Drogobych. Bruno Schulz is taking notes while reading The Philosophy of Art by Hippolyte Taine.
These terse notes (taken with a pencil on a 21 x 17.2 cm sheet of paper) are the only known material that presents Schulz explicitly in a reading situation. They survived by chance between the pages of a book1 – the second volume of The Philosophy of Art by Hippolyte Taine* translated by Antoni Sygietyński (Lviv 1911) – which Schulz lent to his friend, poet Marian Jachimowicz* in 19422.
Schulz’s memo summarizes excerpts from the treatise – Part IV: “Sculpture in Greece”, Chapter II: “Day”, paragraphs II–III on pages 51–71, which relate to a general comparison between the culture and the way of life of ancient Greeks and of modern Europe. Here Taine presents the development of culture as a process of pathological over complication and excess, during which the noble simplicity of the Greeks was gradually replaced by the artificiality and lack of moderation of later civilizations. Schulz was particularly interested (as can be seen by the additional highlight on the mentioned phrases) in the discussion on the degeneration of language, perversity in art and fetishization of death under the influence of Christianity.
When exactly was the memo made? It is difficult to say. Probably before the outbreak of World War II – in the 1930s3, after Schulz’s debut as a writer. The note could have been an outline for a public speech (that is what the annotation seems to suggest: “read 56”). Possibly the records were made as early as in the 1920s4, After all, Schulz could have had a lot of opportunities to give a lecture on The Philosophy of Art, also before he gained national recognition as a writer and an artist. For example, he could have presented it during one of the Drogobych meetings of the Jewish group of intellectuals called “Kaleia”*, which he belonged to since 1918, or in one of the lessons of drawing that he ran at King Władysław Jagiełło State Secondary School* since 1924. Edmund Löwenthal*, Schulz’s former student, recalls: “The selection of our readings, and our assessment of them, was indirectly influenced by Schulz. At school, he read to us and discussed Taine’s Philosophy of Art in class. In the library catalogue of the Jewish Home he had made ‘signs’ for us to recognize everything that was valuable, from Artsybashev to Żuławski”5.
The memo was found in Jachimowicz’s collection only fifty years later (already in the town of Wałbrzych, where Jachimowicz lived after the war), when materials were being collected for the “Bruno Schulz. Ad memoriam” exhibition, prepared in 1992 by the Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature* in Warsaw.
See also: April 1981*, 9 November 1992*.