Zettel’s links

September 19, 2003 at 11:58 pm | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

How very strange. Dave Winer reports that his uncle Ken Kieser just died in Jamaica — a man who appears to have been something of a genius, not least in terms of being a Lebenskuenstler (a person who figures out how to live vividly and artfully, with inspiration). In an aside in his tribute, Dave mentions that his uncle’s uncle was Arno Schmidt, and you sort of have to wonder how strangely a theme can wend its way through relations. Arno Schmidt (1914-79) was an avant-garde writer whose best-known work, Zettels Traum (Zettel’s Dream), was hailed as a hypertext document before its time on this 1996 page by Stefan Muenz. The book — thousands of pages, called “elephantine” because of its physical heft — was praised for its non-linearity when it was published in 1970 — and of course it was working out themes that would be endorsed by subsequent literary theory: the problems of narrative, of its form or structure, the dispersal of a unified point of view in the novel, and so on. Zettels Traum is entirely written in 3 columns (Schmidt wrote it that way on his typewriter), which I suppose contributes to its sense of dis-integrating the page — the page is no longer one page, unified, but three scraps of pages on a page. Zettel, incidentally, can be a name, but ordinarily means a scrap piece of paper, something you use to jot down notes. The middle column represents the main “novelistic” thread, whose main character is the aging writer and historian Dan Pagenstecher. His is a punning name: Page means courtly page, but also refers to the English word for paper page, which relates to Zettel; a Stecher is an etcher, but also someone who pokes or needles. One summer day he receives visitors, a married couple named Jacobi who are both translators, and their 16-year-old daughter Franziska. They talk about Edgar Allan Poe, whom the Jacobis are translating, and thus the left column has Poe-quotes — some verbatim, others altered, estranged from themselves, a discombobulating collection. The right column in turn has commentary by the first-person narrator (i.e., not Pagenstecher). As Muenz notes, you can think of the middle column as a trail, and the left and right-hand columns as instruments for meta-information.

Sort of like a blog is, sometimes/on occasion, or like the workings of hypertext.

How odd, a concrete connection between avant-garde literary practice and …well, this web-stuff.

And just for fun, to show that it doesn’t hurt the avant-garde writer or his alter-egos in hyperspace to have self-confidence of elephantine proportions, here’s a quote by Arno Schmidt — no shrinking violet, he — about himself: “Ich finde Niemanden, der so haeufig recht haette, wie ich!” (“I don’t find anyone who is right as often as I am!”) [n.b.: Schmidt puts the verb — haette (would have) in the conditional, so perhaps a better translation would be, “who would be right,” not the unconditional “is right.” But it’s a differentiation of inflection, not a fundamental alteration. Wish I had some of that ‘tude, chutzpah, whatever… wow.]

I haven’t read Zettels Traum, although we have some books of Schmidt’s around the house (it’s just a question of finding the trail to find them… ), but maybe I will now.

And 58 is too young to die; sorry to hear that you lost your big brother uncle, Dave.


September 19, 2003 at 1:50 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

Alexandra Stein on Totalism in the 21st century, a response to Todd Gitlin and George Monbiot’s earlier conversation in Open Democracy:

[Totalism] is a critical issue facing the global progressive movement, and it’s one we drag into the 21st century from the 20th, the bones of millions clanking along as proof of its dangers. Totalism, and its social-psychological relatives: sectarianism, fundamentalism, totalitarianism and cultism, are alive and well. And totalism – unlike global capitalism – is not driven by profit, but by the raw desire for power and control of each totalist leader. (…)

It thrives on an absolutist or fundamentalist ideology: left-wing, right-wing, on the wings of the angels of the Christian identity movement or the wings of spiritual beings in the New Age. But in the end, the ideological wings don’t matter, the social relationships of people to each other do. [more…]

Naomi Klein presented a sharper point of view back in April in response to Gitlin’s book, putting names and faces to Stein’s similar call for an end to Totalism:

The true faces of modern activism belong to people like the late Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American “human shield” whose young body was crushed by a bulldozer in Gaza last month. Corrie wasn’t in the occupied territories to give comfort to suicide bombers; she was standing with the nonviolent International Solidarity Movement trying to keep a Palestinian family home from being demolished. [more…]

How do you rate?

