Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Arno Schmidt's 'Zettel's Traum'

Arno Schmidt's 'Zettel's Traum': An Analysis

Volker Max Langbehn
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Arno Schmidt's 'Zettel's Traum'
    Book Description:

    Arno Schmidt (1914-1979) is considered one of the most daring and influential writers of postwar Germany; the Germanist Jeremy Adler has called him a "giant of postwar German literature." Schmidt was awarded the Fontane Prize in 1964 and the Goethe Prize in 1973, and his early fiction has been translated into English to high critical acclaim, but he is not a well-known figure in the English-speaking world, where his complex work remains at the margins of critical inquiry. Volker Langbehn's book introduces Schmidt to the English-speaking audience, with primary emphasis on his most famous novel, 'Zettel's Traum'. One reviewer called the book an "elephantine monster" because of its unconventional size (folio format), length (1334 pages and over 10 million characters), and unique presentation of text in the form of notes, typewritten pages, parallel columns, and collages. The novel narrates the life of the main characters, Daniel Pagenstecher, Paul Jacobi and his wife Wilma, and their teenage daughter Franziska. In discussing the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe, the four engage in the problems connected with a translation of Poe. Langbehn's study investigates how literary language can mediate or account for the world of experiences and for concepts. Schmidt's use of unconventional presentation formats challenges us to analyze how we think about reading and writing literary texts. Instead of viewing such texts as a representation of reality, Schmidt's novel destabilizes this unquestioned mode of representation, posing a radical challenge to what contemporary literary criticism defines as literature. No comprehensive study of 'Zettel's Traum' exists in English. Volker Langbehn is associate professor of German at San Francisco State University.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-626-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    V. L.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Arno Schmidt (1914–1979) is not a well-known figure in literary studies in this country. Although he has been recognized as probably the single most important experimental novelist in German since the Second World War, there is still little criticism on his work. Despite the increase in the amount of published Schmidt research over the past ten years in Germany, his works have never attracted a large readership. The linguistic density and the sophisticated cultural reflections of his texts seem to prohibit his writings from ever becoming popular. But Schmidt has at least finally gained recognition as a “giant of...

  5. 1: The Art of Writing in Columns
    (pp. 15-58)

    According to Schmidt, Zettel’s Traum borrows its “SpaltenTechnick” from Finnegans Wake. By structuring Zettel’s Traum into three columns or “TextSträhnen,” Schmidt expects that the reader will be able to follow the information provided in the columns.¹ To ease the reading process, Schmidt divides the three columns according to theme. The center column reflects the events of the years between 1965 and 1969, the time frame in which Zettel’s Traum was actually written. Daniel Pagenstecher, as the central narrator of the events, assists Paul and Wilma Jacobi, likewise writers and old school friends, in the translation of Poe’s works into German....

  6. 2: Schmidt’s Concept of Literary Realism
    (pp. 59-93)

    The illusionistic nature of language finds its first elaboration in Schmidt’s concept of literary realism, which dominated his writings in the 1950s. As I showed in the previous chapter, Schmidt’s early writing already shows his awareness of the impossibility of ideal literary representation in Foucault’s sense of the classical age of representation.² Schmidt’s call for a literature emulating the lack of continuity typical of modern existence attests to that awareness,³ as does his criticism of traditional prose forms — the epistolary novel, epic novel, and diary — with their classic sequence of beginning, middle, and end. Schmidt’s conclusion that extant...

  7. 3: The Etym Theory
    (pp. 94-119)

    A small detour is necessary to mark the developments Schmidt underwent before Zettel’s Traum. In the conclusion to “Berechnungen II,” he projects a new prose model based on the dream. The remark hints at Schmidt’s increasing interest in the dream as a literary means of representation and as a subjective demonstration of personal experiences. The small essay “Traumkunstwerke,” also written in 1956, documents Schmidt’s fascination with the interrelation of literary texts and dreams.¹ In his discussion of Fouqué, the English critic, poet, and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), and E. T. A. Hoffmann, Schmidt concludes that literature is filled...

  8. 4: Tropes of Subversion
    (pp. 120-150)

    Schmidt’s play with non-phonetic signs and the etym theory illustrate his fragmentary style of writing and highlights his rejection of traditional logical chains of reasoning. Instead of presenting any dogmatic truths about language, Schmidt sought to animate the reader to create his or her language through self-conscious figuration. Although the etym language might suggest a rather confining way of reading and reflecting upon language and reality, the fact is that even Schmidt, as the self-proclaimed creator of such a mode of inquiry into oral and written language, remains inscribed in his own speaking and writing. It is the reader, who,...

  9. 5: Schmidt’s Reading of Freud’s Ego-Development
    (pp. 151-187)

    An analysis of Schmidt’s dialectic of conscious and unconscious thought processes remains insufficient without a more thorough investigation of Schmidt’s understanding of subjectivity. An inquiry into what constitutes subjectivity seems even more necessary since Schmidt alludes to the androgynous character of our being. Schmidt’s stress on the unconscious as the prime determinant of our conscious mode of processing information unveils the central role the unconscious assumes in any reflection on subjectivity. Throughout the previous chapters, however, I emphasized that reading entails a process of decipherment, which in turn always leads to a process of construction and reconstruction. Since for Schmidt...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 188-192)

    It would seem ironic to follow the scholarly custom of providing the reader of this text with a “conclusion,” as if to give some form of closure to the preceding inquiry. The previous chapters suggest that to summarize what I have been arguing would defeat the basic idea of this study and its object, that is, non-closure. Since my project has dealt with an author whose texts are notorious for being nonlinear or open-ended, I would instead like to provide the following observations.

    Considering that Arno Schmidt draws on a vast number of areas of knowledge, I have tried to...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 193-206)
  12. Index
    (pp. 207-212)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)