The article presents the author's insights on Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz. She mentions that she first encountered Schulz in the early 's, wherein she describes Schulz as a quiet man who taught drawing and spent his free hours writing stories. She says that Schulz inspired her writing A profile of Polish writer and graphic artist Bruno Schulz is presented. Information on his birth, birthplace, and professional recognitions that he achieved is presented. An overview of his literary style is offered.
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Revealing the distinctly Christian influence of Schulz's modernism, I show that for Schulz and the medieval writers in Buber's collection, language remains the common link between spiritual insight and sensory experience: in attempting to describe the ineffable, it becomes possible for ecstatic writers to gesture towards a sacred, communal, and primordial word. But is the myth a phantasm? Is it not a revelation of the ultimate reality of being?
Is not the experience of the ecstatic a symbol of the primal experience of the universal mind? Are not both a living, inner experience? We listen to our inmost selves—and do not know which sea we hear murmuring. The tangled descent may be deep, dark, and perhaps even bottomless, but there is no cause for alarm, no need to beg off just yet. Here in these depths, stories and histories accumulate, ferment, and germinate in an underbrush of "gloom and roots"; were it not [End Page ] for these strange woods, the narrator asks, "where else would writers have taken their concepts, where else would they have gathered the courage to invent had they not sensed behind them these reserves, this capital, these hundredfold accounts with which the Underworld vibrates?
Through his autobiographically-inflected narrator, Schulz suggests that writing is not invention but mystical cultivation discovered through the senses. In describing the descent's "darkness basted with intricate phosphorescence," Schulz participates in a modernist tradition of invoking the sensory language of Christian illumination for narrative purposes, a visionary tradition that also appealed to his contemporary, the Jewish thinker and writer Martin Buber.
This connection is particularly evident in Buber's collection Ekstatische Konfessionen Ecstatic Confessions , which contains several centuries of multi-denominational writings on the subject of what Buber defines as the ecstatic visionary experience.
Following Buber, I understand the ecstatic as a mystical experience of moving beyond or outside of oneself. This movement is always already a destabilizing one; in fact, the Greek term—which denotes the condition of being out ek of a stationary place statis or standing away from oneself—once referred to insanity or bewilderment.
In both sets of visionary texts Schulz's and those included in Buber's collection , the allegory for "seeing" a vision or "feeling" the presence of the divine comingles with physiological seeing and feeling.
For Schulz, Christian ecstatic literature provides a template for crafting spiritual insight as sensory experience: depicting the ineffable in sensory terms makes possible the evocation of a sacred, communal, and primordial word. As numerous scholars have noted, Schulz's childhood in the Galician town of Drohobycz, located in present-day Ukraine, undoubtedly had a profound impact on his art.
At that time I harbored in my mind a sort of utopia about an "age of genius" [ genialnej epoce ] that supposedly existed in my life once upon a time, not in any calendar year but on a level above chronology, an age when everything blazed with godly colors and one took in the whole sky with a single breath, like a gulp of pure ultramarine. For Schulz, this "age of genius" genialnej epoce expresses itself as somewhere beyond reality and yet also with a very direct correlation to it.
As such, the boy narrator of Sanatorium and Cinnamon Shops both is and is not Schulz himself, just as the town the narrator inhabits both is and is not the Drohobycz of the author's past. In both cases, more than passing resemblances are easily noted—for example, the narrator's father figure is aging and unwell, much like Schulz's father was for the majority of his childhood, and the "Street of Crocodiles" of Cinnamon Shops is almost directly lifted from a commercial district in Drohobycz.
In order to present the reader with an "age of genius" viewed through the landscape of his youth, Schulz takes on the language of a visionary tale rife with elements of fantastical mythology.
Drawn from Schulz's childhood experience with Ephraim Moses Lilien's graphic works, "The Book" centers on an eternal, "authentic" [End Page ] text that exceeds the narrator's capacity to describe it. The Book is something concrete yet ultimately unknowable—a text with the power to extend beyond its existence and gesture to the sublime. Sometimes Father would get up from the book and walk away.
