State of Arrest: The Short Stories of Bruno Schulz

Part of the Studies in Russia and East Europe book series (SREE)


Bruno Schulz is sometimes referred to as ‘the Polish Kafka’. The comparison is valid up to a point, though I doubt if it is reversible: no-one would think of calling Kafka the Czech Schulz. Moreover, if Schulz is a lesser writer than Kafka, with a small output, he is also by no means a second-rate Kafka, but a highly original writer with a distinctive personal voice and vision. He knew Kafka’s work well, and allegedly translated The Trial into Polish (the MS is lost); but Kafka, despite being a member of a persecuted minority in his homeland, was an inhabitant of a great European city situated west of Vienna, and wrote in a world language, while Schulz was a provincial, wrote in Polish, and lived in Drohobycz, Galicia, on the margins of Austria-Hungary, where he worked as an art teacher in the local Gymnasium. He was shot in the back by a Gestapo man in 1942. Drohobycz is now in the Ukraine, and blocks of flats have been built on the Jewish cemetery where Schulz is buried, the local authorities (then Soviet) being even less assiduous than the Poles at honouring their Jewish heritage. On the other hand, maybe the gruesome appropriateness of his terminal obscurity would have pleased Schulz, who relished things hidden and remote. He makes of his Drohobycz a haunted and magical spot, a meeting place of Polish and Jewish cultures such as you cannot find on any extant map.1


Short Story Involuntary Memory Reality Principle Puppet Show Jewish Heritage 
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  1. 2.
    Księga: in Bruno Schulz, Proza, Kraków, 1973, pp. 122–33. All quotation from the Polish text of Schulz are taken from this edition. The title of this story is hard to translate, since it is a more elevated or specialised word for a book than the usual ‘książk’. The references to English quotations from Schulz which follow are to the English edition mentioned in n. 5.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Jerzy Ficowski, Regiony Wielkiej Herezji, Kraków, 1975.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    James Joyce, Ulysses, Harmondsworth, 1971, p. 37.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Bruno Schulz, The Old Age Pensioner, in The Fictions of Bruno Schulz, tr. Celina Wieniewska, London 1988. All subsequent English quotations from Schulz refer to this edition (but see n. 12).Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Wylie Sypher, From Rococo to Cubism in Art and Literature, New York, 1960, p. 305.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Charles Baudelaire, Correspondances, in Les Fleurs du Mal, Oeuvres Completes, Paris 1968, p. 46.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, London, 1970, p. 160.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska, eds, Reading in Russian Poetics, Cambridge, Massachusets, 1971, pp. 38–46.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    James Joyce, Dubliners, Harmondsworth, 1968, p. 33.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    Boris Eikhenbaum, ‘O. Henry and the Theory of the Short Story’, in Reading in Russian Poetics, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1978, pp. 251 and 260.Google Scholar
  11. 29.
    The significance of this in the Oedipal scenario is clear enough; the son has a glimpse of the ‘secret’ of the Father’s phallic power. In Freudian terms, Schulz’s narrator seem to be first responding to this challenge in the time-honoured way, but then perversely enlisting the Father into the ‘arrested’ world of childhood. Freud would have discovered here, and everywhere else on Schulz, massive instances of sexual fetishism (cf. Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality, Harmondsworth, 1977, pp. 345–59.Google Scholar
  12. 33.
    T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding, in The Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot, London, 1969, p. 197.Google Scholar
  13. 38.
    Arthur Rimbaud, Le Bateau Ivre, in Rimbaud: Selected Verse, ed. Oliver Bernard, Harmondsworth, 1962, pp. 165–71).Google Scholar
  14. 39.
    T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, op. cit., London, 1969, p. 62.Google Scholar
  15. 41.
    Tadeusz Kantor, Wielopole/Wielopole, ed. and tr. Mariusz Tchorek and G. M. Hyde, London, 1990, p. 9.Google Scholar
  16. 42.
    James Joyce, A portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. London, 1921. p. 250.Google Scholar

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© School of Slavonic and East European Studies 1992

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