The Republic of Dreams

Schulz says clearly: the unreal is whatever people cannot share with one another. Whatever falls out of that sharing falls beyond the circle of human affairs, beyond the boundaries of the human theater, beyond literature.

The trouble with Bruno Schulz is the following: everybody knows he’s a genius, everybody talks about his tremendous influence, but when push comes to shove it’s all restricted to banalities, as if the measure of a writer’s greatness were to be this community of popular judgments. On the other hand, this comes as no surprise.

Schulz assaults the reader from the very first page and never allows him to rest, never allows him to gather his thoughts. His perfidy lies in the fact that he resists all translation, but encourages us to imitate, to paraphrase and to counterfeit. It’s easier to speak in Schulz’s language than to speak about Schulz. After reading a single paragraph we know at once that it’s Schulz, though we don’t at once know what to say about the paragraph.

The greatness of Schulz is the greatness of his resistance to appropriation, while the result of this resistance is the very small number of memorable books written about him. Certainly, there are a great many discussions, monographs, presentations, dictionaries and exegeses, but few books which would discard the academic paraphernalia and show in black and white that to read Schulz is to wrestle with an angel who means to wrench out your hip.

But then how should we read Schulz? Should we catalogue motifs and themes? This is important, but superficial. Should we illuminate metaphors and track turns of phrase? This reeks of the laboratory from a mile off. Should we compare? But how to compare the incomparable? Even worse, Schulz cannot be utilized for anything: he can’t be hailed as a patron of the left or right and nobody will write a politically engaged essay about him.

Schulz is clearly useless: he refuses to serve any cause, he refuses to rouse and uplift, and even his essays about Józef Piłsudski are a disappointment to old legionnaires. Neither does Schulz have – as would befit a genius of the nation – a decent biography. Ultimately Jerzy Ficowski didn’t write one, preferring to ferret about in the The Vicinity of ’Cinnamon Shops’, rather than to take a look inside them. This is in fact a broader tendency. Indeed, the proliferation of books in the Schulzean bibliography with titles dominated by various margins, postscripts and footnotes clearly demonstrates that the criticism has been overcome by a reverent fear of confrontation. This ferreting about in the margins is by no means a purely native affliction.

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