Arno Schmidt – Neo-romantic postmodernist who revelled in wordplay, dialect, allusion, quotation, marginalia, footnotes, and etym-ological theories

Arno Schmidt, Collected Novellas: Collected Early Fiction 1949-1964, Trans. by John E. Woods (Dalkey Archive Press, 1994)

No one reads Arno Schmidt (1914-1979), a little-known major German writer whose corpus ranges from (seemingly) straightforward stories to writing that assails the reader with a literary and linguistic density of the highest degree—he is Germany’s Joyce.
Parsing Schmidt’s trade=mark syntax will reveal, among much else: tremendous wit, metanarratives, caustic social commentary, and passages fully charged with melopoeia.
English readers will have to wait for the amazing John E. Woods to finish translating Schmidt’s magnum opus, Zettels Traum (Bottom’s Dream)—it’s twice as long as Finnegans Wake—but, for the meantime, Woods has already provided us with sublime translations of Schmidt’s works, and he recommends the Collected Novellas as the place to start. In addition, I would suggest beginning with the volume Nobodaddy’s Children, which contains Scenes from the Life of a Faun, Brand’s Heath, and Dark Mirrors.-

"Arno Schmidt is one of the greatest German writers of the 20th century - and certainly the least well known of the top-tier authors. World War II delayed his debut, but he published furiously and extensively for some twenty-five years. Some of his early prose is still relatively straightforward - printed like normal text, read like any other work of fiction - but he is perhaps best known for the oversize typoscripts of his later years, including the notorious Überroman, Zettels Traum.In addition to the wide variety of fiction, he also wrote extensively on other authors. He wrote a remarkable study of Karl May and a biography of Fouqué. He wrote dozens of radio-programmes that served as extensive (and opinionated) introductions to a wide variety of classical and often overlooked (or misunderstood) authors. Beside his original writing, Schmidt also translated the works of others.
Arno Schmidt is not an easy author. He revelled in wordplay, dialect, allusion, quotation, marginalia, footnotes, and then his own etym-ological theories. The late works - the typoscripts, especially - are oversized meta-texts, marvels of modern literature.
Schmidt was an experimental writer - and yet one firmly grounded in literary tradition. Only James Joyce - one of the authors Schmidt was most interested in (especially his Finnegans Wake) - tried as much (and was as successful).
Many of Schmidt's works are specifically literary, with literature dominating both subject and form. Amazingly well-read, Schmidt's work can appear daunting - but it is invariably worth the effort.
His specifically German (literary) background and the many German references make some of the texts difficult for those unfamiliar with this tradition - but English-speakers have the advantage that some of Schmidt's favourite authors (or rather: greatest obsessions) included Poe (the subject of Schmidt's magnum opus, Zettels Traum) and James Joyce.
Certainly in the German-speaking countries Schmidt has also been tremendously influential on other writers - though this has perhaps not always been for the best.
...There are few authors who so clearly loved literature and who so literally revelled in it. Schmidt read more than most people ever could imagine reading (and wrote more, too - his output is incredible). He lived for little else, and it shows.
Schmidt is among the most interesting, challenging, and entertaining of authors. He should be better known, his work should be more widely read (except, one hopes, in creative fiction classes, where his influence might be too overpowering and could lead to some horrible results - though, given current trends, any such influence could probably only be for the better).
Read - enjoy - marvel ! His work allows it all." - The Complete Review

"This is the first in a four volume edition of the early fiction of one of the most daring and influential writers of postwar Germany, a man often called the German James Joyce due to the linguistic inventiveness of his fiction. The novella was Schmidt's preferred form at the beginning of his writing career, and this volume collects the ten novellas he wrote between "Entymesis" (1949) and "Republica Intelligentsia" (1957), most of the them appearing here in English for the first time. The settings range from ancient Greece to 21st-century America, but all react to the stifling conservatism and cold prudery of Adenauer Germany. Bursting with intellectual and sexual energies, resuscitating the German language after two decades of Nazi subjugation, these novellas revolutionized German literature in the 1950s and retain their power to shock and delight forty years later. Schmidt has been called a "giant of the modernist tradition, an enormously important talent in the fictional line of cruel comedy that runs from Rabelais through Swift and Joyce" (New York Review of Books). This edition of his collected fiction should restore Schmidt to his rightful place at the forefront of 20th-century writing."

"Collected Novellas is an enticing introduction to the twisted mind games of Schmidt, to his unusual prose, his raving, voracious mind. While the themes and stories alone warrant hefty works of fiction—war, devastation, love, art—it's the rambunctious style that brings these themes their power and their immediacy as well as their ability to capture, like Virginia Woolf, moments of being. Only Schmidt's moment is one of history's uglier, that of Nazi Germany, war on the western front, a POW camp, and postwar hypocrisy." - Rain Taxi

"Schmidt (1914-1979), often called "the German Joyce,'' began his publishing career in 1949 with the violent, fantasmagoric novella "Leviathan,'' which details the desperate final hours of Hitler's Berlin. Also gathered here are the author's nine other novellas, most of which are characterized by an aggressive, elliptical speed that resembles a kind of crazed journal writing. Many of the narratives are set in the ancient world, whose Imperial Rome is clearly meant to be analogous to Hitler's Reich. In "Enthymesis,'' we follow a Greek scientific expedition into the African desert, where the narrator attempts to rival Eratosthenes's calculations of the circumference of the earth. His jolting, deranged diary records the disintegration of his mission and its termination in the imaginary city of Hell, Weilaghiri (a place that turns up elsewhere in Schmidt's fiction). Schmidt ferociously satirizes the fascistic empire of the Greek conqueror in "Alexander.'' His prose yields arresting images-a peasant in "Leviathan,'' for instance, holding her child's severed head over "a greasy scarlet puddle''-and translator Woods seems to do justice to the author's glaring eccentricities of style and punctuation. But the style seems as dated as the objects of its satiric ire; only fleetingly does it produce genuine surprise and shock." - Publishers Weekly

Arno Schmidt, Nobodaddy's Children, Trans. by John E. Woods (Dalkey Archive Press, 1995)

"Nobodaddy's Children is a trilogy of novels that traces life in Germany from the Nazi era through the postwar years and into an apocalyptic future. Scenes from the Life of a Faun recounts the dreary life of a government worker who escapes the banality of war by researching the exploits of a deserter from the Napoleonic Wars nicknamed The Faun. Brand's Heath deals with the chaos of the immediate postwar period as a writer joins a small community of "survivors" to try to forge a new life, and Dark Mirrors is set in a future where civilization has been virtually destroyed. Dark Mirrors' narrator fears he may be the last man on earth until the discovery of another creates new fears. All three novels are characterized by Schmidt's unique combination of sharply observed details, sarcastic asides, and wide erudition."

"Arno Schmidt received little recognition during his lifetime; his work became popular only after his death. Called a "visual writer" because of his use of phonetic spelling, puns, wordplay, and varied typography and structure, he is now considered an influential figure in contemporary German literature. Nobodaddy's Children (Nobodaddy's Kinder: Trilogie, 1963) is a collection of three satirical novellas. "Brand's Heath" tells the story of a German POW named Schmidt who returns to his homeland after World War II. "Scenes from the Life of a Faun" concerns a civil servant's unsuccessful bid to escape Nazi influence. In "Dark Mirrors," we hear the thoughts of a survivor of atomic warfare. The thoughts in prose form represent a snapshot in time that allows for free association. Schmidt was clearly influenced by Joyce (in fact, he translated Joyce's works into German). The common elements in the stories are alienation, isolation, and overpowering melancholy. Recommended for literary collections." - Peggie Partello

Arno Schmidt, The Collected Stories, Trans. by John E. Woods (Dalkey Archive Press, 1996)

"Gathered here are all of the short stories that Arno Schmidt wished to preserve. They are grouped under three headings: the first two, Tales from Island Street and Sturenburg Stories, are a perfect spot to test Schmidtian waters, to hear the voice of a master storyteller. Twenty-five short tales written for a wide audience, they all share an eerie whimsy. It is as if Schmidt's beloved German Romantics were here with new stories for the modern reader. And then there is Country Matters, longer, more experimental stories written for the adventurous reader. Joyce and Freud are constant inspirations, but Schmidt's unique brand of intellectual ribaldry, shot through with the pain of our common humanity, enlivens all ten stories. Of the thirty-five stories in this volume, only two have previously appeared in English translation. Ranging from Schmidt at his most inviting and whimsical to Schmidt at his most cerebral and complex, the stories are a perfect introduction to his work."

"Nobody will ever mistake Schmidt for a conventional writer. In every piece in this collection of short stories, the German author deftly juggles stream-of-consciousness narration, bizarre stage direction/punctuation ("There ! Once again: - was Something up with me now?") and a strange, sly sense of humor-all deftly rendered by Woods, translator of the recent excellent editions of Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain. The result is experimental fiction of a very high order, narrative that will blow the socks off some readers while leaving others confused and alienated. The first two sections of this collection, titled Tales from Island Street and Strenburg Stories, respectively, are a excellent places to begin deciphering Schmidt. The freelance writings of an author desperate for money, these short stories are much more accessible than Schmidt's longer work, while still maintaining his unique voice. The final section, Country Matters, comes like a blow from a sledgehammer. The stories are longer, much more complex, and allusions to Joyce, Freud and scientific theorems flicker by at an unheard-of speed. For a collection spanning multiple levels of postwar German experimental fiction, it's hard to do much better than this book." - Publishers Weekly

"This, the third volume of Dalkey's projected four-volume series of translations of Schmidt's work, contains Tales from Island Street and the Strenberg Stories, unconventional but witty and accessible works that are the perfect introduction to this major, if obscure, artist. The remainder of the volume is gathered under the title "Country Matters" and includes the stories first published under the title Khe in Halbtrauer, or "Cows in Half Mourning," a reference to the black-and-white Holsteins prevalent in North Germany. While it would be impossible to characterize such a disparate collection in a few words, Schmidt often exposes the sexual, historical, and intellectual currents that course untamed beneath the superficially placid bourgeois society of postwar Germany, thereby creating an ironic space in which an outsider like himself could find some breathing room. Highly recommended." - Michael T. O'Pecko

Arno Schmidt, Two Novels, The Stony Heart and B/Moondocks, Translated by John E. Woods (Dalkey Archive Press, 1997)

"This is the last in a four volume edition of the early fiction of one of the most daring and influential writers of postwar Germany. Among Schmidt enthusiasts, scholars, and fans, the two novels stand in sharp contrast to one another, the first belonging to his early, more realistic phase, and the second introducing his later, more experimental phase. But the hairs are not worth splitting. Taking place in 1954, The Stony Heart concerns a man gathering documents for a study of a historian, and in the course of his search he gets involved with a woman who is married to a man who is involved with a woman, etc. B/Moondocks has parallel stories, one played out in a rural German town in the late 1950s, and the other on the moon in 1980 (the book was first published in German in 1960).
At the heart of both is an absolute commitment to two things: freeing language from its commonplace prose functions, and Schmidt's ongoing savage attack on the German mind-set and attitude that gave us two world wars in this century."