At those times I remained alone with it and the wind passed across its pages and the images rose up. And when the wind quietly paged through those sheets, blowing away colors and shapes, a shudder ran through the columns of its text, releasing from among the letters the formations of swallows and skylarks. Clearly, this object—if it can be called that—is no mere book. At once alive and variable, The Book has the ability to both reflect and challenge the everyday reality of language and the nature of things.
Shortly after this description of a landscape brightened by The Book, the narrator notes that he may have "forgotten about The Book forever were it not for that night and that dream" For weeks afterwards, he searches and searches, only to find one "incompetent forgery" nieudolny falsyfikat after another until he spots the family maid, Adela, browsing "a large in folio sheet" 85—86, This folio is, once again, The Book.
For Schulz, such primordial mystical illuminations clearly bear repeating, as they reassert themselves again and again in these fantastical narratives. Gradually, the act of "seeing" a vision gives way to the language of physical sight, and Schulz literalizes the allegorical vision. I knew this from the fact that no one considered himself its owner. Not even Rudolf, who acted more as its servant … He looked with envy at the reflection of distant worlds that meandered in a quiet color scale across from face.
A distant glow from those pages in which his soul had no share reached him only when reflected from my countenance. In these experiences, physical sense is rendered instrumental in establishing a relationship between an internal world and the external world of the vision. The fever of creativity [End Page ] itself, which serves as the stabilizing event in what is dubbed the "Age of Genius," is accompanied by a full bodily experience of smells, sights, textures, tastes:.
Winter was coming to an end. The days stood in puddles and embers had their palate full of fire and pepper. Glittering knives cut the honey pulp of the day into silver slices, into prisms, their cross sections full of colors and spicy piquancy. But the clockface of noon accumulated all the radiance of those days in a meager space and showed all the burning, fire-filled hours.
At that hour, unable to accommodate the heat, the day was shedding sheets of silver metal, crackling tinfoil, and exposing layer by layer its core of solid radiance [ litego blasku ]. Here time itself is represented with a body: its qualities are marked by such tactile images as "silver slices" and "crackling tinfoil," while its flavors are like "honey pulp" that seems "full of fire and pepper.
Schulz goes on to note that, "as if this were not enough, chimneys were emitting smoke, forming wreaths of glistening steam," underscoring the impossible fullness of the sensory landscape Bursting with these colors and flavors, time regresses into a Schulzian space filled with "solid radiance" litego blasku , and in this apex of sensuality visionary travel becomes possible.
Somewhat paradoxically, what seems to be a concurrent disavowal of the body—much akin to that of an ascetic monk—also accompanies these visionary experiences. The text implies that The Book provides the only nourishment necessary, rendering physical needs irrelevant. Amidst the flurry of imagination, sight, smell, and taste are subsumed.
I stood there, arms outstretched in inspiration, with extended, elongated fingers I was pointing, pointing in anger, in fierce exaltation, as tense as a signpost and trembling in ecstasy. My hand led me, alien and pale, dragged me along behind it, a stiff, wax hand, like great votive hands, like the hand of an angel raised in an oath.
The disembodied "I" aligned with the signpost and votive hands emerges as both animated and lifeless, embodying the paradox of marshalling the language of sensory perception to move beyond the sensory world.
Schulz's explorations of vision throughout these stories manifest an uneasy tension that both affirms and denies the body.
He produces a bodily engagement with the visions themselves, which manifests in the language of the senses. A conventional reading of the monastic tradition that Schulz implicitly cites here might aver that the sensory world must be disavowed in order to move toward the spiritual and divine. In fact, such positions are not as binary as they might seem: in denying the body food and sensory experience, such work centers the body and repeatedly confirms its profound capabilities, thereby arriving at a not always easy or desired enmeshment of bodily and spiritual worlds that is at the heart of ecstatic vision.
