Wat­ing for the Lost Mes­siah of Dro­hobych

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Peter Zal­mayev

Peter Zal­mayev on hon­est and false lead­ers

I was stand­ing out­side a “cul­ture palace” on a square in Dro­hobych, sharing a smoke with Adam Mich­nik, Poland’s tow­er­ing cul­tural fig­ure, for­mer dis­si­dent, and ed­i­tor-in-chief of Gazeta Wy­bor­cza. And, like me, a big fan of Dro­hobych’s na­tive son – writer and graphic artist Bruno Schulz. The date was June 3, 2016 and the oc­ca­sion – the open­ing day of the 7th In­ter­na­tional Bruno Schulz Fes­ti­val, held here bi­en­ni­ally.

The US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was in full swing and although it was still a cou­ple of weeks un­til Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­na­tion as Repub­li­can can­di­date for pres­i­dent, every­one was dis­cussing his in­evitable can­di­dacy with eyes wide with dis­be­lief. And so were we, Mich­nik and I. Try­ing and fail­ing to put into words his dis­may at Trump and his world­view, Mich­nik then made a com­par­i­son, which it has taken me un­til now to fully process and ap­pre­ci­ate, although I im­me­di­ately felt the truth of it in my gut. “Schulz is the op­po­site of Trump!” ex­claimed the great fel­low-Schulzian over the clat­ter of the pass­ing trol­ley­bus.

Was it even le­git­i­mate to com­pare a busi­ness­man-cumpoliti­cian and fu­ture “leader of the free world” with a writer of sur­re­al­ist child­hood tales from a Gali­cian back­wa­ter of Aus­tria-Hun­gary? And in which ways would they be op­po­site of each other: in their re­spec­tive worldly achieve­ments as ex­pressed in wealth ac­cu­mu­lated, po­lit­i­cal vic­to­ries won, women con­quered by hook or crook? In their sheer abil­ity to sur­vive? One can cer­tainly see Trump and Schulz as di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed in th­ese and other ways. Trump was able through his father’s in­her­i­tance and ruth­less cun­ning to be­come a real-es­tate ty­coon and build him­self a golden palace high up in New York’s skies; Schulz barely scraped by as a teacher of draw­ing and crafts in mid­dle school, earn­ing just enough for a rare trip to War­saw and once to Paris. Trump boasts of ro­bust health de­spite his re­ported reg­u­lar diet of burg­ers and fries while Schulz was of frail con­sti­tu­tion, weak and afraid of heights. Trump has five chil­dren from three mar­riages and has over the years ca­vorted with nu­mer­ous porn ac­tresses and fash­ion mod­els; sim­i­larly to Franz Kafka, Schulz was ex­tremely shy around women and wanted to marry only one woman in his life, a War­saw na­tive, but was too afraid and un­cer­tain of his prospects as a hus­band to leave his beloved Dro­hobych. In­deed, as I write this, in my mind are jux­ta­posed two con­trast­ing images: of the fu­ture Amer­i­can pres­i­dent grab­bing an as­pir­ing TV star­let “by her pussy” (his words, not mine!) and of var­i­ous shapely women’s legs and feet tram­pling on Schulz’s face – a re­cur­ring im­agery in Schulz’s graphic oeu­vre.

But above and be­yond th­ese ad­mit­tedly sur­face, tabloid­wor­thy con­trasts, it is the world­view in all of its aes­thetic sen­si­bil­i­ties that sets the two men far apart. Schulz was a bard sans pareil of child­hood as it comes into con­tact with the mys­tery and sen­sual ex­u­ber­ance of na­ture, as it cre­ates a whole uni­verse out of a dusty provin­cial lit­tle town, and as it is grad­u­ally claimed by an ado­les­cent, angst-rid­den sex­u­al­ity. The world for Schulz is en­dowed with the in­fi­nite won­der of ex­is­tence nes­tled in even its small­est parts – in the lush and wild veg­e­ta­tion of a gar­den be­hind a de­lap­i­dated hut, a whim­per­ing shiv­er­ing puppy, dust motes il­lu­mi­nated by sun rays slant­ing through a win­dow. Schulz’s world is, in all of its mind-bog­gling va­ri­ety, sub­ject to myr­iad in­ter­pre­ta­tions and readings “be­tween the lines” as con­tained in the “The Book” (the ti­tle of one of Schulz’s short sto­ries). Trump, by con­trast, doesn’t grap­ple with mul­ti­ple in­ter­pre­ta­tions of any­thing be­cause he sim­ply doesn’t read. Ex­cept one book: “Be­ing Don­ald Trump”, to para­phrase the fa­mous Hol­ly­wood movie.

Schulz’s is a world that es­chews the black-and-white di­chotomy of “us vs. them,” “black vs. white” in fa­vor of the full spec­trum of the rain­bow. And I be­lieve that this is the world that Schulz’s Mes­siah was com­ing to pro­claim. “The Mes­siah” is the novel that Schulz was fin­ish­ing while try­ing to sur­vive as a Jew in the Nazi-oc­cu­pied Dro­hobych. It is said that Schulz gave the novel’s draft, along with hun­dreds of graphic works, for safe-keep­ing to a Pol­ish neigh­bor. On Novem­ber 19, 1941, the “Black Thurs­day,” a Nazi of­fi­cer shot and killed Schulz as the lat­ter was cross­ing a street clutch­ing a loaf of bread, on his way home. “The Mes­siah” has never been found.

By na­ture, I am wary of all of his­tory’s mes­si­ahs – whether they be re­li­gious or po­lit­i­cal – Je­sus, or Gandhi, or Obama, or Trump, and whether they prom­ise “Hope”® or to “Make Amer­ica Great Again.”® And I am with Mich­nik in see­ing the last name on that list as the falsest re­cent mes­siah of them all – set­ting red Amer­i­cans against blue Amer­i­cans, lib­er­als against con­ser­va­tives, straight vs gay, greed vs. self-sac­ri­fice, eco­nomic devel­op­ment vs. the en­vi­ron­ment, short-term pros­per­ity vs. long-term sur­vival.

So, no false mes­siah for me in 2020. I would rather be naive and hope against hope for the com­ing of the Lost Mes­siah of Dro­hobych. While con­tin­u­ing my smoke-filled con­ver­sa­tion with Pan Mich­nik.


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