Art Is Everything: A Novel

An except from the new novel by Yxta Maya Murray, author of The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Kidnapped and The Conquest

On December 25, twenty-three hours after the doctor pronounced him, I gazed silently at my father’s vacant apartment. As I have mentioned, I entered his personal quarters. The bedroom had a beige wall-to-wall rug and a queen-size bed covered with a brown-and-orange quilt purchased in the 1990s from a Burbank garage sale. His closet featured rolling doors, painted white, which hid a small collection of jeans and flannel shirts, along with a neat row of sneakers, work boots, and cowboy boots. By the east wall stood a small walnut dresser with five drawers that contained his underwear, socks, white T- shirts, and three pastel sweaters. The sweaters huddled together inside the second top drawer. I turned from my father’s bed toward the dresser, opened the second drawer, and selected the yellow sweater. I slipped it over my head. I moved over to the bedroom’s door, which bore the full-length mirror on its interior side. I closed the door. I sat on the ground, cross- legged, and stared at myself in the glass.

The mirror returned to me the spectacle of my strange, shattered face and my flattened hair. I examined the lineaments of the sweater billowing around me, noting how the radiant curves of the cotton resembled the vividly restored crimson drapery of Peter Paul Rubens’s 1612 The Entombment. That picture is famous for Rubens’s rendering of the intricate, though now heavily repainted, folds of a red robe worn by an Apostle who carries Christ’s pallid body to its grave.

I glared at myself within the swirl of my father’s huge clothing. And then, without quite understanding the significance of the gesture, I snapped a self- portrait. I did so by blinking my eyes shut and opening them back up, like the lens of a camera.

I am a forty-two-year-old Chicana artist, what one might call una Conceptualista. I do not paint like Hans Holbein the Younger or Peter Paul Rubens. Instead, I make odd films and race around cities yelling protest anthems. I have made art about rape culture, a controlling Bulgarian curator, the collapse of a six-year romance, the gender binary, and the racial panopticon. I have staged plays and cut myself while singing opera and fan-dancing. Before large audiences, I have disclosed the particulars of my orgasms, my intersectional Latinx queerness, my body confidence, my girlfriend Xōchitl’s ice-hearted rejection of me, and my terrors of becoming an older woman within a misogynistic capitalist culture. For more than twenty years, I have relished transforming my personal pain into a discourse that I hope will enliven and not destroy the sensibilities of my audience. My maintenance of art’s delicate balances, which finds me ricocheting between shock and uplift, translates my life into a renewably consumable object whose manufacture gives me a reason to persist. All of this is to say that I am a working, autocritical cultural producer and not a raving madwoman, because I have learned how to strike a bargain between truth and beauty.

I have never been able, however, to negotiate my father’s death. The bitter facts of his disappearance measure to such a weight that they tip the scales of aesthetics into a landslide. Though it would be wonderful if I could trap my memories of my father into a bound and finished artifact, I have proven incapable of making art about what happened in Norris Cancer Hospital’s Room 311 in December of 2016.

Taking that “photograph” of myself with my shuttering eyes was the closest I ever got.

In her funny, idiosyncratic, and propulsive new novel, Yxta Maya Murray offers a portrait of a Chicana artist as a woman on the margins. L.A. native Amanda Ruiz is a successful performance artist who is madly in love with her girlfriend, a wealthy and pragmatic actuary named Xochitl. Everything seems under control: Amanda’s grumpy father is living peacefully in Koreatown; Amanda is about to enjoy a residency at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and, once she gets her NEA, she’s going to film a groundbreaking autocritical documentary in Mexico. But then things start to fall apart…

YXTA MAYA MURRAY is a writer and law professor living in Los Angeles. Her novels include The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Kidnapped, The King’s Gold: An Old World Novel of Adventure, and The Queen Jade: A Novel. She has won a Whiting Writer’s Award and an Art Writer’s Grant, and she has been a finalist for the ASME Award in Fiction. Her art criticism can be found in Artforum, ARTnews, Artillery, and other periodicals.

