We told each other our dreams. Nothing in art, even the most inspired mysteries of music, can equal dreams. The artistic perfection of dreams! How many lessons this nocturnal archmaster gives to us, the daily fabricators of dreams, the artists! In a dream everything is pregnant with a dreadful and unfinished meaning, nothing is indifferent, everything reaches us more deeply, more intimately than the most heated passion of the day. This is the lesson: an artist cannot be restricted to day, he has to reach the night life of humanity and seek its myths and symbols. Also: the dream upsets the reality of the experienced day and extracts certain fragments from it, strange fragments, and arranges them illogically in an arbitrary pattern. It is exactly this lack of sense that has the profoundest meaning for us: we ask why, in the name of what, is our ordinary sense destroyed. Gazing at the absurd as at a hieroglyph, we try to decipher its reason for being, of which we know only that it is, that it exists … Art, therefore, also can and should upset reality, take it apart into elements, build illogical new worlds of it and in this arbitrariness is hidden a law, which in disturbing sense has it, so that the madness that destroys our external sense leads us into our internal meaning. The dream reveals the abysmal idiocy of the task set for art by those classical minds that prescribe that art ought to be “clear.” Clarity? Its clarity is the clarity of night, not day. Its brightness is exactly like that of a flashlight that extracts just one object out of the darkness, immersing the rest in an even more bottomless night. It should be, beyond the boundaries of its light, dark like the pronouncements of the Pythia, veiled, not spelled out, shimmering with a multiplicity of meanings and broader than precision. A classical clarity? The clarity of the Greeks? If this seems clear to you then it is because you are blind. Go at high noon to take a good look at the most classical Venus, and you will see the darkest night.
Excerpted from Diary by Witold Gombrowicz, translated by Lillian Vallee, forthcoming from Yale University Press, part of the Margellos World Republic of Letters series.
painting by Rothko