Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz - one of the greatest expressions ever of the tortured intersection of political and personal destinies in Eastern Europe. Futuristic, experimental, and remarkably prophetic


Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Narcotics: Nicotine, Alcohol, Cocaine, Peyote, Morphine, Ether + Appendices (Image to Word), Trans. by Soren gauger, Twisted Spoon Press, 2018.

For his “portrait painting firm,” Witkiewicz established rules and types for his portrait work, marking the paintings and pastels with corresponding symbols and abbreviations of the substances he had either taken or, in the case of alcohol and nicotine, not taken at the time. Type C were created under the influence of alcohol and “narcotics of a superior grade” to produce abstract compositions he called “Pure Form.” A variety of drugs and their combinations were taken to produce a variety of distortions and effects, and often this would be the portrait subject’s choice. And in some instances a given portrait might be marked with symbols denoting how many days he had gone without smoking or without drinking (and type D were executed to achieve the same results without any artificial means). Different substances resulted in different color combinations or brought out different aspects of the subject’s features or psyche. One stunning series of self-portraits, for example, was executed while on a combination of moderate amounts of beer and cocaine.
In the vein of the well-known drug writings of De Quincey and Baudelaire from a century earlier and those of his contemporaries Walter Benjamin and Jean Cocteau – and foreshadowing the later writings of Aldous Huxley and Carlos Castaneda on psychoactive drugs – Witkacy composed Narcotics in 1930 to discuss and document not only his own experimentation with different substances but the nature of addiction itself and the prevailing social attitude toward drugs, particularly those that were considered “acceptable.” As life became increasingly mechanized, Witkacy felt that a sense of the metaphysical could only be achieved by artificial means, and like Henri Michaux, he produced an extensive oeuvre of singular visual art while under the influence of a variety of substances.
Meandering, acerbic, and burlesque, rife with neologisms and expressions from German, French, English, and Russian, Witkacy dissects Polish society and the art world as well as himself via the hypocrisy surrounding drug use. Since it was first published in the 1930s, Narcotics has achieved a cult status in Poland where it is considered both a modernist classic and a paragon of Witkiewiczian madness. This edition, the first complete translation in English, includes a second appendix written later, passages from the novel Farewell to Autumn, and 34 color reproductions of a cross section of portraits to show how various substances impacted Witkacy’s art.

Narcotics was written and published in Poland in the 1930s, and was apparently quite a big hit. [...] In its strange moralizing, the foreword—an apologia really–reminded me a bit of Henri Michaux’s similar exercise, Miserable Miracle, which also strikes a defensive tone at the outset.         

