 44–5 Brodsky, Joseph 28 Bürger, Peter 19, 54–5, 56–7, 58, 59–60, 134 Busza, Andrzej 46, 72 Catholicism 42 n. 54, 109, 133, 166 n. 62, 167, 236 n. 23 Calinescu, Matei 36 n. 48, 59, 60, 61 n. 15, 172 Calvino, Italo Invisible Cities 232 Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore 9 Carey, John 61 n. 16, 62, 90, 246 carnival heterotopia 149

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carnivalesque, in Trans-Atlantyk 171 carnivalesque utopianism 5, 149 see also utopia Casement, Roger, “Report” (1904) 75–6 Cataluccio, Francesco, Preface to Gombrowicz’s Przewodnik po filozofii 225–6 causal connections (Kant) 234 chaos–form binary 221 characterization, in Nostromo 203–6 charting the hybrid self 108–43 chosisme (Robbe-Grillet) 227 Chrisman, Laura 36 Christian imagery, in Nostromo 199, 200, 201 chronotopes (Bakhtin) 158, 222 Cioran, Emile 107, 171 n. 79 “Reply to Cioran” (Gombrowicz) 107–8 class, Gombrowicz on 129–30 Cold War, the 71, 146, 170, 178 colonization 75–9, 237 comparative readings of Gombrowicz with Conrad 3 conditional narrativity, of Cosmos 220–49 Congo, Belgian occupation 75–6, 79 Conrad, Joseph adventure tales 96, 211 allegory in 216 ambivalence in 36–51, 77, 78, 127, 135 on the Belgian Empire 132 British culture 35, 41–2, 137, 139–40 British Empire 127, 132, 136 British identity 44–5, 117 Busza on 72 compared with Joyce 42 n. 54 correspondence 90–1, 118–19 on creativity 69 deterritorialization 39, 52, 73, 97, 102, 142 difference 32, 34, 35, 38, 45, 46–7 exile 2–3, 13 expatriation 101–2 fidelity to an idea 39, 46, 82 First World War, effect on 140–1 in France 2, 115 on Germany 119–20 heterotopia 39, 81, 120–1, 124, 187, 188 homecomings 120–3 iconoclasm 15, 23–4, 73, 216 identity 32–3, 41–2, 76–7, 80–1, 141–2 irony 41, 50, 81, 122, 126, 199 isolation 44, 90–1, 142 Kraków, significance 120–3, 124, 127–8, 134 language 49, 124–5 liminality 127, 136, 252 logos 79, 216 marginality 52 marine novels 40 as mariner 32–4, 45, 123–4, 125, 139, 140 Marlow figure, as Conrad 96, 136–7, 139

in Marseille 24, 42–3, 102 modern self 132–43 modernism 3–4, 36–8, 71–85, 95–6, 202–3 mythopoeia 44, 140, 184, 212 narrative style 50–1, 81–3, 83–4, 183 Kermode on 51 nationalism 42, 80–1 non-places 49, 120, 218 language as non-place 182–3 obsessions 4, 13, 39, 43 “orphaning” 116–28 politics 34–5, 47–8, 80, 119–20, 127, 140–1 positioning 49–51, 72, 74–5, 252 readership 39–40, 75, 208–10, 211, 212, 215–16 revolution 3, 32, 34–5, 133, 195 parents’ experience 39, 41, 44, 45, 133 Romanticism 208, 213, 251 Russia 120, 132–3, 133 Russian autocracy, views on 39, 80–1, 126 self-definition 132 self-reflexivity 52, 78, 117, 139, 183 ship plots 33–4, 39 similarities with Gombrowicz 250, 251 speech 35 use of English 125 utopia 34–5, 39, 190–1, 194, 215 Warsaw, significance of 127 Woolf on 90 WORKS Almayer’s Folly, 96, 124, 192 “Amy Foster” 105 “Autocracy and war” 80, 141 Heart of Darkness ambivalence in 77 colonization 75–9 deterritorialization 78 Ford on 138–40 irony 34, 77 slavery 25 Watts on 78 white man’s burden in 205–6 Williams on 78–9 “Last essays” 7 Lord Jim 81, 192 The Mirror of the Sea 125 The Nigger of the Narcissus 96, 207 Nostromo 185–6 characterization 203–6 Christian imagery 199, 200, 201 comparison with Utopia 188–90 Conrad’s mood when finishing 1 construction 75 Decoud figure 195–6 deterritorialization 184, 187 as an exilic narrative 183 irony 197, 199–200, 218 metaphysics 184, 187, 191, 202