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Raising Up Creative Voices

Join us as we celebrate this year’s University Press Week with the theme #RaiseUP. This year’s theme highlights the role that the university press community plays in elevating authors and subjects that bring new perspectives, ideas, and voices to readers around the globe.

Art Is Everything (January 2021) is a witty and unconventional new novel that explores the painful but rewarding development of a mid-career artist on the margins. It’s by Yxta Maya Murray, one of the most imaginative voices in the literary world today and an example of the creative voices Northwestern University Press is proud to celebrate.

Amanda Ruiz is a queer Chicanx performance artist who is madly in love with her muse and girlfriend, a wealthy and pragmatic actuary named Xōchitl. Both Xōchitl and Amanda’s father are her pillars of inspiration and support as she navigates her career and prepares for a residency at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. But when Amanda loses those most important to her and endures a traumatic event, she reevaluates her purpose as an artist. Written as a series of Wikipedia entries, Yelp reviews, and Instagram essays that merge revelatory confession with sharp art criticism, Art Is Everything is filled with unique prose that highlights the value of publishing out-of-the-box narratives.

“Amanda Ruiz romps through an art infused life of love, loss, and redemption, inviting the reader on a wild, exhilarating ride.” —Carla Trujillo, author of Faith and Fat Chances

Yxta Maya Murray

Set against the backdrop of the L.A. art world, Art Is Everything delves into the work, meaning, and criticism of art and the creative process. Murray herself is an accomplished art critic, and her work can be found in Artforum, ARTnews, Artillery, and other periodicals. Readers will enjoy following Murray as she seamlessly uses her knowledge of the art world to paint a portrait of an artist on the cusp of a creative breakthrough.

Art Is Everything is a powerful new work to usher in a new decade. It is a shining example of the importance of uplifting creative voices and cultivating new stories for all audiences.

Excerpt from “The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma” (1932)

by Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz, translated from the Polish by Ewa Malachowska-Pasek and Megan Thomas

The 1932 novel The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma is one of Poland’s most famous and enduring novels. The mordant political satire maintained its popularity before, during, and after the country’s Communist interlude and inspired a film adaptation in 1956, a TV miniseries in 1980, and a contemporary adaptation in 2002. It was also the inspiration for the award-winning 1979 American film Being There, which featured Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine. The novel follows the rise to political power of a churlish opportunist whose simplistic vulgarity the Polish elite mistake for canny introspection.

In the passage below, Dyzma is making his first steps up the social ladder. The landowner Kunicki has tapped Dyzma to manage his large and complex estate, a job for which Dyzma is completely unprepared.

They turned at an avenue of maples and rode for a good half hour past fields dense with ripe rye. The air was still, but out here the heat was more bearable.

“Nice harvest,” Dyzma remarked.

“Yes, yes,” Kunicki answered sadly. “Too nice, too nice, unfortunately.”

Nicodemus burst out laughing. “You say that like it’s a bad thing!”

“And you don’t think it is?” Kunicki asked, surprised. “After all, it’s a disaster for agriculture.” Dyzma was tempted to tell him he didn’t understand, but he held his tongue. Better to be circumspect. “A disaster,” Kunicki repeated. “Prices are dropping like a stone. In two months, we’ll be selling it for chicken feed. It’s a high-yield disaster, dear sir.” Aha, Dyzma thought. You see, who would’ve thought! But best to say as little as possible, and for Christ’s sake, don’t ask questions.

“Well, sure, that’s understandable,” he said in a loud voice. “It’s just that I don’t agree that it’s as bad as you make it out to be.”

He fell silent, and it occurred to him that he needed to add something in order not to appear naive. Which is why he said, casually and somewhat randomly, “Grain’s going up.”

“Bah! But that’s only if the government starts stockpiling grain.”

“And who said they weren’t?”

“What are you telling me?!” Kunicki leapt up.

