‘Tailors’ Dummies’ by Bruno Schulz, translated by Celia Wieniewska

Okay, so I’m cheating (again) here. Technically Street of Crocodiles is a ‘novelistic collection of short stories’ and technically I want to include all four chapters about tailor’s dummies. But anyway. I’ve always been a sucker for descriptions of dysfunctional family dynamics, and this particular depiction of a household is like nothing else. Described by Schulz himself as a “genealogy of the spirit”, he manufactures myth from the plain and obvious, weaving place and atmosphere so vividly and yet allowing everything to bleed together and feel utterly insubstantial and unclear. 

In ‘Tailors’ Dummies’ the largely invisible narrator’s father is parading around the family house, indulging in increasingly eccentric flights of intellectual and imaginative fancy.  

The affair of the birds was the last colourful and splendid counteroffensive of fantasy which my father, that incorrigible improviser, that fencing master of imagination, had led against the trenches and defenseworks of a sterile and empty winter. Only now do I understand the lonely hero who alone had waged war against the fathomless, elemental boredom that strangled the city. 

I can’t coherently do justice to what follows, so I won’t even try. Other than to say it’s sublime. 

Originally published in Poland in Sklepy cynamonowe, 1934. First published in English in Cinammon Shops, and later reissued as Street of Crocodiles, Penguin 20th Century Classic, 1992

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