The year is , and a vast paper destroying blightpapyralysishas obliterated much of the planet's written history However, these rare memoirs, preserved for centuries in a volcanic rock, record the strange life of a man trapped in a hermetically sealed underground community Translated by Michael Kandel and Christine Rose

10 thoughts on “Pamiętnik znaleziony w wannie

  1. Glenn Russell Glenn Russell says:

    “When you jump for joy, beware that no one moves the ground from beneath your feet.”
    ― Stanisław Lem

    If you are up for writing with ample helpings of the polyglotomatic and metapsychodelic, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel of screwball bureaucratic misadventure will most certainly stir your brainwaves and set your neural neurons fizzing.

    What a polyglot and metaphysician was our author - fluent in Polish, Latin, German, French, English, Russian, Ukrainian, Lem’s expertise ranged from medicine and biology, physics and astronomy, mathematics and robotics to philosophy, literature and linguistics. And added to this intellectual mix, such a protean imagination – numerous collections of highly provocative essays, dozens of short stories and seventeen science fiction novels, many judged among the best within the genre.

    A twelve page Introduction (part of the novel) written hundreds of years into the future outlines how this manuscript, Notes from the Neogene, or its more commonly known title, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, is a precious relic from Earth’s ancient past, a period of decline which directly preceded the great Collapse, a time when paper was used extensively for writing. Among the numerous documented facts alluded to by this archaeologist of the future in his quest to discover the reasons behind the demise of that paper centered, bathroom centered, ancient civilization is a thriving cult revolving around Kap-Eh-Taahl, a deity denied supernatural existence. Yes, Kap-Eh-Taahl is “Capital,” one example of how the Introduction, scholarly and authoritative in tone, is a Stanislaw Lem-ish tour de force of word play, word blending, punning, spoonerisms, neologisms, double entendre, tongue-twisters and tongue-in-cheek.

    Nevertheless these introductory remarks are picture-perfect as a set up to frame the narrative that follows, an extensive firsthand report authored by a newly assigned secret agent caught in an unending network of offices, corridors, stairs, elevators and bathrooms forming part of a vast underground military compound. If this strikes you as a Kafkaesque parable of little guy versus big bureaucracy, you hit the bulls-eye – much of the spirit of Lem's novel is captured in the above Jaroslav Rona sculpture located in Prague with natty Franz Kafka atop a headless, handless giant.

    In the very first paragraph our disoriented narrator tells us he can’t locate the proper room amid multiple levels of departments and offices in this Pentagon-like Building as he attempts to press through crowds of marching military personnel, disguised agents and preoccupied secretaries. Kafka’s An Imperial Message comes immediately to mind, a tale where a messenger sent by the Emperor is trying to bring a special message for you alone but the messenger must push through a solid mass of humanity in an outer courtyard only to find another horde of people in the next courtyard blocking his way and so it continues, such that, alas, you will never receive your message. Anybody who has ever been obliged to deal with a bloated administrative system will hear a familiar ring.

    The narrator wends his way to the office of powerfully built, bald, old General Kashenblade, Commander in Chief, only to be given an unidentified special mission. The more questions he asks about the specifics of his mission, the more indecipherable the explanations, even moving out to the stars, as when the old man pontificates, “And the spiral nebulae?! Well?! Don’t tell me you don’t know what that means! SPY-ral!! And the expanding universe, the retreating galaxies! Where are they going? What are they running from? And the Doppler shift to the red!! Highly suspicious – no more! A clear admission of guilt!!”

    Such decidedly cerebral passages are reminiscent of another classic where imagination and erudite fancy mix with elements of physics, mathematics, astronomy and other sciences - t zero by Italo Calvino. Lem’s polyglot background frequently shines through with a light touch, a real treat for readers who enjoy heady subjects and brain teasers mixed in with their fiction.

    Next stop, we follow our earnest special agent, now a man on a mission, to the main office where he is approached by a young officer who introduces himself as Lieutenant Blanderdash, the Chief’s undercover aide. Whoa, Stanislaw! Was that Blanderdash or Balderdash? Blanderdash proceeds to ask the agent if he yawns or snores (the department lost many people by snoring) before leading him to the Department of Collections to view, along with a multitude of other absurdities, cabinets with millions of cuff links and glass cases filled with artificial ears, noses, bridges, fingernails, warts, eyelashes, boils and humps.

    Given such a display (no pun intended) of government and military intelligence brings to mind Moscow 2042 and other comic masterpieces by Vladimir Voinovich. Such a sharp satirical needle – too bad the archaeologist examining these memoirs assumes the narrator is entirely serious and completely reliable! He’s missing out on much of the irony and dark humor.

