Friday, May 25, 2012

WITOLD GOMBROWICZ. Museums and Books as Cemeteries


Museums and books as cemeteries

Lilia responded the other day to a beautiful black/white photo from Venice which I had put on Facebook of her (age 18) feeding pigeons in San Marco when we had left Sofia in April of 1968, “I remember being happy to leave Bulgaria but the black and white photograph makes me seem like I am dead…”

Yale University Press by reprinting in a beautiful fat paperback an up-dated complete edition of the Diaries of WITOLD GOMBROWICZ has done a singular important, essential and remarkable job.  GOMBROWICZ in his diaries contradicts, stands athwart the constant infantilizing of the world.  The Diaries remind us what it is to think, beholding to no power other than the power contained in one human individual brain, a brain that does not forget, that owes nothing to any cause or any party or faction or group.  Free of the temptation of nostalgia in knowing that no time is better than any other time, Gombrowicz is as is said, his own man, “We are not, I said, the direct heirs of past greatness or insignificance, intelligence or stupidity, virtue or sin and each person is responsible only for himself.  Each is himself.”
No one reading this blog is likely to be unfamiliar with WG’s writings…  FERDURKE, PORNOGRAFIA…the plays THE MARRIAGE, OPERETTA… and so much more.  I have long been taken with WG’s idea that when I talk to you and you talk to me I begin to talk to the imagine that I have of you just as you begin to talk to the image I have of you and gradually it is those two images, those two inventions are talking and if one is able to step back one enjoys the comedy…
Here I think is a perfect example from 1953 while he is living in Argentina of what I go to Gombrowicz for:
I do not believe, therefore, that death is man’s real problem or that an art that is entirely permeated by it is completely authentic.  Our real issue is growing old, that aspect of death that we experience daily.  Perhaps not even growing old but the fact that it is so completely, so terribly cut off from beauty.  Our gradual dying does not disturb us, it is rather that the beauty of life becomes inaccessible to us.  At the cemetery I spotted a young boy walking among the graves like a being from another world, mysteriously and abundantly blooming while we looked like paupers.  It struck me, however, that I did not feel our helplessness as something categorically inevitable. 
And I liked this feeling in myself at once.  I hang onto those thoughts and feeling that I like.  I am incapable of feeling or thinking anything that would compete annihilate me.  So that even here I followed this line of thinking which, because it derived from me, created hope.  Was it really impossible to bind old age to life and youth?  That artificiality, to which I am becoming more and more accustomed in man, that idee fixe, which grows so gradually and so reluctantly in me, the thought that the terrifying concreteness of our form is not the only possibility, makes the world supple.  If at one time I had believed that everything had already been said, today I am surrounded by endless combinations of ideas and forms and everything around me becomes fertile (Here I would like to note that I searched for a half hour for the sentence which will appear below because , as always, I am trying to formulate a problem without knowing whether a solution is possible and I did not really think the issue through at the cemetery.)
According to me, youth at the core of its spirit does not like its own beauty and defends itself against it, and that distrust of its own beauty is more beautiful than beauty itself and contains the only possibility of overcoming of the distance that kills.”
I have been transferring my little pencil markings from my battered hardcover editions of Gombrowicz’s DIARY to this new edition to which have been added  pages and the parts that were slashed in an now mistaken effort to not give offense to the communist bosses in Poland.
Are Museums cemeteries?  The more I think about this it becomes obvious beyond argument.  I was thinking of the Metropolitan in New York City, The  National Gallery in London, add any of the other big one… those large warehouses…
But then there are The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum and probably near you too some variety of a museum devoted to “modern” art.  Also near you if you live in a large city is the Medical Examiner’s Office or the Coroner’s office… truth to say I see little real difference between these guys with their refrigerated shelving and the frigid rooms people hurry through at MOMA for instance in New York .
Recently at the Stein show in New York and one walks through rooms of Picasso and Matisse… and then on to the part of the museum with the 19th century art that seems not to be “impressionist”
One wishes to lives another two hundred years and to discover that people then decide that Impressionism was just another peculiar episode in the history of art, a history… and just that word: history…
The large international art museums, the Met, the National Gallery in London, the Louvre seem to be always moving the paintings about:  paintings are not fixed to certain walls… of course in the Louvre due to the size of certain paintings this is not the case but still even there paintings move and then there are the constant temporary shows which seem always unnecessary in this age of easy travel.  Why shouldn’t people be required to just go to museums to see works of art rather than having museums mount these shows and show is the exact word… like Broadway show, like the times for showing the movie…
Of course we will hear of what a wonderful benefit it is to everyone to gather for a short period of time many works by a certain artist… or even more curious a curator will decided to stage an idea or a theme… and then gather from many collections…
Jacques Rigaut--- the discover of Lord Patchogue--- when he came to the US in the 1920  announced that he was a museum and preceded to reveal the treasures that he carried in his pockets, stored for safe keeping in match boxes… thus he established the pathetic uselessness of museums…  these vast overcoats if only they knew--- rooms instead of pockets stuffed with art…
All museums seem like supermarkets… but does one really have to go on?
The only movable show  I can approve of is when the Met puts up its Baroque Christmas tree, for that season, there midst looted medieval altar pieces… though I am going to the Met then to visit the memory of going there with my children…

Picture and word books about obscure places are always interesting, at least to me.  I have never exhausted the Salton Sea, Tombstone, Patchogue, NY, northern Wisconsin and from Nebraska University Press comes LIKE NO OTHER PLACE The Sandhills of Nebraska by David A. Owen.  Like many narratives of such places, there is the accident of arriving, the meeting with people and then the staying or the coming back… a modest book of a modest place--- twenty thousand square miles out there somewhere in Nebraska but then everything is somewhere out there when living in Manhattan, NYC.
The acknowledgments go on for two pages which seems a little much for a book of 145 pages and when I looked at the photographs… mostly pleasant snap shots of people met  but who one can imagine are now aging and some might be dead and others have the book put away somewhere not wanting to be reminded or if reminded… that was when…  but  the pictures of the  emptiness of the land, a land devoid of people  and even of animals, black and white, not posed, not shaped by some academic theory, modest, not done on glossy paper:  clouds and land with the absence of trees.  I would have been happy with just that as Owen goes astray when he takes camera inside and shows us details and in all those acknowledgements no a mention of Wright Morris who discovered and showed us all what he found inside in Nebraska.  But the last words from David A. Owen, “Once you are in Ellsworth, you are almost immediately out of it and back into the bush…”
Of course all places are like no other place.