on Bruno Schulz, Jindřich Štyrský,
and other modernist masters of matter.
The fiction of Bruno Schulz is alive with dead things. His stories all take place in the narrow landscape of his childhood: the small, provincial town of Drohobycz in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now western Ukraine, a few years after the start of the twentieth century. At the same time, they seem to occupy a separate cosmos, one whose physics, biology and even meteorology are distinct from our own. Schulz’s Drohobycz is a city of abnormal winds, intercalated seasons and illusory geography, in which time is entirely plastic, stretching out and contracting according to its own desires.
Here, the boundaries between people and things aren’t fixed. Human beings are susceptible to sudden, inexplicable transformations. They turn into animals — cockroaches, flies, crustaceans — and objects — a pile of ash, a primitive telegraph, a heap of rubbish, the rubber tube of an enema. A flock of multicolored birds flies from the family house in winter; in the fall, it returns blind and misshapen, the birds’ anatomy a nonsense of cardboard and carrion. The substance of reality seems paper-thin and prone to tearing. In attics, darkness degenerates and ferments. Unmade beds rise like dough. Colorless poppies sprout out of the weightless fabric of nightmares and hashish.
I Built a Box
I built a box
An aquarium, into it I threw Marie’s glove
To always have in my sight
And the broken handle of a parasol
A celluloid nymph gone soft
Many strange creatures
Were not born in water
Photograph and text by Jindřich Štyrský
translated from Czech by Jed Slast
Forthcoming in Dreamverse from Twisted Spoon Press