Nate D's Reviews > The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories

The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories by Bruno Schulz
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's review
Oct 22, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: poland, stories, read-in-2010, favorites, interwar-maladies
Recommended to Nate D by: Wojciech Has
Recommended for: Those who walk with fascination through labyrinths of memory
Read from October 22 to November 04, 2010

Even in this volume's overture, "August", an insatiable suction into the hallucinatory blind-bright swarming-dark fetid verdant depths of summer, even then at the very start the sheer overcrowded prose-intensity of this "Polish Kafka" seemed to be surpassing anything I'd encountered from the primary Czech Kafka. And then it just goes from there, and goes and goes, through automatons and comets, labyrinths and stork-swarms. I've seen this sort of reeling mythic recollection attempted many times, but never so purely, so vividly, so hauntingly. This is astounding writing.

Some quotes from the first bit, which is basically all one notable quote of dimly perfect fever-nostalgia at the hidden cusp of adolescence*:

The dark second-floor appartment of the house in Market Square was shot through each day by the naked heat of summer: the silence of the shimmering streaks of air, the squares of brightness dreaming their intense dreams on the floor; the sound of a barrel organ rising from the deepest golden vein of day; two or three bars of a chorus, played on a distant piano over and over again, melting in the sun on the white pavement, lost in the fire of high noon. (p.3)

But on the other side of the fence, behind that jungle of summer in which the stupidity of weeds reigned unchecked, there was a rubbish heap on which thistles grew in wild profusion. No one knew that there, on that refuse dump, the month of August had chosen to hold that year its pagan orgies. There pushed against the fence and hidden by the elders, stood the bed of the half-wit girl, Touya, as we all called her. On a heap of discarded junk of old saucepans, abandoned single shoes, and chunks of plaster, stood a bed, painted green, propped up on two bricks where one leg was missing. The air over that midden, wild with the heat, cut through by the lightning of shiny horseflies, driven mad by the sun, crackled as if filled with invisible rattles, exciting one to a frenzy. (p.6)

In a straw-filled chest lay the foolish Maria, white as a wafer and motionless like a glove from which a hand had been withdrawn. And, as if taking advantage of her sleep, the silence talked, the yellow, bright, evil silence delivered its monolgue, argued, and loudly spoke its vulgar maniacal soliloquy. Maria's time -- the time imprisoned in her soul -- had left her and -- terribly real -- filled the room, vociferous and hellish in the bright silence of the morning, rising from the noisy mill of the clock like a cloud of bad flour, powdery flour, the stupid flour of madmen. (p.7)

This is a review of just the stories first published as Street of Crocodiles; though I look forward to continuing shortly with his only other published book, also published here, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass.

*do you ever find yourself trying to describe something in a pale shadow of its own terms? I can barely help it. Forgive my critical excesses here, they seem to be the irresistible aftereffect of a brush with Schulz's words.
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04/30/2016 marked as: read-in-2010

Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Adam (new)

Adam Well, consider me interested. Does his Hourglass Sanatorium have anything to do with the film we saw?

Nate D It does! Wojciech Has adapted that story for the film's skeleton, then seems to have drawn in bits from all these other stories to flesh it out, since they're all pretty rooted in Schulz's deliriously recalled childhood, it seems. So that film was a kind of collective adaptation of Schulz's entire fiction output, probably why it was so crowded with strange details and so impenetrable on first viewing. I look forward to rewatching when I'm done with this and have a little more context. And also seeing the remake that the Brothers Quay are currently shooting at the Mutter Museum of medical oddities in Philadelphia (one of their best known ealier films is a version of the "Street of Crocodiles").

Aaron Great review, and I totally agree with you about Kafka. To my mind, Schulz does Kafka better than Kafka, which is puzzling, then, why he should not enjoy a similarly epic reputation.

I also made a connection between the setting of Schulz's imaginarium and certain settings in Borges shorts. The labyrinthine quality of the shop, with its rooms discovered and forgotten, roach pyres, immortal folds of cloth.

Nate D There are definite Borgesian touches as well, though Schulz's entire output predates the Borges that he most resembles -- probably one of those cases of good ideas emerging simultaneously, unrelatedly in distant parts of the world.

Adam Schulz needs a Max Brod.

Nate D We should all chip in and get him one.

Adam There's a third Schulz book.

Aaron I'm asking for a Max Brod for Xmas. A stocking stuffer maybe.

Or, at least, his glasses.

Adam y'all see this? It's super nuts and interesting, but the thing that sticks out to me is a theory floated by some random that Brod invented the whole thing- that Kafka was a good writer, but after his death Brod totally invented the 'burn everything' story (which is pretty improbable, but possible) and then spent the rest of his life preaching the Kafka gospel to the point of quite literally claiming some type of literally sainthood (which did happen). Just a tiny part of the story, but so great. What if, you know? Can one read Kafka in 2010 without the KAFKA MYTH coloring the experience? His final wishes, his odd reticence, his fabled inner life? Without Brod would we really be reading this?

message 10: by Nate D (last edited Nov 06, 2010 11:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nate D Weird: riding across Philadelphia on a whirlwind visit last night, driving with my bike lashed to the roof of a car with nothing but packing tape, another guy in the car who I'd only just met started talking about Kafka, apparently an obsession for him, particularly these lost-manuscripts-amid-the-cats in Israel. Good to get a chance to look into that full, strange story. Thanks.

Honestly though, the KAFKA MYTH doesn't really do him any favors with me. I've only just finally got back around to reading him after years of his being filed away under Things-read-in-school-and-largely-forgotten. I'd probably be most excited if I was reading him fresh without the burdens of any sort of literary sainthood at all hanging over the process.

message 11: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam Well, I wonder if the favor the KAFKA MYTH has done for us is expose us to Kafka? That's what I like about the crazy Brod accusation; if we imagine it true, everything changes, because without Brod I don't think we'd even know about Kafka. Or maybe we would, because we're obviously some pretty sad-ass cases, but generally speaking.

message 12: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam Here's another weird coincidence:

message 13: by Nate D (last edited Nov 10, 2010 09:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nate D Very weird. Though he wrote the forward to my edition of Street of Crocodiles, so not entirely unexpected. I will be intrigued to see what he has done with that story, actually, though I also hope this won't inextricably link him to Schulz for modern readers hereafter, or anything like that.

Nate D This article is amazing on all counts:

Geoff Schulz is one of my very favorite writers. Thanks for the link!

message 16: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam Nicole Krauss reads some Schultz on the newest New Yorker fiction podcast.

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