Wolfgang Müller
“I supply only a description. Make of it what you will” -- on Hans Joachim Schädlich’s novel Schott

When questioned on the meaning of one of his texts, Hans Joachim Schädlich replied with the following anecdote: “An older woman once asked me after a reading in the German House in New York: ‘Well, tell me, just what were you thinking?’ I was embarrassed and was already searching for words, when another person interrupted, who said: ‘I believe, I can say something about that. I don’t understand a lot about literature, I’m an engineer, but I’d like to give it a shot.’ I turned around and thought, thank God, wonderful, he is going to save me. And he said to this woman: ‘A murderer stands in court and the judge asks him, Defendant, when you committed this act, what were you actually thinking.’ The defendant says: ‘Well, actually nothing at all.’ The judge says: ‘But you must have been thinking something, weren’t you?’ The defendant replied after a while: ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re right, I thought something. I thought, oh, oh, oh, oh what did I just do?’”[1]

Everything in the novel Schott revolves around the main character Schott; Schott revolves around a nightmare: “In his sleep Schott is sentenced to death. Schott cannot recognize the faces of the judges. “By a firing squad!, says the first. The execution will ensue!, says the second. An appeal is not possible!, says the third. Take him away!, says the fourth.”(101) “My escape into friendship”(102), Schott remarks sarcastically -- no wonder the poet Sarah Kirsch called this text by her friend a “bleak book”[2].

Schott’s dream arose out of fear. But fear of what? Fear of his own hopelessness? Of the chasm between himself and his mother, between himself and the pilot, Liu, his unobtainable lover? Fear of his former drinking comrade Schill and his craving for power? Of betrayal? Of the lake? Schott and Liu walk on the shore of a lake. Each asks the other what he or she fears, and neither one answers. Deducing from the geographical details given in the text (230 meters deep, raised, rugged northern shore and 70 rivers flowing into the lake), the lake in question is Lake Ladoga, a place of idyll and death. As early as the thirteenth century, Lake Ladoga was a place of hope and of slaughter, an area where the German order of knights battled to conquer Slavic territory, falling in the process through the ice on nearby Lake Onega. The lake also meant life and death to the people of Leningrad during the German blockade in World War II because it was the only escape route and the only access road for bringing food into and transporting the sick and wounded out of the city during the winter months. Lake Ladoga, with neighboring Lake Onega, was also the point of origin for the White Sea Canal. Built in Stalin’s time by forced labor, the canal became the site of death for hundreds of thousands. Besides Schott’s and Liu’s personal fear of losing or finding one another, this compounded silence at the lake also marks the reaction to historical events: the horrors of war and dictatorship, for which spoken words prove inadequate.

Schott hopes to overcome his fear by “living together” (“zu zweit zu leben”) (7) with Liu. The search for her motivates the novel’s plot. The word “plot” in its traditional sense, though, is inadequate here. The text does contain some episodes that represent something akin to a plot. Mainly, however, it deals with fantasies and dreams. While there is a starting point, Schott’s declaration of his intention to live with Liu, and an end, which occurs before the novel begins, Liu’s burning to death in the oven of a concentration camp-like complex, what happens between these two points cannot be reduced to a causally, logically and chronologically ordered plot. The novel’s plot is therefore fictitious in a dual sense: first, as a poetic description of real-seeming or fantastic events, and second, as the description Schott’s musings on various possible courses of events which could occur. These are often, but not exclusively, recounted in the subjunctive.

And yet, the plot does have some semblance to that of the traditional novel: Someone searches for a companion and soul mate and lives through a series of adventures. Beset by his former pal Schill, the embodiment of dictatorial principle, and challenged by his rival Mr. Wölfflin, Schott searches for Liu. His search for her is an escape from loneliness, a journey of discovery into an individual as well as a collective subconscious, and a pilgrimage to answer the ancient questions of human existence: Who am I? What is my purpose? How should I behave morally in this world? His search is an attempt to overcome fear. It is a journey that evokes a whole series of other literary travels, from Homer’s Odyssey to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Is this search successful? Liu, a woman with curly, shoulder-length black hair, appears in and disappears from the scenes of action according to her own laws, all the while putting Schott off, avoiding him, misunderstanding him, and withdrawing from him. Schott’s desperate assumption that they only coincidentally miss each other, for example, in the taxi to or from the airport, is an illusion. Even their unity in mutual death in an imagined automobile accident shows their distance: from her car radio come modern rhythms, from his a classical piece, the Bach chorale with the words of Salomon Franck: “Oh, I see now because I am going to my wedding.” (“Ach ich sehe, itzt, da ich zur Hochzeit gehe.”) (BWV 162)

The settings for the plot are predominantly generic places in either this world or the world of dreams - a grove, a mountain, a café, an ocean, a desert, a lake shore, a cave, or a bordello. Accordingly, time in the narrated plot also remains difficult to ascertain. The short dialogues between Schott and his neighbor, Mrs. Semper, and the interposed conversations with the scientists, Dulla, Zawa and Flieder, as well as commentaries by the author, make clear that axes of “real” time run through the novel. Mrs. Semper becomes older, for instance, even though her name (the translation of the Latin semper means always) identifies her as being timeless. The conversations with the scientists progress over time in sequence, while the editor-figure’s commentaries refer to the time the novel is being written. Aside from this, however, simultaneity reigns over ordered time, just as in a dream, and many events described may be seen as happening simultaneously, in reverse order, or in any order.

