Bruno Schulz was born in 1892 to a Jewish family in Drohobych, wrote and worked as high-school art teacher, and was shot and killed by a Nazi Gestapo officer in 1942. He has been survived by a small body of works and is now considered to be one of the great figures of Polish literature. His best known composition is The Street of Crocodiles, a mythologized retelling of his childhood; life with the “demonic woman” of the household, the servant girl Adela; and, most importantly, of Schulz’ father, an eccentric cloth merchant-turned-mad prophetic figure. The boy Bruno confesses that he “[was] inclined to underrate the value of [his father’s] sovereign magic, which saved us from the lethargy of empty days and nights” (Schulz 25).
The Street of Crocodiles has been on my to-read list for a long time, so I was excited to see that it was an option for our Applications reading. Reading the book was quite stunning – Schulz’ scenarios and imagery come from some other realm, one more stunning than our own. I was most taken by the play between living and inanimate states within the book. For example, in Bruno Schulz’ world, vegetables become octopi and squid, wardrobes suffer and resent their hewn form, and mannequins are immobile beings who deserve sympathy and recognition. There isn’t a page in the book where an object that we know to be still Schulz makes live and breathe. (The converse also exists, where the living are reduced to lesser or inanimate form. Weasels in the forest become the taxidermied dead versions of themselves, a flock of birds not real but actually a museum’s collection of specimens, and Schulz’ father is himself reduced to a cockroach.)
I’ve read a number of articles dissecting The Street of Crocodiles and Schulz’ use of personification is often mentioned, but I haven’t seen any deeper discussion about the reasoning behind it. I think objects often endear themselves to us (through utility, daily interaction, aesthetic) and become alive and take on anthropomorphized characteristics in our minds. What are your thoughts on objects becoming characters in our lives? What does it say about human nature and the ways with which we interact with the world? Magical realism is a really popular genre because it saves us from the lethargy of our own empty days and nights – what surreal moments of magic have you experienced recently? Think of examples both related and NOT related at all to technology.