I first became aware of Stanislaw Przybyszewski while perusing Edvard Munch’s Jealousy at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. A helpful wall sign identifies the Mephistophelean figure on the left as Przybyszewski, and as I became more and more knowledgeable about Munch’s work I saw that S.P. figured fairly frequently as a subject. I think that’s the way most of us, at least in the English speaking world, know of him (if at all), as a sort of Zelig-type always appearing in other people’s works and biographies. He’s also a veiled character in Strindberg’s plays, and a ghostly figure that haunts the northern and middle European fin de siecle without ever quite becoming manifest. In his own time he was much more widely known and influential as a poet, dramatist, novelist and thinker, responsible for disseminating his own interests in Nietzsche and Satanism and shaping the course of Decadence and Symbolism. One of the great cauldrons of modern art was a bar in Berlin dubbed the Black Pig where he, Munch, Strindberg, the exemplary femme fatale Dagny Juel, and even Knut Hamsun gathered to get drunk, argue, theorize, philosophize, sing, fight, flirt and shock the world. That’s one of the locations I would set my time machine for.
For a guy so influential, Przybyszewski’s work is very hard to come across in English. My friend John got me his most famous novel Homo Sapiens out of the Grad Library and I must say I was kind of underwhelmed, though as a true collector I don’t feel like I understand anything unless I own it. There used to be reprint of a short thing called The Synagogue of Satan, which was actually nonfiction and a lot drier than it sounds. For more than I like to pay for a book but a lot less than list price, I managed to cop the play Snow off ebay, and it was actually pretty fun, though waaaaay over the top – Munch can be dramatic and intense, but he pulls it off with his integrity and artistry, whereas Snow, which expresses the same ideas and dynamics, would be laughed off any contemporary stage. Above is my other ebay find, a postcard, which I also paid too much for, but is also a rare item. Somebody had his autograph up a while ago, but I refused to follow the bidding into the stratosphere. Generally, however, my notification when the name Przybyszewski comes up on ebay pops up only once or twice a year, which is remarkable on such a world wide marketplace. In the end his presence is like that of the aforementioned snow, overwhelming when it’s there but leaving only traces over time.