    I’m reminded yet again of another author, Lewis Carroll and his Alice in Wonderland, most especially the Mad Hatter’s tea party. For the more I turned the pages, the more I had the feeling special agent Undereavesdropper Blassenkash (in Chapter 2 he answers to this title and name) is trapped in a building filled with a stream of Mad Hatters spouting sheer indecipherable nonsense. I actually found this one of the more amusing and more telling aspects of the tale since the madness is accentuated by our unfortunate narrator forever remaining the serious, formal straight man.

    Perhaps agent Blassenkash finally comes to understand the underlying meaning of what’s going on: either all of this is a test for him to pass in his capacity as agent, or - fanfare tooted by Alice's White Rabbit on his tiny trumpet - everyone is a raving lunatic. Or, maybe he has been misled by enemy spies that have infiltrated the Building. Or, then again, his very presence in the Building is, in fact, his mission. Or a dozen other possibilities.

    You will have to read for yourself to decipher the code. However, be aware – there could be more than one code. As a head Building official explains, “Now, there are calling codes, stalling codes, departmental codes, special codes, and – you’ll like this,” he grinned, “they’re changed every day. Each section, of course, has its own system, so the same word or name will have a different meaning on different levels.”

    Stanisław Lem, age 50, at his typewriter in Kraków, Poland, 1971

  2. Ania Ania says:

    Madness... it's ALL madness.

    I imagine all fans of this book to look something like this:
    The question now becomes, am I a fan?

    I really don't know how to rate this book. After finishing this book I wanted to chuck it out the window. 2 days wasted! I thought. Nothing but madness and more madness.... Then today more of it made sense, by of course, not making sense. (you're picturing the crazy cat as my face now, aren't you?)

    I do understand the book however, and I suppose this is why I am writing this review: I felt no one has understood it deeply enough, only barely skimming the surface.

    This is the point in this review where you raise your left eye brow, look at me and ask oh really now smarty pants? what is the meaning then??.

    I'll tell you what it is.

    *Looks around paranoid and whispers*:

    there is no spoon.

    In the movie The Matrix Neo enters the apartment of the Oracle, where he spots a child bending spoons with its mind. When Neo picks up the spoon, the child says:
    Do not try to bend the spoon, that's impossible. Instead...try to realize the truth. ... There is no spoon. Then you will see that it is not the spoon that bends, only yourself.

    Huh? I hear you say?

    Exactly *I nod.* keep reading my friend.
    The Plot

    The plot on the surface is quite simple yet completely maddening. It is a story of a confined universe, aka The Building, an underground secret facility where all the American elites and their body guards (the army)have hid themselves following a world crisis.(Humourously, Lem writes this world stopping crisis as a disintegration of all paper in the world, but it could very well have been a plague, an economic collapse, or a revolution. I'm glad he's chosen paper, it makes the book a bit less heavy than it could have been.) Being completely closed off and forgotten, the people in the building became a universe onto itself, a world within a world.

    Naturally, because they were paranoid their paranoia in a confined space begins to consume itself, like a snake eating its tail, the Ouroboros of total insanity and claustrophobic madness.

    The protagonist of this mad world is a nameless person, most likely a man who's spy adventures and misadventures we follow throughout the building. The man's mission is so secret that even he himself doesn't know what it is. He attempts to unravel the mystery but he cannot, as everyone is a spy like him, on a senseless mission to keep everyone occupied.

    At the end of the book (view spoiler)[he finds a man he once met, dead in a bathtub. The protagonist himself grabs the razor that was used on the other man, and presumably, commits suicide. Does he actually do it, or does the catastrophe get him first? That is up to the reader to decide. Like I said, there is no spoon. (hide spoiler)]

  3. Alan Marchant Alan Marchant says:

    Kafka on Prozac

    Memoirs Found in a Bathtub by Stanslaw Lem follows the adventures of an agent-in-training as he wanders in search of a mission through the vast bureaucracy of a purposeless intelligence agency.

    The agent is anonymous. But we can call him K - because the story, the style, and the absurdist message are drawn directly from Kafka (esp. The castle]. K is an everyman, and his agency is an allegory for society. Ostensibly, the agency is the post-apocalyptic remnant of America, but it feels entirely European.

    The theme of the Memoirs is that one's search for individual identity (i.e. the mission) is distracted by reflections of the self in other people. Social interaction discloses layer upon layer of identity (like the numberless floors of the agency's building) but no essential purpose. Such a search wraps the individual tighter and tighter in a web of conformity.

