In “Żebry Adama,” (Adam’s Begging) the first story in Wojciech Kuczok’s Widmokrąg (widmo – ghost; krąg – circle; widnokrąg – horizon), a naked beggar catches hold of the narrator and forces him to divest himself of first his (Armani) suit jacket, and then his trousers. It’s not meant, of course, to be an entirely realistic account of an everyday occurrence: it goes all metaphorical, phantasmagorical and poetico-rhetorical about a third of the way through with divagations on whether it is possible to understand freedom without having been set free and ruminations about the narrator’s relationship with his father. Also, Kuczok stops using full stops and paragraphing. Nevertheless, I say, let the pettifogging begin:
The naked man never says anything. He just indicates with his eyes that having got the narrator’s (Armani) jacket, he now wants the trousers. So the narrator takes off his trousers – without taking off his shoes! “Had it a trousers on it?” Flann O’Brien once asked. Yes, but no shoes. Or maybe Armani is known for making very broad trousers? Why even mention “Armani?” After the next war, plague, famine, flood or whatever cataclysm will next engulf Poland, people will still be reading books, maybe even this one (it’s not that bad – not my cup of tea but not bad on the whole). But will they still be wearing Armani? Will they understand that the narrator must be well-to-do if he has a suit called an “Armani”? Okay, Kuczok gives other clues that the narrator is well-off but why drag a story down with brand names in this way?
During the narrator’s fierce internal struggle with his father and his suppressed homosexuality and whatever you’re having yourself he recalls the time when he was caught in a tram without a ticket. He recalls the stage whispers of his fellow passengers, who accuse him of arrogance – a rich man like him should fly to work in his own aeroplane, not use trams, and certainly not sponge on the state by not buying a ticket. But the narrator tells us that he had tried to buy a ticket. The tramdriver had none so he went around these same passengers asking if anybody could sell him a ticket. Why, then, would they react with such hostility to his “arrogance”? Kuczok can be defended here: the narrator did not really hear their comments. He is only projecting. One could safely assume that the narrator has some kind of persecution complex (to simplify) or feels guilty about his wealth – were it not for Kuczok’s bare-foot blunder. As it is, the reader is unsure. Perhaps the passengers really did react so vehemently. Maybe Poles really are that petty and vicious… Or maybe Kuczok was careless.
Widmokrąg is a collection of five stories, each punctuated with an “interludium”, named after a work by Chopin (opus 28, nrs. 3, 15, 4 and 18 if you are interested). This immediately brought to my mind a book by Michał Komar called Wtajemniczenia (Initiations), reviewed in this week’s Polityka. The heroine, Ms. E., holds a salon where people gather to talk about this and that – Dürrenmatt, Sophocles, the traffic these days. The reviewer, Katarzyna Janowska, writes (with no apparent irony) “Order is bestowed […] by the rhythm of meals because in the salon not just ideas but also refined dishes are delectable. Omelette with oysters suits conversations about the essence of justice; plum tart goes with discourse on the philosophy of Shestov.” Ms. E. has a servant who describes Hegel’s prose thusly: “It reminds one of carefully prepared osso buco or carelessly grated crème brûlée.” I’ll be reviewing this fascinating book just as soon as I have completed my double first in Philosophy and Classics. In the meantime it’s beer, sandwiches and James Ellroy.
The same issue of Polityka also has an article about France. You don’t need to read it to see that it is identical to the previous ten thousand articles on France that have appeared outside of France. The title is “Cooling Volcano?” and the subhead reads in part “[How will Sarkozy] manage to change French society.” For my entire adult life I have been reading about how France is a failure and needs to reform. And yet it’s still there, still one of the richest countries in the world. I think I’ll spare myself the effort of reading another attack on the principle of the welfare state. That’s all these articles ever amount to.