The circular nature of the plot on the whole evokes the idea of a temporal cycle of all events and the idea that archetypal alliances and people recur: “There is nothing at all new under the sun.” (Preacher, 1,9). This historical circularity could offer Schott comfort since it implies uninterrupted solidarity with fellow sufferers, and, since the eternal recurrence of the same, even if it is a recurrence of horror, suggests order and meaning. On the other hand, this circularity condemns people to be the victims of ever recurring historical forces. In this manner, an associative inevitability from the oppression of the Jews by the Egyptians, to the battle of the Allied troops against Rommel in Cyrenaica, to Liu’s murder and the impossibility of building a personal love relationship ensues in the text, even if no logical correlation is apparent.

The realization of historical recurrence burdens Schott: “This effort of leaving behind earthen tracks time and time again... The archaeologists are the worst. Right after them come the historians. The librarians are also terrible. The study of antiquity, history, library science! When will it finally end? When will people finally live for the day?”(152) To live with history means for Schott to live with executioners and to live with fear.

Schott’s anxiety as well as the many references to Samuel Beckett in the novel, point to the Zeitgeist that Schott shares with a large part of the intellectual postwar generation, a traumatized generation, with its attempt to take stock after the great catastrophe and with its predilection for the existential philosophies of Camus or Sartre. Schott, too, so it appears, lives traumatized in a postwar period whose traces are to be found everywhere. For this reason, Schott believes the burden of history should be cast off by forgetting: “Forgetting, like a tear flows from an eye ... forget hair and hair color ... forget light ... forget flowers ... forget the inventions of those who filled me and emptied me with their solutions, formulas and recipes ... I’ll forget everything. I’ll forget myself...,” (148-51) Schott tells himself, desperate and happy that another Schott supports him. Major J. Schott, weapons master and gunner, bombs his apartment, his “Schott” (in German having the connotation of his protective hole, his womb), and in so doing throws him onto the path of possible liberation -- a short-lived illusion. For how could he forget “the dog, the fox, or the wolf that gets loose, fights, arises, looks for the nail in the wall, looks for the gold tooth in the mouth ...” (150) “Who or what might help me finally forget how the fire comes, devours, ... how the hair crackles, how the skin becomes red, ... how the skin bursts open, how the flesh becomes brown, how the flesh becomes black.”(150) But how can Schott forget what always recurs?

Does Schott’s name offer further information about him? The narrator seems to expect this question from the reader. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator refers to the variety of origins for the name “Schott,” Choices include, for instance, a family relationship to Bernhard Schott, the founder of the Schott Glass Works or the assistant teacher F. Schott. Even Anselm Schott, who “wrote a missal for the holy church” (9), and Otto Schott are possibilities; as is Justus Georg Schottel, whom he resembles the most, because, like the novel’s hero, he suspects that man “seeks to answer the question of what happens to the human body and to life shortly before death, in death and after death.”(10) Unfortunately, however, the reader is warned that all of these clues lead nowhere. The narrator also warns against assuming a kinship between Schott and Schädlich based on the alliteration of the initial consonants in both names. Instead, readers who want to make sense of the name’s origin are referred to the following riddle: “The name Schott derives from an assumption about the name’s value made by a real ancestor of Schott; on top of that, the name has long since been mutilated in Schott’s generation. The mutilation, which began in the seventeenth century, increases the value in question and at the same time conceals it.”(11) One plausible interpretation would be that the mutilation involves the omission of the consonant “R.” That is to say, the name Schott (German for bulkhead) -- with its connotations of isolation, cutting off, not opening, in order to preserve and protect something -- derives from the German word Schrott, meaning scrap metal. Incidentally, the Schott, the bulkhead on a ship protects against possible sinking and dangers from the outside; and the Schott is also an old standard for gold from Danzig. If Schott lived, he would surely not mind these associations.

