‘The Nightmarish Dream Logic of Bruno Schulz’
— Melissa Mesku
Schulz’s world is permeated with foreboding, an intuition of an unnamable violence, fruit rotting deep in the shadows of a thicket.
From 1936 to 1939, Jorge Luis Borges wrote for Argentine women’s magazine El Hogar. Every other week, he produced a one-page “capsule biography” of modern writers like T.S. Eliot, Theodore Dreiser and Virginia Woolf. Being quite the Borges fan, I was delighted to find these missives and other rare writings, printed for the first time in English in 1999 in Selected Non Fictions, the Viking collection of his work. And while the capsule biographies are themselves lovely pieces, marked with a sensibility that is unique to Borges, I came to see why they hadn’t been reprinted before. There was something almost disappointing about them. At the time, Borges had already produced many of his canonical works; for a writer already at his heights, straightforward biographical writing seems unambitious. I was eager to see a Borgesian approach to not just the lives of other writers, but the writing styles of other writers. Give me the grand sweep of Oswald Spengler! Give me the prose stylings of Eliot! Even his treatment of Paul Valéry, which begins, “To enumerate the facts of Valéry’s life is to ignore Valéry, is to not even allude to Paul Valéry,” then goes on to enumerate a bunch of facts about Valéry. I don’t mean to say every writer should put on the flourishes and idiosyncrasies of other writers. No; what I’d like, is that a writer who can pull it off put them on. I do not want to read about other writers, I want to inhabit the world they create. Give me some sense of that world so I remember that I’m not reading historians talking about history, I’m reading writers who read writers.
A short piece on the life and work of Bruno Schulz, published yesterday on Lit Hub, does just that. Poet Joe Fletcher subtly evokes the inarticulable, elemental disquiet in Schultz’s work through his own use of language. Discussing the “nightmare and terror lurking in the interstices of [Shultz’s] writing,” Fletcher sketches a lexically rich and haunting landscape. Chilling turns of phrase—“petrified by fear,” “the contours of a mythical face,” “the lapidary surface,” “a gripping undercurrent,” “a black tide”—aren’t done to excess, but are a fitting aerie. The result is a capsule biography that traces the contours of that mythical face, revealing the poetry of its lines in a poetry of his own.