2012-03-19
2012-03-25

Witkiewicz Stanisław Ignacy

(1885–1939), more commonly known as Witkacy, novelist, dramatist, painter, art theorist; one of the most outstanding Polish artists of the twentieth century. Son of the renowned critic and painter Stanisław, he was raised since birth in an intensive artistic and intellectual atmosphere (among his friends and those who helped raise him were Mieczysław Limanowski, Tadeusz Miciński, Bronisław Malinowski and Leon Chwistek). His first attempts at writing drama, demonstrating his exceptional and original talent, came when he was still a child (Karaluchy [Cockroaches], 1893; Księżniczka Magdalena, czyli Natrętny książę [Princess Magdalena, or the Obstinate Prince], 1893). Following a period of intensive travel and experiences, which had a fundamental influence on his later worldview (his journey to Australia with Malinowski; participating in battles during the period of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia), he returned to Poland in 1919 and began to develop his avant-garde aesthetic theories while also attempting to put them into practice. During this period he created his anti-mimetic theory of Pure Form [Czysta Forma], in which he proposed using the formal unity of a work to evoke metaphysical emotions, which were considered to be disappearing in contemporary society. He initially applied the theory to painting and the theatre (Teatr. Wstęp do teorii Czystej Formy w teatrze [Theatre: Introduction to the Theory of Pure Form in the Theatre], 1923). He proposed a radical break with Western dramatic traditions, particularly the Aristotelian postulates of the primacy of plot, consistent characters and probability. Witkiewicz’s dramas used elements of surprise and apparent nonsense to evoke a particular ontological shock intended to tear away spectators from their habits and roles. Although Witkiewicz’s dramas and his theoretical concepts made it on to the stage during his lifetime (including Pragmatyści [The Pragmatists], 1919 premiere 1920; Tumor Mózgowicz [Tumor Brainowicz], 1921; Kurka wodna [The Water Hen], 1922; W małym dworku [Country House], 1921, premiere 1923; Wariat i zakonnica [The Madman and the Nun], 1924; Jan Maciej Karol Wścieklica [Jan Maciej Karol Hellcat], 1922, premiera 1925; Mątwa, czyli Hyrkaniczny światopogląd [The Cuttlefish, or The Hyrcanian World View], published 1923, premiere 1933), they did not arouse any great enthusiasm or significant response at the time. It was only a number of years after his suicide that the process of rediscovering his drama was initiated and Witkacy was eventually considered to belong amongst the pioneers of the twentieth-century avant-garde. The political context also influenced his popularity, since he was perceived as both a radical opponent of totalitarianism as well as an artist who had managed to anticipate and diagnose the postwar socio-political crisis. During the 1950s and 1960s, further dramas were added to the canon of Witkiewicz’s works: Szewcy (The Shoemakers; 1931–34, premiere 1957), Matka (The Mother; 1924, premiere 1964), Oni (They; 1920, premiere 1963), Gyubal Wahazar (1921, premiere 1966) and Sonata Belzebuba (The Beelzebub Sonata; 1925, premiere 1966), while some outstanding directors, including Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grzegorzewski, took an interest in his works. Alongside Witold Gombrowicz, Witkiewicz had a significant, albeit in some ways hidden, influence on the artistic thought and practice of Jerzy Grotowski in the 1950s and 1960s. Although his plans to stage one of Witkiewicz’s dramas never came to fruition (during the 1957/58 season Grotowski tried to no avail to convince the heads of the Kraków State Theatre School [PWST] to stage Witkacy’s Szewcy), nevertheless the young director’s concepts of ‘neo-theatre’ and ‘philosophical play’, which employed mockery and parody to evoke an experience of the relativity of the world’s contradictions and unity (Gra w Śiwę [Playing Shiva], Farsa-misterium: Tezy [Farce – Mystery: Theses]) would appear to be heavily influenced by Witkiewicz’s concepts. This relationship, though, remains something that still requires in-depth study.

Bibliography: 

Jan Błoński: Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz jako dramaturg, Kraków 1973.

Janusz Degler: Witkacy w teatrze międzywojennym, Warszawa 1973.

Daniel C. Gerould: Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz jako pisarz, przełożył Ignacy Sieradzki, Warszawa 1981.

„Pamiętnik Teatralny” 1985 z. 1–4 (wolumin specjalny poświęcony Witkiewiczowi).

Konstanty Puzyna: Witkacy, opracowanie i redakcja Janusz Degler, Toruń 1999.

Lech Sokół: Groteska w teatrze Stanisława Ignacego Witkiewicza, Wrocław 1973.

Małgorzata Szpakowska: Światopogląd Stanisława Ignacego Witkiewicza, Wrocław 1976.

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz: Czysta Forma w teatrze, wybór, wstęp i noty Janusz Degler, Warszawa 1977.