4.19. Bruno Schulz, novel chapter ‘The Night of the Great Season’ (1934)

Noc wielkiego sezonu (“The Night of the Great Season”) is the 13th and final chapter of The Street of Crocodiles by the Polish author and artist Bruno Schulz (1892-1942). *The Polish book title Sklepy cynamonowe (“Cinnamon Shops”) was replaced in the US translation by the title of the 10th chapter, The Street of Crocodiles. This book is inspired by the author’s childhood and the chapters are more or less self-contained, non-chronologically arranged episodes, in which realistic and fantastic elements go together. According to Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles is “an autobiography . . . or rather a genealogy of the soul.” *Taylor, “Childhood Revisited: The Writings of Bruno Schulz” 456.

The Night of the Great Season begins with a discussion on the eccentric Time, which makes—in the Jewish lunisolar calendar—an occasional “wasteful gesture” by producing, between the normal years, a leap year with a thirteenth month as an immature, deformed child or an apocryphal chapter. This intercalary month is the time par excellence for strange, unexpected events. In Schulz’s novel, this month is placed in the transition from summer to fall, the period of the Days of Awe with the shofar blowing, and the time of provisioning in the fabric store of his father, the protagonist of the story.

The father is dominated by mixed feelings: on the one hand, he wants to sell the fabrics, on the other hand, he wants to keep his new arsenal of colorful fabrics for himself; moreover—and this is one of the fantastic elements in the narrative—he senses the nearing of a devastating autumn storm, that will blow out his fabric store, flooding the city with streams of color. At the approach of the Great Season—the High Holy Days—nature begins to show signs of decay, while the days shorten and people become restless. In the night in which the chapter is set, father sits in his store and hears the swelling noise of a crowd with the shuffling of a thousand feet through the streets of the city, a “river, full of noise, of dark looks, of sly winks, intersected by conversations, chopped up by laughter, an enormous babel of gossip, tumult, and chatter.” *Schulz, The Night of the Great Season 87.

In many ways, the Present of the story is directed by the Past of the Bible and the prayer books for the High Holy Days. With his Babel metaphor, Schulz could allude to Gen. 11:1-9 with the tower’s chaotic construction, though the metaphor is rather outworn. A more likely reference is to Joel 2 with the spectre of the locust invasion: “9 They rush up the wall, / They dash about in the city; / They climb into the houses, / They enter like thieves / By way of the windows.” In Schulz’s story, “the crowd stormed his fortress and entered his shop in a noisy mass[.]” *Ibid. 88. What makes this reference even more plausible is the sounding of the alarm on the shofar both in Joel 2:1: “Blow a horn in Zion, / Sound an alarm on My holy mount!” and 2:15 and in The Night of the Great Season: “a large shofar, sounding the alert.” *Ibid. 89. Furthermore, Schulz could allude to Maʿariv, the prayers of Rosh Ha-Shanah Evening with their special relationship with Jacob. First, Jacob is the first name of the father in The Night of the Great Season; second, the biblical Jacob had his greatest encounter with God in the night; *The Koren Rosh HaShana Maḥzor 52, Note third, Maʿariv gives the instructions for processing the fabric into a prayer shawl, which should remind the faithful of God’s commandments; *Ibid. 58-60 and fourth, Maʿariv contains the commandment to blow the shofar at new moon and the beginning of a new month. *Ibid. 64.

Upon hearing the crowd nearing, the father wonders where his shop assistants are, the “cherubs” who are to defend the “dark bastions of cloth.” *The Night of the Great Season 88. By listening with his inner ear, the big house opens itself to him and he discovers that the shop assistants are chasing the maid Adela, who takes cover behind the kitchen dresser. Given the continuation of this passage, the chase for Adela can be connected to the dance around the golden calf in Exod. 32, and David Goldfarb, in his essay on The Night of the Great Season, even considers the kitchen dresser as the altar. *Goldfarb, “A Living Schulz” 38. Just like Moses descending Mount Sinai, the father gets angry, precisely at the moment the crowd storms the store.

My father grew purple with anger and jumped on the counter. And while the crowd stormed his fortress and entered his shop in a noisy mass, Father, in one leap, reached the shelves of fabrics and, hanging high above the crowd, began to blow with all his strength a large shofar, sounding the alert. But the ceiling did not resound with the rustle of angels’ wings speeding to his rescue: instead, each plaint of the shofar was answered by the loud, sneering choir of the crowd. *The Night of the Great Season 88-9.

This shofar blast is a parody of the above-mentioned shofar alarm in Joel 2, directed against the locust plague. There is a perhaps accidental similarity to Jer. 6:17 about the prophet blowing the shofar as a warning to the people, who ignore his directives, however, and to Isa. 58:1, where the prophet has to raise his voice like a shofar: “Raise your voice like a ram’s horn! / Declare to My people their transgression, / To the House of Jacob their sin.” “The House of Jacob” could allude to the shop of the father, who is called Jacob, and who is badly abandoned by his shop assistants. Furthermore, this shofar alarm by the father seems a parodic parallel to the shofar call in Act II, Scene 4 of Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, *Chapter 4.16 blown by the French horns; it is the disapproval of the impatience of the people, not with regard to the invisible God but, instead to the inaccessible fabrics in the shop of the father.

