Saturday, June 23, 2012

ET Almanac


My independence, self-sufficiency, or even frivolous impudence, my taking potshots at everyone, universal provocation and exclusive reliance on myself – all of this was a result of my social and geographical situation. I was forced not to pay attention to anyone because no one paid any attention to me – I was formed in almost complete isolation – then I was crushed by the war – then I was put on the censor's index by the Communist regime – and here, in Argentina, I was deprived of even a literary cafe, of even a group of artist friends in whose bosom every gypsy, innovator, and avant-gardist can curl up in the cities of Europe. I became bold because I had absolutely nothing to lose; neither honors, nor earnings, nor friends. I had to find myself anew and rely only on myself, because I could rely on no one else. My form is my solitude.


To be nature or against it? The thought that man is contradictory to nature, something beyond and in opposition to it, will soon cease being an elitist thought. It will reach even the peasants. It will penetrate the entire human race from top to bottom. What then? When the last reserves of "naturalness" deriving from the lower strata exhaust themselves?

Yesterday evening a neighbor, Tadeusz Czerwinski, came to visit and right off began to tell us something, but we were not listening closely and his narrative took shape very slowly . . . Dus's hounds (we finally understood him to say) had run into Garanio's field and attacked a sow. Garanio had jumped out with a shotgun, killed one of the hounds and wounded another – the rest escaped. I am giving only the crux of the narration, which was rich in branches, like a tree.

Dus ran out onto the porch with a flashlight, and the golden hounds, as usual, rose at seeing him and surrounded him. But there were only five--Step and one young hound, by Saeta, were missing.

Thirteen year old Andrea burst into tears. Dus's rancor – rising like the song of Isolde – prevailed over all else. He would have exchanged his most beloved horses for Step. He had a desperate face – and this was a face that was strangely weakened, like the face of a small child — weakened perhaps by the pettiness of that despair, on account of a mere dog . . . for which he could not demand full recognition from us.

He took a revolver out of a drawer — got on a horse — and a gallop bore him away into the nice. We waited, disturbed and helpess in the face of the anger that vanished into the fields, carried off by a horse. Would he kill Garanio for killing the dog? No, it didn’t end that badly. Dus, upon arriving at Garanio’s estancia and seeing Garanio’s dogs, wanted to shoot them — but the estanciero came running out and bgan asking his forgiveness, explaining that he had acted in defense of a sow, whom the dogs would have torn to pieces. So the anger left poor Dus and only sorrow for his most faithful dog remained: Why did you do this to me? He asked. I have always been a good neighbor. He left. He began searching for the bodies in the night. He found them. It turned out that Step was still alive. Hidden in the bushes, he was dying. He was brought home on that strange sleigh that one uses here on the ground as one might elsewhere on snow.

Dus, Jacek Debicki, Miss Jeanne, and I went to the stable — there was the dog, gasping and shaking spasmodically. Council: cut short his agony? His suffering was terrifying — and he was locked in it, inaccessible to us, separate, alone.

The scene that disturbed me: night, the stable, all of us practically in the dark hovering over an unleashed, diabolical pain. We were capable of putting an end to this . . . . It would have been enough to shoot. Would we shoot? We, four human beings “from another world” a higher world, four demons from antinature, four antidogs. The only thing that joined us to this creature was our understanding of its pain—we knew the taste.

Should we put an end to the torment? A vote. But this demands a more detailed narrative.

The first antidog, Miss Jeanne. Handsome, twenty years old multi-millionaire parents, herself shuttled from Paris to Rome, from Rome to London to the States, on ships, airplanes, first-rate schools, luxurious institutes, always different, out of which she has gotten nothing except the five languages she wields like a native. Which language does she think in? Lxurious — and a Communis—because luxurious—from the excess, the surfeit . . . . Sober, energetic, spunky — modern and an atheist. Seeing her bent over the dog, I realized Communist justice, just like Catholic justice, does not include animals. Within this doctrine humanity ends with man. It forbids the exploitation of animals. Which is, let us add, incomprehensible. It is not all well and good. For if religion casts animals into the margin, as soulless, then materialism acknowledges no basic difference between this suffering matter and human mater . . . . How then will Miss Jeanne act toward the suffering dog — if her reasoned morality has nothing to say? What will she do?