In Narcotics Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (also known as Witkacy) talks and takes drugs. His stance is firmly anti -- save a soft spot he has for peyote (the real stuff, not mere mescaline), despite the accompanying nausea he describes -- and he counsels strongly, even militantly against drug use -- while also acknowledging extensive (and sometimes excessive) personal use (though never to the extent the gossipmongers claim, he repeatedly insists). While not exactly scientific, he has firm opinions about each of the narcotics he discusses -- and often speaks from personal experience, offering (what he hopes to be): "some instructive personal truths in a digestible form".
       Witkacy devotes a chapter each to six drugs: nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, peyote, morphine, and ether. His first experiences were with ether, as a teen -- noting amusingly that it just made him more teen-ish: "Ether never made me euphoric, only strange and morose" -- but that's left for last, and he begins with the habit he is most addicted to and arguably finds most insidious, smoking. He manages periods of non-smoking, but it's a struggle -- especially that initial withdrawal, when: "The sense of meaningless is so profound that lighting that cig seems the very height of logic".
       For the most part, he claims smoking was his only real addiction, but he admits to weakness with other substances as well, and even about some he is almost entirely negative about -- "Cocaine -- hideous filth" -- he admits: "I don't suppose I'll ever experiment with that crap again, though I wouldn't absolutely swear to it". It should also be noted that his conception of dabbling in these substances -- his understanding of what limited use amounts to -- might differ from most people's. So, for example, he helpfully insists:
    Vodka is filth and should only be drunk to combat raging influenzal head colds, and only on the first day: half a liter with lunch and half a liter with supper at most.
       If the medical advice is dubious (if not downright dangerous), he's good on the allure of the drug-high, with its sense of wider vistas, and the otherwise unseeable and unknowable -- and he's especially good on the coming/crashing-back-down to reality when the effects wear off (and the after-effects make themselves felt):
Reality opens its gelatinous and reeking maw, its derisive eyes goggling with wild abandon -- a monstrous caricature affected by the general degradation and inner flaccidity that comes with post-alcoholic crapulence. But by increasing the dosage of the intoxicant you can always occasionally return to the old ecstasy and gain at least a wan simulation of life.
       Witkacy remains suspicious of the high, and of the (ir)reality found there. Even when the altered states have been inspiring, he qualifies the successes:
I have created a small number of portraits I would never have been able to accomplish otherwise. Yet I should note that I do not regard these pieces as finished works of art but as an entirely different species.
       The longest chapter is on peyote, complete with a detailed timeline of his experience with a dose of the authentic stuff (lamenting that: "It's too bad relations with Mexico make it incredibly difficult to obtain the genuine article"). He tries to relate what he saw -- even as he admits he can only describe: "about 1/2000 (one two-thousandth) of all the visions I experienced on that unforgettable night".
       Still, here's a drug he can really get on board with:
a drug that provides remarkable visions and profound glimpses into buried layers of the psyche and discourages the use of any other drug, above all alcohol. I consider its sporadic use utterly harmless
       Of particular interest to Witkacy is the effect of narcotic use on art, even as he maintains it interferes more than it helps: Witkacy was also painter, and this volume includes 34 color plates of portraits he painted under the influence, each one with a notation as to what narcotics were involved. There are some remarkable contrasts, depending on the substances involved, and it's a shame that he doesn't explore this particular aspect of his drug-experimentation more closely (though there is quite a bit of at least general discussion of it).
       Part of the fun of Narcotics is how Witkacy is led to spirited criticism that extends beyond the narrowly narcotic -- a symptom of society's ills, but only part of a larger, troubling picture. And so he rages enjoyably -- about how: "appalling what is happening to our literature and theater" is, for example, and he gets in quite a few personal digs as well.
       The volume also includes welcome relevant (i.e. drug-related) excerpts from his novel Farewell to Autumn, as well as two appendices; the first is: 'On washing, shaving, aristocratomania, hemorrhoids, and the ilk', and includes helpful observations such as:
Whatever a person's underwear/clothing situation, it will invariably be improved by proper and regular washing.
       Yes, Witkacy clearly saw a lot in the world and society around him that he felt people needed help (or at least helpful reminders) with.
       As far as drugs go -- well, early on, Witkacy writes:
I believe we are approaching a time when getting stoned will lose its appeal, which will spell the end f narcotics. The currently disastrous state of drug addiction marks their final death throes amid this temporal blurring.
       It's presumably more wishful thinking than something he was convinced of, but it reflects his general attitude throughout the book -- more what he wanted to convince himself of than an accurate analysis of narcotics and their effects.
       For better and worse, Narcotics is something of a rambling -- and very opinionated -- discourse rather than sober analysis. It's certainly an engaging read, and, as a very personal document, offers interesting insight into the character (and, to some extent) his art -- and his struggles with narcotics.
       The Twisted Spoon edition is also an attractive volume, and the many color plates a fascinating complement to the text (though one wishes there were more discussion of this art by the artist). - M.A.Orthofer

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, The Witkiewicz Reader, Northwestern University Press, 1992.

read it at Google Books

Forgotten during the Stalin years, Stanislaw Witkiewicz (1885-1939) was rediscovered in his native Poland only after the liberalization of 1956, when his works came to play a major role in freeing the arts from socialist realism. This collection, the first anthology in English, presents Witkiewicz in the full range of his creative and intellectual activities. The Witkiewicz Reader includes excerpts from three novels; four complete plays; letters to Malinowski; and selections from aesthetic, social, and philosophical essays detailing Witkiewicz's theory of Pure Form, his metaphysical system, and his apocalyptic view of the fate of civilization.