Does Schott consider himself to be a monk, a hermit, or possibly even a holy man? Perhaps. At any rate, he brings Liu the fragment of a relief from the bottom of the ocean that appears to show a blossoming Bhudda from the Borobudur Temple, which was situated on the Indonesian Island of Java in the year 860. The temple itself was structured as a mandela, a symbolic representation of the self.[3] He appears also -- still searching for Liu -- as Saint Anthony in a triptych and in two paintings by a Dutch painter of the late Middle Ages, Hieronymous Bosch, both titled “The Temptations of Saint Anthony.” Masked as St. Anthony, Schott sees a table strewn with flowers which is only half set. On the table stands a jug containing a pig’s knuckle -- a symbol of vulgar sexuality in Bosch’s iconography. The table is supported by three scantily clothed or naked half-devils, who, for lacking a penis or possessing only a very small one, are to be viewed as unmanly and feminine in nature. Accordingly, the foot of one half-devil is in a second jug, symbolizing a vagina, while another half-devil is marked as a homosexual through his clothing and other attributes. Judged by sixteenth century values, Bosch’s painting is a picture of perversion. The table could be a symbol of friendship, an invitation to St. Anthony and thereby to Schott, who in Schädlich’s text takes the place of the saint, to sit and eat. But the manner in which the table is set and who supports it make clear that this is not a matter of hospitality, but rather the preparation for an infernal wedding. St. Anthony is to be led into temptation by participating in this wedding. With his appearance in the Bosch picture, it becomes clear to Schott that these half-devils are in actuality his drinking comrades Tomm, Lisch and Mott. Schott also realizes what his participation in their excesses means for him: a distancing from Liu and thereby an estrangement from himself.

Liu does not appear in Schott’s nightmare. Only this much is certain: she is not a dreamer, nor is she introspective; rather -- at least as Schott sees it -- she is a person of action. But why does she draw away from him, particularly when he is the one who wants to help her in her struggle against Schill? Who is she? As with Schott, one could ponder derivations of her name in an attempt to obtain information about her personality. For instance, would it be possible that the name Liu has something to do with the Old High German word for love (liub) and with the Russian name Ljuba, Ljubotschka or with the verb lublju (I love) -- a reasonable interpretation, since it is love that binds Schott to Liu.[4] Sibylle Cramer explains the name as a derivation of the French pronoun “lui,” which among other things means “self.” This would support the interpretation that Liu is Schott’s better half.[5] Yet, as with the name Schott, the name alone does not fully explain the meaning of the figure. At least Liu has, as opposed to Schott, who is working on some unspecified invention, a recognizable, “respectable” occupation as a pilot of war and passenger planes. She brings her passengers, “her people,” to safe heights over the dark expanse of the ocean or protects them by attacking the enemy, analogous to mothers, nurses, psychologists or teachers who lead endangered people over the abysses of their existence.

The second detail that Schott examines in the painting of the “Temptations of St. Anthony” is the wedding of a frog, a detail which discloses another side to Liu. The narrator describes a white-bellied androgynous frog with an erect penis, and a hole above the penis. The frog is lying on his back on top of a gigantic orchid at the edge of a pond. By the pond stands a willow with a split trunk in which the figure of a beautiful, naked woman, whom the narrator calls Liu, is visible behind a red curtain, most likely pulled aside by the frog. Above the frog stands an old woman, the mother of the frog -- the narrator calls her Mrs. Semper --, who pours a liquid into a bowl, letting drops fall in the direction of the hole over the male sex organ. A gauze of sorts stretches from the frog’s penis to the genitals of the woman in the willow. Apparently St. Anthony, or Schott, is a witness to a sexual connection between the witch mother and the frog, and through the frog to the female figure in the willow. For Schott (St. Anthony), Liu appears here in yet another incarnation, that of a witch, who binds him to her through her outer beauty and through her sexuality. The picture shows something else as well: This woman, Liu, for Schott, is a marked woman. Although she lures Schott with her beauty, she nonetheless emphatically rejects him with outstretched arm, motioning him to remove himself far from her presence. Schott takes this to mean she thinks it would be too dangerous for him to stay with her. At the dawn of the bourgeois era where “science” triumphed in witch trials, -- “Ratio (reason), work, achievement and discipline became the governing principles” and “sensuality, emotionality, directness became taboo, suppressed, privatized.” [6] -- it was dangerous to be branded a witch and also dangerous to be considered the confidante of a witch. To be a witch, to be different from others, to rise up against existing hierarchies has always been persecuted. The later burning of the “witch” Liu as an opponent of the Nazi regime in the novel refers not only to the real burning of witches in the Middle Ages in Europe, but also to the scientific and industrially conceived murder of Jews in our century and establishes a connection from the early to the late phases of the modern era.

Schott and Liu’s relationship can be productively understood in a psychoanalytical light. Using Carl Gustav Jung’s theory, all the female characters, Liu included, can be viewed as representations of the anima, the archetype of the female soul in her constantly oscillating form. Schott then is a person with the task of absorbing within himself the anima that he lost at some point. Anima figures include, again according to Jung, all variations of feminine possibilities. The anima in Schädlich’s novel range from that of a seductress and whore (the Liu in the willow, the prostitutes in the bordello) to a pilot and a spiritual leader. Without integrating the anima, Schott remains pure animus, the pure masculine, and thereby, an incomplete part of a personality. Moreover, non-integration of the anima into the male ego produces a condition conducive to “anima moods,” or deep depression -- a condition Schott exhibits throughout the novel. As a matter of fact, Schott’s condition becomes so serious that at the end of the novel, the editor recommends to him a recipe for a fatal drug (and beyond the novel also to the reader) (335). Another side to this loss of anima is the projection of the missing anima-figure onto a woman who then “bewitches” the person who did the projecting -- an interpretation that can certainly be applied to Schott’s yearning for Liu.