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Conrad, Joseph: WORKS (continued) narrative strategy 79 native voice in 190–1, 201 non-places 8, 188, 210, 215 politics of language 179–219 proletarian underclass in 213–14 revolution 192, 199, 203, 213–14, 251 territoriality in 179–219 Notes on Life and Letters 120–3 “A note on the Polish problem” 140 A Personal Record 7, 80, 124–7, 132, 133, 134 “Prince Roman” 44, 105–6 The Secret Agent 48, 81, 84, 192, 252 Szkice Polityczne (“Political sketches”) 119 Typhoon 192 Under Western Eyes 80–1, 84–5, 218–19, 252 “Youth” 33 contradiction, Gombrowicz and 68 contrapuntal perspective 8, 21, 29, 70, 98, 150 correspondances 228, 229–30 correspondence, Conrad 90–1, 118–19 cosmopolitanism see transnationalism creativity, Conrad on 69 critics, Anglo-American 74 cultural relativism 86, 112, 172 culture bourgeois 60, 62 British 35, 41–2, 137, 139–40 and the exile 21 lack of cultural prestige in Poland 165–6, 167 mass 37, 60, 61, 76 postmodernist 63 production process 54 selection 27 wars, 1980s and 1990s 25 Cunninghame Graham, R. B. 47, 188 n. 21, 210 Czyżewski, Krzysztof 168 De Man, Paul 7, 169 de Roux, Dominique 108–9, 148 decreation (Kermode) 72 Deleuze, Gilles 6, 86–7, 88, 89, 149, 184 Derrida, Jacques 7, 74, 87, 169, 179, 254 desire, logic of in Cosmos 238–49 detective story, Cosmos as 222, 231–2, 239, 240 deterritorialization 66 Conrad 39, 52, 73, 97, 102, 142 Heart of Darkness 78 Nostromo 184, 187 Gombrowicz 52, 67, 97, 102, 110, 161 Polish literature 86–7 différance (Derrida) 74, 86, 170 difference 11, 16, 53

Conrad 32, 34, 35, 38, 45, 46–7 discourse of 27–8 Gombrowicz 38, 87, 159, 160, 170, 238 and language 93–143 DissemiNation (Bhabha) 27 distance–intimacy duality 34–5 Dostoevsky, Fyodor 50, 83 n. 66, 252 double man see homo duplex dystopia 115 in Gombrowicz 150, 159, 236 see also heterotopia; utopia écriture 11, 15, 37, 64, 177, 182 English, use of by Conrad 125 entropy–progress binary 218 epistemology 11, 14, 38, 98, 269 eroticism Gombrowicz 103, 130, 217 Cosmos 15, 64, 228, 240, 241, 243 Trans-Atlantyk 151, 171 ethnicity 25, 43 European Romanticism 180 exile as a condition 19–51 Conrad 2–3, 13 Gombrowicz 1–2, 13–14 as a hybrid space 250, 253–4 and liminality 85–92 spaces and trajectories 1–18 as a third zone 255–6 exilic discourse defined 20 examined 97–108 expatriates, returning home 99–100 expatriation Conrad 101–2 Gombrowicz 100–1 extraterritoriality 26 failure, poetics of subjective 224–38 fame, and Gombrowicz 250–1 Fanon, Frantz 28, 138 n. 81, 201 n. 44 fatherland–son’s land binary 150, 155 fidelity to an idea, Conrad 39, 46, 82 First World War effect on Conrad 140–1 effect on Gombrowicz 129–30 Ford, Boris 218–19 Ford, Ford Madox 41, 44, 140 Remembrance 138–9 Ford Foundation 1–2, 69, 103 form–chaos binary 221 form, Gombrowicz on 23 Formalism, Russian 64–5, 83 Foucault, Michel 234 heterotopia 5, 12, 17, 171–2, 181–2, 221 power–knowledge–language nexus 132–3 on reification 82