"The fictions of Arno Schmidt emit a unique and positively startling energy. Repulsively neurotic and grandly humane, elitist and self-consciously vulgar, formally conservative and a mold-smasher, Schmidt leaves his reader with the image of a governed mania, a kind of agonized self-control, that may finally be as flagrantly anachronistic as it is "modern." As the century that announced the death of the subject, the author, the novel and the book draws to a close, Schmidt's particular indifference to the philosophical and critical shifts signalled by those deaths takes on an air of paradox. First, because as an "intellectual," in the best sense of that term, Schmidt was more than equipped to respond to such signalings and the world-historical contexts from which they issued; instead, autodidactic and hostile to the academy, he became a one-man literary-critical industry, composing impassioned and isolationist manifestoes in defense of his own works. Second, because on a first reading his texts display all the familiar hallmarks (disjunction, interiority, linguistic "play," pastiche, parody, etc., etc.) of both modernist and postmodernist works of fiction; and because they do so with such inventive extremity as would be difficult to surpass on the printed page.
But Schmidt was a German who had served the Wehrmacht, and his vociferous postwar contempt for Nazism has not prevented Freudian-minded critics from locating a general strategy of denial at the root of Schmidt's resistance to the currents of European thought at midcentury. The author was born in Hamburg, completed his schooling there, worked in a textile factory, married, and was conscripted and sent to Norway in 1939, ending the war in a British P. O. W. camp. Leviathan, a volume of three wartime stories, appeared in 1949, securing for Schmidt the role of enfant terrible among emerging German writers.
Here are two novels, six years apart in composition; the first belonging to Schmidt's early period of formal realism, the second marking the beginning of a late and more experimental phase. According to the hierarchy of prose models mapped in Schmidt's literary-theoretical essays, the first novel demonstrates something entitled the "Porous Present" (musivisches Dasein); the second, no more self-evidently, is an instance of "Extended Mind Game" (Längeres Gedankenspiel). The first novel is subtitled "Historical Novel from Anno Domini 1954," the year in which the narrative is set; the second is introduced by the apocryphal caveat, "Persons attempting to smell out or , or indeed to perceive herein a will be shot." And finally, the first novel is set in the provincial German town of Ahlden and in East Berlin, while the second takes place in rural Giffendorf and, well, on the surface of the moon.
A Schmidt persona is remarkable in his invariance from one novel to the next. He is myopic, hemorrhoidal and dyspeptic, in need of a shave. He is a rabid atheist and morbid pacifist. He has a landscape painter's eye for the moon, the clouds, the forest, the heath stretched out in front of him. He is a raconteur, a bibliophile, a pedant. The voices of Western literature babble in his head in their original tongues. And he is nearly always with a woman. For Schmidt, Eros is pedagogy, and a persona's sexual impulse is nearly coextensive with his desire to Enlighten. Accordingly he is paired with a spirited but ultimately deferring female companion, who marvels at the fund of anecdote - historical, literary and linguistic - on which he draws, occasionally even making notes. "Did you know that...?" is how he holds up his end of a conversation, and in this tendency to focus, if not exclusively on himself, then on the things that interest him (which ought to interest everyone else) he recalls the volubly preoccupied bumblers of Saul Bellow, roughly Schmidt's contemporary. At times he notes the vaguest outlines of an Other superimposed upon his own, but stops only long enough to register a chill before returning to the pursuit of his own charms. And so the companion acquires a fond, if diminutive nickname (here, "the urbanette," or "Little Blasé"), and is led out for a long discursive ramble on the heath. And that's that.
"Character," as we know it, is therefore secondary: everything is mediated by the consciousness of an immensely present "I," whom Schmidt insistently identified as his author-self (in the critical essays, and within the fictions themselves--for example, by the assignment of Arno Schmidt's name, biography and oeuvre to the narrating persona). C'est moi, Schmidt announces proudly, smugly; the persona's female companion quickly becomes a mere dimension or projection of that moi, who bloats beyond E. M. Forster's conception of "roundness" even as he keeps her from it. Plot also is minimized, in fidelity to the quotidian nature of real life, and may consist for long stretches of little more than walking and conversation.
What may be sniffed out here is this: The Stony Heart (Das steinerne Herz) is narrated by a scholar named Walter Eggers (the homophonic proximity to "alter ego" is no coincidence) who visits the granddaughter of a research subject, seduces her, and abets her husband's extramarital affair. Between bouts of antic lovemaking (and diarrhea) he day-trips to East Berlin to steal a book, elaborates a history of the maltreated wife of an eighteenth century Hanover prince, and locates a fortune in gold stashed in his hosts' attic. A parody of Goethe's Romantic tragedy Elective Affinities (Wahlverwandtschaften, 1809), this schema also adapts the structure of the detective story (one of several popular genres Schmidt appropriates) and, it has been suggested, employs a complex psychoanalytic iconography by which the three principal characters embody the ego, the superego and the id respectively.
Structurally, the novel accretes in mosaic form, each tile or tessera performing the double function of isolating a moment of experience and displaying it in its figural relation to other tiles and batches of tiles. Each tile is further subdivided by parentheses, dashes, serial semicolons and colons and slashes spaced on either side to emphasize their breakage. This is, Schmidt argued, a formal imitation of the disjunctive and discontinuous reality of consciousness, and it is meant to decelerate, defamiliarize, "dehydrate" (Schmidt's term) the act of reading--to force a reader out of his or her receptive passivity into participation in the "process" of the text. Familiar modernist and postmodernist precepts, all. What is interesting in Schmidt, however, is the attachment, indeed the restriction, of such consciousness--fragmented as it may be--to one overwhelmingly self-aggrandizing subject: the same controlling personality that Woolf and Eliot sought above all to extinguish. The individual elements of this subject's thought may be chaotic and fleeting, but his able (and cheerfully narcissistic) person entirely contains them:
Back and forth : brushing teeth. (And knelt the while before the
morrow's crate. Surrounded by thought-gangs. Symplegades of
addicted notions.)
Dewfall is augmented by moonlight : on the horizon a star began to
blink : shortshort : long : short / Long : shortshort! (So then, and
, if I haven't forgotten everything ? - - But then I soon gave it up;
wasn't gettin' nothing; and the fat fellow went on busily tinseling.
Just for himself. Yom came the day, leila the night).
Consequently, she must be 40 ! - An oakleaf dangled in the moon's
disheveled face. Moi took himself sleepily in his arms : one of those
villas over there wouldn't be all that silly : not. silly. at. all.-
Mygodit'sonlyfour! : and try and try as I would, I could sleep no more !
Every dog yelped splotches in my dozings. Out of bungled flabby-
spongy gray. A motorcycle dragged balls of sound on past; in the
middle, great ones raged, shoving into each other.
To read Schmidt for the first time is either to find this immediately toxic--philosophically, methodologically, syntactically--or else to be utterly seduced by the delights of what might be called Schmidt's "hyperrealism"--the meticulous moment-by-moment capture and transmission of experience. The delights are real: Schmidt's élan vital, a compound of towering intelligence, profound (if grudging) humanity, and exuberant wit, is quite simply off the scale of anything you may have read before. Even a mature reader may recall that instantaneous, uncritical intoxication that marks one's first discoveries of the essential force of language. And yet to continue to read Schmidt after being seduced is gradually to come to question the net worth of such instantaneous and, it must be said, unrepeatable pleasures. Like that of any egoist, Schmidt's company is nearly sinister in its regard of audience as a mere receptacle for the deposit of his experience. When you mark your five hundredth page of such prose (which evolves only minimally throughout Schmidt's mature oeuvre), you begin to wonder if its creator ever considered a method besides that of transcribing the impressions of eponymous personae. When you mark your one thousandth page, you feel entitled to conclude that he did not.
Kaff auch Mare Crisium, rendered here as Boondocks/Moondocks, is comprised of two sub-novels--a doubling made manifest in the formal patterning of the text--its Mosaikarbeit--as well as in narrative content. On the page, concatenations of tiles aligned with the left margin follow the "real time" adventures (again, largely walks and talks in the countryside) of one Karl Richter, factory inventory controller, and his companion, textile designer Hertha Theunert, on holiday in the rural town of Giffendorf. Periodically this text is interrupted by blocks of tiles indented from the margin, in which there unfolds the story of Charles Hampden, an American librarian living in a post-nuclear apocalypse moon colony. This secondary thread is a tale improvised by Karl to Hertha's audience, and it is designed to coax her into more frequent and less inhibited sex. Events in the Karl/Hertha narrative cross dialectically into the moon narrative and back again in a kind of chemistry of association:
The hides tannd - wasn't hard to figger now - : soles from coarse
peasant=types. Uppers from intellecktuals. Children yeelded the
finest book=bindings. Vir=gins . . .
("Oh no, Karlykins; please don't smut it up - it's alreddy so . . . :
Tho there mite be somethin' to it."; (the last in demi=voyce very
alterd, unvirginall . . . . .
. . . . . The skulls yielded drinking=cups - well=known & =loved
in Germanick=circles, too - for those of contrary 'pinions :
footed & edged in gold, they made vottka=ware very much in
demand . . . .
( : "Rosamunnde> -" came the full=length whisper at my side,
thot=full & well=educated. : "And had
an x=cellent understanding of their man=ufackture as well,
Immediately one marks the delighted subversion of the didactic origins of the English novel; for the moon story, Schmidt also hijacks elements of science fiction and utopia, grafting them to the Nibelungenlied, and primary (direct quotation) and secondary (coded reference) allusions to Joyce, Karl May, Jules Verne, the Brontës, Lewis Carroll, and Poe (to name just a few) quite literally pepper the text. Then there is the Kaff--"chaff"--of the title: at once an agricultural term referencing the rural setting of the Karl/Hertha narrative and a heading for the wealth of "realia" inserted into the twin narratives in the form of astronomical, agricultural and botanical data, biblical and historical citations, mathematical tables, and contemporaneous news.
In Boondocks/Moondocks, individual tiles are subdivided even more extensively by slashes: "Yikes! : Someone staring pretty sheepishly at me. But not skwinting at least; so it'll pass maybe. / Naturally Everyone lives alone behind his face=flesh. / And the voice from my self=self had a very snappy, ruthless sound." Long passages of phonetically spelled Platt and Silesian dialect, rendered in English as a kind of composite outer-borough New Yorkese, further retard the progress of the reader's eye. Punctuation marks are deployed independently and in series to stand for facial expressions and gestures:
-. -. -. -. / "?" : "- ; . . . !". / -. -. -. -. / : :
"So tell me : how is she related t' you - xactly ?"
What is still more radical, words themselves begin to break down into individual morphemes, which Schmidt glosses inventively before reassembling them, often using the "=" connective, which he thought established a semantic and rhythmic balance missing from "Websterian" compound words. Out of an intensive study of Freud and Joyce, Schmidt elaborated a theory of "etyms," or linguistic elements of the subconscious which, like unintended slips or puns, "speak for" the sexual drives. Hence the un-orthography of "gynetick," "indickated," "speshallist," "purrmission," "fastiddyous," "depicktion," "visiball," "inno=scent," "pracktickle," "mammorize," "x=assperating," "loocrative," and "impenitrubble" - to offer just a page's worth.
What is this but deconstruction? Here, too, Schmidt embodies a paradox. To the extent that the "etym" theory and its practice undermine the notion of conscious intentionality in language, they genuinely approach a poststructuralist conception of language speaking by, and from, and "out of" itself. But in so far as Schmidt disassembles language principally in order to encode it with elements pointing back into and at the psychoanalytically accessed origin of the authorial self, he has merely substituted one (possibly more) centralized and "logocentric" interpretive schema for another. How strange! One can see the creators of authorless texts shaking their heads in one camp, and the traditionalists screwing up their faces at Schmidt's mosaic tiles and crazy spelling in the other. In order accurately to classify Schmidt, one would finally have to invent such an implosive category as the "neo-Romantic postmodernist."
One need only think of Beckett, another contemporary, to see how this endgame differs so radically from that envisioned by modernism and its heirs, from the nouveau roman to Language poetry to cyberpunk fiction to the anonymously collaborative, common-property hypertexts now evolving on electronic networks. Consider these lines from the final passage of Molloy:
I have been a man long enough, I shall not put up with it any more, I shall not try any more. I shall never light this lamp again. I am going to blow it out and go into the garden.Arno Schmidt seems never to have conceived of such a garden. His authorial lamp was always lit, so he could see to write, and he died writing. His ferocious independence, which refused the principal Western philosophical revaluation of the twentieth century--that of the primacy of the self--is at once admirable and a little sad, like Pope's conviction that newspapers would wipe out literature, or Arnold's terror of the philistines, or the technophobia of those who are presently lamenting, once again, the decline of literary culture.
Ultimately, however, the value of such extreme conviction is that it invites one to test oneself against it and thereby to discover what one believes. In that sense, the service provided us by John E. Woods, Schmidt's remarkable translator, and by Dalkey Archive Press is an invaluable one: it offers an Anglophone reader the opportunity to enter the culture wars in the company of one of its most persuasive and inimitable partisans." - Brian Lennon

Arno Schmidt, Radio Dialogs I, Trans. by John E. Woods (Green Integer, 1998)

"When Schmidt was finally translated into English in 1981, the critic Robert M. Adams noted that Schmidt's work extended the tradition of "cruel comedy" that had run from Rabelais, via Swift, to Joyce."We should have known his work sooner," he concluded... The radio dialogs represent some of the "conversations" Schmidt performed on radio from 1955 to 1971. In twenty-two dialogs, selected from thirty-four published radio dialogs, Schmidt discussed a wide range of literary writing, from the works of German Romanticism to discussions of American and British writers, engaging his German audiences and challenging them to reexamine the canon. Included in Radio Dialogs I are dialogs on German authors Barthold Heinrich Brockes, Christoph Martin Wieland, Ludwig Tieck, and Karl May; the British Brontës, and the Irish master James Joyce."

