By Arno Schmidt
Translated by John E. Woods
Publication Date: 4/30/2024
Nobodaddy's Children is a trilogy of novels that traces life in Germany from the Nazi era through the postwar years and into an apocalyptic future. Scenes from the Life of a Faun recounts the dreary life of a government worker who escapes the banality of war by researching the exploits of a deserter from the Napoleonic Wars nicknamed The Faun. Brand's Heath deals with the chaos of the immediate postwar period as a writer joins a small community of "survivors" to try to forge a new life, and Dark Mirrors is set in a future where civilization has been virtually destroyed. Dark Mirrors' narrator fears he may be the last man on earth until the discovery of another creates new fears. All three novels are characterized by Schmidt's unique combination of sharply observed details, sarcastic asides, and wide erudition.
Arno Schmidt (1914–1979) was born in the working-class suburb of Hamburg-Hamm, Germany. Drafted into the army in 1940, he served in the artillery at a flak base in Norway until the end of the war. After being held as a prisoner of war for eight months, he worked briefly as an interpreter for the British military police. His first book, Leviathan, was published in 1949. In 1958 Schmidt moved to the village of Bargfeld near Celle. Over the next twenty years, until his death, he wrote some of the landmarks of postwar German literature, many of which are available in translation from Dalkey Archive Press.
John E. Woods won both the 1981 American Book Award and PEN award for his translation of Schmidt's Evening Edged in Gold and has published a new translation of Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks.
Thou shalt not point thy finger at the stars; nor write in the snow; but when it thunders
touch the earth : so I sent a tapering hand upward, with beknitted finger drew the slivered <K> in the silver scurf beside me, (no thunderstorm in progress at the moment, otherwise I’d have come up with something !) (In my briefcase the wax paper rustles).
The moon’s bald Mongol skull shoved closer to me. (The sole value of discussions is :
that good ideas occur to you afterward).
The main road (to the station) coated with silver strips; shoulders cemented high with
coarse snow, diamonddiamond (macadamized; — was Cooper’s brother-in-law by the by). The trees stood there, giants at august attention, and my look-alive steps stirred beneath me. (Just ahead the woods will retreat to the left and fields advance). And the moon must have still been bustling at my back, since sometimes sharp rays flitted strangely through the needled blackness. Far ahead a small car bored its bulging eyes into the matutinal night, wiggled them slowly looking about, and then clumsily turned the red glow of its monkey’s butt toward me : glad it’s driving off !
My life ? !: is not a continuum ! (not simply fractured into white and black pieces by day
and night! For even by day they are all someone else, the fellow who walks to the train; sits in the office; bookworms; stalks through groves; copulates; small-talks; writes; man of a thousand thoughts; of fragmenting categories; who runs; smokes; defecates; listens to the radio; says “Commissioner, sir” : that’s me !): a tray full of glistening snapshots.
Not a continuum, not a continuum ! : that’s how my life runs, how my memories run (like
a spasm-shaken man watching a thunderstorm in the night):
Flash : a naked house in the development bares its teeth amid poison- green shrubbery : night.
Flash : white visages are gaping, tongues tatting, fingers teething : night.
Flash : tree limbs are standing, boys play pubescing; women are stew¬ing; girls are scamping open-bloused : night !
Flame : me : woe : night ! !
But I cannot experience my life as a majestically unrolling ribbon; not I ! (Proof).
Drift ice in the sky : chunks; a floe. Chunks; a floe. Black crevices in which stars crept
(sea stars). A pale, white fish belly (moonfish). Then :
Cordingen Station : the snow prickled softly on the walls; a black switch- wire quivered
and husked hawaiian; (at my side the she-wolf appeared, covered with silver grains. Climb aboard for starters).
The great white she-wolf : growled the greeting, took a savage seat and tugged out her
textbook by one corner; then from her pen she extracted many jagged inky threads, ducked low, and gazed with her round eyes into an invisible hole. The red swarm of my thoughts circled a bit about her, snarling, with round eyes, yellow-rimmed. (But then here came another, a black one, and I whetted my mouth and stared disapprovingly at the dirty slatted benches : sparkling thickskulled brass screws, roundheads, beaded through us : how can you escape stuff like that ? ! The she-wolf scratched in the frost on the window, for her girlfriend to get on : ergo : Walsrode).