His writing might lead you to believe otherwise, but as Nicki Leone shows us in Monday’s feature piece, Bruno Schulz “did not spring forth suddenly and fully formed” as a writer in middle age. His ostensibly effortless prose took long years of work to achieve. Those years left Schulz with profound insights into the beauty of creation, its difficulty, and its necessity, as shown by the quotes below.
“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.” —“The Mythologizing of Reality” (1936; trans. John M. Bates)
“I harbored in my mind a sort of utopia about ‘an age of genius’ 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.” —in a letter to Julian Tuwim, January 26, 1934
“A writer (my type of writer, anyway) is the most wretched creature on earth. He has to lie incessantly, has to represent as valid and real what is actually a miserable state of disintegration and chaos within him.” —in a letter to Ramona Halpern, August 16, 1936
“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 Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories (trans. Celina Wieniewska)
“Under the imaginary table that separates me from my readers, don’t we secretly clasp each other’s hands?” —“The Book,” Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass
“Matter has been given infinite fertility, inexhaustible vitality, and, at the same time, a seductive power of temptation which invites us to create as well. In the depth of matter, indistinct smiles are shaped, tensions build up, attempts at form appear. The whole of matter pulsates with infinite possibilities that send dull shivers through it. Waiting for the life-giving breath of the spirit, it is endlessly in motion. It entices us with the a thousand sweet, soft, round shapes, which it blindly dreams up within itself.” —The Street of Crocodiles
“An event may be small and insignificant in its origin, and yet, when drawn close to one’s eye, it may open in its center an infinite and radiant perspective because a higher order of being is trying to express itself in it and irradiates it violently.” —“The Book,” Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass
“[T]ruth is not a decisive factor in the success of an idea.” —“The Comet” from The Street of Crocodiles
“You overrate the advantages of my situation in Drohobycz. … The things that I sense want to be uttered through me occur above a certain threshold of quiet; they take shape in a medium brought to perfect equilibrium. Even the peace I experience here, though more nearly perfect than in that happier period, is no longer enough for the demands of an ever more delicate, more exquisite ‘vision.’ I find it harder and harder to believe in this vision. Yet those very matters demand a blind faith, demand to be taken on credit. Only when they are won over by this kind of faith do they barely consent to materialize, to assume a certain degree of existence.” —in a letter to Andrzej Plesniewicz, 4 March, 1936
“The knot in which the soul was bound is no trick knot, coming apart with a tug at its end. On the contrary, it grows tighter and tighter. We work at it, untying it, tracing the path of the string, seeking the end, and out of this manipulating comes art…” —“Introduction,” The Street of Crocodiles
“I have come to see that my chronic depression derives from a quietist and eudaemonic disposition, from spending every other minute testing the balance of satisfaction in exploring the art of happiness. Every other minute I ask myself the question: Do I have the right to be satisfied, is the undertaking ‘Schulz’ worth carrying on, does it justify further investment? And from the answer to this happiness questionnaire, I deduce a defeatist or optimistic attitude—mostly a defeatist one. Yet the question ought to be: Have I achieved the maximum of what was feasible in a given period? To build a life on work, on activity, declaring independence from the barometer of happiness—this is the right way to organize a life.” —in a letter to Andrzej Plesniewicz, 29 November, 1936
“I am coming to the conclusion that the prime cause of my depression is inactivity, unproductiveness. And the cause of my activity, in turn, is the mistaken idea that I am able to work only when everything is in good shape and I am content and have some peace of mind. The truth is that one has to make oneself work whatever one’s mood is, make oneself independent of serenity and changeable moods; not ask for contentment, for happiness, but build one’s life on work, effort, results. If I could bring this off, I would be happy.” —in a letter to Romana Halpern, 29 November, 1936
“At present we consider the word to be merely a shadow of reality, its reflection. But the reverse would be more accurate: reality is but a shadow of the word.” —“The Mythologizing of Reality”
Click here to read Nicki Leone’s feature piece on Bruno Schulz.