Chapter 4 (Preface to The Child Runs Deep in Filidor) of Gombrowicz’s Ferdydurke is a digressive essay into his thoughts on art and form, and some other related stuff. Reproduced in its entirety here:
Before I continue these true reminiscences I wish to include, as the next chapter and by way of digression, a story entitled “The Child Runs Deep in Filidor.” You saw how maliciously the doctrinaire Pimko had dealt me the rump, you saw the idealistic nooks and crannies of our intelligentsia youth, their inability to embrace life, the hopelessness of their disparate aims, their dismal affectation, the boredom that plunged them into gloom, their ridiculous fantasy life, their anguish over their anachronisms, the folly of their rumps, faces, and other body parts. You have heard words, words, vulgar words waging war on high-flown words, and you have heard other equally vacuous words uttered in class by their teachers-you were the silent witnesses to the way that a mishmash of inane words came to a bad end in the form of a freakish grimace. It is in the prime of youth that mim sinks into empty phrases and grimaces. It’s in this smithy that our maturity is forged. In a moment you’ll see yet another reality, another duel-a fight unto death between Professors G. L. Filidor from Leyden and Momsen from Colombo (with the genteel title of “anti-Filidor”). And words, as well as various body parts, will play their part in that reality, but one should not look for an exact connection between the two parts of the said whole; and whoever thinks that by including this story, “The Child Runs Deep in Filidor,” my sole aim was not merely filling space on paper and reducing slightly the enormous number of white pages before me, is sorely mistaken.
But if notable scholars and connoisseurs, all those Pimkos adept at fabricating the rump out of texts by pointing to the faulty construction of a work of art, reproach me that-in their opinion-a desire to fill space is a purely private matter and insufficient reason for writing, and that one shouldn’t stick everything one has ever written into a work of art, I will reply that in my humble opinion individual body parts form an adequately aesthetic-artistic linkage with words. And I will prove that my construction is in no way inferior, as far as precision and logic are concerned, to even the most precise and logical constructions. Look-that basic body part, the tame and kindly rump is the basis, therefore, it is from the rump that all action begins. It is from the rump, as from the trunk of a tree, that the branching of individual parts, namely the toe, hands, eyes, teeth, ears, begins, and, at the same time, all those parts imperceptibly pass from one part to another in delicate and skillful transformations. And the human face, otherwise known as the mug, is the crown, the foliage of a tree whose individual parts grow out of the trunk of the rump; the mug closes the cycle that began with the rump. And having arrived at the mug, what is there left for me to do but to retrace my steps, through the individual parts, back to the rump?-and this is the purpose ofthe short story “Filidor.” “Filidor” is a construction in reverse, a passage or, strictly speaking, a coda, it’s a trill, or rather a twist, a twisting of the gut, without which I would never have reached the calf of my left leg. Isn’t this an ironclad skeleton for a construction? Isn’t this enough to satisfy the most exacting requirements? And what if you penetrate deeper, into the linkages between the individual parts, into the pathways from the finger to the teeth, into the mystical meaning of some of your favorite parts, and further, into the significance of individual joints, of the sum of the parts, as well as into all the parts of parts? I assure you, such a construction is invaluable as far as filling space is concerned, one could fill three hundred volumes with critical research on the subject, thus filling even more space, reaching thereby an even higher place, and seating oneself even more squarely and comfortably in that place. Do you like blowing soap bubbles by the lakeside at sunset when carp splash about and a fisherman s i t s in silence, looking at himself in the mirrorlike sheet of water?
