The Sex of the Angels, the Saints in their Heaven by Raoul Schrott

the sex of angels

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Raoul Schrott’s book, translated from the German, is a deeply philosophical story of the yearning of one for another. I refrained from saying ‘person’ because there is no clue relating the narrator to any life form. The book would make a great conversation piece but given that no reviews can be found in English and I suspect none in German either, I would have to wonder why.

Possibly reviewers are shying away from a book that takes so many viewpoints from so many sources. The opening statement epitomises the outrageous affirmations that the author makes. Clearly these are not meant to be true in fact but true in the universe the author is defining. “Dionysius the Areopagite was, I believe, the first to order the eternal night of the universe with angels…to the outermost sphere, the dwelling reserved for God, the primum mobile of the fixed stars, who assigned the Cherubim and Seraphim” (1). This reference is from the first ‘chapter’ which ends with a personal statement from the narrator to ‘you’ “simply the most wonderful thing anyone could imagine. Would it embarrass you terribly if I told you that you’re beautiful. Hardly, I suppose” (4). This is the language of a potential lover.

The next chapter informs us on the construction of angels, in particular the incredibly useful fact that their wings attach to their feet (I did not know that, I confess!). Full credit to the author for his use of language. Some of it, the great bulk of it, is incredibly beautiful – “like the breath between two sentences” (8), always there is mocking irony that is never hurtful or vicious – when speaking of the ‘exact sciences’ the reference is to astrology. “What there is nowadays of angels can be found under” (8).

As the segments roll by each concludes with some reference involving the narrator and his ‘lover’, and one is therefore left with the most likely interpretation that this elaborate book is simply a love poem. It is a poem that amasses one outrageous idea after another, each building on the other and developing towards an acceptance by the reader that this dream universe might in truth exist. The whole concept is multi-faceted and very clever.

The book is festooned with anecdotes and illustrations, some barely comprehensible, most not at all. As representatives of the world of art their quality to me anyway is amateurish and devoid of interest. That having been said I think it important to divulge that my knowledge of art, my ability to make substantive judgments on the quality of an art piece or a collection of such is limited to a personal like or dislike. A gut reaction if you like/dislike. The cover calls the book “a unique dialogue between literature and art: an extraordinary and rare book about love” (inside dust cover). ‘Unique’ and ‘extraordinary’ resonate with me.

One cannot leave this book without asking, “What, then, is an angel?” and the answer is given over many pages of extraordinarily beautiful prose, but summed up in, “An angel is nothing but the personified meaning of the questions we ask” (106). What a let down! What images of spectres with wings of gossamer sprouting from ankles have crashed to the dust? The author continues:

In the gloom the gold gathers light against the coming of the night. Words, nothing but words, you see; the necessity of angels consist in being a metaphor for what is not revealed; the light that cannot be named; already halfway to the darkness of the solar eclipse that will happen soon…shadow-side of God, the dark side that he turns towards humankind (110 – 111)

Many readers will gain much from reading this book. It is most unlikely that what the book reveals to me will be revealed to you, but what you take from the book will be equally valuable.

Raoul Schrott is one of Austria’s most successful contemporary poet, writers, literary critics, and translators. Karen Leeder is a writer, translator, and academic, and teaches German at New College, Oxford. Arnold Mario Dall’O is an Italian artist.

The Sex of the Angels, the Saints in their Heaven

(2001, 2018)

By Raoul Schrott

Seagull Books (University of Chicago UP)

ISBN: 978-0857425553

$54.99; 152pp

To order a copy of Sex of the Angels, the Saints in their Heaven: A Breviary at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here  or visit


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