Witold Gombrowicz with Bożena Shallcross
April 1, 2021
Episode 3 and video recordings are available at:
Polish Cultural Institute New York YouTube
Encounters with Polish Literature is a new video series for anyone interested in literature and the culture of books and reading. Each month, host David A. Goldfarb will present a new topic in conversation with an expert on that author or book or movement in Polish literature. More about the Encounters with Polish Literature series and the timeline.
Witold Gombrowicz (1904-69) was born to a family of the Polish gentry, and after writing his play, Princess Ivona of Burgundia (1935) and publishing his major novel, Ferdydurke (1937), he was invited as a writer to report on the maiden voyage of the cruise ship, Chrobry in 1939. While aboard, the Germans invaded Poland, marking the outbreak of the Second World War. He disembarked in Argentina, unable to return to Poland during the war and after the transition to Communism. He worked in a bank, associating with writers in Buenos Aires and continuing to write novels and plays in Polish as well as his Diary in which he engaged in a struggle for self-definition in the face of conservative ideas of Polish nationalism among his fellow émigrés. In 1963 he returned to Europe on a Ford Foundation grant, first to Berlin, and then to France where he was embraced by Paris intellectuals, writing his last novel, Cosmos (1965), and play, Operetta (1966). This episode of “Encounters” focuses on the novels, Ferdydurkeand Trans-Atlantyk (1953 and 1957), and we examine his conflict with what he saw as ossified forms of cultural life among the Polish gentry, and his attempts to maintain his identity as a Polish exile in Buenos Aires and as a gay man in a closeted era.
For students interested in advanced study of Polish literature and culture, Prof. Shallcross describes the academic program in Polish studies at the University of Chicago.
Slavic Department at the University of Chicago
Eastern Europe at the Center for Eastern Europe and Russian/Eurasian Studies
Recommended readings by Gombrowicz in English:
A Kind of Testament. Ed. Dominique De Roux. Tr. Alastair Hamilton. Urbana-Champaign, Ill.: Dalkey Archive, 2007.
Bacacay. Tr. Bill Johnston. New York: Archipelago Books, 2004.
Cosmos. Tr. Danuta Borchardt. New York: Grove Pr., 2011.
Diary. 3 vols. Tr. Lillian Vallee. Preface by Rita Gombrowicz. New Haven: Yale University Pr., 2012.
Ferdydurke. Tr. Danuta Borchardt. Foreword by Susan Sontag. New Haven: Yale University Pr., 2012.
A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes. Tr. Benjamin Ivry. New Haven: Yale University Pr., 2012.
Polish Memories. Tr. Bill Johnston. New Haven: Yale University Pr., 2011.
Pornografia. Tr. Danuta Borchardt. New York: Grove Pr., 2010.
Possessed, or The Secret of Myslotch. Tr. J.A. Underwood. London: Marion Boyars, 1988.
Three Plays: Ivona, The Marriage and Operetta. Tr. Krystyna Griffith-Jones, Catherine Robins and Louis Iribarne. London: Marion Boyars, 1998.
Trans-Atlantyk. Tr. Danuta Borchardt. New Haven: Yale University Pr., 2014.
Trans-Atlantyk. Tr. Carolyn French and Nina Karsov. Intro. by Stanisław Barańczak. New Haven: Yale University Pr., 1994.
Also discussed in this episode:
Memoirs of The Polish Baroque: The Writings of Jan Chryzostom Pasek, A Squire of the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania. Ed. and Tr. Catherine S. Leach. Berkeley: University of California Pr., 1976. (Consult a research library or interlibrary loan to request a copy).
Online galleries of baroque coffin portraits mentioned in the episode:
“The Dead Look at Us as if They Were Alive,” examples from Muzeum Ziemi Międzyrzeckiej im. Alfa Kowalskiego (in Polish)
Culture.pl (in Polish)
Wikipedia (in Polish)
Wikipedia (in English)
Bożena Shallcross (University of Chicago)
Bożena Shallcross is a professor of Polish literature and Polish-Jewish cultural studies in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago, as well as an essayist, translator and art critic. She published several monographs, edited and translated volumes of texts by various authors, as well as numerous articles, in which she has explored an intersection of the once fundamental division between the seeing subject and the objectual sphere in literature, the visual arts, and the phenomenal world. Her research has taken her from the late stage of Polish symbolist poetry and its ekphrastic reassessments of Western European visual arts to the late modernist destabilization of the poetic subject and art-object divide, which she explored from the perspective of (post)sublime encounters, the scene of writing, and spatial modes of habitation. Currently, she is working on two book-length projects: a study on the Kulmhof-am-Ner survivors and a volume on inscriptions. Among her grants, fellowships and awards, she appreciates most The Polish Government’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Promoting Polish Culture in the World awarded in 2002.
David A. Goldfarb
David A. Goldfarb is an independent scholar of Polish literature and literary theory, a literary translator from Polish to English, and a liaison for Polish authors to US publishers. In 2018 he translated feature articles and interviews from Wysokie Obcasy—the weekly women’s supplement to Poland’s main independent daily paper Gazeta Wyborcza—for Newsmavens.com, a pan-European women’s news portal. From mid-2010 to the end of 2013, he was Curator of Literature and Humanities Programming at the Polish Cultural Institute New York, a diplomatic mission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland. Prior to that he served as Assistant Professor of Slavic Literatures and Comparative Literature at Barnard College, Columbia University.
He holds a doctorate in Comparative Literature from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York as well as an M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Toronto, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Cornell University and Deep Springs College. He has published articles on Bruno Schulz, Zbigniew Herbert, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Mikhail Lermontov, and East European cinema in such journals as East European Politics and Societies, Indiana Slavic Studies, Philosophy and Literature, Prooftexts, The Polish Review, Slavic and East European Performance, and Jewish Quarterly, and he has published book chapters on Jozef Wittlin, Witold Gombrowicz, and Nikolai Gogol and Giuseppe Arcimboldo. He has written the introduction and notes for Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych” and Other Stories and Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons for the Barnes and Noble Classics series, and for the Penguin Classics edition of the The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories by Bruno Schulz.
Bartek Remisko, Executive Producer
David A. Goldfarb, Host & Producer
Natalia Iyudin, Producer
This project is part of 21-anniversary celebration of Polish Cultural Institute New York.