Guide Arno Schmidts Zettels Traum: An Analysis (Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture)

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Log in to Wiley Online Library. Purchase Instant Access. View Preview. Learn more Check out. Related Information. Close Figure Viewer. 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. 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. Once again: - was Something up with me now? 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.


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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. 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. Woods Dalkey Archive Press, "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 , 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. 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.

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. 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. 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 , ending the war in a British P. Leviathan, a volume of three wartime stories, appeared in , 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.

The first novel is subtitled "Historical Novel from Anno Domini ," 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.

Arno Schmidt's Zettel's Traum: An Analysis by Volker Max Langbehn, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

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.

Arno Schmidt's Zettel's Traum: An Analysis

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. 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 that's that. 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. 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, , 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. So then, and , if I haven't forgotten everything? Just for himself. Yom came the day, leila the night. Consequently, she must be 40!

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Moi took himself sleepily in his arms : one of those villas over there wouldn't be all that silly : not. 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.

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. 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. Uppers from intellecktuals. But not skwinting at least; so it'll pass maybe.

Punctuation marks are deployed independently and in series to stand for facial expressions and gestures: -. 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. 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. 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.

Adams noted that Schmidt's work extended the tradition of " cruel comedy " that had run from Rabelais, via Swift, to Joyce. The radio dialogs represent some of the "conversations" Schmidt performed on radio from to 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.

He was not only aware of tradition, but intimately familiar with it, and this is reflected throughout his writings. 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.


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  • Between and 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!

    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.

    Arno Schmidt - Studien in 5 Lesungen

    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.

    Brockes also "translates in his spare time" - an internationalism that also appeals to sometime-translator and literarily very worldly Schmidt. 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. 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. 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 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 ".

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    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! 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. Schmidt was also very familiar with English-language literature, and numerous of his dialogues deal with English and American authors. 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.

    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.

    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. 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. 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!

    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.

    While the scripts of Radio Dialogs I are animated by characters identified merely as "A. 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. 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.

    When defending Karl May, often considered a second-rate kids' author, "A. 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. 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. Green Integer, "As in the first volume of Radio Dialogs , published by Green Integer in , this second volume contains dialogic discussions of literary figures, performed over German radio from to by the great German novelist.

    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 s 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,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 There are, of course, still more 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?

    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. Written for and broadcast on German radio in the s 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.

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    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 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.

    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! 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! 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! 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. 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. 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? 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!

    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. Woods Green Integer, "Published originally in , The School for Atheists is one of the great works of fiction by the renowned German novelist Arno Schmidt , 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 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. It is novelistic fiction, yet in play form and a comedy, not a drama. It is presented in six acts, divided into many scenes. 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. 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. 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. 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 ", and is set largely in the German town of Tellingstedt.

    The "First Doomsday" shifted the world's political landscape. 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 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.