Stanislaw I. Witkiewicz



  Main works

  Selected Bibliography


Documentation on Witkiewicz
Two divergent opinions of Ingardan and Kotarbinski

 A little gallery of his paintings

 Witkiewicz's letters to Kazimierz Twardowski


The personality of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885-1939), also known as Witkacy, goes beyond the confines of philosophy to embrace a whole series of creative activities that make him a unique figure in Polish and European culture between the two World Wars. Dramatist, poet, novelist, painter, photographer, art theorist (from 1919 onwards he was one of the most representative members of the poetic and artistic avant-garde in Poland, together with Witold Gombrowicz and Bruno Schulz, and a supporter of Formalism), and last but not least an acute and eccentric philosopher: this multitude of interests sums up a restless spirit who is difficult to classify in the usual categories. Of all his activities, he certainly considered philosophy as occupying a central place. But the philosophical thought which incessantly accompanied all Witkiewicz’s activities was mostly unknown to his contemporaries except as mediated by his art.

Witkiewicz was a radical critic of bourgeois society and the kind of social existence generated by capitalism, which he feared would lead to the complete dehumanisation of social life and a growing totalitarianism, with the consequent annihilation of the individual personality. Paradoxical and ironic debunker of bourgeois morality; harsh critic of the overwhelming mass society he saw as irreversibly invading both West and East not only in the hypocritical guise of a democratic system but also behind the banners of the proletariat; tragically aware of the progressive abandonment of authentic values linked to the individual, creative personality of man in favour of the spread in social life of values based on happiness, utility and material satisfaction, his philosophy of history led to a catastrophic diagnosis of contemporary reality: the welfare towards which society tends and to which even the "working classes" aspire leads them to forget the mystery of existence (a concept he placed at the centre of his "monadology"), to extinguish the metaphysical sentiment that springs from it and hence to the demise of religion and art, which have their foundation in it. It also marks the end of philosophy, its suicide: this is the negative result of his diagnosis of the growing mechanisation of life, the crisis of the individual in contemporary society, increasingly threatened by the advance of uniformity and democratic homologation, the greatest embodiment of which was for him Socialism. And rather than live in a society moulded by Socialism, as an authentic nihilist Witkiewicz preferred suicide. Against this unnatural end for philosophy, against its deterioration, Witkiewicz protested in the name of the individual and launched his slogan against the new myths of democracy and egalitarianism: "Monads of the world unite!".

In the philosophy expounded in his essays, Witkiewicz sought theoretical and ontological bases for the concept of the individual he expressed in his plays and novels. He harshly criticised the scientific model of culture that he saw in the works of Wittgenstein, Russell and Carnap (using the term "Carnapisation" as a synonym for stupidity) and which practically dominated the Polish philosophical scene in the 30s. Making no concession to Bergsonian mysticism and intuitionism, he particularly criticised the works of Kotarbinski and Chwistek . His main work, Pojecia i twierdzenia implikowane przez pojecie istnienia (Concepts and Theses Implied by the Concept of Existence, Warsaw , 1935) focuses on the monadic character of the existence of the individual, which embraces a multiplicity of existences. For Witkiewicz each "I" is an identity that contains multiple identities: he defined his philosophical position as "biological monadism". With his ontology his intention was to construct a system that would unite all the individual visions and partial truths of other philosophical viewpoints, especially psychologism and physicalism, thanks to the inescapable, unshakeable assumption of the totality of existence: "I start from the hitherto undifferentiated concept of Being in general". From this concept of Being he derives that of plurality - what he called the "original metaphysical implication" - and this plurality is made up of individual beings. In this way, he viewed the individual personality as a priority concept that cannot be reduced to its pale, bloodless counterparts - Husserl’s "pure conscience", Cornelius’ "data mediated by the personality", or Mach’s "complex of elements". The fundamental thesis of his ontology is thus that the World is made up of a multiplicity of Particular Existences. The particular existence, i.e. every conscious individual or every "I", is the ultimate being in his system and cannot be reduced to anything else. It is a dual being, in which two independent parts co-exist and interpenetrate: body and conscience.

