In praise of bobble hats
“Okay!?” is an appropriate response to many of life’s surprises, and also to Jochen Schmidt’s new book.
By Holger Moos
“What the heck is a florilegium?” you ask yourself when you start reading Jochen Schmidt’s collection of texts. If the German version of Wikipedia is to be believed, in the 16th and 17th centuries, a florilegium was a “catalogue of a (royal) garden’s botanical inventory.” In a literary context, it refers to a collection of texts, an anthology or “gathering of flowers”. As the title suggests, Schmidt’s Ich weiß noch, wie King Kong starb. Ein Florilegium (I remember when King Kong died: A Florilegium) is more than just a literary bouquet. It includes miniatures on all kinds of things, such as highly subjective views on the triumph of digitalisation and the peaceable effect of bobble hats.
Schmidt often writes about his everyday life or recalls the past. Since childhood, for example, he has always viewed his parents’ constant litany of praise for nature with suspicion, precociously realising that nature is simply a place to ‘park’ children. “Out you go,“ is what parents say when they want their children to get out of the way. Schmidt’s rapport with nature has not mellowed with age. When he goes for a walk in the forest today, he is not struck by the beauty of the flora and fauna, but wonders where to slip away if nature calls, or whether snakes or wild boars might be lurking, or he feels his hunger pangs returning.
TAKE IN AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLESchmidt would love to be different. He would swap places with nearly anyone who tells him about their work. When he was little, there were lots of things he wanted to be when he grew up, including a maths teacher, vicar, actor, crane operator and punk guitarist. Deep down, though, the person he would most like to be is his son at the age of three or four. Just to be able to revisit at last all his fantasies about what he would do when he grew up. Now, in the exile of adulthood, the “irksome aftermath of childhood”, a dreadful disenchantment, even indifference, has set in: “All my childhood dreams about my adult life leave me completely cold today.“ The only comfort he finds in not being able to be his son is that “at least I became the second-best thing - his father.”
Another text celebrates the hero of Ivan Goncharov’s novel Oblomov, who spends most of his life lying in bed, avoiding effort of any kind. Schmidt sees him as “a nice hypersensitive guy,“ who “in the end gets enviably close to his goal of taking in as little of life as possible.”
MINIMUM AGE FOR THE OLD FOLKS’ HOMeSchmidt’s miniatures are humorous observations of life. Full of wit and puns, they are self-deprecating, sometimes silly, and close to being corny. He collects anything that catches his attention, large or small. This book is fun to read because it gives weight to things that seem trivial and lightness to things that seem heavy.
Schmidt has another distinctive quality: his ability to ask the right questions. Important questions, like “I can disparage someone, but can I parage them? … Is there a minimum age for living in an old folks’ home?“ or “Why is it a status symbol to drive a car without a roof?“
München: C.H. Beck, 2021. 239 p.
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