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UBC Theses and Dissertations

At work and play : philosophy and parody in the novels of Witold Gombrowicz Wilkinson, Guy


This thesis examines the function of philosophy and parody in the novels and pseudo-autobiographical writings, in translation, of the Polish author Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969). It is intended not as an introduction, but as an analysis and explication to readers already familiar with Gombrowicz's work. Problems: This thesis examines Gombrowicz's philosophical/theoretical system of Interhumanity, and elucidates such concepts within that system as the "individual," "inaccessibility," "inauthenticity," "Form," the "Formal Imperative," and "Chaos." It analyses the portrayal of Interhumanity within Gombrowicz's novels, and the various levels at which Interhumanity is illustrated as operating. It identifies, through Gombrowicz's system of Interhumanity, as well as through other aspects of his works, the function of paradox, parody and satire. Finally, it attempts to "situate" Gombrowicz within the paradigm of the 20l -century novel. Methods: The methodology employed consists of an examination of Gombrowicz's Diary and A Kind of Testament, for its arguments regarding Interhumanity; an examination of the novels Ferdydurke, Trans-Atlantyk, Pornografia, and Cosmos, to illustrate Gombrowicz's use of these novels as vehicles to portray the consequences of Interhumanity, at both the interpersonal and the communal level; an examination of the function of parody and satire in Gombrowicz's novels, and Gombrowicz's utilization of these devices to delineate his views on philosophy, art, and human behavior; and a discussion of Gombrowicz's context within the 20th-century novel through the analysis of his relationship to Modernism and postmodernism. Conclusions: Gombrowicz's system represents a serious intellectual attempt to describe the human condition, and in certain respects anticipates Existentialism, Structuralism, and poststructuralism. His novels function as vehicles for the delineation of Interhumanity, and thus of Gombrowicz's specific world-view, which posits an existence centered around the binary of pain and laughter. Gombrowicz further employs Interhumanity as a means of invoking his preferred literary techniques, parody and satire, as well as his predilection for paradoxes and antinomies. In terms of the 20th-century novel, Gombrowicz emerges as one of its major satirists and parodists, and as a precursor to the "postmodern" novel.

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