The critical reception of Bruno Schulz's prose

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Włodzimierz Bolecki

The critical reception of Bruno

Schulz’s prose

Literary Studies in Poland 9, 129-140


W łodzim ierz Bolecki

The Critical R eception o f

Bruno Sch ulz’s Prose

A characteristic elem ent o f the reception o f B runo Schulz’s prose before 1939 was the study o f the m echanism s o f th a t reception. N o t only was Schulz’s prose as such discussed, bu t also the opinions o f critics concerning his w ork. S klep y cynamonowe (Cinnamon Shops) and Sanatorium Pod Klepsydrą (Hour-Glass Sanatorium) revealed di­ verging literary tastes an d in troduced the problem of the reception o f Schulz’s books. A nyone w riting a b o u t his prose was obliged to present his opinion on the extrem e views (totally affirm ative or ne­ gative) which h ad already been voiced. This fact show ed th at there was great variety w ithin the literary culture o f the 1930’s, an d it displayed the self-consciousness o f literary criticism at th at tim e. R e­ views o f Schluz’s books were a kind o f dem o nstratio n, fo r the critics did not address an ano nym ou s public, neither did they ju st exam ine the tex ts—w hat they did was to present their personal feelings concerning Schulz’s prose to those who were courageous enough to hold opposed views. T his m ean t th a t in fact they were settling their accounts ra th e r th a n w riting for sake o f presenting Schulz’s w ork to the reader. It was typical to bring out w hat we m ight call personal contributions' to w hat h ad now become som ething o f a spectacle. All criticism was addressed to “the a u th o r,” who was personally responsible fo r every elem ent o f his text. H e was present behind every m etap ho r, every sentence or event in his novel. Even detailed studies did not refer to literary conventions o r to particu lar problem s in Schulz’s prose, b ut co n centrated o n this vision o f the a u th o r behind his work.

A n o th er im p o rtan t personal co n trib u tio n was th a t o f the critics


who praised o r condem ned Schulz’s prose. T heir views were often q u oted as exam ples o f faulty reception an d a lack o f u nd erstand ing o f the real value o f the stories, or were classed as snobbery (often referred to as “literary café snob bery”).

T he rejection o f S c h u lz ’s p r o se in certain circles is m ore in trigu in g than the p rose itself, and in fact in stead o f d iscu ssin g S an atoriu m P o d K le p s y d r ą it w ould be m ore fitting to say w h o p raised this b o o k , w here, an d w h y he h ad to d o it (W yka).

Y ou w ill find so m e p e o p le scattered here an d there w h o like it, it is to the taste o f so m e P h ilistin es [ ...] But o n the w h o le his prose is n o t d ig esta b le, unless to th o se w h o h unger for a p ro fu se im a g in a tio n and search for “e x c ite m e n t.” In their m idst are m any k in dly b o u rg eo is, a few crazy a esth etes, and a han d fu l o f im p ortu n ate sn o b s (N ap iersk i).

S o o n the b u b ble o f praise burst ov er the h ead o f the lu ck y au th o r. P eop le d evou red his b o o k s an d tried hard to d isco v e r so m e a esth etic a n d in te llec tu a l values. U n fo rtu n a tely our p u b lic o p in io n still lets itse lf be ch ild ish ly m isled by sly and h igh ly p roficient p u b licity (B iela to w icz).

O nly a few sen sitive critics (m o stly th o se w h o d o n o t w rite review s) were able to ap p reciate S k le p y cyn am on ow e, the others o n ly ca u tio u sly reco g n ized it to be an in terestin g literary d eb u t o f a painter. T h e b o o k ’s rep ercu ssio n seem s to be to o sm all in relation to its valu e in c o n tem p o ra r y P olish p rose (K o ra b io w sk i).

The th ird vital elem ent in every review was the critic’s personal opinion, which concerned both the au th o r and the o th er critics. The dem onstrative underscoring o f o n e ’s own attitu d e was a conscious, deliberate correction o f other critics’ opinions. It was typical at that time to w rite a review a tter quite a long space o f tim e in o rder to em phasize one's dissatisfaction with w hat h ad been said on the subject. N o m atter w hat a critic’s p artic u la r opinion was, there was a com m on d en o m in ato r for them all: this was the con viction th at Schulz’s prose was a m ost singular phenom en on in the literary life o f the 1930’s. F or some his w ork was original, others considered it pseudographic or even dangerous.