"Arno Schmidt was amazingly well-read. He was not only aware of tradition, but intimately familiar with it, and this is reflected throughout his writings. Schmidt was one of the great experimentalists of the 20th century, but he was also solidly a part of the Western/European literary tradition: all his writing clearly had its antecedents there. In this he can certainly be compared to Joyce, one of the few authors to use the literary past as effectively in completely novel works.
Between 1955 and 1971 Schmidt wrote over thirty literary dialogues, to be broadcast on the radio, about a wide variety of authors - mainly German, but also some English and American, mainly from before the 20th century. Green Integer intends to publish translations of nineteen of these in three volumes - of which this is the first.
Schmidt is a great guide to literature: he is, admittedly, very opinionated, but he is also undeniably incredibly knowledgeable. He has actually read all these books by all these authors, and he understands the context in which they were written, and the biographical and literary-historical details of importance. Equally importantly, Schmidt is very conscious of his role as entertainer. The idea of these "literary dialogues" is a brilliant one (and we acknowledge being strongly influenced by them in writing the Literary Saloon dialogues at the cr Quarterly). His "radio dialogs" effectively convey a great deal of information, give a good sense of the authors and works under discussion - and make for some fine drama too. Significantly, they also read very well.
Translator Woods begins with a short introduction - a brief biographical note about Schmidt and some detail about these dialogues and the characters covered in them. (One unfortunate - and very disappointing - slip must be noted: Woods offers "a sentence or two" about each of the authors discussed by Schmidt - including, tantalizingly, Johann Gottfried Schnabel (who, we are told, was in "Schmidt's pantheon of literary gods"). The only problem is that the Schnabel-dialogue (a grand one, by the way - and particularly important in terms of some of Schmidt's own work) is not included in this volume.)
A Prelude, then, is the first of Schmidt's works here - a sort of mini-dialogue arguing against the dry, academic approach to literature, of reducing it to mere scholarship. Literature is a vibrant thing, Schmidt insists, and in conclusion he has his three speakers "swear in unison": "I have resolved : to treat all who have ever written, whether out of love and hate, as alive and living !" It is certainly one of Schmidt's credos in the dialogues that follow.
The first dialogue, Nothing is Too Small for Me, is about one of the obscurer writers Schmidt covers, Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1736). For Schmidt: "he was the first to advance - resolutely, tenaciously, and most consistently - toward the border of realism", or, indeed, simply "The First Realist" (far ahead of Adalbert Stifter). The dialogue has only two speakers, working in tandem (unlike in some of the more contentious dialogues). It includes extensive quotes from Brocke's work - though these are barely even a smattering of what the man wrote.
Brockes is typical of the authors Schmidt admired, with his efforts at precision, his large-scale ambition, and his devotion to minutiae. He was responsible for the nine volumes of the Earthly Pleasures in God, in whose "precise surfeit of ten thousand pages : we have everything right here in Germany." This is Schmidt's type of encyclopaedism: "the integral of the entire range of the language for the past thousand years".
Brockes also "translates in his spare time" - an internationalism that also appeals to sometime-translator and literarily very worldly Schmidt. His description of Brockes' efforts are also revealing about his own attitudes towards the peculiar endeavour of translation:
Nevertheless, all his translations are laudable attempts at transposing foreign masterpieces into a heterogeneous system of sound & syntax
Brockes' life and career are summarily presented - an interesting story as well. Along with the liberal excerpts the dialogue gives a good impression of an author who is essentially unknown and unread (and whose works are practically impossible to find).
The subject of the second dialogue, Christoph Martin Wieland, is more widely read - more now than when Schmidt wrote the piece, it appears. Wieland, or, the Forms of Prose is again a two person dialogue, but here the speakers are more typical of Schmidt's literary dialogues:
A.: elderly, tends to lecture
B.: young; fiery=impatient; loves to interrupt
It begins with present-day (1957) events intruding, and B. annoyed by how little mankind and civilization seems to have progressed. A. then brings up the prolific Wieland as a counter-example to the idea that like mankind, writers don't progress, that every author only has a single book in him (each new book being a mere variation on the theme) - i.e. that even the artist does not evolve and change.
Wieland wrote a great and varied amount - "a life's work of 54 volumes". Among his works are many dialogues (certainly influencing Schmidt in his), and he often used historical material, reshaping it for his (and modern) purposes - much as Schmidt does in some of his fiction. But Schmidt would probably even have been drawn to him simply for the fact that: "He had several fallings out with Goethe" (Schmidt being notoriously less than impressed by Goethe).
Aside from his own writing, Wieland exhibits another trait familiar in many Schmidt-favoured authors: enriching a literature by bringing in foreign works. Wieland "was the first to present 22 of Shakespeare's plays in translation".
As an author Wieland is praised for his intellectualism: his heroes are intellectual, well-educated, "utterly this-worldly" - far different from what is found in, for example, Romantic literature. He also has real (if idealized) women characters: rather than the frail, romanticized creatures so many others create his women are clever, businesslike, "very independent". Schmidt also emphasizes the variety of approaches that Wieland took in shaping his art - and specifically the appropriateness of each form to what Wieland was trying to do in a given work (contrasting this nicely with what Schmidt sees as Goethe's crude efforts).
Schmidt gives one sample of his work - a generous ten pages, the least he apparently figures could give even the beginning of an impression of Wieland's writing.
Fifteen: The Prodigy of Meaninglessness considers Ludwig Tieck. It is a dialogue between a "Reporter" and a "Listener & doubter" - along with three voices to read the various quotes, and two gongs (one "normal, matter of fact", the other "gives a bright effervescent trill").
The central figure is cleverly introduced with a quote from a visiting traveller: James Fenimore Cooper, envious of what admiration the arts arouse in Europe (as opposed to the indifferent mob back in America: "logs could hardly be less receptive"). (Throughout the dialogue quotes - especially from Tieck's own work - are used very effectively, and more ambitiously than in the earlier dialogues.)
Tieck was a real book-lover - "a real book fiend" -, as obsessed as Schmidt. His library "once contained sixteen thousand volumes" (even Schmidt has to italicize in awe and admiration), and though Tieck sold them all (apparently to unburden himself) "he at once began to collect again, faster than ever", accumulating eleven thousand volumes in short order.
Schmidt provides a nice overview of Tieck's curious life, especially in considering him within the broader Romantic tradition ("'Romantics' - as you can hear I use this falsest of all terms only in quotation marks"). The dialogue - the longest included here - strays far into the Romantic field, with Schmidt offering his interpretation of that whole movement.
In closing one also finds Schmidt's lament of how hard it is to find much of Tieck's work (a situation that has also been largely rectified over the past forty years). And, at least for literary pedants like us, it's still fun to hear him rant about various editions of an author's work: "Beware of 2 volumes edited by Paul Ernst with a famous pompous Afterword and the equally famous sloppy texts", etc.
Abu Kital, or, Concerning the new Grand Mystic is about the odd Karl May, one of the most popular German authors for adolescents who, despite writing many works set in America, never really caught on in the United States. (Schmidt would go on to write a longer study of May, Sitara (1963).)
Schmidt isn't a great fan of most of May's popular adventure-tales, concluding: "heed my advice, and stick strictly to just these two: In the Realm of the Silver Lion and Ardistan and Jinnistan". These two books, he grants, are remarkable; the rest of May's oeuvre is decidedly less so. Still May was a fascinating figure - a complete and remarkable fraud - and so the biographical detail is also of considerable interest. Schmidt is largely dismissive of May and his influence, but he still considers it fairly closely.
Of particular interest is the transformation of the work - not by May but by his publishers:
Over the course of time, you see - be it in the GDR, in Austria, or even in the Federal Republic - the works of Karl May have been frequently and thoroughly "edited" - or, to put it more precisely : "debased".
Schmidt's close reading of the changes is both incredibly sad and hilarious, as different regimes, publishers, and editors all put there stamp on the texts. Poor literature ! it never seems to stand a chance ! Beside ideological changes, Schmidt even points to "thousands of lines of blank verse" that "have been 'de-iambified'" - "throttled iambics" reduced to "rattletrap" that now rolls along "in the crudest halting rhythms." (So it is not just American publishers that show no respect for authors or the written word....)
Schmidt was also very familiar with English-language literature, and numerous of his dialogues deal with English and American authors. The two included here consider the Brontë-sisters and James Joyce.
Angria & Gondal: The Dream of the Dove-Gray Sisters deals specifically with the "Extended Mind Game" that the Brontë's are left to occupy themselves with in their isolation. They famously lost themselves in - and wrote extensively about - imagined worlds: Angria, and Gondal.
Much of the dialogue offers a biographical overview of the sisters: more such detail than in the other dialogues, as German-speakers were less likely to know anything about these lives. English readers will be familiar with much that he writes about Emily, Anne, and Charlotte - and Branwell, of course - but his focus on this long-sustained fictional world is a useful perspective.
The final dialogue, The Triton with the Parasol offers: Reflections on a Readable German Rendering of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. Schmidt truly appreciated what Joyce was trying to do in Finnegans Wake, and it was a very important book for him. (His admiration for it was much like Nabokov's for Ulysses.) He studied it for years, in part hoping to translate it. Schmidt's work in this area - "idiosyncratic" as his view of the book was, as Woods notes in his introduction - is considered to be important. (They have even published a German edition of his annotated copy of the Wake.)
The dialogue has not one but two questioners, both quite overwhelmed. It begins, challengingly (especially for a radio piece), with a nearly five-page excerpt from Finnegans Wake. Schmidt suggests: "The language of the WAKE has to be learned". He suggests how this might be done, how the language (and the text) must be approached and what resources must be at hand.
It is a good introduction to how one might look at the Wake - though there is an sense of distortion in reading this particular version of the text: it considers translations of the work in German which are here offered in the original (i.e. much of the issue at issue is non-existent in the English version of the text). Some of the most interesting points are thus, to a certain extent, lost - but Joyce's work (and his language) is far enough removed from what we understand to be English that Schmidt's discussion is of interest to English-speaking readers as well.
...These dialogues are informative and entertaining. Anyone who loves literature should love how it is presented here. Highly recommended." - The Complete Review"This, then, my credo : directed against all the literal=airy men and aged seekers of textual variants, bundles of stinkhorns in their crippled hands . . .
Weary of wandering wastelands of letters full of vacuous brainchildren and hidden in pretentious verbal fogs; disgusted with both aesthetic sweet-talkers and grammatical waterers of drink; I have resolved : to treat all who have ever written, whether out of love and hate, as alive and ever living ! - - -"
Arno Schmidt, whose work is gradually being made available in English by the proficient and adventurous translator John E. Woods (also responsible for recent renditions of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain and Buddenbrooks) is one of German literature's best kept secrets. Like Joyce, who is the subject of the final piece in the book, Schmidt indulged in unorthodox punctuation, spellings, and grammatical experimentation; his work is also acerbic, somewhat misanthropic, maddening and entertaining - the result, most likely, of the cruel segment of German history he witnessed, and of his lively intelligence. All of the characteristics of his fiction are toned down somewhat in this collection of "radio dialogs" - and understandably so, as these were his concessions to entertainment, his way of making a living. The dialogs do, however, make use of his radiant passion for literature, as well as some of his odd, but effective, punctuation.
Radio Dialogs I, which is the first of three volumes of such plays, contains five of the many "Evening Programs" Schmidt wrote for Süddeutsche Rundfunk (South German Broadcast). It's hard to imagine this being anyone's "bread and butter work," much less to imagine a radio station airing such programs today, but this was the late 1950s/early '60s; there were far fewer TV celebrities to vie with. While the scripts of Radio Dialogs I are animated by characters identified merely as "A.," for example, "tends to lecture," or "1st questioner; firmly-scornful," what makes these discussions so lively is that the voices all seem to be those of the sometimes-cranky, often-irresistible Arno Schmidt himself. In these discussions, for which he wrote all the parts, Schmidt plays all of his devils and their advocates with equal ferocity. Despite their sketchy descriptions at the offset, all of the voices take on large personalities as they pontificate on, and pillory, or simply ramble playfully about Schmidt's favorite subjects: literature, literature, and literature.
In these five dialogs, Schmidt takes on 17th-century poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes, whom he admires for his "realism" and surfeit ("we have everything right here in Germany); Ludwig Tieck, one of the "Four Great Romantics"; Christoph Martin Wieland, whose name appears more than a couple times in his own fiction; and the prolific SF writer, or "Great Mystic," Karl May. He ventures across the channel for his pieces on the Brontës and James Joyce, and along the way comes up with some idiosyncratic definitions of realism, romanticism, and classicism. Telling tales of these authors' lives, arguing about the texts, and citing long passages from the authors' work, the dialogs destroy any tendencies toward idol-worship but still convey a deep respect and fascination.
The piece on the Brontë sisters comes as the greatest surprise in the collection. Schmidt's radio persona tells a good rendition of the sisters' childhood on the moors, and especially of their 1000-page creation of Angria & Gondal, but his fascination with "the Dove-Gray Sisters" becomes most obvious when he says, "What is left is for the final salvation of many a youthful genius who finds her- or himself in extremity. What is left is - (with impressive emphasis) : the <> !" Clearly, an author's ability to actively engage his/her own mind, preferably in a vacuum of sorts, forms the basis of much of Schmidt's literary taste. When defending Karl May, often considered a second-rate kids' author, "A." brings up May's dreary childhood with a particular sense of awe, describing how, as a result of poor nutrition, May was actually blind for four years.
In his discussion of Finnegans Wake, the ultimate literary mind game, one character proposes the idea of a "readable German rendering" of this Irish novel, while the others offer both encouragement and guffaws. Apparently Schmidt himself endeavored some translations of Joyce's most difficult book, and this play seems closest to capturing Schmidt's own writerly dilemmas, as well as the dilemmas of Schmidt's translator. Skeptical "B." says, "the English original is totally out-of-the-question for the German reader! - He can only hope that sooner or later, there will be a passably clear, humanely-paraphrased and richly commented Germanization that mediates for him some notion of what Joyce intended with FW." I imagine Woods cringing at these words, his own task in translating Schmidt's fiction being similar in its seeming impossibility. One voice describes Finnegans Wake as "well-equipped with sawtoothed prefixes, bedraggletailed with sly suffixes, croaking away pseudo-profoundly in err-earthly details" - not a bad description of some of Schmidt's fiction as well.
Woods makes his way through Joyce via Schmidt with grace and humor. The Radio Dialogs convey more than a "passably clear" vision into Schmidt's mind games, at the same time illuminating a pathway toward the even more dense and rewarding phrasings of his fiction." - Carolyn Kuebler

Arno Schmidt, Radio Dialogs II, Trans. by John E. Woods. (Green Integer, 2003)

"As in the first volume of Radio Dialogs, published by Green Integer in 1999, this second volume contains dialogic discussions of literary figures, performed over German radio from 1953 to 1971 by the great German novelist. Here Schmidt discusses, again, his beloved James Joyce, as well as the English writer Bulwer-Lytton, and the German language authors Johann Gottfried Schnabel, Adalbert Stifter, and Gustav Frenssen."

