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My world collapsed and promptly reset itself according to the rules of a conventional prof. I could not pounce on him because he was seated. For no apparent reason, sitting itself assumed a prime importance and became an obstacle to everything else. Not knowing what to do or how to behave I fidgeted in my seat, moved my leg, looked around at the walls and bit my nails, while he went on sitting, logically and consistently, his seat fairly and squarely filled with that of a prof, reading. This went on for a terribly long time. Minutes weighed on me like hours, seconds stretched and stretched making me feel like someone trying to drink the ocean through a straw.

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Poster by Jerzy Czerniawski.

Do you know what it feels like to be diminished within someone else? Oh, to be diminished within an aunt is unseemly enough, but to be diminished with a huge, commonplace prof is the peak of unseemly diminishment. I noticed that the prof was like a cow grazing on my greenness. It’s a strange feeling—to see a prof nibbling at the green of your meadow, which is actually your apartment, to see him sitting in your chair and reading—yet actually nibbling and grazing. Something terrible was happening to me, and, at the same time, I was surrounded by something stupid and brazenly unreal.

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Drawing by Andrzej Mleczko for the program of a stage adaptation of Ferdydurke by Bogdan Husakowski, Łódź, 1986

“And are we familiar with the spirit of the times? How about the spirit of Hellenic civilization? And the Gallic, and the spirit of moderation and good taste? And the spirit of the sixteenth century bucolic writer, known only to myself, who was the first to use the word ‘umbilicus’? And the spirit of language? Should one say ‘use’ or ‘utilize?’” His questions caught me by surprise. Ten thousand spirits suddenly smothered my spirit, I mumbled that I didn’t know, he then pressed on: what did I know about the spirit of the poet Kasprowicz and his attitude toward the peasantry, he then asked about the historian Lelewel’s first love. I cleared my throat and quickly glanced at my nails—they were blank, no crib notes there. I turned my head as if expecting someone to prompt me. But of course there was no one there. What a nightmare, for God’s sake! What was happening? O God! I quickly turned my head back to its usual position and looked at him, but with a gaze that was no longer mine. It was the gaze of a schoolboy scowling childishly and filled with hatred. I was suddenly seized with an inappropriate and rather old-fashioned itch—to hit the prof with a spitball right in the nose.

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Silliness, child’s play, the duel of grimaces: Gombrowicz’s caricature of the world of schoolchildren. Drawings by Michał Braniewski.

Farewell, O Spirit, farewell, my oeuvre only just begun, farewell genuine form, my very own, and hail, hail, oh terrible and infantile form, so callow and green! Tritely proffed by him, I ran in mincing steps by the side of the giant prof who muttered on: “Chirp, chirp, little chickie … The sniffling little nose … I love, ee, ee […]” Ahead of us a refined lady was walking her little pinscher on a leash, the dog growled, pounced on Pimko, ripped his trouser leg, Pimko yelled, expressed an unfavorable opinion of the dog and its owner, pinned his trouser leg with a safety pin, and we walked on.
—Ferdydurke, Chapter 1: “Abduction” [Trans. Borchardt]