Continuing with this interpretative approach, Schott can be described as an incomplete person whose ability to love is underdeveloped since he concentrates on more “important” things, things which relate to the animus -- for example, the invention that he quietly works on in his apartment. The opening sentence of the novel “Schott decided to live together with another” (“zu zweit zu leben”), means figuratively that Schott desires to integrate this feminine aspect into his ego, which would eliminate his unconscious fear of separation from the anima and the underdeveloped feeling of self-worth resulting from it, both of which enter into consciousness by means of his nightmare. The search for Liu, for his anima, becomes at the same time a search for himself, for his own potential, for his own completeness, not unlike St. Anthony’s search for himself. Liu, who comprehends this, consequently asks him whether he intends to live “with himself”(7), because only if he can live with himself, can he live with Liu.

According to Jung, the loss of anima can find its origin in a mother’s loveless relationship to her son. The signs of this are evident in Schott’s relationship with his mother. Presumably it was she who sold his beloved violin, since there are no other adult members in Schott’s family who could have done it (136). And it was she who ignored his anxiety during a bombing attack, stoically and selfishly sending him alone into the bomb shelter, where he fearfully suffered as a bomb hit the house. While his neighbor, like a Pietá, wrapped protective and loving arms around his head -- something one can only assume Schott desired from his mother -- his mother never stopped peeling her potatoes in the kitchen. (84/85)

The loss of anima with all its consequences appears in the novel, not only as an individual characteristic inherent to Schott, but also as the archetypal characteristic of his associates, maybe even of his entire generation. One might say that the loveless mother of this generation was the Second World War. Whether it is Schott telling of his mother’s stoicism, Schill recounting his mother’s determination in coldly killing their horse because it was wounded by aircraft fire during their flight for refuge (86), Lisch throwing his alarm clock into a lake because the ticking reminds him of the air raid warnings from German radio broadcasts, they all speak of their basic experience: war. They speak of danger, powerlessness and the harshness they experience in a fatherless childhood during wartime, when their mothers were forced to give up their traditional roles as care givers and comforters in order to survive.

It is no surprise then that Schott’s desire for his mother’s death and simultaneously for her love also strikes a nerve among his friends: “I have to lie alone at night,” Schott says. “The walls, the ceiling, the floor have to go away. I must become minute, I must fall. Someone should come into the room. Someone should say, ‘Why aren’t you sleeping?’” (134) “I have to go to my mother, Schott says. I have to see my mother sitting dead at the kitchen table,”(135) he tells them. This double-bind situation is intensified by a further bond, that of guilt: It is not only about sons being subjected to war and to their mothers -- Schott ironically, and rightly, calls his friend “a man without a choice” (86) --, but also about the fact that the young Schott, for instance, was in the cellar -- a different type of womb --, when his mother was peeling potatoes in the kitchen upstairs unprotected. A two-fold guilt resonates in Schott’s recollection of his cry: “Mother, you could have been dead.” He could not protect his mother, and he is part of a guilty nation which provoked the air strike. It is these feelings of guilt that provide an additional tie to Liu and her struggle against oppressors.

A Jungian analysis that probes the unconscious structures of conditions and behaviors includes not only an analysis of the individual unconsciousness but also the collective unconsciousness which finds its expression in myths and symbols. There is little in Schädlich’s text that does not also have a symbolic subtext. Among the most important symbolic figures are the “wolf,” or “dog” and the “fire” that appear in different places in the novel. One only has to think of the many dogs that populate the pages of the book. First, there is the long-legged neighbor’s dog, resembling a German shepherd, that disturbs Schott’s sleep and dies the various deaths Schott imagines. Then there is the small dog which belongs to his acquaintance Knoll, which Schott would love to kick under the kitchen table -- a “crony, rabble-rouser and murderer” (60), as he calls him. Then there is the large dog belonging to a young homeless woman which two plumpish, well-dressed women feed with a sausage from a kiosk. Finally, a “little wolf,” Robert Wölfflin, Liu’s colleague and Schott’s rival, belongs in this series, since all dogs derive from the wolf and share the wolf’s traits. An ancient connection exists between the wolf and fire -- for instance a wolf is called hungry and insatiable, just like the fire, and the flames that come from the oven are described in German as a “wolf” --, so that an unholy trinity of dog, wolf and fire unfolds in Schott. The wolf and fire are associated with evil in Germanic mythology, the wolf even with the apocalypse, as it is a wolf who devours both the sun and the moon at the end of time. With this in mind, all the horror concealed behind Schott’s inability to forget the wolf “who looks for the nail in the wall, who looks for the gold tooth in the mouth” is revealed; it is the nail that enables people to be hanged; it is the gold teeth that the Nazis knocked from the mouths of their victims in order to profit from their deaths. Schott and the wolf are therefore antagonists; Liu is the desired ally in the battle against the wolf because she has long fought him. It is evident that a mythological and real historical component -- understood again in a Jungian sense -- supplements the interpretive framework of the loss of anima as the determining element of Schott’s behavior.