"This pocket-sized volume is the second of three collecting Schmidt's musings on writers and their works. As one might expect from this most ludic author, one of the more undeservedly unknown masters of twentieth-century prose, these essays are hardly traditional academic exercises. Rather, they appear in the form of two- or three-part conversations between nameless speakers, playlets about such figures as Herder, Frenssen, Bulwer-Lytton, and Joyce, and were originally broadcast on German radio mainly in the 1950s and sixties. As most of the names under discussion are relatively unrecognizable to readers of English-raise your hand if you've never heard before of Johann Schnabel's 2,300-page utopia, Felsenburg Island-the central appeal of this translation of Radio Dialogs lies not in what Schmidt says about other writers, but in what his comments suggest about his own work. The Joyce chapter is most telling in this regard. In it, two of Schmidt's somewhat Beckettian characters attempt to make sense of the many connotations of the coinages in Finnegans Wake: "A: ... What does an Englishman ... think about when he hears the syllable ?" "B. (reserved): Well, a poetical : ... and or .-(experimenting): ..." "A.: Hmyes. There are, of course, still more ... but that's enough.... We had best invent a new technical term for use on this compelling evening of Ours.... What shall We call this basic structure of the linguistic fabric that ties so many things together? What might be available?-(feigns enlightenment): : the system of genuine meaning : let Us simply baptize this polyvalenced fellow an -agreed?" "B. Presuming there's not some other new trick hidden in it."
Many of Schmidt's books, of course, are rich in meaning precisely because they are built of such etyms. These are strung together by a system of punctuation far more difficult to parse than in the above example; Radio Dialogs would have benefited from a more comprehensive introduction to Schmidt's methods and perhaps an explanation of how this kind of typographical holy-foolery came across in an aural medium. Such supporting material isn't essential, however, and the book is unquestionably an intriguing puzzle that provides an infinite number of launching points for study and imagination." - James Crossley
"Arno Schmidt's radio dialogues are among the small literary gems of recent times. Written for (and broadcast on) German radio in the 1950s and 60s they were an attempt to bring the work of several dozen German and English authors to the attention of the reading public. They were not, however, merely didactic (though they certainly were that too), but were genuine entertainments - dramatized dialogues (that fortunately also read very well). In one of the more admirable contemporary publishing ventures, Green Integer is presenting a generous (but, alas, not complete) selection of English translations of them in three volumes. (Green Integer may appear generous in devoting resources to publishing these odd, fat little books about generally obscure and unknown authors, but we suspect that if the reading public ever catches on to what wonderful things these volumes are they'll be flying off the shelves.)
Schmidt means to educate his listeners into readers with these dialogues, suggesting what true literature might have to offer. His success here lies in how he goes about it: this isn't pedantic professor-talk, lecturing to the listener or reader. No, this is passionate discussion, by an author with a true love for literature (and, like Nabokov, a very precise notion of what literature is (or might be)). And it is very learned passion: this isn't some young poet, swooning abstractly: Schmidt has read... well, it sometimes seems like: everything, and he marshals good (if occasionally odd) arguments. He conveys his philosophy of life - which is, of course, largely a philosophy or reading (and/or writing) - and while he might not completely win over all readers, he at least convincingly shows what literature can be to anyone open to it. And all the while he entertains too, making for a marvelous, exciting reading experience.
Schmidt does revel in obscurity - there's no discussion of Goethe or Thomas Mann here (well, they do find mention in some of his dialogues - but he doesn't hold them in quite the high regard many others do). Schmidt concentrates on authors that he believes are overlooked (and was, in fact, almost single-handedly responsible for the renewed interest in some of them in the German-speaking countries over the past decades). The unfamiliar names should not be off-putting to English-speaking readers: some of these authors are hardly more familiar to German-speaking readers (and one in this collection - Edward Bulwer-Lytton - certainly less so). And at least one of the authors in this collection is at least very familiar: James Joyce.
The first dialogue in this collection introduces Johann Gottfried Schnabel, author of a mammoth novel called Insel Felsenburg ("Felsenburg Island") - "a utopian Robinsoniade, a self-contained island of words to which Schmidt was only too happy to escape", as Woods describes it in his introduction. Schmidt admits the work is not entirely a success - perhaps not surprising given how it got bloated to 2500 pages:
the dubious=obscene tintinnabulation grows louder and louder : the 1st and 2nd volumes are wonderfully fresh; but the 3rd is still already dubious, and the 4th nothing but a pitiable concoction "for the remuneration."
But he still thinks more of it than "the far far more shallow Robinson Crusoe". Such island-worlds, cut off from civilization and allowing civilization to arise anew is a Schmidt favourite: he does it in several of his own books Schnabel's book particularly fascinates him because it is something he (and others) have effectively been able to cannibalize: literary influence always interests Schmidt, the trail of copying and imitation, and one of the admirable qualities of Schnabel's text was how it allowed itself to be used by others (while, at the same time, itself practically becoming lost and forgotten, overcome, in a sense, by the works built up on it).
Schmidt also goes on an extended tangent showing the similarities between Tristan da Cunha and Felsenburg island - interesting, among other reasons, because Schmidt points out:
Uncanny is when I have to discover the following absurdity : that people live on Tristan da Cunha in the same fashion Schnabel sketched for them - at a time when the island group was devoid of all human life.
The second dialogue discusses a more familiar figure, Johann Gottfried Herder. Another Schmidt-favourite, Christoph Martin Wieland (discussed in Radio Dialogs I) recognised Herder's talents early on, Schmidt quoting him: "I am eager to see what becomes of him : a perfect fool; or more probably, a very great writer !" As Schmidt explains:
For Wieland had spotted, and delighted in, that rarest of literary phenomena : a mind of polymath cast, for whom words tumble onto paper like a thick flurry of hot ashes. And here, in the case of Herder, or nowhere, is the place for an explicit vindication of such unfortunates : it is not easy to be a polymath !
Schmidt follows Herder's complicated life - enjoying, of course, among other things the comparison with Herder's sometime friend Goethe (who went on to greater success, but who Schmidt certainly holds to be generally less worthy). Schmidt - himself no easy, sociable fellow - understands the difficulties the difficult man Herder faced:
For it is a truism that all writers are incapable of friendship in the bourgeois sense, and moody by nature, undependable in their habits and malicious as monkeys.
A prolific writer (Schmidt loves his prolific writers) who struggled for much of his life and ultimately was likely too ambitious for his own good: Schmidt recognises his important contributions - but also notes: "one never feels quite at ease when reading Herder" and points out that: "one can refute Herder with Herder at every point !"
The third dialogue is about Adalbert Stifter, and in particular his Nachsommer (a title translated here as Indian Summer (and, in one unfortunate typo, Indian Surnmer), which doesn't convey the beauty of the far more appropriate German word (literally: "After-summer"). Here, for once, Schmidt tackles an author who is - or was, at the time - well-known and favoured: "For some time now, Adalbert Stifter has been idolized, to the point one hardly dares having one's own opinion about his work".
Nachsommer is another massive work - "1 point 4 million letters ! - and Schmidt is certainly all for what appears to be the fundamental idea behind it. As he explains, he believes:
There is one thing, however, that every poet should achieve just once : leave us a picture of the time in which he lived !
Stifter's novel certainly aspires to be such a work - but Schmidt finds much fault with it:
The pleonastic banality of the language must at last be branded for what it is; for consciously, or unconsciously, making a point of expressing anything and everything as prolixy as possible, whether out of elegant boredom or perhaps, as well, out of a helpless fear of the world.
The fourth dialogue is an "exercise in tolerance", a look at the author Gustav Frenssen, taking the centennial of his birth to attempt a re-appraisal of the once famous but then disgraced Frenssen, one of the few German authors of any talent that actively supported the Nazi regime. Frenssen was also an extremely popular author, and Schmidt finds that in Frenssen's case this likely also complicated an accurate appraisal of his worth, as it was his poorer, less demanding works that found popular appeal, while his better (and more demanding) stuff was too difficult for many to deal with - making the best of his work less likely to fall into the hands of even those who might be receptive to it.
Schmidt shows that even the case of Frenssen is not easily reduced to black and white, and he handles the complex issues well. A good survey of the author's life and work, it culminates in his finding at least one of Frenssen's works - Otto Babendiek - "not top rank, certainly not; but all the same a good second-level masterpiece". In fact, he says if he had to reduce his library to a mere three hundred volumes, "it would be among them" - high praise indeed. (Surprise, surprise, by the way: Otto Babendiek weighs in at thirteen hundred pages.)
(In this dialogue one unfortunately finds the repeated misspelling (and printing in capital letters) of the name "FRIEDRICH NEITZSCHE": quite irritating.)
Arno Schmidt translated about two dozen works from English into German, notably Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, Stanislaus Joyce's My Brother's Keeper, several James Fenimore Cooper novels - and two of Edward Bulwer-Lytton's most massive novels, My Novel and What will he do with it ?. ("What will he do with it ?" is surely something everybody thought about those two manuscripts... but he did get them published.) The fifth dialogue bravely tackles Edward Bulwer-Lytton - and, in less than seventy pages, offers a more well-rounded picture of the man and especially his work than, for example, the most recent English-language biography, Leslie Mitchell's Bulwer Lytton. Schmidt again is very good in pointing out influence and regard, something otherwise easily overlooked, and while he skims across the surface manages still to provide a great deal of salient detail, giving a better impression of the man's accomplishments and significance than most full-length biographies or studies.
As mentioned in the Stifter dialogue, Schmidt has a weakness for writers capturing their times, and Bulwer fit the bill with the novels that were "comprehensive portraits of the age" - which include, of course, the two novels Schmidt translated. Of course, not everyone will be won over by praise such as:
At least the first 1,000 pages are the match for any of the familiar & approved large=solid family portraits d'outre mer - and as for psychological subtlety ? : here and there BULWER is capable of outdoing them=all !
The final dialogue is about James Joyce, written for the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death. (Another Joyce-dialogue can be found in Radio Dialogs I.)
Schmidt's Joyce fascination is focussed almost entirely on the two last works: Ulysses and Finnegans Wake ("You would eliminate all the rest ?"; the answer: "In brief : yes"). He quickly goes through the earlier work, and then expands on the two favoured novels, offering his perspectives. On Ulysses he's not that far beyond popular explication - but with Finnegans Wake he indulges in his pet etym-theory, showing how the book might be read, and insisting:
the queer, indeed forbidding prose of FINNEGAN is therefore not 'a higher foolishness'; but rather is perfectly open to a decoding. Indeed to several
Again: not everyone is going to be convinced. Still, as always, Schmidt puts on a good show in explaining what he means.
The dialogues are also enjoyable for some asides about literature in general, and it's place in the contemporary world, and Schmidt makes some fine points along the way. He gets on the case of unimaginative publishers:
They reprint all kinds of crap nowadays; devoid of all imagination : nothing against Werther : but there are thousands of editions out there ! 50 of the most immortal, yet fully forgotten books wait in vain; the litterati - their eyes pasted shut, blinders for their whole bodies, bundles of stinkhorns in their crippled hands - swarm around the book fairs : where is the publisher who will reprint these 50 books (and I'd be glad to supply him the titles !)?(It should be noted that Schmidt's influence was great enough to eventually lead to the re-publication of numerous such forgotten titles - would that there were such a powerful voice in the English-speaking world !)
He also defends his defense of those thousand-page tomes, arguing that readers would do well to spend such great lengths of time with characters - and indeed that TV serials and the like are popular because viewers do in fact want to immerse themselves for extended periods of time in - and be able to return to an - ever-more familiar world, and that there's no reason the same should not apply to reading.
The dialogues generally consist of a well-informed speaker and someone who poses more questions (or is at least in need of some enlightenment), as well as, occasionally a third voice used to present material by the author in question. Schmidt handles the form effectively, managing a bit of dramatic tension along the way, but always focussed on conveying as much information as possible.
Like the preceding volume, this is a wonderful collection. It is a very literary collection, and readers who aren't very bookish probably won't find that much of interest, but for anyone with a love of literature it is highly recommended.
Note also that comes in the marvelous Green Integer paperback format, a fat pocket-sized book measuring a comfortable six inches by four and a quarter, allowing one to conveniently carry it along everywhere - as one will likely want to, until one has made it through all four hundred plus pages." - The Complete Review

Arno Schmidt, The School for Atheists: A Novella = Comedy in 6 Acts, Trans. by John E. Woods (Green Integer, 2000)

"Published originally in 1972, The School for Atheists is one of the great works of fiction by the renowned German novelist Arno Schmidt (1914-1979), whose masterpiece is Zettel's Traum, often compared to Joyce's Finnegans Wake.
Complex in plot, this later novel permits a more traditional reading than many of Schmidt's works. In 2014 envoys of the nation's great powers, including the matriarchal United States and the patriarchal China, hold a summit in the home of William T. Kolderup and his granddaughter Suse near the Danish border in the German town of Tellingstedt. In a story within a story Kolderup recalls his previous adventures with the mother-to-be of Isis, the man-devouring American Secretary of State. But Schmidt takes this even further by presenting his fiction as drama, in which the ship that carries Kolderup ant the mother of Isis is wrecked, testing the atheist stances of the characters. The wonder of this book, however, lies not in its hilarious plot, but in its amazing language, the fascinating typography, and his complex references to culture—popular and classical—from Jules Verne to William Shakespeare."

