(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

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It is a very hot summer. Witold is sick of his parents. He runs into his friend Fuchs, who loathes his boss Drozdowski. They decide to leave the city and move together to a countryside inn. Along the way they find a dead sparrow hanging on a bit of wire from a tree branch. At the inn they are welcomed by a friendly couple of owners, Kulka and Leo. Kulka introduces them to her sexy daughter Lena and to the sexy maid Katasia. In Witold's mind the mouths of these two women merge into one erotic vision, although Katasia's mouth has a scar due to a bus accident. Witold's hopes are shattered when he discovers that Lena, a language teacher, is married to Louis, an architect who is designing a new hotel. When Witold tells the family of the hanged sparrow, Louis narrates that he saw a hanged chicken.

Witold and Fuchs notice a crack in the shape of an arrow on the ceiling of their room and, suspecting that it might be a sign drawn on purpose, they set out to follow the direction of the arrow. They walk through the house and onto the garden and finally find a piece of wood hanging from a a brick.

Dinners are the time when everybody sits around the table and engage in discussion. Leo discusses his work at the bank and the 37 happy years of marriage to Kulka. Witold spends them staring at the two women, in particular at Lena, and wondering whether she's happy with her husband. Later Fuchs drags Witold back to the hanging piece of wood and shows Witold that there is a pole nearby that points straight in the direction of Katasia's room. The two wait for the right moment and then enter her room. Fuchs brings a frog in a box, so that, if caught in the act, they can claim that they only meant to carry out a harmless practical joke. They find nothing out of the ordinary, except many nails. Nails imply hammer. And, sure enough, they start hearing loud hammering around the house. They run away, convinced of a connection.

Obsessed with Lena, Witold climbs a tree to spy on her and sees her undressing in front of her husband. Witold climbs down and, furious, strangles Lena's cat. Then he hangs the cat on the wall just like the sparrow. The discovery of the strangled cat causes much commotion in the house. Fuchs himself doesn't know that Witold did it. Katasia found the frog in her room but Fuch is ready to explain where it came from: he tells them the whole truth because, from his point of view, the strangled cat confirms the suspicion that there is a design in all the "hanging" things. The hammering sound that they heard, however, is readily explained: Kulka has hysterical fits that result in her hammering on a tree stump. Nothing special.

Leo takes the whole group, Lena's parents and two newly wed friends of Lena, Lola and Lolo, to a mountain hut. Along the way they meet a young priest who got lost and give him a ride. At the hut they meet another young couple, the cavalry captain Tolo and the ugly but rich Jadeczka (whom Witold feels repulsed to).

Witold has a lengthy conversation with Leo. Leo likes to talk, especially about the past, but is often obscure, and likes verbal games. Witold loses his temper and calls him a pervert. Instead of reacting angrily, Leo starts making fun of Witold in his self-invented language. Witold gets the message though: Leo has guessed correctly that Witold is obsessed with Lena. It is Witold who is the pervert. Leo likes him, nonetheless, because this fits perfectly with the real mission of their excursion: Leo wants to take everybody back to the very spot where he once had sex with a cook, the only time in his life that he felt true pleasure. This is an anniversary of sort that he wants to celebrate with his friends and family. Witold is the only one who is told. Leo sings "If you can't get what you want you must want what you've got".

Later Witold is briefly affected by a strange case of immobility: he cannot decide which route to take between a tree and an ant nest. He stands motionless until he realizes that this is what death is and then he quickly continues his walk.

His mental condition keeps worsening. After a wild party, he catches first the priest and then Jadeczka vomiting, an act that reminds him of the mouths of Lena and Katasia. The last straw is when he finds Louis' body hanging: Lena's husband hanged himself and his mouth is wide open. Now the obsession with hanging (the sparrow, the bit of wood, the strangled cat) and with the mouths (Lena, Katasia, the priest, Jadeczka) merge into one. Instead of rejoicing that his rival for Lena's heart committed suicide, Witold is taken by the urge to hang Lena too. He joins the others without saying anything. Leo is leading them to the rock where he made love to the cook 27 years earlier. On that rock he cannot say any more than "berg" which Witold repeats solemnly. Then it starts raining, a violent rain. Lena gets sick and has to be taken to the doctor. That's enough to break the spell. Witold returns to the city.

Gombrowicz called it "a novel about a reality that is creating itself". He sets in motion a series of mysterious signs that seem to lead one to the other. Suddenly the world is inhabited by a profusion of possible signs, and the difficulty is to decide which ones are natural and which ones are not. The reality of these events cannot be doubted: it's their meaning that can be doubted. And so the novel becomes a psychiatric detective novel: a possibly pointless plot that only leads to the workings of the human mind, to the obsessive-compulsive behavior of frustrated humans who become so paranoid that they see clues to inscrutable conspiracies and possibly horrible crimes everywhere they look. Or perhaps they are philosophers trying to find out what things and events mean in the grand scheme of the universe. The book can be read as a postmodernist meditation on meaning: that everything is connected to everything, that everything happens for a purpose, that nothing is an accident and nothing is a coincidence.

