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A memorandum-book does not, provided it is neatly written, appear confused to an illiterate person, or to the owner who understands it thoroughly, but to any other person able to read it appears to be inextricably confused.

James Clerk Maxwell

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Over at the Fifth World they are talking about Hermann Hesse. I was reminded of how when I started reading Das Glasperlenspiel (about 13 years back or so; never finished or even got very far in), I took the narrator's attack (or what I perceived as an attack) on Crossword Puzzles very personally. I was doing the NY Times crossword every day at the time and reading this felt like being lectured about what a waste of time and consciousness it was:

Übrigens gehörten, so scheint es, zum Feuilleton auch gewisse Spiele, zu welchen die Leserschaft selbst angeregt und durch welche ihre Überfütterung mit Wissenstoff aktiviert wurde, eine lange Anmerkung von Ziegenhalß über das wunderliche Thema »Kreuzworträtsel« berichtet davon. Es saßen damals Tausende und Tausende von Menschen, welche zum größern Teil schwere Arbeit taten und ein scweres Leben lebten, in ihre freistunden über Quadrate und Kreuze aus Buchstaben gebückt, deren Lücken sie nach gewissen Spielregeln ausfüllten. Wir wollen uns hüten, bloß den lächerlichen oder verrückten Aspekt davon zu sehen, und wollen uns des Spottes darüber enthalten. Jene Menschen mit ihren Kinder-Rätselspielen und ihren Bildungsaufsätzen waren nämlich keineswegs harmlose Kinder oder spielerische Phäaken, sie saßen vielmehr angstvoll inmitten politischer, wirtschaftlicher und moralischer Gärungen und Erdbeben, haben eine Anzahl von schauerliche Kriegen und Bürgerkriegen geführt, und ihre kleinen Bildungsspiele waren nicht bloß holde sinnlose Kinderei, sondern entsprachen einem tiefen Bedürfnis, die Augen zu schließen und sich vor ungelösten Problemen und angstvollen Untergangsahnungen in eine möglichst harmlose Scheinwelt zu flüchten.
In addition to the feuilleton it seems as if there were certain games, which the reading public loved and through which the information overload was started, a long communication from Ziegenhalß about the wonderful idea of crossword-puzzle deals with this. There sat at this time thousands and thousands of people, for the most part hard-working people with hard lives, bent over quadrants and crosses of characters in their free time, filling in their blanks according to certain rules. We should guard against just seeing the ridiculous or crazy aspects of this, hold ourselves back from making fun. These people with their baby-puzzles and their picture-constructions were indeed in no way harmless children or playful (?Phäaken)* Phæacians, they sat fearful in the middle of political, economic and moral agitation and earthquakes, conducted a number of horrible wars and conflicts, and their little picture-games were not simply little senseless childishness, but rather they bespoke a deep unfilled need, a need to close their eyes and flee from unsolved problems and anxious imaginings of death into a world of appearances, as harmless as ever it could be.

This comes at the end of a couple of pages' discussion of the ridiculous idea of the feuilleton, which I believe means approximately "op-ed column" -- I hadn't thought of this before but it would be an interesting passage to keep in mind while reading The Black Book.

Figuring out how to translate Phäaken, below the fold.

posted evening of December 13th, 2008: 2 responses
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