One name for Schott’s fear is Schill, one of the executioners in his nightmare. Originally one of four of Schott’s “conversation partners and drinking pals” (72), during the course of the novel he becomes a metaphorical wolf. His name stands for the parting of friends, for totalitarian power structures of a fascist nature and for misanthropic power cravings. He becomes the ultimate antagonist: “I know what Schill is scheming. He wants to be the greatest. He wants to touch the button. He wants to dominate us all. We should dance to his tune. He would just love to have a uniform on ... He wants to drag Liu through the mud. I need to do Schill in while there is still time ... You won’t push Liu into the oven.” (177f.) Anticipating the consequences of Schill’s takeover of power, meaning, Schott would not be allowed to use a motor vehicle, a library, a public pool, or green benches -- all restrictions that the Jewish population in Hitler’s Germany were subjected to --, (240) Schott opposes the enemy that he shares with Liu: “The war against you will continue. You will get from me what you need. Then the second to last war will end.” (178)

If initially the antisemitic core of Schill’s machinations is only intimated, it becomes obvious in the course of the battle. When Schill and his soldiers intend to conquer Schott’s small group of resistors in the forest, they go into battle with a “hep, hep hurrah,” the pogrom cry against Jews, and Schill, expecting victory, rejoices: “Hierosolyma est perdita, ”(256) -- “Jerusalem is finished,” a sentiment he may have shared with the Roman legions destroying Jewish Jerusalem, crusading knights, and all modern anti-semites. The description of the ensuing battle makes reference to an even older history: Schill fights in the desert on the side of the Egyptians aiming to hinder the Jews, but failing just like the Egyptians. His motorized forces fall from a footbridge. However, eventually, the battle, fought again in modern times, ends in disaster. After Liu’s fighter jet is shot down by enemy soldiers and she is taken to a concentration camp, Liu is incinerated in an oven.

Liu’s murder evokes a whole complex of mythological and literary images as well as references to historical places and events. While Liu’s incineration could be interpreted using Germanic mythology as the sun being devoured by the wolf, hence the end of the world, the men in black uniforms are reminiscent not only of the mystical soldiers in black armor in the pictures by Hieronymous Bosch, but also of very real SS men. And the oven in which Liu is so cruelly murdered is reminiscent of the oven, in “Mechanics,” Schädlich’s account in a collection of stories entitled East-West Berlin (1987), in which Fritz, a mentally handicapped young man, is cremated by Nazi thugs after “the shower with gas.”

Liu’s place of murder is, like Fritz’s place of cremation, no imaginary place, rather one of the few places, and the last place in the novel that can be identified. This place, as the author characterizes it, “lies five miles east of a fairly large harbor city.” “Its surroundings offer paths down ... to the sea in the north, and alongside the nearby branch of a river and through fertile lands leading up to a bay in the East.” (336) This describes the area surrounding a concentration camp where, between 1939 and 1945, over 65,000 people, from members of the Polish intelligence to Soviet commissioners to Jews of all nationalities were murdered. The name of the town is Stutthof.

It is not as if Schott had no awareness of a better world. The reference to St. Anthony indicates one pole of that world -- the intellectual and spiritual striving for individual perfection beyond physical needs and desires. The other pole, that of sensual pleasure, is situated under water where neither wolf nor fire exist. Under water, the music he despises is not to be heard -- music dominated by commercial orientation whose expression of feeling is saccharin and distracting from reality.(262) The sex life of the underwater inhabitants is pleasantly uncomplicated. Elsbeth (the anagram of her name indicates she is lesbian) responds to Schott’s desire without resistance, while in the background one seems “to hear the Larghetto from the Concert in C-Major RV 447 from Antonio Vivaldi.”(261) Schott appreciates both.

It is precisely this awareness of the utopian that makes Schott more keenly sense his own unsatisfactory situation. This becomes especially apparent in scattered musical quotes that speak of an inner realm in Schott harboring a beautiful, romantic world of art different from his own situation. For instance, almost the entire first passage on page 286 is a montage of quotes from Wilhelm Müller’s and Franz Schubert’s Winterreise. When Liu leans over Schott, who has dried up into parchment in the desert, the words “I burn under both soles,” which stem from Part 8 of the Winterreise, “Rückblicke”, emanate from his face. Schott’s next sentence, “The wind, it plays with my edges,” is a satirical play on the Part 2 of Winterreise: “The wind plays with a weather vane” (“Der Wind spielt mit der Wetterfahne”). Schott’s following sentences also stem from Winterreise.

