Lebensschnecke

I don’t have much to say this week, so I’m borrowing the words of someone far more interesting.

One of modern society’s most common complaints is the lack of time in this world we’ve created for ourselves (see my last blog from December 11th). I’ve been reading Robert Schumann’s early diaries and have discovered in them not only a wealth of fantasy, wisdom, and humorSchumann, but also his own unique tool for quickly capturing memories and later commenting upon, savoring, and explaining them. Whereas we need smartphones with cameras to help us remember things, he did just fine in the year 1828 with his “Lebensschnecken.”
It took me a while to figure out what a Lebensschnecke was because this is apparently a term Schumann himself invented, but it’s such a perfect description of what it is that I now wouldn’t want to call it anything else. In fact, I’m pretty excited about creating my own Lebensschnecken. For the non-German-speaking population, this word is composed of Leben = life, and Schnecke = snail. In other words, when Schumann was pressed for time but wanted to record the events and thoughts of a day, he would roll it up into a ‘snail shell’ and come back to ‘unroll’ it and comment on it later.
It ends up looking like this one from August 17th, 1828:

Sonntagsmorgen – Hamanns Briefe an Jacobi u. Jacobis Allwill – Einiges aus Menzel – Duett mit Täglichsbek 1 Uhr – Semmel – Schach – der arrogante – Böhner – Frenkel – der einseitige Pabst – Kneipe – Goethe – Witze über Ueberirdisches u. geheimnißvolle Bestürzung – Tod – Fesdurfantasie.

Please forgive the translations, they’re my own (if I’ve misunderstood anything, please let me know, German scholars!):

Sunday mornings – Hamann’s letters to Jacobi and Jacobis Allwill – a few of Menzel’s lessons – duet with Täglichsbek 1:00 – Semmel – chess – the arrogant – Böhner – Frenkel – the one-sided Pabst – pub – Goethe – jokes about celestial and secret dismay – death – F-sharp Major Fantasy.

Then, when he has time, sometimes at a later date, he goes back and ‘unrolls’ the snail shell. Here a few excerpts of his ‘moralistic’ commentary on the snail shell of the 17th:

Duett mit TägIichsbek; Musikduette werden leicht Herzensduette u. die Unterhaltung u. Sprache der verwandten Seelen; dann haben sie den schönsten Wert. Das vierhändige Klavierspiel bleibt doch der schönste erste Genuß. Semmel. Schach. Semmel’s Charakter wird leicht im Schachspiel kund, schnell, rasch u. jede Zögerung scheuend. Arroganz ist unter jeder Form, jeder Bedingung verhaßt u. ekelhaft. Ihr Gleichwert folgt der Uebermut u. dann der Stolz. Böhner, ungebildet, charakterlos, unkräftig, oft seicht, aber gut zugänglich u. klar und beobachtend. Frenkel, ein fader Nachsprecher, wie es Billionen gibt- der einseitige Pabst- aus Günther’s Schule, blinder Verachter der Landsmannschaften; Einseitigkeit springt oft aus Vorurteil. Kneipe – zweifelsohne ein Ding, das kneipt, wenigstens den Geldbeutel. Tod ist der Schlüssel zu allen Rätseln u. Anagrammen des Lebens – u. doch am Ende auch nicht.

Duet with TägIichsbek; musical duets easily become heart-duets and the entertainment and language of kindred souls; then they have their highest value. Four-hand piano playing remains the most beautiful first pleasure. Semmel. Chess. Semmel’s character is easily revealed in the game of chess, fast, rash, and shrinking from any hesitation. Arrogance in any form and under any circumstances is detestable and disgusting. Its apathy is followed by Hubris and then pride. Böhner, uneducated, characterless, un-strong, often shallow, but accessible and clear and observant. Frenkel, a pale imitator, of which there are billions – the one-sided Pabst – from Günther’s school, blind scorner of patriotisms; one-sidedness often results from prejudice. Pub – undoubtedly a thing, that pinches, at least the wallet (untranslatable pun – Kneipe/pub is similar to the word for kneifen/pinch). Death is the key to all of life’s riddles and anagrams – and then at the end it is not, after all.
Some of his unravelings of the ‘snail shell’ are witty and light, such as:

Kaffee; Der Kaffee ist das eigentliche Morgennegligé der Seele
Coffee; coffee is actually the soul’s morning negligee

Some are witty and also contain delightful seeds of truth and insight:

Rezensenten; Rezensenten gleichen überhaupt Mühlpferden; sie können nicht mehr springen, drum ziehn sie langsam das Korn in die Welt, um es zerstampfen u. verarbeiten zu lassen.
Reviewers; reviewers quite resemble plow horses; they can no longer jump, therefore they slowly drag grain into the world so as to have it crushed and processed.

DoppeIkonzerte: wenn man sich beim vierhändigen Spiel versieht, so bittet man sogleich um Entschuldigung u. bittet, von vorne anzufangen, wenn’s nur bei moralischen Versehen nicht anders wäre u. finge man wieder von vornen an, um den Fehler zu verbessern.
Double concerti: when one errs in four-hand piano playing, one immediately begs for forgiveness and asks to begin again from the top; if only it were no different with moral errors and one could go back to the beginning to correct the mistake.

Still others read like a lexicon of his own philosophy and are some of my personal favorites:

Wollen u. Nichtkönnen ist bei Weitem nicht so schlimm, als Nichtwollen u. Können. Der Mensch kann überhaupt Alles, wenn er will; aber er will nicht Alles, was er kann, u. das ist schlimm.
Desire and inability is by far not as bad as ability and lack of desire. Man can do anything when he wants to; but he does not want to do everything he can do, and that is terrible.

Philosophie ist Musik des Verstandes u. Geistes, Musik Philosophie des Gemüthes; die Philosophie bereitet uns auf ein höheres Leben vor, die Musik bringt es uns.
Philosophy is music of reason and the intellect; music, philosophy of the soul; philosophy prepares us for a higher life, music brings it to us.

Schmerzen im Leben sind wie Dissonanzen in der Musik; sie haben großen Reiz; aber man verlangt doch nach der Auflösung.
Pains in life are like dissonance in music; they have great appeal; but one demands their resolution.

In den Liedern lernen sich die schönen Seelen erst kennen, der Dichter den Komponisten u. umgekehrt; sie müssen so beschaffen sein, daß der Dichter, wär’ er Musiker, es so in Tönen ausdrückte, wie im Wort, u. daß der Musiker, wär er Dichter es so in Worten, wie er in seinen Tönen.
Only in song do the most beautiful souls get to know each other, the poet the composer and vice versa; they must be of such a nature that the poet, were he a musician, would express in sound what he does in words, and that the musician, were he a poet, would do so in sound.

Come to think of it, the Lebensschnecke is the perfect format for text messages and emails. Any takers?

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