The advantage that fiction has over statistics and history is its vivid specificity. The unspeakable brutality of the Nazis must be detailed. Grynberg wastes no words: every sentence is a telegraphic report. "`How beautiful all this is,' the Gestapo marvelled as they listed down the furniture in our house. And they all appraised Mama with their eyes. They searched for Zenia, but Mama had hidden her in the attic. They pushed Mama into the bedroom. You could hear her crying."
A minor horror in Grynberg's account of the Holocaust (as played out in the small Polish, now Ukrainian, town of Drohobycz) is the gratuitous murder, by an SS thug, of the writer Bruno Schulz, as harmless and talented and shy a person as God ever made. Schulz had been Grynberg's woodcraft teacher in school. His students did not know that he was the author of two books that are now considered modern Polish masterpieces, Cinnamon Shops (1934) and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (1937). They did know that when the electricity failed on winter afternoons, Professor Schulz would tell them stories (some taken from world literature, and some, as a few witnesses remember, made up on the spot).
Jerzy Ficowski has spent a lifetime researching Schulz's biography, writing, and art. Back in 1988, American readers could see Ficowski's Letters and Drawings of Bruno Schulz: With Selected Prose (Harper & Row). Penguin gave us translations of Cinnamon Shops (retitled The Street of Crocodiles) and Sanatorium. And now in REGIONS OF THE GREAT HERESY: BRUNO SCHULZ, A BIOGRAPHICAL PORTRAIT (W.W. Norton, $25.95, translated by Theodosia Robertson), we have all that we are likely to know of Schulz's brief life. He was an artist as well as a writer, competently skilled. His drawings, however, are skewed by their erotically specialized subject matter: Schulz was apparently a masochist who dreamed of being humiliated by big-thighed, big-bosomed women in spike heels, rather like the drawings of Balthus's brother Pierre Klossowski. A drawing of himself being cheeked by nasty schoolboys is particularly poignant.
Ficowski doesn't like to hear of Schulz as "the Polish Kafka" (though Schulz did collaborate on a translation of The Trial). Kafka, for Ficowski, was a geographer of irresolute despair, whereas Schulz wrote on the theory that art is "the great heresy," a triumph of the imagination over brute misery. Childhood, he said, was a book we write (in play, in filling an album with exotic stamps, in daydreaming) and then try to live within the narrowing horizons of maturity.
In school, Catholic priests never let the young Schulz forget that he was a Jewboy. Later he heroically spent eight years qualifying as a grade-school teacher (with a mother, cousins, and aunts to support); Jews had obstacles specially made for them by the Polish bureaucracy. Schulz taught long hours: art, woodshop, math. He rarely had a vacation. He rarely left Drohobycz. All of his writing was done on stolen time, dead tired. Under the Nazi occupation, he became a "protected" Jew--that is, a household slave to an SS officer with pretensions to Kultur. Schulz's own barbarian had had occasion to shoot the protected Jew of another officer, who shot Schulz in revenge. You shoot my Jew; I shoot yours. Ha ha!
It is known that Schulz wrote a third book, Messiah (apparently about the Hassidim in eighteenth-century Poland). Ficowski has traced this manuscript through its confiscation by the SS, subsequent appropriation by the KGB, and its disappearance after the collapse of the Evil Empire. Scholars are still hoping that the second half of Ovid's Fasti, lost in the Roman parcel post around the year 16, will surface. KGB files are bottomless.
It doesn't take Germans and Russians from hell to make a distinguished mind disappear. The psychologist Harry Harlow (1905-81) has been swept under the carpet by political correctness (the new Puritanism).
In LOVE AT GOON PARK: HARRY HARLOW AND THE SCIENCE OF AFFECTION (Perseus Publishing, $26), Deborah Blum traces the ups and downs of Harlow's bumpy career as well as his idea (wholly counter to received psychological dogma) that babies have minds and feelings, and need lots of hugging.
Before Harlow began his experiments with monkeys at the University of Wisconsin, psychology followed the wisdom of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (lapsed seminarian, winner of the 1904 Nobel Prize) and his American counterpart, John Watson. Human behavior is a response to a stimulus. Call the dog to dinner, and he's salivating before he even sees the Alpo. Babies seem to love their mothers but are interested only in the milk bar. Engineer the stimulus and you can ensure the response. (Stalin loved this.)
To get a job at Wisconsin, Harry Israel changed his last name to Harlow (can't have Jews on the faculty). He also, with the help of football players whose grades could stand improvement, had to build his own lab. Its address was 600 N. Park, read by the postman on scrawled packages as "Goon Park." Here he undertook elaborate experiments, the more cruel of which have blackened his name with the animal-rights movement, but which forever changed the way we raise our children and view the heartless teachings of Pavlov, Watson, and Skinner.
Deborah Blum is a splendid writer. (The Monkey Wars and Sex on the Brain are her previous books.) She knows primatology inside and out, and, while not uncritical of Harlow, makes her case that he was an heroic and brave researcher.
Out of the lab he was the dotty boffin all campuses have examples of, the despair of deans and boards of directors. He was thrice married, the third time to his first wife. He was a distracted father--one son has resumed the name of Israel. In the lab he worked like the sorcerer's apprentice. Harlow proved that infant monkeys become neurotic if kept separate from their mothers (and he induced, by way of experiments he himself was ashamed of, catatonic despair in many of his subjects). He also proved that well-nurtured infants have high I.Q.'s and charming personalities.
The awful irony of Harlow's experiments is that they were generated by epidemics at the turn of the last century in orphanages and foundling homes, where diseases spread unchecked. Word went around that proximity was death, which went for mothers and infants as well. Don't, in other words, cosset the baby (Skinner, at Harvard, raised his daughter in a sterile glass box). Freud had his own suspicions about warm love between mothers and infants. Watson advised not touching the damned thing except to wipe its bottom or supply it with mashed peas and carrots. And don't comfort the little bugger when it bangs its head on the furniture.
Once, while waiting for a friend, I found myself in Skinner's lab at Harvard. "What are all those white rats doing?" I asked, and was told that they were isolated, and had been all their lives. They had never snuggled against their mothers or another rat. When the room was momentarily empty, I took a rat out of its cage, cuddled it, and may even have kissed it. The rat seemed overjoyed, eagerly sniffing graduate-student sweat and grime. Hearing footsteps, I returned it to its solitary confinement.
When my sins and kindnesses are weighed by Osiris, I hope to see a white rat on the scales.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2002|
|Previous Article:||Here comes. (Story).|
|Next Article:||The unbearable slightness: why do we love Milan Kundera, again?|