The Polish Cultural Institute New York
Witkacy: Poland's Pre-Communist Avantgarde Reacts to Stalinism
An Illustrated Lecture with David A. Goldfarb
Thursday, April 7, 2016
The Corner Room
455 Fifth Ave, New York
Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885-1939), known as "Witkacy," may have been Europe's most radical novelist, dramatist, painter, and philosopher, in an era when artists competed fiercely to be the most unlike anything that had come before. Writing in Polish and banned in Communist Poland, he did not attain the international reputation of the Surrealists, Dadaists, or other Absurdists, but his work remains strikingly modern, and cultural institutions such as the Polish Cultural Institute New York have promoted his work in the US for many years.
Soviet censorship was not imposed in Eastern Europe until the late 1940s, and interwar Poland had been a hotbed of avantgardism, but Witkacy was in St. Petersburg during the 1917 Revolution, was interested in Futurism and Mayakovsky, and followed events in Russia before Communism came to Poland.
This talk will consider Witkacy's work in the 1930s, primarily his play, The Shoemakers: Three Little Songs (1934), as a response to the Soviet production narrative, characterized by epic tales of Socialist industry. Witkacy's views of totalitarianism are probably best articulated in his darkly satirical novel Insatiability (1930), where he envisions a future in which Communist-Fascists from the west and an oriental drug cult from the east struggle for world domination, stamping out individualism and turning the hero into an automaton.
The Shoemakers appears in the same year as Soviet director, Dziga Vertov's film, Three Songs of Lenin. Witkacy may not have seen the film, but the film was widely advertised, so he may have alluded to Vertov's film as a satirical gesture toward socialist art before he knew its precise content.
David A. Goldfarb (PhD, CUNY, 1999) has served as Curator of Literature and Humanities at the Polish Cultural Institute New York, and taught at Barnard College (Columbia University). He has published on Polish and Russian literature in a range of academic journals and anthologies, wrote the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories by Bruno Schulz, and is currently writing about Bruno Schulz.
Witkacy: Poland's Avantgarde Reacts to Stalinism Before WWII has been organized by the Mid-Manhattan Library in cooperation with the Polish Cultural Institute New York.
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