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GOMBROWICZ, Witold



Ferdydurke
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Do you know what it feels like to be diminished within someone else? Oh, to be diminished within an aunt is unseemly enough, but to be diminished with a huge, commonplace prof is the peak of unseemly diminishment. I noticed that the prof was like a cow grazing on my greenness. It’s a strange feeling—to see a prof nibbling at the green of your meadow, which is actually your apartment, to see him sitting in your chair and reading—yet actually nibbling and grazing. Something terrible was happening to me, and, at the same time, I was surrounded by something stupid and brazenly unreal.

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And are we familiar with the spirit of the times? How about the spirit of Hellenic civilization? And the Gallic, and the spirit of moderation and good taste? And the spirit of the sixteenth century bucolic writer, known only to myself, who was the first to use the word ‘umbilicus’? And the spirit of language? Should one say ‘use’ or ‘utilize?’” His questions caught me by surprise. Ten thousand spirits suddenly smothered my spirit, I mumbled that I didn’t know, he then pressed on: what did I know about the spirit of the poet Kasprowicz and his attitude toward the peasantry, he then asked about the historian Lelewel’s first love. I cleared my throat and quickly glanced at my nails—they were blank, no crib notes there. I turned my head as if expecting someone to prompt me. But of course there was no one there. What a nightmare, for God’s sake! What was happening? O God! I quickly turned my head back to its usual position and looked at him, but with a gaze that was no longer mine. It was the gaze of a schoolboy scowling childishly and filled with hatred. I was suddenly seized with an inappropriate and rather old-fashioned itch—to hit the prof with a spitball right in the nose.

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Farewell, O Spirit, farewell, my oeuvre only just begun, farewell genuine form, my very own, and hail, hail, oh terrible and infantile form, so callow and green! Tritely proffed by him, I ran in mincing steps by the side of the giant prof who muttered on: “Chirp, chirp, little chickie … The sniffling little nose … I love, ee, ee […]” Ahead of us a refined lady was walking her little pinscher on a leash, the dog growled, pounced on Pimko, ripped his trouser leg, Pimko yelled, expressed an unfavorable opinion
of the dog and its owner, pinned his trouser leg with a safety pin, and we walked on.

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Transl. Danuta BORCHARDT