Published in by Eugen Diederichs, a prolific champion of esoteric and mystical texts in the early twentieth century, the collection Ecstatic Confessions reveals a distinctly modern preoccupation with visionary experience. In these assembled texts from pagan, Christian, Jewish, Eastern traditions, compiler Martin Buber found a template for communicating the ineffable, a way to showcase his lifelong concern with what Israel Koren calls "a solution to the question of multiplicity and unity within reality" It is unity, solitude, uniqueness: that which cannot be transferred.
It is the abyss that cannot be fathomed: the unsayable" 6. The "unsayable" experience is rendered in written form in an attempt to understand the ecstatic vision, a paradox that remains central to Buber's interest in ecstasy. That is, in curating these texts, Buber privileges writers who acknowledge language's imperfect representation of experience at the same time language becomes a necessary medium for communicating that experience.
While Buber is perhaps best known for revitalizing Jewish mysticism and championing Hassidic tales, as evidenced by collections like Die Geschichten des Rabbi Nachman The Tales of Rabbi Nachman , published in , and Die Legende des Baalschem The Legend of the Baal-schem from , his interest in Christian imagery and narrative reflects a particularly Jewish preoccupation in the modernist period.
In the Hebrew-language context, Shachar Pinsker notes that "the whole category of religious experience, as articulated in this period by figures such as William James, Vladimir Solovyov, Lev Shestov, Rudolph Otto, Hittel Zeitlin, and Martin Buber tended to detach the concept from any one religious tradition and make it a capacious category," thereby making Christian symbols and imagery available for Jewish modernists In addition to decoupling religious imagery from specific religious identity in much the same way as their non-Jewish peers, Jewish writers also specifically sought out Christian themes in order to express their modernity.
As Neta Stahl's work on the trope of a "Jewish Jesus" shows, Jewish writers looked to the figure of Jesus to construct a new, modern self-image as distinct from an old and outmoded Judaism. Becoming modern, for Jewish writers and artists, is synonymous with reinventing what it means to be Jewish in terms that are not specifically Jewish but implicitly argue for a more capacious and outward-looking Judaism.
That is, though it might seem strange for Jewish artists and thinkers to engage in Christian mysticism, Buber and Schulz participated in a wider Jewish trend to embrace Christian thought as distinct from the Christian religion itself. In Buber's work, as in Schulz's, an uncomfortable dichotomy manifests in the juncture between old and new Judaism, between the cultural traditions of an ostracized Jewish community and the secularism of an emerging Jewish intellectualism.
Though Schulz rarely inserted specific Jewish elements into his fiction, his visual works bear witness to [End Page ] the Hasidic community that peopled Drohobycz, and certain mystical elements such as illuminated letters seem, at least on the surface, more Kabbalistic than Christian.
However, the depiction of ecstatic confession as intimate as the word confession requires is not generally a part of Jewish tradition: as Paul Mendes-Flohr notes, very little Jewish literature is included in Ecstatic Confessions due to the fact that Hebrew's sacred status in Judaism does not easily allow for a repurposing into intimate, everyday ecstatic narrative.
Schulz's work in and affirmation of Polish as a mystical tongue reveals an insistence on the vernacular that makes mystical literature possible. This orientation towards the mystical offered an alternative to the binary choice of either traditional observance or assimilation through modernist occult spirituality.
Modernism's broader interest with magic and the occult—including theosophy, spiritualism, and metaphysics—has been thoroughly detailed by scholars of the twentieth century. Schulz's admiration for Rilke places him in contact with this tradition and, in the absence of a concrete Schulz archive, shows the sorts of texts that were circulating among Schulz's peers and in his milieu.
While it is impossible to know what Schulz read given the dearth of evidence, putting Schulz alongside medieval visionary literature illuminates the complex role of sense, sensory perception, and the primordial Word in Schulz's tales. In medieval mystical literature, writers marshal the language of sensory perception to describe visionary ecstasy. Christian visionary literature of the Middle Ages—the period from which the bulk of Ecstatic Confessions is drawn —is rife with expressions of bodily sensation.
