A psychogeographical return address of Street of Crocodiles, New York
This morning we mailed dozens of packages & when we got to the last one, the postal agent, only noticing then, informed us we could not use our Rome address as the return address. And here we did this all along, including our last trip here in March, wherein we figured we discovered a loophole whereby you could send packages international for cheap by sending to a bogus address with a, say, Italian return address. But this morning she caught us & made us put stickers over the return address & put the address of the hotel where we stay for now, On the Avenue.
So if you receive a copy of the book & wonder what up with that, this explains. Strange becomes the idea of a return address, especially when in limbo as we roll.
We needed another book to read after finishing Super Sad True Love Story, so we went to a used bookstore on Broadway & 80th & there we happened across a yellow-paged copy of The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz.
An accumulation of past vague references to it perhaps led our eyes to it—enough recommendations or nods that put us over the tipping point to plop down cash. (And googling now, we realize that The Street of Crocodiles becomes the book Jonathon Saffron whats-his-face used to cut up for his Tree of Codes bullshit, which only makes me hate whats-his-fuck even more for the sacrilege of desecrating such a holy object for his own gimmicky devices). We think we also remember reading that The Street of Crocodiles inspired the making of the Seraphinianus Codex, which makes sense.
And what a mind-blowing surprise worthy of every cent! How did we make it through life this long not reading this book? Mostly recollected vignettes comprise the book, of Schulz's childhood living above his father's dry-goods shop in Drogobych, Poland (now Ukraine)—a far cry from NYC (where we write from) or Rome (where we live). But the geographical space Schulz creates (both the cityscapes & indoor spaces) become mythical & warped, to bend into your mind as if little plastic word explosives become embedded, to blast mining tunnels deep into recesses previous unknown.
Schulz's in-depth understanding of the natural laws (both in physics & biology) enables him to distort them at will to fit his mythology (& retain believability). Laws of time & space become rules made to be broken. In the the Treatise on Tailor's Dummies, or The Second Book of Genesis he writes: «The whole of matter pulsates with infinite possibilities that send dull shivers through it.» Mostly such philosophizing comes passed down through his father, who teaches him that: «There is no dead matter. Lifelessness is only a facade concealing forms of life unknown to us.»
His father who collected birds up in his attic space, obsessed to the point where he himself becomes a bird (and later his obsessive hatred of cockroaches turns him into a cockroach (at least in young Bruno's eyes)).
Schulz sees through to details we cannot see, even in familiar every day things. Again, channeling his father:
Schulz remains always ever inspired, ever lucid, insatiable, ever curious, ever infused with child-like wonder, through his words, like a kid in a candy shop.
One wonders if Schulz wrote the way he did because he wrote in the shadows of persecution, ever living life in imminent danger. Don't we all to some extent? Schulz senses this & embraces it, rather than fears it. You sense this urgency in his writing (not that he politicizes or tries to make any statements), but his writing becomes confession, things he needs to get off his chest, the words packed in his DNA, a DNA accumulated from all animal forms before him, unraveled into myths that now—as a fatherless hermit, inevitably killed by nazis—remain embedded only in his books. It seems he knew this all along & accepted this fate with almost euphoric elation to rival Nietzsche (spliced with some Kafka for good measure):
Writers like this don't come along very often, especially in this day & age. In the last post we talked about Super Sad True Love Story. That strikes us as a disposable book (we tried to give it away, but no one, not even the NY Tyrant, will take it), unnecessary in the scheme of things. The Street of Crocodiles seems a book to preserve at all costs, to remain ever in print. A keeper, in one's library.
In another recent post, we gave a number of reasons why to quit twitter, but one thing we neglected to mention (that we still don't know if we can articulate) has something to do with the perils of existing wrapped in the present—of thinking the present so significant, when in time you'll come to realize how petty & trivial it all becomes. It takes time for a book, for true literature, to come to fruition, to become accepted as such. 99.99% of what we write in the present, including this, doesn't mean shit in the long run. The only thing this means becomes to point you to something that does mean something, that must be read, in our opinion.
We read The Street of Crocodiles mostly while pedaling on a stationary bike (our hotel has a gym—something we don't have access to in Rome). In between reading it, we flâneured around NYC (though we have not a single photograph to show for it) or hung out with the stuffed animals in the Natural History Museum.
The city where The Street of Crocodiles takes place, Drogobych, seems more like a wanna-be city. A drab town living in the shadows of the great metropolises emerging at the time (between the world wars). Drogobych becomes something else entirely though, when filtered through the writing of Schulz:
We don't know why his writing struck us so, but that becomes why—what we cannot put into words as he does. Almost as if Schulz sees into the past & into the future, whilst living in the present, all at once, and for our sakes. A visionary in the true meaning of the word, a seer. And he sees beyond just the surface into the inner-workings.
We recently read another book with a similar shtick (mapping eastern european urban landscapes into psychological headspaces), The System of Vienna by Gert Jonke, though we can't say we liked this book nearly as much. Or even Invisible Cities pales in comparison (though it has been a while since we read it).
This sense of psychogeographical mapping goes beyond just the streets into dwellings, into mind-bending structures that rival the houses created by Blake Butler. And this ever-present skeptical sense of it all becoming a farce, of it all crumbling beneath your fingertips at any moment, pervades through it all, down to the denizens & their actions.
He is ever cognizant that everything we create, these cities, are mere manifestations of our collective psyches. And in the end, all that remains become words.
Suffice to say, we liked this book enough that we put it into our deck of 52 to have on a desert island.