So here’s the thing: I didn’t want to read this book. It’s been on my girlfriend’s shelf for a while, and even though the younger me would certainly read it eagerly, the current me avoids such titles. I read it though, and even worse, I’m writing a review.
The problem with books like ‘Cosmos’ is that you can either give 5 stars or 2 (or perhaps even 1). Giving 5 makes you a pretentious intellectual, giving 2 means you didn’t understand the book and you’re trying to rationalize it by saying you don’t want to be a pretentious intellectual. Fair enough. I’m giving 5 stars primarily because it’s been the first book that I managed to read almost in one seating (with interest and joy) in a long, long time, and of course because I am a pretentious intellectual.
This book is about the relationship between language and meaning, reality and thought. It’s a story of two young men visiting the Polish countryside somewhere in Tatra mountains, trying to get away from problems they have in Warsaw. The narrator is a paranoid fella who obsesses over dead sparrows and disfigured lips, and as the story progresses, over his own thoughts and phrases. This is what Cosmos really is about: an illusion of oppression created by human mind, a paranoia fueled by words, sentences and phrases. There is no other plot here, it’s essentially a plotless story. While some may find Gombrowicz’s style annoying and tedious, I found it absolutely brilliant. It serves the purpose of creating an atmosphere of absurd paranoia perfectly well, and manages to create tension (and humor) out of thin air.
‘How many sentences can one create out of the twenty-four letters of the alphabet? How many meanings can one gleam from hundreds of weeds, colds of dirt, and other trifles?’
(I read the Polish original, so if you’re reading the English version you should probably try to get Borchardt’s 2005 translation)