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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

An Evocation of Matthias Stimmberg

Alain-Paul Mallard

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To purchase An Evocation of Matthias Stimmberg

Title: An Evocation of Matthias Stimmberg
Author: Alain-Paul Mallard
Genre: Stories
Written: 1995 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 45 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: An Evocation of Matthias Stimmberg - US
Evocación de Matthias Stimmberg - US
An Evocation of Matthias Stimmberg - UK
An Evocation of Matthias Stimmberg - Canada
Évocation de Matthias Stimmberg - France
Evocación de Matthias Stimmberg - España
directly from: Wakefield Press
  • Spanish title: Evocación de Matthias Stimmberg
  • With a preface by the author on 'Twenty-Five Years Later'
  • Translated Sarah Pollack
  • With wood engravings taken from Brehm's Life of Animals

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Our Assessment:

B : an intriguing smattering of a work

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       An Evocation of Matthias Stimmberg is just that, presenting ten short pieces -- reminiscences, of sorts, basically -- attributed to a fictional Austrian author, the "sullen poet" Matthias Stimmberg (1901-1979), bookended by two pieces signed by Alain-Paul Mallard -- the opening one, 'Twenty-Five Years Later', not part of the original work but rather a brief reflection on the work's "stubborn endurance" written for the publication of this translation into English.
       It is, in every way, the thinnest of biographical works, the entire volume well-padded -- by illustrations and blank pages -- and still only coming to 45 pages, the pieces themselves containing mere slivers of biography. Helpfully, the concluding 'Apostille' dates: "in approximate manner, the events narrated"; while in several the time is fairly clear in any case, it's still useful to be able to more precisely locate them -- especially since the pieces are not presented chronologically (as far as the experiences described go).
       Poet Stimmberg is loosely placed in the German-language literary world: at one point he mentions: "rummaging through my notebooks at Peter Suhrkamp's request", while in the 'Apostille' Mallard mentions and quotes from a 1977 article by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (in which Enzensberger: "launched a virulent moral campaign against him with the slogan: 'Why do we know nothing about Stimmberg's past ?'"). There are some shades of Thomas Bernhard (though Stimmberg is a generation older), notably in 'The Shadow and the Puddles', with its description of Mannersdorf an der Rabnitz, where a young Stimmberg spent a summer and now: "Of the gloomy town, I only remember the asylum"; he returns there when he is awarded a prize and notes in the concluding paragraph of a piece that wouldn't be out of place in My Prizes:

I suppose they regretted having awarded the prize to me. I, in any case, already regretted having accepted it.
       'Sisyphus' has Stimmberg in Paris, a friend of Paul Celan's -- and teases with the promise of a posthumous Celan poem of some thirty verses, to be found somewhere in Stimmberg's: "piles and piles of paper".
       There's little about Stimmberg himself as a writer or poet, though in 'Mein Kampf' he does describe working in a small printshop in still-occupied post-war Vienna and printing his first chapbook there -- though: "before I even saw it, I regretted the whole endeavor". The story amusingly describes -- again with echoes of Bernhard -- what became of the piles of copies he still had, he noting with still-lingering satisfaction:
Of all my books, it was this first one, in my opinion, that met the best fate.
       In his 'Twenty-Five Years Later'-preface, Mallard reflects that:
     An Evocation of Matthias Stimmberg is a book from the previous century.
       That it is, both as to when it was written and first published as well as its subject-matter, with Stimmberg's own vignettes, ranging from childhood until near his 1979 death, both small slices of life and glimpses of parts of the (Central/West) European experience across that period. However, An Evocation of Matthias Stimmberg is the lightest of stray collections, with only a few hints of the larger life behind it, the author and his work, or, indeed, the world surrounding him. The accompanying Brehm-illustrations, with only the loosest connections to (some of) the pieces contribute to the overall air of willful but also playful inscrutability. The work presents much that grounds it in the vaguely-familiar -- the Brehm-illustrations, certainly, likely resonate easily and deeply with any German-speaking reader, while the vignettes include firmly situating mentions (Suhrkamp, Celan, Mein Kampf) -- while leaving oceans of material (all that life, poetry, history) essentially unseen.
       The pieces are well-crafted, and their sum makes for a neat little volume -- but it feels very much like a collection chiseled from a much, much larger block, a work that is not so much surface-skim (or concentrated life) as a collection of small nuggets, with everything else brushed aside. Still, there is something to be said for its intentional thinness -- not least the vastness of those open spaces -- and, despite it, An Evocation of Matthias Stimmberg does have considerable substance. It is a curious -- in all senses of the word -- and, yes, evocative little work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 August 2021

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An Evocation of Matthias Stimmberg: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Author and filmmaker Alain-Paul Mallard was born in Mexico in 1970.

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© 2021 the complete review

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