Dyzma was afraid he had made some ridiculous fundamental error but was immediately reassured when he saw the gleam in his companion’s eye.

“Hot damn! What are you saying? Has it already been decided?”

“For now, it’s the plan . . .”

“My dear Nicodemus! What an absolutely brilliant idea! Brilliant! After all, it’s the government’s duty to protect agriculture; the country’s welfare is entirely dependent on agriculture, for God’s sake. Hell, in this country there’s nothing less than an obsession for tinkering around with the economy. But Poland is seventy percent farmers! Seventy percent. Not industry, not mining, not commerce, but agriculture and agricultural products, livestock and lumber—it’s the basis for everything! What’s good for agriculture is good for everyone—for manufacturers, for wholesalers, for workers! Mr. Dyzma, you really should, sir, you have a sacred duty to your fatherland, to use every bit of your influence to push this brilliant project forward! So the government is going to buy up all the surplus! My God! Koborowo and the house alone . . .”

As he began to mentally calculate the potential profit, Dyzma spoke up again.

“It’s just a matter of money. There isn’t any money.”

“Money, money? That’s nothing.” Kunicki was on fire. “A trifling detail. After all, the state can issue bonds. Grain bonds for, say, a hundred million zlotys. Pay the bonds and that’s that. Charging interest, obviously, at, let’s suppose, five percent, or even six. What do you think, sir? For six years, let’s say. And I’ll be damned if during that stretch there aren’t at least two boom years, right? So then we sell the entire grain supply abroad and make a bundle. What do you think? And tremendous benefits: primo, sustained high prices that’ll really save our hides, and secondo, increased circulation, because, of course, the bonds must be unregistered bearer bonds. And that way the state can give the domestic market a real shot in the arm, to the tune of a hundred million—now there’s a sum that will surely have a salutary effect on our catastrophe of a cash situation. Hot damn! You simply must talk to Minister Jaszuński about this . . .”

“We’ve already talked about it at length, and who knows . . .”

He broke off, and at the same time thought, This old guy’s got a hell of a good head on his shoulders. With a brain like that, he could even be a minister!

Kunicki pursued the matter unflaggingly. He rolled out various arguments, put forth reservations and doubts—which he immediately smashed with the power of his logical reasoning—on and on he lisped, his words tumbling out one after the other while he flourished his whip with emotion.

Meanwhile, the road had curved back into the woods, and they were making their way through tall pines.

In a vast clearing, cords of lumber were stacked along a narrow-gauge railway. A miniature steam engine had just begun to puff and hiss in the effort to move a dozen or so wagon cars loaded with great logs. Two rows of workers were helping it along, pushing the wagons from either side.

The workers doffed their caps with a reluctance that bordered on hostility. A weather-beaten figure in a gray jacket approached their carriage and was starting to say something when Kunicki cut him off.

“Mr. Starkiewicz, say hello to Mr. Dyzma, general administrator.”

The figure took off his cap and gave Dyzma an appraising look. Dyzma bowed slightly.

For a few minutes, while Kunicki grilled Starkiewicz on various particulars, Nicodemus looked curiously around at the masses of accumulated lumber, the barracks slapped together with old planks, the clearing with its whistling saws and moaning axes. When they moved on, Kunicki launched into an expert lecture on the many different grades of wood, the state of their utilization, and the tribulations of obtaining a permit to fell one’s own timber, a stand of trees in this very vicinity. He quoted articles of law, figures, prices, and from time to time he glanced at his companion’s face, which wore an expression of scrupulous attention.

In truth, Dyzma was flailing in a sea of panic. His consciousness was being buried alive under an increasingly berserk avalanche of concepts and ideas about which he had not the slightest understanding. He felt like a man beneath a toppled haystack. He’d lost all orientation and realized he was singularly ill equipped to deal with this state of affairs, and not by a long shot would he be able to control the situation enough to avoid disgrace and humiliation—to avoid, to put it plainly, ratting himself out.