    In the end, K can no longer imagine leaving the building. He becomes incapable of even attempting a mission, should he ever find one. Even his human rebelliousness turns into tragically reflexive conformity.

    Lem's narrative style conveys serious ideas using a simple narrative prose and pervasive, but understated humor. In this respect, Lem writes like Kafka on Prozac - with clearer ideas, faster pace, and more fun. For me, this is the best aspect of the book.

    The worst aspect of the book is the introduction. I advise the reader to skip it; with the intro included, my recommendation drops by at least one star. It places the Memoirs in a sophomoric (and entirely unnecessary) SciFi context and draws the connection with America. I speculate that the introduction was added to satisfy censors in 1961 Poland.

  4. Dee Dee says:

    This book blew my mind. I had to scream after I put it down! It is the story of a man who doesn't know his mission, who is on the outside of an inside joke. Everything is in code, even the code is in code, and everybody is a double, triple, quadruple or more agent. Or maybe they just make up their jobs and go about doing them-there is no way to know.

    This book is a tragedy in the sense that it is a comedy about someone who ultimately fails. In comedy, the hero always succeeds at the end, in greek theater.

    Highbrow science fiction, so far beyond genre that it is actually literature.

  5. Jose Moa Jose Moa says:

    With the Futurological Congress the most outlandish and grotesque novel of Lem i have read and perhaps the most of all i have read in my life.
    What a mix,surpassing all them,of Lewis Carroll,Kafka and Dick,he takes the logic to the absurd extreme as Caroll,builds a grotesque senseles burocratic world as Kafka and transmits a sense of nigmarish irreality as Dick,a real irreality without the need od drugs

    After a ancient plague that have destroyed all the paper and by that the histhory records ,in near the 4000 year the histhorians have a fragmentary record of the near to day civilization named the Neogene.
    After a hilarant historian satyra over the ideologic fight between capitalism and comunism the histhorians find in a big bunker in the Rocky Mountains named the Last Pentagon flooded by magma a memoirs written by a inhabitant of the building closed to the rest of the world in a claustrophobic militaristic extreme burocratic society.Narrated in first person by a man without name in a unfrutuous search of the class and meaning of a mission ordered to him, he makes a narration of a world where the characters each one more absurd ,each one in search of his existential meaning,in a chaotic organization.

    Lem carries the reality to the most extreme senseles,create delirant neologisms,create outlandish concepts as the desemantizacion of the words,the nested layers of encripted normal languaje,the nested layers of truth and spy in a paranoic esquizofrenic paradise.
    There is a duality beween the Building and a next Antibuilding with simetric interchangeable roles with perhaps a deeper open meaning.The building is the absolut maze where the characters are lost in search of his existential meaning.

    The book is open to several interpretations,possibly a alegoria of the despersonaliced , paranoic and senseles world of his sovietic orbit natal Poland.

    A unique original, nigmarish,grotesque and full of bleak humor postapocaliptic distopia.

    A strongly recomended masterwork in its genre

  6. Jackfruit Goldthwait Jackfruit Goldthwait says:

    this book is fucked up. i don't usually say that about books but this one is wicked fucked up. i listened to an audiobook version that left the introduction out and that made it even weirder. basically this dude comes into existence in a cold war era underground government bunker and has to find out what his mission is but he's stuck in the place that drives you mad from that asterix movie so he just runs around for a while trying to navigate the insane mazes of political intrigue before realizing that the structure of the building has completely sealed it off from the world and nothing within the bunker relates to anything outside at all and nothing that anyone says has any particular meaning. i listened to most of this on a train in germany and at the end of the trip i wanted to throw myself on the tracks. 4/5

  7. Anna Anna says:

    ‘Memoirs Found in a Bathtub’ is a strange novel, but its strangeness feels somehow familiar. It reminded me of Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, Kadare’s The Palace of Dreams, the Terry Gilliam film ‘Brazil’, and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. It would probably also remind me of Kafka’s The Trial, if I’d read it. (I am going to - the library’s copy never seems to be on the shelf!) First published in 1971, Lem’s novel is an unsettling satire on the Cold War, in which an intelligence agency (the CIA?) has retreated into a massive underground bunker. The narration begins abruptly, in the middle of a sentence, without introducing the narrator. He seems to be an agent of some sort, tasked with an important mission that no-one is willing or able to explain to him. He travels from office to office, encounters a bizarre array of obfuscating persons and attempts to discern what the hell is going on. There are some recurring themes relating to astronomy and free will, as well as a framing conceit of the memoirs as a rare document recovered thousands of years later. By this point almost all paper has been obliterated by an epidemic of some sort, so historians struggle to understand what was going just on much as the narrator does.