Beyond elucidating Schott’s horrible situation by juxtaposing it with the beauty of Schubert’s romantic songs, these songs serve a twofold function in the novel. First of all they evoke the man Schubert who vacillated between the high ideals of classical romantic art and a lifestyle of bars and bordellos. In the face of his death in the desert, Schott reveals himself to be a romantic, lost in the bars and whorehouses of a modern city, who is searching for a way back home. Secondly, the quotes from Winterreise produce a philosophical, atmospheric confrontation between two epochs: the Romantic and the Modern, which are represented at this point in the text by the figures Schott and Liu.

Schott’s difficulty in enduring the affinity as well as the differences between himself and Liu becomes clear in the following tragic love duet spanning a period of centuries:

Liu whispered, Schottschottschott!, and heard,
Three suns I saw in the sky.
Liu glanced reproachfully at the sun.
But the sun said coolly, People are not careful, and when
they burn, well, I mean no harm.
Liu whispered, Schott!, and heard,
Only those who wait turn to dust
Liu said, Schott, do not be self-righteous!, and heard,
Many a tear from my eyes,
Yet Liu said, And control your self pity.

While Schott guardedly and indirectly declares his futile love to Lui by quoting from Winterreise: “Three suns I saw in the sky” (“Drei Sonnen sah ich am Himmel stehn”) -- from Part 23, “Die Nebensonnen” -- he hears from the sun (representing here wisdom and clarity) the cool and, for him, bitter truth of the early twentieth century: “People are not careful, and when they burn, well, I mean no harm,” taken from a Marlene Dietrich song in the Sternberg film Der blaue Engel. Schott’s bitterness appears in the text of another song that Schott adapted to fit his situation in the desert: “Only those who wait turn to dust” -- a bitter parody on “Only those who love wait” (“Immer warten nur die Menschen, die lieben”) from Zarah Leander’s song “I stand in the rain and wait” (“Ich steh im Regen und warte”). The dialogue ends with a further quote by Schott from Winterreise: “Many a tear from my eyes” (“Manche Trän aus meinen Augen”, Part 6, “Wasserflut”), which expresses his complete desperation, whereas Liu, a modern person, reminds him to control his self pity.

The use of these quotes indicates that the tragedy of these characters’ inability to find each other lies not only in the fact that, as far as their emotional states are concerned, they come from different centuries, but also in the fact that their emotional states are “borrowed” from another time. Precisely because Liu and Schott live physically in a technologically advanced age, he can, through CD’s or records, for instance, wallow emotionally in the musically immortalized pinings of early nineteenth century romanticism, while she can avail herself of the mass culture of the twenties and the thirties of our century. In doing so, however, both follow roles whose scripts and notes were written or composed by others, causing them to have even more difficulty in finding each other. Schott realizes that none of the available roles, not the historically conveyed or the modern ones, truly suit him. Whether as a lover, a tea drinker, a dog hater, a marksman, an inventer, a searcher, a bordello customer or as the temporary leader of a resistance group, he remains a homeless urbane Odysseus in search of Penelope, who, as he suspects, fears, and yet refuses to accept, was only a dream of his desire, a desire Liu finds anachronistic.

Schott’s fear, expressed in the nightmare of his execution is not shared by the narrator and the editor figure, who overcome fear with irony and narrative construction. They do this, on the one hand, with the slight, mildly humorous irony, in the words of the stupid scholars, or in the comments of the editor to Schott, or in the photographic exactness of several parts of the text: “Now that was totally realistic,” notes the narrator after the description of an orgy in Schott’s room, which, upon closer reading, proves to be the description of a Bosch painting. On the other hand, they overcome fear through thoroughly dark irony, painfully apparent in the description of the area around the concentration camp where Liu was murdered. The description is in the words of Johanna Schopenhauer, the mother of one of the nineteenth century’s greatest philosophers, recounting in her autobiography the beauty of the vacation town of Stutthof [7], Liu’s fictitious place of death as well as the real site of death for so many victims of national socialist race policies. Having lived in Goethe’s Weimar with its ideals of art and tolerant intellectual life, Johanna Schopenhauer represents precisely the world that, like the music of Bach and Schubert, constitutes a type of counter world for Schott.

The author also overcomes fear through a narrative style that results from the courage to create freely, to create non-representational fiction. Schott’s reasons for detesting photography explain in a nutshell why he rejects realism Schott despises photography not only because the images create a false impression -- for instance, Schott was always smiling in pictures, which he rarely did in “real life” --, but also because it puts him in a defenseless position compared to the photographer, who remains invisible.

