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TWO ENDS OF THE WORLD / Stanislaw Lem Although it would be of some importance for my appraisal of his novel, I do not know for certain when SIonimski wrote Two Ends of the World (Dwa konce swiata). I read it twice, the first time probably in the year 1936 in Wiadomosci Literackie, where it was serialized, and again in the book edition published by Przeworski, which I did not see until recently. I had assumed that the outbreak of the Second World War prevented its publication in book form. In any case it was written sometime after Hitler came to power but before Austria was annexed by Germany. It would appear that SIonimski wrote the novel rather hastily and became, without intending it, a kind of Cassandra. Although he obviously recognized the already looming danger, his first aim was to poke fun, through caricature, at the concept of a master race and its domination of the world, thereby reducing the idea to absurdity. The novel was finished before mass murders in the name of German reason had occurred, so the subject of genocide as a political program did not yet exist. SIonimski was attempting bitter scorn, not prophecy. He could not at the time have suspected that the more grotesque his exaggeration of human madness and technological phantasmagory, the closer the story would approach the horrible truth. Although Slonimski's aim was parody, he unintentionally portrayed reality. From the experience of my own fiction, I have become convinced that only through unabashed buffoonery coupled with a primitive outlook on science and politics—those forces that propel mankind on into the future, contrary to all reason—may the shape of that future be divined. SIonimski couldn't bring himself to total, bitterly serious misanthropy— and I cannot either, by the way. Perhaps, for a writer, the only rescue from such an attitude is to adopt Swift's tactics—to indict mankind specifically in the name of the future as it should be. Fantastic ridicule displays the Day of Judgement as a carnival and drowns the horrible in laughter. Because a sense of self-preservation makes people reluctant to admit why and by whom they allow themselves to be ruled, they will not easily acknowledge the evils of modern history that come disguised as progress. The licentia poetica of laughter, which offers the most effective escape from the necessity to take the imagination seriously, proves to be a short-cut—a cross-country race in which the runner most easily becomes a futurologist against his own wishes. The plot of Slonimski's novel is quite simple. One Retlich, a mentally retarded fanatic, believes that through the extermination of mankind a new, perfect race will breed amidst the ruins of civilization. He destroys 238 · The Missouri Review life on Earth by means of some "blue rays"—exempting his own followers and a garrisoned troop of Lapps that he has selected to be the seeds of future mankind because they have been infected neither by the bacilli of "culture" nor of "art." The agony of the world is described with gruesome fun: Retlich having proved that his threats are not empty boasts, requests from the mighty of this world that a certain individual, on whom he wants to take his revenge for some unspecified personal reason, be turned over to him as the price for postponing the doomsday. The mighty shed their venerable moral steadfastness like old pants, and deliver to him a series of people each of whom they claim to be the person Retlich is looking for. Law, morals and culture turn out to be mere illusions, and their collapse in the novel unwittingly provides a model for the actual concentration camps in which human beings were to humiliate other human beings. The world nearly perishes; the few who survive do so by pure chance until, to Retlich's surprise, a mixture of thallium and asbestos provides a shield against the blue rays. The story takes place primarily in Warsaw, where Henryk Szwalba, a book seller's assistant of the mosaic faith, and an admirer of Shakespeare, survives, along with Chomiak, a journeyman mason and drunkard destined to become the Friday to...


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