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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary criticism

     

Framing a Novelist

by
Robert Weninger


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Framing a Novelist



Title: Framing a Novelist
Author: Robert Weninger
Genre: Literary criticism
Written: 1995
Length: 118 pages
Availability: Framing a Novelist - US
Framing a Novelist - UK
Framing a Novelist - Canada
  • Arno Schmidt Criticism 1970-1994
  • Includes bibliographies of works by Arno Schmidt, translated by Schmidt, and criticism consulted

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Our Assessment:

-- : interesting overview

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/1996 Steven Moore


  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)ntelligently analyzed in Weninger's splendid new book. (...) For anyone writing on Schmidt in the future, Weninger's Framing the Novelist will be an indispensable tool." - Steven Moore, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In his preface, Robert Weninger explains that in Framing a Novelist he means:

to survey the published criticism on Arno Schmidt,; to scrutinize and evaluate the modes, techniques, and stratagems by which critics have succeeded in framing -- with all the implications of double-entendre -- the author and his literary oeuvre; and, in doing so, to illuminate the nature of literary criticism itself.
       It is a worthwhile enterprise, and largely a success. Schmidt is a particularly interesting author to focus on, as critical (and popular) reaction to the "fascinating multiplicity" of the works of the man Weninger calls "unquestionably postwar Germany's most prolific and esoteric writer" has been extraordinarily diverse. Schmidt's work can't be readily pigeon-holed (as Weninger puts it: it "so glaringly and refreshingly violates all norms and standards") and, not surprisingly, it has been subject to many different (often very different) critical approaches.
       Weninger divides his study into five chapters, beginning with a brief summary of Schmidt's life and work and an overview of reactions to it. It's a good reminder of the essential facts -- from the sheer amount Schmidt wrote ("7,700 pages of prose and criticism and 11,000 pages of translations") to his perhaps surprising sales-success ("it is estimated that by 1981 550,000 copies of Schmidt's works had been sold in one form or another" -- a success one imagines the few currently available English translations (Dalkey Archive Press, Green Integer) won't contribute significantly to). Schmidt's occasionally tortuous publishing history is also discussed. (Note that these matters do not yet appear to have been entirely resolved: Suhrkamp has now taken over the Haffmans publications, but Fischer continues to bring out the odd edition (most recently a paperback of Zettels Traum in 2002 -- but only, ridiculously, in a very limited edition).) And Weninger mentions the most important organizations and publications dealing with Schmidt
       In his second chapter Weninger 'maps the parameters', explaining his approach and noting some of the difficulties in tackling Schmidt (and, by extension, Schmidt-criticism) -- from "methods of partitioning Arno Schmidt's oeuvre" (chronological, thematic, formal, and generic considerations being the most common -- but still often disputed -- methods) to the critical approaches themselves (with Weninger noting the somewhat curious fact that "Schmidt criticism has largely not tended to follow the flow of contemporary criticism").
       The third and longest section of the book offers "A Thematic Survey of Criticism". It is here that Weninger surveys Schmidt-criticism in some detail, considering it in four areas of "thematic concentration" -- the sub-sections describing The Author as, in turn: Radical, Analyst, Realist ?, and Cannibal. (He describes these also more fully as: "1) Schmidt's Weltanschauung and his political agenda; 2) questions of biography and psychology and their relationship to narrative content; 3) the case for or against realism, including Schmidt's handling of language and technique as a means to usurp and undermine traditional genre concepts; and finally 4) the related issues of quotationism, plagiarism, parody, and intertextual play, in short, Schmidt's multifaceted relationship with tradition.") These certainly are the most significant (and useful) approaches to Schmidt's work, and Weninger's analysis of the criticism is clearly presented and well tied together, making for a good and interesting overview.
       The fourth section looks at the criticism of two specific texts, the early novel, Das steinerne Herz (1956, The Stony Heart) and the late typescript, Abend mit Goldrand (1975, Evening Edged in Gold), usefully surveying reactions -- and suggesting how much more still might be done.
       A brief conclusion then sums up the idea of 'constructing an author' and the specific case of Schmidt. Weninger makes a good case for Schmidt's work being an especially fertile field for criticism, noting among other things with some certainty (though, curiously, phrasing it as a question):
After all, does not Schmidt's oeuvre, more than that of any other postwar German write of fiction, force us to refocus our attention precisely on the very concepts that have so insistently been skirted by contemporary theoreticians of literature, namely authorial agency and authorial intention ?

       In addition to the text, Weninger also provides useful bibliographies -- of Schmidt's work, of his translations (from Hammond Innes to Stanislaus Joyce to Edward Bulwer-Lytton !), and, of course, of Schmidt-criticism.

       Framing a Novelist is a very well-presented overview of Arno Schmidt-criticism, and an interesting essay on literary criticism itself. It is, of course, limited -- by now almost ten year's worth of Schmidt-criticism has been added to the pile, and the past decade has also seen the first-time publication of numerous works by Schmidt in English translation. Still, this is a valuable starting point in considering Schmidt-criticism, and should be of great interest to anyone with any familiarity with Schmidt's books. Weninger writes well and clearly, and the various approaches to Schmidt he presents actually make for some fairly exciting reading (and almost never get too bogged down in jargon-laden theory). (Note that readers who are not familiar with Schmidt or his work will probably not find the book of nearly as much interest.)

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Links:

Framing a Novelist: Arno Schmidt: Books by Arno Schmidt under review: Other books about Arno Schmidt under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Robert Weninger has written extensively on Arno Schmidt.

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