... It irritates me that I never see who took the picture that I look at ... In the picture that you took of me, you were nowhere to be seen. How stupidly you stood there with the camera in front of your face. How you filled me with your senseless chatter. (213)

The rhythm of the German sentence: “In the picture that you took of me, you were nowhere to be seen,” reads like an echo of a sentence in Goethe’s rebellious poem “Prometheus,” the poem of the Storm and Stress period (“...and my hut that you did not build”“... und meine Hütte, die du nicht gebaut).” In Goethe’s poem, the fallen Greek half-god Prometheus opposes the authority of Zeus by insisting it was he who created himself, not the highest of the Greek gods. Analogously, Schott refuses to allow his friend Mott as a photographer to “create” him with his pictures. Schott wants to be Schott as he views himself. Contrary to the prevailing realism doctrine, by writing about human potential and human options rather than producing photographic images of them, Schädlich symbolically argues for autonomous and free decision-making, and proves himself in this point to be Kantian. [8]

In Catt, his first draft of a novel in the late sixties, traces of principles fundamental to Schott, which was written twenty years later, can already be seen. There they are expressed as the preferences of the novel’s heroin Janina. Janina always wants to be objective, believes in a psychological reality that is accessible only through symbols, and likes paintings which express feelings that are free from anything personal or inexact. “She compared great works to symphonic compositions in which the melody plays a completely secondary role.”[9] For this reason, it appears thoroughly understandable why the works by Hieronymous Bosch and August Macke become a part of the textual fabric of Schott. The author uses four pictures by August Macke, “Zwei Männer mit Frau,” “Gruß vom Balkon,” “Picknick nach dem Segeln” and “Tänzer,” which depict faceless men and a woman, and assigns them the names Lisch, Mott, Tomm, and Liu in order to show that the relationship of the characters in the text is a general configuration. Schädlich’s writing principle is the playful interlocking of general configurations, situations and word games.

Schott, Hans Joachim Schädlich’s first novel, received an overwhelmingly favorable reception. Ruth Klüger called Schott a masterpiece. Günther Rüther claimed that Schott even surpassed the author’s previous works as a linguistic work of art. [10] Martin Kurbjuhn called Schott “one of the oddest and most charming books written in German in the past few years.” [11] Paul Ingendaay declared Schott an attempt to tell a thrilling story [12], and Jürgen Serke in Die Welt proclaimed Schott to be “the exemplary book on the catastrophe of progressive thought, the exemplary book about betrayal in the twentieth century, the exemplary book about the consequences of the materialistic and positivistic thinking that paved the way toward dehumanization.”[13] Only Volker Hage was negative: “Schott is secondhand avant-garde.”[14]

Despite the critics’ admiration, a certain confusion accompanied many discussions of this work, as many reviewers arrived at very disparate interpretations, and justifiably so. Schott is certainly not your typical, quickly devoured text, but rather a mysterious work that virtually demands interpretation, while at the same time seeming to defy it. This creates a situation which for many readers is both stimulating and frustrating, for in the end, most readers would like to break through textual ambiguity and achieve some black and white clarity about what they have read What makes the novel so mysterious is the complexity of its fabric of episodes and its reflections on literary and art theory.

It appears almost as if the editor figure disputes the very existence of a concept for the novel when, responding to a reader’s question about such a concept, he retorts: “Even an elephant doesn’t knows where it wanted to go until it has gotten there.”(185) It might be true that Schädlich dissects in Schott “the hollow and brutal mechanisms of the capitalistic world of merchandise” [15], as Ludwig Arnold believes. It is also possible that “Schott is, last but not least, a book about humanity’s inability to change,” and that, as Theo Buck stated, we “learn more about our deformed world in the course of reading this book than we do in long documentaries, commentaries and analyses.”[16] None of these interpretations is entirely satisfactory. In an imaginary argument in the novel, the irritated editor figure dismisses readers and critics expecting a conclusive interpretation with the words: “I [still] don’t know, what you are talking about... I supply only a description. Make of it what you will. It doesn’t concern me.” (185)

In addition, the narrator, anticipating complaints from readers and critics, makes clear from the very beginning of the novel that he is not concerned in Schott with aesthetic gratification (although many readers will experience it), because, after all, “aesthetic gratification is not a literary aim”(7) This view is in opposition not only to the marketing philosophy of every publishing house, but also to the trend in most contemporary German literature with its pleasing new sensuality. Instead, Schott proffers no culinary treat. The novel is hard to digest. Even in places where the reader might most readily find sensual gratification -- in the exact description of different sexual acts in bordellos -- pleasure remains elusive. The frigidity of the description inhibits it. This novel offers nothing easily obtainable, in a material, sensual or in an ideological sense. The author has paid for this fact with low sales figures.

