Bruno Schulz’s copyright

In 2012 the copyright of Bruno Schulz’s art and text passed from the private to the public domain. After the artist’s tragic death at the hands of the Nazis in 1942, there was in fact a long delay until a distant relative came out to claim family inheritance decades later.
Marek Podstolski was distant not only by relation– son of the daughter of Bruno Schulz’s brother Izydor– but by geography: he lived in Germany, and didn’t visit his ancestor’s hometown of Drohobycz for the first time until this century, he told me personally, only on condition that the Polish organisers of the Schulz Festival of that year ‘paid his expenses because can’t be expected to go there for free’.
This is probably unsurprising and fair enough for he is, simply, a businessman (a property developer) with golf being the raison d’etre of his life. (The notion– was it Swinburne’s?– that that mindlessly childish activity of knocking a ball into a hole ruined a good walk, obviously did not enter the equation.)He has no pretension of being able to appreciate or understand art. This is clear in that it is a source of self-pride. The copyright meant for him a business model with the intention, let it be noted, of protecting his ancestor’s reputation. Reputation and thus status according to a businessman, one who speculated well when his art collection that avoided Jerzy Ficowski’s schemes sold for tens of thousands in a New York auction.
This has contributed to the market value of the books of Schulz selling at astronomical prices in Poland– often for 30 times the price of Schulz’s friend and fellow-internationally-high Gombrowicz. It has also contributed to a situation whereby Schulz’s art held by Polish museums in the capital quote a lease price so high that venues such as Madrid and Amsterdam consider them too high to pay! So what is the benefit of culture?
Of course culture has always been exploited by the bourgeois since the time of the Impressionists and Van Gogh, after they died of course. The bourgeois can no more tolerate the living artist than a Nationalist can accept a different nationality, or rag known as a flag, as equally important as ‘their’s’. A resurfacing perennial problem of small single-language countries.
And there is always fallout. The most unfortunate is one that spans both sides of the copyright. Jerzy Ficowski acted, from the 1960s, as if he owned the copyright of Schulz. He even told Polish media and institutes and they absurdly believed this without school-boy basic research (a country that still to this day publishes pirate editions of literature), as my book Muse & Messiah catalogues. Ficowski signed a contract of permission with the American English translator, though Ficowsi (who I interviewed three times) did not speak a word of English. The translation is bowdlerised, full of errors and omissions and even translator’s additions!
Marek Podstolski, who does speak English, signed the contract for this infamous edition of Schulz’s two books to be re-published by Penguin Books. So readers trust this, safety in numbers, but that publisher has never cared about the accuracy of its texts as scholars know, e.g. Huysmans’ Against Nature by R. Baldick was inaccurate etc. Inaccuracy is as obvious as Israeli scholars claiming in Schulz’s case that Hasidism was all pervasive in the inter-war years, when of course in art terms it was such as Dadaism, Surrealism, Expressionism etc. English langauage readers are being sold a travesty by those who have a vested interest, including the introducer who has seen fit to airbrush the truth out.
A self-fantasy — any half-decent scientist will tell you about the fallacy of blood in this matter– of no intrinsic, tangible connection that started with Schulz’s first biographer Ficowski. Polish websites have been exploiting Schulz, sometimes spelling his name wrong, for decades. And, if in dubious hands, dear reader, biophagism can be the nature sometimes of copyright control. Truth, like art, sadly, has nothing to do with it.

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