And I recommend repetition as the method for enhancing the vigor of your work, because by systematically repeating certain words, phrases, situations, and parts I intensify them, thereby heightening the impression of uniformity of style to the point of nearmania. It’s by means of repetition, repetition that mythology is most readily created! Take note, however, that this construction from particles is not a mere construction, it is actually an entire philosophy which I’ll present here in the frivolous and frothy form of a carefree magazine article. But what do you think, tell me-in your opinion, doesn’t the reader assimilate parts only, and only partly at that? He reads a part, or a piece of it, then stops, only to resume reading another piece later, and, as so often happens, he starts from the middle or from the end, then backtracks to the beginning. Quite often he’ll read a couple of segments then toss the book aside, not because he has lost interest in it, but because something else came to his mind. And even if he were to read the whole-do you think that he can visualize it in its entirety and appreciate the relationship and harmony ofits individual parts unless he hears it from an expert? Is it for this that an author toils for years, cuts his material and bends it into shape, tears it apart and patches it up again, sweats and agonizes over it-so that an expert may tell the reader that its construction is good? But let’s go on, on, and into the realm of the reader’s everyday personal experience! Might not just a phone call, or a fly, interrupt his reading precisely at the point where all the individual parts unite in a dramatic resolution? Or what if, at that very moment, his brother (for instance) comes into the room and says something. The author’s noble-minded pains go for naught vis a vis the brother, the fly, or the phone call-fie! nasty little flies, why do you bite human beings who have lost their tails long ago and have nothing to swat with? What’s more, let us consider whether your work, this unique, outstanding, and elaborate work is merely a particle of some thirty thousand other works, equally unique, which make their appearance year in, year out and on the principle of “each year be sure to add, whether bad or good, a new oeuvre to your brood”? Oh, horrid parts! Is this why we construct a whole, so that a particle of a part of the reader will absorb a particle ofa part of the work, and only partly at that?
It’s hard not to play little games and make fun of the subject. Making fun is the name of the game. Because we’ve learned long ago to make fun of that which too scathingly makes fun of us. Will there ever be a sufficiently serious-minded genius who will look life’s trivia in the eye without bursting into a dumb giggle? Someone whose greatness will ever be a match for triviality? Hey-ho, I’m setting here a tone, a tone for my carefree feuilleton! But let’s note further (to drain the chalice of particles to the last drop) that the canons and principles of construction to which we so slavishly adhere are also the product of a mere part, and a rather minuscule part at that. It’s only an insignificant part of the world, a scant circle of experts and aesthetes, a small world no bigger than one’s little finger, a world that could fit in its entirety into one cafe, that constantly shapes itself, squeezing out ever more refined postulates. But what’s worse, their tastes are not actually tastes-no, their fancy for the construction of your work is only a small part, the larger part being their fancy for their own expertise on the subject of construction. Is this why an author tries to show his skill in the way he constructs his work, so that an expert may show off his expertise on the subject? Quiet, shush, something mysterious is happening, here before us is a fiftyyear-old author, on his knees at the altar of art, creating, thinking about his masterpiece, about its harmony, precision, and beauty, about its spirit and how to overcome its difficulties, and there is the expert thoroughly studying the author’s material, whereupon the masterpiece goes out into the world and to the reader, and what was conceived in utter and absolute agony is now received piecemeal, between a telephone call and a hamburger. Here is the writer who with all his heart and soul, with his art, in anguish and travail offers nourishment-there is the reader who’ll have none of it, and if he wants it, it’s only in passing, offhandedly, until the phone rings. Life’s trivia are your undoing. You are like a man who has challenged a dragon to a fight but will be yapped into a corner by a little dog.