"For the patient reader, this is a saucy story meatightily told, but Schmidtian pacing is quick only in its minutiae. The underlying plot is related slowly, but Schmidt’s playfulness is pyrotechnic." - Eckhard Gerdes
"Arno Schmidt's The School for Atheists is a play-novel. It is novelistic fiction, yet in play form (and a comedy, not a drama). It is presented in six acts, divided into many scenes. It opens with a "Playbill" ("Comödienzettel") - introducing the settings and the cast of characters.
The School for Atheists is, in appearance, vaguely play-like. But the form is Schmidt's own - metadrama that becomes metafiction. The School for Atheists is unstageable: it is too massive, and too detailed. Dialogue dominates completely, but unlike in a play Schmidt does not leave it simply at that. Scenes are set with great precision, utterances and actions carefully described. Asides abound - including everything from imagined "STIPULATIONS of a Rental = Agreement" ("PUNCTATIO eines Mieth = Contracts") between Plato and Aristotle to a scene straight out of Beaumont & Fletcher (from The Sea=Voyage).
The work is exacting. Accounts and descriptions are thorough: Schmidt wants to convey very distinct impressions, and often leaves practically nothing for the reader to fill in. (Much of the writing is, however, in a dense, clipped style.) The School for Atheists is, often, textbook exact. The work is more than even cinematic, since much of what Schmidt offers is not merely physical description, but referential: background, allusion, emphasis, explication. Elaboration builds on elaboration.
The School for Atheists is one of Arno Schmidt's oversize typoscript-fictions (DIN A3 in the original). Schmidt also presents much of the text in unusual form. Narratives run side by side, incidental notes are presented carving out portions of pages, - and there are even a few illustrations. In addition, Schmidt's wordplay runs riot throughout the text.
Sound is more important to Schmidt than spelling, rooting in etymology is an exercise he can't pass up at any turn, and every few sentences he forces two words where usually there is only one (beginning a word with the same letters, for example, but allowing for two endings, e.g. go- -thic/-dless, or changing the middle letters, e.g. c- -rit/-yn -ical). And those are only the most obvious aspects of the writing.
The School for Atheists is also a work of science fiction. It opens "at the foot of 7 October 2014", and is set largely in the German town of Tellingstedt. The "First Doomsday" shifted the world's political landscape. Germany is here again caught between East and West in a Cold War-type atmosphere, but the two world powers are the USA and China. Representatives for these two nations have come to Tellingstedt to negotiate: the American Secretary of State, Nicole Kennan (also known as "ISIS") and China's foreign minister, Yuan Shi Kai. Eventually they agree to a "Toleration Pact".
About a week's worth of negotiations and misadventures are covered, but the focus is less on the conflict between the ruling powers than on the life - domestic and public - of local justice of the peace, William T. Kolderup. Kolderup is also central to the goings-on between the ISIS and Yuan, but much more of the book focusses on the behind the scenes day to day activities in the Kolderup household.
Kolderup is an august 75, a serious, literary type - and last bridge to the old world. Kolderup is a true Schmidtian edifier and bookworm, and much of his conversation involves allusions to and descriptions of the obscure and forgotten texts Schmidt so loves. The idea of "library as harem, as seraglio" is among those that appeal to him.
Kolderup's 17 year-old granddaughter, Suse, lives with him, and her friend "Nipperchen" comes to join the household too. The young ladies liven up much of the narrative, as they face different sorts of issues. (They also seem almost perpetually in some sort of states of undress.) Old and new, old ways and new ways, are in constant tension - half typical youth-contra-age, half commentary on the dystopian future Schmidt offers. It also allows Schmidt (through Kolderup) to lecture extensively - though, as always, in entertaining fashion.
There is a second narrative in the book as well, recounted by Kolderup: forty five years earlier, in 1969, he was on board a ship with ISIS' mother, Marjorie Kennan, and several others. It was occasion, again, for great disputation and argument, with a somewhat literary and philosophically minded crowd. (In a typical Schmidt touch, Kolderup's "travel library" ("ReiseBiblio") consisted solely of the two volumes of Theodor Däubler's Nordlicht and a volume of Jean Paul.)
A shipwreck back then complicated matters - and made for more serious talk. The situation also allowed for, in a sense, a "school for atheists".
Schmidt never had much respect for religion, god bless him, and he makes his case here again. He also finds room to expound on his not always sympathetic political views:
Before the First Doomsday, people 'd become 40=hour=a=weekers, meaning >totally underworkt<; ('nd then were f'rever striking, tòò; until entire economies were shot to hell; 'nd the helpless governments, as always knew nothing better than to divert attention, and start a war) [...] >To blame< ? : why, ultimately, as for so many things, Christentomb - (?) : well b'cause , f'rexample, it sabotaged any reasonable birth-control. And represst the insite : that the greatest beasts of burden & moralists are THE ATHEISTS !; (every gover'ment that wants to advance its interests oughta keep a good %age of 'em on hand.) ( Vor'm Erstn WeltUntergang waren die Menschn 40=Stundn=Wöchner gewordn; d's heißt >total unterarbeitet<; (und da streiktn sie nòch andauernd; bis ebm sämtliche VolksWirtschaftn kaputt gingn; und die ratlosn Regierungn, wie immer, nichts andres mehr wußtn, als, zur Ablenkung, 'n Krieg anufangn) [...] >Schuld< ? : war, wie an so vielem, imgrunde das Christentumb - (?) : nu weil's, zum Exemplel, eine vernünftige GeburtnRegelung sabotiert hat. Und ebm auch die Einsicht verhinderte: daß die größtn ArbeitsTiere & Moralistn, DIE ATHEISTEN sind !; (jede Regierung, die ihren Vorteil kennt, sollte sich einen guten %satz davon haltn). )
The stories in Schmidt's novel are themselves interesting enough, but of course it is the singular presentation that is the true appeal. Story, character, morals are all enriched by the presentation. It's not your usual book - novel, drama, or what have you - but it's not your usual experimental fiction either. Form and style here are used for depth rather than flash. They also make for surprisingly rich characters - Kolderup and Suse, in particular, but others too. And the stories gain from the multifacetation as well. Yes, there's a lot of word play, and a seeming excess of allusion (much of which will probably be impenetrable to many readers - sorry, no annotations or footnotes beyond Schmidt's own included !) and what appears, at first glance, to be a dizzying jumble of print. But there is a lot of story, a lot of action, a lot of thought and cleverness as well - and it does unfold clearly enough, if read closely enough. It won't be to everyone's taste - be warned, be very warned - but for anyone in the least bit interested in what all can still be done with the written on the page, it is certainly recommended. John Woods' translation (and the Green Integer edition in general) is a marvel. Translation is a horrible thing, and Schmidt, with his constant wordplay (and typographical play) would seem more untranslatable than most. However, Schmidt's etym-ological interests, his rooting in / for word-roots, and his poly-glot/gluttony make for a metaGerman original that does, in many respects, simplify the foreign re-renderers task; in addition, English is the popular second tongue in the book. The English version of The School for Atheists is a page-for-page re-creation of Die Schule der Atheisten - easing the task of comparing original and copy (and allowing one to use the English version even regarding references to the original). Bless Woods & GI for making it so ! The book looks largely as it does in the original (only the format is slightly smaller) and all of Schmidt's games, illustrations, etc. have been preserved. (However, unlike in the German original the dual-words - written in tiny type one above the other in the original - are here presented still at different levels but slightly askew: aesthetically not quite as pleasing, but perhaps the only possibility, given the smaller page-size.) Woods' translation is an impressive one. He attacks the text gamely, and manages very well for most of the way. Much of the dialogue and description is in dialect, and almost everything is presented in the abbreviated and elliptical style of everyday speech and thought, but Woods manages to find English equivalents all the way through. He manages to preserve an astonishing amount of Schmidt's wordplay: the dual meanings, the alternate-words-in-one-description, and the rest. Of course, Schmidt can and should only be read in the original, but for the non-native speaker that is a daunting undertaking. Woods can't keep the same hard edge as Schmidt does, line after line after line, as Woods is forced to soften and limit at every turn (that's what translation is: choosing, limiting, reducing - making for a soggy version of the original (though this one is crisper than most)). But for those who can't appreciate the original Woods offers a damn fine alternative. It is the equivalent of a postcard reproduction of an oil painting, but the original is so impressive that even this will do. (A rare disappointment comes with the epigraph that opens the book, taken from the finale of Verdi's Falstaff. Cf. the three versions: Tutto nel mondo é burla. / L'uom é nato burlone, / La fede in cor gli ciurla, / Gli ciurla la ragione. Alles ist Spaß auf Erden, / der Mensch ein geborener Tor; / (und dünkt er sich weise zu werden, / ist er dümmer noch, als zuvor). Life's for the satirizer, / and furthermore man's a born fool; / (and should he think himself wiser, / he's more foolish than an old mule). ) Woods also offers a brief (two page) but perfectly adequate introduction, warning of the "verbal hellamaumau" to be found here (and noting that a quick glimpse of the unusual-looking text might already be enough to put off or turn on the prospective reader). (Woods does mix up the dates of publication of this novel and Evening Edged in Gold here, which might cause some confusion: he notes that The School for Atheists lies in between Zettels Traum and Evening Edged in Gold, but then gives dates that suggest otherwise - no, that's not a Schmidtian game, just a mistake.) As the only one of Schmidt's typoscripts currently in print in English (Evening Edged in Gold has long been out thereof, Zettels Traum and Julia remain untranslated), it is a must-have for any Schmidt-fan. It is also highly recommended to any and all who are interested in modern literature. A remarkable work, and an impressive translation. (But go for the original if you can.)" - The Complete Review

Arno Schmidt, Scenes from the Life of a Faun, trans. by John E. Woods ( Marion Boyars Publishers, 2000)

Read also:
Volker Langbehn: "Watching TV with Arno Schmidt"

Ursula Heise: "The Intellectual after World War III: Arno Schmidt's Science Fiction"

Volker Max Langbehn, Arno Schmidt's Zettel's Traum: An Analysis (Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture) (Camden House, 2003)

Arno Schmidt -- Zettels Traum
Setting: The three visitors will begin in two days at Dan. The plot by four o’clock in the morning with showers entering the field. It is crossed, and they leave at the other end. At the bridge at the end…
~Arno Schmidt, Zettels Traum [Quoted/translated in Innovative Fiction Magazine]

(un)justly (un)read

No one reads Arno Schmidt (1914-1979), a little-known major German writer whose corpus ranges from (seemingly) straightforward stories to writing that assails the reader with a literary and linguistic density of the highest degree—he is Germany’s Joyce.
Parsing Schmidt’s trade=mark syntax will reveal, among much else: tremendous wit, metanarratives, caustic social commentary, and passages fully charged with melopoeia.
English readers will have to wait for the amazing John E. Woods to finish translating Schmidt’s magnum opus, Zettels Traum (Bottom’s Dream)—it’s twice as long as Finnegans Wake—but, for the meantime, Woods has already provided us with sublime translations of Schmidt’s works, and he recommends the Collected Novellas as the place to start. In addition, I would suggest beginning with the volume Nobodaddy’s Children, which contains Scenes from the Life of a Faun, Brand’s Heath, and Dark Mirrors. [(un)justly (un)read]

