How to read Arnulf Vogelsang
by James Warner
HOW TO READ ARNULF VOGELSANG
IS THERE AN EASY INTRODUCTION TO VOGELSANG? No. When an editor in Michigan offered to compile one, Vogelsang accused the man of being a Gnostic, then broke his nose.
WHERE TO BEGIN? It makes little difference. Take the first sentence of Vogelsang's master work "Substance, Structure, and Soteriology":
"Signification then is perhaps not so much the Anti-Terminus of Schnugel as the Poly-Idealization of Schnegel."
Fifty years after Vogelsang wrote that, we still don't even know who Schnugel was. Or Schnegel.
WHY DID VOGELSANG WRITE IN ENGLISH? OR DID HE? As a professor at Ravensburg in Swabia, Vogelsang insisted on assigning only his own works as course material. This led to a student mutiny, which caused Vogelsang to flee to the U.S. After joining the faculty of the University of Michigan, Vogelsang laboriously crafted a yet more opaque style of writing, designed to prevent his new students from getting an over-simplified sense of what he was trying to say. In this, he succeeded admirably. Therefore one should not expect to understand Vogelsang on a first, second, third, or fourth reading.
An additional problem is that Vogelsang consistently misuses certain English words. For example, by the word "Consciousness" Vogelsang always means "kasespaetzle," his favorite mid-morning snack. A complete list of words Vogelsang misuses appears in the Second Appendix to his pamphlet "On the Impossibility of Finding Good Consciousness in Michigan, and why the Gnostics are to blame."
No one knows what Vogelsang means by "Gnostic."
TIPS ON READING VOGELSANG. If you read German, the works Vogelsang wrote before leaving Ravensburg are said to be his most accessible. Even some English readers who can't read German claim to find Vogelsang easier to read in German.
Beginners should probably start by consulting the secondary literature on Vogelsang. An even better plan is to stick to the tertiary literature on Vogelsang, while others report the best results of all from lightly skimming the tertiary literature on subjects unrelated to Vogelsang.
WHAT NOT TO LOOK FOR. It can hinder your attempt to read someone if you are looking for what is not there. In Vogelsang you will not find the following:
PROFUNDITY. If you detect profundity in Vogelsang, you are on the wrong track. Vogelsang once remarked, "My ideal reader would be constantly exclaiming "But this is obvious? What fool would bother to write such a thing down?" On another occasion he said, "It is my greatest tragedy that I never discovered my ideal reader."
IDEAS. Ideas are not the only channel by which a wise man communicates. Vogelsang avoids them entirely, in favor of impressions, prejudices, and overriding themes. Vogelsang is one of the last great scions of that Teutonic tradition in which the primary purpose of language is to inculcate obedience through the repetition of complex jargon. Conveying information is a secondary purpose, and may even be counter-productive. In the third of seven speeches made at his daughter's wedding, Vogelsang seems to suggest that meaning itself is a Gnostic plot. Or as he said on another occasion, in one of his better-known ripostes to Schwindel, the college janitor at Ann Arbor, "Whoever understands me is completely missing my point."
AGNOIOLOGY. Vogelsang is much less interested in agnoiology than he is in algology.
ALGOLOGY. Which is saying something, because Vogelsang is not interested in algology at all. As he once told Schwindel, "Whoever talks of algology is a mystic and should be defenestrated."
TABOO SUBJECTS. There are topics on which Vogelsang is so fanatical that is beter simply to ignore him. These include history, geography, culture, linguistics, anthropology, archeology, religion, gender issues, metaphysics, and basketball. You should also disregard his regrettably blinkered views about Jews, Slavs, Turks, and Germans from outside of Swabia. And he can be quite harsh about people from the northern, eastern, and western parts of Swabia.
WHO WAS VOGELSANG ANYWAY? The following questions often come up:
WAS VOGELSANG A NAZI? No. Vogelsang despised any political movement that was not founded by and exclusively open to Swabians.
WAS VOGELSANG A SWABIAN? Even this has been disputed. His ex-wife claims that he was actually from Liechenstein.
WAS VOGELSANG A CONSPIRACY THEORIST? Properly speaking, Vogelsang was not a theorist at all, being opposed to all ideas (see above). However he does frequently imply that all of recorded history constitutes a plot by the Gnostics to thwart the nascent Swabian independence movement.
WAS VOGELSANG A MYSTIC? Nobody ever dared ask him that. However, some conspiracy theorists believe that he was a Gnostic.
BUT WHY READ VOGELSANG? Because only time and rereading will reveal the full complexity of his work. Because hearing him lecture was apparently even worse. Because he is a bulwark of traditional Western thought at a time when absolutely everyone else is a Gnostic algologist.
And because if you don't read Vogelsang... who will?
About the author:
James Warner is full of helpful advice. He sometimes gets lost in Silicon Valley. His daughter is adept at transforming ordinary sofas into decorated abodes for neurotic cats.