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obsessions 4, 130, 147, 169, 239 poetics, shift in 69–70 Polish–Bolshevik War of 1920 129, 130, 131, 132 politics 71, 88 positioning 67, 68, 69 postmodernism 9, 14, 52–64, 69, 85–6, 109 readership 89, 233 revolution 131 Sarmatian baroque use of 9, 87, 158–9, 169, 175 and the Second World War 14, 30, 69, 88 n. 75, 100, 110, 117, 146, 146 n. 10, 152 n. 32, 155, 168 self-definition 67 self-reflexivity 14, 52, 117, 159, 237, 242 similarities with Conrad 250, 251 utopia 17, 149, 150, 175 WORKS Cosmos alterity in 221 as auto-fiction 231 as a Bildungsroman 238 conditional narrativity 220–49 as a detective story 222, 231–2, 239, 240 elements of nouveau-roman in 224–5, 226 eroticism 15, 64, 228, 240, 241 fame 250–1 Fuchs figure 240, 242 on Kant 233 Lacanian reading 239, 240, 243 linguistic play 29–30 logic of desire 238–49 metaphysics 220, 245 as music 228 narrativity 220–49, 253 obsession in 222, 225–6, 229, 240, 243, 244 opening paragraphs 228–9 readership 233 sentences of one word in 228, 242, 246, 248 significance of Warsaw 246 youth as subject-matter 221, 245 Zakopane, setting for 229, 237–8, 246 Diary as autobiography 29 described 147 linguistic style 87 Miłosz in 112–13 Polishness 68, 115–16 positioning 69 themes 108–10 and Trans-Atlantyk 147, 160 use of pronouns 111–12, 113, 114–15

as a structuralist 74 The Discourse on Language 235 The Order of Things 149, 176, 223, 234–5, 244 “What is an author” 74, 230 France Conrad in 2, 115 Gombrowicz in 30–1, 103, 116, 220, 245, 250 Gombrowicz on 85 as a Western power 141 French intellectuals 70–1 Freud, Sigmund 15, 95, 240 Frye, Northrop 81–2 Futurists, Italian 60, 63 futurity 60, 66, 113–14, 136, 197, 216 gawęda form 9, 87, 156–9, 165 Germany, Conrad on 119–20 Giedroyc, Jerzy (publisher of Kultura) 107 n. 31, 144–5 n. 4, 170, 178 Gillon, Adam 199 Gilman, Sander 184, 198 Gilroy, Paul 25, 43 n. 58 globalization 16–17, 26, 27, 54, 253–4, 255 Głowiński, Michał 184 Gombrowicz, Witold allegory in 216 alterity 153, 218 on anti-communist writers 115–16 Argentina 102–3, 110, 166, 217 attitude to power 235, 237 avant-gardism 56–7, 64, 70, 97 on class 129–30 contradiction 68 deterritorialization 52, 67, 97, 102, 110, 161 difference 38, 87, 159, 160, 170, 238 dystopia 150, 159, 236 eroticism 103, 130, 217 exile 1–2, 13–14 expatriation 100–1 fame 250–1 First World War, effect on 129–30, 131, 132 on form 23 in France 30–1, 103, 116, 220, 245, 250 on France 85 heterotopia 70, 71, 144–78, 221, 224 iconoclasm 15, 23, 31, 64, 147, 216 identity 130–1 individualism 114, 131–2, 161 influence in Poland 89 language, choice of 32, 103–4 liminality 86, 89, 103–4, 110, 151–2, 165 logos 145, 159, 165, 177, 246 marginality 13, 52, 103, 166, 168 modernism 3–4, 38 mythopoeia 132, 180, 182