But to go on, I want to ask you (to take one more swig from the chalice of particles) -in your opinion-does a work that obeys all the canons express a whole or only a part? Indeed! Doesn’t all form rely on the process of exclusion, isn’t all construction a process of whittling down, can a word express anything but a part of reality? The rest is silence. And finally, do we create form or does form create us? We think we are the ones who construct it, but that’s an illusion, because we are, in equal measure, constructed by the construction. Whatever you put down on paper dictates what comes next, because the work is not born of you-you want to write one thing, yet something entirely different comes out. Parts tend to wholeness, every part surreptitiously makes its way toward the whole, strives for roundness, and seeks fulfillment, it implores the rest to be created in its own image and likeness. Out of the turbulent sea of images our mind catches a certain part, let’s say an ear or a leg; then, right at the beginning of a work, the ear or the leg drifts under our pen, and henceforward we can no longer extricate ourselves from this part, so we continue with it, it imposes on us all the remaining body parts. We wrap ourselves around that part like ivy round an oak tree, the beginning sets up the end, and the end-the beginning, while the middle evolves between the beginning and the end. A total inability to encompass wholeness marks the human soul. What are we then to do with a part that has turned up and is not in our likeness, as if a thousand lustful, fiery stallions had visited the bed of our child’s mother-and hey! if only to save some semblance of paternity we must, with all the moral power at our disposal, try to resemble our work, but it doesn’t want to resemble us. Indeed, I remember a writer I knew years ago who, at the outset of his career, happened to write a heroic book. With his first words, and quite accidentally, he struck a heroic chord-he could equally well have struck a skeptical or lyrical note-but the first few sentences happened to sound he roic, therefore, out of consideration for the harmony of construction, he couldn’t help but to go on enhancing the heroism, step by step, to the very end. And he continued rounding off the edges of his material, polishing and perfecting it, revising it, matching the beginning with the end, and the end with the beginning, until the work emerged like a living thing, full of deep convictions. But what could he do with those deep convictions? Could he then turn around and deny them? Can an author who is responsible for his every word admit that he just stumbled upon a heroic theme, that those deep convictions are not his deep convictions at all, that they had somehow crept in from outside and had crawled over, ambled, and clambered into his text? Absolutely not! Because such trite methods as stumbling upon, crawling over, or creeping in have no place in a sophisticated piece of work, they are a makeshift approach suitable only for a frothy and playfully unimportant magazine article. In vain did our hapless heroic writer hide in embarrassment and try to weasel out of the part that caught hold of him, while the part, once having grabbed him, would not let go, and he had to adapt to it. And he continued to become more and more like the part until, at the end of his writing career, he became just like it, and just as heroicthough a rather weakly victim of his heroism. And he avoided his colleagues and companions from the time of immaturity like the plague, because they marveled at the whole that had so closely been matched with the part. And they called to him: “Hey, Bolek! Do you remember that fingernail . . . the fingernail . . . Bolek, Bolek, little Bolek, do you remember the fingernail on the green meadow? The fingernail? That fingernail, Bolek-boy, where is it now?”
These are then the basic fundamental and philosophical reasons that have induced me to build a work on a foundation of individual parts-treating the work itself as a particle of the work, man as a union of parts, and mankind as a composite of parts and pieces. But if anyone were to complain: this part-concept is not-if truth be known-a concept at all but sheer nonsense, a mockery and legpulling, and that I’m trying, instead of complying with strict rules and canons of art, to evade them by mocking them-I would reply: yes, yes indeed, these and none other are my intentions. And-so help me God-I don’t hesitate to admit it-I don’t want to have anything to do with your Art, gentlemen, which I can’t stand, just as much as I don’t want to have anything to do with you . . . because I can’t stand you, with your ideas, your artistic posturing, and all that artistic little world of yours.
Gentlemen, there are on this earth societies that are more or less ridiculous, more or less degrading, shameful and humiliating-and the amount of stupidity is also variable. So, for example, a guild of hairdressers may seem, at first sight, more prone to stupidity than a guild of cobblers. But what goes on in the world of art beats all for stupidity and degradation-and to such a degree that someone who has some sense of decency and balance can’t help but lower his brow in burning shame when confronted with this childish and pretentious orgy. Oh, those inspired songs to which no one listens! Oh, the connoisseurs’ clever talk and their enthusiasm at concerts and poetry readings, oh, the initiations, valorizations, discussions, and oh, the faces of those who recite or listen to poetry and collectively celebrate the mystery of beauty! By what painful paradox does everything you say or do transform itself, under these circumstances, into the ridiculous? When, over time, a society lapses into fits of stupidity, one can definitely say that its ideas are not in keeping with reality, that it simply stuffs itself with bogus ideas. And, without a doubt, your artistic concepts have also reached the peak of conceptual naivete; but if you want to know how and in what sense they should be revised, I’ll tell you soon enough-but you have to lend me your ear.
