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Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885-1939)

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, known as Witkacy, was born in 1885, the son of Stanislaw Witkiewicz, an art critic, painter and creator of the Zakopane style. Witkacy traveled widely and was and officer in the Czarist army. Following, the Russian Revolution he returned to Poland, initially becoming know as a painter of portraits who sought to capture the inner emotions of the sitters rather than their physiognomy.

Oeuvre: Witkacy is the author of about 30 plays and several novels in which he sought to challenge existing literary and ethical norms. As an artist he was far ahead of his time, hence his works frequently shocked and were viewed without favor, as a result of a lack of understanding. Witkacy turned out however to be a talented precursor of the theater of the absurd, and such gifted imitators as Gombrowicz, Mrozek and Ionesco. Witkacy used burlesque on a wide scale, giving his characters grotesque characteristics, peculiar names, had them speak in a particularly vulgar and course manner else exhibit erudition and an ability to employ academic terminology. The action in his plays conflicts with every rule of logical probability -- the deceased come to life momentarily so as to partake again in the action. His plays belong to poetic surrealism. The central philosophical question for Witkacy was that of the sense of existence, the relationship of the human to the world, and the dominant sensation was "metaphysical unease." According to Witkacy, social development and the progress of civilization cause the downfall of religion, morality, art and philosophy. A total degradation of the life energy of the individual follows, since in future society will provide the individual with a plentitude of everything that is necessary for a comfortable life. The protagonists of his plays are degenerates, artists, human wrecks, in other words, asocial individuals who always experience the same tragedy: an inability to find an acceptable mode of life and a desire to escape from the pain of personal existence. Witkacy's best know plays are The Shoemakers ("Szewcy," 1931-34, prod. 1957) and Country House ("W małym dworku," 1923) and his novels Farewell to Autumn ("Poóegnanie jesieni," 1927), The 622 Falls of Bungo ("622 upadki Bunga," published posthumosly) and Insatiability ("Nienasycenie," 1930).

Theory of Pure Form: Witkacy was also the creator of the so called theory of Pure Form. A "Pure Form" work of art is characterized by the fact that it engages the viewer through it composition, by the sheer construction of its separate elements, and only subsequently through its subject matter and the ideals which it advances. In the theater. Pure Form is achieved at the cost of the distortions of the psychology and the action; in art licence is complete, hence it is not necessary to adhere to any norms.

Translated by Peter K. Gessner from Janusz Mrozkowiak's Polish text as posted at>



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