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Insatiability: A Novel in Two Parts, Quartet Books, 1985., Northwestern University Press, 2012.

This novel, the author's masterpiece, is one of the greatest expressions ever of the tortured intersection of political and personal destinies in Eastern Europe. Futuristic, experimental, and remarkably prophetic, Insatiability traces the adventures of a young Pole whose fate parallels the collapse of Western civilization following a Chinese communist invasion from the east. Written in 1927, Witkiewicz's anti-Utopian novel proved to be a horribly prescient vision of what would become reality for Eastern Europe in the late 1930s.

It seems like the punch line to a joke: a 500-page futurist novel written in 1927 by a Polish borderline schizophrenic. And for long stretches, Insatiability reads like some kind of joke. ("Fat was a seedy gent wearing a jockey's cap and a crimson scarf barely covering a bland and sinewy Adam's apple with huge welts along the throat glands.") Sometime in the late 20th century, while neo-Bolshevist Western Europe and "fascist-Fordian" America decay, a "yellow wall" of Communist Chinese threatens to overrun Europe. Only Poland?lone bastion of syndicalism and aristocracy?stands in their way. Baron Genezip Kapen de Vahaz, or "Zip," comes of age in this tremulous, dangerous time. Those around him?a deformed musical genius; a coldhearted logician; a devout recluse; a politicized writer; the enigmatic commander-in-chief of Poland and his jejune mistress; and the sexually rapacious Princess di Ticonderoga?try to impress their own philosophies on him. He joins the Army, and his military indoctrination along with the not-so-subtle ministrations of the women in his life help shatter Zip's self-identity. By the time the Chinese begin preparations to invade Poland, he displays various different personalities, each more terrifying than the previous. Witkiewicz was a photographer, artist and playwright, as well as a novelist; in each field, his work was greeted by unflagging disinterest. In the case of his writing, this was by no means because he lacked talent?Insatiability is filled with clever (often multilingual) wordplay, febrile humor and rollicking sex scenes. (The translation is brilliant, smoothly finding perfect phrases and puns.) But Witkiewicz has a deadly tendency to refine his metaphors within an inch of their lives. Insatiability is an extreme novel, coupling a thorough knowledge of philosophy with a monumental lack of perspective (the principal character stands in for no less than all of Western Civilization). For any but the staunchest of readers, it will prove tough slogging, indeed. (May) FYI: An ardent nationalist, Witkiewicz killed himself in 1939 upon hearing that the Soviet Army had invaded Poland. In a twist sure to have appealed to his bizarre sense of humor, in 1994 it was discovered that a woman's body occupied his coffin. - Publishers Weekly

A complete revision of Iribarne's lively 1977 translation of one of the key works of European literary modernism. Witkiewicz (18851939) was a gifted painter, poet, philosopher, dramatist, novelist, and iconoclastic wit--a kind of latter-day Polish William Blake or Wyndham Lewis. In this, his greatest--and weirdest--novel (first published in 1927), Witkiewicz created a unique and fascinating hybrid: a novel of education grafted onto a stinging sociopolitical satire that mushrooms into nightmarish dystopian prophecy. The inchoate protagonist, Genezip Kapen, moves from youthful innocence and promise through the formative and transformative crucibles of sexual initiation (and confusion), drug addiction, madness, and murder. His own psychic and moral fragmentation evinces what his author perceived as the larger decline of his country (summed up in its surrender to an invading Chinese communist army) and a culture too effete to survive the pressures of the new century. Witkiewicz's surpassingly strange book is an exhilarating amalgam of Swiftian satire, Dostoyevskian intensity, and (an acknowledged influence) Rabelaisian digressiveness. And one of the most exciting novels of its time. - Kirkus Reviews