Witkiewicz considered the inseparable unity in plurality represented by the monad, which is itself and at the same time embraces the multiplicity of the world, as an original fact that cannot be further clarified, just as any logical construction has to have a starting point that is assumed to be indefinite - that Mystery of Being that "can be defined as the impossibility of defining all the concepts of any conceptual system and the inevitability of getting bogged down in primitive concepts". In substance, the Mystery of Being expresses the insurmountable abyss that separates the "I" from the world, the finite nature of every monad and the infinite nature of the universe.




The characteristic note of Witkiewicz’s life was also great originality and non-conformism. Born in Warsaw, he was the son of an eminent critic, writer and artist (also called Stanislaw). From his early childhood he showed signs of genius, reading scientific and philosophical works in various languages and writing short comedies in imitation of Shakespeare at the age of seven. He spent his youth in Zakopane, where he received a private education from his father and, among others, M. Limanowski and W. Folkierski; his father was, in fact, convinced that the school system annihilated a child’s personality. At the age of 17 he wrote his first philosophical dissertation, in which the theories he was later to expound can be traced. In 1903 he sat school-leaving examinations as an external student in Lvov and in 1904 he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow , later making frequent trips to Italy, Germany and France to perfect his technique. His life was at times adventurous: in 1914 he accompanied the famous anthropologist Malinowski on an expedition to Australia, acting as a painter, photographer and private secretary. During the First World War he served as an officer in the Russian Army (having been born in Warsaw, at that time under Russian domination, he was a Russian subject), and after the October Revolution he was transferred to St. Petersburg where he commenced his philosophical studies (which he never concluded) and was appointed the "political commissioner" of his division, even though he was not a Communist. The period he spent in Russia was of fundamental importance for the development of his thought, as it was at this time that his philosophical ideas took shape, influenced by the impression he had received of the war. He started writing his main work on aesthetics (New Forms in Painting, 1919) in which he elaborated the concept of "pure form" in art (now in Witkiewicz, Nowe formy w malarstwie i inne pisma estetyczne, cit.). On his return to Poland, he settled in Zakopane and made friends with Chwistek, with whom he was the main theorist of the avant-garde art movement called "Formism" (1918-1922). He also promoted theatrical initiatives (including the avant-garde Formist theatre of Zakopane from 1925-27), at the same time painting, studying philosophy and working incessantly on his philosophical system, which he tried to popularise and divulge through a series of articles published in magazines and newspapers. His main philosophical work was not published until 1935, after which he toured Poland giving lectures in literature, art and philosophy. In the meanwhile his critical attitude towards contemporary civilisation became increasingly radical: he saw the Western Nazis and the Eastern Bolsheviks as a lethal threat to culture and civilisation in Europe. When Soviet troops invaded Poland following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, he killed himself in an aristocratic, individualistic protest against the mass regime he dreaded so much.

 Main Works

  1. Teatro, a cura di L. Trezzini, Tindalo, Roma, 1969.
  2. Teatro I, De Donato, Bari, 1969
  3. Addio all'autunno [romanzo], Mondadori, Milano, 1969.
  4. Insaziabilità, cura di A.M. Raffo, De Donato, Bari 1970 (2ª ed. Garzanti, Milano ***)
  5. Pisma filozoficzne i estetyczne. Voll. I-IV, PWN, Warszawa, 1974-1978
  6. Bez kompromisu. Pisma krytyczne i publicystyczne, a cura di J. Degler, PIW, Warszawa, 1976.
  7. Les formes nouvelles en peinture, L'Age d'Homme, Lousanne 1979.
  8. Teatro, vol. I, Bulzoni, Roma, 1979.
  9. Teatro, vol. II, Bulzoni, Roma 1980
  10. Witkiewicz et la philosophie, Textes rassemblés par B. Michalski, Cahier Witkiewicz No 5, L'Age d'Homme, Lousanne 1984
  11. Dziela wybrane, 5 voll. [opere narrative e teatrali], PIW, Warszawa, 1985,
  12. Concepts and theorems implied by the concept of being,"Dialectics and Humanism", 2, 1985, pp. 5-23.
  13. Thoughts, "Dialectic and Humanism, 2, 1985, pp. 161-8.
  14. Introduzione alla teoria della forma pura nel teatro e altri saggi di teoria e critica, Bulzoni, Roma 1988.
  15. The Witkiewicz Reader, D. Gerould ed., Northwestern Univ Pr., Evanston, Ill., 1992.


