Journal of Book of Mormon Studies


Arno Schmidt, commentators, The Book of Mormon, modernist text


Arno Schmidt (1914-1979) was one of the most important, prolific, and original of postwar German authors. His magnum opus, Zettels Traum (1970), appeared in 1,360 large-font, signed typescript copies that each weighed 12 kilos and resembled another intimidating modernist text, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, in its experiments with genre, fascinating density, multilingual citations, jokey allusiveness, and mythic grandeur. Like Joyce, Schmidt pushed boundaries of all kinds and sometimes got into hot water with those who found his writings sexually and religiously indecent. As an author, his work is hard to classify; he is sometimes called an "avant-garde traditionalist:' In personal belief, he was an atheist, though one who was curious about the many forms that belief can take; he opens his essay on the Book of Mormon, for instance, by confessing his soft spot for holy books. A fierce critic of both West and East Germany, he was politically neither a Marxist, nor a social democrat, nor a straight-up conservative, though his attacks on mass society and choice to live his last two decades in relative isolation in a remote hamlet in Lower Saxony have led some critics to detect conservative sympathies. But he was also a clear anti-Nazi and was disgusted at what his country had done. Perhaps by living in a remote spot with his wife, Alice, also a writer whose work was not appreciated until later, he simply wanted to maintain his artistic integrity and stay aloof from the cultural establishment. By any account, he was a lone wolf, anxious not to be pinned down.