Sunday, March 9, 2014

the life of a creature resembling a sea-anemone

How do you pull it off outside the page, that potent Self, Bruno Schulz being the embodiment of a concentrated environmental mythology but this embodiment behaving with such hesitation, timidity, ineptitude and dithering, that it had to write Sklepy cynamonowe and Sanatorium Pod Klepsydrą to prove that it existed. (Why prove it?)

Light like melting pears, is one of the ways I remember Schulz, though what story was he writing then? Cinnamon Shops itself, I see, now that I check, which was as easy as typing in the words "Bruno Schulz" and "pears."

Dizzy with light, we dipped into that enormous book of holidays, its pages blazing with sunshine and scented with the sweet melting pulp of golden pears.

(translated by Celina Wieniewska)

He had his town and his poverty, as the people of Gormenghast have their confining rooms, their stone walls, and Powys had his own poverty and small abodes; the protagonist of the The Inmates, locked in an asylum, believes that he can see a self-contained soul in a chipped teacup (it is the physical imperfection that leads him there, says Powys: it becomes apparent to him that this cup is a particular, irreplaceable cup); the other inmates perceive a "sub-human life of its own" in a man's beard, "the life of a creature resembling a sea-anemone, whose tentacular filaments drew their lustre from the gradual dissolution of fathom-deep masses of gem-breeding scum," until, reading them, I conclude that some aspect of external miring is necessary, and the upsoak of dreamlife is inaccessible to those people who are mobile and fulfilled, or "professional" and "sane and sensible and shrewd and competent."

Against them you have the vitalists, the "amateurs," people with "weaknesses that perhaps escape the usual categories but brim over into manias, vices, neuroses, phobias, and superstitions, that become a real trouble as their victims wrestle with life.

These are the people, and you can call them artistic, sensitive, and poetical, or you can simply call them morbid and eccentric [...] who in our own day are forever protesting with a positively ghastly naturalness against the inhuman specialisation of our time." (In Spite Of.)

That rich "sane and sensible" man in Weymouth Sands needing to become poetical and morbid by inviting a man to his house to see his miserly tendencies before the book will notice him as if he is a person rather than a demonic rumour.


  1. Another interesting idea, that the flaws (the "miring," the chip in the teacup) are what create or at least reveal unique souls, and that this soulful uniqueness is what enables us to engage with dreamlife. Flawless specimens would be invisible to Schulz and Powys, then?

  2. In a way. Both of them like to sympathise and empathise with characters who are damaged, degraded or vulnerable, and if a character seems impervious (the financier in Weymouth Sands, at first, before the other character finds out that he's a miser) then the author (I'm thinking specifically of Powys now) will sail past them (the successful and happy scientist in The Inmates is just a slick vehicle for him to despise) or scrounge around inside them until he finds a flaw that he can latch on to. The flaws snag him; he catches there like wool on a splinter and then he lingers and writes paragraphs. I can't remember if this is a bias that he ever stated clearly and unmistakably, but the way he likes to structure his action (which is: character sees something, character enters reverie) privileges flawed objects.

  3. Okay, now I better understand what you mean when you say "the book will notice him."