Academic journal article Text Matters

Bianca Looks from above the Book: Readings on the Margin of Bruno Schulz's Ex-Libris for Stanislaw Weingarten

Academic journal article Text Matters

Bianca Looks from above the Book: Readings on the Margin of Bruno Schulz's Ex-Libris for Stanislaw Weingarten

Article excerpt

In "Spring" Bianca lifts her eyes from the book. There is a saddening measure of compulsiveness about her doing so every delightful time Joseph sees her. Looking from over the book, Bianca always "acknowledges and returns" Joseph's "ardent greeting," "replies" to his "deep bow." "Quick" and "penetrating," in its precision teasingly otherworldly, Bianca's look from above the book satisfies Joseph's desire to "ask something with [his] eyes." In the last section of "Spring" when he sits down by her bed to begin "the report," Joseph finds it irritating that Bianca should not stop reading, to which her later comment on Joseph's "ridiculous" sense of mission and her eyes narrowing down "in a paroxysm of delight" provide a mirroring, self-ironic reply. On that very night Bianca is seen "lifting her eyes from the book" to make "a quick, perfunctory, but astonishingly apt decision." Joseph watches her sign his papers, while she, complying with the rule of reciprocity, "watches [him] with slight irony as [he] countersign[s] them" (Sanatorium 71).

As Bianca, by simply raising her eyes, lets Joseph know "that she knows all [his] thoughts," she knows also that the question he asks himself, "What is she gazing at with attention, with such thoughtfulness?" means also "What book is she reading?" It is a ridiculous question, since Bianca, princess and daughter of a washerwoman, may be reading any book at that fleeting, privileged moment-a short uplifting look returned from where?- when Joseph imagines it "soaring" and "screaming like the phoenix, all its pages aflame" (10), a moment for which he will love it "ever after," although or because it becomes lost, subject to his quixotic, belated but refreshing, missions on the margins of spring nights. In other words, as readers of "Spring" have long observed to their satisfaction, Bianca's eroticism may seem bookish, but in reality it comes directly from the Book. When Joseph explains that the nature of spring will become "clear" and "legible" only to "an attentive reader of the Book," he refers the reader back to his own raising his eyes from the text of "The Book" he is reading and writing:

any true reader-and this story is addressed to him-will understand me anyway when I look him straight in the eye and try to communicate my meaning. A short, sharp look or a light clasp of the hand will stir him into awareness, and he will blink in rapture at the brilliance of the Book. (1)

Bianca's villa is in an "extraterritorial area," the night on which Joseph enters it is "extramarginal," the text Bianca reads is extratextual. With every attentive reading of "Spring," following Bianca's attentive look answering Joseph's, we sign up for a new journey down into the subterranean, timeless and boundless, vaults of spring, there to welcome with delight and greet with a deep bow familiar texts, "everything we have ever read, all the stories we have heard and those we have not heard before but have been dreaming since childhood." They are texts from the official, canonical history of literature pointing, in allusions, approximations, cross-references, towards their "nameless forerunners . . . dark texts written for the drama of evening clouds," and, further still, towards "unwritten books, books- eternal pretenders" (43-44). Among the literary "whisperings" and "persuasions" in section XVI of "Spring" one recognizes, interwoven with the text of Goethe's "Der Erlkönig," the lines of Rilke's "A Man Reading":

I've read long now. Since this afternoon,

with its rain rushing, lay against the windows.

I'd become oblivious to the wind outside:

my book was hard.

I gazed into its lines as into faces

whose looks grow dark from deep reflection,

and around my reading the hours built up.

And when now I liftmy eyes from the book

nothing will seem alien, everything great.

There outside exists, what here inside I live,

And here and there the whole of things is boundless

save that I interweave still more with it

when my gaze shapes itself to objects

and to the grave simplicity of masses,-

then the earth grows out beyond itself. …

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