Sunday, June 17, 2012

Doderer's Commentarii

I just read Heimito von Doderer's (1896-1966) Ein Mord, den jeder begeht. I could not put it down until I finished the book. As it turns out, many of his works have been translated into English, including this one. The title in English is: Every Man a Murderer. This is very unfortunate. "Ein Mord, den jeder begeht" means, literally translated "a murder that is committed by everybody." In other words, it talks about a particular kind of murder and alleges that everyone commits that kind of murder. It may follow from this that every man is a murderer, but it also follows that every women is a murderer. But erven "everyone is a murderer" does not capture the meaning because the claim is that everyone is particular kind of murderer. And the book is about that particular kind of murder, which, if I am right, is actually only a kind of homicide, but I may be wrong in identifying the act (and that is part of the enigma). But this is not what this post is about.

Doderer, one of the foremost Austrian authors of the twentieth century, kept a diary for almost his entire life (1920-1966). From about 1934 on he called it "Commentarii.[1] Its nature changed over the years, but they may be called "an infinite conversation with himself." they are Soliloquies just as much as they are notebooks. His novels originate from this writing surface (Schreibfläche). He appeals to Thornton wilder, who is supposed to have said that keeping a diary is "the most important" task a writer has to do.

At some point, Doderer used many different kinds of pens, each with a different color. For most things he used black. For passages he intended to use in short stories or novels, he used green. Blue was reserved for essays and reflections, red for emphasis and marks or tags.

The marks or tags indicated particular contents. "Extrema" or "extr." indicated memories (later he used p. for "Peilung"). Meditations were tagged with "A. d. A." for "Anatomie des Augenblicks" or "Anatomy of the Moment." He had many such tags and he also referred specifically to the pages of the manuscripts of his novels that he was working on. In fact, the Diary also contains reflections on the writing process. He referred to the collection as "das Gedankenwerk — im Sinne von Flechtwerk oder Mauerwerk" (the work of thought — in the sense of network, work of weaving or brick laying).

Sometimes he would glue cuttings from papers into his diary, and at one point he thought it would be good to include other things, such as letters, calling cards, pages from books, recipes or perhaps even gloves. For this, a larger format of cahier would be required, and perhaps even a box that accompanies every volume of the diary. He estimated that six or seven boxes per volume would be sufficient.

There is much more that is fascinating about Doderer's praxis. Let me say her only that many of the things that he did can easily be reproduced with a program like ConnectedText. And the free links that allow you to link any particular entry with any other one remind me of the boxes that thought might acompany his journals.

1. I get my information from François Grosso, "Primum scribere, deinde vivere: Leben und Schreiben im Entstehen am Beispiel der Tagebücher Heimito von Doderers." It must, however, be said that Doderer did not live in accordance with the motto to write first and to live afterwards. It's impossible to do, anyway.

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