Karol Irzykowski - Pałuba (1903; “The Hag”) was a bold experiment antedating by several years the psychoanalytical novel in western Europe. In it, motivation and behaviour were presented from different viewpoints, ingeniously cemented by the author's own analyses, as in a scientific study

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Karol Irzykowski, Pałuba, 1903.









One of the most eccentric figures of the Polish Neoromantic literary world (he described himself as the first Polish Decadent) and scorned by the reading public during his lifetime, Irzykowski is remembered as the author of Pałuba (“The Hag”), a long novel begun in 1891 and published in 1903. The book combines a penetrating psychological analysis of its characters with a series of digressions on novel writing. Derided upon its publication, Pałuba was reprinted in 1948, following attempts by several critics to rehabilitate Irzykowski's reputation. His diaries, Notatki z życia, obserwacje i motywy (“Observations, Motifs, and Notes from Life”), were published in 1964. - www.britannica.com/biography/Karol-Irzykowski


In his introduction to Celina Wieniewska’s translation of Bruno Schulz’s short-story collection The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories, literary scholar and translator David A. Goldfarb dwells on the difficulties posed by the polysemy of the Polish word pałuba and mentions in passing the novel of the same name, which is little known even in Poland and is completely obscure to the rest of the world. This is what he has to say:
A particularly poignant symbol of the mythic potential of all matter in Schulz is the figure of the pałubaPałuba is a word so untranslatable that Celina Wieniewska cannot settle on a single English word for it, and sometimes simply passes it over. One scholar of Schulz, Jerzy Jarzębski, has said that pałuba is a Polish word that must be translated into Polish every time it is used. In the relevant sense, it might be translated as ‘hag’ or ‘witch,’ or it could refer to an effigy or doll in the form of a hag. […] The term pałuba enters the language of Polish modernism as the title of a radically experimental novel first published in 1903 in Lviv by the critic and essayist Karol Irzykowski.
I was unable to find this rare word in any bilingual dictionary, so I consulted this online monolingual dictionary of the Polish language, which provided the following meanings:
  1. daw.«niezgrabna lalka lub figurka»
  2. daw.«o osobie przypominającej taką kukłę»
  3. daw.«nakrycie wozu; też: kryty wóz»
  1. old. awkward doll or figurine
  2. old. about a person, resembling such a doll
  3. old. covering of a cart; also: covered cart
In the brief Britannica entry on Irzykowski, The Hag is suggested as the appropriate English translation of the title. However, in the 2014 French translation of some extracts from the novel, the title was rendered as La Chabraque, which obviously reflects an attempt to capture the ambiguity of the original. The word chabraque can either mean a saddlecloth or a prostitute.
We haven’t begun to discuss the book yet, and we’re already confused! Come to think of it, that’s the best introduction of the undervalued literary gem, which Irzykowski started writing as a precocious 19-year old and which, upon its publication in 1903, inaugurated the era of self-reflexive writing and metafictional games long before such frivolities became mainstream. It wouldn’t be a gross overexaggeration to say that Irzykowski, virtually single-handedly, paved the way with his audacious experiments for the future classics of Polish literary modernism, who are still better known than him: Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, Witold Gombrowicz, and, naturally, Bruno Schulz.
In Irzykowski’s lifetime, Pałuba was mostly dismissed  as a perplexing oddity by the critics who could not understand whether they were dealing with a critical essay masquerading as a novel or with a half-baked novel that lapsed into literary criticism. The true recognition came only after the Second World War, although the novel has never gained wide readership, remaining the object of scrutiny and veneration mostly within the circles of the initiated litterati.
Irzykowski’s “novel” is obviously not one, and for us, raised on Nabokov’s Pale Fire and for whom this contradiction seems so mundane, it is very hard to imagine what it was like to come across such a rebellious misfit amidst the preponderance of traditional  forms of storytelling offered by the realist novel, the dominant genre at the end of the 19th century.  Pałuba is a collection of five different texts, and the actual novel, which is called Pałuba (A Biographical Study)  (Pałuba (Studium biograficzne)), is just one of them. Besides this short novel, which narrates the story of the Polish landowner Piotr Strumieński and his two marriages (first to Angelika, and, after she commits suicide, to Ola), there is an allegorical novella titled The Dreams of Maria Dunin (A Palimpsest) (Sny Marii Dunin (Palimpsest)) and three critical essays. The novella tells us about an archaeologist who discovers a secret brotherhood devoted to the task of digging for the mysterious ancient Bell whose ringing is supposed to cause great calamities and destruction, and whose existence is as dubious as the veracity of the account itself. The essays give commentary on both the novella and the novel, on the connections between them, as well as insightful reflections on a range of philosophical, psychological and literary topics that seem to have preoccupied Irzykowski’s inquisitive mind ever since his student days at the Faculty of Philosophy in the University of Lwów, at the beginning of the 1890s.
Given the obscurity of Pałuba, I was genuinely surprised to learn that it had been made into a film. Well, understandably, not all of it. In 1984 the “novel” inside Irzykowski’s intricately constructed artifact was adapted for the screen by Marek Nowicki as Widziadlo (Apparition). It makes perfect sense that the most traditional element of the book was chosen as the basis for the film. But sometimes I wonder what it would be like to see a cinematic version of the whole thing (enigmatic allegories, exegetical ramblings and all) provided, of course, that I have access to a complete translation of Pałuba first. - theuntranslated.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/the-great-untranslated-paluba-by-karol-irzykowski/


