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Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz
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Ferdydurke (1937)

by Witold Gombrowicz

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8811210,055 (3.83)56
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» See also 56 mentions

English (11)  French (1)  All languages (12)
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
I wondered a bit about where to start with comments about this one, but it's the sort of thing you just have to dive right into. The plot defies description - the narrator, a man of 30, is dragged back to middle school and treated as if he is a child. Everyone refuses to listen to his protests that he's actually an adult, and pat him on the head and infantilize him at every turn.

Immaturity, new vs. old, conformity and indoctrination into what is considered "good art" are a few of the topics and themes that Gombrowicz tackles throughout the novel. I liked the book in the beginning, and then the style started to wear thin for me in the middle. It picked back up toward the end, though, and I was definitely glad I read it. It's good to get a mental workout from a book where the style is at least as importance as the substance, and I also found it quite quotable.

Recommended for: fans of Tristram Shandy.

Quote: "Is this why an author tries to show his skill in the way he constructs his work, so that an expert may show off his expertise on the subject?" ( )
  ursula | Sep 30, 2014 |
Like Sartre's Nausea, only good. ( )
1 vote palaverofbirds | Mar 29, 2013 |
This book is, as Susan Sontag in the Introduction says, "an epic in defense of immaturity", and it is like no other. Gombrowicz insists on the word immaturity, and not youth, because it represents something unattractive, something inferior. Thus being, how can such a book grab us? But grab me it did, as I was in turns amused, repelled, entertained, annoyed, mostly provoked by the idea of immaturity as embodied by Joey (can a name be more annoying than this?) and his friends. I read on, more out of curiousity at how much more bizarre and eccentric things can turn, how twistedness and contrariness can continue to be served up without the author exhausting the themes with repetition. But Gombrowicz is not the master for nothing, and the excellent translation captured the nuances and moods, that the reading (including a couple of chapters which were more like essays by the writer on writing), was a pleasure and an experience in itself.

Joey is a 17-year old schoolboy, recently 30-year old writer who was torn between his obsession of projecting an image of serious maturity to the outside world through his writing and his inability to let go of his infantile self.

But I was, alas, a juvenile, and juvenility was my only cultural institution. Caught and held back twice - first by my childish past, which I could not forget, and the second time by the childishness of other people's notions of me, a caricature that had sunk into their souls - I was the melancholy prisoner of all that is green, why, an insect in a deep, dense thicket.

Joey's transformation into his juvenile self occurred as a result of his abduction by a professor Pimko into an absurd world where everything was grotesque, upside down and inside out -- the big was small, the small monstrously big, the shapes unnatural, gestures outrageous, actions manic, and reasoning absurd. Here, he could let himself go; the more infantile one was, the better. Pimko takes him to a schoolyard full of sniveling brats where his idiotic pupa paralyzes him amidst their infantile tricks, violence and teenage braggadocio. (In the translator's notes, "pupa" is described as Gombrowicz's metaphor for the gentle, insidious, but infantilizing and humiliation that human beings inflict on one another, or belittlement.) Here, it is the vilest, most disgusting, and most distorted expressions and behaviour that are rewarded. After a while he realizes he has to run away, lest he fall prey to all this freakishness.

Yet instead of running away I wiggled my toe inside my shoe, and the wiggling paralyzed me and foiled my intentions to run, because how was I to run while I was still wiggling my toe...?...All I needed was - the will to run. But I lacked the will. Because to run one needs the will, but where is the will to come from when one is wiggling one's toe....

Joey's education in this world continues beyond the school confines, to his boarding house where he becomes infatuated with the daughter of his landlady, who represented everything he was not. Between school and home, we see his encounters with contrasts: maturity/immaturity in all its forms, modernity/old fashioned ways; youth/old age; innocence/knowledge; ability/ineptness; awkwardness/sophistication; politeness/impoliteness; faces/counter-faces; composition/decomposition; symmetry/assymetry; artificiality/naturalness; thesis/antithesis; theory/practice.

He journeys with Kneadus, a classmate, into the countryside to look for a farmhand whom they wished to emulate (again the contrast -- cityboy/farmboy), and came to the estate of Joey's aunt and uncle. Here, he finds another world where the lords of the manor and the peasantry entrap and hold onto each other in childishness. He sees more contrasts: city ways/rugged farmhand ways; the city streets/the countryside; lords/servants.

Blind actions. Automatic reflexes. Atavistic instincts. Lordly-childish fancy. I walked as if into the anachronims of a gigantic slap in the face, which was simultaneously a tradition of many centuries and an infantile smack, and it liberated, in one fell swoop, the lord and the child.

After a while, Joey decides to escape from this world where he felt totally infantilized. And again, an abduction takes place which he thought would bring him back to the city...and, we hope, the maturity that has so far eluded him. But really, what hope does he have? At the book's closing, Joey assumes the author's voice taunting, challenging, provoking us, "graceful bundles of body parts, now let it all begin -- come, step up to me, begin your kneading, make me a new mug so I will again have to run from you....Because there is no escape from the mug, other than into another mug...." And ends with, "It's the end, what a gas, And who's read it is an ass!" I can see Joey sticking out his tongue at me, and doing an anti-face grimace. How can it not be.