A n interesting elem ent o f these reviews was the fact th a t the critics poin ted out the unusual experiences provoked by Schulz’s prose. N o ? only was the text exam ined, b ut also its individual reception which was to be p ro o f o f its ex trao rd in ary qualities. B oth the negative and the positive assessm ents o f Schulz’s w ork drew atten tio n to the intensive ch aracter o f the reading experience, which consisted in a short-lived bur very strong “fascin atio n ” o r “d aze.” This was no t only a subjective reaction o f individual readers, it


C r itic a l R eception of S ch u lz's P rose 131

pointed to a general change in the reading process. Schulz’s prose required no cognitive o r ethical evaluation, and instead offered an extrem ely intensive type o f experience. T herefore as a piece o f n a rra ti­ ve it broke away from the current type o f prose reception in at least two points. Firstly, it shattered the socially accepted rules o f reading prose, and secondly the reactions it provoked h ad previ­ ously been lim ited to poetry only. A dm itting to having experienced a “shock” when reading Schulz was p ro o f o f the “p o etic” ch aracter o f his prose. T his m ixture o f elem ents o f poetry and prose led to a revival o f the experiences in reception which had accom panied the reading o f T adeusz M iciriski’s w orks before W orld W ar I.

However the chief factor which stirred literary consciousness was the fact that Schulz's prose ignored the criterion o f com prehensibili­ ty. His books were fully accessible to only a sm all group o f in itia­ ted readers. It was said that his w orks quite lacked “c o n te n t,” that they were elusory, and could not be u n derstoo d by a “n o rm al” reader. M ost critics resorted to either com m enting the difficulties in understanding o r to describing Schulz’s technique. A ny attem p ts at taking his world a la lettre resulted in an involuntary caricature. Schulz's prose could in fact be considered an equivalent o f abstract painting. It m ight be appreciated from the point o f view o f its plastic (“im ages”) or poetic (“m etap h o rs”) qualities, but it was obviously de­ void of any “them es”, “ leading m otifs”, etc. It was then an exam ple o f a work which did not adhere to the socially accepted principles o f prose, being a collection o f form al elem ents w ithout any definite reference. All the critics agreed th at Schulz’s novels were am biguous, and so they w rote ab o u t their “elusiveness,” their tendency to “evade any classification,” their specific kind o f sym bolism , m etaphorical m ythology, etc. T he idea was to establish w hether or not Schulz was a sym bolist, and everywhere the accent was laid on the lack o f a clear-cut m eaning which presented the greatest difficulty. This am ­ biguity did not h inder the in terp retatio n o f particu lar elem ents (a ch a­ racter, event or episode), though it was the principle upo n which rested the whole o f Schulz’s prose. In o ther words, Schulz's texts could be characterized in a ra th e r negative way: it m ight be said th at they did not have any converging lines o f m eaning and consisted in an interplay o f wavering, flickering m eanings. Som e cri­ tics tried to interpret Schulz’s prose by referring to the logic o f


dream s, by quoting the influence o f psychoanalysis, the convention o f fantastic stories, the m echanism s o f m etaphor, and the relativity o f present-day knowledge. It rem ained, however, an object o f great controversy and was still often described as “b izarre.” T his issue becam e the centre o f interest in the literary w orld o f the 30’s.

T ow ards the end o f th a t period Schulz’s prose was to provoke the greatest literary scandal o f the interw ar period. In 1939 K a­ zim ierz W yka and Stefan N apierski w rote an article entitled Dwu­

głos o Schulzu (Duologue on Schulz). T oday this is considered to

have been an exceptionally fierce lam poon against Schulz an d a d ra ­ stically m istaken evaluation of his novels, now ranked am o n g the greatest w orks in Polish literature and one of the m ore notable achievem ents in the w orld in prose. Dwugłos o Schulzu is th ere­ fore hardly ever m entioned, and in K azim ierz W yka’s critical career it is treated as an inexplicable erro r o f a brilliant critic and histo rian o f literature.