What is it that someone really desires these days when he feels a calling to take up the pen, the brush? He yearns, first and foremost, to be an artist. He yearns to create Art. He dreams of satiating himself and his fellow men with Beauty, Goodness, Truth, he wants to be their high priest of art and their bard by offering up all the riches of his talent to thirsting mankind. And perhaps he also wants to offer his talent in the service of some great idea as well as of his Nation. What lofty goals! What magnanimous undertakings! Wasn’t this the role of all the Shakespeares and the Chopins? But, mark you, here is the catch: you are not, as yet, Chopins nor Shakespeares, you are not, as yet, fully fledged artists nor high priests of art; you are at most, in the present phase of your development, merely half-Shakespeares and quarter-Chopins (oh, those accursed parts again!)-and therefore your posturing does nothing but expose your miserable deficiencies-it’s as if you wanted, at any cost, to jump onto a pedestal, thereby endangering your precious and sensitive body parts.
Believe me: there is a great difference between an artist who has realized his potential and a horde of half-artists and quarter-bards who merely dream of doing so. And that which befits a fully fledged artist has, when it comes from you, an entirely different ring. Yet you, instead of conceiving ideas to your own measure, ideas that fit your own reality, you adorn yourselves with someone else’s feathers-and this is why you become mere hopefuls, forever inept, whose grades will never be more than a puny C, you servants and imitators, vassals and admirers of Art, which keeps you in its antechambers. Truly, it’s a terrible thing to watch you try and not succeed, to watch you push on with new works and try to foist them on others even as you’re being told “that’s not quite it,” to watch you boost yourselves with awful, second-rate little successes, pay each other compliments, arrange artistic soirees, and persuade yourselves and others to create ever new disguises for your own ineptness. And you don’t have the consolation that what you write and concoct is of any value whatsoever, even to yourselves. Because all of it, I repeat, all of it, is mere imitation, it’s been picked up from the masters-it’s nothing but a premature illusion that your quality is being recognized, that you have attained a measure ofworth. Your situation is false and, being false, must bear bitter fruit, therefore animosity, disdain, maliciousness grow ripe among you, and everyone looks down on everyone else and on himself in particular, you are a brotherhood of disdainuntil you’ll finally scorn each other to death. What is the situation, actually, of a second-rate writer if not one of major rebuff? The first and merciless rebuff is inflicted upon him by the ordinary reader who simply refuses to relish the writer’s works. The second shameful rebuff is meted out to him by his own reality, which he has been unable to express. And the third rebuff, the most shameful of all and a real kick in the pants, is dealt him by art itself, the art to which he has turned for shelter but which regards him with utter disdain, as inept and inadequate. And this fills the cup of disgrace. This is where true homelessness begins. This is how the second-rate writer becomes the butt of ridicule from all sides, caught as he is in the crossfire of rebuff. Truly, what can be expected of a man rebuffed three times, each time more shamefully than the time before? And when he’s dressed down like this, shouldn’t a man pack his bags and leave, shouldn’t he hide somewhere so he can’t be seen? Can inadequacy which parades in the light of day and which craves honors be wholesome, won’t it provoke one’s nature to hiccup?
But first tell me this-in your opinion, are Anjou pears better and juicier than Bose pears, aren’t you more partial to the former than to the latter? And do you like to eat them while sitting comfortably in wicker chairs on the porch? For shame, gentlemen, for shame, shame, and shame again! I’m not a philosopher and theoretician, no-but I’m talking about you, I’m thinking about your life, do understand me, I’m purely and simply troubled by your personal situation. You just can’t break free. Oh, this inability of yours to cut the umbilical cord that ties you to mankind’s rebuff! A soul rebuffed-a flower unsniffed-a candy that wants so much to be tasty but pleases no one-a woman spurned-all these have always caused me sheer physical pain, I just can’t bear this lack of fulfillment, and when I meet one of those artists downtown and realize to what extent an ordinary rebuff lies at the basis of his existence, how his every move, every word, how his beliefs, his enthusiasms, his every comma, his hurt ego, his pride, his crying shame and suffering, how they all give off the smell of an ordinary and unpleasant rebuff, I too feel shame. And I feel shame not because I commiserate with him but because I live side by side with him, because his grotesque nature touches me and everyone else whose consciousness it has penetrated. Believe me, it’s about time to decide and settle the status of the second-rate writer, otherwise everyone will be left nauseated. Isn’t it strange that people who dedicate themselves ex professo to form and therefore, one would think, are sensitive to style, give in without a protest to such a false and pretentious state of affairs? Can’t you understand that from the point of view of form and style nothing can be more disastrous in its consequences-because whoever finds himself in such a false situation, in such entirely shoddy circumstances, cannot utter a single word that won’t be shoddy.
