Bruno Schulz - New Readings, New Meanings / Nouvelles Lectures, Nouvelles Significations location:McGill University, Montréal date:4-5 May 2007
This paper discusses the various ways Bruno Schulz’s artistic output deals with idolatrous behavior. So far, most attention has been paid to Schulz’s early cycle of engravings Xięga Bałwochwalcza (The Idolatrous Book), a work that marked Schulz’s debut as a graphic artist. In Schulz’s literary works, the idea of idolatry seems to play a less central role although several stories from Sklepy Cynamonowe (Cinnamon Shops) may be said to describe scenes of an idolatrous nature.
More particularly, this paper will explore the significant meta-artistic potential underlying the Schulzian discourse of idolatry. With regards to Schulz’s graphic output, it will be argued that the book of engravings Xięga Bałwochwalcza interestingly draws on the dual biblical notion of idolatrous transgression (veneration and image creation). With regards to Schulz’s prose, it will be claimed that Jacob’s theory of ‘second creation’ (as put forward in the “Manekiny” cycle) can be regarded as a remarkable example of idolatrous heresy. By paraphrasing and modifying the well-known Genesis formula ‘in the image and likeness’ (“Chcemy stworzyć po raz wtóry człowieka, na obraz i podobieństwo manekina – “We wish to create man a second time, in the image and likeness of a tailors’ dummy”), Jacob expresses the desire to repeat the divine act of creating man by using a degraded, worldly form (a tailors’ dummy) as a visual model. In this respect, one might say that in the Schulzian world the ‘manekin’ serves as a kind of worldly ideal that replaces the transcendent God and sometimes even obtains the status of an idol. In the mean time, attention will be paid to the high degree of metafictionality underlying Jacob’s treatise on ‘second creation’, particularly the narrow link between Jacob’s attachment to the tailors’ dummy and the way Schulz himself creates his literary characters. By providing his characters with the impersonal traits of puppets and tailors’ dummies, Schulz foregrounds the mediated and artificial character of every artistic creation and renounces the mimetic program of realism that claims to represent external reality in an unproblematic way.