According to its director Sandra Richter, this year's Schiller speaker of the German Literature Archive in Marbach is a permanent guest on the Schiller bestseller list with his books.

Of course she meant the Spiegel bestseller list, but the Marbach office obliges and confuses.

And Daniel Kehlmann will not have taken offense at her words of welcome, because his speech was supposed to include the sentence: "The dubious has always been the place where art could develop."

But how does that fit with Kehlmann's characterization of the "beautiful German humanism completely free of humour" of his novel hero Alexander von Humboldt from "Measuring the World", which was rewarded with laughter in Marbach?

Well, Kehlmann turns Humboldt into an artificial figure in this stomach, which has sold millions of copies worldwide, by making him appear even more serious than he already was.

What is dubious is the seriousness that has been pushed to the summit, which allows the novel's Humboldt to see a sea monster as early as the second chapter on the crossing to South America, but immediately denies it: "He decided not to write anything about it." This is how Kehlmann writes it down.

This scene, the writer explained in Marbach, is "the secret embers" of his novel.

And never in the seventeen years since the publication of "Measuring the World" has he been asked about it by a single reader.

This can probably be seen as a success, because Kehlmann has also succeeded in doing what his Humboldt sets out to do with the readers: to make them forget the sighted sea monster, because it touches on the foundations of the understanding of reason.

Kehlmann is a lover of magical realism, but his books are not perceived as such.

This is truly realistic magic.

On the Use of Distance for the Historical Novel

His Schiller speech had its origins in clairvoyance experiments carried out by the CIA and Schiller's Wallenstein, which allowed the stars to influence his life.

Kehlmann chose his last sentence in the drama - "Be careful that you don't wake me up too early" - as the title of his speech and interpreted it as Wallenstein's appeal to posterity to keep a proper distance in the literary evocation of his person - Schiller completed the drama trilogy 165 Years after the general's assassination, Kehlmann wrote about it more than two hundred years after Humboldt's trip to South America.

And in his speech he announced that together with Rainer Stach he had written the screenplay for a television series about Franz Kafka, which will be shown on television in the hundredth year of the author's death, 2024.

At the end of "Measuring the World," Eugen Gauss, the son of the novel's second protagonist, has a vision while at sea on the journey to exile in America, "but the captain advised him not to pay attention, the sea sends mirages, sometimes seem to dream like a human."

This turns out to be a reprise of the Ember Core from the beginning, and one might be amazed that we've all turned a blind eye to it while reading this.

But the author himself is only human.

"Humboldt really does see a sea monster with three heads in the second chapter of 'Measuring the World'," said Kehlmann in Marbach, but the novel never mentions three heads, instead explicitly mentioning only one mouth.

When the imagination controls memory in this way, that's not the worst starting point for a novelist.