Nate D's Reviews > Nobodaddy's Children: Scenes from the Life of a Faun, Brand's Heath, Dark Mirrors

Nobodaddy's Children by Arno Schmidt
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's review
Sep 01, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: germany, 60s-re-de-construction, dalkey, read-in-2011, 50s-unrealist
Recommended to Nate D by: Wnor / german history
Recommended for: deserters
Read from September 01 to October 10, 2011

Arno Schmidt hit the literary ground running in post-WWII West Germany with a series of novellas and this bitter trilogy moving from the war years into the post-apocalyptic future. Stylewise, Schmidt took the lessons of Joyce into territory all his own: it wasn't enough for language to do whatever we wanted it to -- now syntax must follow suit. Thus this reads really like nothing else, a series of fragmentary, poetic bursts of thought and observation that move across each day in jumps and lurches without wasting any space on transitions. There's a quote somewhere that the best literature teaches you how to read it, and that's sort of how Schmidt's writing is, gradually coming into focus as you absorb its rhythms and thought-patterns. The Joyce comparisons seem pretty apt -- dense and over-smart, yet simultaneously lewd and funny -- but Schmidt alternates his more abstract and allusive burbles with more direct bits, the whole parsed into smaller, more digestible fragments. And since this is post-war, he's more naturally comfortable at the blending of high and low elements that Joyce dabbled in. (Did Joyce ever attempt science fiction, I wonder?) I'll review the parts separately, as they were published that way.

Scenes from the Life of a Fawn: In Germany, in the months leading up to the Second World War, a bored, embittered government clerk is charged with reviewing local village and parish records. The exact purpose of his task is never really elaborated, but it can be presumed that he is supposed to be locating families of Jewish or other unacceptable heritage. Instead, in what petty rebellion is open to him, he spends his time tracking the movements of a Napoleanic deserter with whom he feels some across-age affinity. Once the style sinks in, this is actually pretty brisk and entertaining without a lot of wasted words. Workplace buffoonery, extremely vivid descriptions of clouds, some rather interesting discussion of German lit (as in, way more focused and narratively useful than the literature chapters of Against Nature). It is strange, though, to be reading a description of this era of Germany from so close within -- and by an author who was conscripted into the German Army, no less. Like a good post-war German, he's quick to denounce everything going on before the war, the "correct" response for anyone who wanted a future. Schmidt's (and his narrator's) bitterness and disgust really do seem sincere, but still, it's a little uneasy spend time watching normal Germans at the height of Nazi-ism going on about their lives. Maybe that is part of the eerie interest here too, though. And Schmidt doesn't really let anyone off the hook -- though his protagonist hates the system, he's still essentially a complicit cog in it. A warning to moderate or distracted dissidents. 3.5 stars or so.

: And it was another Reichstag session, with Hurrah and Heil and glee club and lusty bellowing; for closers : "passed unanimously". (Plus : "A song !". And were so proud : in England there's always that disgusting pro and con in parliment : but we're united, from top to bottom !). And throughout the populace the serene, happy conviction : the Fuhrer will take care of it ! God, are the Germans stupid ! 95% ! (I.e., the others are no better either : just let the Americans elect themselves a Hindenburg sometime !)

Brand's Heath: Schmidt's first novel, and it kinda shows, both in the simpler material (war survivors begin rebuilding lives in the countryside) and a slightly less refined style (though his formatting was always and forever his own, a clean, definite break with all pre-war lit -- or really all lit other than himself). As with Faun we're almost entirely in the narrator's head, but since the narrator is a version of Schmidt himself, his erudition and wide-ranging knowledge of various languages and plenty of authors I've never heard of, classical germanic and otherwise, assures that tons of the material will be completely inaccessible to causal readers (me) without serious study. And with its somewhat narrower story and subject, the allusions make up far more of the content. Many of the best parts, to me, were actually the bits Schmidt's avatar read aloud from his own and others' writing, as these function best as straight storytelling. Likewise a couple excellent dream-recitations and account of crazy devil-in-the-woods style local folklore. So impressive again, but seems less compelling to the non-german, non-Schmidt reader, perhaps. 2.5 stars.

Dark Mirrors: Ah, here we go again: in post atomic-armageddon 1960, another Schmidt-version wanders the depopulated north-German countryside, musing on the lack of bureaucrats (at last), sending ironic postcards that no postal employees will ever carry and no recipient will ever see ("returning enclosed: the Messiah", a long hilarious complaint letter to Reader's Digest), and attempting to scrape out an existence amongst surviving wild foxes and horses. A much better balance of eerie finely-observed landscape, the mundane adventures of seeking sustenance and shelter, and naturally weird internal musings and allusions, but these much more intelligibly worked in for someone not as familiar with Schmidt's sources. Totally entertaining so far. This one was actually written between the other two. 3.5 stars.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Jesse (new)

Jesse so you gonna read zettels traum? it seems pretty daunting especially because it's translated, but i do like the idea of the structure of the book

message 2: by Nate D (last edited Sep 07, 2011 03:48PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nate D Totally intriguing for sure, but I'll probably browse his lesser works for a while before I commit to it. This is quite good so far, though, so it's totally possible.

Though shouldn't I try to read Joyce's own version before I try to read "Arno Schmidt's Finnegan's Wake", as Zettel's Traum has already been called?

message 3: by Jesse (new)

Jesse yeah probably, i'm not gonna read finnegan's for like ten more years - it's like running a marathon: you gotta train for it.

message 4: by Adam (new) - added it

Adam I'm down with ______'s ULYSSES, but another FINNEGANS WAKE is terrifying. A mind that could understand FW well enough to attempt a remake? my god...

Nate D Well, it could be just one of the those ill-chosen descriptions that sticks nonetheless.

message 6: by Tuck (new)

Tuck you see where they are comparing pres. obama to hindenburg now? "they" say it's just like Weimer republic now in usa :|

Nate D That seems like quite a stretch. And do "they" mean the post-WWI German President or the exploding hydrogen blimp?

message 8: by Jesse (new)

Jesse speaking of the exploding blimp, y'all should read 'love and hydrogen' by jim shephard, just a great short story collection. you will not be dissappointed.

Nate D Definitely been meaning to read more of him, too. But i got the new collection around here somewhere -- that one first.

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