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Uncle Arno and weblogs

Tue, Jun 19, 2001; by Dave Winer.

Hello Dave,

As a from-time-to-time Scripting News reader and old fan of writer Arno Schmidt I was excited to read that the two of you are distant relatives. I looked for your older postings mentioning A.S. and/or your grandmother and found that, satisfyingly, fellow Germans already provided some information about the author in these forums. Just two points I'd like to let you know. First, on saturday's ScriptingNews you wrote:

My mom was worried I'd turn into a bum. (Like my uncles and her uncle, an eclectic but respected German novelist, who my grandmother thought was a bum.)
Your grandma was both right and wrong, depending on the perspective. Arno Schmidt surely was one of the worst selling authors of all times. (In his novel 'Tina oder über die Unsterblichkeit' (Tina Or About Immortality) he depicts a satiric Beyound in which authors have to remain undead until the last copy of their works is destroyed - only then are they allowed the relief of complete nonexistence. He looks at his current number of book copies sold and concludes he is on the safe side, i.e., will 'make it' rather soon.) On the other hand, in literary circles and for a not-so-small fan community, Schmidt continues to be seen as one of the best writers of post-war (western) Germany.

My second point is about an interesting parallel. Did you read some of your great uncles books? Apart from his prose works, Arno Schmidt produced a small number of essays, two of which describe his poetology. There, he also gives psychological arguments for why writes as he does. Some of his concepts, from memory:
  • an ideal novel should be as close as possible a textual simulation of memories
  • the human memory cannot and does not capture the entire stream of consciousness; instead, a series of 'snapshots' with accompanying associations is stored
  • therefore a (textual) 'photo album' should be the optimal narrative form.
He develops these ideas in a concise, plain language, quite unlike what he uses in his fiction. You literally hear a software designer provide rationale for the main data structure he chose. (The title of these essays is 'Berechnungen I & II' . Computations.)

And he sticks to this design - it can be seen on nearly any page of any of his books. The most visible structure is a long series of paragraphs each having a short (one line) emphasized header. There may or may not be chapters, parts, etc., too, but the body text shows a striking structural similarity to ... well, a weblog. He just didn't have hyperlinks yet.

It would be interesting to know how Schmidt with his passion for exact, encyclopedic knowledge and firework-like associations would have perceived the Internet age. If it weren't for the lack of a decent time machine, you might have very interesting conversations with your great uncle.

Thilo.Ernst@dlr.de

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