Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 15, pp. 141-148

The second part of the novel is called In the Company of Trees (In Gesellschaft von Baümen). Its first alliterative sentence (Ein Schrat im Schritt) can be translated as either “a forest demon at a footpace” or “a forest demon in the crotch”: take your pick. The company walks in the forest, and Pagenstecher, as usual, shares his encyclopedic knowledge about various subjects. As he explains, the footpaths they have been encountering are not footpaths at all, but old firebreaks, artificially made gaps to contain wildfires. The main topic of their conversation, however, is meteorites and different theories of their origin. According to one of them, meteorites are the products of volcano eruptions on the moon. Pagenstecher offers a brief overview of how various scientists and writers of the past got carried away with the idea that the moon was covered with numerous live volcanoes that were bombarding the earth with “moonstones”. A passage from Jean Paul’s Schmelzle’s Journey to Flätz gives a very vivid illustration to the whole concept comparing the stone-throwing moon to the sling-wielding Biblical David.

The “lunar” theory finds its expression in Poe’s works as well. There is a quotation from his short story The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall which recounts the title character’s journey to the moon in a balloon. When Hans Pfaall is approaching his destination, his vessel is almost hit by what he calls “some mighty volcanic fragment”.

Back to etym-analysis. This time it is the characters’ names in Wilhelm Raabe’s novel Christoph Pechlin that have to undergo it. During the ensuing discussion the name of Freud crops up again, and Pagenstecher makes a point of stressing the importance of his psychoanalytical approach to works of literature.

On their way deeper into the forest, the discussants encounter a land surveyor with a theodolite. Those who have read Arno Schmidt’s works will know that the surveyor is one of the key figures in his fictional universe. References to this profession can be found in many of his texts. Pagenstecher says that it is a bad sign to meet one, which surprises Wilma: Daniel himself used to work as a land surveyor during the war.

to be continued

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