They’d already toured the lumber station in the state-owned woods, the sawmill by the railroad terminal, and the furniture factory, and by the time they had finished their visit to the paper mill as well as some warehouse or another, the muddle in Dyzma’s head had grown to such a degree that he would’ve been glad to flee the scene right then and there. Looming before him was a towering mountain of incomprehensible business matters, bizarre and mysterious interconnections; he’d just met so many new people, these managers and directors, who spoke with such authority and with so many acronyms and abbreviations that Dyzma had managed to grasp nary a thing.

Excerpted from The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma: A Novel by Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz, translated from the Polish by Ewa Malachowska-Pasek and Megan Thomas and with an introduction by Benjamin Paloff.

The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma introduces an unemployed clerk who crashes an elite soiree, where he makes a crass remark that sets him on a new course. Soon high society—from government ministers to drug-fueled aristocrats—wants a piece of him, interpreting his simple vulgarity as strength and freshness. His willingness to do anything to hold on to power—political flip-flopping, inventing xenophobic plots, even having enemies assaulted—only leads to greater success. 

TADEUSZ DOŁĘGA-MOSTOWICZ (daw-WENG-ah maw-STOH-vich) was born in 1898 and began his writing career as a journalist. Kariera Nikodema Dyzma appeared serially in 1930–31 to great acclaim, establishing his reputation as a novelist. He published prolifically until his death in 1939.

EWA MALACHOWSKA-PASEK is Ladislav Matejka Collegiate Lecturer in Polish and Czech Studies at the University of Michigan.

MEGAN THOMAS is, with Ewa Malachowska-Pasek, the translator of Zofia Nalkowska’s Romance of Teresa Hennert.

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Excerpt from “The Passion According to G.H.” by Clarice Lispector

Born in western Ukraine, Clarice Lispector (1920–77) suffered in her early years from famine, war, and violent antisemitism. When her family arrived in Brazil in 1922, Clarice’s father made a living selling rags; her mother died a few years later. Her novels and stories—among them The Chandelier (1946), The Besieged City (1949), The Passion According to G.H. (1964), and The Stream of Life (1973)—explored her existential speculations in a brilliantly inventive, lyrical, and metaphorical style using interior monologues and stream of consciousness. This selection from The Passion According to G.H. was translated by Idra Novey and is part of the forthcoming Latin American Ecocultural Reader, edited by Gisela Heffes and Jennifer French. In it, the death of a cockroach sparks a metaphysical crisis and an expansion of consciousness beyond humanity.


Each eye reproduced the entire cockroach.

—Pardon me for giving you this, hand holding mine, but I don’t want this for myself! take that roach, I don’t want what I saw.

There I was open-mouthed and offended and withdrawn—faced with the dusty being looking back at me. Take what I saw: because what I was seeing with an embarrassment so painful and so frightened and so innocent, what I was seeing was life looking back at me.

How else could I describe that crude and horrible, raw matter and dry plasma, that was there, as I shrank into myself with dry nausea, I falling centuries and centuries inside a mud—it was mud, and not even dried mud but mud still damp and still alive, it was a mud in which the roots of my identity were still shifting with unbearable slowness.

Take it, take all this for yourself, I don’t want to be a living person! I’m disgusted and amazed by myself, thick mud slowly oozing.

That’s what it was—so that’s what it was. Because I’d looked at the living roach and was discovering inside it the identity of my deepest life. In a difficult demolition, hard and narrow paths were opening within me.

I looked at it, at the roach: I hated it so much that I was going over to its side, feeling solidarity with it, since I couldn’t stand being left alone with my aggression.

And all of a sudden I moaned out loud, this time I heard my moan. Because rising to my surface like pus was my truest matter—and with fright and loathing I was feeling that “I-being” was coming from a source far prior to the human source and, with horror, much greater than the human.

Opening in me, with the slowness of stone doors, opening in me was the wide life of silence, the same that was in the fixed sun, the same that was in the immobilized roach. And that could be the same as in me! if I had the courage to abandon . . . to abandon my feelings? If I had the courage to abandon hope.

