“And if Pornografia is an attempt to revive Polish eroticism?”
Such is the question Witold Gombrowicz asked himself in his Diary (1960) concerning his third novel, which holds the most provocative title of all.
In A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux, Witold Gombrowicz explains: “My works ‘come about,’ they ‘happen’ to be written, they almost write themselves. And Pornografia became a necessity.”
“Pornografia. Pulling two older men down ... into the body, the senses, the juvenile ... when I was writing this, I felt vague. But I needed ‘physics,’ it was indispensable as a counterweight to metaphysics. And the reverse—metaphysics cried out for the body. I do not believe in a non-erotic philosophy. I do not trust thought that frees itself of sex... .”
—Diary, 1960 [Trans. Vallee]
«But between us there was nothing but indifference, a cold hostility. He was alien to me, he disgusted me! A dog, a horse, a chicken, even a maggot would have appealed to me more than this adult, worn man, with his life history written on his face—an adult hates adults! Nothing more disgusting for a man than another man—I mean, of course, elderly men with their life history written on their face.»
When Witold Gombrowicz begins writing Pornografia in 1955, at the same moment he quit his job at the Banco Polaco in Buenos Aires, he is a confirmed writer. At this point, he has written two published novels, Ferdydurke and Trans-Atlantyk, and two plays, Ivona, Princess of Burgundia and The Marriage, as well as Bacacay, his collection of stories..
The novel is finished in 1958 and published in June 1960 by Witold Gombrowicz’s usual editor, Jerzy Giedroyc, at the Literary Institute at Maisons-Laffitte, outside Paris.
In Poland, Pornografia first officially appeared in 1986 in Volume IV of the Complete Works, Ed. Wydawnictwo Literackie, Krakow.
Translated into French by Georges Lipowski, the novel is published by Julliard’s prestigious “Lettres nouvelles” collection, directed by Maurice Nadeau, in 1962, with a preface by the author.
Certain first foreign editions carried the title Seduction with Witold Gombrowicz’s consent. Later, however, all translations were required to take the original title.
However secondary within the text, the aspects of the war and of the Resistance that Witolf Gombrowicz touched upon in Pornografia struck many of his Polish readers as a double provocation: in Argentina, Gombrowicz was completely sheltered from the war in Europe. Even more, his preceding novel Trans-Atlantyk had already been seen as an attempt upon the nationalist sentiment. In spite of the author’s introduction, the book prompted furious debates.