Insatiability is one funky novel. The time between the wars was an interesting one in Central Europe, and a great deal of truly great literature, largely in the form of large tomes, appeared or was conceived then. Broch and Musil reigned in Austria (well, they did not reign, but they created the greatest works of the period), Döblin experimented in Germany (though it was the dull man Mann that pleased the public), and Poland had both Witkiewicz and Gombrowicz fashioning their fascinating work. Insatiability is, like Gombrowicz' Ferdydurke, Musil's Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man without Qualities), and Broch's towering Die Schlafwandler (The Sleepwalkers), and, yes, Mann's big books, a philosophical novel of enormous dimensions and proportions.
It is a fantastical novel, darkly utopian, in which Europe is under a fascistic regime while a Russian revolution dominates that country, and everyone is faced with a Chinese invasion. The leaders in a seemingly invincible Poland succumb to an unusual new drug-religion, Murti Bing, and in the end surrender to the Chinese.
The hero of the novel is Genezip Kapen. His adventures are in the main sexual and philosophical. Witkiewicz uses him to expound his own theories -- serious and not so serious -- and he goes far afield in doing so. Peopled with a vast assortment of unusual characters, the novel is always ... interesting, and generally engaging.
Witkiewicz does not seem to take himself or his ideas all too seriously, and so in some senses this book is a tonic compared to the general run of Bildungsroman from the time. He paints ... nay, splatters a broad canvas in this novel that could as easily be termed dystopian science fiction as a Bildungsroman. The philosophy is unusual but certainly interesting (if only for its bizarreness). Witkiewicz, a talented painter who gave up painting, also argues about the impotence of language, the inadequacy of fiction, rejecting his undertaking while creating such a huge work.
It is thoroughly entertaining, but it is an unusual novel, from a different time and context (though the commentary on Communism, for example, is strikingly modern). A true intellectual, Witkiewicz' thoughts on the many hundreds of subjects he raises are interesting and interestingly expressed. It is a bit of a mess, and certainly will not be to everyone's taste, but we do recommend it. It is an important novel, and a fun one. Worth the considerable effort required. - The Complete Review

