We convene to read from a book that can’t even settle upon its own name. We arrive as realists to a place and time where reality eludes us. I summon you to try and make sense of the nonsensical, to impose structure on that which flows like water through our hands, to explain the unexplainable.
Bruno Schulz, an art teacher and painter in Drogobych, Poland, scribed three literary works of art and then was shot dead by a Gestapo officer – because he was another officer’s tame Jewish painter. Even his death is rendered ambiguous, since he had a revolutionary nest of Poles that wanted to smuggle him to freedom. He chose what he had known all his life: a claustrophobic death in a provincial town that had claimed him and brutalized him in its cloistered grasp.
In the English-speaking West, Bruno is best known for The Cinnamon Shops (or The Street of Crocodiles), translated by Cellina Wieniewska – a work so unique it is unclassifiable as a novel, or a linked set of short stories, or a memoir, or an extended cadenza out of Bruno’s imagination. This book, if it is a book, can be described about as well as you can explain Mark Rothko’s paintings. …
The Scent of Style
We all write with the same words available in dictionaries but what makes writing styles so different, the words put together in sentences go through sea change used by different writers? Cooks work with often the same recipes but we have no trouble identifying the food as Aunt Mary’s.
One of the reasons style is so unique could be related to what John Galsworthy noted in his preface to one of his novels, Fraternity: “A novelist, however observant of type and sensitive to the shades of character, does little but describe and dissect that which lies within himself.” Octavio Paz, on poetry: “Poetry is not what words say but what is said between them, that which appears fleetingly in pauses and silences.”
The perfume or cologne we wear combines with our skin in a chemical change that makes the perfume ours alone. Words are transformed not through chemical change but one that inevitably happens when a writer selects and arranges them as a means of communication.
When we think of style guides we may think of the famous The Elements of Style originally written in 1918 by Cornell University professor, William Strunk Jr. for his students as a textbook.…