Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 12, pp. 117 – 126

Paul and Daniel discuss the merits of the two winsome mares: Fanchon I and Elle Veut who are none else than Franziska and her mother transformed into horses by Pagenstecher’s magic. At some point another transformation takes place. This time the men take equine shapes becoming imposing stallions James Powell and Danilo, whereas the ladies turn into dapper jockeys, cap, riding boots and all.  Now it’s their turn to exchange views about their mounts and their assessment does not turn out very flattering.

Back in their human forms, the discussants continue their conversation regarding Poe and his works. Pagenstecher distinguishes three stages of Poe’s theoretical introductions: 1. a wanderer in a maze;  2. the appearance of stage scenery coloured by sunset 3. the emergence of a woman or a female symbol. This is followed by yet another foray into Freudian theories, this time about repressed childhood experiences and their significance for sexual neurotics.

Pagenstecher talks about “the Janus effect” that takes place in Poe’s writing  when he allows his subconscious to approach the “wordcentre” (whatever it may mean); as a result, the text acquires an additional dimension represented by the network of etyms. This effect is unavoidable for an author in throes of creative rapture. Wilma does not agree that the intrusion of the subconscious in one’s text is always involuntary, mentioning the technique of automatic writing. As we know, it was employed by surrealists to stimulate the release of the subconscious desires in their works. She sees this type of writing as a productive technique that makes the subconscious “visible” to the reader, thus sparing them the need to over-analyse the text in search of hidden meanings.  Another objection to Pagenstecher’s methods is the fact that his reading of Poe does not differ much from a layman’s attempt at psychoanalysis.

Sure enough, Wilma’s skepticism only serves to stoke the fires of Pagenstecher’s eloquence. Producing counter-arguments like rabbits from a top hat, he gets on with his analysis. While doing it, he comes up with a couple of noteworthy aphoristic observations: 1. “when the subconscious is forced to speak, in the best case it starts to mumble etyms”; 2. “the dimmer the state, the more etym-filled  is the text”. Paul goes on to say that due to their complex and ambivalent nature, etyms can easily pass through the partition between consciousness and the unconscious. The super-ego does not try to stop them as they do not seem to pose any potential danger. In this context, an etym is not unlike a naked woman wearing a kitchen apron as seen from the front: she might me considered hauSfraulich=airpussylich (another scabrous pun playing with the pronunciation of the German word ehrpusselig (sensitive about one’s reputation)).

After dwelling on the consequences of interchanging some sounds in English (s -th, b -p, a-e), Pagenstecher subjects the verb “lolling” to etym-analysis featuring the predictable “lollipop”. This is followed by further discussion on the specific character of etyms which, compared to regular words, do not rely on orthography but rather on the pronunciation. And, of course, we realise that if we need just one vivid example of that, we don’t have to go too far: the text of Zettel’s Traum is the ultimate violation of all possible spelling rules.

to be continued

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