Bruno Schulz, E.M. Lilien and the Archaeology of Polish Jewish Modernism

Journal title

Ruch Literacki




No 6

Publication authors

Divisions of PAS

Nauki Humanistyczne i Społeczne


<jats:title>Summary</jats:title><jats:p>This paper discusses Bruno Schulz’s recently discovered 1937 essay on the Drohobycz-born graphic artist Ephraim Moses Lilien, best known for his iconic Zionist-themed black-and-white graphics in the Secessionist style. Schulz describes in his essay the seminal influence that the encounter with Lilien’s art had on him at the age of thirteen: “There took place in me at that time a kind of internal shift. Lilien effected a powerful fertilization of my internal world, that revealed itself in an early, youthful and clumsy creativity.” As the first known document in which Bruno Schulz openly presents his views on the contemporary political, cultural and spiritual concerns of his Jewish generation in Poland and Eastern Europe, the Lilien article enables a more direct reading of Schulz’s own aesthetic project as an inheritor of the ethos of the fin-de-siècle Jewish Renaissance Movement, and as a contribution to the development of Jewish literary modernisms in Central Europe. The disappearance of the Lilien article from readers′ consciousness for over three quarters of a century - since World War II - and its reemergence today not only represents an exciting next episode in the quest, initially undertaken by Jerzy Ficowski, to recover Schulz’s existing oeuvre. It also offers a fitting metaphor for a larger phenomenon taking place today within the fields of both Polish and Jewish studies, that I have called here the archaeology of Polish Jewish modernism. The discussion proposes an additional paradigm of “national indifference”, adapted from the work of historian Tara Zahra, as a tool for thinking Schulz’s texts as a simultaneously Jewish and Universal writing that resists attachment to political nationalisms, and to the project of nation-state building. More directly than he had done in the Sanatorium stories, Schulz reveals in the Lilien essay a strong commitment to the Jewish/Universal project of Cultural Zionism, inspired by Ahad Ha’am and promoted by prominent Jewish thinkers and spokespeople of the Lemberg/Lwów region, and a deep reticence about and finally rejection of political Zionism. Thus Schulz’s Lilien essay points to, and becomes an apologia for, his own decision to seek a continuation of the religious, mythic and messianic Jewish tradition not in the promise of return to Palestine, but through the medium of the living book, which he calls here “that creation born of the longing of golus”.</jats:p>


Polska Akademia Nauk Oddział w Krakowie Komisja Historycznoliteracka ; Uniwersytet Jagielloński Wydział Polonistyki




ISSN 0035-9602