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Der Rahmen arbeitet': Paratextuelle Strategien der Lekturelenkung im Werk Arno Schmidts.

Der Rahmen arbeitet': Paratextuelle Strategien der Lekturelenkung im Werk Arno Schmidts. By CHRISTOPH JURGENSEN. (Palaestra, 328) Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 2007. 274 pp. 59.90 [euro]. ISBN 978-3-525-20598-3.

The subject of this monograph, based on the author's 2005 Kiel dissertation, struck me immediately as important and exciting. Taking its cue from G6rard Genette's seminal study of paratextuality, Seuils (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1987), it examines the roles and functions of paratextuality in the works of Arno Schmidt.

Genette was the first to chart systematically the role of the many kinds of text situated on the threshold of what we have come to call simply 'the text' (hence the subtitle of the 1997 English translation of Seuils, Thresholds of Interpretation). Such threshold texts include the title and subtitle, the motto, chapter headings, content pages, even the author's name, an author's preface or afterword, a dedication, footnotes, illustrations, maps, and indexes--in other words all the 'texts' located within the confines of a book's cover. All those elements make up what Genette calls the peritext. But since Genette defined the concept of paratextuality even more broadly to incorporate all the author's pronouncements that communicate with the reader about the text, whether published during the author's lifetime or posthumously, any study of paratextuality in Genette's vein must also address what the French theoretician calls the epitext(s), i.e. any statement made by the author about his or her text, e.g. in diaries, letters, or interviews. While the formula used by Genette is 'Paratext= Peritext+Epitext' (p. 18), Jurgensen wisely uses his methodological introduction to distance himself from Genette in this regard. Arguing that the 'text' would lose its structural and hence definitional distinctness, Jurgensen opts more traditionally to discuss the peritext only.

As Jurgensen illustrates extensively, by strategically employing such paratextual stratagems as dust-jacket texts and cover illustrations (but also such epitexts as publishers' brochures and the author's own meta-statements in essays and interviews), Schmidt and his publishers consciously sought to position him as an anti-establishment outsider, creating for 'Schmidt' a brand name imbued with considerable 'symbolic capital', a term Jurgensen borrows from Pierre Bourdieu in order better to gauge the full 'wirkungsasthetische Reichweite des Paratexts' (P. 35). Indeed, ironically, it is this very symbolic capital--Schmidt as the essentially indigestible and gratuitously idiosyncratic enfant terrible of post-war German literature--that may stop him from ever attaining canonical status, even despite his recent anointment as a Suhrkamp author.

Following an illuminating and engaging methodological introduction Jurgensen proceeds to analyse the role of paratextuality in seven of Schmidt's works, moving chronologically from the 'Erstlingswerk' Leviathan (1949) and the early novelettes Brand's Haide and Schwarze Spiegel (1951) through the science-fiction novel Die Gelehrtenrepublik (1957) to the three typescript novels Zettel's Traum (1970), Die Schule der Atheisten (1972), and Abend mit Goldrand (1975), providing a representative coverage of early, mid-career, and late works, but with an understandable emphasis on the more experimental and paratextually complex 'Spatwerke'. It is here that Jurgensen's book begins to disappoint, less because the scholarship might be wanting, which, generally speaking, it is not--by and large the book is well written and well researched--than because the tools themselves, the analytical vocabulary provided by Genette, seem to promise more than they can deliver, especially when applied to multiple works of one and the same author. The result is that, moving from chapter to chapter, in each of which Jurgensen seems to feel obliged to survey as many paratextual devices as he can identify, describing their function and the intertextual trajectories they open up, we encounter considerable repetition. Moreover, large parts of the chapters consist of plot summary, which might be useful as contextualization for the novice, but is of little interest to the more versed Schmidt scholar. In other words, if the book had been intended as an introduction (which clearly it was not), it would have needed framing differently; if the dissertation was aimed at the specialist (which I believe it was), it needed paring back before publication. As it stands, beyond the actual application of Genette's terminology to the analysis of Arno Schmidt's oeuvre--which at times does not go beyond the level of mere platitudes--and the useful discussion of Bourdieu's notion of the circulation of symbolic capital with regard to Schmidt's habitus of self-stylization, there is, rather sadly I must admit, very little in this volume that we did not know already.


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Title Annotation:text in English
Author:Weninger, Robert
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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