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Pampelan on the tube

Pampelan w tubie


“Not ‘Sir’ not ‘Sir,’ my son! Let me touch you! Not ‘Sir,’ not ‘Sir!’”


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To kill one’s father: The Oedipal complex was symbolic in certain works of Witold Gombrowicz’s younger days.

The story Pampelan on the tube was first published in 1937 in the Warsaw journal Zwierciadło (Mirror). It did not see republication until 1973, four years after the writer’s death, in the Varia, by Kultura of Paris, Gombrowicz’s editor in Polish.

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From the 1920s, radio became a very popular mode of communication.

The Draga family, the elite of the Polish aristocracy, experiences a scandal: one of its offspring, the miserable Maciej Junior, is not living up to the splendor, glory, and honor of his name. His debut into grand society happens on the occasion of a banquet, where the distinguished guests and hosts commune via radio—the “tube” of the title—in celebration of History and Heroism, incarnated by a pompous and ridiculous royal marriage. Maciej makes a fool of himself. At first, he is disowned by his family—but, in the end, becomes the most grandiose of all upon disowning his father.

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Gombrowicz’s fascination for royal families and society events was amplified by their increasing presence in radio, cinema, and the popular press. The great, famous marriages of the 1920s and ’30s: Leopold and Astrid of Belgium; Princess Ingrid marries Prince Frederick of Norway; the marriage of the Duke of Gloucester.

The invented name of “Pampelan” is one of the many onomastic games that Witold Gombrowicz loved to use to embellish his stories, more often than not to accentuate their grotesque natures. As inspiration for this particular invention, we can look to the theme of ridiculous-sounding names being given to a person who would be majestic. There is also a reference to the city Pampelune, formerly Pompelopolis, the Pantaleon (a musical instrument), and/or the Polish word for extraordinarily large men’s pants.


 Excerpt: It is precisely at this time that in one of the bordering countries, the wedding of Teresa Maria Adelaida, daughter of the king, to the famous national hero General Pampelan was celebrated. The nation clung to this occasion with an unparalleled elevation of spirits; and the people waited for three days in the streets to catch just a single glimpse of the beloved silhouette of this great historic figure at the front of the procession. Never had a private sexual union been carried on the shoulders of millions, at such heights, never had a moment been so historic in its consequences as this one; and the old general and Count Draga decided to honor these grandiose marriage celebrations, distance notwithstanding, with a forty-plate reception. A radio perched on a small column in the dining room was to retransmit the happenings of the ceremony, the guests toasting the adequate moments, and all of this was to happen on a grand scale in space and time, with respect to the radio and to history, with this horizontal momentum that had long characterized the Dragas and had always spared them the eruption of pimples.

Polish editions
Foreign editions