In early September, 1939, a few days after the Nazi invasion of Poland, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, like thousands of other refugees, fled from Warsaw towards the east. On September 17, he learned that the Soviet Union had attacked from the east. Feeling that his darkest apprehensions about the triumph of totalitarianism were coming true and that there was no escape, the 54-year-old author committed suicide the next day by slitting his wrists with a razor.
Painter, playwright, novelist, aesthetician, and philosopher, Witkiewicz -- or Witkacy as he called himself -- belongs to the writers and thinkers known in Poland as catastrophists, who sprang up in the period framed by two world wars, the first of which brought the Polish state back into existence after nearly 150 years of dismemberment, and the second of which threatened the nation with total annihilation. Poised between cataclysms, Witkacy forecast an apocalyptic close to Western civilization and wrote with sardonic humor about the approaching end of the world.
The major theme in all of Witkacy's works is the growing mechanization of life, understood not as dehumanizing technology, but rather as social and psychic regimentation. In dozens of plays and two large novels, Witkacy portrays the threatened extinction of a decadent individualism. The degenerate remnants of a once creative mankind will be replaced by a new race of invading levelers who will establish the reign of mass conformity, modeled on the beehive and anthill -- by what Orwell calls "insect-men."
Thoroughly -- although ironically -- Euro-centric, the author of Insatiability most often presents the invading forces as coming from the outside, representing a different culture that will subvert moribund old world values. In his first literary work, the one-act comedy Cockroaches, which at the age of 7 Witkacy printed on his own hand-press, a menacing gray object in the sky drawing closer and closer is revealed to be a cloud of cockroaches from America. Undoubtedly the precocious child, hearing his father discuss the mechanization of work in the United States according to the assembly line principles of F. W. Taylor, associated modern mass production with notions of collectivity, alien and deeply inimical to the individuality so highly prized by the Witkiewicz family. Brought up in the picturesque mountain resort of Zakopane and educated entirely at home according to this father's elite system, young Witkacy was nurtured on contempt for the mob (whatever its class origins) and trained to revere art, although the boy had doubts about his own vocation and longed to be part of a school world forbidden to him.
Four years as a tsarist officer in Russia, where he witnessed the last days of St. Petersburg and lived through the February 1917 Revolution, even being elected political commissar by his regiment, gave Witkacy an entirely new perspective on the collectivist threat and caused him to revise drastically his ideas about the supreme importance of art and artists in the 20th century. In a long series of plays, which the painter-playwright began immediately after his return to Poland in 1918, Witkacy showed, in vivid but disintegrating images, the collapse of an ancien régime composed of obsolete individualists -- decadent artists, demonic women, Nietzschean supermen -- which is overrun by "the uniform, gray, sticky, stinking, monstrous mass."
Although seen largely from the point of view of the doomed social class of "pseudo-Hamlets" who have lost faith in their own reason for existence and been rendered grotesquely impotent, Witkacy's dramas also include in the dramatis personae the amoral adventurers who take over revolution and exploit it for their own advantage. In times of violent social upheaval, those who come out on top are not the ideologically pure but the ruthlessly opportunistic. In They (1920), a prophetic play dealing in thought control, confession to uncommitted crimes, the destruction of modern art, and government by informers and secret organizations, Witkacy explores the real, as opposed to the apparent, sources of power. THEY, ubiquitous and protean, have assumed control of the institutions of public life and, in the guise of the League of Absolute Automationism, enforce the tyranny of society over the individual.
Unlike Capek in R.U.R. and Kaiser in the Gas trilogy, the Polish playwright was little concerned with the enslavement of man to the machine or the dangers inherent in advanced industrialization. For Witkacy, modern science and modern art are allies in the struggle against the anthill; both are subversive of stability and uniformity and must be rigidly controlled by the new tyrants. Well versed in the theories of Einstein, Whitehead, Bohr, Mach, Cantor, and Heisenberg, Witkacy recognized that the conventions of realistic drama are based on mechanistic Newtonian physics. In his own plays he attempted to create a new dramatic model (which he called Pure Form) derived as much from the discoveries of the new mathematics as from Picasso's breakthrough in non-representational painting. In his most farsighted antiutopian play of the 1920's, Gyubal Wahazar, the automated political realm of the future is portrayed as "a sixth-dimensional continuum," in which human nature has become something infinitely malleable and subject to endless transmutation. Subtitled "Along the Cliffs of the Absurd, a Non-Euclidean Drama in Four Acts," Gyubal Wahazar abandons old-fashioned psychology and techniques of story-telling in order to portray future totalitarianism as a world of indeterminacy and relativity; this anticipates by a few years Evgeny Zamyatin's thesis in "On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Things," that modern art forms must abandon fixed plane co-ordinates and project reality onto fast-moving, curved surfaces. Known as "His Onlyness," the insane dictator Wahazar -- a super-individualist who wishes to liberate mankind from metaphysical longings and return the human community to the primal harmony of the beehive -- becomes a martyr to his own cult of the leader, but upon his death, the frightening Dr. Rypmann is able to fabricate new tyrants by "the fission of the psychic atom," and the nightmare continues.*
