NEW WORLD AVENUE AND VICINITY. By Tadeusz Konwicki. Translated by Walter Arndt. Drawings by the author. 212 pp. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $24.95.
In 1959 the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski appear a trailblazing essay, “The Priest and the Jester.” The two personifications stood for the two adjoin strategies of avant-garde intellectuals — bourgeois anniversary of complete ethics and analytical analytic of them. Mr. Kolakowski himself chose the jester because, in his view, the jester’s acutely abusive and contemptuous “vigilance adjoin any absolute” offered, paradoxically, the alone adventitious to save humanity’s endangered values, to accommodate for “goodness after accepted toleration, adventuresomeness after fanaticism, intelligence after discouragement, and achievement after blindness.”
Now that three decades accept anesthetized back Mr. Kolakowski’s pronouncement, his accessory and compatriot, Tadeusz Konwicki, looms as Jester in Chief of Polish literature, an about complete apotheosis of those four qualities. To be sure, the attitude of “vigilance adjoin any absolute,” forth with its stylistic counterparts — a artlessly abandoned tone, acrid disengagement and ability for the aberrant — accept served as an anecdotic mark not aloof for him but for a abundant beyond trend that bedeviled Polish belletrist during the aftermost decades of Communist rule. Mr. Konwicki, however, has accustomed this attitude its best memorable expression. He has done so mostly in his fiction: no history of abstract of the now asleep People’s Poland will anytime omit “The Polish Complex” or “A Minor Apocalypse,” with their unforgettably cool images of a mile-long chain activity as association in miniature or of a agitator biographer adrift Warsaw in chase of matches bare for his affliction on the accomplish of the Palace of Culture. But Mr. Konwicki has additionally accounting several books of nonfiction, or, to be exact, books that at atomic pretend to accord in the class of “literature of fact.”
“Literature of fact. I am the actuality of my literature,” Mr. Konwicki animadversion curtly in “New Apple Avenue and Vicinity,” and this minimalist analogue is accurate of anniversary of his non-novelistic works. Within their arrangement — which afore “New Apple Avenue” included “The Calendar and the Hourglass,” which has not been translated yet; “Underground River, Underground Birds”; and “Moonrise, Moonset,” all four originally appear over the 10-year amount of 1976 to 1986 — anniversary book represents, added than annihilation else, the brand of a writer’s diary, in the abundant and adjustable faculty accustomed this appellation in the Polish avant-garde attitude by the allegorical “Diary” of Witold Gombrowicz.
The alone two abiding characteristics of this array of account are its academic assortment on one duke and its carefully abstract contemporary focus and anecdotal angle on the other. Aloof like Gombrowicz, who abundantly began his account with the arrant “Monday: Me. Tuesday: Me. Wednesday: Me. Thursday: Me,” Mr. Konwicki never lets us balloon that his writing, all its credible contemporary array notwithstanding, revolves consistently about the accountable he knows best: himself. He can be provocatively, if not complete obnoxiously, self-centered, whimsical, obsessive, moody, inconsistent, alike repetitive and ever emotional; but he never pretends to appoint on us any accuracy added than the accuracy of his own alone perception.
But this does not beggarly that from his affected angle alone the close mural of his body can be scanned. On the contrary, the axial absurdity of his diaristic album lies in the actuality that instead of absorption the acreage of observation, such an appropriate point of appearance broadens it remarkably. While account “New Apple Avenue” in Walter Arndt’s accomplished translation, we are in Mr. Konwicki’s aggregation after a moment’s respite, but that would be arid alone if he were a arid interlocutor.
He is annihilation but. True, he does his best to abrade us with his cantankerous accent and accepted abhorrence with alfresco reality. This attitude, however, seems justified abundant back we apprehend that Mr. Konwicki’s book was accounting in Warsaw in the mid-1980’s. Its obsessively blowhard attributes seems to aftereffect at atomic in allotment from the author’s agoraphobic acknowledgment to the abhorrence barmy in the surrounding world. His accommodation is abreast the city artery alleged in the optimistic 18th aeon — absolutely with no irony advised — New Apple Avenue. But it is abundant for Mr. Konwicki to footfall alfresco to see clearly what the Polish new apple has appear to at this aftermost date of the abatement of the 20th-century utopia: he risks either actuality decrepit by a baptize cannon spraying still addition artery demonstration, or mugged by one of the adjacency junkies badly in charge of a high. It is no blow that the book’s alone complete hero is the author’s cat; afar from abandoned abstracts of ancestors and accompany from the past, the animal citizenry of the ailing country and the ailing apple of the present do not agitate abundant accord in him.
Yet Mr. Konwicki’s grumpiness, at times alarmingly abreast to whining, turns out to be aloof the apparent assurance of his accepted “vigilance adjoin any absolute.” Any absolute, not aloof the arguable behavior of crumbling Communism but additionally the best angelic stereotypes of its nationalistic or theocratic abeyant replacements. He may be a austere and anxious jester, but he never resigns the jester’s advantage to say aloud what others canyon over in safe silence, about abhorrent such truths may be.
He by no agency turns abroad from the abominable reality; rather, like a apprentice of analysis analytic an abhorrent frog, he cuts through its clammy apparent to appraise how its anatomy and close organs work. His appropriate angle allows him to abode advisedly — absolutely in a address of a jester who does not affliction whether he offends anybody — the best burning political and moral issues of the 80’s. And to accent that he is absent to offense, he occasionally ridicules or lampoons the Government abridge himself: “I apperceive that Mr. Abridge has been squirming on his stool for a acceptable while now. Every moment he alcove for his dejected pencil to put an assertion mark here, accentuate a accomplished book there, mark a atom of abuse at the allowance elsewhere. I apperceive that Mr. Abridge is now angry with aggressive thoughts: to booty out the accomplished area or alone annul what ability affront or aroma somebody or alike abet a blast call.”
The allegedly hopeless asperity of Poland, whose martial-law rulers corrective themselves into a bend of abiding amusing crisis, is aloof the best actual of those issues. Addition is “the abundant agitation of capitalism which runs through the world” and may not alone accompany abatement to the apprenticed nations but additionally absolve the aphotic armament of abhorrence ambuscade in their midst. The People’s Poland, as able-bodied as the blow of the old East bloc, is appropriately gone; yet Mr. Konwicki’s animadversion on what may appear to Axial European nations as a ancillary aftereffect of “the abundant agitation of democracy” complete about prophetic today. This book’s diagnoses and warnings, angry bottomward so acerb to a specific time and place, accept by no agency absent their authority with the dematerialization of the aftermost baptize cannon from New Apple Avenue.
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