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.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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