Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Art / Music / Theatre

Without joint or seam: the pleasures of unstitching Schottenfreude

by Belle Place , December 3, 2013Leave a comment

I took German lessons, begrudgingly, for three years in high school. I don’t remember much now, aside from elementary pleasantries and a spattering of mostly unhelpful nouns, but I do remember my friends and I making up German sounding words, stitching clunky (made-up) compounds together to create Germanic gobbledygook to annoy our teacher.

I never mastered German though; I was later pleased to learn that Mark Twain, too, wrestled with the language. In his 1880 essay, ‘The Awful German Language’, he remarks on German’s use of complex compound words, ‘six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam–that is, without hyphens’. He took the German vocabulary to task, picking on linguistic marathons like Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen, writing, ‘These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions.’

I wonder then what Twain would have made of Ben Schott’s Schottenfreude. Here, Schott, surely a linguist wizard, knits together strings of real German compounds to create imagined German words that acutely describe the idiosyncrasies of the human condition.

Schott, a contributing columnist to the New York Times among his many roles, has been playing with words and language for some time. Of note, in the early 2000s he conceived the Miscellany series, books rich with lists of curious trivia–they have gone on to sell in the millions. In Schottenfreude, Schott continues the tradition of neatly presenting the mundane beside the monumental.

Dipping into Schottenfreude feels like you’re in on a very clever trick: Schott’s concatenated words allow readers to succinctly name previously unclassifiable ‘intimate emotions and inexpressible sensations’. Each entry is structured to include his German word, its pronunciation and also the compound construction. On the opposing page are accompanying explanatory notes, and a sequence of footnotes which illuminate or expand the reference. In other words, Schott presents layer upon layer of sharply curated knowledge, which you can peruse as deeply or flippantly as you like–though this isn’t to suggest Schottenfredue is piecemeal. Despite the brevity incurred by the list format, Schottenfreude isn’t lacking in profundity. Schott offers a bespoke encyclopaedia on topics from ancient philosophy to contemporary literature: it’s bitty in size, but meaty in thought.

There are 120 words in this book, and you’re likely to side with your own preoccupations. Just two that struck a particular chord with me were Mahlneid: Coveting thy neighbours restaurant order and Witzfindungsstorung: The inability to remember jokes. Under the entry Mahlneid, Schott offers his readers a surprising piece of information; his reference reports that guards stationed at Guantanamo Bay experienced a form of Mahlneid, complaining that detainees were fed strawberries while troops received only tinned fruit. Mixing the slightly absurd with the cultural and political is something Schott has a knack for.

Further on, references accompanying Extrawursttagsgefuhl: An irrational sensation of specialness on your birthday, rests in the philosophical, but also in the pop cultural arena of Winnie the Pooh (Schott notes that a consequence of this sensation is ‘the deflation you experience when others forget your Special Day’, as happened to Eeyore when no one took any notice of his birthday). While many of the entries here are very funny, there are many that are acutely poignant–it’s a quality of Schottenfreude that I wasn’t expecting.

Schott taps into broader social arrangements with entries like Schlafchauvi: One who takes pride in getting little sleep, a phenomena that Schott reminds readers was glorified by Margaret Thatcher. Elsewhere, Entlistungsfreude: The sense of satisfaction afforded by crossing thing off lists, references Dickens’ Great Expectations, describing the ticking off of items on a list as a ‘luxurious sensation’. Perusing Schottenfreude is likely to leave readers with a similar sensation–and for me, presents a German lesson I’m happy to be in class for.

Schottenfreude by Ben Schott is published by Text Publishing. 

Belle Place is editor of the Readings Monthly. She has worked as a copy editor with Rainoff, a Sydney and New-York based publisher of art books, and is a co-editor of Offline, a cultural journal published by The Blackmail. 

