Magazine of the INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION AGAINST PSYCHIATRIC ASSAULT
No. 3 - October 2006
The Hospital of Dystopia
Stanislaw Lem's path from "The Hospital of Dystopia " to "Solaris"
In March 27, 2006, Stanislaw Lem died at the age of 84.
He was probably the most famous Polish writer of the 20th century. We, as individuals who became acquainted with the terror of psychiatry, have a special interest in this writer as he, to my knowledge, is the only one who literarily processed in a novel the systematic murders in psychiatric institutions from 1939 to 1948 which are still varnished over in Germany and in the whole world the with the Nazi euphemism "Euthanasia". According to Stanislaw Lem he wrote his first novel in 1948.
The title of the book is "Hospital Of The Transfiguration". But Lem could not publish the novel because of the Polish/communist censorship, instead for years he had to rewrite and supplement the text. Only in 1955 under loosened censorship regulations was the work published in Poland. It appeared in 1959 in East Germany for the first time in German and was brought out as a paperback again in 1982 and 1998 by the Suhrkamp publishing house. In this book a young physician named Stefan held his first position in psychiatry and quite soon he already becomes conscious of the special atmosphere at this place. He observes this strange environment with confusion and has more and more the feeling that he also carries responsibility for this. The onset of the brutality by SS troops, who occupied the hospital and liquidated inmates, resulted in the collapse of any façade of conventionality that existed between his colleagues.
In the obituaries on Stanislav Lem this work is often suppressed, although in our opinion it is the important key to Lems life's work, since in Lem’s own words „it contained my personal experience from the time of the war and the occupation, however not auto-biographic elements, but rather only the attempt to lend expression to my relationship to the perceived world at that time."
3 photos below: Scenes from the Polish filming of Lem's book "Hospital of the transfiguration" directed by Edward Zebrowski.
When Poland was occupied by Germany, as a persecuted Jew, Lem was able to survive with false papers as car mechanic and he belonged to the Polish resistance. His father was a ear, nose and throat physician and Lem, with two interruptions, studied medicine. He also received the certificate for full completion of his studies but he refused the last exam for the doctorate in order to escape a career as an army surgeon. After this Lem no longer wanted to work as a physician.
Thereafter Stanislaw Lem became known to an international public through his science fiction novels. The two filmings of "Solaris" played a special role here, even though he regarded both as a failure. Due to the fact that he did not represent technical fantasies affirmatively as utopias but rather dark social projections of the future, he – just like Philip K. Dick – for the first time developed literary quality in the category of science fiction. Also Philip K. Dick used psychiatry and psychiatric methods as an allegory for dark social distopia under the guise of science fiction. Thus the Süddeutsche newspaper writes in his obituary:
Lem had founded scientific knowledge, which he linked in his novels and narrations impressively with philosophical and moral problem definitions to a time-critical utopia.
An initial fascination with technology yielded ever more to a pessimism of sceptical mankind. He achieved world fame however as a master of respectable and intelligent science fiction literature, in which he described the impact of technology on the intellectual world.
Author Marcus Hammerschmitt had a similar success with literary science fiction novels. In his obituary of Stanislaw Lem he wrote in the Swiss newspaper "Sonntagsblick“:
But what was it exactly that electrified me in such a way? Today I would say: Lem’ s boldness: the courage with which he applied vision, poetry and literary accuracy to a little attractive, epigonalen and sometimes sterile literature form.
The way in which he just went there and said: I will show you that certain experiences and constellations of our age are only negotiatable in the context of science fiction and nowhere else. I will show you how in literature something absolutely foreign can be named and conjured, without having to resort to cheap costume and theatrical tricks. I describe how it is for humans in a world which is not made for them, whose path we sometimes cross in most unclear and deeply disturbing ways, but of whom cannot be said whether they will tolerate us in the long term.
That Lem possessed the temerity to say all this in a repressive societal system which was then nevertheless flexible and reasonable enough to allow him freedom in this regard, I only later learned to appreciate. And this was Lem’s life agenda: under restricting circumstances to find and translate into literature for his readership the modern trend in all its frightening facets whether this readership knew how to appreciate this or not.
This life agenda had, logically, as it were, its origins in the knowledge of systematic medical mass murder. The utopia of the modern trend, the medical utopia of the healthy body and - still much more importantly – the therein allegedly healthy, because reasonable, spirit is actually a utopia, whose political dimension the physician Nazis with their phantasy of a healthy people’s body („Volkskoerper“) murderously carried out.
The knowledge of this horror, which he worked into his first novel, enabled Lem to see and describe the abyss of modern fiction behind technical/scientific fantasies developed perhaps with good intentions.