Tuesday, June 23, 2015

StanisÅ‚aw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish: [staˈɲiswaf iɡˈnatÍ¡sɨ vitˈkʲɛvitÍ¡Ê‚]; 24 February 1885 â€" 18 September 1939), commonly known as "Witkacy", was a Polish writer, painter, philosopher, playwright, novelist, and photographer.


Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz

Born in Warsaw, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz was a son of the painter, architect and an art critic Stanisław Witkiewicz. His mother was Maria Pietrzkiewicz Witkiewiczowa. Both of his parents were born in the Samogitian region of Lithuania. His godmother was the internationally famous actress Helena Modrzejewska.

Witkiewicz was reared at the family home in Zakopane. In accordance with his father's antipathy to the "servitude of the school," the boy was home-schooled and encouraged to develop his talents across a range of creative fields.

Witkiewicz was close friends with Karol Szymanowski and, from childhood, with Bronisław Malinowski and Zofia Romer. Following a crisis in Witkiewicz's personal life due to the suicide of his fiancée Jadwiga Janczewska, he was invited by Malinowski to act as draftsman and photographer on a 1914 expedition to Oceania, a venture that was interrupted by the onset of World War I.

On his return, Witkiewicz, a citizen of the Russian Empire, went to St Petersburg and was commissioned an officer in the Imperial army. His ailing father, a Polish nationalist, was deeply grieved by the youngster's decision and died in 1915 without seeing his son again.

Witkiewicz lived through the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg. He claimed that he worked out his philosophical principles during an artillery barrage, and that when the Revolution broke out he was elected political commissar of his regiment. His later works would show his fear of social revolution and foreign invasion, often couched in absurdist language.

He had begun to support himself through portrait painting and continued to do so on his return to Zakopane in Poland. He soon entered into a major creative phase, setting out his principles in New Forms in Painting and Introduction to the Theory of Pure Form in the Theatre. He associated with a group of "formist" artists in the early 1920s and wrote most of his plays during this period. Of about forty plays written by Witkiewicz between 1918 and 1925, twenty-one survive, and only Jan Maciej Karol Hellcat met with any public success during the author's lifetime. The original Polish manuscript of The Crazy Locomotive was also lost; the play, back-translated from two French versions, was not published until 1962.

After 1925, and taking the name 'Witkacy', the artist ironically re-branded the paintings which provided his economic sustenance as The S.I. Witkiewicz Portrait Painting Firm, with the motto: "The customer must always be satisfied". Several grades of portrait were offered, from the merely representational to the more expressionistic and the narcotics assisted. Many of his paintings were annotated with mnemonics listing the drugs taken while painting a particular painting, even if this happened to be only a cup of coffee. He also varied the spelling of his name, signing himself Witkac, Witkatze, Witkacjusz, Vitkacius and Vitecasse â€" the last being French for "breaks quickly".

In the late 1920s he turned to the novel, writing two works, Farewell to Autumn and Insatiability. The latter major work encompasses geopolitics, psychoactive drugs, and philosophy. In 1935 he was awarded the Golden Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature for his novels.

During the 1930s, Witkiewicz published a text on his experiences of narcotics, including peyote, and pursued his interests in philosophy. He also promoted emerging writers such as Bruno Schulz. Shortly after Poland was invaded by Germany in September 1939, he escaped with his young lover Czesława to the rural frontier town of Jeziory, in what was then eastern Poland. After hearing the news of the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September 1939, Witkacy committed suicide on 18 September by taking a drug overdose and trying to slit his wrists. He convinced Czesława to attempt suicide with him by consuming Luminal, but she survived.

Witkiewicz had died in some obscurity but his reputation began to rise soon after the war, which had destroyed his life and devastated Poland. Czesław Miłosz framed his argument in The Captive Mind around a discussion of Witkiewicz's novel, Insatiability. The artist and theater director Tadeusz Kantor was inspired by the Cricot group, through which Witkiewicz had presented his final plays in Kraków. Kantor brought many of the plays back into currency, first in Poland and then internationally.

In the postwar period, Communist Poland's Ministry of Culture decided to exhume Witkiewicz's body, move it to Zakopane, and give it a solemn funeral. This was carried out according to plan, though no one was allowed to open the coffin that had been delivered by the Soviet authorities.

On 26 November 1994, the Polish Ministry of Culture and Art ordered the exhumation of the presumed grave of Witkiewicz in Zakopane. Genetic tests on the remaining bones proved that the body had belonged to an unknown woman â€" a final absurdist joke, fifty years after the publication of Witkacy's last novel.


Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz


  • Nowe formy w malarstwie (1919), translated into English as New Forms in Painting and the Misunderstandings Arising Therefrom (in The Witkiewicz Reader, Quartet, 1993)
  • Szkice estetyczne (Aesthetic Sketches, 1922)


  • 622 Upadki Bunga czyli demoniczna kobieta (1911) partial translation into English as The 622 Downfalls of Bungo or The Demonic Woman (in The Witkiewicz Reader)
  • Pożegnanie jesieni (1927) partial translation into English as Farewell to Autumn (in The Witkiewicz Reader)
  • Nienasycenie (1930) translated into English as Insatiability (Quartet Encounter, 1985)