During his lifetime, Witkacy was better known as a novelist than as a playwright, since his two major works of fiction were brought out by established publishing houses whereas most of his dramas went unpublished and unperformed. Because of their politically sensitive character, Farewell to Autumn (1927) and Insatiability (Nienasycenie, 1930) cannot be reprinted in Poland at the present time, although there was a limited re-issue of the latter work in 1957, after the "thaw." Louis Iribarne has performed an important service for English-speaking readers with a dynamic translation of Insatiability that captures the vigor and grotesque humor of the original. Of all Witkacy's works the most complex linguistically and stylistically, Insatiability is a bizarre potpourri of erotic adventures, philosophical speculations, and predictions of coming disaster; to have rendered this idiosyncratic monster of a novel into vivid, juicy English is an outstanding accomplishment testifying to Iribarne's extraordinary skill as a translator. In addition, Iribarne provides an exemplary 40-page introduction to the life and work of the author as well as an incisive commentary on the novel.
There are those who argue that Insatiability is the author's masterpiece, and it is certainly the most Witkacian in the virtuoso narrative digressions and inexhaustible comic inventions. At the same time this wild, lunatic, and phantasmagoric book has proved to be one of the most prophetic works of 20th-century fiction, not so much in its particular predictions (although some of these are quite uncanny) as in its capturing of the age's sensibility through brief composite portraits of the "psychosocial" environment. The fractured picture that results is that of an incoherent ersatz world which resembles our own. In the Witkacian era of insatiability, everything from genius to revolution, from food to mystical experience, from art to patriotic heroics, is an inauthentic manifestation of pseudo-culture. Change has accelerated so strongly that "the distances between generations had diminished to the point of being ridiculous: people just a few years younger than others were apt to refer to the latter as their 'elders' " (II:288). Throughout all the media there is systematic falsification of the news, while the government is perceived by all as an organized mafia behind a mafia, causing such a loss of belief in politics that the state becomes regarded as a sport. Meanwhile, in the background, the superbly disciplined Chinese communists, after subduing counter-revolutionary Russia, are poised to take over the blandly bolshevized states of Western Europe.
In one way a traditional "education novel," Insatiability presents the initiation into life of the young hero, Genezip Kapen, who, faced with frightening impulses within his psyche and vast impersonal threats in the society around him, sinks slowly into mechanized mindlessness, unable to retain his human individuality; at the same time, Poland is likewise losing her battle to hold back the onrushing Chinese. As schizophrenic as the bewildered young hero is the divided temporal perspective, situating the novel at the point "where the opposing forces of past and future intersect" (II:246). Although the action of Insatiability is situated in the post-revolutionary world of the 21st century, the new age is seen refracted in an obsolete pre-revolutionary mirror, Poland -- a limbo and refuge for decadent aristocrats, deranged artists, posturing titans, and philosophical sensualists.
Set against this crumbling stronghold of individualists and ready to crush it is the "mobile Chinese Wall" (1:36), a collective human automaton, drawing closer and closer. This "flawless, fearless machine," with its countless invisible feet marching in unison like a huge organism, is Witkacy's ironic version of the old "yellow peril" cliché and the ultimate embodiment of social mechanization. It is this sinister drift of Orient to Occident that brings about the Spenglerian decline of the West in Insatiability. In the second half of the novel, a shadowy and enigmatic Malay appears in the West, spreading his mystical religion of universal contentment by means of the "Murti-Bing pill," sold by street vendors, which relieves the anguish of individual personality. Quickly lulled into ecstatic happiness, the pill-takers no longer fear the coming extermination of their egos through social regimentation. Witkacy seems strangely prescient in his identification of drugs and mysticism as the preferred escape mechanisms of our own age, and his Murti-Bing pill anticipates the comparable social use of chemistry in two later antiutopian novels: soma in Huxley's Brave New World and psychem in Lem's Futurological Congress.
Thus, European metaphysical quests -- the essential expression of insatiability -- are replaced by two instant ideologies, both from the East: mystic Murti-Bingism and materialistic Chinese communism. Opposed as these two at first may seem, in Witkacy's view both are designed to eliminate the conscious thinking mind and the inevitable suffering which it brings. The pill softens up the already demented and debilitated Europeans so that they can painlessly adjust to the political control which will definitively liberate them from their own madness and despair and turn them into smoothly functioning members of the state machinery.
[*Other plays by Witkiewicz which might be considered as at least borderline SF are Tumor Mozgowicz (Tumor Brainiowicz), about a mathematical genius who creates a revolutionary new scientific system that threatens the bases of civilization; and Szewcy (The Shoemakers), "A Scientific Play with Songs," which presents a series of revolutions culminating in an era beyond ideology presided over by technocrats.] - Daniel Gerould

