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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ferdydurke is a novel by the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz, published in 1937. In 1991 Jerzy Skolimowski directed the film adaptation of Ferdydurke (alternate English title: 30 Door Key).

Considered a masterpiece of European modernism, Ferdydurke was published at an inopportune moment. World War II, Soviet Union's imposition of a communist regime in Poland and the author's decades of exile in Argentina nearly erased public awareness of a novel that remains a singularly strange exploration of identity and cultural and political mores. In this darkly humorous story, Joey Kowalski describes his transformation from a 30-year-old man into a teenage boy. Kowalski's exploits are comic and erotic -- for this is a modernism closer to Dada and the Marx brothers than to the elevated tones of T. S. Eliot or Ezra Pound -- but also carry a subtle undertone of philosophical seriousness.

Gombrowicz is interested in identity and the way time and circumstance, history and place impose form on people's lives. The book itself is a parody of common literary forms in prewar Polish literature - an introspective, almost Proustian monologue transitions into a schoolboy memoir, then abruptly becomes a story of intergenerational struggle before finishing up as a "socially conscious" tale of life in a country manor. At each transition point there is a general brawl, a moment of escape, followed by a descent back into rigid form. Gombrowicz weaves into the book his theme that immaturity is the force behind our creative endeavors, but he's also clear that there's no getting away from this relentless, normalizing force.

Gombrowicz himself wrote of his novel that it is not "... a satire on some social class, nor a nihilistic attack on culture... We live in an era of violent changes, of accelerated development, in which settled forms are breaking under life's pressure... The need to find a form for what is yet immature, uncrystalized and underdeveloped, as well as the groan at the impossibility of such a postulate -- this is the chief excitement of my book."


As much as anything, the book is a rich celebration of language, full of neologisms, pastiche and linguistic playfulness. This makes it difficult to translate, and anglophone readers have not been helped by the fact Eric Mosbacher's first translation was indirect, done from the French.

Danuta Borchardt's complete direct translation of the novel, published in 2000 with introduction by Susan Sontag, deftly captures Gombrowicz's idiosyncratic style, allowing English speakers to fully experience the text.

The first version in Spanish was translated by Gombrowicz himself, with the aid of a "translating commitee," as he felt he did not fully mastered the language to do it on his own.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ferdydurke" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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