Step into strangeness
Sitting in the grey, misty damp, the horizon a dream-like blur, the still, cold air, a feeling of being out of time, the light never changing from morning through afternoon, just a continual, eternal grey, insubstantial moment; what better atmosphere to be diving into the writing of Bruno Schulz. I have wanted to read him ever since Thomas Ligotti mentioned him in an interview and I looked into his work, both art and writing and just knew he was my kind, a kindred soul. Absolutely. But I have only just been able to get the book and have anticipated it so much, for so long, but it does not disappoint. Wow, what an imagination but there’s something else too, something in his dense, descriptive wanderings that just touches something inexplicable, unidentifiable and yet recognized, in these strange worlds contained between the pages. The life underneath life he alludes to so much. There is so much there, each page is so rich, so layered, so intense; and beautiful, long rambling passages, full of detail, about nature gone mad, or the locked up presences in forgotten rooms, there’s so much life there, so much to be lost in and wonder about and feel like behind it he has expressed something I recognize, that I too feel and see and know what he’s getting at, even if I don’t totally understand, all written in intense, throbbing, beautiful prose; I want to know him; he knows me. He ‘gets it’, that’s how I feel when I read him; all the strangeness of life, all the life under the surface, all the extremes, all the pent up life, in us, but in other things too, other presences, everywhere, in everything; there’s a wonderful description at the beginning about the great things trying to be, always trying to be, but failing. This is the quote from the Foreword by Jonathan Safran Foer:
“We live on the surface of our planet. Human life happens on a shell as thin, relative to the size of the earth, as an egg’s, or as thin as the paint on a wall. We have lifestyles on the surfaces of our lives: culture, clothes, modes of transit, calendars, papers in wallets, ways of killing time, answers to the question ‘What do you do?’ We come home from long days of doing what we do and tuck ourselves under the thin sheets. We read stories printed on even thinner paper. Why, at the end of the day, do we read stories? There are things, Bruno Schulz wrote, “that cannot ever occur with any precision. They are too big and too magnificent to be contained in mere facts. They are merely trying to occur, they are checking whether the ground of reality can carry them. And they quickly withdraw, fearing to lose their integrity in the frailty of realization.” Our lives, the big and magnificent lives we can just barely make out beneath the mere facts of our lifestyles, are always trying to occur. But save for a few rare occasions – falling in love, the birth of a child, the death of a parent, a revelatory moment in nature – they don’t occur; the big magnificence is withdrawn. Stories rub at the facts of our lives. They give us access – if only for a few hours, if only in bed at the end of the day – to what’s beneath.”
I have only read a bit, I’m savouring it, every page, losing myself in this strange and wonderful world, even when it’s dark, sometimes disturbing, it’s wonderful, it touches something deep inside me; I can see the parallels with Ligotti, who I also love and also savour his stories because there are only so many and I don’t want them to finish; but both writers’ stories are so rich, they can be read over and over again, getting more out of them each time; some of my favourites so far of Thomas Ligotti’s, I have read already two or three times and they just get better. There are books of his stories I haven’t got, but they all seem to have been limited editions and only available at crazy prices; why? This really bugs me; there are many people who love his work and would love to read these stories, why can’t they publish them again in an affordable copy? Surely that would be good for everyone?? The writer gets more readers, hopefully more money, the readers are happy; it can only be a good thing surely? I don’t understand why this can’t be done. Someone out there please publish these books again…I need them; there hasn’t been any new books for a long time and looks sadly like there may not be, so they are all we have.
So sad that Bruno Schulz’s last novel and alleged masterpiece was lost. It is said as conditions worsened during the war, he gave out his work, his art and writing, to different people, to hopefully hide and keep safe; there’s a rumour that he gave his novel to Thomas Mann; who knows, but ironic, as it has never been found. Such a loss; especially as it was to be the last thing he wrote, being tragically shot by a Nazi officer, when he wandered into the wrong area; another Nazi officer, prior to this, had heard about his work and employed him to paint his children’s nursery walls, so he had a little protection under his influence at that time; but it was said Bruno’s ‘protector’ shot another man who had been protected by a different Nazi officer, so that when he bumped into Bruno in the street, he shot him in the head; allegedly he said; ‘you shot my Jew, I shot yours.’ What a world. Tragic, especially considering some say Bruno was planning to escape, possibly even that night; the cruel twists of fate. The novel was called ‘The Messiah’ but has never been found, so it seems unlikely now it ever will be, unless someone is holding on to it, for whatever reason. There’s a really interesting documentary about him, I’ll link it below, it’s fascinating. He had no chance really, as it was said the Russians wanted to kill the Polish people, the Nazis wanted to kill the Jews and poor Bruno was a Polish-Jew, so it seems he was doomed either way, though it sounds as if there were chances to escape but he kept being unable to force himself to deal with it and arrange something and sadly left it too late. So sad; but what he leaves is amazing. I find it amazing; it won’t be for everyone, of course; these aren’t conventional stories, but they are more than that. As a reader, I love the world he creates, it’s beyond the surface, it’s fascinating and alive and strange; he inspires me creatively, his art and writing feed my own and keep me going. As Jonathan Safran Foer said in the Foreword: ‘Good writers are pleasing; very good writers make you feel and think; great writers change you.’ Some writers just seem to have a connection to ‘something else’, a deeper, timeless, part of ourselves, and can express it in ways that jolt us out of our everyday perceptions and make us look at everything with a new vision, because everything is perception and we forget that and believe everything to be just as it is, solid, fixed, and real, but writers like Bruno Schulz and Thomas Ligotti, make us ask, are we so sure about that?
Jonathan Safran Foer in the Foreword to ‘The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories’ by Bruno Schulz -”A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside of us,” Kafka famously wrote. Schulz’s two slim volumes are the sharpest axes I’ve ever come across. I encourage you to split the chopping block using them.”
Three very short samples from different stories:
“A tangled thicket of grasses, weeds, and thistles crackled in the fire of the afternoon. The sleeping garden was resonant with flies. The golden field of stubble shouted in the sun like a tawny cloud of locusts; in the thick rain of fire the crickets screamed; seed pods exploded like grasshoppers. And over by the fence the sheepskin of grass lifted in a hump, as if the garden had turned over in its sleep, its broad back rising and falling as it breathed on the stillness of the earth.”
“‘There is no dead matter,’ he taught us, ‘lifelessness is only a disguise behind which hide unknown forms of life. The range of those forms is infinite and their shades and nuances limitless. The Demiurge was in possession of important and interesting creative recipes. Thanks to them, he created a multiplicity of species which renew themselves by their own devices.’”
“My father would walk along the shelves, dressed in a green baize apron, like a gardener in a hothouse of cacti, and conjure up from nothingness these blind bubbles, pulsating with life, these impotent bellies receiving the outside world only in the form of food, these growths on the surface of life, climbing blindfolded toward the light.”
Link to great documentary about him https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5sygvRyzic