How should we then-you’ll ask-express ourselves in a way that would be congruent with our reality, yet at the same time be autonomous? Gentlemen, it’s not within your power to transform yourselves, well, let’s say from Tuesday to Wednesday, into mature masters, but you could save your dignity to some degree by distancing yourselves from Art, which sticks it to you with that disconcerting rump. To begin with, part company forever with the word: art, and that other word: artist. Stop wallowing in these words and repeating them with such endless monotony. Isn’t everyone a bit of an artist? Isn’t it true that mankind creates art not only on paper or on canvas, but also in every moment of everyday life-when a young girl pins a flower in her hair, when in the course of conversation a little joke escapes your lips, when we melt with emotion at the beauty of twilight’s light and shadow, what is all this if not the practicing of art? Why then this odd and idiotic division into “artists” and the rest of mankind? Wouldn’t it be more wholesome if you simply said: “perhaps I busy myselfwith art a little more than others do;’ rather than to proudly declare yourselves artists? Further, what use is it to you, this worship of the art contained within the so-called “works of art”-how did you dream it up, what’s given you the daft idea that man has such a great admiration for works of art, that we swoon in heavenly bliss when we listen to a Bach fugue? Have you ever thought how impure, murky, and immature is the artistic aspect of culturethe aspect that you want to lock up within your simplistic phraseology? The mistake that you so commonly and flagrantly make is primarily this: you reduce man’s communion with art to artistic emotion alone, and, at the same time, you define this communion in utterly egocentric terms, as if each one of us were experiencing art totally on our own-a single-handed, single-legged experience-and in hermetic isolation from your fellow men. Yet in real life we’re dealing with a blend of many emotions, of many individuals who, acting on each other, create a collective experience.
And so, when a pianist bangs out Chopin in a concert hall, you say that the magic of Chopin’s music, masterfully rendered by this master pianist, has thrilled the audience. Yet it’s possible that actually no one in the audience has been thrilled. Let’s not exclude the possibility that, had they not known Chopin to be a great genius, and the pianist likewise, they would have listened to the music with less ardor. It’s also possible that when some listeners, pale with emotion, applaud, scream, carry on, writhe in enthusiasm one should attribute this to the fact that others in the audience are also writhing, carrying on, shouting; because every one of them thinks that the others are experiencing an incredible ecstasy, a transcendent emotion, and therefore his emotions as well begin to rise on someone else’s yeast; and thus it can easily happen that while no one in the concert hall has been directly enraptured, everyone expresses rapture-because everyone wants to conform to his neighbor. And it’s not until all of them in a bunch have sufficiently excited each other, it is only then, I tell you, that these expressions of emotion arouse their emotion-because we must comply with what we express. It’s also true that by participating in the concert we fulfill something of a religious act (just as if we were assisting at the Holy Mass), kneeling devoutly before the Godhead of artistry; in this case our admiration is merely an act of homage and the fulfilling of a rite. Who can tell, however, how much real beauty there is in this Beauty, and how much of it is a sociohistorical process? Tut, tut, as everyone knows, mankind needs myths-it chooses this one or that one from among its numerous authors (but who can ever explore or shed light on the course that such a choice has taken?), whereupon it proceeds to elevate him above all others, to memorize his works, to discover in him its own mysteries, to subordinate its emotions to him-but ifwe were to elevate, with the same doggedness, some other artist, then he would become our Homer. Can’t you see then, how many varied and often other than aesthetic elements (a list ofwhich I could tediously extend ad infinitum) make up the greatness of the artist and his work? And you want to enclose this muddled, complicated, and difficult communion with art in the naive phrase: “the poet sings with inspiration, the listener lends his ear in admiration”?