  • Maciej Korbowa i Bellatrix (Maciej Korbowa and Bellatrix)(1918)
  • PragmatyÅ›ci (1919) (translated into English as The Pragmatists)
  • Mister Price, czyli Bzik tropikalny (1920) (translated into English as Mr Price, or Tropical Madness)
  • Tumor Mózgowicz (1920) (translated into English as Tumor Brainiowicz)
  • Nowe wyzwolenie (1920) (translated into English as The New Deliverance)
  • Oni (1920) (translated into English as They)
  • Panna Tutli-Putli (1920) (Miss Tootli-Pootli)
  • W maÅ‚ym dworku (1921) (translated into English as Country House)
  • NiepodlegÅ‚ość trójkÄ…tów (1921) (translated into English as The Independence of Triangles)
  • Metafizykja dwugÅ‚owego cielÄ™cia (1921) (translated into English as Metaphysics of a Two-Headed Calf)
  • Gyubal Wahazar, czyli Na przeÅ‚Ä™czach bezsensu (translated into English as Gyubal Wahazar, or Along the Cliffs of the Absurd: A Non-Euclidean Drama in Four Acts) (1921)
  • Kurka Wodna (1921) (Translated into English as The Water Hen)
  • Bezimienne dzieÅ‚o (1921) (translated into English as The Anonymous Work: Four Acts of a Rather Nasty Nightmare)
  • MÄ…twa (1922) (translated into English as The Cuttlefish, or The Hyrcanian World View)
  • Nadobnisie i koczkodany, czyli Zielona piguÅ‚ka (1922) (Translated into English as Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes, or The Green Pill: A Comedy with Corpses)
  • Jan Maciej Karol WÅ›cieklica (1922) (translated into English as Jan Maciej Karol Hellcat)
  • Wariat i zakonnica (1923) (translated into English as The Madman and the Nun)
  • Szalona lokomotywa (1923) (translated into English as The Crazy Locomotive)
  • Janulka, córka Fizdejki (1923) (translated into English as Janulka, Daughter of Fizdejko)
  • Matka (1924) translated into English as The Mother (in The Mother & Other Unsavoury Plays, Applause, 1993)
  • Sonata Belzebuba (1925) (translated into English as The Beelzebub Sonata)
  • Szewcy (1931â€"34) translated into English as The Shoemakers (in The Mother & Other Unsavoury Plays, Applause, 1993)

Other works

  • Narkotyki â€" niemyte dusze (1932), partial translation into English as Narcotics (in The Witkiewicz Reader)
  • PojÄ™cia i twierdzenia implikowane przez pojÄ™cie istnienia (Concepts and Statements Implied by the Idea of Existence) (1935)
  • Jedyne wyjÅ›cie
  • Kompozycia fantastyczna
  • PocaÅ‚unek mongolskiego ksiÄ™cia

Performance of plays

  • The Crazy Locomotive (Szalona lokomotywa) received its New York premier at the Chelsea Theatre in 1977, under the direction of Des McAnuff. The Obie Award-winning production starred Dwight Schultz, Bob DeFrank and Glenn Close in leading roles.
  • The Theatre Off-Park staged two New York premiers of Witkacy plays: The Madman and the Nun (Wariat i zakonnica) in 1979, under the direction of Paul Berman and The Water Hen (Kurka Wodna), directed by Brad Mays in 1983. Broadway producer / Theatre Off-Park managing director Patricia Flynn Peate produced both plays, which were well received by critics and audiences alike. Future New York Times theatre critic Mark Matousek, then writing for the theatrical journal Other Stages, praised The Water Hen for "masterful comic direction," and the piece was videotaped for permanent inclusion in the Lincoln Center's Billy Rose Theatre Collection.
  • The Jean Cocteau Repertory presented the New York premier of The Shoemakers (Szewcy), under the direction of WÅ‚odzimierz Herman in 1987.
  • The Cosmic Bicycle Theatre presented The Madman and the Nun in 1989 at Summer Music from Greensborough a Classical Music Festival in Greensborough, Vermont and in Boston at The Charlestown Working Theatre. Directed by Jonathan Edward Cross [a.k.a. Jonny ClockWorks]. The production used Actors alongside Life-sized Puppets. Two of the original Puppet Figures are in the collection of the Witkacy Teatre in Zarkopane' Poland.
  • La MaMa ETC presented the New York premiere of Witkacy's Tumor Brainiowicz, performed by The Theatre of a Two-Headed Calf (named after the Witkacy play Metaphysics of a Two-Headed Calf), under the direction of Brooke O'Harra. This production was followed by Witkacy's The Mother in 2003, also under O'Harra's direction and also a New York premier. The production featured puppets and video.

See also

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
  • History of philosophy in Poland
  • Culture of Kraków
  • List of Poles
  • Mononymous persons


Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
  • Sarah Boxer, "A Polish Satirist Obsessed with Identity". New York Times, 24 April 1998
  • F. Coniglione, Polish Philosophy Page: StanisÅ‚aw Ignacy Witkiewicz at the Wayback Machine (archived February 9, 2008)
  • Halina Florynska-Lalewicz, Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, Irena Kossowska, StanisÅ‚aw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy) at culture.pl
  • Daniel Gerould, Witkacy: StanisÅ‚aw Ignacy Witkiewicz as an Imaginative Writer (University of Washington Press, 1981)
  • Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz Bibliography, including Bio

Further reading

  • ŁoziÅ„ska Hempel, Maria (1986). Z Å‚aÅ„cucha wspomnieÅ„. Wydawnictwo Literackie.


Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz

External links

  • Works by StanisÅ‚aw Ignacy Witkiewicz at Open Library
  • StanisÅ‚aw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy) at Culture.pl
  • Witkiewicz & Futurism â€" The Crazy Locomotive

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
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