In this article, Karol Irzykowski's canonical autothematic novel Pałuba (1903) is confronted with Bruno Schulz's multifaceted fiction. Whereas Pałuba, with its dominant discursive layer, has been systematically received as an autothematic novel, Schulz's stories, with their manifold form, keep resisting any similar interpretative model. However, free of the yoke of their seemingly univocal self-informing tendency (Irzykowski) or of their supposed ultimate inexhaustibility (Schulz), these texts emerge as representations of a similar literary critical discourse. On this metafictional level, they incessantly display a significant interaction between the conventional illusion of a third dimension (depth, signifié) and the reflexive consciousness of the inevitable two-dimensionality of the text (surface, signifiant). - Dieter De Bruyn
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Only a few months after the publication of Ferdydurke (1937), two major voices in twentieth-century Polish literature, Bruno Schulz and Artur Sandauer, came up with the hypothesis that Karol Irzykowski's only novel Paluba (1903) was an immediate predecessor of Gombrowicz's novel. Although any such influence of Paunmatched0142uba on his first and most successful novel was categorically denied by the author himself, Gombrowicz must have been acquainted with at least some details of its exceptional literary form ever since he started writing his own experimental prose. The question remains, however, what made both Schulz and Sandauer conclude that Ferdydurke descended from Paunmatched0142uba -- and from Paunmatched0142uba alone. The present article sets out to answer this question, not only by elucidating what the two critics might have thought about the connection between both novels, but also by adding some new arguments from a contemporary narratological standpoint. More specifically, I claim that a more cautious approach to both novels' alleged textquotedblleftdiscursivitytextquotedblright, which appears to be less reliable than commonly thought, might pave the way for an analogous metafictional reading of their entire textual structure.
... Critics have always had difficulties in coming to terms with this peculiar type of prose fiction in Polish Modernism. As I have already suggested elsewhere (De Bruyn 2007, the many metafictional comments in these works have insufficiently lead to the active participation of the critic in realizing the reflexive potential of the text. Instead of this, critics seem to overestimate the legitimacy of the most explicitly reflexive comments by attributing them to the real author, rather than to an-indeed-'authorlike', but at the same time highly equivocal narratorial voice. ...Dieter De Bruyn
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"Masterpiece or Poetical Workshop? Karol Irzykowski’s Pałuba as a Literary Work" by Dieter De Bruyn
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Karol Irzykowski (Błaszkowa, near Pilzno, 23 January 1873 – 2 November 1944, Żyrardów) was a Polish writer, literary critic, film theoretician, and chess player. Between 1933–1939 in the Second Polish Republic he was a member of the prestigious Polish Academy of Literature founded by the decree of the Council of Ministers.
- wikipedia

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