Hope for what? For the first time I was astonished to feel that I’d based an entire hope on becoming something that I was not. The hope—what other name could I give it?—that for the first time I now was going to abandon, out of courage and mortal curiosity. Had hope, in my prior life, been based upon a truth? With childlike surprise, I was starting to doubt it.

To find out what I really could hope for, would I first have to pass through my truth? To what extent had I invented a destiny now, while subterraneously living from another?

I closed my eyes, waiting for the astonishment to pass, waiting for my panting to calm to the point that it was no longer that awful moan that I’d heard as if coming from the bottom of a dry, deep cistern, as the cockroach was a creature of a dry cistern. I was still feeling, at an incalculable distance within me, that moan that was no longer reaching my throat.

This is madness, I thought with my eyes closed. But it was so undeniable feeling that birth from inside the dust—that all I could do was follow something I was well aware wasn’t madness, it was, my God, the worse truth, the horrible one. But why horrible? Because without words it contradicted everything I used to think also without words.

I waited for the astonishment to pass, for health to return. But I was realizing, in an immemorial effort of memory, that I had felt this astonishment before: it was the same one I had experienced when I saw my own blood outside of me, and I had marveled at it. Since the blood I was seeing outside of me, that blood I was drawn to with such wonder: it was mine.

I didn’t want to open my eyes, I didn’t want to keep on seeing. It was important not to forget the rules and the laws, to remember that without the rules and laws there would be no order, I had to not forget them and defend them in order to defend myself.

But it was already too late for me to hold myself back.

The first bind had already involuntarily burst, and I was breaking loose from the law, though I intuited that I was going to enter the hell of living matter—what kind of hell awaited me? but I had to go. I had to sink into my soul’s damnation, curiosity was consuming me.

So I opened my eyes all at once, and saw the full endless vastness of the room, that room that was vibrating in silence, laboratory of hell.

The room, the unknown room. My entrance into it was finally complete.

The entrance to this room had a single passageway, and a narrow one: through the cockroach. The cockroach that was filling the room with finally open vibration, the vibrations of its rattlesnake tails in the desert. Through a painstaking route, I had reached the deep incision in the wall that was that room—and the crevice created a vast, natural hollow hall as in a cave.

Naked, as if prepared for the entrance of a single person. And whoever entered would be transformed into a “she” or “he.” I was the one the room called “she.” As I had gone in which the room had given a dimension of she. As if I too were the other side of the cube, the side that goes unseen when looked at straight on.

And in my great dilation, I was in the desert. How can I explain it to you? in the desert as I’d never been before. It was a desert that was calling me as a monotonous and remote canticle calls. I was being seduced. And I was going toward that promising madness. But my fear wasn’t that of someone going toward madness, but toward a truth—my fear was of having a truth that I’d come not to want, an infamizing truth that would make me crawl along and be on the roach’s level. My first contact with truths always defamed me.

—Hold my hand, because I feel that I’m going. I’m going once again toward the most divine primary life, I’m going toward a hell of raw life. Don’t let me see because I’m close to seeing the nucleus of life—and, through the cockroach that even now I’m seeing again, through this specimen of calm living horror, I’m afraid that in this nucleus I’ll no longer know what hope is.

The cockroach is pure seduction. Cilia, blinking cilia that keep calling.

I too, who was slowly reducing myself to whatever in me was irreducible, I too had thousands of blinking cilia, and with my cilia I move forward, I protozoan, pure protein. Hold my hand, I reached the irreducible with the inevitability of a death-knell—I sense that all this is ancient and vast, I sense in the hieroglyph of the slow roach the writing of the Far East. And in this desert of great seductions, the creatures: I and the living roach. Life, my love, is a great seduction in which all that exists seduces. That room that was deserted and for that reason primally alive. I had reached the nothing, and the nothing was living and moist.

