Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Bruno Schulz, Street of Crocodiles (1934) and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (1937)

Schulz was a Polish author who wrote these two slim short story collections (and possibly a few more stories not included here; all I know is that these were the only ebook editions I could find).  In 1942 he was casually murdered by some fucking piece of shit nazi.

I do not feel that I can do adequate justice to the man here, and I’m not really going to try.  The stories are almost all about the narrator’s family life, with his parents and various servants.  The father is troubled and restless, and the stories casually blend in elements of surrealism: now he’s dead, how he’s alive again but only in certain places, now he’s transformed into an animal.  I could provide plot outlines, but I feel that would be missing the point and would just take away some of the shock.  The stories are frequently kind of abstruse, but they’re like nothing else I’ve read, and Schulz’ talent is obvious.  It should also be noted, however, that the prose is really gorgeous, like this:

On those luminous mornings Adela returned from the market, like Pomona emerging from the flames of day, spilling from her basket the colorful beauty of the sun--the shiny pink cherries full of juice under their transparent skins, the mysterious black morellos that smelled so much better than they tasted; apricots in whose golden pulp lay the core of long afternoons.  And next to that pure poetry of fruit, she unloaded sides of meat with their keyboard of ribs swollen with energy and strength, and seaweeds of  vegetables like dead octopuses and squids--the raw material of meals with a yet undefined taste, the vegetative and terrestrial ingredients of dinner, exuding a wild and rustic smell.

I’d go further than that, in fact, and say that Schulz is one of those vanishingly rare writers who appears to see further into the universe than most of us can do.  This quality isn’t necessarily correlated with goodness—as in, plenty of great writers don’t have it—but...I don’t know how I was going to finish this sentence.  I would put Clarice Lispector in this category, too.  Schulz is great and luminous, and there is an exquisite melancholy in reading his stories knowing he should’ve had the chance to do so much more.  This is part of the mystique, of course; maybe had he lived he would’ve revealed himself to be an ordinary human.  Still, while there are many alternate worlds it would be better to be living in nowadays, that one’s gotta come pretty near to topping the list. 


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