Stop then pampering art, stop-for God’s sake!-this whole system of puffing it up and magnifying it; and, instead of intoxicating yourselves with legends, let facts create you. And once you open your minds to Reality this alone may bring you great relief-at the same time stop worrying that it will impoverish and shrivel your spiritbecause Reality is always richer than naive illusions and idle notions. And I will soon show you what riches await you on this new path.
Certainly art is the perfecting ofform. But you seem to think-and here is another ofyour cardinal mistakes-that art consists of creating works perfect in their form; you reduce this all-encompassing, omnihuman process of creating form to the turning out of poems and symphonies; and you’ve never been able to truly experience nor explain to others what an enormous role form plays in our lives. Even in the field of psychology you haven’t been able to secure form its proper place. You still seem to think that emotions, instincts, ideas govern our behavior, while you’re inclined to consider form to be a superficial appendage and a simple gewgaw. When a widow who walks behind her husband’s casket cries and wails to the point of splitting her sides, you surmise she’s wailing because she’s overcome by her loss. Or when some engineer, doctor, or lawyer murders his wife, children, or friend, you think that he let himself be seized by bloodthirsty instincts. Or when a politician says something stupid, you think that he’s stupid because he’s talking nothing but nonsense. But in Reality matters stand as follows: a human being does not express himselfforthrightly and in keeping with his nature but always in some well-defined form, and this form, this style, this manner of being is not of our making but is thrust upon us from outside-and this is why one and the same individual can present himself on the outside as wise or stupid, as bloodthirsty or angelic, as mature or immature-depending upon the style he happens to come up with, and in what way he is dependent on others. And j ust as beetles, insects chase after food all day, so do we tirelessly pursue form, we hassle other people with our style, our manners while riding in a streetcar, while eating or enjoying ourselves, while resting or attending to our business-we always, unceasingly, seek form, and we delight in it or suffer by it, and we conform to it or we violate and demolish it, or we let it create us, amen.
Oh, the power of Form! Nations die because of it. It is the cause of wars. It creates something in us that is not of us. If you make light of it you’ll never understand stupidity nor evil nor crime. It governs our slightest impulses. It is at the base of our collective life. For you, however, Form and Style still belong strictly to the realm of the aesthetic-for you style is on paper only, in the style of your stories. Gentlemen, who will slap your rump which you dare turn toward others as you kneel at the altar of art? For you form is not something that is human and alive, something-I’d say-practical and everyday, but just a feature for the holidays. And while you’re leaning over a piece of paper you forget your own self-you don’t care about perfecting your own individual and concrete style, you merely practice an abstract stylization in a vacuum. Instead of art serving you, you serve art-and with a sheeplike docility you let it impede your development, and you let it push you into the hell of indolence.
Now consider how different the stance would be of someone who, instead of feeding on the words of the concept makers, would sweep the world with a fresh look and with an understanding of the boundless importance of form in our lives. If he were to take up the pen it would not be for the sake of becoming an Artist but-let’s say-to better express his individuality and explain it to others; or else to put his internal affairs in order, and also, perhaps, to deepen and sharpen his relationship with his fellow men because other souls exert an immense and creative influence on our soul; or, for example, to try to fight for a world as he would like it to be, for a world that is indispensable to his life. He would, of course, spare no effort to have his work attract people and win their hearts with its artistic charmbut in this case his chief goal would not be art but the expression of his own person. And I say “his own,” not “someone else’s,” because it’s high time you stopped thinking of yourselves as creatures of a higher order who are here to edify and enlighten someone else, to lead and raise someone else into the sublime, or to improve someone else’s morals. Who has granted you this superiority? Where does it say that you now belong to a higher class? Who has promoted you to aristocracy? Who gave you a patent on Maturity? Oh no, this writer, the one I’m talking about, will not write because he considers himself mature but because he is aware of his immaturity, because he knows that he doesn’t know everything about form, he knows he is still climbing and has not quite yet crawled to the top, that he is in the process of becoming but has not yet become. And if he happens to write something inept and silly he’ll say: “Great! I’ve written something stupid, but I haven’t signed a contract with anyone to produce solely wise and perfect works. I gave vent to my stupidity and I’m glad of it, because the animosity and harshness of others that I’ve aroused against me will now form and shape me, it will create me as if anew, and here I am-reborn.” Which shows that the bard who has such a sound philosophy, one who is so well-grounded within himself that neither stupidity nor immaturity can threaten nor harm him, this bard can, his head raised high, express himself even as he is being indolent, while you, you can no longer express much of anything because fear deprives you of speech.
