Zettels Traum by Arno Schmidt

Thursday, February 3, 2011 § 0

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

A Book 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
                                                        Volker 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.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. He is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He is the editor of Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.

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