These books and articles reek of a disintegrating softness, which was formerly characteristic of a provincial backwater.
Witold Gombrowicz, Diary
Provinciality, in Gombrowicz’s usage, should be understood as an inevitable weakness expressed unexpectedly in the reactive defence of unquantified attachments to the specifics of this interior. In activating the category of the provincial, the structuring of cultural artefacts is involuntarily transformed into a content; the enabling apparatus of values become the value. The backwater from which we supposedly emerge becomes the degraded and sentimentalised ideal to which we are compelled to return.
Ripped from its textual particularity, the aftershocks of Gombrowicz’s assessment of that mode of writing which is fixed by its contextual sentiments spread outwards through the territorial armature of all writing, and become a kind of universalising vibration. A kinetic tremor of provinciality is inherent to every instance of writing, even Gombrowicz’s where this has been factored in but not overcome, and is expressed in the peculiar grammar of its fine motor skills... where it is required, as it were, that a teacup be consciously lifted to the lips, and not a drop be spilt.
Every instance of writing, seeking out by successive drafts, the states of either objectivity or a filtered self-expression, nonetheless locates itself, and is fatally compromised by, its true context - the place it would ordinarily not be seen dead in. All writing (by which designation should be understood all intentional projects of recording awareness) involuntarily seeks to earth itself, along the path of least resistance, in the swamp of its flawed particularity.
Writing asks of its own instance, and as if it cannot really invest in the certainty that this must be so, is it this of this writing which betrays writing in general? Betrayal by the unwitting error, the gambler’s ‘tell’, is a central motif in the recording of awareness... the redrafting and re-evaluation of the minor imperfection in writing is the ruminative way in to the process by which the almost secured invulnerability of a clean getaway begins to unravel. It is always a case of, if it were not for that one small error of calculation then...
The film, The Conversation, concludes with the surveillance technician, Harry Caul destroying his apartment in pursuit of an undiscoverable, and thus transcendent, listening device, which thereupon reacquaints him with the vulnerabilities written into his supposed mastery. The flaw in writing, its patriotic attachment to a worthless patch of earth that in its writing it compulsively seeks to erase, similarly cannot be disclosed within the text of itself... tearing out floorboards and wall panels, demolishing furniture and fittings will not reveal it (La Disparition).
Every disciple and every member is unfaithful to the body, to the whole in their own manner. Every instance betrays the whole and yet, even for that agency which knows for certain that it is the one ‘which betrays him’, there is still a compulsion to ask, is it I? Writing betrays writing, and the act of betrayal is always undertaken from a position that is most inside. Writing’s function is to disclose the mechanism of its betrayal by its origins, by its fatal attachment to its conditions, and yet also to pretend that this betrayal need not be so, that it might otherwise have got away. Thus, all writing exercises its right to falsely insist in recording what must be that it could also be otherwise.
There is a component of fascinated awareness integral to the process of writing, a closed allegiance/betrayal dynamic which once activated by the merest hint of belonging, immediately sets in motion a spiral of quixotic absurdity that both hunts down and cultivates the question of its attachment to this ‘backwater’. Gombrowicz wrote of nothing else.
Every instance of writing slips back into a state of unguarded relaxation, becoming another dumpling that melts into one register of provinciality or another. And, ironically, if not tragically, it is vigilant writing that is most susceptible to affirmational expressions of backwater patriotism - the writing which is directed away from belonging is impelled to find itself somewhere as a set of principles, as elective relations or as proposed solutions. He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.
Gombrowicz’s impossibilist patriotism, an ‘antipatriotism’ which, in its elective form, and by which he seeks to remodel written belonging along an alternative path, must fail after all. The energy which drives patriotism is never available in any form but as that impelled and atavistic irrationality which always undoes every attempt to rethink and rewrite belonging - you can take the boy out of Newcastle but it seems you cannot take Newcastle out of the boy.
Belonging, and more precisely, belonging to the universal particularity of this backwater, this mode of awareness, is not a transplantable category. The proletariat is defined precisely by the impossibility of ‘putting down roots’. No proletarianised individual may belong where they wish to belong - they are structurally impeded from ever finding a home and are thus thrown back upon the nostalgia for an impossible return.
The ‘backwater’ of provinciality (an essential category of Gombrowicz’s writing) is, in the end, an involuntary component of awareness. The individual twists in all directions upon the hook of itself - it is debilitatingly sensitised to the wrong place, the place it must belong and to which, sooner or later, it turns back for (Strelnikov). The ‘backwater’ of attachments, and its integration into the processes of self-formation, is always an active impoverishment which may be subjectively evaluated positively or negatively but cannot be evaluated accurately: And I told 'em all the story/Momma told me while she sewed/And how my coat of many colors/Was worth more than all their clothes.
The tragedy inherent to radical forms of awareness and their projects of recording, is an inability to harness the energy of patriotism to elective ends even as it is reproduced within the project’s deep structuring, as a tremor, as a flaw. It is this given nature of relations, behaviours and modes of activity which bind all possible modes of awareness to the same unwanted universality of local circumstance. Ultimately, writing records how the doors which were closed to it from the beginning cannot be later reverse-engineered open.
I strove for a Pole who could take pride in saying: I belong to an inferior nation. With pride. For, as you will easily see, such a statement degrades me in my role as a member of the collectivity, but at the same time it raises me above the collectivity: I did not allow myself to be cheated; I am able of judging my own position in the world; I know how to take stock of my situation [...] To Poles I proposed a stance toward the nation that was even more radical -without precedent-something that would immediately set us apart from the bulk of nations, would make us a nation with an exclusively different style - Madness!- you will say.- A pipe dream! - Really? - I will ask. - And why are we the most fervent patriots in the world? Isn’t it exactly because there is material in us to be the coldest antipatriots? In us the stoked love of homeland has reached its maximum, our dependence on it has become the worst imaginable - therefor, it is from us, not from anyone else, that the salutary antithesis will spring, the creative opposition that will be a step forward.
This introduces another register of provinciality, the nagging awareness of inferiority, and of being obliged to process one’s belonging inescapably to the second order. We find we are born in the wrong place and the wrong time - and this, our provincial backwater, is decisively not an exclusive domain facilitating elite functionality. It is not because we are rare as hen’s teeth that we are also prized. Our numbers are indeed few but sometimes the quality of fewness signifies only a preestablished irrelevance!
Only Dolly Parton may access the East Tennessee mountain shack that was her childhood home. And only Gombrowicz could have returned to Maloszyce, which upon his death, was thereby sealed shut. And Don Genaro travelled endlessly back to Ixtlan, even though it both was and wasn’t there. So it is, that the provincial origin is always inaccessible to everyone else, but then, nobody else (who is not also psychologically compelled to), wishes to return there.
You, reader, you who have somehow found this backwater text, are one of the two or three to glance at it. Be assured that in doing so, you are not elevated to some occult elite, you have not gained entry to gnostic mysteries. On the contrary, you are a mere function of this particular writing’s rank unpopularity. I hope you are already persuaded that this is inferior work, then I wonder at your continued presence. Why not take your chances elsewhere with other, more appropriately fashioned words? It is not too late to take up the partisanship of a first order enterprise... it is your duty to become a patriot of the achievable. Or, is it already too late for you? Are you fated to return here? Is this the place, O pitiable and mewling creature, that you truly belong?