Essay on Masochism and Catastrophe in Insatiability, from The Polish Review

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Vahazar: or On the Uplands of Absurdity, Trans. by Celina Wieniewska, Black Scat Books, 2015.           

“Witkiewicz takes up and continues the vein of dream and grotesque fantasy exemplified by the late Strindberg or by Wedekind; his ideas are closely paralleled by those of the surrealists and Antonin Artaud which culminated in the masterpieces of the dramatists of the absurd—Beckett, Ionesco, Genet, Arrabal—of the late nineteen forties and the nineteen fifties.” -Martin Esslin Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (pen name: Witkacy) was desperate to get out of revolutionary St. Petersburg after the Bolsheviks seized power. Back in Poland, eager to make money and a name for himself, Witkacy began to write plays in a style that he called “Pure Form,” which foreshadowed the Theatre of the Absurd. By the time that he wrote VAHAZAR (1921), Witkacy had achieved a dreamlike dramaturgy: centered on the paranoid and crazed despot, Vahazar, and spiraling outwards through an anthill society of automatons, religious cults, and quack scientific and social theories, this play is about being trapped in nothingness. This translation of the play by Celina Wieniewska was commissioned by Stefan Themerson in 1967, and later announced as a forthcoming title by the legendary Gaberbocchus Press. Somehow the project was sidetracked and has never appeared until this Black Scat Books publication. Paul Rosheim, publisher of Obscure Publications and scholar of Themersonia, provides an introduction with biographical information about Witkacy and the story of this translation. The book also includes an appendix featuring Franciszka Themerson’s “Vahazar: A Few Suggestions for Design.”


Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, The Madman and the Nun and The Crazy Locomotive: Three Plays, Applause Books, 2000.

Startling discontinuities and surprises erupt throughout these avant-garde landscapes by Poland's outstanding modern dramatist where duchesses and policemen, gangsters and surrealist painters, psychiatrists and locomotive engineers wander in and out, kill one another, and carry on philosophical conversations at the same time.

The Mother and Other Unsavory Plays

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, The Mother and Other Unsavory Plays: Including The Shoemakers and They, Ed. and trans. by Daniel Gerould and C.S. Durer, foreword by Jan Kott.

Painter, playwrights, novelist, aesthetician, philosopher, and expert on drugs, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz - or Witkacy, as he called himself - remains Poland's outstanding figure in the arts between the two world wars. This volume brings together three of Witkiewicz's best works for the stage as well as a selection from his critical writing. The plays deal with the author's principal themes and obsessions: the dilemma of the artist in the twentieth century; the revolutions in science and politics; and the bankruptcy of all ideology, the decline of western civilization, and the coming of totalitarianism. Yet, far from being solemn or even serious in tone, these apocalyptic dramas are permeated with grotesque humor and characterized by a wild theatricality that particularly appeals to contemporary sensibility.

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Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Mr Price, or Tropical Madness and Metaphysics of a Two- Headed Calf, Routledge, 2001.

The Polish playwright and artist Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, known as Witkacy, is now recognized as Poland's leading theatrical innovator of the interwar years and one of the outstanding creative personalities of the European avant-garde. This volume contains two of Witkacy's "tropical" plays inspired by the playwright's trip to Ceylon and Australia in 1914 with his close friend, the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski.
Mr. Price, or Tropical Madness is a drama of heightened passion and greed among British colonists in Rangoon who seem to have stepped out of Joseph Conrad's tales of the South Seas.
Metaphysics of a Two headed Calf, set in New Guinea and Australia, pits savage European imperialists against a native tribal Australia and pits savage European imperialists against a native tribal chieftain whose fetish of a great golden frog offers greater insight into the mystery of existence than the Westerners' shallow rationalism.
Both plays puncture the white rulers' poses of superiority and parody their images of the tropical Other. Also included in the volume are Witkacy's Foreword to Metaphysics of a Two-Headed Calf in which the playwright defends his concept of theatre as an autonomous art with a scenic language of its own and an appendix containing a documentary itinerary of Witkacy's journey to Ceylon.


Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, Seven Plays. Trans. by Daniel Charles Gerould. Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications, 2004.


Witkacy: Metaphysical Portraits, By Urszula Czaroryska & Stefan Okolowicz, Connewitzer Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1999.