Bruno frequently drew dominatrices, often with his own overt self-portrait as the submissive, athough this chap in "The Eternal Fairy Tale" is rendered anonymous by the amazon's foot. The picture below is a portrait of Bruno as a sickly devottee following his mistress Undula through the night.

Bruno Schulz & the Exultant Darkness

Jessica Amanda Salmonson



I love Bruno Schulz (1892-1942), whose The Street of Crocodiles aka Cinnamon Shops & Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass are two of the greatest works of 20th Century fantasy. They are works of love infused with sadness. They are works that find an extraordinary beauty in dark landscapes of mind & place. But any tendency to imagine Bruno depressed & isolated like the lad in Street of Crocodiles must be tempered by the mood of his decadent, aesthetic drawings that reveal a man who is not miserably trapped, but exultantly fascinated by the dark.

I think I could've had a joyous time hanging out with Bruno, conversing on art & the short story. I might even have condescended to tie him up & place my foot upon his face, since he enjoyed that sort of thing so much. Anyone who has seen his self-portraits & other drawings, such as in The Book of Idolatry (Warsaw: Interpress, 1983), knows how often he places himself amidst domineering amazons, with, however, often an edge of generosity & sweet melancholy that makes his artworks rather more than pornographic oddities of deviance. While one easily imagines Kafka unobtrusive in his job & disempowered in his own home, my image of Bruno is one of energy, motivation & willfulness that merely disguises itself as quietude.

Undula at NightA Polish Jew, Bruno was born into a merchant family, & was a high school art teacher in the city of Drohobycz, which was at the time in Poland though it is now in the Ukraine. In The Street of Crocodiles the Drohobycz shtetl is transformed into a phantasmagorically doom-laden universe finite but eternal, wherein an autobiographically imagined boy's spectral wizened father haunts every private thought & passageway.

The curious blend of masochism & heroism in his fantasy art & tales was shown truly to be one & the same with his actual spirit, by his boldness in leaving the ghetto to get food for his family & friends, even when Gestapo or SS officers were shooting Jews on sight. Eventually shooting even Bruno. He transcends his own martyrdom by having become more like a beacon of aestheticism in the midst of so dark a passage of modern history.

David Goldfarb (in "A Living Schulz" in Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History, John Hopkins University, 1994) rightly takes exception to Bruno having been retrofitted to a cliche of "brilliant, frail, passive, tragic" that many would impose on all European Jewry — for one thing, Goldfarb doesn't think the retrofit is a good one since the man's great works predate the great tragedy. But if that limited view of Bruno as arch martyr is really abroad, I never noticed it, because no one sensible would mistake his personal masochistic lust for passivity — he pursued that aggressively — let alone mistake his Aesthete wispiness for frailty of spirit. His spirit was magnanimous & gigantic. The intense devotion of fellow artists to Schulz — Cynthia Ozick, Thomas Ligotti, Philip Roth, John Updike, Danilo Kis, the brothers Quay, &c &c — is not because they found anything of weakness or fatalism in him. He found beauty in darkness because there is beauty in darkness; what in Kafka is a plaint in Schulz is a celebration.

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