Photo by Wlodzimierz Wasyluk
Slawomir Mrozek was one of Poland's most well-known cultural figures in the Twentieth Century. As a playwright and author of short satiric fables, his incisive works captured Polish frustration and anger at the bureaucratic oppressiveness of the Communist system after the death of Stalin, but in their dry wit and playfulness appealed to readers and audiences far beyond Poland's borders.
Tadeusz Nyczek has written,
"The thing that is often emphasized is the sheer scale of his creativity, which is unprecedented, almost inconceivable and hard to encompass. There are his drawings, to which he has remained faithful for perhaps the longest time; and his grotesque-philosophical prose, one of the most unique pinnacles of post-war literature, which includes not only stories but also two short and funny novels. Then there are his plays, his best-known achievements, as well as screenplays, two of which he directed himself. But there is also his journalism, made up of essays and feature articles of the highest quality. "
Born in Borzecino June 29, 1930, the son of a mailman, Mrozek began his career in the nearby city of Krakow as a cartoonist and an author of short humorous articles for the newspapers. He did not deny his youthful fascination for Communism, writing first for Przekroj in 1949 and then for Dziennik Polski from 1950-54, but after becoming disillusioned with the Party line, he went on to turn that internalized revolutionary spirit against the totalitarian system in a powerful way.
Around 1956, he revealed himself as a master of the satirical short story. His fierce, absurd humor makes use of comic techniques from satirical works of modern Polish literature, from Boy's Little Words to Galczynski's Green Goose. The result is akin to Gogol's achievement in stories like The Nose. The vagaries of the bureaucratic Establishment, together with the specifically Polish mixture of industrialization and backwardness, of sophistication and parochialism, have been a boon to Mrozek's talent for concocting uncanny, surrealistic transformations of reality.
His breakthrough play, The Police, was brought to the stage in 1958, during the period of the post-Stalinist "Thaw." The play describes a world in which an all-powerful police force, having routed all opposition, must manufacture dissenters to justify its own existence. Passing through censorship by excluding all local and temporal references, the work takes on the tone of a universal parable that would come to characterize Mrozek's style.
His most widely performed play, Tango (1964), is an absurdist family drama in which an anarchist father, Stomil, struggles with his reactionary son, Arthur, for ideological supremacy in the face of the animalistic force of the servant, Eddie.
Mrozek moved to Italy 1963, emigrating to France and accepting French citizenship in 1978, with stints in the US and Germany. He moved in 1989 to Mexico, returning to Krakow in 2006, and then to France in 2008. Slawomir Mrozek died August 15, 2013 in Nice, France.
A survey of Mrozek's career by Krystyna Dabrowska
Prof. Brian Johnston on Tango
Recommended reading: The Mrozek Reader, ed. Prof. Daniel Gerould