H ad these negative opinions been voiced by some o th er au th o r it w ould not be w orth while rem em bering them , in the same way as m any o f Schulz’s antagonists have been forgotten. But the problem is th a t the m ost violent attack was m ade by such o utstan ding specialists in the field. This fact can n o t be ignored. W yka an d N a- pierski’s article m ust be seen as a docum ent o f un questionable value in literary history and even in a sense as the “finest” opinion on S chulz’s prose. F rom a historical point o f view one ca n n o t ju st note the individual, psychological/aesthetic an tip ath y o f th e critics.

Dwugłos o Schulzu was n o t the only illdisposed o pinion o f S chulz’s

w ork but as such surely the m ost interesting one, particularly as it was a clim ax to all the previous lesser attack s which ranged from scepticism and an tip ath y to strong antagonism . It is a fact th at in the period before the w ar m any em inent critics held exactly the same views concerning Schulz’s novels as those who had a com pletely different m an ner o f thinking and a different literary culture. It is therefore im p o rtan t to try to fath om this fact or at least describe it in detail against the. b ac kground o f the 1930’s.

O th er negative views on Schulz’s prose were p ron ou nced by Z. B ron- cel, J. Bielatowicz, I. Fik, S. Baczyński, A. G rzym ala-Siedlecki, W. Pietrzak, K. Troczyński, Z. N iesiolow ska-R otherow a, and others. T heir critical studies disclosed a set o f norm s in reqeption and created


C r itic a l R eception o f S c h u lz’s P ro se 133

an exceptionally uniform an d coherent paradigm o f in terpretation s, which must be analyzed as real historical evidence.

Before reconstructing the chief theses o f th a t paradigm , a few w ords should be said a b o u t W yka an d N apierski’s com m ents on Schulz’s prose. The striking thing is th a t their com m ents are all perfectly so u n d —providing a distinction is m ade betw een description and interpretation. N o one can be shocked by those o f W yka’s observations which concern: the question o f tim e, the d om inance o f sensualism , sym bolic clues, the lack o f a plot, “d en om in ating verb a­ lism ,” the reference m ade to the rom antic/sym bolic trad itio n (“cor- respondances”), or the statem ent th a t “Schulz is only interested in m arginal beings, pushed over to the confines o f tim e; an epos o f old age and eccentricity, o f grow ths on vacant tim e.” Sim ilarly N apierski writes th at Schulz’s w orld is dom inated by lam eness, th a t the n a rra to r becomes to o fam iliar w ith the reader an d entices him , m akes him believe in a “deeper” m eaning, “tries to dig dow n to the b o tto m o f things,” and finally th a t Schulz’s sentences are flowery and ornate, with an over-abundance o f w ords an d pleonasm s, and his stories are like “fantastic com m entaries.” He then com pares Schulz's prose to a fancy-dress ball, says his style is full o f arabesques and grotesques, and has as its only trad itio n secessional m odernism and expressionism . In the end N apierski writes th at in Schulz’s novels “the w allpaper spro u ts” and “vegetation is ra m p a n t.”

N ot one o f the above rem arks is “tru m p ed -u p ,” inadequate or m istaken. N o : W yka an d N apierski had read Schulz's prose exceeding­ ly carefully and had pointed out its m ost characteristic features. But th at is no t all. I f we take a closer look at the style in which

Dwuglos o Schulzu has been w ritten, it becom es clear th a t b o th

critics are using m uch o f the vocabulary, com parisons and m etap h o rs to be found in Schulz’s prose. W yka:

It is full o f in fa tu a tio n w ith the p assin g o f h ou rs reflected on the surface o f extern ality [ ...] co n fin e s o f hours, d ays an d se a so n s, their m y sterio u s tran sien ce [ ...] co lo u rfu l spheres d ispersed by the flo w o f clo u d s, lig h ts an d sh a d o w s ; an e x o tic torp idn ess.

A nd N apierski:

T h is m arks the end o f all sp ecu la tiv e p h ilo so p h iz in g , sprung up am idst th e b an ality o f the props, replete w ith im ages from the m agic lantern, scattered by th e co n fu sio n o f the lu m b er-room .