This was a fun read, and I found some of the situations truly hilarious. There is nothing subtle about them. An example is the face/anti-face contest which was so inane and truly gross, but also so stupidly funny. It struck me that this was not so unreal, as kids actually do it. What I didn't enjoy though was the brutality with servants (hitting the face -- mug/pupa?) though it was regarded common practice by masters, and was accepted without question by, and even was a point of honor among servants. I was also turned off by references to rape of the female servant by Kneadus.

The playfulness of the subject extends to the fantastic wordplay that Gombrowicz employs, which I enjoyed very much. And we do not mind the inanity and grossness that assail us readers, the pokes at our sensibilities -- it is all fun. And why should a mirror into ourselves show only what is decent, mature, and sophisticated? Why can't we look at the mirror of Ferdydurke, see our own pupas and laugh at the same time? We might yet take advice from Joey, in his former 30-year old self, when he reflected:

What is the connection, where is the bond between the king of beekeepers and the inner man, between the man and the youth, between the youth and the boy, the boy and the child that, after all, he once was, what comfort is the king to the little brat in you? A life unmindful of these bonds, a life that does not evolve in unbroken continuity from one phase to another is like a house that is being built from the top down, and must inevitably end in a schizophrenic split of the inner self. ( )
8 vote deebee1 | Feb 27, 2013 |
First things first: this book needs to be read quickly. Not superficially, nor lightly, but in less than 3 days. Unfortunately that's not the case here, for various reasons (one of them being leaving it 3500 miles away...) What's necessary is to be caught in its special web, to live in its linguistic reality.

At first I thought I was in for a Pirandello redux (1st chapter)[1], and then (2nd chapter) I started almost actively hating it, saying, but this isn't even a novel! (it's a philosophical-psychological-political treatise, I thought). But of course I should have known better, because as always the first pages tell you how to read the rest of the pages (waking from a dream that puts into question his very being, the narrator contemplates the state of his writing, and thus his soul). And WG was way ahead of me, predicting my reaction, as we see in the brilliant 11th chapter [2]. (I'd already been hooked by the 4th...)

So what do we have here then? Well, if not a story (as I was clamoring for in the 2nd chapter), scenes then, and certainly a world, our world, through a comic and surreal (yet all too real) lens of immaturity. And body parts. Yes, body parts, parts not connected to the whole... Can our ideologies (trans)form our faces? What exactly is the connection between our bodies and our souls? In our infancy (immaturity), they (everyone really) entrap us inside someone else's body, someone else's soul, but that soul fits us like a shoe that's too tight...

Yawn. Boring, you say. Been there, read that (Pirandello, for one). But the beauty is in the unpredictability of it all (as in Bolaño, who called this book one of the "key novels of the 20th century" [3]). You don't know what's coming next because you've never seen what's happening now. Dancing inside the bedroom of a teenage girl's bourgeois parents in order to "cast" some sort of bad-taste spell? A colonel who shoots a tennis ball out of the air right in the middle of a game, and the players continue to play for a bit? Two dueling philosophy professors who shoot off the body parts of their respective wives/lovers? There's that, and more, my friends...

[1] I'm thinking of Pirandello's _One, no one and 100000_. Right down to the narrator's name: here Gingio, there Gengè (translator's license, or original? Most likely the former...)

[2] "It would also be appropriate to establish...whether what we have here is a novel, a diary, a parody, a pamphlet, a variation on an imaginative theme, a work of non-fiction..." (p 172, my translation from the Italian...) (the answer is "all of the above", of course...)

[3]"Tra Parentesi", page 123 of the Italian Adelphi edition. Apparently, Milan Kundera said something similar: "I consider _Ferdydurke_ one of the 3 or 4 greatest novels written after the death of Proust" (my translation of the Italian translation of the French in the article _Gombrowicz malgré tous_ in "Nouvel Observadeur", March 1990). ( )
1 vote donato | Dec 25, 2011 |
Mindbending prose that sets all of our taken för granted truths about ourselves and our place in society in a new light. What does "growing up" mean when you think about it? Ferdydurke makes you wonder... ( )
  leakim | Sep 14, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (45 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Witold Gombrowiczprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Doebele, H.P.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hedin, Bengt-ErikTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hedlund, MagnusTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klei, Herman van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kunicki, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maijer, Willem A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ruig, Chris deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stoepman, FritsCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stolpe, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300082401, Paperback)

In this bitterly funny novel by the renowned Polish author Witold Gombrowicz, a writer finds himself tossed into a chaotic world of schoolboys by a diabolical professor who wishes to reduce him to childishness. Originally published in Poland in 1937, Ferdydurke became an instant literary sensation and catapulted the young author to fame. Deemed scandalous and subversive by Nazis, Stalinists, and the Polish Communist regime in turn, the novel (as well as all of Gombrowicz's other works) was officially banned in Poland for decades. It has nonetheless remained one of the most influential works of twentieth-century European literature.Ferdydurke is translated here directly from the Polish for the first time. Danuta Borchardt deftly captures Gombrowicz's playful and idiosyncratic style, and she allows English speakers to experience fully the masterpiece of a writer whom Milan Kundera describes as "one of the great novelists of our century."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:26 -0400)

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Yale University Press

Two editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300082401, 0300082398

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