“Jacob, start trading! Jacob, start selling!” they called and the chant, repeated over and over again, became rhythmical, transforming itself into the melody of a chorus, sung by them all. My father saw that resistance would be useless, jumped down from his ledge, and moved with a shout toward the barricades of cloth. Grown tall with fury, his head swollen into a purple fist, he rushed like a fighting prophet on the ramparts of cloth and began to storm against them. He leaned with his whole strength against the enormous bales, heaving them from their places. He put his shoulders under the great lengths of cloth and made them fall on the counter with a dull thud. The bales overturned, unfolding in the air like enormous flags, the shelves exploded with bursts of draperies, with waterfalls of fabrics as if touched by the wand of Moses. . . .

The walls of the shop disappeared under the powerful formations of that cosmogony of cloth, under its mountain ranges that rose in imposing massifs. . . . Against that backdrop my father wandered among the folds and valleys of a fantastic Canaan. He strode about, his hands spread out prophetically to touch the clouds, and shaped the land with strokes of inspiration.
And down below, at the bottom of that Sinai which rose from my father’s anger, stood the gesticulating crowd, cursing, worshipping Baal, and bargaining. *The Night of the Great Season 89.

In this passage there are still more parodic allusions to biblical prophets, even with elements or roles from the same story or from different stories intermingled. The comparison of the unfolding bales with waterfalls could be related to Exod. 17:6, where Moses strikes the rock with his rod. Though Baal worship is found in several Bible books, it did not take place “at the bottom of Sinai.” The literary historian David Goldfarb compares the father’s action with the conquest of Jericho; *“A Living Schulz” 38. Schulz, however, reverses this story by turning the offensive action by the priests in Josh. 6 into a defensive action by the father. Goldfarb might be right in his supposition that Schulz’s capricious metaphorical language could originate from his fancy for the tandeta, a flea market or even a stock or commodities market, a word suggesting “a seemingly random assemblage, which could yet have a mythic order in a sufficiently childlike mind.” *Ibid. 43. From various traditions, Schulz takes whatever he can use to build his own mythology; according to the author David Grossman, Bruno Schulz “turned his small domestic life into a tremendous mythology” and he “believed and hoped that our daily life was but a series of legendary episodes, fragments of ancient carved images, crumbs of shattered mythologies.” *Grossman, Writing in the Dark 15.

The Night of the Great Season is not yet over. After a long time, peace and quiet in the fabric store return. However, Schulz does not conclude the chapter with the obvious closing of the store and the stocktaking. Instead, the city deals with an invasion of bizarre, deformed and blind paper birds, which the father recognizes as the degenerate descendants of the birds he once kept in the attic and which were chased away by the maid Adela. Father is moved by their return and calls them in their own bird language, but they do not see nor hear him. When people throw stones at the birds, father warns them, but he cannot prevent the birds from falling dead. The main events from the chapter: the storming (“ravage”) of the fabric store (“tent cloths”), the sounding of the shofar (“blare of the horns”), and the swarming of the birds (“birds of the sky”) seem a curious paste-up of verses from Jer. 4: “20 Suddenly my tents have been ravaged, / In a moment, my tent cloths. / 21 How long must I see standards / And hear the blare of horns? / For My people are stupid, . . . 25 I look: no man is left, / And all the birds of the sky have fled.” Just as curious is the next morning in the chapter with its business as usual.

It is clear that the chapter is set at the beginning of fall and that its title, The Great Season, refers not only to the new fashion season with the sale of the fabrics, but also to the High Holy Days with the shofar blowing in the synagogue. Therefore, the sentence “The events I am now going to relate happened in that thirteenth, supernumerary, freak month of that year,” *The Night of the Great Season 84 is strange, because the intercalary Adar II falls in February/March; moreover, the carnivalesque elements in the chapter would rather fit Purim, which falls on 14 Adar (II).

In the quoted scene from the story, Schulz’s point of departure is not the Past in the form of biblical shofar stories but the Present, namely the situation of a shopkeeper who feels uncomfortable in modern business life and takes up the archaic shofar to cope with chaos. The background of Schulz’s partly autobiographical novel is the Galician city of Drohobycz, now Drohobych in Ukraine; in the 19th century, oil was struck near the city, which became the “Klondike of Galicia” in the second half of the century. As Schulz’s translator Celina Wieniewska puts it, “prosperity entered it and destroyed the old patriarchical way of life, bringing false values, bogus Americanization, and new ways of making a quick fortune, . . . The old dignity of the cinnamon shops . . . changed into something brash, second rate, questionable, slightly suspect.” *Wieniewska, “Translator’s Preface” to Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles 11. However mythic and fantastic it may be, the father’s secular shofar blowing can be considered an element of “the old patriarchical way of life” in his efforts to restore “the old dignity of the cinnamon shops.”


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