These experessions which m im ic the characteristic features o f the w orld o f Schulz’s novels also im itate his style o f w riting. It is as if the critics were trying to annihilate S chulz’s w ork by using the very tools which had forged it. In actual fact Schulz’s p artisan s were doing the same. This reveals the stro n g axiological c h a ra c te r o f certain w ords, images, m etaphors a n d them es in the 1930’s. In short, it shows th at the real object o f a ttac k o f critics at th a t tim e was a certain kind o f style recognized by everyone. T his is p a rtic u ­ larly visible in those opinions which seem to su p p o rt the view th a t S chulz’s prose is ju s t “ravings in high fever.”

“ F ever” : this idea keeps reoccurring in titles o f reviews, e.g. Fe­

verish Literature and Literature in Fever, and in such expressions as

“feverish dream s,” “h allucinations,” “vagaries,” “ravings”, etc. T h e follow ing is a fragm ent o f a review:

It ap p ears that ev ery o n e has his o w n co n sta n t v isio n in fever. W h en th e q u ick silv er in the therm om eter reaches 3 9 °C . a p erso n en ters a state o f se m i- -c o n sc io u sn e ss [ ...] T hat precisely is the clim a te o f S ch u lz's b o o k . H is im a g in a tio n is like that o f a ch ild w h o in sists on lying and tw istin g th e truth, an d c a n n o t help ex a g g era tin g . T h e a u th o r has n o te d d o w n th e se fleetin g d elirio u s sta te s w h ich w e exp erien ce during a h ea t-w a v e or w h en our n erves are h igh ly stru n g , w h en we sen se the electricity o f the o n c o m in g thu n d erstorm [ ...] W hen S chulz r e p ro d u ces the su m m er heat, he g iv es a m orb id, hysterical, d isto rted v isio n o f the w orld , yet this picture is a u th en tic, stron g and plastic.

A nyone reading this m ight think it is an indiscrim inate a tta c k which aim s a t an u tte r depreciation o f Schulz’s w ork. If som eth in g is described as “ ravings” and “delirious m u tte rin g ,” this im plies th at its au th o r was not fully aw are o f w hat he was p u ttin g across, and so his w ork cannot be taken seriously. Y et even in this d ra stic case the critics had alm ost directly q u o ted Schulz’s ow n w ords: “O n these last few pages, which have visibly tu rn ed to w anderings and dow nright nonsense [...]” (Sanatorium P od Klepsydrą); “ We have com e to the finale o f o ur writing, which has becom e u np red ictable, like ravings” (ibid.) “ R avings,” “delirious d re am s,” “fever,” “ in san ity ,” etd., are all w ords used by the n a rra to r when he is describing the heat in sum m er. Schulz’s critics had not only read his p rose c a re ­ fully, but in using his expressions they h ad struck the very core o f the poetic licence exercised by Schulz. T h e expression “d elirio us m u tterin g ” corresponded exactly with his strategy which consisted


C r itic a l R ecep tio n o f S c h u lz ’s P rose 135

in a deluge o f w ords, sem antic fluidity, am biguity, suggestion, m aking w ords fit a p articu lar m eaning. F rom a historical p o in t o f view, the appearance o f these kinds o f expressions does not pose any real problem , for they are well m otivated by the subject-m atter o f

S klep y cynamonowe and Sanatorium Pod Klepsydrą. In this sense all

those who were unable to find the “c o n te n t” o f those b o o k s and were irritated by their “flickering m eanings” and sem antic “vagueness” were right. Schulz’s p rose was indeed m eant to be “d isto rted ,” “d elirio us,” “obsessive.” W hat then were the argum ents in favour o f rejecting such a n arrativ e strategy in which Schulz had achieved a harm o n io u s association o f sym bolic and avan t-garde m otifs?

