This is a story from Ludwig Hohl’s Notices – I don’t know if this has been translated. Hohl has his supporters in English – George Steiner calls him the secret master of German 20th century prose.
Three men had a fearful fight, each struggling against each. The fight raged over the question of what kind of parts a house is divided into.
The first said: “a house falls into: the cellar, the ground floor, the second floor, the third, etc.”
The second cried: “out of wood, stone, mortar, metals – this is what constitutes a house!”
The third, raging against the first true and treating them as liars and scoundrels, as they collaborated between them and against him, observed that a house falls into lines, and referred to an outline and a profile, on which the length and thickness of every wall, the breadth, length and height of the rooms were giving. Everything else was nonsense, only such projections show the exact parts.
Is it necessary to add that the three men fought to the death, because none would concede that the other was right? One died after the other – as an idiot and hero.”
Hohl spent twenty years laboring over his “Notices, or of the reconciliation that takes some time”, in a cellar in a working quarter of Geneva, to which he had returned after living in self imposed exile in Paris and then in Holland. In Paris, according to Peter Hodina, this is what he did:
“In Paris – at that time he was a very young man – nightly he walked around the borderlines between the arrondisements, eventually getting to all twenty. A singular, and eventually provincial method of getting to know a world city”. Hodina also makes the remark that Hohl was one of those great writers who, like Valery, never wrote a great work. Rather, he sketched out the structure of one. And began to realize that this is what he was doing: "Everything, whether I underline a passage in a writer or copy it out or send a letter, note something, think something, take a position … everything is work.”
He wrote the Notices in the thirties and forties, giving up the idea of a narrative and breaking up his work into fragments, stories, phrases. The Noticess, when first published, fell still born from the press, and the publisher did not want to experience that with any more notices – thus refusing to publish Hohl’s second part. But reputation is a shadow that moves through a crowd and finds the right sensitive – this is the mythic side of Herder’s dispersed public, the literary and the wrongfoooted, who eventually find themselves drawn even to men in cellars – and in the sixties the young Swiss writers and others – Handke, for instance – referenced him. His intransigence, his alcoholism, his cellar.
I think of Pessoa, of Thomas Bernhard, of Robert Walser, of Roberto Bolano. And they die one after the other, idiots and heros.