The Mother by Witkacy Cover Image

Matka Witkacego
The Mother by Witkacy

A Family Tragedy—a Killing of Humanity in a Human Being

Author(s): Lech Sokół
Subject(s): Theatre, Dance, Performing Arts
Published by: Instytut Sztuki Polskiej Akademii Nauk
Keywords: Witkacy;Ibsen;

Summary/Abstract: The Mother (1924), one of the most highly valued plays by Witkacy, is sometimes considered to be a family drama, or a family tragedy or grotesque. It has been widely praised for its brilliant inventiveness and shocking avant-gardism. In 2016 it is worthwhile to refocus on its grim prophetism, which has been forgotten. Witkacy’s catastrophism has not become trivial or out-dated, quite the contrary. Witkacy himself confirms the adequacy of classifying The Mother as a family drama by openly using other family dramas in his play: Ghosts by Ibsen, and—which may be less obvious—The Ghost Sonata by Strindberg. What sets these family dramas apart is their eeriness; they feature vampiric motifs; they expose the secrets and putrid decay hidden behind the façade of a happy bourgeois home that has lost all flavour of tragedy and thus belongs to the category of grotesque. In all of the dramas, what is real turns out to be often a false appearance hiding motivations which can be summed up as metaphysical. The analysis of the Eely family in Witkacy goes further than to show a crisis, or downfall, of the bourgeois world; it aims at showing the downfall of man, and of humanity in a human being. The downfall is gradual. At first, the world starts fading away, and all that has been stable and solid is disintegrating. A rejection of the values and principles of the world as we know it becomes something done easily and unabashedly, and the humanity of man degenerates and withers away. To put it in Witkacy’s own terms, religion, art, and philosophy will die away one by one, and what comes next could be called dehumanisation. The Mother brings a concrete vision of the downfall. Leon proclaims that a prophet of today may be a scumbag. What he means is that the link between moral virtues, represented in the past by the prophet whose dignity and authority were conferred by God, and the merits of his prophesy or mission has been severed. A today’s prophet can be a despicable and contemptible person, and yet his prophesy may still be valid and true. Leon Eely, despite his fiendishness, is still aware of the sheer scope of the imminent doom, and he wants to prevent it. His chances of success are miniscule. People who are de facto human, i.e. Individual Beings sensitive to metaphysics, will perish forever, replaced by people only nominally human whose whole existence is reduced to the processes of production, consumption and reproduction, people who hate metaphysics of any kind and are just post-human, “mechanised” individuals. Leon Eely will pass away into nothingness. After a squad of “ex-people” executes him in an act of revolutionary justice, even his corpse will disappear. Nothing will remain.

  • Issue Year: 260/2016
  • Issue No: 4
  • Page Range: 15-32
  • Page Count: 18
  • Language: Polish