Friday, March 3, 2017
Trying to parse the difference, in my own mind, between the early (1949-64) short stories in Arno Schmidt's Collected Stories, 1996, and his longer School for Atheists: a Novella = Comedy in 6 Acts, 1972, I come back to the idea of sex: one-dimensionally randy in the Collected (the separate shorts tending to repeat the same Benny Hill barnyardery) but finding new permutations in the Atheists, this book much longer than anything in the Collected (three hundred pages in the 2001 Green Integer translation by John E. Woods), with a fair number of characters coming and going more or less rapidly so that a greater number of variations become possible even when the same act is being described.
This is accentuated by his new technique (practiced across the duration of Zettel's Traum, 1970) of dividing a page into columns with asides printed in one column and the ongoing story in the other (footnotes becoming sidenotes), which gives you the effect of a wider surface and more complications. The story seems more vivid simply because it is more changeable, the movement of the randiness and misogyny seem open to alterations (not shut down into pursuit, as it often is in the shorts) and there is a sense of pleasure that does not come from the sex itself (the descriptions are not pleasurable or erotic and the people in them are usually not having any fun that might be transmitted to you since the author frequently experiences body horror or Rabelaisian disgust) but from change.
There is also the Prospero figure of William Kolderup, towards whom the author feels a sentimental kindness that saves the character from the complete humiliation that the book hands out to other people. When I realised that the story was going to end with him then I anticipated the soothing descent (soft ramp into after-story oblivion) that would be there. I thought, "He doesn't have the heart to dump Kolderup."