Excerpted from The Latin American Ecocultural Reader, edited by Gisela Heffes and Jennifer French

A comprehensive anthology of literary and cultural texts about the natural world drawn from throughout the Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil, including both canonical figures and works as well as contemporary writing that illuminates the marginalized environmental cultures of women, indigenous, and Afro-Latin American populations.

JENNIFER FRENCH is a professor of Spanish at Williams College. She is the author of Nature, Neo-Colonialism, and the Spanish-American Regional Writers.

GISELA HEFFES is an associate professor of Latin American literature and culture at Rice University. She has published two monographs and four novels in Spanish.

“Miss Muriel”

ALMOST EVERY DAY, Ruth Davis and I walk home from school together. We walk very slowly because we like to talk to each other and we don’t get much chance in school or after school either. We are very much alike. We are both twelve years old and we are freshmen in high school and we never study—well, not very much, because we learn faster than the rest of the class. We laugh about the same things and we are curious about the same things. We even wear our hair in the same style—thick braids halfway down our backs. We are not alike in one respect. She is white and I am black.

Yesterday when we reached the building that houses my father’s drugstore, we sat down on the front steps—long wooden steps that go all the way across the front of the building. Ruth said, “I wish I lived here,” and patted the steps though they are very splintery.

Aunt Sophronia must have heard our voices, because she came to the door and said, “I left my shoes at the shoemaker’s this morning. Please go and get them for me,” and she handed me a little cardboard ticket with a number on it.

“You want to come with me, Ruth?”

“I’ve got to go home. I’m sure my aunt will have things for me to do. Just like your aunt.” She smiled at Aunt Sophronia. I walked partway home with Ruth and then turned back and went up Petticoat Lane toward the shoemaker’s shop. Mr. Bemish, the shoemaker, is a little white man with gray hair. He has a glass eye. This eye is not the same color as his own eye. It is a deeper gray. If I stand too close to him, I get a squeam­ish feeling because one eye moves in its socket and the other eye does not.

Mr. Bemish and I are friends. I am always taking shoes to his shop to be repaired. We do not own a horse and buggy and so we walk a great deal. In fact, there is a family rule that we must walk any distance under three miles. As a result, our shoes are in constant need of repair, the soles and heels have to be replaced, and we always seem to be in need of shoelaces. Quite often I snag the uppers on the bull briars in the woods and then the tears have to be stitched.

When I went to get Aunt Sophronia’s shoes, Mr. Bemish was sitting near the window. It is a big window and he has a very nice view of the street. He had on his leather apron and his eyeglasses. His glasses are small and they have steel rims. He was sewing a shoe and he had a long length of waxed linen thread in his needle. He waxes the thread himself.

I handed him the ticket and he got up from his workbench to get the shoes. I saw that he had separated them from the other shoes. These are Aunt Sophronia’s store shoes. They had been polished so that they shone like patent leather. They lay alone, near the front of the table where he keeps the shoes he has repaired. He leaned toward me and I moved away from him. I did not like being so close to his glass eye.

“The lady who brought these shoes in. Who is she?”

I looked at him and raised one eyebrow. It has taken me two months of constant practice in front of a mirror to master the art of lifting one eyebrow.

Mr. Bemish said, “What’s the matter with you? Didn’t you hear what I said? Who was that lady who brought these shoes in?”

Excerpted from “Miss Muriel,” the title story in Miss Muriel and Other Stories.

Ann Petry

ANN PETRY (1908–1997) was a reporter, pharmacist, social worker, and community activist. She illuminated the range of black and white experience in her novels, short stories, and other writing. Her book The Street was the first novel by an African American woman to sell more than a million copies. Her novels The Narrows and Country Place are also available from Northwestern University Press.

This edition published in 2017 by Northwestern University Press with a new by foreword by Jamilah Lemieux. Copyright © 1945, 1947, 1958, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1971 by Ann Petry. Foreword copyright © 2017 by Jamilah Lemieux. Published 2017 by Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

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The Dead Season

Excerpted from Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz. Translated from the Polish by Madeline G. Levine and with a foreword by Rivka Galchen.

