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




loitering-cover-cmyk-570

Sam van Zweden

The Writer at the Centre of the Essay: Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering

Loitering is Charles D’Ambrosio’s quietly brave collection of experimental essays. It doesn’t announce itself noisily, but associations slide sideways through the essays in unexpected ways. This collection is lyric in both senses – freely associative and loose, it borrows from the world, trying meaning on for size, producing metaphors and connections wherever it sees fit. Read more »

discworld

Elizabeth Flux

Footnote to a life: How Terry Pratchett kept me from going postal

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then teenage me would have been the steamroller to Terry Pratchett’s somewhat plagiarised tarmac. In the ten years since I first picked up The Fifth Elephant, my work has been littered with Pratchettisms to varying degrees. Read more »

Patricia-Highsmith2

James Tierney

The Necessary Paradoxes of Patricia Highsmith

A highly regarded author of complex psychological thrillers, including The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith’s fiction comes freighted with a heady mix of cross-purposes and intimate alienations. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. 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 »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

9331818982_322b389ff2_z

Annabel Brady-Brown

The blue pill or the red pill? In defence of highbrow film

Cinema is a powerful medium. Going to the movies, be it a Lav Diaz epic or a Michael Bay blockbuster, is an act of submission. You hand over $15 and the whole mash of your brain/senses/heart/dreams for ninety minutes. 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 »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. 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 »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. 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 »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. 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 »