In Buber's anthology, for example, Mechtild Von Magdenburg, speaking from the voice of God, compares the soul to the taste of a grape, the fragrance of balsam, and the radiance of the sun EC Angela Di Foligno refers repeatedly to "the eyes of the soul" and Julian of Norwich opens a "spiritual eye" 99, What is important to note are the ways in which this language is applied, and to what ends.
A long history of sensual and religious experience tells us that the two are interconnected, even to the point of conflating allegory and physical sensation. Many critics trace a long religious tradition of an engagement with the senses back to the Greek exegetic practice of "the five spiritual senses," the invention of which "allowed for the creation of a space of experience, exploration, and amplification of the emotional as well as the sensory life of the soul" Largier, "Praying" [End Page ] That the soul has senses is an assertion with a specific set of consequences.
Most notably, these senses are analogous to our five physical senses, but they also traverse the boundaries of the corporeal world. Echoing this, several texts in Ecstatic Confessions reference an inward and outward vision, or a sort of "second sense.
But from my childhood, since before I grew strong in bones and nerves and veins, I have constantly beheld this vision in my soul … And when I see this in such a manner of my soul, I also perceive it according to the changes of the layer of clouds and other created things. Yet I do not hear it with outward ears, nor receive it in the thoughts of my heart, nor with any contribution of my five senses, but rather in my soul alone, while my outward eyes are open, so that I never suffer in them the weariness of ecstasy, but gaze upon it waking by day and in the night.
The visionary experience touches on both physical and metaphoric or spiritual senses: first described through the metaphor of sight as "this vision in my soul," the author simultaneously incorporates a link with the physical sense by referring to "outward eyes" that remain open. Though this vision exhibits a clear grounding in the material world—it is perceived "according to the changes of the layer of clouds and other created things"—there is a break with reality as such when the narrator of these visions transcends her corporeal being and "sees" with inward eyes that do not fatigue the outward ones.
Similarly, Mechtild Von Magdeburg notes that "[i]n the greatest strength she [the visionary] comes out of herself, and in the greatest blindness she sees with the greatest clarity" This paradoxical experience of seeing offers a unique metaphor for the intertwining of spiritual and physical sight.
While it may seem that that sensory experience is marshalled merely for allegorical effect, its prominence and detail suggest that the physical body is in fact a necessary component of ecstasy.
The language of the body is crucial to the depiction of the visionary place, but coexists with a disavowal of the corporeal world. A nun from Elsbet Stagel's sister-book notes that "except for her bodily needs she [the visionary] ate and slept a little" Another author in the same sister-book notes that in her visionary state she "had no hunger nor thirst nor desire for sleep" The spirit breaks with the body's need for external sustenance at the same time it is able to feel pain, see, touch, taste, and hear in order to chart the visionary experience.
In this way, the uneasy Cartesian mind-body split is worked out through [End Page ] a kind of mingled secondary body-soul; in order to accomplish the visionary task, the body works itself inward and merges with the soul to produce an existence that relies on the language of the physical—if in name only—as much as it does the spiritual. According to Buber, this "self-liberating soul" has no need "for nourishment, and no poison can touch it.
Noc Wielkiego Sezonu
This intercalary month is the time par excellence for strange, unexpected events. The father is dominated by mixed feelings: on the one hand, he wants to sell the fabrics, on the other hand, he wants to keep his new arsenal of colorful fabrics for himself; moreover—and this is one of the fantastic elements in the narrative—he senses the nearing of a devastating autumn storm, that will blow out his fabric store, flooding the city with streams of color. At the approach of the Great Season—the High Holy Days—nature begins to show signs of decay, while the days shorten and people become restless. In many ways, the Present of the story is directed by the Past of the Bible and the prayer books for the High Holy Days. With his Babel metaphor, Schulz could allude to Gen. By listening with his inner ear, the big house opens itself to him and he discovers that the shop assistants are chasing the maid Adela, who takes cover behind the kitchen dresser.
4.19. Bruno Schulz, novel chapter ‘The Night of the Great Season’ (1934)
A Living Schulz: 'Noc wielkiego sezonu' ('The Night of the Great Season')