“Bruno Schulz is arguably the most influential author the Polish language has ever known . . . Levine finally allows English-language readers to spend time with the living Bruno Schulz—serious, funny and breathtakingly real.” ⁠—Times Literary Supplement

At five in the morning, a morning brilliant from early sunshine, our house had already been bathed for a long time in ardent and quiet morning radiance. At that solemn hour, unobserved by anyone—while across the room in the semidarkness of lowered drapes the peaceful breathing of sleeping people still moved in solidarity—in total silence it entered into the facade that was blazing in the sunlight, into the silence of the early heat, as if its entire surface were made of blissfully slumbering eyelids. Thus, profiting from the silence of those solemn hours, it swallowed the very first fire of morning with a blissfully slumbering face, fainter in the radiance, with the arrangement of its features trembling slightly in the dream-filled sleep of that intense hour. The shadow of the acacia in front of the house, waving brightly on those burning eyelids, repeated on their surface as if on a piano, over and over again, the same glittering phrase washed away by a breeze, vainly attempting to penetrate the depths of that golden dream. The canvas drapes absorbed the morning heat, portion after portion, and grew darkly suntanned, swooning in the boundless radiance.

Bruno Schulz, self portrait, 1920-1922

At that early hour, my father, no longer able to find sleep, descended the stairs, laden with his books, in order to open the shop, which was located on the ground floor of our apartment building. He stood motionless in the entrance for a moment, withstanding with tightly closed eyes the powerful attack of fiery sunshine. The sun-bright wall of the house drew him sweetly into its blissfully leveled flatness, smoothed down to the point of disappearance. For a moment he became a flat father, grown into the facade, and he felt his arms, branching out, trembling and warm, fuse flat amid the golden stucco decorations of the facade. (How many fathers have already grown permanently into a facade at five in the morning, at the moment when they stepped off the bottom step of a staircase? How many fathers have become in this way forever the keepers of their own door, flatly sculpted onto the frame, with a hand on the door handle and a face unfolded into the same parallel, blissful grooves over which their sons’ fingers would later travel lovingly, seeking the last traces of their fathers now merged forever into the universal smile of the facade?) But then he detached himself with his last bit of will, regained the third dimension, and turned into a man once again, freeing the shackled shop door from its padlocks and iron bars.

When he opened the heavy, ironclad wing of the shop door the grumbling gloom retreated one step from the entrance, drew back a few inches into the depths of the shop, changed its place, and lay down lazily inside. Invisibly giving off steam from the still-cool paving stones of the sidewalk, the morning freshness stood timidly on the threshold as a faint, trembling strip of air. Deep inside, the darkness of many previous days and nights lay in the unopened bales of cloth that were arranged in layers and ran in rows into the interior, in muffled parades and pilgrimages, until it came powerlessly to a stop in the very heart of the shop, in the dark stockroom, where, already undifferentiated and replete with itself, it dissolved into the silent, looming, ur-matter of cloth.

Father walked along that tall wall of cheviot wools and twills, trailing his hand along the edges of cloth bales as if along the slits of women’s dresses. Under his touch, the rows of blind torsos that were always ready to panic, to break out of line, would calm down and consolidate in their cloth hierarchies and order.

BRUNO SCHULZ (1892–1942) was a Polish Jew born in Drohobych, at the time a city in Austrian Galicia. He published two volumes of short fiction during his life. Shot in the street by a Nazi officer in German-occupied Drohobych, Schulz achieved posthumous fame as one of the most influential European fiction writers of the twentieth century.

MADELINE G. LEVINE is Kenan Professor of Slavic Literatures Emerita at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her translations from the Polish include The Woman from Hamburg and Other True Stories by Hanna Krall, Bread for the Departed by Bogdan Wojdowski, and four volumes of prose by Czeslaw Milosz, including Beginning with My Streets: Essays and Recollections and Milosz’s ABC’s.