‘Treatise on Tailors’ Dummies, or the Second Book of Genesis’ by Bruno Schulz, translated by Celina Wieniewska

Why has modern Polish literature made such a speciality of liminal forms in which humans and machines, consciousness and object, uneasily meet? Jewish mysticism and its secular branches surely supply part of the answer. The alchemical and Kabbalistic life of things pervades the stories of small-town surrealism in Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, dominated as they are by the mysterious father-figure who acts like a heretically creative demiurge. Here, inanimate objects strut and glow with an existential confidence denied to cowed humanity. The father’s “treatise” on mannequins tells us that “lifelessness is only a disguise behind which hide unknown forms of life”.

First published 1934; collected in The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories, Penguin Classics, 2008

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