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Gombrowicz, Witold: WORKS (continued) Ferdydurke 13, 67, 110–11, 129, 130 opening paragraphs 246–8 Iwona, Princess of Burgundy 67 A Kind of Testament as autobiography 29 identity 128–9 Poland 68, 161 positioning 68 social function of writings 69 Polish Memories and Travels in Argentina 7, 29, 170–1 Pornografia 106, 244 “Reply to Cioran” 107–8 Trans-Atlantyk 144–78 as allegory 171 alterity in 148, 151 as anti-utopia 149 as autobiography 29 carnivalesque in 171 construction 182 eroticism 151, 171 Gonzalo figure 150–1, 155 as heteroglossia 156 linguistic style 87 metaphysics 148, 151 as music 160 non-places 8, 167, 171, 172 Pan Cieciszowski figure 153–4 patriotism in 169 Polish language in 159–60 Polishness 68, 85–6 reading 147–8 Walka o sławę 250–1 Graham, R. B. Cunninghame 47, 188 n. 21, 210 Greaney, Michael 75, 96, 191, 192 Great Emigration, Poland 179–80 Guattari, Felix 6, 86–7, 88, 89, 149 Guerard, Albert 42, 137, 207, 208, 209–10, 212 n. 62 Guimond, James 193 Gurko, Leo 9 Hegel, Georg 55 heimlich–unheimlich dialectic 28 heteroglossia, Trans-Atlantyk as 156 heterotopia 9, 10–11, 12, 16–17, 250, 254 background 5 Conrad 39, 81, 120–1, 124, 187, 188 defined 149 Foucault 171–2, 181–2, 221 Gombrowicz 70, 71, 144–78, 221, 224 see also dystopia; utopia Hitler, Adolf 1, 100, 153 Hłasko, Marek 115 Holocaust, the 14 homecomings, Conrad 120–3

homo duplex, Conrad as 40–3, 97, 134, 136, 141–2, 210 homoeroticism, Gombrowicz 130, 217 horizon of the possible (Husserl) 95 humanist–progressivist project 222 humanities, dominant mood 25 Husserl, Edmund 95 Hutcheon, Linda 61, 62 Huyssen, Andreas 60–1 hybridity 19–20, 43–4, 108–43 iconoclasm Conrad 15, 23–4, 73, 216 defined 23 Gombrowicz 15, 23, 31, 64, 147, 216 identity 135 of authors 25 British, Conrad’s 44–5, 117 conclusion 250–6 Conrad 32–3, 41–2, 76–7, 80–1, 141–2 A Personal Record 125 and exiled writers 94 Gombrowicz 130–1 A Kind of Testament 128–9 Kołakowski on 55 mestizo 174 national 19–20 new 150 and politics 25–6 and the present 55 individualism, Gombrowicz 114, 131–2, 161 intentional fallacy 73–4 “Interhuman Church” 144 interiority–exteriority duality 34–5 intertextuality 157, 165, 174, 212 see also textuality intimacy–distance duality 34–5 Irish nationalism 42 Irish writers 22 n. 7, 46, 100 irony 63 Conrad 41, 50, 81, 122, 126, 199 works 34, 77, 197, 199–200, 218 Isherwood, Christopher The Condor and the Cows 187–8, 194 isolation, Conrad 44, 90–1, 142 Israel, Nico 26, 28, 76, 105 Jakobson, Roman 28 James, Henry 83 Jameson, Fredric 61, 64–5 The Political Unconscious 33, 37–8, 195, 210–11 Jarzębski, Jerzy 89. n. 76, 108 n. 34, 152 n. 31, 164, 220, 221, 223 Jean-Aubry, Georges 93 n. 1, 118, 123 n. 59 Jeleński, Konstanty 178 Jordan, Elaine 198