T he chief norm at the tim e concerned the way o f presenting ch aracters in prose. T here was in fact only one rule: a character had to be a “live” p erson w ith truly h u m an features and should be quite separate from the w orld o f anim als, plants an d objects. Schulz was attacked fo r presenting people as m arionettes, fo r the dom inance o f biological/psychoanalytical m otifs over “sp iritu al” or ethical ones, for a ttrib u tin g the same status to nature, objects and m en:

F or Mr. S ch u lz th e h u m an w orld is the m ost d ista n t o f w orld s. Q u ite probably, i f we co u ld m ake o u t an a n te lo p e 's im pression o n m eetin g a hu m an being,, it w o u ld resem ble Mr. S ch u lz's v isio n s o f m en. T h ey are like sh a d o w s, lik e som e freak ish creatures ensnared by fran tic o b ser v a tio n , there is not a sin gle real person to be fo u n d . M an is fo r him the m ost ob scu re part o f reality [ ...] W e w ant to k n ow the m ea n in g o f these w a n d erin g s a cro ss the a ra b esq u es o f the artist's im a g in a tio n . T his m ea n in g can on ly be p ro v id ed by an in d iv id u a lism w h ich stresses the precedence o f m a n k in d over ob jects, o f p erso n a lity ov er ideas [ ...] T h e father, the m other, A d e la , etc. — these are d u m m ies, m ario n ettes, fetish es w hich have slipped o u t o f a w a x ­ w o r k s m useum [ ...] A n d the p e o p le are m o stly w ax d o lls in the great theatre o f the w orld, m o v ed by the fo rce o f in stin c t— figures w hich are indifferent to an yth in g h u m an [ ...] M en are treated a s ob jects, they p lay the sam e role o f substratum a s trees and h o u ses ex p o se d to th e rays o f the settin g sun: p assive o n lo o k e r s w h o on ly w a tch the c o lo u r s w h ich p a ss o v er them . T h is lead s to antiliterary, a n tih u m a n e results.

W yka developed these objections by pointing to the inhum ane function o f tim e:

T h e d isin teg ra tio n o f p erso n a lity in the w a v es o f tim e is adverse to the p u rp osefu l o rg a n iza tio n o f ou r e x p erien ces [ ...] T im e has been b anned from m ental life [ ...] it is a fu n ctio n o f in a n im a te ob je cts w hich ta k e m an's place [ ...] In Sch u lz's prose there exists o n ly still life su sp en d ed in tim e.


The category o f tim e as a norm o f reception w as exceedingly im p o rtan t in the 1930’s and was closely linked with literary conceptions o f m an.

All this led to Schulz being described as “a m agician,” “ a ju g ­ gler,” “an ego tist” w ho subjugates all his characters. It becam e clear th at his m istake had been to abolish the status which characters had enjoyed in 19th-century prose. Schulz's prose was opposed to the real­ istic model o f the last century, an d also to the specific m odel o f the w orld which consisted in a panoram ic presentation o f m an ’s destiny. The im plicit norm for epic prose was a m imetic presentation o f the h u ­ m an w o rld —o f individuals and o f groups o f people. When this norm was not observed, the very foundation s o f prose h ad been shaken.

It ap p ears that the n ovel S k le p y cyn am on ow e — w rote T r o c z y ń ski —lack s (th ou gh this w as in ten d ed ) that w h ich g iv es a n ovel an ep ic character: a c o m p le te and integral social m ilieu.

Schulz’s prose also ignores the basic principle o f com position an d m eaning required in those years. This principle stated th a t the elem ents and ideas contained in a piece o f prose should be arranged in som e kind of hierarchy. O nly a few critics, such as H. Vogler, considered the world o f Schulz’s novels to be “organic, centralized an d w ell-order­ ed ,” though even here the presence o f a hierarchy was the co nditio n for acceptance, otherw ise the text w ould be considered inhum ane. The co ordinates o f th a t hierarchy were the “ fo rm ,” the “ru le,” “ in­ tentional stru ctu rin g ,” “an ordered co n stru c tio n ,” “a sm ooth sequence o f events,” “the purposeful o rganization o f o u r experiences” (W yka). The paradox lies in the fact that some ten years earlier the C racow avant-garde had form ulated sim ilar expressions to describe the co n ­ struction norm s for a new type o f poetry. In the 1930’s these re­ quirem ents becam e ethically binding, and could be used as a refe­ rence when describing the w riter’s ideology, the spiritual p o rtra it o f the characters in his novels, o r the “ethical vision” pervading the w orld presented in the novel. They were opposed to such ideas as “biologism ,” “ sensualism ,” “m ysticism ,” etc., which tog ether were classed as “ch ao s.” A ccusations o f this sort were m ade by alm ost everybody—Fik, N apierski, Baczyński, Troczyński, Siedlecki, Biela- towicz, Broncel. W yka even w rote:

T h ese facts d o n o t a llo w u s to in clu d e S an atoriu m P o d K le p sy d rą in the vital a ch iev em en ts o f these last few years [ ...] the n ovel is an affirm ation o f ch a o s.