She made a female of herself! Strange . . . in a wink, she undressed herself . . . not so much of her communism, but of her humanity. She suddenly changed into a female – she took refuge in her sex . . . what a sudden eruption of gender into the realm of pain, as if gender could cope somehow with the pain . . . . She became a female, that is, love, that is, pity. She bent over the dog with a mother’s tenderness. It is possible that as a female she could do more than as a human being? Or did she retreat into her sex in order to escape her own humanity?

When she became a woman, however, death seemed worse than pain to her. She began to love the dog cruelly — demanding his life even at the price of his pain. – No, no — she said, trembling. – Don’t kill him!

The second antidog from a higher human sphere, Jacek Debicki. A zealous Catholic. Yet his Catholicism is as useless here as Miss Jeanne’s communism. Nor is God a factor. There is no salvation for the dog. And hence my impression that in leaning over the dog, he was leaning away from God – he is now “face to face” with the dog and therefore not “face to face” with God. An entirely different register of existence. He is “with the dog” as if, giving up his immortal soul, he put himself on its level, identified with it in its suffering. And out of the blue an animal — rebellious and blasphemous—terror of pain mounts in him. But what do I see? I see (because I almost saw this, rather, I “knew” this) that in another register he is not getting rid of even an iota of his Roman Catholic dignity, and the terror changes into pity . . . a legalized . . . civilized . . . well brought up . . . ah, I almost forgot that God, himself ruthless to animals, allows man to pity them — so he is allowed; he even has the “approval” of the Church! But the humanity that he rediscovered in himself is not a fraternal socializing with the animal but with his own humanity, that is, with his feeling of the dog’s pain from on high — from the distance of that soul — and, what’s more, he again possesses an element of nonchalance and cruelty. The decision he makes will be dictated by three considerations: first of all, by his animal compassion, which is almost wild, spontaneous; second, by his more human and spiritualized calculation that the soulless life of a dog is not of great significance; and third (a thought even more spiritual), that one should end this ordeal — which is somewhat embarrassing to God and the soul — as soon as possible.

Kill him — he said. – He won’t make it.

The third antidog. Me. For me, there is no higher authority. Even the dog doesn’t exist. Only a piece of suffering matter writhing before me. Unbearable. I cannot stand it. Gripped by the suffering in this stable, I demand that an end be put to it. Kill him! Kill him! Stop the machine of pain! Let this not be! There is nothing else one can do, just this! But this we can do!

The fourth antidog Dus. Agronomist, landowner, a hunter, sportsman, horseman, and lover of hounds. Between him and us — a complete disharmony; he is from a different reality. He is not afraid of pain “as such,” as I am. He does not seek universal justice, like this Catholic or that Communist. He disregards abstractions, does not grasp them, does not want to. He exists among creatures of flesh and blood, he is a creature among creatures, a body among bodies. In the depths of his spirit, he does not know what equality is. He is the master. He has come to love this dog; therefore, he would, without a scruple, sentence forty million ants and ten thousand whales to suffer . . . if it would bring relief to the dog. For this creature close to him, he is ready for any sacrifice but he does not want to know everything, identify with everything, he wants to remain within the circle of his own limited feeling. He would rather not see what is beyond his gaze. And he has come to love the dog with the love of a master. He loves the dog because it adores him — he loves the canine adoration in the dog. Therefore, the egoism of the master and ruler, the aristocratic feeling born of a ruthless human superiority, all of nature exists for him, it serves him, he, subordinating to himself all inferior beings, is the dispenser of favors. And he seemed to me to the be the most “anti” of all of us – in that dark stable, leaning over the dog, the absolute king of creation, proclaiming, everything exists for me.

But perhaps this is the most consistent with nature. And if the dog could understand, he would understand him, not us!

With the delicacy of a griefstricken mother, he said: Let us wait. Perhaps he won’t die.

It is a fierce love that prolongs agony in order to save the dog – for itself.

This dramatic scene would not have been so tense and urgent if not for the wheezing of the dog, his eyes following our every move.


I met an Austrian at Pocz Oddone’s. An architect. He clamors for urban planning and rationally aesthetic, functional interiors, etc. I told him that people had more important concerns than aesthetics. I also said that an excessively subtle sense of beauty can get us into deep trouble! To explain to the average member of the middle class that his mirrored dresser, commode, and little curtains are frippery would make life altogether repugnant to him. We, in our poverty, could use a more universal skill – the discovery of beauty in everything, even in frippery.

He didn’t understand me. Conceited. European. Didactic. Educated. Modern. Architect.

Witold Gombrowicz - Diary 

No comments:

Post a Comment