 Selected Bibliography

  1. Raimondo, Mario, "Vitrac e Witkiewicz. Eroici campioni delle avanguardie storiche", Il Dramma, 10, 1970, pp. 69-75
  2. Winkler, Konrad, "Witkiewicz - pittore nel delirio di Gauguin", Il Dramma, 10, 1970, pp. 55-9
  3. van Crugten, Alain S.I., Witkiewicz. Aux sources d'un théâtre nouveau, Ed. l'Age d'Homme, Lousanne 1971.
  4. AA.VV., Studia o Witkiewiczu, Warszawa 1972 .
  5. AA.VV., The Polish Review [Numero monografico dedicato a Witkiewicz], XVIII, 1-2 1973
  6. Marchesani, Pietro, "Momenti e aspetti della fortuna di S.I. Witkiewicz" Aevum, 49, 1-2 1974, pp.160-82
  7. Sarna, Jan W., "Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz", Dialectics and Humanism, 3, 1975, pp.183-95
  8. Sarna, Jan W., Filozofia Stanisawa Ignacego Witkiewicza, Kielce 1978
  9. Michalski, Bohdan, Polemiki filozoficzne Stanisawa Ignacego Witkiewicza, PIW Warszawa 1979.
  10. Morszczynski, W., Logika a ontologia w systemie filozoficznym Stanislawa Ignacego Witkiewicza, Kraków 1980.
  11. Gerould, Daniel, Witkacy: A Critical Study of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz As an Imaginative Writer, Univ. of Washington Pr., Washington, 1980.
  12. Tomassucci, Giovanna, "S.I. Witkiewicz: l'ontologia in forma di romanzo", Rivista di Letterature Moderne e Comparate, XXXV, 3, 1982, pp. 243-56.
  13. Michalski, Bohdan K., "A system of general ontology, or Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz's universal science of being", Dialectic and Humanism, 2, 1985, pp. 169-90
  14. Bartyzel, Jacek, "Antinomic theatre and pure form", Dialectic and Humanism, 2, 1985 pp. 139-52
  15. Sandauer, Artur, "Art after the death of art", Dialectic and Humanism, 2, 1985, pp. 117-138.
  16. Micinska, Annan "At the roots of pure form", Dialectic and Humanism, 2 ,1985, pp. 153-160.
  17. Ingarden, Roman, "Reminiscences of Stanilsaw Ignacy Witkiewicz", Dialectic and Humanism, 2, 1985, pp. 53-9
  18. Leszczynski, Jan "Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz's theory of art", Dialectic and Humanism, 2 ,1985, pp. 61-5
  19. Rudzinski, Roman, "The axiology of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz", Dialectic and Humanism, 2, 1985, pp. 67-83
  20. Kotarbinski, Tadeusz, "The philosophy of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz", Dialectic and Humanism, 2 ,1985, pp. 45-52
  21. Soko, Leon, "'The shoemakers', a totally grotesque world", Dialectic and Humanism, 2, 1985, pp. 101-116
  22. Degler, Janusz, "Witkacy's theory of theatre", Dialectic and Humanism, 2, 1985, pp. 85-99
  23. Dorczak, Anita, "S.I. Witkiewicz as an avant-gard writer", Australian Slavonic and East European Studies, 4, 1-2 ,1990
  24. Kiebuzinska, Christine, "Witkacy: the metaphysical theater of pure form", Slavic and East European Studies, vol. 6, n. 2, 1990
  25. Goldfarb, David A., "Masochism and Catastrophe in Witkiewicz's Insatiability", Polish Review, vol. 37, n. 2, 1992
  26. Kiebuzinska, Christine, "Witkacy's theory of pure form: change, dissolution and uncertainty", South Atlantic Review, viol. 58, n. 4, 1993
  27. Tomassucci, Giovanna, "La fortuna di S.I. Witkiewicz in Italia (Riflessioni in margine a una bibliografia ragionata). Bibiografia Italiana di S.I. Witkiewicz. Traduzioni e contributi critici Marchesani (a cura di), La letteratura polacca contemporanea in Italia. Itinerari di una presenza La Fenice ed. Roma 1994, pp. 137-170
  28. Soin, Maciej, Filozofia Stanisawa Ignacego Witkiewicza, Monografie FNP, Wroclaw 1995



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