Bruno Schulz and the Queer Visitation
Bruno Schulz courtesy of

Here’s a gloriously strange and brilliant writer/graphic artist.  A brief discussion of his writing follows, but you should really experience him for yourself, by click on the link at the end of the post.

Reading Polish writer Bruno Schulz, we think immediately of Freud.  The Father of Psychoanalysis’ notions are clearly represented in the short corpus that Schulz produced during his tragically abbreviated lifetime.  Less obvious but equally remarkable is Schulz’s deployment of Freudian concepts in both The Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass in order to explore inclinations that readers in the 21st Century readily recognize as “queer.” These orientations bubble up under the surface of Shulz’s mesmerizing quasi-narratives, providing them with an added poignancy and depth.

Writer David Goldfarb argues for the influence of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s now classic Venus in Furs  (“Introduction to The Street of Crocodiles,” xi) on Schulz’s writing, and given this influence, it’s not surprising that queerness in Schulz’s stories often tends towards the fetishistic.  Throughout the stories mundane objects, parts of the body, small animals and machines become the occasions for grand obsession:  a pornographic photograph, hair, feet, “bugs” of all kinds (looking forward to William Burroughs), and pretend people, be they dummies or waxworks.

But Schulz does more than just reiterate Freud and von Sacher-Masoch.  He uses these ideas to give us an arresting vision that “means” in a variety of directions.

“It then sometimes happened that he quietly got out of bed and ran to the corner of the room where an intimate instrument hung on the wall. It was a kind of hourglass-shaped water jar marked in ounces and filled with a dark liquid.  My father attached himself to it with a long rubber hose as if with a gnarled aching umbilical cored, and thus connected with the miserable apparatus, he became tense with concentration, his eyes darkened, and an expression of suffering, or perhaps of forbidden pleasure, spread over his pale face.” (13).

This lyrical and dynamic description of the enema, stresses in different moments oppositional ideas and impressions: secretive and yet visible, erotic, abject, and disgusting, funny and sad.  The details are remarkable.  The “intimate” instrument has a distinctly feminine shape – the “hourglass”  — and since we readers don’t see where the other end of the tube goes, it is possible to imagine the father as both the possessor of an enormous penis – by which he can penetrate the lady hour glass – and also as a child, held by the “umbilical cord’ to a maternal body now made “miserable” and therefore repulsive.  The darkened eyes further confuse us.  Is the father a martyr or a pervert?  Both of these?  Neither of them?  Or is he something else altogether?

Near the end of the Rat Man case study, Freud reminds us that — from an infantile perspective – “shit” is special. Likewise, Schulz’s writing reminds us that his art – and perhaps all art – deals in the forbidden and is thereby connected to the very shit that just got thrown out the window.  The forbidden is often seen as trash (in so far as it is dirty) but access to the forbidden is an important part of why we read and enjoy stories (including his).  Schulz’s queer genius lies in his ability to provide us with an entryway, through the back door of our bodies and imaginations, into our own unending chambers of obsessions, pains, pleasures, and sightings.

Buy The Street of Crocodiles here:

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