Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 11, pp.108 -116

This procession of shadows described by Poe in The Island of the Fay stimulates the fervid imagination of the narrator as well that of our etym analyst:

The shade of the trees fell heavily upon the water, and seemed to bury itself therein, impregnating the depths of the element with darkness. I fancied that each shadow, as the sun descended lower and lower, separated itself sullenly from the trunk that gave it birth, and thus became absorbed by the stream; while other shadows issued momently from the trees, taking the place of their predecessors thus entombed.

Wilma, who has firmly established herself as the staunch skeptic and challenger of Pagenstecher’s highfalutin conceits, does not see anything particular here except “the spectral images of Fairies”. The unabashed Daniel, however, continues mining the text for new etyms. He concludes his analysis by taking a twig and drawing on the ground what he calls “a magic circle”, which turns out to be some kind of diagram showing Poe’s major themes  through the prism of Pagnestecher’s theory. The diagram looks like a circle with lots of rays extending into all directions. The longest rays represent the borders of the five main thematic “sectors” of Poe’s literary heritage:

1. Observer and his mood

2. Cosmology

3. Putrefaction

4. Flora, Fauna, Population

5. Landscape

Pagenstecher examines each sector giving relevant examples, sometimes going off on a tangent. For instance the theme of putrefaction, which comprises all things morbid and impure (tombs, vaults, worms, plague etc.) leads him to the discussion of park latrines disguised as little temples. This topic allows him to bring up a fragment from German writer Jean Paul’s unfinished novel Flegeljahre (Adolescent Years). In it, one of the characters marvels at a splendid wooden pyramid embellishing the garden. What could be its significance? As it turns out, the majestic structure is nothing but a toilet.


Astronomical clock at Münster Cathedral

During this discussion Pagenstecher draws the attention of the others to the importance of repetition when it comes to the understanding and enjoyment of  art. No matter how dull certain repetitive processes may seem (Wilma brought the analogy of the re-appearing figures in the astronomical clock at Münster Cathedral), it is exactly thanks to them we are enabling ourselves to approach a true work of art. In his own words: “A piece of art that one needs to see=listen to only once to understand it completely is not a piece of art!”. This, by the way, might be read as a pre-emptive comment to the reader of Zettel’s Traum who by this point could be losing patience with the book on account of its enervating complexity.

It is not for nothing that Pagenstecher called the diagram drawn with the twig “a magic circle”. He gets the Jacobis to step inside.  They take hands and go round in a circle while Daniel is chanting the incantation which, predictably enough, proves to be one of Poe’s poems: The Valley Nis. This poem is not to be found in Poe’s standard collected works as it was considerably reworked to become The Valley of Unrest. Sure enough, the magic works: Wilma and Franziska turn into a pair of horses, whereas Paul transforms into a a horse trader extolling the numerous merits of the animals to Pagenstecher who assumes the role of the potential buyer.

to be continued

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