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Stanisław Witkiewicz: Nienasycenie (Insatiability)

The obvious comparison to make is with Witold Gombrowicz, a fellow Pole who was writing novels that were seemingly not serious yet had very much a serious intent, that were anarchic and non-traditional and which upset the authorities, not least because they didn’t understand them. But while Gombrowicz is certainly a brilliant and important writer, this novel takes it one step further, as it is essentially about the inability of the novel to say anything and, ultimately, the total breakdown of communication.

The hero is Genezip Kapen, a young Pole. Russia has fallen to revolution and the Chinese are closing in on Poland, the last bastion of independent thought in Europe. Meanwhile, young Genezip is growing up under the guidance of Putrycydes Tengier (whom, in the English version I have, is called Putricides Hardonne). Putricides teaches him, about sex (of course) but also about the ways of the minor Polish aristocracy. The Princess di Ticonderoga furthers his sexual education. However, the Chinese are approaching. They conquer Russia, leaving only Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine as a buffer before they reach Poland. Genezip is called up. Meanwhile a new religion is taking hold, with its key component being the Murti-Bing pill, a happy pill, which takes away individual responsibility and prefigures such works as Brave New World. Genezip gradually succumbs both to the lure of the pill and the lure of the Chinese, losing, like most of his fellow countrymen, his individual identity which is, of course, an attack on Witkiewicz’s bugbear, Communism.

While the plot is fascinating, much of the book is of a philosophical nature, some serious and some less so. Genezip and his friends indulge in philosophical speculation throughout the book but Witkiewicz ultimately takes the view that describing what is going on is not really feasible and the book slips in and out of what can only be described as literary anarchy. But as a study of not so much insatiability but insanity (the opening quote from Tadeusz Miciński is When choosing my destiny, I chose insanity) and the rush to it, caused by war and social breakdown, it is a first-class work.

Publishing history

First published 1930 by Dom Ksiazki Polskiej
First English translation 1977 by University of Illinois Press