Bruno Schulz's Poetics:

Some Quotes from Schulz's Letters and Other Writings

taken from Jerzy Ficowski's Regions of the Great Heresy


This page is an appendix of sorts to my tentative essay on Cinnamon Shops.  The quotations below, more or less in the form of notes, are taken from Jerzy Ficowski's biography of Schulz, Regions of the Great Heresy.  My interest here is mainly Schulz's poetics, or what Ficowski might call his mythopoetics.


Though I haven't written on Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass, I would also recommend it as a work of equal interest to Cinnamon Shops. 


As for Regions of the Great Heresy, it is and will doubtless long remain the standard Schulz biography.  Ficowski's lifelong devotion to retrieving and assessing the lost pieces of Schulz's work has become legendary.  Through interviews, recovered correspondence and tireless research, he has reconstructed the troubled life that was the context for the tales.  Ficowski's biography is the essential introduction to the great Polish modernist and his life in Drohobycz. 





Quotes from Bruno Schulz


1. Why criticism is insufficient to the work:


I think that the rationalization of the vision of things rooted in the work of art is like the demasking of actors.  It is the end of the game, it is the impoverishment of the question of the work.  Not because art is an anagram with a hidden key [and] philosophy is this same anagram--solved.  The difference is more profound.  In the work of art the umbilical cord is not yet cut that joins it to the whole of the problem.  The blood of the mystery is still circulating; the ends of the vessels escape into the surrounding night and return full of dark fluid.  In a philosophical interpretation we now have only extracted an anatomical specimen for an entire problem.  (30)



2. Being is forged in common:


I need a companion.  I need the closeness of a kindred person.  I long for some affirmation of the inner world whose existence I postulate.  To persistently cling to it by my own faith alone, heave it despite everything with the strength of its resistance--it is the labor and torment of Atlas.  Sometimes it seems to me that with this strained gesture of lifting I hold nothing on my shoulders.  I would like the power for a moment to set this weight down upon someone's arms, straighten up my neck and look at what I have been carrying.

     I need a partner for undertakings of discovery.  What for one person is a risk, an impossibility, a caprice stood on its head--when reflected in two pairs of eyes becomes a reality.  The world waits as it were for this partnership: until now closed, confined, without further plans--to begin to mature with the colors of a dahlia, burst and open up inside.  Painted panoramas deepen and open into actual perspectives, the wall lets us into a dimension formerly unattainable, frescoes painted on the horizon come to life like a pantomime.  (57-8)


3. On the willfulness of matter:


There are no dead, hard, limited objects.  Everything diffuses beyond its limitations, and lasts only for a moment in a particular shape in order to leave it at the first opportunity. (65) 


[Ficowski writes: "As Father says in 'Treatise on Tailors' Dummies,' 'there is no dead matter.  Lifelessness is only a faade concealing forms of life unknown to us.'  This is the attitude of primitive man, but also of the child and the poet.  To exist in childhood means to find oneself in the land of fairy tale, and Schulzian fairy tale is ruled by the same laws as mythology.  Like any scientific theory or religious system, it reflects a coherence to which even the most peculiar events and metamorphoses in Cinnamon Shops and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass conform.  As a whole, Schulz's stories are really reconstructions of a mythic 'book of childhood,' and he terms its symbolic prototypes the Book and the Authentic." (73)]


4. Childhood and the task of reconstituting the Book:


The books which we read in childhood don't exist anywhere; they fluttered away--bare skeletons remain.  Whoever would still have in himself the marrow of childhood--ought to write them anew as they were then. (27)


Were it possible to turn back development, achieve a second childhood by some circuitous road, once again have its fullness and immensity--that would be the incarnation of an "age of genius," "messianic times" which are promised and pledged to us by all mythologies.  My ideal goal is to "mature" into childhood.  This would really be a true maturity.  (72)


[Of course I think here of Cosmo di Madison's words at II.2.9.]


3. Quiet:


You overrate the advantages of my Drohobycz situation.  What I miss even here--is quiet. . .  Those things which I think want to express themselves through me take place above a certain threshold of quiet, they take form in a solution brought into perfect equilibrium.  (48)


4. The persistence of myth:


All poetry is mythologizing and strives to reconstitute myths about the world.  The mythologizing of the world is not over yet; the process was only halted by the development of knowledge, diverted into a side channel where it exists on without comprehending its own meaning.  But knowledge is nothing more than the construction of a myth about the world, since myth lies in the very elements themselves, and there is no way of going beyond myth.  Poetry reaches the meaning of the world intuitively, deductively, with large, daring shortcuts and approximations.  Knowledge seeks the same meaning inductively, methodically, taking into account all the materials of experience.  Fundamentally, one and the other are bound for the same goal. (76)


[In this passage I take it that Schulz's term knowledge is roughly synonymous with science.  And I would say that the term poetry here could be replaced by the word literature.  Though I believe he would, I cannot say for certain however that Schulz himself would agree.  In any event he himself was not strictly speaking "a poet."]


As we manipulate everyday words, we forget that they are fragments of ancient and eternal stories, that we are building our houses with broken pieces of sculptures and ruined statues of gods as the barbarians did. (88)


Just as the ancients traced their ancestors back to mythological unions with the gods, so I have attempted to establish for myself a mythic generation of forebears, a fictional family from which I derive my real origins.  In some such sense such "histories" are real; they represent my way of life, my particular fate.  (92)




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