C r itic a l R eception o f S ch u lz's P rose 137 The trad itio n which was accused o f spreading these negative values w as m odernism , abusively referred to as “hyper-rom anticism ,” “ im pressionism ,” “ secession,” “decadentism ,” etc. A dm ittedly there was a great deal o f tru th in this. Schulz was th ou ght “irresponsible,” “ infantile,” “indifferent to m orality .” Prom iński concludes that “ Schulz’s world does not express any tru th or transcendental rea­ lity, or any m oral ideas”. O f course these accusations touched the heart o f the problem which Schulz had form ulated expressis verbis. H ow ever the p oin t is th at for the literary critics o f the 30’s such a conception was inadm issible.

It has been said that this b o o k is d estructive. P erhaps from the p o in t o f view o f certain fixed valu es, this is so . But art o p era tes in the d ep th s o f prem orality, at the p o in t w here valu e is on ly in sta tu nascendi. A rt a s a sp o n ta n eo u s testi­ m ony on life sets p rob lem s for e th ic s — not the o th e r w ay round.

The feeling o f hostility tow ards the subject-m atter and the axio- logical d eterm inan ts o f Schulz’s prose was also present in the stylistic evaluation o f his work. T he norm for prose m entioned earlier also concerned the language o f Sklep y cynamonowe and Sanatorium Pod

Klepsydrą. The reception o f Schulz’s novels displayed the dem and

for a text which m ight be “easily u n d ersto o d .” Such elem ents as m etaphors, similes, circum locutions, im itations o f various styles o r of scientific term inology, am biguity and suggestion—all this was considered “unintelligible.” Very few critics (W itkacy, K rassow ska, Sandauer) tried to evaluate and in terpret Schulz’s figures o f speech, most o f them held very adverse views. It should be em phasized once again th a t Schulz’s critics were perfectly aw are o f the features which sto pped them from accepting his writings. They were, how ­ ever. qu ite unable to face up to the fact th a t Schulz had broken away from the traditional m odel o f prose. O n the sem antic level Schulz d id not adhere to the sem antic conventions o f realistic prose. His critics rejected his m ethods o f treating w ords and m eanings: Schulz often used w ords in unexpected contexts, gave them m uch b ro ad er m eanings, w orked ou t long series o f m etaphors, preferred to engage in extended descriptions ra th e r than to look for precise term s, and finally avoided an ything which m ight even vaguely resem ble a them e or a general purpose or idea o f the novel. Schulz’s prose was in its reception denied any fantastic qualities.


for sim plicity. W riting ab o u t uncom plicated m atters “ in a simple way easy to u n d ersta n d ” was to guaran tee the existence o f a hierarchy. Schulz’s prose, instead o f being simple, “lacked a clear c o n stru c tio n .” “ was full o f neuraigic to rp id ity ,” o f “dream s and fancies, m em ory com ebacks, co nnotations an d com plexes.” F u rth er, it was m ade up o f “stylistic and lexical intricacies” which were “foreign to the Polish language.” Schulz’s texts were therefore “com plicated” from a form al point o f view. The sam e o p po sitio n: simple —com plicated was applied to o th er levels o f analysis. F o r instance the “co m plicated ” aspect was to be found in the “ individualism ” o f the a u th o r which m ade him over-em phasize au tobiographical facts. In o rd er to be classed as simple, a piece o f prose had to be objective, and it h ad to subo rd in ate the n a rra to r to the “ m ain issue” or idea o f the text. M ost critics shared the sam e attitu d e : they did not really discuss the w orld presented in Schulz’s novels, bu t w rote on his language, his im agination, his m ental health, his social an d ethical stan dp oin t, etc. A ccording to his critics, Schulz’s prose was devoid o f “c o n te n t” a n d “m eaning” precisely because o f its individual, subjective approach (m ain p art played by the n a rra to r, an unconventional style) an d lack o f an objective ap p roach where som e “ ideas” m ight be discussed. In this sense the conflict was centred on the evaluation o f th e role played by the n a rra to r in the novel. It m ight be said th a t the prose o f Schulz, like th at o f G om brow icz, W itkacy o r earlier o f M icinski, had its own norm s. This m eans th at p artic u la r segm ents o f the text were m ore deeply rooted in the lexical, stylistic o r com ­ positional idiolect o f a given w ork, than in literary trad itio n . The “ objective” approach o f course corresponded with the socially accepted ways o f receiving a given type o f n arratio n and as such did not require th a t the reader should penetrate the new, individual idiolect o f the n a rra to r. It allow ed him to consider straight aw ay th e subject- -m atter o f the novel, its ideology. Schulz’s readers were then forced to change their reading habits, for they now had to learn to overcom e the stylistic b arrier o f the n arratio n before reaching th e actu al w orld o f the novel —and even then a surprise aw aited them . T his w orld was no t tangible, there was only a suggestion o f its existence.