Orchestrating our forgetfulness

Arno Schmidt (1914-1979) is not a well-known figure in German media studies. For the most part, his writings have never enjoyed large audiences and his complex works seem destined to stay at the margins of critical inquiries. Although Schmidt has slowly gained recognition as a “giant of postwar German Literature,” academic criticism so far has produced only a paucity of serious scholarly inquiries. One of Schmidt’s primary concern was to outline the various forms of knowledge formation. The changing nature of these processes of knowledge formation through television and radio posed a special interest. The shift in the transfer of knowledge, from a written text as the storage room of information, to immaterial knowledge production, in the media of radio and television, finds its succinct expression in Schmidt’s literary text Zettels Traum. Embedded in a narrative that claims to preserve our cultural past and present and to serve as a dialogue partner between reader, writer, and text, Zettels Traum, I argue, brings to the forefront the problematic nature of the immaterialities of communication as exemplified in news broadcasting in postwar Germany. The immateriality of communication signals the dissolution of the complex configuration of closed narratives and simultaneously replaces the traditional form of memory with images that orchestrate our forgetfulness. [Watching TV with Arno Schmidt]

An elephantine monster in the service of a dream

Considering the enormous philological and historical erudition of Schmidt’s texts along with the abundance of references, allusions, and parodies of texts from the German, British, French, and classical literary traditions, it should not surprise us that Zettel’s Traum remains a neglected text…. From the outset, Schmidt’s Zettel’s Traum is visually distinguished from other books by its sheer bulk — 1334 pages and dimensions of 12.8 x 12.3 inches (owing to the photomechanical reproduction of the original typescript). With its irregular formatted pages and its division into various columns, the text, as an unknown reviewer observed, gained the status of an “elephantine monster” among postwar German publications. A reader of Zettel’s Traum encounters enlarged letters, advertising materials, photographs, pictorial elements supplementing the verbal narration, alterations, additions, and many other devices revealing the text outside the strict purview of literature.
For over ten years, Schmidt filled 130,000 Zettel (index cards) with information. It took him four years to transform Zettel’s Traum into a narrative of twenty-five hours in the life of the main characters of the text, Daniel Pagenstecher, usually called Dan, Paul Jacobi and his wife Wilma, and their teenage daughter Franziska. All four participants engage in the various problems connected with a translation of Edgar Allen Poe and discuss the life and works of Poe. Throughout the text, the central narrator, Daniel Pagenstecher, to whom the critics often refer as the alter ego of Schmidt, complements the discussions by inserting historical events, psychological findings, geographic discoveries, and cosmological insights. Additional comments and quotations from sources such as literary and historical texts unveil the multilingual texture of Zettel’s Traum as a labyrinthine narration.
…The title and the epigraph of Zettel’s Traum hint at Schmidt’s method of writing in the service of a dream. In this instance, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of many allusions. “Zettel,” German for the “warp” of woven cloth, evokes Bottom the Weaver as translated in Friedrich Schlegel’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is essential to grasp Schmidt’s literary allusions to understand the structure and the signifying practices in Zettel’s Traum. [Arno Schmidt's Zettel's Traum: An Analysis]

Arno Schmidt -- Zettels Traum index cards
Arno Schmidt’s collection of index card notations used in the writing of Zettels Traum.

Wading into the Shower Field

Zettels Traum (1970) by Arno Schmidt is an innovative novel written in three columns with comments in the margins in the style of a scholarly work. This novel which can be translated to mean Slip Dream, is written in the avant garde prose of the Abstract Expressionist style, with concepts such as the Shower Field, which is an erotic metaphor for the Color Field theory of painting. The subtle eroticism of Zettels Traum intrigues the mind, expressing events which otherwise would seem too obvious, and the group consciousness of those involved in a larger project forms two plot lines, which convey the novelistic metafiction to the reader, with the discussion of literary texts, such as Edgar Allen Poe and James Joyce. [Innovative Fiction Magazine]

Continuation of the answers to the meaning of the word “shower box.” Recalling Fouque story, “The rain field, tight summary of it.” Hint: Wilma Johanna Wolff from Lauban.
~Arno Schmidt, Zettels Traum [Quoted/translated in Innovative Fiction Magazine]

The atoms of words

[Schmidt's] writing style is characterized by a unique and witty style of adapting colloquial language, which won him quite a few fervent admirers. Moreover, he developed an orthography by which he thought to reveal the true meaning of words and their connections amongst each other. One of the most cited examples is the use of “Roh=Mann=Tick” instead of “Romantik” (revealing romanticism as the craze of unsubtle men). The atoms of words holding the nuclei of original meaning he called Etyme (etyms).
His theory of etyms is developed in his magnum opus, Zettels Traum, in which an elderly writer comments on Edgar Allan Poe’s works in a stream of consciousness, while discussing a Poe translation with a couple of translators and flirting with their teenage daughter. Schmidt also accomplished a translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s works himself (1966–73, together with Hans Wollschläger). Some critics even dismissed Zettel’s Traum as non-art, or sheer nonsense, and Schmidt himself as a “psychopath.” but Schmidt’s reputation as esoteric, and that of his work as non-art, has faded and he is now seen as an important, if highly eccentric, German writer of the 20th century. [Wikipedia: Arno Schmidt]

A brief introduction to Zettels Traum and its central characters

Schmidt divides Zettels Traum into three columns, each of which corresponds to a particular theme. The center column reflects upon events which took place between 1965 and 1969, the time in which Zettels Traum (ZT) was actually written, and introduces to the reader the texts of Edgar Allan Poe. The center column of Zettels Traum foregrounds the various texts of Poe. Daniel Pagenstecher himself an author, as well as central narrator of the events in Zettels Traum, lives a scholar-hermit’s existence near a village in Northern Germany, and assists his friend Paul Jacobi, likewise a writer, in the translation of Poe’s works into German. The action is confined to the events of a single summer day. Present are Wilma, Paul Jacobi’s wife, and the Jacobi’s teenage daughter Franziska, who thinks she is in love with the much older Dan. Throughout the day, the five discuss Edgar Allan Poe’s writings and what they reveal of his life and ideas. During the discussions Dan offers his explanation of his theory of language, the etym-theory, to the left of the main column. While the figures discuss the works of Poe in the center column, in this left-hand column Dan tells stories about Poe’s life and inserts citations from Poe’s texts that illustrate his etym-theory of language. Serving as a type of footnote, the right-hand column contains citations and comments that supply additional information and references to other texts. [Watching TV with Arno Schmidt]

Arno Schmidt -- Zettels Traum detail
Arno Schmidt, Zettels Traum, 1970. Detail of page 1294.

A fusion of scientific thinking with modernist writing

“In Schmidt, then, we have a fusion of the striving for scientific thinking with a commitment to modernist writing; for him the founding father of his art is not Zola but Lewis Carroll.” – Keith Bullivant, “Arno Schmidt: The German Context”, in the Review of Contemporary Fiction (Spring, 1988). [The Complete Review]

Between text and intertext

By playing on the dialectic between consciousness and the unconscious, Schmidt conveniently centers the use of citation on a lack of memory, a repression, or an inability to differentiate between text and intertext. Hence Zettels Traum breaks from the traditional understanding of citations by questioning their presuppositions. Most fundamentally, Zettels Traum is a text about texts, a discussion and dissemination of the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. [Arno Schmidt's Zettels Traum: an analysis by Voker Max Langbehn, in Innovative Fiction Magazine]

Bottom’s up!

The German Book Office reports that compared to the more than 50,000 foreign titles published in Germany each year, only about 3,000 German books make it into translation worldwide. Of these, fewer than 40 works of fiction are translated into English each year, Woods estimated.
For three decades Woods’ award-winning work has often topped this short list, but not for much longer. He plans to retire within a year after finishing Arno Schmidt’s 1,330-page opus, Zettel’s Traum, which will be titled “Bottom’s Dream,” in English.
“When I’m done with ‘Bottom’s Dream,’ I’ve done my work,” he said. “I plan to enjoy Berlin. I love this city. It sparkles for me.” [John E. Woods: Bringing German literature to the world]
- Jay Jurisich

Zettels Traum by Arno Schmidt: A Monumental Innovative Color Field Novel Written with Avant Garde Esthetic Theory

A Review by David Detrich

Zettels Traum (1970) by Arno Schmidt is an innovative novel written in three columns with comments in the margins in the style of a scholarly work. This monumental oversized novel is being translated by John E. Woods as Bottom's Dream, and is written in the avant garde prose of the Abstract Expressionist style with the use of painterly concepts exemplified in the Shower Field, an erotic metaphor for the Color Field theory of painting. The subtle eroticism of Zettels Traum intrigues the mind expressing events which otherwise would seem too obvious, and the group consciousness of those involved in a larger project forms two plot lines which convey the novelistic metafiction to the reader with the discussion of the literary texts of Edgar Allen Poe and James Joyce.

Zettels Traum develops the innovative trend of Finnegans Wake (1939) by James Joyce evolving from the chapter with scholarly footnotes, and a novelistic style of literary abstraction. I was reading Zettels Traum at the Eastern Michigan University library a few years ago, and although written in German I could guess the meaning of some of the sentences. I read recently that a translation of Zettels Traum into English by John E. Woods is anticipated, and that a new German edition was just published in Germany.

Zettels Dream

Setting: The three visitors will begin in two days at Dan's. The plot begins at four o'clock in the morning with showers entering the field. It is crossed, and they leave at the other end. At the bridge at the end...
                                                                       Zettels Traum
                                                                       Arno Schmidt
This is how the novel begins, an abstract landscape similar to a Color Field painting, with the visitors beginning at Dan's place. This is the type of art conscious writing that reveals a true dedication to the esthetic theory of Abstract Expressionism, and is a pleasant pretext for the eroticism which could take place in a "shower field," yet the beginning occurs at a time before "design."

Continuation of the answers to the meaning of the word "shower box." Recalling Fouque story, "The rain field, tight summary of it." Hint: Wilma Johanna Wolff from Lauban.
                                                                         Zettels Traum
                                                                         Arno Schmidt

The scene is an abstraction in the form of a "rain field," an esthetic theory that originated with the Abstract Expressionist movement in painting in the 1960s, where a Color Field painting is defined as a simple abstraction of color, so that the characters can be imagined as abstractions within an abstract painting. The simple poetic style of prose is used by Arno Schmidt to covey this esthetic, and creates a number of key word concepts based to the German language with its use of large complex words.

The idea of a monumental novel written in columns is a concept similar to Glas (1974) by Jacques Derrida, a philosophical essay written in double columns with variations in type font. Glas is also a type of bricolage, and parallels the development of James Joyce and Arno Schmidt. These monumental works of the 20th Century are written in various styles of modernism, and often guide the reader through a complex intertextuality with a positive outlook on reality, stating a number of positive allusions, which create a circle of friends that will bring success to the genre of innovative literature.

Arno Schmidt said he was inspired by the chapter in Finnegans Wake that is written in columns, and the parallel lines of these novels reveal a scholarly approach to literature with the trend of innovative writing that has evolved away from formal prose towards a creative punning with language, and the creation of composite words with original spelling. This textual consciousness is noticeable in the postmodern novel with a multiplicity of meanings which play on poly(semantic)ism.

By playing on the dialectic between consciousness and the unconscious, Schmidt conveniently centers the use of citation on a lack of memory, a repression, or an inability to differentiate between text and intertext. Hence Zettels Traum breaks from the traditional understanding of citations by questioning their presuppositions. Most fundamentally, Zettels Traum is a text about texts, a discussion and dissemination of the writings of Edgar Allen Poe.
                                           Arno Schmidt's Zettels Traum:
                                                                       an analysis
                                                        Voker Max Langbehn

Intertexts as texts about texts, become thoughts about intertexts, which become thoughts about the thoughts of intertextuality, until the metafiction of the theoretical novel becomes a self-reflexive branching of readings approaching the collective unconscious of Zettels Traum as a novel: with the esthetic theories of color field painting forming a pretext to the textual analysis of Edgar Allen Poe's writings. The characterizations make this work a novel, a novel which is itself a monumental scholarly work of innovation.