ACO logo




9781408857175

Lou Heinrich

To see each other’s innards: Intimacy in Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress

In Stone Mattress, Atwood’s stories make a remarkable study of intimacy, of seeing each other’s innards, in different partnerships. Through the domestic details she describes, her masterful characterisation and her sharp tone, Atwood crafts the mundane into the profound. Read more »

9781863957120

James Tierney

Dissonance and Tradition: Andrew Ford’s Earth Dances

Earth Dances: Music in Search of the Primitive is a vivid and rarely less than astute history of the debt modern music simultaneously owes to the inheritances of tradition, and the texture of dissonance. Read more »

monroe

James Tierney

Survival and Contradiction: Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times

This book’s most impressive trick is in the way it pulls together seemingly disparate figures. In this fierce, insightful and wide-ranging collection, Jacqueline Rose calls for nothing less than a reformulation of feminism. Read more »

9807778273_afe6ec792d_z

Rebecca Shaw

Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling

We are still at a point where far less than half the movies we see have a clear female protagonist, even though women are half of the population. If women as an ENTITY are not properly represented, their stories not told, what chance then do women of colour have? Read more »

article-2301242-18FA52E4000005DC-314_470x763

Rebecca Shaw

An Inconvenient Truth: Social stigma and menstruation

If you have heard of menstruation, you would know that it is an essential process in a little tiny thing called the EXISTENCE AND CONTINUATION OF HUMAN LIFE, and it is something that most (not all) women experience for about five days every month for a large part of their lives. It is a topic (besides shopping, lol) that women think about frequently. Read more »

fx-2015-winter-tcajpeg-069cb_c0-146-3500-2186_s561x327

Rebecca Shaw

Billy, Don’t Be a Homophobe

As a non-heterosexual person who has lived my entire life in a heteronormative world, I have a finely tuned antenna for homophobia. Loaded terms, like those used recently by Billy Crystal, are becoming more common, as it becomes less acceptable to state openly that you get an icky feeling when you see two people of the same sex kiss. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Read more »

cdn.indiewire

Kate Middleton

On the Trail: Wild and the voyage of the modern woman

Strayed articulates the question that drives so many pilgrimage narratives: ‘What if I forgive myself?’ That same question perhaps suggests why female-driven journeys are resonating with audiences now: self-reliance and the abandonment of a conventional life have long been male-dominated themes. Read more »

Film Review Selma

Anwen Crawford

An Urgent and Motivating Anger: The politics of Selma

How to approach a figure with the reputation of a secular saint? One achievement of Selma – and it is a film of many achievements – is to reanimate King as a living, breathing man; a man of politics, strategy, and absolute, underlying resolve. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

39154_4f8f076801b89b442752af76ac226fc0

Anwen Crawford

Satire and Scandal: Revisiting Frontline

Frontline’s makers could not have anticipated the long, web-based afterlife of their creation, though they might not be surprised that their targets – the rampant egotism and moral hypocrisies of tabloid journalism – remain just as current. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

cher_horowitz_closet-010_2

Katie Williams

Fashion Forward: How hidden algorithms are dressing up technology

Though we increasingly rely on technology to simplify our lives, we still want to believe that behind the scenes is a happy, human face, rather than an impassive machine that does the dirty work for us. Read more »

wowx5-artwork-012-full

Katie Williams

Killing Monsters and Making Memories: How virtual worlds facilitate communication

When I hang out with my brother, we joke, make fun of each other, and swap stories about mutual friends. Sometimes, we’ll each pack a bag of stat-enhancing potions and go out to kill large monsters. It’s been well over a year since I saw my brother in the flesh – but thanks to World of Warcraft, I interact with him on a daily basis. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »

The-Rabbits-2015-1280x470

Jane Howard

Thinking Outside the Box Seats: The future of Australian opera and musical theatre

If we want to see new work and innovation grow in opera and musical theatre, we need to consider how they might develop within our culture. Read more »

MovingMusicAndreCastellucci1

Jane Howard

The (Sometimes) Beauty of Being Alone at the Theatre

I often go to the theatre on my own. One of the great joys of writing reviews is that even when I attend productions solo, I still get to talk (write) about them at length after the fact. Seeing theatre is a wonderful activity to do unaccompanied, because as soon as the performance starts, everyone is alone in some way. Read more »