A Brief Life of Bruno Schulz

As a boy in a part of Poland that is now part of Ukraine, Bruno fed sug­ar gran­ules to house­flies so they’d have enough strength to sur­vive the win­ters. Lat­er, he want­ed to be an artist. He went to col­lege, but he was shy and thought lit­tle of him­self, so he had noth­ing. Some friends pitied him and found him a job as a school teacher. He didn’t like teach­ing, but his stu­dents remem­bered him as an awk­ward man who nev­er­the­less trans­fixed them with sto­ries every day from bell to bell.

He wrote sto­ries as well, but he didn’t think they were good enough to pub­lish. Nonethe­less, in 1933, at age 41, he trav­eled to War­saw with the hope that Madame Nalkowska would help him. As a favor to a friend, she agreed to give him ten min­utes of her time and let him read a few pages of his col­lec­tion to her. She kept the man­u­script for the day and phoned him that evening to say she would be hon­ored to help him pub­lish his col­lec­tion, The Cin­na­mon Shops. Five short years lat­er, he received the Gold­en Lau­rel Award from the Pol­ish Acad­e­my of Lit­er­a­ture.

In 1941, the Ger­mans forced the Jews of Dro­hoby­cz into the Ghet­to. Schulz escaped the camps, how­ev­er, when an SS Offi­cer, Felix Lan­dau, admired his work and retained him to paint murals in his home. Lan­dau had a vio­lent rival­ry with anoth­er SS Offi­cer, Karl Gun­ther ; one day, Gun­ther walked up and shot Shulz dead, say­ing, “There, I’ve shot your per­son­al Jew.”

[This is a dis­til­la­tion of David Grossman’s fine “The Age of Genius” from the June 8 2009 issue of The New York­er]

The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,

and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real jour­ney.

The mind that is not baf­fled is not employed.

The imped­ed stream is the one that sings.

– Wen­dell Berry

Something from Anthony Burgess

We prob­a­bly have no duty to like Beethoven or hate Coca-Cola, but it is at least con­ceiv­able that we have a duty to dis­trust the state. Thore­au wrote of the duty of civil dis­obe­di­ence ; Whit­man said, “Resist much, obey lit­tle.” With those lib­er­als, and with many oth­ers, dis­obe­di­ence is a good thing in itself. In small social enti­ties — Eng­lish parish­es, Swiss can­tons — the machine that gov­erns can some­times be iden­ti­fied with the com­mu­ni­ty that is gov­erned. But when the social enti­ty grows large, becomes a mega­lopolis, a state, a fed­er­a­tion, the gov­ern­ing machine becomes remote, imper­son­al, even inhu­man. It takes mon­ey from us for pur­pos­es we do not seem to sanc­tion ; it treats us as abstract sta­tis­tics ; it con­trols an army ; it sup­ports a police force whose func­tion does not always appear to be pro­tec­tive.

– From The New York­er, June 2012