Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, a.k.a. "Witkacy" (February 24, 1885September 18, 1939) was a Polish writer, novelist, playwright, photographer, philosopher and painter, best-known for his contributions to the Theatre of the Absurd.

Life

Born in Warsaw, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz was the son of Stanisław Witkiewicz. His godmother was Helena Modrzejewska.

Witkiewicz was raised in his family home in Zakopane. In accordance with his father's antipathy toward the "servitude of the school", the young Witkiewicz was homeschooled and encouraged to develop his talents across the creative fields.

From childhood, Witkiewicz was a close friend of Bronisław Malinowski. Following a crisis in Witkiewicz' personal life, Malinowski invited him to act as draughtsman and photographer on an expedition to Oceania in 1914, a venture interrupted by the onset of World War I. On his return, Witkiewicz, nominally a citizen of the Russian Empire, went to St Petersburg and was commissioned an officer in the Tsarist army.

Witkiewicz lived through the Russian Revolution in Petersburg. 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 the plays, only Jan Karol Maciej Hellcat met with any public success at the time.

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.

In the late 1920s he turned to the novel, writing two works, Farewell to Autumn and Insatiability. The latter major work encompasses geo-politics, psychosomatic drugs, and philosophy.

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 Nazi Germany in September of 1939, he escaped with his young lover to eastern Poland. Following the Soviet invasion of Poland on September 17, 1939, Witkacy committed suicide. Witkiewicz lied to his lover, saying that he would give her poison while he was to cut his veins. However, he had not given her poison, but himself took Veronal and slit his wrists. She woke up later to find him dead.

Witkiewicz had died in some obscurity but his reputation began to rise soon after the War, a war which had destroyed his own life and devastated Poland. Czesław Miłosz framed his argument in The Captive Mind around a discussion of Insatiability. The artist and theatre 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.

The Ministry of Culture in the new Communist Poland decided to exhume Witkiewicz's body in the post-war period and move it to Zakopane, and give him a ceremonial burial with honors. It was performed according to plan, though nobody was allowed to open the coffin delivered by the Soviet authorities.

Much later, a genetic study proved that the body belonged to an unknown Ukrainian woman — a final absurdist joke 50 years after the publication of the writer's last novel.

Works

  • 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 (1922)
  • 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)
  • Szewcy (1931-1934) translated into English as The Shoemakers (in The Mother & Other Unsavoury Plays, Applause, 1993)
  • Pojęcia i twierdzenia implikowane przez pojęcie istnienia (1935)
  • Jedyne wyjście
  • 622 Upadki Bunga czyli demoniczna kobieta (1911) translated into English as The 622 Downfalls of Bungo or The Demotic Woman (in The Witkiewicz Reader)
  • Jan karol Maciej Wścieklica
  • Matka (1924) translated into English as The Mother (in The Mother & Other Unsavoury Plays, Applause, 1993)
  • Wariat i zakonnica (1923) The Madman and the Nun
  • Narkotyki - niemyte dusze (1932) partial translation into English as Narcotics (in The Witkiewicz Reader)
  • W małym dworku
  • Mątwa (1923) The Cuttlefish
  • Pocałunek mongolskiego księcia
  • Kompozycia fantastyczna





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