When Schädlich began his novel in 1987, the Berlin Wall, according to Erich Honecker, should have stood for another 100 years. By the time the author finished the novel in the fall of 1991, a united Germany celebrated its first anniversary; the countries of Eastern Europe were working toward democracy; and the Soviet flag had disappeared from the Kremlin, replaced by a Russian one. Whatever the author’s intention and whatever the historical influences that went into the novel, Schott reads as a literary attempt to fathom freedom and the obvious and subliminal legacies of dictatorship in a democratically constituted society. It is the attempt to explore the existential needs and potentialities of a contemporary individual, an individual who has survived dictatorships. The text also declares war on everyone and everything that opposes this attempt, without entering into a political or philosophical discourse -- but rather remaining within the realm of the meaningful fantastic. Its relation to that which we call reality oscillates between ironic hyperrealism and dreamlike allegory. It is a work that springs from the spirit of artistic autonomy and, in its non-consumability, is also a document of protest and a declaration of war to art critics and other critics who might meddle with the writer’s affairs by questioning the usefulness of such writing. Behind these notions of art is the refusal to allow literature and art to succumb to pressures from those who exercise ideological, political and religious power. Schott’s exploration of reality by means of his linguistic escapades represents what Heinz Ludwig Arnold called “the poetics of subversion.” [17]

Everything revolves around Schott, but the figure Schott points beyond himself to the existential, political and aesthetic problems of our times and other times, to which he reacts with great sensitivity and rebelliousness. Despite all of Schott’s fears, the novel is not utterly bleak. Could it be, this is just what the author was thinking after all?


1] Wolfgang Müller, “‘Ein Schriftsteller schafft nichts aus dem Nichts’: Ein Gespräch mit Hans Joachim Schädlich.” In: GDR Bulletin, Nr. 2. Fall 1995, S. 21-22.

[2] Sarah Kirsch, “Flügelschlag”, Text + Kritik, 125, Nr. 1/1995, S. 3.

[3]. Auf Seite 6 “Schott” 1. hs Fassung, der ersten hs Fassung, in Kasten 5 in einer roten Mappe findet sich rechts unten eine Mandala. “Vorlaß Hans Joachim Schädlich”, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach am Neckar.

[4]. In der ersten handschriftlichen Fassung des Romans findet sich der Name Liu noch als Lju geschrieben, das den zweiten Teil des Wortes lublju ausmacht. Kasten 5 des Vorlasses von Hans Joachim Schädlich im Literaturarchiv Marbach.

[5]. Sibylle Cramer, “Der Künstler als Phantast und Pedant”, Süddeutsche Zeitung Nr. 72. Literaturbeilage, 26. 3. 1992.

[6]. Wolfgang Schild, “Die Ordnung und ihre Missetäter”, Justiz in alter Zeit, Band IV der Schriftenreihe des mittelalterlichen Kriminalmuseums Rothenburg ob der Tauber, (Rothenburg o. d. Tauber: Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum, 1984)108.

[7]. “Glückliche Tage in Stutthof”, Johanna Schopenhauer, Im Wechsel der Zeiten, im Gedränge der Welt, (München: Winkler Verlag, 1986) 253-261.

[8]. Siehe Immanuel Kant, Grundlagen zur Metaphysik der Sitten.Werke in 12 Bänden. Herausgegeben von Wilhelm Wieschedel. Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1977. Um nur auf zwei Zitate zu verweisen: “Autonomie ist also der Grund der Würde der menschlichen und jeder vernünftigen Natur.”(S. 87) “Mit der Idee der Freiheit ist nun der Begriff der Autonomie unzertrennlich verbunden.”(118)

[9]. Hans Joachim Schädlich, “...und am Ende ist es umsonst”, Karl Corino, Nach zwanzig Seiten waren alle Helden tot : erste Schreibversuche deutscher Schriftsteller, (Düsseldorf: Marion von Schröder Verlag, 1995)

[10]. Günther Rüther, “Hans Joachim Schädlich. Zwischen Fiktion und Realität”, Internationales Forum für Kultur, Politik und Geschichte. Nr. 350, Oktober 1996, S. 40-51.

[11]. Martin Kurbjuhn, “Die unaufhörliche Koketterie des Schreibens. Einige literarische Posen deutscher Gegenwartsautoren,” Litfass, 17. Jahrgang, Heft 57, Mai 1993, S. 102.

[12]. Paul Ingenday, “Kunstfigur mit Echtheitssiegel.” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Nr. 89, Literaturbeilage vom 14. April 1992.

[13]. Jürgen Serke, Die Welt Nr. 81, 4. 4. 1992.

[14]. Volker Hage, “Abschottung. Hans Joachim Schädlichs Roman — Meisterwerk oder Avantgarde aus zweiter Hand?” Die Zeit, 5. Juni 1992.

[15]. Heinz Ludwig Arnold, Die drei Sprünge der westdeutschen Literatur. Eine Erinnerung, (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 1993) 129.

[16]. Theodor Buck, Hans Joachim Schädlich. In: KLG. Kritisches Lexikon zur deutschsprachigen Gegenwartsliteratur. Hg. von Ludwig Arnold. (München: edition text + kritik).

[17]. Siehe Arnold, Die drei Sprünge der westdeutschen Literatur, 129.


This article appeared first in German in: Hans Joachim Schädlich — Zwei Studien und ein Gespräch. Heft 13, Materialien und Ergebnisse aus Forschungsprojekten des Institutes für kulturwissenschaftliche Deutschlandstudien. Herausgeber Wolfgang Emmerich und Lothar Probst. Translated from by Laurel Cohen-Pfister with the cooperation of Jane Muller-Peterson

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