    The narrative has considerable momentum, closely resembling an anxiety dream in which you’re late, lost, and obscurely to blame for something. Thus it isn’t the most pleasant thing to read, although some of the writing is beautiful. Certain incidents are merely farcical or grotesque, but others feel profound. My favourite moment was this, towards the end:

    ”A priest? You turned me over to Major Erms! You only wear a cassock to hide the uniform!”

    “And do you only a wear a body to hide the skeleton? Try to understand. I am hiding nothing. You say I betrayed you. But everything here is illusion: betrayal, treason, even omniscience - for omniscience is not only impossible, but quite unnecessary when its counterfeit suffices, a fabrication of stray reports, allusions, words mumbled in one’s sleep or retrieved from the latrines… It is not omniscience but the faith in that matters.”

    I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending, though.

  8. Tom Quinn Tom Quinn says:

    Funnier than Kafka, more flippant than Heller, Lem mocks and satirizes a bloated bureaucratic military complex where nobody knows what anybody is doing, not even themselves. All told, it's a pretty brilliant solution to prevent espionage: if everything is misinformation, then nothing can fall into the enemy's hands. Right?

    So . . . I had considered myself the center of the universe, the bull's-eye, so to speak, for all the slings and arrows the Building had to offer—and all along I was nothing, just one of a series, another copy, a stereotype, trembling in all the places my predecessors trembled, repeating like a record player exactly the same words, feelings, thoughts. My melodramatic actions, the sudden impulses, false starts, surprises, moments of inspiration, each successive revelation—all of it, chapter and verse, including this present moment, was in the instructions—no longer my instructions, they weren't made for me . . . So if this was neither a test nor a Mission, nor chaos—what was left? ... Were they all crazy? Were they out to make me crazy too? Then everything would be fine, for if everyone's crazy, no one's crazy . . . But where was it all heading? (124)
    5 stars out of 5. Yeah, it's a little bit juvenile, mostly goofy, and very over-the-top. And the whole paper blight introduction didn't really need to be there. But if you think about it you'll realize it's really a secretly coded message about life and living in an over-informed, media-saturated society (I swear). And all that stuff is right up my alley.

  9. Jay Jay says:

    This book is NOT science fiction. It is Kafka meets Lewis Carroll meets Alain Robbe-Grillet. A story of a nameless man, seemingly trapped in an underground Building of many levels, with all of the attributes of a long, long suffocating dream, a tale with its own internal logic but utterly outside anything rational or real. Written and published in Polish in 1961, translated into English in 1973 and dismissed by yours truly in 2016 as a WTF entry on my bookshelves with a hallowed place between Zen and the Art of Diesel Typewriter Maintenance and 20,000 Wanks Under the Sheet. Hands down, this is the craziest novel I have ever read.

    The introduction or prologue, such as it is, is a teaser that is clumsily grafted onto the main story. Ostensibly written in 3149, the prologue introduces the memoirs as having been found in a bathtub in an ancient underground military-like facility destroyed by a volcanic eruption roughly 1600 years previous to their find. The prologue dwells on a cataclysmic event in earlier millennia in which a virus, accidentally introduced by space travelers returning from one of the moons of Uranus, destroyed all of the paper on Earth and all of humanity's knowledge, bringing chaos, anarchy and a new Dark Age. The memoirs and their discovery are mentioned almost as an afterthought. Written in 1961, the fictional paper cataclysm is eerily prescient of what would probably result in the wake of an electromagnetic pulse following one or more nuclear detonations over one or more continents.

    I have wanted to read this book for several decades, after I had read Solaris. I wanted and expected to be entertained, enlightened, and that I would walk away a better person for the experience. Unfortunately, I am none of these, although, looking on the bright side, I can at last check this one off my bucket list. 3 stars here, because I know it took considerable talent to conceive and execute the novel, and craftsmanship deserves a respectful nod. However, I suspect Lem's editor was a catatonic by the time the manuscript went to print. Everything has its cost.

  10. Carla Remy Carla Remy says:

    This is the most dreamlike book I ever remember reading. Or nightmare like. A study in bureaucracy and paranoia. Including coded camouflage and artificial body parts and much much more. My American paperback is from 1971 but apparently the original is from 1961.