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Joyce, James 22 n. 7, 42 n. 54, 100 Ulysses 51, 57, 100 n. 16, 197–8 Juhl, P.D. 73–4 Kafka, Franz 6, 86 Kant, Immanuel 225, 233, 238 Critique of Pure Reason 233–4 Kaplan, Ann 54 Kapuściński, Ryszard 168 and 168 n. 69 Lapidaria 168 n. 69 Kermode, Frank 72, 74, 169, 225, 231 on Conrad’s narrative style 51 on Under Western Eyes 84–5 Kiš, Daniel 49 Knapp Hey, Eloise 44–5, 125, 133–4, 135–6, 141, 196 Kołakowski, Leszek 55 Korzeniowska (nee Bobrowska), Ewelina (Conrad’s mother) 133, 180 Korzeniowski (family) 41, 101 n. 17, 127–8, 133, 134 Korzeniowski, Apollo 35, 41, 80 n. 58, 122–3 Kosiński, Jerzy 49 Kozłowski, Wacław 146 Krajka, Wiesław 24 Kraków significance for Conrad 120–3, 124, 127–8, 134 Kristeva, Julia 22 n. 8, 28, 39, 233 n. 19 Kundera, Milan 27 nn. 23 and 24, 28, 49 Kurczaba, Alex 3 and 3 n. 4 Lacanian reading of Cosmos 239, 240, 243 language Conrad 49, 124–5 Nostromo 182–3 and contingency 248 and difference 93–143 displacement 39–40 and émigrés and expatriates 254 as exilic homeland 148 exilic responses 22 as non-place 149, 150 of otherness 4 Leach, Catherine 157 Leavis, F. R. 31 Legierski, Michał 67 n. 32, 146 n. 9, 223, 227 Leopold II (King of the Belgians) 76 letters see correspondence life writing 93–143 liminality Conrad 127, 136, 252 and exile 85–92 Gombrowicz 86, 89, 103–4, 110, 151–2, 165 lisibility 73, 225 literary theory 19, 74 logocentrism 5, 29

logos 18, 42 n. 54, 66, 145, 159, 232 Conrad 79, 216 Gombrowicz 145, 159, 165, 177, 246 Lutosławski–Orzeszkowa affair 45, 134, 136 Lyotard, Jean-François, La condition postmoderne 26, 61, 63 Lyotard, Jean-François, on postmodernism 61 Maciąg, Włodzimierz 30, 103 marginality Conrad 52 Gombrowicz 13, 52, 103, 166, 168 marginalization 171–8 Marin, Louis 17, 215 marine novels, Conrad 40 mariner, Conrad as 32–4, 45, 123–4, 125, 139, 140 Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso 60, 63 Marx and Marxism 23, 34, 48, 61 n. 15, 65 n. 28, 109, 111, 139 n. 82, 167, 214, 236 n. 23 Markowski, Michał Paweł 146 n. 9, 147 n. 15, 164, 166–7 n. 67 Marseille, Conrad in 24, 42–3, 102 martyrology Poland as a martyr nation 41, 155, 162, 169, 180, 181 Polish Romantic imperative 39, 106, 147, 155, 156, 200 mass culture 37, 60, 61, 76 master–subaltern binary 26, 46, 166 Maynard, Katherine Kearney 193 McHale, Brian, Postmodernist Fiction 11–12, 78, 177, 230 metaphysics Foucault 223 Judaeo-Christian 234 Miłosz 113 Cosmos 220, 227, 231–2, 234, 239, 245 Ferdydurke 247 Nostromo 184, 187, 191, 202 Notes on Life and Letters 120 The Secret Agent 252 Trans-Atlantyk 148, 151 metonymy 56, 74, 96, 135, 183, 243 Mickiewicz, Adam 85, 180 Dziady 181 Pan Tadeusz 10 Miller, Henry 99 Miłosz, Czesław 88 n. 75, 112–13, 115 The Captive Mind 115, 163 n. 53 The History of Polish Literature 233 “Notes on exile” 99 minor literature 6, 85–92, 97, 251 Młoda Polska avant-gardists 67 Möbius strip 243 modern self, Conrad 132–43