Watching TV with Arno Schmidt
Arno Schmidt (1914-1979) is not a well-known figure in German media studies. For the most part, his writings have never enjoyed large audiences and his complex works seem destined to stay at the margins of critical inquiries. Although Schmidt has slowly gained recognition as a "giant of postwar German Literature,"academic criticism so far has produced only a paucity of serious scholarly inquiries. One of Schmidt's primary concern was to outline the various forms of knowledge formation. The changing nature of these processes of knowledge formation through television and radio posed a special interest. The shift in the transfer of knowledge, from a written text as the storage room of information, to immaterial knowledge production, in the media of radio and television, finds its succinct expression in Schmidt's literary text Zettels Traum. Embedded in a narrative that claims to preserve our cultural past and present and to serve as a dialogue partner between reader, writer, and text, Zettels Traum, I argue, brings to the forefront the problematic nature of the immaterialities of communication as exemplified in news broadcasting in postwar Germany. The immateriality of communication signals the dissolution of the complex configuration of closed narratives and simultaneously replaces the traditional form of memory with images that orchestrate our forgetfulness. These images play an important role in the cultural reproduction of particular ideological configurations. My paper focuses upon the mechanisms of cultural reproduction as expressed through Schmidt's key figures Daniel Pagenstecher and his wife Wilma in his magnum opus Zettels Traum, and their discussion of the West German "Tagesschau" and the East German "aktuelle Kamera." The goal of this paper is to show how the politics of sequencing influences the way we conceptualize television information.
I would like to begin with a brief introduction to Zettels Traum and its central characters. Schmidt divides Zettels Traum into three columns, each of which corresponds to a particular theme. The center column reflects upon events which took place between 1965 and 1969, the time in which Zettels Traum (ZT) was actually written, and introduces to the reader the texts of Edgar Allan Poe. The center column of Zettels Traum foregrounds the various texts of Poe. Daniel Pagenstecher himself an author, as well as central narrator of the events in Zettels Traum, lives a scholar-hermit's existence near a village in Northern Germany, and assists his friend Paul Jacobi, likewise a writer, in the translation of Poe's works into German. The action is confined to the events of a single summer day. Present are Wilma, Paul Jacobi's wife, and the Jacobi's teenage daughter Franziska, who thinks she is in love with the much older Dan. Throughout the day, the five discuss Edgar Allan Poe's writings and what they reveal of his life and ideas. During the discussions Dan offers his explanation of his theory of language, the etym-theory, to the left of the main column. While the figures discuss the works of Poe in the center column, in this left-hand column Dan tells stories about Poe's life and inserts citations from Poe's texts that illustrate his etym-theory of language. Serving as a type of footnote, the right-hand column contains citations and comments that supply additional information and references to other texts.
As a whole Zettels Traum is interspersed with descriptions from various disciplines, from architecture (in the context of Poe's narratives, ZT 437), landscaping (ZT 78), mathematics (in the context of the construction of a literary text, ZT 1182), to astronomy and cosmology (ZT 112, 142, 1240), and psychology (with endless references to Sigmund Freud, ZT 187, 225), history (ZT 468), to contemporary pop songs from England, for example, Petula Clark's Down Town from 1964 (ZT 396, 987, 1273). The text also contains numerous declared and tacit quotations that draw on many literary, texts in world literature including those of Jean Paul, Novalis, Schlegel, Cervantes, Döblin, Rabelais, Proust, Wieland and Joyce, to name but a few. The reader also encounters visual reality fragments, such as photos, sketches, and clips from recipe books, newspapers and menus. Also inserted are photos of fashion models (ZT 993, 1209), a camper van (ZT 969), a sticker of a mushroom can (ZT 1021), a sticker of a "Bierwürfel mit Kümmel" (ZT 1148) and many drawings by Arno Schmidt himself (ZT 4, 577, 1092, 1083, 1131, 1240). Schmidt's own sketches prove particularly important as he views them as the visual representation of localities described in Zettels Traum: "Deswegen habe ich mir angewöhnt, zu meinen Büchern - vielfach - Grundrisse [of localities - V.L.] - mitzugeben, oder Zeichnungen" (VzZT 13). Such inclusion of drawings and photos, Schmidt explains, support or illustrate things discussed in the center column: "die genau das darstellen was ich sagen will oder auf die ich im Text Bezug nehme die - irgendwie die Handlung gefördert haben" (VzZT 14). Visual representations support or replace the linguistic representation by invoking an over-determined imagery and, as the critic Strick argues, question "die Möglichkeit eines definitiven Verständnisses, eines handgreiflichen 'Sinns.'" As a symbolic representation, they invoke associations appealing to the creative imagination.
Schmidt's merger of various disciplines through poetic representation must be seen within the larger context of his encyclopedic project labeled "Großn Dichtungn" (ZT 1047), which seeks to reconstruct and weld together knowledge buried in memory. The textual voyage into various disciplines, literary texts, or political events, as well as the bringing forth of historical and philosophical junctures, reinforces Schmidt's goal "[a]lles, was je schrieb, in Liebe und Haß, als immerfort mitlebend zu behandeln" (BA II:2:142). As a polyglot historian in search of a storage room of information and who defines himself through his "sündhafte Belesenheit" (ZT 269), Schmidt valorizes the dictum expressed by Schweighäuser in Die Schule der Atheisten, "man kànn gar nich ›mit WissnsStoff überladn‹ sein" (SdA 191).
By incorporating fragmented remnants of the past into Zettels Traum, Schmidt enables the reader to experience the past in the present by understanding its relevance for the present. Reading Zettels Traum as a collection of various strands of historic events permits the reader to learn new ways in which to understand the self and the past. Reconfigurations of the past serve as a means of refreshing the "Generationsgedächtnis" (ZT 307) because we live in "Zeiten, da Alles vergessen wird" (SdA 33). The past that is no longer available contributes to the reader's new understanding of time and space since it is recuperated for the domain of a present day experience.
Schmidt's archaeological discoveries are made possible only through this multifold system of references which Dan calls a "zäh=gefüttertes anachronistisches Ungetümlein von 1300 Seitn" (ZT 425). This statement reminds the reader of Friedrich Schlegel's theory of the novel: "nach Großn Dichtungen, sei daß Höchste auf der Welt? Große NachschlageWerke zu liefern" (ZT 1047). For Dan, the old and forgotten texts unearthed in the vaults of our memory banks and compiled in Zettels Traum assume the role of a data base whose task it is "große=Massn von Details zu sammeln; und durch den Druck zur Aufbewahrung zu gebm" (ZT 1201). As an assemblage of narratives, the purpose of Zettels Traum is to provide a repository for our cultural information and legacy. Schmidt views the multiple forms of knowledge inserted in a literary text as a means of communicative circulation: "ein verschränkter Ahnen=, & Enkel=Dienst" (SdA 177). Authors of the past as well as scientific discoveries and other discourses establish a network of information that "preserv[es] a vanished civilisation" (SdA 33). The written form of cultural information allows the reader to revisit, that is, reread, and reflect upon material.
But new technological inventions such as television mark a shift in how we perceive and understand the flow of information. Schmidt already recognized this shift in 1961 in his radio essay, "Heinrich Albrecht Opperman Hundert Jahre (Einem Mann zu Gedenken)." In this instance, the narrator complains about the transient nature of the immaterialities of information, "[i]ch bin ein Gegner von ‹Schall & Rauch & Rundfunk›!" (BA II:2:154). The narrator's voiced opposition toward television and radio documents Schmidt's concern for the growing impossibility of having any recourse to the information offered by radio and television. This opposition, however, does not suggest that Schmidt opposes TV and radio. Rather, as the reader will discover in the discussion between Daniel Pagenstecher and his wife Wilma regarding the West German "Tagesschau" and the East German "aktuelle Kamera," the desire for knowledge is a double-edged sword.
Dan and Wilma divide their discussion of the news into two segments analyzing these two broadcasts. Dan introduces the reader to the West German "Tagesschau." Structured according to topics, the news program offers a mixture of domestic politics, army maneuvers, miscellaneous events of the day, foreign affairs, a commentary on the Karl-May Festival in Bad Segeberg, and a weather report. The segment opens with Dan viewing a political debate in the West German parliament concerning the student movement and its "sit-ins." In the debate, the speaker of the SPD tries to distance himself and the party from this form of political opposition: "[d]er Sprecher der SPD...beteure, daß seine Partei.[wie stets seit 66]..nie etwas mit Intellektuelln gemeinsam gehabt habe, "und zwar von Ihrer Gründung=an!" (ZT 1162). Instead of directly addressing the specific differences in their political views, the speaker characterizes the student movement as hippies, a "Haufe Student(in)en -(halb=nakkD; in zerrissenen Kleidern; betont=ungewaschn; die Herrn 'Rennomisten' mit gräßlichn Bakkn Bärtn,...Typm, die man sich am bestnjn in mondlosn Nächtn nich=anschaut" (ZT 1162). The images of the German Left's extra-parliamentary opposition (APO) display the demonstrators as good for nothings; as oversexed, LSD-consuming hippies. Upset by the images, Wilma responds: "Wenn doch Unsre Obrichkeit endlich=mà ein Einsehen & Dreinschlagn hätte" (ZT 1162). Wilma's reactionary wish is promptly fulfilled by the German minister of justice who announces:
Was die noch übrijn...Intellektuelln anlange?, so sei zwar sein persönliches Credo: 'better hang wrong fellow than no fellow at all"..."was die Gammler betreffe, so werde man ihre Anzahl der nächsten Wochn...entscheidend reduzieren; vermittelst der gutn=altn §§ 182, 235,& 237 des Strafgesetzbuches. (ZT 1162)
Wilma's response reveals how desire and the wish for identification are at work in television viewing. Since Schmidt immersed himself in Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams and his premise of Zettels Traum was "»auf Traumbasis zu schreiben«" (ZT 35), I view both terms from a psychological perspective. Thus, the process of identification entails the unconscious as a locus in which to anchor subjectivity and consequently as the source of ideological interpellation. In this instance the relation between identification and desire in the constitution and functioning of subjectivity supply the basic mechanisms of interpellation. Two opposing mechanisms are at work in the process of identification and desire. When I identify with somebody or something and thereby gain my identity, all other desires incongruent with this identity most likely experience repression. At the same time, identification also functions as cause and effect of desire. On the one hand, desire causes me to aspire to live by the qualities with which I identify. On the other hand, identification is the effect of desire since it responds to my desire for being somebody for someone.
With these mechanisms in mind the news segment reveals the following concerning Wilma's reaction. Her response shows that her desire focuses on the law and the minister of justice. Constituted by the symbolic order and epitomized in our notions of Justice, Truth and Order, the law signals the ultimate authority and source of meaning, what Jacques Lacan termed "master signifier." Through the identification with these identity-bearing words, the subject finds its particular pre-determined position within the hierarchical structure of society and its differences. The master signifier stands in for the subject, functions as bearers of our identity and represents the ultimate authority of meaning. It signifies the ideals toward which we must strive.
As the quotation shows, the law functions as the bearer of Wilma's identity. This is evident in her reaction when the APO "apparently" attempts to damage the master signifier. Wilma recognizes herself in and through the law and seeks to be recognized by others as a law-abiding citizen. The result of this process of interpellation is the establishment of a cluster of master signifiers as the ego-ideal originating in the child's attempt to be desired and loved. This desire eventually turns into the wish to be recognized by the Other. What is important is that assuming identity of this signifier endows Wilma with the continuity and coherence essential to identity. As a result, the master signifier integrates Wilma into a community of law-abiding citizens since she is able to communicate and reproduce these signifiers of law and order.
Functioning both as the internal and external authority, the law regulates Wilma's social reality. The established dichotomy between those who believe in the law and those who do not creates an unquestioned control mechanism. The justification of this dichotomy is the principle of belief. As the external authority, the law determines Wilma's internal reasoning, since she believes in and identifies with the law, and, subsequently, she internalizes the law. Wilma believes in the Justice and Truth of the law and does not realize that the law has created a symbolic network in which she is now caught. She obeys the law not only because it is good or beneficial to her, but also because it is the law: "Custom is the whole equity for the sole reason that it is accepted. That is the mythic basis of its authority. Anyone who attempts to bring it back to its first principle destroys it." Projected images of the APO shown in contrast to the Law as symbol of Justice, Truth, and Order initiate Wilma's reactionary desire. By recognizing its importance to her, she identifies with the law and the structural ordering of society. This recognition is a mis-recognition, an imaginary experience of the meaning of the Law.
Any kind of opposition, therefore, is a threat to her belief and identity, that is, the internal authority. The passage of the emergency laws, the "NotstandsGesetz" (ZT 1162), accompanied by the images of the jubilant conservative faction of parliament, receives "donnernenden Beifall der rechtn Seite des Hauses...die freilich schön über die Mitte & tief id linkn Flügl hinein=reichte" (ZT 1162). Reinforcing images create unity and stability and, in this instance, correspond to the tendency of the three-party system in postwar Germany to move toward political consensus. The desire for stability and political consensus, continuity and harmony, creates an unquestioned tolerance for repression among the population in the interest of a successful fight against political extremism. Hence, an extreme dose of "law and order" (e.g., the emergency laws, opposed by the SPD in 1965 but supported in May 1968), strengthens the already efficient law enforcement and belief systems.
