1.03.2021 Events, Literature

“Witkacy”: Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz with Benjamin Paloff

March 1, 2021

Episode 2 and video recordings are available at:
Polish Cultural Institute New York YouTube

Encounters with Polish Literature is a new video series for anyone interested in literature and the culture of books and reading. Each month, host David A. Goldfarb will present a new topic in conversation with an expert on that author or book or movement in Polish literature. More about the Encounters with Polish Literature series and the timeline.

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885-1939), known widely as “Witkacy”, was a painter, playwright, novelist, philosopher, critic, and inspiration to all Polish writers who have experimented with words, action and image in the theater, and with literary form since his time. He is not as well-known internationally as some of his compatriots like Witold Gombrowicz or Bruno Schulz, or his aesthetic descendants in the theater like Tadeusz Kantor or Jerzy Grotowski, but his impact on Polish literature in the 20th and 21st centuries has been substantial. In this episode, with Prof. Benjamin Paloff from the University of Michigan, we try to unpack some of Witkacy’s ideas like the theory of “Pure Form,” the idea of “unity in multiplicity,” and what he called “the metaphysical feeling of the strangeness of existence,” by looking at some outrageously fantastical images from his fundamental novel Insatiability, his bizarre accounts of experiments with peyote, and his plays.

For students interested in advanced study of Polish literature and culture, Prof. Paloff describes the academic program in Polish studies at the University of Michigan: Polish Language and Literature at the University of Michigan, and Copernicus Center for Polish Studies at the University of Michigan.

Recommended readings in English
Beelzebub Sonata: Plays, Essays, Documents. Ed. and tr. Daniel Gerould and Jadwiga Kosicka. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1980.
Insatiability. Tr. Louis Iribarne. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1996.
Maciej Korbowa and Bellatrix. Tr. Daniel Gerould. InkerMen Press: Ashby-de-la-Zouch, UK, 2009.
“The Madman and the Nun” and “The Crazy Locomotiveincluding “The Water Hen.” Tr. Daniel Gerould and C.S. Durer. Foreword by Jan Kott. New York: Applause Books, 1989.
“The Mother” & Other Unsavory Plays including “The Shoemakers” and “They.” Tr. Daniel Gerould and C.S. Durer. Foreword by Jan Kott. New York: Applause Books, 1993.
Narcotics. Tr. Soren Gauger. Prague: Twisted Spoon Press, 2018.
Tropical Madness. The Winter Repertory 7. Four plays tr. Daniel and Eleanor Gerould. Intro. by Martin Esslin. New York: Winter House, 1972.
The Witkiewicz Reader. Ed. and tr. Daniel Gerould. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Pr., 1992.
Witkiewicz: Seven Plays. Tr. and ed. Daniel Gerould. New York: Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, 2004.
Daniel Gerould. Witkacy: Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz as an Imaginative Writer. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981.

Online exhibitions of Witkacy’s paintings and photographs
Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź (selection of major works)
The Museum of the Middle Pomerania in Słupsk (large collection of pastel portraits and other works)
Witkacy and Others in Warsaw (photographs)
Witkacy photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Benjamin Paloff

Benjamin Paloff (University of Michigan)

Benjamin Paloff is an Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, where is he also affiliated with the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and the Copernicus Center for Polish Studies. Beginning in July 2021, he will be the director of the university’s Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. His books include Lost in the Shadow of the Word (Space, Time, and Freedom in Interwar Eastern Europe) (Northwestern University Press, 2016), which was named the 2018 Best Book in Literary Studies by the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages, and two poetry collections, And His Orchestra (2015) and The Politics (2011), both published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. His poems have appeared in a wide range of periodicals, including Boston ReviewConduitNew American WritingThe New RepublicThe New York Review of Books, and The Paris Review, and he contributes regularly to such magazines as The Nation and the Times Literary Supplement. He has translated about a dozen books and many shorter literary and theoretical texts from Polish, Czech, Russian, and Yiddish, notably works by Dorota Masłowska, Marek Bieńczyk, Richard Weiner, and Yuri Lotman, and he has received grants and fellowships from the Michigan Society of Fellows (2007-2010), the Stanford Humanities Center (2013), and the National Endowment for the Arts (2009, 2016), among others. His research focuses on philosophical dilemmas, particularly in metaphysics and the ethics of representation, in modern Central and Eastern European literature, as well as on translation theory and practice. He is currently completing a book on the literature of concentration camps, ghettoes, and besieged cities.

David A. Goldfarb

David A. Goldfarb

David A. Goldfarb is an independent scholar of Polish literature and literary theory, a literary translator from Polish to English, and a liaison for Polish authors to US publishers. In 2018 he translated feature articles and interviews from Wysokie Obcasy—the weekly women’s supplement to Poland’s main independent daily paper Gazeta Wyborcza—for Newsmavens.com, a pan-European women’s news portal. From mid-2010 to the end of 2013, he was Curator of Literature and Humanities Programming at the Polish Cultural Institute New York, a diplomatic mission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland. Prior to that he served as Assistant Professor of Slavic Literatures and Comparative Literature at Barnard College, Columbia University.

He holds a doctorate in Comparative Literature from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York as well as an M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Toronto, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Cornell University and Deep Springs College. He has published articles on Bruno Schulz, Zbigniew Herbert, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Mikhail Lermontov, and East European cinema in such journals as East European Politics and SocietiesIndiana Slavic StudiesPhilosophy and LiteratureProoftextsThe Polish ReviewSlavic and East European Performance, and Jewish Quarterly, and he has published book chapters on Jozef Wittlin, Witold Gombrowicz, and Nikolai Gogol and Giuseppe Arcimboldo. He has written the introduction and notes for Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych” and Other Stories and Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons for the Barnes and Noble Classics series, and for the Penguin Classics edition of the The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories by Bruno Schulz.

Bartek Remisko, Executive Producer
David A. Goldfarb, Host & Producer 
Natalia Iyudin, Producer

This project is part of  21-anniversary celebration of Polish Cultural Institute New York.


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