September 19, 2003 at 7:58 am | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

In 8th grade I was 12 and classmate to a girl I can only describe as a mean ditchrat. I didn’t start out disliking her, it just grew on me in the wake of one of her rhetorical but highly consequential questions. She was very hard, which I wasn’t on principle averse to, having been an A-1 Winnipegonian 7th grade greaseball the previous year at Norberry Junior High. But now I lived in Victoria and was adjusting to being an “island girl”: I had given up the heavy eyeliner (yes, I wore heavy eyeliner when I was 11 — I was completely unnatural), the foundation (yes, ditto), the blush, the mascara, the works. At 11 in my first year at that Junior High in Winnipeg, I had an arsenal of makeup that would appall me today. I never left our high-rise apartment on the city’s outskirts (the same, incidentally, that famous Winnipeg band Guess Who shacked up in) without the full pancake effect, looking like a very painted, dead child. How this look got past my parents is a mystery only explainable by the truth: they didn’t care. But I was tough, too, so I learned to parse my care in return. Sweet Cream Ladies was a favourite hit on the radio that year. I read Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land that year. Going around painted, and hanging out with social outcasts at school — there was 13-year old Bonnie whose mother allowed her to bed her boyfriend on the narrow couch in their living room, there were the boys in leather jackets, tedious little grade 9 wanna-be-motorbiker toughs — didn’t seem odd at all. I truly expected aliens to take me away, and swear I saw UFOs hovering over Winnipeg.

Aliens didn’t come for me. But I am very serious when I say that by this time I was fully in love with the abject, with detritus, with love of what others consider the cast-off. I had already spent several weekend hours volunteering at a Winnipeg institution where nuns looked after children considered beyond hope or home-life: kids with extreme disabilities, ranging from the physical to the mental or a combination thereof. Naturally, I went there because my greaser friends and I wanted to gawk, and the only way we could get past the nun at the gate was to pretend that we wanted to volunteer. But for some reason I came back. Aside from a few “bad influences” friends at school, I mostly hung around by myself, and when I wasn’t painting my face, I read lots of science fiction. The kids at the institution had hours to burrow deeply into my head. They, and the make-up: I owned signed photographs of Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee, loving the luxurious along with the abject. When I took the bus to the institution, I wore cheap knock-offs of white, flat-heeled, ankle-high go-go boots.

But back to Debbie, which certainly must have been her name. Debbie the Ditchrat.

I had no prejudices toward Debbie initially. I was a new kid at school, new in town, too. I was poor, she was probably poor, many of the kids at the school — S.J. Willis, nicknamed “pregnant hill” — were poor and from nearby Victoria public housing. This was not the problem. Debbie’s crime consisted of destroying my carefully made-up just world, a world by now as meticulously painted in my mind as my face had been the year before.

She and her friends always seemed ready to “call someone out,” which meant challenging them to a fight. She was dangerous, and so very wily about it. (Yet ignorant too: if she had wanted to know about crime, she could have talked to me — how else did I get my hands on all that makeup I couldn’t afford to buy?) Walking around our classroom one day, an exquisite combination of lordly sneer and begging snivel, she hit up every girl for money: “Hey man, can you help me out here, I’ve got the curse and need to buy a pad right now, man, you know….” I didn’t realize that her game was a combination of trying to extort money, impressing us with her womanly workings, and “shocking” the weedier among us with revelations of menstruation. Hardly a weed, I was prepared for emergencies (such as imminent soaking of something like white pants with red blood) and always carried with me a carefully wrapped spare napkin, which I offered to Debbie, discreetly, so sotte voce as to be nearly inaudible. She could easily have ignored me, but she was at least two years older and couldn’t let this pass. Loud enough for everyone to hear, she spat out “How do you rate?” She said it to clarify that I was stupid and had committed the grave sin of embarassing her: how do you rate, you loser-retard, you belong in an institution, locked up by the nuns.

Debbie just has to be one of the milestones of my allergy to questions of “rating,” to cowardly assessments of being a winner or a loser, to being judged by anyone who claims a need (“man, you gotta help me out here, I got the curse”), which in reality is a mere want (“I want to win over you”). At that moment, Debbie had morphed into one of the awful adults, manipulating to win.

Thinking about it now I also see how much of Debbie is in me, and how confusing it is to figure out what we need and what we want. That’s not meant to let the guys have the last word, though (“You can’t always get what you want, but if you blah blah blah some time…”); we girls need to talk. It’s a drama with a script we didn’t write, and we should rewrite it — or ditch the play and save the frightened rat.

Theme: Pool by Borja Fernandez.
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