One wonders if this might also be a joke on literary critics and cultural historians: we too assume as clues to the meaning of the book all sorts of words, sentences, factors, hints that might in reality be just randomly there. The whole history of art and literature and music might just be piles of unjustified arbitrary illusions and paranoias by the category of critics.

However, the novel feels unfinished, as if Gombrowicz didn't know how to finish the very funny joke that he had started.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

Se sei interessato a tradurre questo testo, contattami

If English is your first language and you could translate my old Italian text, please contact me.


Witold ricorda come conobbe l'enigmatico Federico nella Varsavia del '43, occupata dai nazisti. Invitati da un proprietario terriero, si recano nella sua dimora: Ippolito è una palla di lardo che ripete sempre due volte quello che dice; sua moglie Maria è una religiosa devota; la figlia sedicenne Enrichetta sembra docile ed ingenua. I due forestieri intuiscono, però, l'esistenza di un rapporto d'amicizia tra Enrichetta e Carlo, un bellissimo contadino coetaneo della fanciulla, e si attaccano morbosamente all'idea che i due adolescenti siano amanti; in realtà Enrichetta è promessa ad un avvocato di nome Alberto, del quale è pienamente soddisfatta; non solo, ma confessa d'essere andata a letto con molti ragazzi. Dal canto suo, Carlo è attratto dal sesso senile: alza le gonne di una vecchia comare e dichiara di preferire Maria alla figlia. Witold, che già si figurava una tenera storia d'amore tra i due puri, ne rimane deluso.

Durante una visita della famiglia a casa del futuro genero, avviene un fatto di sangue: la padrona di casa Amelia viene accoltellata a morte assieme a Beppe, un altro ragazzo sedicenne; prima di morire, invece del crocefisso che Maria premurosamente le mostra, fissa Federico. La versione di Beppe d'essere stato aggredito con un coltello e di essere stato anche colpito a morsi da Amelia non viene creduta perché contrasta troppo vivacemente con il carattere della defunta; Alberto in particolare tormenta il ragazzo per estorcergli un'altra confessione, mentre Federico è più propenso ad ammettere che al buio, ed in determinate circostanze, in lei si siano potuti scatenare degli istinti selvaggi.

Intanto Federico ha un piano per costringere Enrichetta e Carlo a tradire Alberto, e riesce ad entusiasmare anche Witold; entrambi desiderano spasmodicamente accoppiare quei due corpi per potersi poi identificare nel loro erotismo: Federico attira i due giovani su un'isola e, col pretesto di una prova teatrale, fa compiere loro dei gesti compromettenti, mentre Witold mostra da lontano la scena ad Alberto; il piano viene diretto da Federico tramite delle lettere lasciate all'amico sotto un mattone.

contemporaneamente si svolge un altro complotto: un partigiano di nome Siemian, che alloggia presso Ippolito, diserta e viene condannato a morte; mentre Ippolito, Alberto, Witold e Federico progettano come ucciderlo, Siemian implora che lo lascino andare; passano il tempo ad ammazzarlo a parole, ma nessuno ha il coraggio bastante per farlo sul serio. Allora Federico escogita un metodo che consiste nel coinvolgere anche i due ragazzi: Enrichetta sale sino alla sua camera e bussa; quando Simian le apre, Carlo lo accoltella; ma, ormai ossessionato dall'idea di essere tradito, Alberto s'introduce nella camera di Simian, lo uccide e poi si sostituisce a lui per farsi uccidere dai ragazzi; per completare l'opera, Federico sgozza Beppe: il loro piano è ora completo.

Witold è un erotomane che vuol vedere il sesso in tutte le cose, oppure è diventato un erotomane perché in tutte le cose c'è il sesso; Federico è un impotente: il suo breve ed intenso rapporto con Amelia non può che essere platonico; al sesso fa da contraltare la religione: è alla messa che Witold ipotizza una relazione tra i due ragazzi, è molto religiosa Amelia in confronto all'ateo Federico; le truppe naziste, che s'intuiscono sullo sfondo, acuiscono il senso di una prigionia da cui tutti i personaggi sembrano ossessionati; l'ambientazione in campagna li isola dal mondo.

La lucida follia di Federico si tradisce soltanto alla fine, mentre per tutto il libro s'è presentata sotto la forma d'una razionale partita a scacchi con la natura. Witold gli è succube perché sente che Federico è in grado di realizzare l'intrusione nell'erotismo giovanile, che da solo non saprebbe procurarsi.

Con stile veloce, essenziale, telegrafico, Gambrowicz mescola narrazione, psicoanalisi, filosofia; i personaggi sono i simboli di un codice da decifrare, buffe marionette la cui personalità è stata ridotta ad un tratto caratteristico, senza il quale sarebbero semplicemente persone comuni. L'adolescenza eccita la morbosità degli adulti, che, ormai impotenti, ne spiano con concupiscenza le mosse.

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )