TSQ Library TÑß 34, 2010TSQ 34

Toronto Slavic Annual 2003Toronto Slavic Annual 2003

Steinberg-coverArkadii Shteinvberg. The second way

Anna Akhmatova in 60sRoman Timenchik. Anna Akhmatova in 60s

Le Studio Franco-RusseLe Studio Franco-Russe

 Skorina's emblem

University of Toronto · Academic Electronic Journal in Slavic Studies

Toronto Slavic Quarterly

Artur Grabowski

Everyman Possessed by Himself

What does Henry want to do after returning home from a long campaign? To get married -- and get married to a girl who was a fiancée but did not get to see her already planned wedding take place. A young man (not so young anymore -- he must be thirties now since before the war he was willing to get married) returns to the family home to pick up the torn threads of his life. It turns out, though, that nothing is as it was when he left; everything is degraded now. Why? Usually at this point the post-war crisis of values is mentioned: The end of an era. But the feeling of confusion and isolation experienced by the central character does not immediately relate to the ideological disappointment and spiritual collapse of Western civilization. Quite the contrary; the problem is insufferably intimate, shamefully domestic.[1]

Henry is no longer a youngster, but a mature man with experiences. He cannot therefore simply continue being a son, a fiancé, a young man who shows promise but does not yet have to answer the call to independent life. The fact that he is only dreaming about all that paradoxically deepens the psychological truth of his emotional block. That is because dreams, from the point of view of the popular psychoanalysis, expose exactly that which a person would like to hide from himself, or falsify in the eyes of his own consciousness as well as public scrutiny. A dream problem then becomes much more real because it is deeply personal. And we perceive the personal as indubitable, impossible to reject.

The intimacy scares and tempts us because it is here that the sources of identity and life-giving energy originate. The negation of the obvious, a subconscious will to hide the truth from oneself, is the source of the sense of guilt that often accompanies dreams like this. In one's deepest intimacy one is not facing an idol of a repressive culture - one is facing oneself, the person he really is even though he still is a mystery to himself. By hiding himself from himself, the subject, in a way, wounds and finally kills himself by not allowing the entirety of his personality to become realized.

Similarly, Hamlet returns home after studying in foreign lands. He probably would still like to be a carefree prince in the home of caring parents. But just when he had the right to expect a warm welcome, he is given a chilly reception and a difficult mission worthy of a Greek hero: moral restoration of the State. Both men are clearly unprepared for the ordinary life. In the recent years they were occupied by matters so general that they did not require personal engagement -- the soldier was turned by the wheel of history, the student was in the care of his Alma Mater. The first man only carried out orders, the other only theorized. Both the military adventure and foreign travels were as if sabbaticals, allowing the men to defer the moment of necessary change of their role in the world. Here the safe passivity of subordination and the abstract shelter of philosophy come to an end, and the life "outside" - "after school" and "after military service" - begins. Life back at home again, but at a home that is not the same. What is expected from them now is action arising from freedom rooted in their subjectivity - a personal answer in the form of a practical decision. This is where the third shadow of the Polish soldier appears: Faust. As Hamlet was an incarnation of a political leader and lawmaker, so the Doctor from Nuremberg will be a figure of an ideologue, humanity's spiritual leader. Our romantic warrior, the son of Konrad, who took his father's "Great Improvisation" too much to heart, carries their burden on his shoulders. He used to be their pupil and ward, and now the time for the test has come. But where is it going to take place? What irony - in the banal world of family, in provincial ordinariness!

Henry is every one of them. He is an insufferably literary hero pieced together, a "comparative" collage.[2]  I would even say - symbolically rather than in jest - that Konrad, Hamlet and Faust create a European Everyman, one in three persons. His actions -- marriage, murder, self-condemnation -- will be irreversible and will determine the rest of his life, the life of that "person," forever. Even more, it will have socio-historical consequences. As behooves a mature man, the fiancée/prince/scholar will answer for his actions in front of Man, History and God. This is how, in his deepest intimacy, the protagonist of the domestic farce becomes a character in a drama not only his own.

Borrowing the language of history of ideas one could describe "The Marriage" as debate with the ideology of the romantic individualism.[3]  One of the myths of modernity, it appears here in a radical, revolutionary form.[4]  This is because, indeed, individuality is a scandal. It is the stone over which the caravan of the Greco-Judeo-Christian civilization is bound to trip. That degree of domination of an individual over community that modernity has created has not been known either in the Hellenic political myth, or Jewish religious law. Neither is it accepted by the Roman idea of church as mutual solidarity of people. Nevertheless, that is where the idea of a self-conscious subject originates and the modernity is only a radical step in its evolution. That obvious conclusion, however, turns out to be perilous: Now the man, if he wants to keep following his own path, must break up with the hitherto existing form of human community life.

In a world devoid of comfortable platitudes the slightest gesture turns into a grandiose act. Jarzebski will call it "a fear of demiurgy."[5]  Henry is running away from maturity because, in essence, he is afraid to accept full responsibility for his life. He is afraid of the kind of maturity whose name is free will. His principal enemy then -- tempting and hateful -- is not some passively inherited tradition embodied in social institutions, but personalism -- deeply considered and treated seriously.

2. Gombrowicz's play begins with a sense of exile, disinheritance, separation. It then becomes a process of finding one's place - not by travels, however, but at home, among kin. But Henry's house must be, however, his place. Why does he suddenly feel "out of place" in the space that he always used to consider very much his own? Suddenly he is "not at home," but still in his childhood, among his parents, with his girlfriend.[6]

His state is not simply an alienation, because that usually consists of separation from others, severance of relationships with people in one's environment and of reduction of personality down to the innermost core. We say then that somebody is backing away and hiding "within himself". But these are not the feelings accompanying the protagonist of "The Marriage." He feels like a stranger in his own intimacy. Where then - he asks himself in a series of Hamletic soliloquies -- is my most private self, where is the space where I do not need to wear a mask of a social role, where did my own room go? He poses questions and has to answer them himself, so he talks and talks, narrates himself to himself in order to recognize himself. Words, words, words… Thoughts seem to spontaneously pop into his head on their own, auto analyses and auto commentaries fill his life. Finally words and images dictate their own conditions in the end, make the actions of the subject dependent on themselves, simultaneously burdening him with responsibility. He calls it a dream, but probably only out of habit, out of lack of a proper term to describe that foreign, unrecognized power.

The problem, however, is not theoretical. Henryk feels that solving the puzzle of identity in itself is not going to cause a practical change in his life. On the contrary, only a "live" action would allow him to recognize himself in its effects and finally define his subjectivity.[7]  He will not turn away from others, he will search out confrontation. He will not forfeit action, he will pounce at every action he deems worthy of commitment. He is at once a philosopher and a desperado, like a Polish rebel or a Russian anarchist. He is a direct descendant of the romantic individualism, but also the medieval, chivalrous anthropology. In this he again begins to resemble Faust and Hamlet, whose modern mind constantly has to answer unbearably old-fashioned questions of the immature soul. Hamlet's dilemma does not really stem from his innate indecisiveness but from his rationalistic education. It is the culture in which he has to reign that demands justification for every action, demanding that he has to find a reason for every gesture. In that rationalistic Europe ethics subjugate morality with the power of a totalitarian authority.

Christian personalism merged with romantic individualism, this quintessentially Polish mix of sacrifice and sacrilege presents to the young man an offer that cannot be declined -- a total, but individual responsibility for the moral future of humanity.[8]  Every young man educated in Poland carries with him a vision of a poet-revolutionary, derived from the Polish romantic dramas.[9]  He has to somehow come to terms with this mixture of anarchist and dictatorial tendencies, this complex, at the same time, surprisingly European -- because… hamletic. Both Hamlet and Henryk are still young enough to not have lost the remainder of their innocence, but already sufficiently experienced to understand the benefits resulting from spiritual conformity.[10]  That is how we are raised at home -- first they read fairy tales to us and then they say: "You know, life is brutal. …"

As children they weren't bothered by those contradictions. Only now, after a long vacation, are they becoming painfully clear. They come back changed, but with the picture of their childhood etched in their memories. Is this for sure the same house? This is why the tragedy of Henryk and of Hamlet begins with an unrecognized, distorted vision of… The Parent. No mother nor father but both of them in One. This "one" will be soon recognized as a real opponent against the other "one" - I. The individual (never recognized) stays in front of the Absolute (never recognized) like a child and its parents mirrored in each others eyes.

How, then, is the protagonist to "find" the place" on which he is just standing? Well, now it is necessary to build one's own home, establish one's own kingdom on Earth. One needs to unite with somebody, support somebody, or lay down laws and pronounce judgments -- in one word: take matters in one's own hands, start acting on one's own responsibility. You afraid, boys? Therefore Henryk will conduct a revolution with a coup d'état, just so he can avoid getting married and Hamlet will kill his prospective father in law, take out two college buddies, push his fiancée to suicide and slaughter her brother in a senseless duel. All that so he does not have to kill one patent scoundrel.

The protagonist of "The Marriage" does not want to have a wife, does not want to marry Mania. He wants to dispense the sacrament of matrimony to himself; the Danish prince does not want to kill -- rather, he wants to fulfill the imperative, free himself from its pressure. Both feel that this is a call, that it is not their own obligation but one imposed on them. Do they then need to obey it? They do, but they do not find it a moral obligation, so it is somehow impure…They do, because they feel that under the disguise of the social pressure, which it would be so easy for a young man to reject, there is hidden an authentic, intensely personal call to action. They do, because if they reject this call there is no place for them here. And that means not only social ostracism -- by losing his place under himself, the protagonist sinks into an abyss of non-identity.[11]

So they are settling down, that is they begin to govern. But they are still children, they just want to play.[12]  They here the call to action inside, the call to bring order to and clean up the mess they found, but even though they can seriously hear it, they are not yet able to "play out" a response seriously. You cannot be a boy anymore, you need to become a man -- Henryk hears, but is the voice coming from inside or outside of him? Who is the ghost who speaks to the prince from the walls of his somber house? Is this a Daimonion speaking from his soul or a Demon from under ground? And Faust, doesn't he accept the diabolical offer too eagerly, as if he could sense that ultimately he is signing a contract in the name of the One who will extricate him from every difficulty? The metaphor of spirituality is always connected with hiding -- if the spirit is in me than its name is Free Will, if it speaks from above the vaulted ceiling than it must be Providence, but if from the inside of the Earth it comes, than its name is certainly Necessity. How to recognize that voice now, to follow the right one?

But the calling to maturity as well as the calling to freedom comes from my deteriorating body, from the eyes of the other people expecting grown up behavior from me, but also from my desire to be autonomous. I want to be independent but also I cannot not want it. One defends one's intimacy against becoming public not so much because of the threat of its destruction by others, but rather one defends against making use of the intimate in the realm of the inter-human. He feels that his intimacy becomes as if stolen away from him on the verge of maturity, from now on it belongs not only to him. Now it will need to reveal itself and become active, it will no longer be the taken care of, like a child in a family. They will expect from it (that is from intimate "me") action for the benefit of others. In practice it means that the intimate will become public - the truest I will be called on stage, in order to give life to a character, to animate a part. As in a relationship between a child and a parent this most tender and most mysterious part of me, thanks to which the inter-human relation is created, will have to exist simultaneously in two dimensions. Like an actor living his life and his role at the same time.

The son then comes back home in hopes of feeling at home again in the foreign world, but it is here that he becomes surprised by a painful feeling of abandonment. His parents, whom he has not seen for so long, aren't the people he remembered as a child anymore. Now, judged as strangers, turn out to be a couple of boorish old people. Remaining in the safely exculpating realm of a dream he allows himself this sinful thought: I have nothing in common with my father and my mother. The parents have, in a way, died and left their son alone. Now he instinctively blames them for it and seeks retribution.

By losing our parents we lose ourselves from days past. Now we need to be born again, be our own parents. The experience, the echoes of which reverberate in Antoine Artaud's exclamation: "I am my own father and mother", usually bring forth aggression as a substitute emotion, in face of one's inability to establish contact on the personal level. Man behaves like a frightened animal, which cannot negotiate, can only fight. "The Marriage" played most often as a grotesque is, in essence, a very violent play - this is the Shakespearean theater of cruelty. The actions of every protagonist of this interaction are charged with aggression. The aggression is a signal of the desire to "open up", in other words it is a proof of peculiar "autism". Henry perceives himself as "abnormal" not necessarily in the sense of being different. He does not pretend to be mad, like Hamlet does, he truly considers himself a psychological cripple. Right from the first scene he is feeling unwell, he is sick. He suffers more and more physically throughout the play. And it is no wonder - he lives under unrelenting stress. This state transforms, but does not change during the course of the stage and somnolent reality. Living inside himself, inside himself devoid of himself he lives in emptiness. He remains permanently homeless in between the bygone house of his parents and the home of his unrealized family. He has to suddenly provide for himself conditions for new feeling of belonging, because being in a relationship with another is one of the existential conditions of humanity. We are, as it were, pressured by an unknown force to not-be-alone. What appears as longing for the other may also take form of a brutally omnipotent necessity, like an embarrassing deformity, with which one has to learn to live.

In Gombrowicz's work this inability to empathize and coexist with the other is most clearly manifests itself in the form of disgust of the woman, a potential lover. The man both has to and cannot love, as if he were tempted by a metaphysical pimp who uses love with diabolical irony. Who then is playing with my intimacy like that? It seems that attempts to explain this device by referring to the author's homosexual tendencies, however pertinent, are still limiting. Rather, the homosexual basis of the human relationships constitutes a mutation of a more general problem. For many twentieth century writers homosexuality had become a metaphor in a discussion about identity. It is so because the issue of "socializing the intimacy", which I mentioned earlier, appears here in the guise of an impossible "institutionalization" of a relationship based on emotions which are viewed as "the intimacy" itself. Since he wants to "dispense the sacrament of marriage to himself" Henryk instinctively searches for form to give to the vague uneasiness which he finds inside himself. His own intimacy, the very source of his identity does not have a shape, does not even have an image which would provide a foot-bridge between the land of instincts and the kingdom of consciousness. Therefore he feels split into two, "unmarried" to himself. He suffers, because secretly he believes in the anthropological model of personalism, which he inherited from his parents. This model sees the ideal of humanity in a person psychologically integrated and realizing the potential of the personality. In Henry's case, however, no "community" works out, so he constantly and nervously seeks completion. As a subject destined for a personal existence he cannot become internally whole, as a creature destined for an inter-personal existence he is doomed to marriage. He turns out to be unprepared for the real wedding. As an individual destined to co-habit with others he will be doomed to solidarity, but unable to build lasting relationship based on that intimate, only real, source of personal identity.

So that's how he fails at complete existence both as himself and as a couple -- but the demand to create such an inter-human relationship seems to be posed to all the humanity! Absurdity? Why then does Henryk not reject the coercion, since it is absurd? Clearly, logical motivation has no power over him, since it does not reach the source of personal decision -- it does not reach his conscience. To be direct: Henryk secretly believes in a moral legitimacy of the call which he is not able to follow. He denies it consciously, but does not have the courage to reject it. He falls prey, then, to depression and schizophrenia, to crime and sin; his frustration will manifest as aggression and autodestruction. Like Hamlet -- rather then restore the moral order by intrigues, he will cause a gory slaughter and spiritual devastation.

It is easy to notice that it is the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church that is the source of this evaluation of the inter-human relations. The New Catechism defines the Church as "the people of God", a community of persons, in other words something like an entity created "in between" individuals. This entity is to come about out of their common faith, but at the same time based on each confession individually. This Church is to be some kind of "E Pluribus Unum", "unity in multiplicity", some kind of marriage, that is a complete being which consists of existentially incomplete others. This call to community seems to be inherently contradictory - the inter-human "togetherness" would be based on that, which constitutes the foundation of separateness. But this is what we call the Christian "mystery of faith". What is more, the relation on the level of jointly professed "truth" constitutes a definition of religion per se. That definition, by the way, was fashioned within the said tradition.

Gombrowicz's "inter-human church" is therefore an old, catholic project, which had not become realized, so it became degraded.[13]  This church, according to the author, is impossible to erect and the attempts at its construction are bound to end up as tragic caricatures. The ruins of the church, which is - "unclear, absurd, impossible, disfigured, strange, nonsense" - open up the stage reality of the play. Entering the stage the protagonist enters the space of a post-morality play as a post-Everyman.

3. The broken intimate relationship with parents demands that another relation, equally private, fill up the space. That intimacy, even though it has existed since the beginning, remains as if in hibernation and needs to be activated. To settle down and find oneself in it one must become oneself first. But who knows what will come out of it?

The son should already take over the reins, because both time and circumstances require it, but he does not want to make that decision. He could be independent, but he would rather not exist truly than live in the space of complete freedom. He pretends in front of himself to be a freedom fighter, but in reality he wants to preserve his right to passivity, which guarantees him lack of responsibility. Responsibility then is nothing less that calling forth the intimate onto the public forum. So his poor privacy is standing there: naked, probably not pretty, so it feels embarrassed; being accused of impure deeds, which it hasn't yet committed… Yes, he is fighting for a release from pressure, but he is not defending his freedom, only his innocence. Both the Polish soldier and the Danish prince want to remain children, to persist in the state of heavenly purity unblemished by action. In order to put off the decision they invent artificial obstacles, plot, deceive… The whole plot of both Shakespeare's and Gombrowicz's drama is as if contrived and provoked by the protagonist, who is adapting the reality for stage. The purity, then, is to be saved by artificiality, which gives power but does not demand responsibility in return. That is a state of preserved purity.

For the time being, let us ask what unfulfilled obligations torment Henryk? The first one is the social -- get married, grow up, be somebody. Then comes the moral -- make action, accept responsibility for the good and evil. After this the inter-human and idealistic -- become a worthy compatriot, a representative of the communal values. Finally the simplest -- and at the same time the most intimate -- prove yourself sexually. All these obligations converge in the Latin word virtus, which means at the same time: a husband, a man and virtue. Henry, a soldier that he is, inherits the tradition of chivalry, what's more, of chivalry of the Polish variety, which is particularly marked by the calling to defend the Christian world against the barbarian hordes trying to invade Europe. He is a direct heir of the mythical hero, a cultural demi-god. But he is so only privately.

He has to live in a culture which does not guarantee anymore an equivocal definition of a knight. He has to form it himself, he himself has to forge his armor. The form has fallen apart, the contents of the myth was left naked. He leaves by what remains -- the essence (pure, naked, unformed) of chivalry -- which is personal responsibility for the life of the Sovereign. The knight has to defend the king, not because it is his obligation, but because it guaranties his own position. A knight is not a samurai who fights for his master as a particular man, he is fighting for the kingdom of which he is a necessary part. The more it refers to the prince who is, essentially, a king no other but by the relation to his father. As a son has to be liberated from his parents domination not by killing them but… becoming a parent himself. A current form for the eternal essence? Revolution ante portas!

The new models, in turn, although active, do not carry a moral obligation. All this did not happen, though, as a result of a cosmic catastrophe. Quite the contrary: revolution is a natural course of events, a predictable phase of evolution viewed from a transcendental point of view. It follows then that if a sincere faith is to raise the new man, it is obvious that this is going to be a man more morally self-dependent, freed from the temporary support of inter-human institutions… Because myth, since it has to incarnate, has to enter individuality, the most intimate place. When the ritual auguries disappear from the surface, the protagonist has to begin reading them out from his own entrails.

So he opens himself, that is confronts the model of manly virtue which he carries inside. He is standing in the middle of an empty stage, surrounded not by people but by dreamworld images, like an Everyman cleansing his conscience…But this is no confession! A modern rationalist does not use the confessional. When he feels unwell with himself, he proceeds to see a doctor. A man going through a midlife crisis, crossing the line of shadow is a typical case in offices of psychotherapists. The first thing that the individual reclining on a sofa learns is that his is a common case, an everyday complaint - typical of this age and time. And that it will pass, if only he will wait it out. Henry's failed marriage is his failed rite of passage from "the songs of innocence" to "the songs of experience". Failed, because not brought to conclusion.

For now, our protagonist is in the waiting room -- homeless and scared. So he will make an easy prey.[14]  Protective demons will take him under their wing and start to whisper in his ear. That is why duality is a characteristic feature of Gombrowicz's characters. Two friends, two opponents, twins or clones - or maybe rather one, doubled like in a mirror.[15]  Looking in the mirror I experience a strange feeling (a feeling of strangeness?), as if I am not really myself, but rather with myself, or maybe even "I" is next to me, not quite mine. A sense of fractured personality can be a symptom of deep depression. The patient is clearly conscious of his actions, but does not control them - as if he is only able to watch himself, see himself ruled by an unknown power. Henryk is, therefore, a spectator and a critic and, at the same time, an actor and a character in his own theater. In his monologues he, as if, narrates his drama to himself. On top of this, every so often, his Other-I appears. Sometimes it will be the naive Wladzio, at other times the obscene Drunkard. Both bring Henryk down to Earth -- one to normality (innocence), the other to perversion (willfulness). Those are characters descended from a medieval morality play… One is then justified in delivering Henry from the hands of a Central European psychiatrist into the hands of a Scandinavian theologian.

4. Gombrowicz did admit to his kinship with Kierkegaard. The commentators of his oeuvre, however, somehow ignored it, probably thinking that there cannot be much that a passionate mystic would have in common with a rational atheist.]16]  But it is enough to read, with an open mind, The Concept of Anxiety, to change one's point of view and gain a different view into Witold's soul.

Who, let's ask at the start, is a man given to anxiety? He is forsaken, lonely, homeless - but he perceives his situation with unceasing clarity. Anxiety comes from knowledge and guilt together. Unlike common fear, one given to anxiety does not face incomprehensible evil, but comprehended good. How is this possible? Who is afraid of good? "The demonic" -- says the Danish philosopher -- "is anxiety about the good."[17]  Demonic character is for him synonymous with loss of innocence, pollution of the original freedom. Here a will manifests in man, a will which tends towards sin. It cannot then be the will of that freedom which was given us by our Creator. That force, then, is not free will, is not freedom. When the subject cannot recognize the source of the actions for which he is made responsible, he finds himself a demon which, like a Guardian Angel in reverse delivers him to evil and leads him into temptation. It is from this very realization that the European "demonic character" was born, the one which constitutes the basis of the Greek image of Hubris, the one responsible for the tragedy of Oedipus.[18]

In this way this unbearably literary collage character of the protagonist of "The Marriage" takes him back to the original figure of the European discourse on the subject.[19]  To the first protagonist, who, in the course of development of the Western type of drama will split into a philosophically abstract Everyman and psychologically particular dramatis personae. By becoming an "essence character" Henryk, in a way, exhausts the very core of a dramatic character. In that way he discredits drama and theatricality, almost paralyzing, as demonstrated by Tamara Trojanowska,[20] the activity of the director and actors. Henryk seems to fall out of the role of a fictional character (like in a farce of Pirandello's). His being superconscious of his theatricality puts him outside of the literary world in which he originated. He deceives himself that he wants "mystically" naked reality, in truth, however, by directing his own life, he is trying to go back to the theater, where he felt safe, go back to childish "pretend". Outside the stage he is in a space alien to him, unknown, frightening.

Here, as a private hero, he personally becomes the subject of a philosophical dispute between personal and impersonal Absolute. But he is also both parties in this dispute, as well as the arbiter. He will then pass judgment on himself. "Does he have a right?" asks Kierkegaard. Because a modern individual, as understood by the misunderstood Danish Romantic, "defines his relation to the universal by his relation to the Absolute, and not his relation to the Absolute by his relation to the universal". In this way Gombrowicz leads the European intellectual to the edge of a question: what would you do if all that you read about in books suddenly began to happen in your home.

Let's better return to out abstract meditations on demons…

5. About someone possessed we say that he is in a power of a demon, even though we do not deny him ability to be freed. A person like that has lost his innocence, but there is no guilt in him yet. For now there is only anxiety. This is what Kierkegaard himself says about it: "in innocence freedom was not posited as freedom: its possibility was anxiety in individual" -- which is proven, he says in another place, by the example of Adam, who is afraid to break God's prohibition, even though he is free to do. At the same time his anxiety is "innocent" because he does not know yet what he could be afraid of. The fear of using one's freedom seems to warn against its loss. So the fault, which consists in a possibility of using, that is activating his personal freedom, appears to Adam in the form of anxiety. When Adam finally uses his freedom, he will be guilty; but right before that act, and already after the decision is made he will be for a while… in the power of a demon - possessed. At the moment when man succumbs to the temptation of freedom he is not entirely himself, because he is not as he was created by the Lord, but also not as he will create himself, at that moment initiating his guilt.

We find ourselves, then, in between -- in a crisis between the past and the not yet come. It is in this state that a Beckett's character will become immobilized and Gombrowicz's -- hyperactive. The voice of willfulness starts to whisper into his ear -- the Demon-Tempter slithers into the crevice between freedom and guilt. He is in between, in the crack between the two areas over which he has no power. He pounces on an individual in the moment of transition between the state of purity, to which the demon has no access and the state of sin, over which he has no power, because he cannot release from it. Because he is not able to escape from there, he wants to hide there, turning his bondage into a shelter.

This state, then, is revealed in the moment of contact. Every encounter with the other begets fear of discovery. Kierkegaard brings up a scene from the Gospel, when a demon meets Christ's eyes and reacts with What have I to do with you? The commentator interprets: "the demonic is inclosing reserve and the unfreely disclosed". This state engenders a particular mode of communication, because the hermetic is mute, "and when it is to express itself, this must take place contrary to its will (…) in such a way that it is the individual who in anxiety betrays himself against his will" And Henry fears in secret, he fears -- let's repeat, independent actions and that is why he takes action as if in make believe, pretending. He wants to organize a marriage, to be in control of it. By that he reveals a fear of the reality of meeting with the other. By wanting to take control of the marriage he wants to control all the relationships that may arise between people, the very essence of relation.

The relation is always threatened with fetters on one hand and willfulness on the other. In "The Marriage", not so "paradoxically" the bonds are the consequence of willfulness. Henry's totalitarian rule is not at all a result of an uncontrolled desire for power. The Marxist-Darwinian interpretation of drama as a conflict of desires: for power, possession and sex, which seeks to turn Shakespeare into pre-Brecht totally does not fit Gombrowicz, who is too sophisticated for it. His seducer's name is Luxuria, the medieval Incontinence, daughter of Excess, that is the modernist Perversion. Henry, again like Hamlet, suffers precisely from lack of the "natural" life force. Whatever he is to do, he has to contrive. Rather, he possesses, this time entirely paradoxically, a natural need for artificiality. Before he achieves the life-giving purity he must pass the test of sophistication. Perversion and Virtue both are a result of sublimation of something that is essentially human and most intimate.

Henry takes over government, because he does not see a place for himself in the existing world. He creates a theater and a play for himself, writes all the dialogue, so as to have a space to play out his dissimilarity. His totalitarian and autistic psychological - social model is as if the middle path between unbearable pain of enslaving possession and equally unbearable fear of freedom. We say about somebody like that that he is deaf and blind to others, that it is impossible to get through to him. "Freedom" sums up Kierkegaard "is always communicating." And unfreedom avoids communication in favor of silence or power through provocation, replacing open communication with manipulation.

At the first sight it is obvious that the possessed is "not himself". A person like that keeps pretending, plays the director of the show, in order to avoid being called to become a character or even one of the actors on stage. He has to suspend a ritual status of the script so as not to reveal himself. In order to avoid being caught in this manipulation he has to incessantly sustain the action, through the power of his provocation. The game, says the director, is overt. I am playing it in front of your eyes - believe in this game and forget about the uncreated world. However, control of the pretending, the staging must not cease until the very end. No area can remain free. Hamlet will do the same thing by postponing his decision with the help of various enactments, schemes, pretending. Sophisticated tricks, that is manipulation through provocation, constitute the very plot of the play; it is Hamlet who winds up the mechanism of events in Elsinore. Certainly, he is not an indecisive youth but a man able to take matters into his own hands. Both the Danish and the Polish prince betray their fear of freedom, shielding themselves with ostentatious over-creativity. Both are afraid to enter the unknown, their own territory.

Henry is defeated in his provocative experiments, aimed at "calling forth" a man, extracting a person out of social form. But I'll venture to say that the reason for his failure is not so much an essential impossibility of a subject's revealing himself in this way, but rather his inability to perceive that revelation. Here the protagonist, who is at the same time the author and spectator of the drama, an actor and director of the show, remains insensitive to the signals from the outside, not his, world. He broadcasts incessantly, drowning out other voices by his own chatter, aimed partly at himself, partly at consciousness of the other, the presence of which he desires, but only in the role of an admirer. Not being able to be with the Other, he looks for the other himself as a companion. On top of that, he does not believe anything he, himself hasn't created. He creates, therefore, a dopplegänger, an artificial himself. That is a manifest monster, degenerated work of perversion, which soon starts to give him grief.

6. This kind of unpersonal relation can most clearly be seen at the very foundation of Gombrowicz's anthropology of theater. In this play, the theme of which is the inter-human, there is virtually no interaction. There is just the opposite: anti-interaction, because the human relationships become entirely provoked. Everyone acts only when "moved", like in a line of dominoes, which moves by virtue of its own passivity. This type of mutuality by pushing and prodding is like an eternal fall. It is still a movement, but only towards catastrophe.[21]  The subject who is not able to relate to another becomes passive and barren. Essentially, he loses the attributes of a subject, since a subject is a source of acts towards others.[22]

Therefore, whoever is not ready to tune in, who is not able to listen and perceive a separate person cannot, by the same token, be a person himself. The monster of willfulness makes his self-realization impossible. By remaining alone he is condemned to inauthenticity, essentially becoming a slave to false identities. He is as if -- possessed by his demonic self…

The demonic individual -- a self proclaimed priest of the marriage ceremony, a MC of the courtly wedding is no more, no less but a … theater director. Yes, the director is a creation of the demon, a possessed for whom a social function has been found. He was set in roles of manipulators before, but only here, in the work of theatrical art, he reveals his unpragmatic passion. That desire is, let's add, very common. So much so, that there are those who identify it with humanity itself. Its name is: desire to rule by way of illusion. A modern director does not present himself as "a servant of truth" but as "a great manipulator". In the Polish school of directing manipulation even of life itself is the object of an artist's pride . . .

Henry, by directing, makes magic. Director's work aims to create a certain mystification. Its role is to cover up, not-reveal a demon. He acts guided by the demon, whose presence by his side he feels and does everything to save it from destructive openness. The purpose of the show is not to let a revelation take place. "Here disclosure is the good" - says the Danish theologian - "for disclosure is the first expression of salvation" and so it is a subject of anxiety of the possessed. But if the show of illusion is a dream, then the revelation will be an awakening. But what could bring it about? Kierkegaard answers: "if one dares to utter "the word" , the sorcery's enchantment is broken, and therefore the somnambulist wakes up when his name is spoken" That means: if one calls him privately, touches his intimacy, identifies with him in an absolute encounter. But nobody is calling, or, rather, the called one cannot hear. Henryk would like, maybe, to wake up but has not enough courage to open his eyes. He prefers to dream, or rather convince himself that he is dreaming and mystify. A marriage -- sure, but instead of matrimony!

But Henry is not a crook. He fabricates, in his mind, somehow towards the truth. He is convinced that he stretches all the relations, every bond of the inter-human church, between I undiscovered and I disguised, between Self and Other and finally between a Person and a personal God to the utmost. By this provocation he wants to elicit a reaction, even if it were revenge. He attempts to get through to reality in this way. He attempts "to try" and that is why he does not try in seriously. A "mystical" certainty would be a sign of the meeting with the real - but that is what he is missing. "The negative phenomena lack certitude precisely because they are in anxiety about the content" -- explains the master from Copenhagen. But conscience interprets that "lack" as inability to love. It cannot, then, not consider it a guilt. And the fault torments.

7. Theatricality is what connects the psychoanalytical [23] and philosophical [24] processes with the inquisitorial one (possession, and in this case, religious). Henry executes something like the Cartesian proof by experience by turning his own consciousness into a laboratory in which he stages an experimental performance. At the same time it is a kind of autoanalysis in a psychotherapeutic drama and inquisitorial questioning - all the processes take place in the closed space of the market stall that is his imagination and memory, both of which he subjects to torture. Where is he going? He wants to prove existence or non-existence of a Person - God or the Other or his own Self. At the same time he is checking whether he is a Person, and so whether he is suitable to assume power - at least over the world inside him. He wants, let me use a metaphor, to find the Author, Actor and Director in the internal theater about which he knows for sure now that it is a model of the world.

However, one cannot establish contact, and even less a relationship -- marriage -- with the other by provocation alone. That is because it is not possible to control the dialogue; a real dialogue entails risk. A provocateur expects a reaction, a partner in a dialogue waits in the face of the unpredictable; a provocateur tests, experiments, a partner in a dialogue looks out for a revelation. One cannot dispense matrimony to oneself, not because one would trespass on God's territory, but because in reality marriage is received, it is a mutual act and for that reason it is dispensed by a third party, who represents the transcendent authority. If not, than it is not real.[25]  It is in that reality that the catholic theology finds one of the arguments supporting the sacred character of marriage.

The anthropological theory of drama (Tischner, Balthasar)[26] as opposed to an anthropological interpretation of a play originates in a personalistic definition of the subject. Creating "The Marriage" Gombrowicz chose the form of a drama specifically because of its philosophical implications. The marital themes of "The Marriage" are played out in form of a drama in order to demonstrate clearly that the personalistic interaction is not possible to realize. By that token the plot of the play itself constitutes a practical deconstruction of the foundations of the dramatic. Henryk -- the dramatist, director and actor -- discredits the philosophical basis of personalism, which made the development of the dramatic form possible, because he feels guilty of his own inability to do justice to the moral demands which result from this approach.

His attitude, however, is not a simple escape from guilt. Quite the contrary: it leaves us with an unsolved dilemma. Is the conflict between the maximalistic demands coming from the foundations of the European metaphysics and our condition, unable to respond to them the source of frustration and, in the end, aggression? With the same gesture he discredits also the modern philosophy of retreat from the personalistic source of humanity. It is not known where the demon came from -- whether the message the young crown prince heard was a diabolic temptation, or rather the will of the father, which he did not follow and which he distorted by his intrigues.

8. If art is to be successful in its mimetic relationship to reality, it itself must accept its artistic reality. Here it is all reversed. This is the theatricality, not life, that is the "make believe" in this play. "The Marriage" imitates "dream world" by its surreal construction. It also imitates the "spontaneity" of an improvised performance. We will find a solution for this mystification in the works of pure theater -- works of Kantor, who will introduce real memories, a reality filtered through personality, in place of pretend dreams. He will direct them for real -- with author's gestures in front of the audience. And in works of Grotowski, who will work towards the psychoanalytical revelation and obliteration of any kind of pretending, by directing not so much on the stage, but from it. The first one chooses the verity of the lowest rank, the other one the revealing austerity. In Gombrowicz's drama a perfect theater is recorded, but it is enclosed there. If theatre is an encounter than the internal theatre is in its essence non-theater.

Watching Gombrowicz's characters on stage we get an impression of persons who shiver and hurl themselves on one another blindly. This too is a devils trick, according to Kierkegaard. "The demonic is always sudden" And further: "Enclosing reserve is the effect of the negative self-relation in the individuality" Secretiveness is the contents, suddenness -- the form of a certain state of spirit - anxiety about the good. "The good signifies continuity. For the first expression of salvation is continuity. Thus, while the life of an individuality goes on to a certain degree in continuity with the rest of human life, inclosing reserve maintains itself in the person as an abracadabra of continuity that communicates only with itself and therefore is always the sudden". It means, I think, that an open and life affirming person, who loves himself as himself and not as other self -- does not act out his life but lives it; he does not want to bewitch his life - which means turn himself into somebody else, negate himself. A person who lives wearing masks, lives as if non-continuously, namely from one disguise to another. The naked one lives in continuity.

This evangelical juxtaposition also works in the terms: rich/poor. Then the problem of inauthenticity, how contemporary, would be equivalent to the problem of excess. A modern Everyman has too many choices, so, like the rich man, he has a hard time squeezing through the eye of the needle. The riches obstruct his view of the truth, make "pure" being himself impossible. The modern incontinence is the willfulness of the reason. It emboldens the will to rule over that, which the conscience orders it to obey. It is a prohibition on "degeneration" out of humanity created between the I and God towards the humanity fabricated between people.

To be honest: Witold believes, I suspect, subconsciously that Soren is right, but lacks the courage to accept his truth, because the fear of that, the future of which he has so clearly recognized is stronger. He succumbs then to doubt and despair. Henryk commits a sacrificial suicide by provoking the death of Wladzio, the innocent part of himself. Extreme sacrilege is a manifestation of extreme despair. And despair, according to the one, who was a religious alter ego of our protagonist, is the most cardinal sin…

9. Why did you do it, Henry? Were you successful in provoking the Lord? Kierkegaard writes about the unusual zeal of the philosophers demonstrating transcendence - "Yet to the same degree that the excellence of the proof increases, certitude seems to decline." The image of God arising from the logically achieved certainty, rather than from existential instability is that of an omnipotent ruler-protector. A God like that seems to not leave space for the I and he enslaves. It is necessary to defend oneself or hide from Him; the believer feels like he is being watched, judged and obligated. Therefore, if we are to still believe in Him, we need to let this image die.

Gombrowicz's experiment/performance animates the old parable of the prodigal son, who has left in search for freedom - witch means intimacy - and has not yet returned… Is this to make us anxious or brave?


  1. The mythical pattern of the "home coming" topic had been recognized by many critics, my essay undertakes the line as described in Tamara Trojanowska's "Home/lessnes and the Discourse of Subjectivity in Gombrowicz's The Marriage and Rózewicz's The Card Index." In Framing the Polish Home: Postwar Culture Constructions on Hearth, Nation, and Self. Ed. Bozena Shallcross, Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio 2002.
  2. Gombrowicz worked with ready-made characters taken from stereotypes maintained by educated class, Polish and European. Than his "target" seems to be classical for tragedy - the court, the elite. See also: Michał Głowiński, Gombrowicz i nadliteratura. Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2002.
  3. It appears here as the most clear image of the subject as developed from Descartes and deconstructed in the form of a "subject ever negotiating with others". See: Michał Paweł Markowski, Czarny nurt. Gombrowicz, świat, literatura. Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2004.
  4. On the romantic subject see also: Agata Bielik-Robson, Duch powierzchni. Rewizja romantyczna i filozofia. Universitas, Kraków 2003.
  5. Jerzy Jarzebski, Podglądanie Gombrowicza. Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2001.
  6. Markowski points toward Heidegger's "Nichts-zu-hause-sein" as the basic/essential/pure/naked state of being. (Markowski 2004, 81). I would say that for Henry it is also a moral challenge of human life, and the modern form of ancient nobleman's honor.
  7. An existential interpretation of Gombrowicz's philosophy of man concentrated on a kind of "life energy" was given by Włodzimierz Maciąg in his article "Antropologia Gombrowicza." In: Gombrowicz filozof. Ed. F. R. Cataluccio and J. Ilg. Znak, Kraków 1991.
  8. Maciąg claims that many of Gombrowicz's characters, being a figure of cultural hero, are also a figure of a "chosen man". This man, suffering in his struggle for morality (even if impossible to gain), becomes eventually a kind of secular martyr. These feathers give him, what author calls, "reader's moral credit". Henry, as a sinner openly and profoundly confessing his sins, assumes a moral right to become a spiritual leader; as Mickiewicz's Konrad. (Maciąg 1991)
  9. The name "Henry" suggests immediately to a Polish reader the famous "Cont Henry" from Zygmunt Krasiński's romantic drama. This suggestion fails and raises in course of the play, being a part of author's constant intertextual game. About romantic ancestors of Henry see: Zbigniew Majchrowski, "Mickiewicz w kościele ludzkim Witolda Gombrowicza." In: Cela Konrada. słowo/obraz/terytoria, Gdańsk 1998.
  10. Being "hamleticaly" undeclared Henry continues the tradition of post-romantic criticism undertaken by Stanisław Wyspiański's Liberation, dealing also with the "literary hero" who directs life on stage…
  11. … which is non-existence, because "for him there is no reality without subjectivity". See: Jerzy Jarzebski, "Miedzy kreacją a interpretacją." In: Gombrowicz filozof. (Kraków, 1991)
  12. By "play" I mean a children activity and a sport like game, they both have some "theatrical" feathers and they are using "unreal" to escape from everyday responsibility. The best analyze of this problem see: Jerzy Jarzebski, Gra w Gombrowicza. PIW, Warszawa 1982.
  13. "In The Marriage God has not died; he has been evicted." (Trojanowska, 2002.) And the wound after Him still, giving a pain, connects the subject with reality. Gombrowicz himself in his Six Lectures on Philosophy… says that "God was liquidated".
  14. Henry willfully destroys himself following mystical tradition as embodied in "a certain type of artist". The one we would call... dandy! See: Konstanty A. Jeleński, "Bohaterskie niebohaterstwo Gombrowicza." In: Gombrowicz filozof (Kraków 1991).
  15. Concept of "the second I" should not be missed with the Jaques Lacan's "mirror stadium" of a child life as described, applying it to Gombrowicz, by M. P. Markowski (see: Markowski, 2004, 240) and Hanjo Berressem, Lines of Desire: Reading Gombrowicz's Fiction with Lacan, Northwestern University Press, Evanston 1998.
  16. M. P. Markowski's suggestions are notable exemption. I have this essay written before his book was published. (See: Markowski, 2004, 36,70).
  17. I quote Kierkegaard from the American edition: Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety. Ed. and trans. by Reidar Thomte. Princeton University Press, Princeton 1980.
  18. See: Eric R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational. University of California Press, 1951.
  19. On the connection between The Marriage and Greek tragedy both in philosophical and aesthetical context see: Allen j. Kuharski, "Witolda Gombrowicza tragedia wywłaszczenia." In: Szukanie głosu Gombrowicza, Radom 2002.
  20. Tamara Trojanowska, "Teatralne dylematy "ślubu". In: Ruch Literacki, 4/1986.
  21. The Marriage as tragedy of human relations is read by Zdzisław Łapiński in: Ja, Ferdydurke. Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 1997.
  22. Gombrowicz, educated in the 30ths, was surely familiar (even if only from his "cafe small talks") with the philosophy of Emmanuel Mounier, enormously popular in Poland this time. Interpreted (or rather: mis-interpreted) by the Polish right thinkers it was regarded political and social opposition to Gombrowicz's aristocratic anarchism. Finally this influence, mixed with Levinas' and Buber's "philosophy of dialog", created the polish version of philosophical anthropology, perfectly represented in Karol Wojtyła's The Acting Person. Trans. Andrzej Potocki. Dordrecht D. Reide Pub. Co., Boston 1979. This line seems to be obvious continuation of Polish romantic political/moral concept of individualism… See also: Artur Grabowski, "Osoba i czyn" w "Prelekcjach Paryskich", In: Znak 4/2004.
  23. Gombrowicz's drama as a psychoanalytical process was perfectly examined by Jan Błoński in his Forma, śmiech i rzeczy ostateczne: studia o Gombrowiczu. Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 1994.
  24. See: Janusz Margański, Gombrowicz wieczny debiutant. Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2001.
  25. Stage action provoked by the hero usually rises up from language performative energy. The theatrical image of a marriage as an action emerges from word-play, very clear and natural in Polish language, based on the opposition of "brać ślub / dać ślub / wziąć ślub", which uses phrases containing verbs: to take, to give, to get. That is how to do things with words…
  26. See: Józef Tischner, Filozofia dramatu. Znak, Kraków 1998. And: Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theodrama: Theological Dramatic Theory. Trans. Graham Harrison. Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1989-98. And: Józef Olejniczak, Kłamstwo nieprzerwane nas drązy. Cztery szkice o Gombrowiczu. Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu śląskiego, Katowice 2003.
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