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modernism Bauman on 55 Conrad 3–4, 36–8, 71–85, 95–6, 202–3 crisis of representation 61 modernism (continued) defined 56, 57 demarcation with postmodernism 59, 62, 73 discourse thresholds, crossing 52–92 elitist, Huyssen on 60 and exiled writers 94–5 Gombrowicz 3–4, 38 and its “posts” 25–8 McHale criticised 12 McHale on 11 meta-narratives 26 Polish 67 and postmodernism 52–3, 230, 254–5 Spanos on 59 theorizing 61 worldviews 230–1 More, Thomas, Utopia 188–90 Mrożek, Sławomir 100 music Cosmos as 228 Trans-Atlantyk as 160 mythopoeia 8, 10, 184–5, 188, 215 Conrad 44, 140, 184, 212 Gombrowicz 132, 180, 182 Nabokov, Vladimir 28, 116, 232 Naipaul, V. S. 47 Najder, Zdzisław 48, 126, 137–8, 142–3 narrative style, Conrad 50–1, 81–3, 83–4, 183 narrativity of Cosmos 220–49, 253 defined 231 narrator–reader communication 106 nation-making 13, 216–17 national identity 19–20, 26, 86, 93, 179–80, 255 nationalism Conrad 42, 80–1 defined 21 master–subaltern binary 26 as a model 22 native voice, in Nostromo 190–1, 201 neo-modernism 61 Nietzsche, Friedrich 193 n. 30, 249 non-places Conrad and 49, 120, 218 of language 148, 149, 150 the sea as 120 in Nostromo 8, 188, 210 in Trans-Atlantyk 8, 167, 171, 172 nouveau-roman 30, 64, 65 Robbe-Grillet 66, 227 elements in Cosmos 224–5, 226 novel, function of 64

obsession Conrad 4, 13, 39, 43 Gombrowicz 4, 130, 147, 169, 239 in Cosmos 222, 225–6, 229, 240, 243, 244 ojczyzna (fatherland) 150, 162 ontology, of postmodern texts 11, 220–4 Opoyaz (Society for the Investigation of Poetic Language) 65 orality 96, 156, 158 Orientalism 166 n. 64 “orphaning,” and Conrad 116–28 orthodoxy–alterity dialectic 128 Orwell, George 115, 190, 195 Burmese Days 76 Orzeszkowa, Eliza, Lutosławski–Orzeszkowa affair 45, 134, 136 outlandish literature 26, 28, 78, 99, 105 parody 10, 153–5, 178, 220 Pasek, Jan Chryzostom, The Writings of Jan Chryzostom Pasek 157–8, 175 patria 69, 150, 169, 170 patriotism, in Trans-Atlantyk 169 Płonowska Ziarek, Ewa 162, 164, 177 n. 83 poetics of subjective failure 224–38 poetry 50, 61 n. 16 poets postmodern 53 Skamander group 30, 69 n. 37 Słowacki 180 see also Mickiewicz, Adam; Miłosz, Czesław Polish baroque see Sarmatian baroque Polish language, in Trans-Atlantyk 159–60 politics Conrad 34–5, 47–8, 80, 119–20, 127, 140–1 of exile 100 Gombrowicz 71, 88 and identity 25–6 of language, in Nostromo 179–219 of place 170–1 and textuality 25 Poradowska, Marguerite (Conrad’s aunt) 40 positioning Conrad 49–51, 72, 74–5, 252 Gombrowicz 67, 68, 69 positivism 34, 45, 50, 224, 241, 246 postmodernism Bürger on 54–5, 56–7 and culture 63 defined 56, 59 demarcation with modernism 52–3, 59, 62, 73 dominant discourse 56 enquiry 230 Gombrowicz 4, 14, 52–64, 69, 85, 86, 109 Trans-Atlantyk 9 Hutcheon on 61, 62

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Jameson on 61 Kaplan on 54 Lyotard on 61 McHale criticised 12 McHale on 11 and modernism 254–5 narrative style 232 ontology of a text 220–4 Spanos on 59 transition from modernism 230 poststructuralism 235 see also structuralism poststructuralists 74, 234 see also structuralists power–knowledge–language nexus, Foucault 132–3, 235–6 progress–entropy binary 218 progressivist–humanist project 222 Queneau, Raymond, Exercices de style 9 radio, Polish émigré 170 reader–narrator communication 106 readership Conrad 39–40, 75, 208–10, 211, 212, 215–16 Gombrowicz 89, 233 realism 38, 57, 60, 65, 73, 83 relativism, cultural 86, 112, 172 revolution and Conrad 3, 32, 34–5, 133, 195 parents” experience 39, 41, 44, 45, 133 Nostromo 185–6, 192, 199, 203, 213–14, 251 discourses of 26, 60, 195, 218 in Gombrowicz 131 Robbe-Grillet, Alain 224, 226–7 The Erasers/Les Gommes 65–6, 232 Jealousy 65–7, 225 For a New Novel 227 Roberts, Andrew Michael 58 Romantic Idealism 60 Romanticism 40, 170, 227 n. 10 in Conrad 208, 213, 251 European 180 Polish 50, 168, 180, 237, 251, 253 Polish Romantic martyrological imperative 39, 106, 147, 155, 156, 200 Polish romantic mythopoeia 44, 86 Roux, Dominique de 108–9, 148 Rushdie, Salman 47, 49 n. 74, 253, 255 Russia Bolshevik invasion of Poland 130–1 Conrad on 120, 132–3 Russian autocracy, Conrad’s views 39, 80–1, 126 Russian Formalists 64–5, 83

