Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 6, pp. 52-61

This is how Stephens describes Seir, a mountainous region that  is identified in the Bible with Edom, and is believed to lie between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba:

If I had never stood on the top of Mount Sinai, I should say that nothing could exceed the desolation of the view from the summit of Mount Hor, its most striking objects being the dreary and rugged mountains of Seir, bare and naked of trees and and heaving their lofty summits to the skies as if in a vain and fruitless effort to excel the mighty pile, on the top of which the high priest of Israel was buried.

For Pagenstecher, however, “seir” is not just part of  Biblical geography. It is a multi-layered etym which leads to a variety of hidden meanings and implications. He brings to the attention of his guests a whole series of similar-sounding words, such as Zaire, seer, Ceres, Sirius. But the main clue to this etym lies in the fact that Poe served nearly two years in an artillery regiment. As Pagenstecher reveals, in artillery parlance seir stood for the touch hole, a special vent in a cannon in which a fuse was inserted.

The conversation steers to James Fenimore Cooper and the theme of chastity in Leatherstocking Tales. The etym reading of the protagonist’s name yields “a) >nutty<; b) >bum<; c) >poo(p)<“. However, it’s not the most popular work of Cooper which arouses Pagenstecher’s main interest. The tireless etym hunter shifts his focus to the lesser-known The Monikins. In this satyrical fable the main character John Goldencalf travels to the land of talking monkeys. Some parallels between Cooper’s novel and Poe’s Pym are discussed. In both texts there are cannibalistic motifs and mysterious drawings on the rock. Pagenstecher talks at length about the tails of the monikins, this subject being a goldmine for his patent double-entendres as one of the German words for a tail is Schwanz (the other is Schweif), and, as most of you know, this word also stands for “prick”.  The epitome of this racy ambiguity is the expression “Schwanz=Mitaffern”, which contains “Schwanz mit Affen” (tail with monkeys) and “Schwanz  Metaphern” (prick metaphors).

Amid banter and small talk, the company leaves the Field of Terror, going through the same typographically designated barbed wire fence: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.  Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene and its influence on Poe’s novel are discussed. Pagenstecher quotes a passage that refers to the cannibalistic practices of a certain “savage nation”:

In these wylde deserts, where she now abode,

There dwelt a salvage nation, which did live

Of stealth and spoile, […]

Thereto they usde one most accursed order,

To eate the flesh of men, whom they mote fynde,

And straungers to devoure, which on their border

Were brought by errour, or by wreckfull wynde:

A monstrous cruelty [gainst course of kynde.]


The Lachte west of Lachendorf

They come to the river Lachte. Wilma and Franziska decide to take a swim. Their undressing is described in two parallel columns. While  the mother and daughter are bathing, Daniel and Paul discuss the meaning of the term “favourite author”.  Herder’s opinion of the subject is presented in a lengthy quotation from his essay On the Cognition and Sensation of the Human Soul. Here is the relevant excerpt:

Where it is worth the effort, this living reading, this divination into the author’s soul, is the only reading, and the deepest means of education [Bildung]. It becomes a sort of enthusiasm, intimacy, and friendship which is often most instructive and pleasant for us where we do not think and feel in the same way, and which really indicates what the name favorite author refers to. Such reading is competition, heuristic; we climb up with the author to creative peaks or discover the error and the deviation in its birthplace.

to be continued

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