Cosmos, Witold Gombrowicz
Instytut Literacki, 1965 (Poland),
Translated by Eric Mosbacher in 1967
Flash flood alert. Seek higher ground immediately. The forecast calls for a deluge of details, details, an endless downpour, one after the next. This is a novel presented in high definition, each page shimmering in maximum resolution.
The narrator (Witold) uses his brain as a decoder in a furious attempt to translate every last one of the observations that unfold before him, trying to extrapolate a greater meaning from it all. It’s strange paradox: By zooming in on the somewhat mundane events of the novel, a panoramic view emerges. Through realism, a portal to surrealism emerges. And within the union, true life comes into sharp focus.
We waited on the top step, my head was still buzzing with the journey, the clatter of the train, the events of the day before, the crowds, the fumes, the din. The noise in my head was deafening. I was startled by a strange deformity in the decent, domesticated, blue-eyed face of the woman who opened the door. Her mouth seemed to be excessively prolonged to one side, through only to an infinitesimal extent, perhaps about a millimeter, but when she spoke this imparted a darting or gliding, almost reptilian, motion to her upper lip.
Do all the novel’s countless or even absurd details eventually help uncover a mystery? Is there even a mystery to uncover at all? Is the narrator (or even the reader) the one who is introducing significance into events that are, ultimately, completely void of all meaning?
The narrator’s traveling companion, Fuchs, weighs in.
Something is up here, Witold and I noticed it as soon as we arrived, but it was only an impression, there was nothing positive, only a lot of vague signs and hints, so we couldn’t mention it to anybody. But now the time has come for frankness.
Anyone who has ever had a touch of paranoia can easily empathize with such perplexing questions. What do I mean by that? What do you mean, what do I mean by that? Did you just roll your eyes, and what the hell is that supposed to mean?
Maybe I am reading too much into the novel entirely. Is it ultimately just a joyride into the obscene banality of life?
Or wait. . . .
The doorbell rings. I turn around and look at the lock. Sure enough, it is unlocked. There is no time to finish the previous thought amidst this sudden emergence of fear. Looking closer at the door knob, I notice that it appears to be turning, ever so slightly. At least I think it is. Or maybe my mind is playing tricks on me as I have been peering into the burning wasteland of a computer screen too long. But then, there is a creak in the floorboards. It is the wind. Perhaps.