With all this in mind, the reform I recommend should bring you considerable relief. One must add, however, that only a masterly writer cognizant of these matters would be equal to grappling with this problem, which, thus far, has dealt you the worst possible rumpand the problem which I raise here is, very likely, the most fundamental, the most awesome, and the most brilliant (I have no hesitation in using this word) of all the problems of style and culture. Here is a graphic way of formulating the problem: imagine that the adult and mature bard, leaning over a piece of paper, is in the process of creating . . . but on his back a youth has squarely settled himself, or some semi-enlightened fellow from the semi- intelligentsia, or a young maiden, or some nondescript slouch of a soul, or some kind of juvenile, lowbrow, ignorant creature, and then-this creature, this youth, this maiden, or lowbrow fellow, or for that matter any muddle-headed son ofthe unenlightened quarter-culture-suddenly pounces on his soul and drags it down, constricts it, kneads it with his paws, yet at the same time, by embracing this soul, by soaking it up, sucking it in, he rejuvenates it with his youth, seasons it with his immaturity, and prepares it to his own liking, then he brings it down to his own level-and oh, into his arms! But this author, instead of pitting himself against his assailant, pretends that he does not see him and-what idiocy!-he thinks he’ll avoid being violated by putting on a face as ifhe were not being violated. Isn’t this exactly what happens to you, beginning with great geniuses all the way to mediocre bards in the gallery? Isn’t it true that every being who is at a higher level of development, who is older and more mature, is dependent in a thousand different ways on beings who are less well developed, and doesn’t this dependence permeate us through and through, to our very core and to the extent that we can say: the elder is created by the younger? When we write, don’t we have to accommodate the reader? Just as when we speak-don’t we depend on the person we’re addressing? Are we not mortally in love with youth? Are we not obliged then, at every moment, to ingratiate ourselves with beings who are below us, to tune in with them, to surrender, be it to their power or to their charms-and isn’t this painful violence that’s being committed on our person by some half-enlightened, inferior being the most seminal of all violence? Thus far, however, and contrary to all your rhetoric, you have only been able to hide your head in the sand, and your scholarly and didactic mentality, suffused with conceit, has made you unaware of this matter. In reality you’re constantly being violated, yet you pretend that nothing is happeningbecause you, oh mature ones, keep company solely with other mature ones, and your maturity is so mature that it can only chum up with maturity!
If you were, however, less concerned with Art or the edifying and perfecting of others and more with your own pitiful selves, you would never acquiesce to such a terrible violation of the self; a poet, instead of creating poems for another poet, would feel that he’s being suffused and created by forces from below, forces ofwhich, thus far, he had not even been aware. He would realize that only by accepting them would he be able to free himself of them; and he would do his best to show, in his style, in his artistic as well as everyday attitude and form, a clear link with all that’s inferior to him. He would then feel not only like a Father, but like a Father and a Son: he would write not solely like a wise, refined and mature one, but rather like a Wise One who benefits from stupidity, like a Refined One who profits from being tirelessly brutalized, and like a Mature One who is being ceaselessly rejuvenated. And if, upon leaving his writing desk, he were to run into that youth or that lowbrow he would no longer pat him condescendingly on the back like a preacher or a pedagogue, but instead he would wail and roar in holy trembling, and perhaps even fall to his knees! Instead of fleeing from immaturity and shutting himself within the ambit of the sublime, he would realize that a universal style is one that knows how to embrace lovingly those not quite developed. And this would finally lead all of you to a form that would pant with creativity and be filled with poetry, so much so that the whole bunch of you would transform yourselves into powerful geniuses.