The opposition between w hat was “sim ple” an d “com p licated ” drew atten tio n to one m ore im p o rtan t issue. It concerned the evalu a­ tion o f the “experim ental.” “in n o v ato ry ” ch aracter o f S chulz’s w ork.


C r itic a l R eception of S c h u lz ’s P rose 139 F o r som e critics, there was no d o u b t a b o u t the fact th a t his novels were original. F o r others, however, and th at included W yka and N apierski, this “ originality” was only a cam ouflaged epigonism o r an effort at p ro d u cin g affected literary im pressions at all costs. This second view point becom es o f p articu lar im portance when we refer to the tra d itio n a l norm s. It shows th a t a piece o f prose should not be original, which m eans th at it should n o t be a literary experi­ m ent, an d particu larly not an experim ent in language.

W e h ave reach ed the crucial q u e stio n : W hat are the lim its o f a literary ex p erim en t? [ ...] L iterature is fo r the w h o le o f so c ie ty , n ot o n ly for sn o b s and sm all c ircles o f p e o p le o n the lo o k -o u t for new form s. W e m ust draw atten tio n to the d istu rb in g a b u n d a n c e o f in d iv id u a lism o f form .

A ccording to trad itio n al norm s, the function o f prose consisted in describing a n d explaining the reality su rro u n d in g the p articip an ts o f social life. T he w ord was to play a com m unicative role, an d prose was to be the p latform fo r co m m unication and not experim ents in the sphere o f m eanings, conventions, language and rules o f li­ terary com m u n icatio n . O ne m ight easily notice th at the accusations concerning Schulz's style had as an antecedent the reception o f the works o f M iciński, W itkacy, Ż erom ski, Berent.

As has been shown. Schulz's texts were not acceptable by the trad itio n al stan d ard s o f prose. Yet when they were com pared to poetry, the resulting ju d g m en t was surprisingly positive, even in reviews which otherw ise voiced m any reservations. The “ p o etic” aspect w as ap preciated on three levels: stylistics (m etaphors), an ­ tirealism (fantastic happenings), com position (loosely connected “im a­ ges”, “frag m en ts” , etc.). It was said th a t Schulz’s prose, as prose,

had entered a blind alley.” The o p po sition between prose and poetry was o f an axiological type. Prose was subjected to the pressure o f stron g dem an ds an d restrictions, w hereas poetry enjoyed m ore liberty in ju d g m en t on the p art o f the critics. P oetry was “pure fantasy,” “visions,” “im ag in atio n ,” and these were values in them sel­ ves, they did not need to becom e crystallized in any p artic u la r subject-m atter. A s a poet, Schulz was praised or at least recognized, b u t as a w riter o f prose he was condem ned to banishem ent.

T he conflict provoked by B runo Schulz’s prose in the 1930’s confirm ed th at since the tim e o f Y o ung P oland prose has always


been forced into a system o f reception m ade up o f such ideas as “incom prehensibility,” “unintelligibility,” and “prose o f a poetic ch a­ racter.” Were these ideas really banished from the literary aw areness o f Polish readers after 1939—o r ra th e r after 1956?




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