Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 13, pp. 127 – 132

Edgar Poe must have been ashamed of his last name. How come? Pagenstecher is certain he has ample evidence of that. First of all, there is the tale William Wilson whose beginning might betray its author’s preoccupations: ” Let me call myself, for the present, William Wilson. The fair page now lying before me need not be sullied with my real appellation.” What could possibly be wrong with “Poe”? you will ask. Everything! It does not take an etym-analysis genius to establish a relationship between “Poe” and “po”. The latter word stems from the French “pot de chambre” and means “chamber pot”.

At the bottom of page 127 there is a doodle of an erect penis. My first thought was that it had been a prank of the bookseller, but, as it turned out, it is indeed a facsimile of Arno Schmidt’s artistic endeavor. The appearance of this drawing is predicated, like lots of other things in Zettel’s Traum, on wordplay. In Poe’s poem Fairyland there is a line which reads “My soul is lolling on thy sighs!”. Pronounced in a lisping manner, it sounds “my thole is lolling on thy thighs”. So, what is “thole”? It is a pin on the gunwale of a boat which serves as fulcrum for an oar. Pagenstecher uses the German word “Riemen” when referring to an oar. The same word is also used as a vulgar term for the penis. (As an aside: that is why I am also looking forward to Woods’ translation. There are plenty of cases like this in the book, and on many occasions I find myself wondering: “How to say this in English without losing the intended effect?” Even a couple of puns could be a formidable task for any translator, but here we are talking thousands!)

The next topic of the conversation is the 19th century Irish poet Thomas Moore and his Oriental romance Lalla Rukh which was held in high regard by Poe. Pagenstecher briefly summarises the plot for the Jacobis who are not familiar with it. Of course, his retelling is infested with different etyms. For example, the name of the poet Feramorz with whom the Mughal princess Lalla Rukh falls in love suggests “faire+amours”. Daniel also singles out common motifs and similar symbols in Moore’s and Poe’s texts. Thus, he draws a parallel between Poe’s fays or fairies and Moore’s peris, beautiful supernatural creatures from Persian folklore that were believed to have descended from fallen angels. Pagenstecher finds these beings fascinating and devotes a lot of his rambling attention to their representation in Lalla Rukh. One of the more complex puns that gets created in the course of this discussion is “möse-pitrije Viehlosuff” which is a corrupted version of “miesepetrig Philosoph” (grumpy Philosopher) which contains möse (cunt), Vieh (cattle or beast), and Suff (boozing). What is also noteworthy is that we learn here about Pagenstecher’s attitude towards God, which does not come to us as a surprise: “GOd is completely un=interesting“.

to be continued

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