Other Literary Forms

Although Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz’s reputation rests primarily on his plays, he also produced important work in other forms. His first novel, 622 upadki Bunga: Czyli, Demoniczna kobieta (1972; the 622 downfalls of Bungo: or, the demonic woman), written between 1910 and 1911 but published only posthumously, is a decadent, immature, autobiographical work that anticipates many of his later concerns. More significant is his second novel, Poegnanie jesieni (1927; farewell to autumn), which ventures into the realm of political prophecy: A liberal revolution is soon overthrown by a more radical group of revolutionaries, and the increasingly repressive attempts at social engineering undertaken by the new regime serve only to foster boredom and inefficiency on a massive scale. The same anti-Utopian outlook manifests itself even more dramatically in Witkiewicz’s most important novel, Nienasycenie (1930; Insatiability: A Novel in Two Parts, 1977). In this strangely prophetic work, a Chinese Communist Army, having subdued Soviet Russia, is encamped along the eastern frontiers of Poland and is about to launch a final assault against Western civilization. To weaken the resistance of their foes, the Chinese have disseminated a drug, in pill form, throughout the principal capitals of Europe. The pills are simply the organic counterpart of an ideology concocted by a Malayan-Chinese dialectician named Murti Bing: Anyone who ingests these pills is instantly converted to Murtibingism and thus perceives the futility of opposing the inevitable laws of history.

In addition to his fiction, Witkiewicz published a variety of other works that shed light on his drama and are of interest in their own right, including metaphysical studies of the arts, a formal philosophical treatise, and an account of his experiences with nicotine, alcohol, and other, more exotic drugs.


No play of Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz found any favor with either audiences or critics when performed during his lifetime. Three decades after his death, however, Witkiewicz won posthumous acclaim as a playwright who was a precursor of the Theater of the Absurd . It was Martin Esslin who coined this phrase in order to designate the common denominator linking the plays of such writers as Eugène Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, and Jean Genet. According to Esslin, playwrights who write in this mode subscribe to the thesis concerning the absurdity of human existence that was set forth by Albert Camus in Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942; The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955). Esslin’s The Theatre of the Absurd, when first published in 1961, made no mention of Witkiewicz. The revised, updated edition issued in 1969, however, includes new material in which Esslin duly recognizes the contribution made by Witkiewicz to the tradition of the Absurd (as well as that made by another Polish dramatist, Witold Gombrowicz). Even within Poland, Witkiewicz’s plays were largely unknown before the cultural thaw that occurred in 1956. It was only in that year that Polish authorities rescinded the policy mandating the practice of Socialist Realism. This policy, imposed in 1950, precluded the possibility of performing or publishing “formalistic” plays of any kind. Since the liberalization, Witkiewicz’s works have established themselves as a permanent part of the repertory...

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Brandes, Philip. “A Wild Blend of Wit and the Macabre Fills Madman and the Nun.” Review of The Madman and the Nun, by Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1999, p. 26. This review of a 1999 performance of The Madman and the Nun by the Buffalo Nights Theatre Company in Santa Monica, California, sheds some light on this absurdist play.

Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. 3d ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1991. The latest edition of a classic work on the Theater of the Absurd. Includes references to Witkiewicz. Includes bibliography and index.

Gerould, Daniel, ed. Witkacy: Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz as an Imaginative Writer. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981. Translator Gerould provides a biography of Witkiewicz that examines both his life and his writings. Includes bibliography and index.

Kiebuzinska, Christine Olga. Revolutionaries in the Theater: Meyerhold, Brecht, and Witkiewicz. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Research Press, 1988. A study of experimental theater, particularly the works of Witkiewicz, Bertolt Brecht, and V. E. Meierkhold. Includes bibliography and index.

Witkiewicz, Stanisaw Ignacy. Witkacy, Metaphysical Portraits: Photographs by Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. Leipzig, Germany: Connewitzer Verlag, 1997. This bilingual book contains essays along with selected photographs by Witkiewicz from an exhibition held in 1997 and 1998. The essays provide insight into his philosophy. Includes bibliography.