The binary structure of representation of the news projects images of extremism to which the seemingly unified political factions respond with the new laws. Any differentiation between the view points of the various political factions is omitted. Images of an ugly, filthy, chaotic and radical student movement create animosity within the viewers and set up a dichotomy between "good" and "bad." Wilma's response typifies this distinction and results in the rejection of any sort of political opposition that might threaten her own identity and social stability. The collapse of the traditional opposition by the SPD to which Dan refers when he declares, "[i]n DeutschLand diffamirt die 'Linke' immer sich=selbst" (ZT 1163), dispels the myth of German politics as a Streitkultur (culture of dispute), and exposes an opportunistic party that merely oscillates between different political positions. The Kiesinger/Brandt coalition of 1966-1969 provides ample evidence of such desire for political consensus.
Whereas the above news segment about domestic politics addressed the master signifier, the Law evoked through the employment of the physical images, the following segment of the "Tagesschau" plays on the narcissistic form of imaginary desire.
The segment shows the protests of the civil rights movement in the U.S. and protesters' clashes with Cleveland police. Dan, now playing the devil's advocate of the ordinary TV-viewer, comments on the images:
Die putzn ihre Nigger aber anständich weg!". /Tcha, 'Unruhen in Cleveland (oh hei oh!); jedoch wenije sec lang; (& vorsichtshalber meist 'Nachtaufnahm'm; da sah man nur die regnglänzendn Stahlhelme der Nationalgarde, sowie unzählige tollwütig=verdrehte AugnPaare. (ZT 1164)
According to Dan, the "Nationalgarde" signifies the superiority of the white race that secures law and order. As the word "Nationalgarde" implies, at stake in this scenario is the national interest. The symbolic Other, the "Nationalgarde," leads Dan to actively identify with the signifiers given in the code constituting this Other. As the viewer, Dan attempts to embody these qualities or attributes valued by this symbolic Other. Again, the reader discovers qualities such as "being a good American, "being a good citizen," or "being patriotic." Dan desires to embody not only the "Nationalgarde" but also other signifiers bearing a metonymic or metaphoric relation to the master signifier. The shining steel helmet ("regnglänzende Stahlhelme") is synonymous with "masculinity," "toughness" or with "being a man." With his narcissistic desire, Dan gravitates between all these positions or images that constitute his ego-ideal. Consequently, his identification wih the "Nationalgarde" provokes the anticipated response: "Solln se=se doch Alle nach Afrika transportier'n: (dieser ganze, unnötig dunkle Continent, muß sich sowieso erstma ausrevoluzzern" (ZT 1164). The message conveys the belief that America belongs to the civilized white race in which peace and harmony reign: "Und die weißn=USA hättn ooch=Ruhe" (ZT 1164). In contrast, Africa is the site of revolution and torture. Thus these images divide the world into an idyllic, civilized, first world and a third world or as Blumenbach formulates it, into a "zivilisierte und pazifizierte Erste Welt des materiellen und ideellen Wohlstandes einerseits, eine unterpriviligierte Dritte Welt der Armut, Bürgerkriege, Folterungen und so weiter andererseits." In analogy to the comparison Africa-America that paralleles a binary structure of black-white or uncivilized and civilized, television establishes a hierarchical ordering of how to view the world.
For a mere split second, only the strange looking eyes ("tollwütig=verdrehte AugnPaare") betray the black man's ("Nigger") presence in the dark and projects visions of animalistic behavior. Black becomes synonymous with uncontrolled rabid, wild animals, that must be eradicated since their diseases cannot be cured and thus may spread. All of these threatening images reinforce the stereotype of black people as uncivilized members of "Primitive Culturen" (ZT 1164), whose demonic behavior is inconsonant with standards of behavioral expectations in America.
Many others who watch the news are similarly inscribed by these unconscious structures. Since these similar, formative experiences are attributable to a particular society or discourses, a collective aspect of the unconscious emerges. To continue my example, Dan defends his blatant racism and call for apartheid, by referring to his experience in 1945 as a German refugee from the East: "[w]aren nicht Wír=aus=dem =Osten auch 12 Milljon'n" (ZT 1164). This justification through comparison exposes the racist overtones of the refugee debate that prevailed in 1965. The West German attitude toward Eastern Europe and its refugees underscores the inability of West Germans to overcome the lingering racism that finds its historic trajectory in Nazi Germany and its judicious legitimization in Article 116 of the Basic law which defines the nation as an evolutionary community based on ethnic descent. Dan's comparison of his World War II experiences and the subsequent racist attitude toward refugees with the civil rights movement points to this transindividual quality of the unconscious. The collective experience of the unconscious gains its cohesive power through the common currency of cultural signifiers as well as other discourses. Yet as Dan's analogy suggests, these cultural signifiers do not acknowledge national boundaries.
The "Nachrichter in SchlagZeiln" (ZT 1163) inserted between the segment about the student movement and the civil rights movement further demonstrates the viewer's reliance on images rather than on any reflective exchange. This segment narrates a multiplicity of events such as "Australiens MinisterPräsident hatte sich zu Tode geschnarchelt./31.000 Krankheitn gebe es bis jetz auf der Welt./Münchens letzde GasLaterne... ." (ZT 1164). The overflow of information makes it impossible to follow the news content, and forces the viewer to rely on the visual images. However, the absurdity of this so-called news program points to the powerful arbitrariness involved in selecting which information to broadcast. Insertions of natural disasters and other tabloid trivia in the political sphere of news broadcasting function as an instrument of diffusion and distraction. They represent deliberate attempts to depoliticize the media, thereby enhancing its political power. Irrelevant information distracts the viewer from receiving actual political events and portrays, for instance, the cause of death of the Australian prime minister as a significant event.
The random nature by which information is selected for news broadcast suggests that the sequencing of news focuses on the symbolic production as the ordering discourse. The more rapid the segments, the greater the possibility of a non-homogeneous experience. The changing speed of topics organizes the forgetting of the viewer, and effectively functionalizes how we conceptualize information. Inevitably, the overflow of information suffocates its communicability. This paradox--the news providing information and the viewer not being able to remember--serves as the ideological means of structuring the individual experience of news events. We are in greater need of orientation for our common understanding, and thus seek anchoring points, visual images, with which we can identify. The "Tagesschau" provides these images, these symbolic structures that are constitutive of our relation to the world and, consequently, do not allow for the readability of the world. Experiences of the world are a media experience, a structural illusion creating the impression that we have gained mastery of the world in the form of meaningful comprehension. Watching TV allows only for one particular mode of comprehension, a certain type of discursivity that neutralizes the multiple and fluctuating content of messages. Hence, the "Tagesschau" signifies the impossibility of interpretation and, as such, the imposition of rigid contraints of meaning.
Before going into a more detailed discussion of the presentation of news information, I would like to turn to the East German "aktuelle Kamera." The less structured and much shorter "aktuelle Kamera" consists of only one major block of views on the Vietnam war and other short clips discussing preparations for the celebration of the October revolution, which Pagenstecher mocks as "ein Komitee für's OktoberFest" (ZT 1165), a traditional Bavarian drinking fest. In addition, we see "Ordensverleihungen" for "Verdiente Eisenbahner des Volkes" (ZT 1165) and events focusing on the rebuilding of the GDR. These pictures create images of the GDR as a collective and implies political unity, a successful state, and emphasize the feeling of pride at being a citizen of GDR society. Modalities of desire, will and hope nourish the image of an ideal community and invite the viewer to be part of the collective experience of success and happiness. The viewer's relation to the mode of production thus lies in the imaginary relation. The invasion of unconscious desires aims at social consensus as a matter of imaginary affirmation.
The next image confirms the desire for such consensus by parodying the role of the literati in the East German society. The "AuThoren= CullecTief ?" notes what "der 1.HenklMann geäußert hatte. Oder der 2.Oder das 'kollektiefe Ganze'" (ZT 1166). The "AuThoren=Cullectief," referred to as a fools' collective, as the representative of the cultural production of social realism, presents the image of proclaimed equality between workers and writers within the GDR society. Commenting upon the East German writer's collective, Dan equates it with the cultural production of West Germany as exemplified by the Karl-May festival in Bad Segeberg: "was Deutsche Ars & Cunt betrifft, so wird Ei'm auch hier ma wieder die Wahl schwer gemacht, was widerlicher sei, Ost oder West" (ZT 1166). Dan dismisses both news segments as affirmative, mass-mediated forms of culture imploding any critical values imbedded in aesthetics. The "aktuelle Kamera" features a "Guitarristn=Trupp" with worker's songs as an indirect response to the "Tagesschau" segment about the Spanish musician, Andrés Segovia thereby explicitly demonstrating the complementarity of East and West German news broadcasts. Dan contemplates, "schier wie bestellt: um den Gegensatz zu SEGOVIA=ebm so recht zu verdeutlichn" (ZT 1165), and exposes the structural similarity of East and West German news and their ideologically affirmative positions:
Jacke wie Hose, ob O oder W: Unterdrückung wird 'Aufrechterhaltung der Ordnung' genannt - sprechsDe dagegn, heißde 'mißvergnügt.' Die Nachrichtn Maschin'n der W ein Trauerspiel d Freiheit; im O SklâwnIdylle. (ZT 1165)
The television medium thus functions as a cultural reproduction system of narrative configurations which radically changes the form of knowledge formation in the present. Replaced by something new, the status of knowledge assumes a specific form of information distribution. Television presents itself as disconnected and to some extent irrelevant, against the horizon of experience of the viewer, who struggles to integrate the information into the totality of his world. In contrast to the reading of printed media, which can be interrupted and then resumed again indefinitely, the fast pace of reception of TV shows cannot be controlled. Our viewing habits and attention span adjust to the medium itself. The "facts" presented are ephemeral and already disappear with their appearance. If the viewer wishes to keep up with the "onslaught" of information, s/he has to adjust his/her viewing of the representations. "Schneller Schauen" (SdA 190) is the motto if one does not want to sacrifice knowledge because of one's own lack thereof. One of the narrators in Schmidt's Schule der Atheisten describes this resignative position: "Ich geh' in's TV um mich zu zerstreuen, nich um mir den Kopf vollzupakkn" (SdA 190). The degree of complexity in the reception of information channels our viewing and leads to a decreased analytical sharpness.
To conclude my discussion of the representation of news media in Zettels Traum, I would like to emphasize the following point: the dispersal of world events into discontinuous, successive, and non-contradictory messages guarantees the misrecognition of the world and widens the gap between technical representation of information and the real world. Our television offers a representation of chaos and the world around us in a secured order of images. This order leaves the false impression that we are actually in control of the world. TV messages constitute signs that impose upon the viewer new modes of perception and relations. Claims for the representation of "truth" and "objectivity" by "Tagesschau" and "aktuelle Kamera" function to neutralize the unique character of actual world events by replacing them with a multiple universe--"Multiversum" (ZT 1264)--of mutually reinforcing and self-referential images. Technical codes of symbolic distribution become a means by which to reinterpret the world, and serve as an instrument of social control. Our window to the world is our TV, which mocks our understanding of communication as an exchange, as a reciprocal space of speaking and responding.
Communication by way of television is an intransitive and monolinear experience which Paul exposes as an attempt at ideological manipulation, "[W]olln ma sehn, ob wir ''n genau so schnell bekannegießern könn" (ZT 1162). Recognizing that watching TV demands the passive consumption of images resulting in an inability to respond critically to the overflow of information, Paul pretends to engage in a dialogue with the news anchor's greetings: "Gutn Abmd Meine Dan" & Herrn" (ZT 1161). Paul responds with an impertinent: "Grüß Dich" (P knapp;/)" (ZT 1161). This mockery symbolizes the hopeless desire to engage in a critical exchange and demonstrates monolinear communication ad absurdum. The fast pace of presentation and the sequencing of news items reduce the viewer in a passive receiver of information. Speed and images are more important than arguments. Our desire for clarity, the "Wunsch nach wolltätlicher Klarheit" (ZT 510), receives its fulfillment in a "Verzehnfachung der Berieselung" (ZT 471). We witness the disintegration of our communicative structures under the sign of passive consumption. Images and signs constitute the organizing principles of our viewing of the world. In Schmidt's Zettels Traum, the newscasts of both East and West, with their systematic alternation of the news form, dictate a single form of reception, that of consumption. However, the primary function of each message is to refer to another message and establish in the world a whole divisible system of interpretation. For instance, arguments by Jean Baudrilliard that "the medium of TV circulates through its technical organisation the idea (or ideology) of a world visualisable and dividible at will"find their confirmation in Dan's experience of television. Aware of this mechanism, Dan responds, "Bloß gut, daß der Propaganda, wenichstens=teilweise, die Waage gehaltn wird, durch's schlechtes Hinhörn" (ZT 471). In other words, one best responds by being a bad listener or viewer. Schmidt's description of East and West German television confines us to the role of viewers at the margins. Watching TV with Arno Schmidt inevitably leads to the reader's (viewer's) recognition of the problematic nature of the immaterialities of communication. -Volker Langbehn


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