Take note then, what hope I send your way with such an individually personal concept-and what perspectives! But, for this idea to be a hundred percent creative and definitive, you must take yet another step forward-but this step must be so bold and resolute, so limitless in its possibilities and destructive in its consequences, that my lips will mention it only softly and from a distance. Here it is: the time has come, the hour has struck on the clock of history-make an effort to overcome form, to liberate yourselves from it. Stop identifying yourselves with that which delimits you. You, artists, try to avoid all expression of yourselves. Don’t trust your own words. Be on guard against all your beliefs and do not trust your feelings. Back away from what you are on the outside and tremble with fear at any self-manifestation, just as a little bird trembles at the sight of a snake.
I don’t know, truly, whether such things should pass my lips this day, but the stipulation-that an individual be well defined, immutable in his ideas, absolute in his pronouncements, unwavering in his ideology, firm in his tastes, responsible for his words and deeds, fixed once and for all in his ways-is flawed. Consider more closely the chimerical nature of such a stipulation. Our element is unending immaturity. What we think, feel todaywill unavoidably be silliness to our great grandchildren. It is better then that we should acknowledge today that portion of silliness which time will reveal . . . and the force that impels you to a premature definition is not, as you think, a totalyl human force. We shall soon realize that the most important is not: to die for ideas, styles, theses, slogans, beliefs; and also not: to solidify and enclose ourselves in them; but something different, it is this: to step back a pace and secure a distance from everything that unendingly happens to us.
A Retreat. I have a hunch (but I don’t know whether my lips should confess it now) that the time for a Universal Retreat is at hand. The son of earth will henceforth understand that he is not expressing himself in harmony with his deepest being but always in accordance with some artificial form painfulyl thrust upon him from without, either by people or by circumstances. He will then dread that form ofhis and feel ashamed ofit, much as he had thus far idolized and flaunted it. We will soon fear our persons and our personalities, because it will become apparent that they are by no means truly our own. And instead ofroaring: “I believe in this-I feel it-that’s how I am-I’m ready to defend it,” we will say in all humility: “Maybe I believe in it-maybe I feel it-I happened to say it, to do it, or to think it.” The bard will scorn his own song. The leader will shudder at his own command. The high priest will stand in terror of the altar, and the mother will instill in her son not only principles but also ways of escaping them so that they do not smother him.
It will be a long and arduous road. For nowadays individuals as well as whole nations are quite good at managing their psychological life, and they are not strangers to creating styles, beliefs, principles, ideals, and feelings at will and with their immediate interests in mind; yet they do not know how to live without adhering to a style; and we still don’t know how to defend the depths of our freshness against the demon of order. Great discoveries are indispensablepowerful blows struck by the soft human hand at the steel armor of Form, as well as unparalleled cunning and great integrity of thought and an extreme sharpening of intelligence-so that man may break loose from his rigidity and reconcile within himself form with the formless, law with anarchy, maturity with sacred and eternal immaturity. But before this happens, tell me: in your opinion, are Anjou pears better than Bose pears? Do you like to snack on them while comfortably s i t t i n g in wicker chairs on the porch, or do you prefer to abandon yourselves to this activity in the shade of a tree while a fresh and gentle breeze is cooling your body parts? And I ask you this in all seriousness and with total responsibility for my words, and likewise with the greatest respect for all your parts without exception, because I know that you are a part of Humanity, of which I am also a part, and that you partly take part in the part of something which is also a part and of which I am also in part a part, together with all the particles and parts ofparts, ofparts, ofparts, of parts, of parts, of parts, of parts, of parts, of parts, of parts, of parts . . . Help! Oh, confounded parts! Oh, bloodthirsty, nightmarish parts, you’ve grabbed me once again, is there no escaping you, hah, where can I find shelter, what am I to do? oh, that’s enough; enough, enough, let’s finish this part of the book, let’s swiftly move on to another part, and I swear that in the next chapter there will be no more particles, because I’ll shake myself free of them and cast them off, and I’ll dwnp them outside while inside I remain (in part at least) without parts.