The most fundamental function of the spirit is inventing fables, creating tales.
Bruno Schulz was born in Poland in 1892. A Nazi shot him to death in 1942, while he was carrying a loaf of bread home from the bakery.
The driving force of human knowledge is the conviction that at the end of its investigations, it will discover the ultimate meaning of the world. It seeks this meaning on the heights and scaffolding of its artificial mounds. But the elements which it uses in construction have been used once before, have come from forgotten and shattered fables. Poetry recognizes the lost meanings, restores words to their proper place, and links them according to their ancient denotations. In the hands of the poet, the word, as it were, comes to its senses about its essential meaning, it flourishes and develops spontaneously in keeping with its own laws, and regains its integrity. For that reason, every kind of poetry is an act of mythologization and tends to create myths about the world. The mythologization of the world has not yet ended.
Schulz was a Jew born into an "insignificant little Eastern town", Drohobycz. He was educated at Lwów Politechnika (1910-1913), pursuing a degree in architecture. He lost interest in architecture in his third year there, and went to Vienna, the Akademie der Schonen Kunsten (1914-1915), to study painting. This abrupt change in the course of his studies was a sort of theme of his life; he would always have difficulty achieving finality, setting himself to something permanently, selecting and keeping an occupation that might help stablize the form of his life.
Do you understand the power of form, of expression, of pretense, the arbitrary tyranny imposed on a helpless block, and ruling it like its own, tyrannical, despotic soul? You give a head of canvas and oakum an expression of anger and leave it with it, with the convulsion, the tension enclosed once and for all, with a blind fury for which there is no outlet. The crowd laughs at the parody. Weep, ladies, over your own fate, when you see the misery of imprisoned matter, of tortured matter which does not know what it is and why it is, nor where the gesture may lead that has been imposed on it forever.
It was not until 1924 that he found himself a permanent job, as a teacher, at the same local high school he himself had attended. He remained there until 1941, and it was not his choice to leave.
Form, indeed, would always be something of which Schulz was suspicious. Frequently described as an "expressionistic" writer, Schulz was prone to descriptions of worlds that were comprised largely of a dream-like fiber, marked by vibrant colors, the seemingly random and worthless aspects of his worlds frequently moving into a foreground of enormous meaning; substance was neither a thing of mass nor of volume, but rather "myth", this all-defining primordial source, the center of the soul of the world. No, it is not entirely clear what Schulz meant by "myth". There are isolated moments in his The Mythologization of Reality in which the reader cannot help but begin to suspect that the man is altogether mad. But there is something to his belief that mankind has stepped away from a purity, that he is looking in the wrong places with the wrong eyes.
Poetry is the short-circuiting of meaning between words, the impetuous regeneration of primordial myth.
What is it that we see when we stare into a mass of words, discerning something that transcends, truly transcends, all attempts at its delineation? Why is man unable to embrace this formless thing, why must suspicion be the closest he ever comes to beauty, or whatever thing it is that we love? Is it because he lacks faith? Because he needs that ruler in his pocket at all times, to reassure himself always that he is real?
When Poland was taken, Schulz was spared deportation by a Nazi official, Drohobycz SS Commander Felix Landau. Landau, a "central figure in the Nazi program of the extermination of Galician Jews", is described by The Ukrainian Newspaper "The Day" as Schulz's "guardian angel", going so far as to allow him to paint "fairy tale princes and other entertaining murals at the Gestapo chief’s villa". But Die Zeit ("The Times") recalls the diary of Felix Landau, in which he recalls his "shooting excercizes": picking off the occasional Jewish girl working in the neighboring garden, or simply opening fire on any Jewish passerby on the sidewalk from the comfortable, detached confines of the villa. One day, Landau killed the personal (Jewish) dentist of Karl Günter, a fellow SS man. Günter, enraged, took his revenge when he saw Schulz, whom he knew to be Landau's man, walking down the street one day.
Bruno Schulz was a painter and a writer. All of Bruno Schulz's paintings were lost. Some sketchings remain. The only novel he ever began was entitled The Messiah, and he was killed before he could finish it, and it too was eventually lost. Cynthia Ozick's "The Messiah of Stockholm" was inspired by the genius and the enigma of Schulz, and the tragedy of the loss of his masterwork.
Why something should appear meaningful to us is impossible to define. The process of making sense of the world is closely connected with the word.
You should read Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles (1933). Sometimes it appears under the title, Cinnamon Shops. Also widely available is Schulz's The Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (1937).
At times one has the impression that it is only the small section immediately before us that falls into the expected pointillistic picture of a city thoroughfare, while on either side, the improvised masquerade is already disintegrating and, unable to endure, crumbles behind us into plaster and sawdust, into the lumber room of an enormous, empty theatre. The tenseness of an artificial pose, the assumed earnestness of a mask, an ironical pathos tremble on this facade.
But far be it from us to wish to expose this sham. Despite our better judgment we are attracted by the tawdry charm of the district. Besides, that pretense of a city has some of the features of self-parody.