Said, Edward 8, 21, 25, 38, 43 n. ?, 46, 72 n. 41, 74, 91, 107, 118–19, 166 n. 63, 193, 198 “Reflections on exile” 98–9 The World, the Critic and the Text 106 Sarmatian baroque 9, 158, 175 use by Gombrowicz 9, 87, 158–9, 169, 175 Sartre, Jean-Paul 181, 183, 251 Schwarz, Daniel 36, 83 n. 64, 132 Schulz, Bruno 30 Schütz, Alfred 58 n. 12 sea, as a non-place 33 Second World War, effects of 14, 60, 61, 62 selection 135 self-definition Conrad 132 Gombrowicz 67 self-reflexivity 62, 66, 72 in Conrad 52, 78, 117, 139, 183 in Gombrowicz 14, 52, 117, 159, 237, 242 sentences, of one word in Cosmos 228 Sherry, Norman 37–8 n. 50, 132 ship plots, Conrad 33–4, 39 Shklovsky, Victor 64–5 Sienkiewicz, Henryk, Trilogy 10, 116 n. 45 Skamander group 30, 67 skaz narrative (Bakhtin) 156–7 Słowacki, Juliusz 180 social commentary 37, 83 social didactism 58, 83 Society for the Investigation of Poetic Language, The (Opoyaz) 65 South America 8, 10, 184 see also Argentina Spanos, William 59, 232 speech, Conrad’s 35 Stalinism 65 n. 28, 115 Stanley, Sir Henry Morton 76 Stasiuk, Andrzej 168 and 168 n. 69 Steiner, George 26, 74, 96 n. 8 Stoker, Bram 46 structuralism 64, 73 see also poststructuralism structuralists 30–1, 64, 66–7, 73, 74 see also poststructuralists subaltern–master binary 26, 46, 166 Sur group (of Argentine writers and intellectuals), the 30, 166 synczyzna (son’s land) 150 Tarnawski, Wit M. 134–5 territoriality, in Nostromo 179–219 textual blindness 7, 169 textual confrontation 145–6 textuality 4, 12, 25, 66 see also intertextuality Thompson, Ewa 9 n. 12, 23, 67 n. 33, 100 n. 16, 102 n. 21, 157, 158, 159

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time 58, 58 n. 12, 79, 183–4 Tokarczuk, Olga 168 n. 69 transcendental logic (Kant) 234 translators, task of 114 transnationalism 21, 22 Tynyanov, Yuri 65 Tyrmand, Leopold 115–16 unhousedness 97, 187 utopia 5, 8, 17, 215 carnivalesque utopianism 5, 149 in Conrad 34–5, 39, 190–1, 194, 215 in Gombrowicz 17, 149, 150, 175 see also dystopia; heterotopia Warsaw Bolshevik invasion 130–1 significance for Conrad 127 significance in Cosmos 246 Wat, Aleksander 67

Watt, Ian 132, 187–8 Watts, Cedric 43, 44, 78, 183, 188 n. 21 White, Hayden 14 Wilde, Oscar 46, 53, 83 Williams, Merle 78–9 Witkiewicz, S. I. 30 Wohl, Robert 62 Woolf, Virginia 58, 82, 90 “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” 94 n. 2 youth as a social group 110 as subject-matter of Cosmos 221, 245 Zakopane, setting for Cosmos 229, 237–8, 246 Zamoyski, Adam, The Polish Way (1987) 168 n. 71 Žižek, Slavoj 184, 233 Looking Awry 231

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