Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 21, pp. 221-240

When Franziska notices a scar on Daniel’s finger and asks him about it, the man recollects how he cut it. It turns out that Pagenstecher remembers the exact date of injuring his finger.

The company is reunited when Daniel and Franziska meet again Wilma and Paul. We learn from Pagenstecher that Freud was an enthusiastic mushroom picker. Wilma delivers another rant against the etym theory, to which Daniel calmly replies that it is in many respects similar to atomic energy: those who possess etyms are masters of the world of words. Immediately after this exchange, Pagenstecher reveals to Wilma, with the usual recourse to etym-analysis, that the town of Görlitz is, in fact, a “girl town”(Mädchenstadt) because its name gives us “girl it’s”.

Wilma, obviously tired of Pagenstecher finding everywhere some hidden erotic symbolism challenges him by reading out loud a passage from Landor’s Cottage in which “a grapevine of unexampled luxuriance” is described. Will he able to find anything here? Of course he will! First of all, Daniel requires his audience to distinguish between the static plant symbols (trees) and the dynamic ones (grapevine, ivy, and any creeper in general). In order to tackle the latter, Pagenstecher resorts to Die Efeuranke (The Ivy Tendril) a poem by Trieste-borne German-language poet Theodor Däubler. The poem is about an ivy climbing the marble balcony of a Gothic palace. It is compared to a spy seeking revenge. Its growing process seems to be dictated by the wish to find out who is living in the palace. Suddenly, a woman appears behind the window awash in moonlight, and it is made clear that the creeper has a long way to grow to learn all the mysteries of this place. For Pagenstecher it is obvious that we are dealing with another image of a voyeur here. Moreover,  the ivy’s “desire for revenge” (Rachewunsch) leads us to (Vulvs)=Rache(literally “wolf’s mouth”), that is, to the maw of the vulva. The grapevine in Landor’s Cottage is even more active and ambitious in its climbing, reaching the gable of the house, which is not surprising as etym analysis of  “grapevine” gives us “grab” + “rape” and vaina, the Spanish for “sheath” derived from the Latin vagina. (The second meaning of Scheide, the German word for a sheath,  is “vagina”).

The notion of the landscape as the human body is  further elaborated when Daniel goes on to show that the grass and moss in Poe’s texts symbolise nothing other than pubic hair. He focuses on the words “grass”, “green”, and “velvet”. The latter one is important because on many occasions Poe compares vegetation to this fabric. In a brief digression Pagenstecher elucidates the phenomenon of pubic hair as a sex relic, referring to different cultures in which it is used in gifts and souvenirs.

Using the white wolf mentioned in Rodman as a starting point, Daniel delves deeper in the etym-induced equation of “wolf” with “vulv[a]”. After that, the phallic aspect of tree symbolism is further mined: might there be a correspondence between the Latin lignum and the Sanskrit lingam? and what should one make of “sultan-like pines” in Poe’s Tamerlane if not  “sultanic penises”? There is a lot to be discovered in POE=tree.

Pagenstecher comes up with his own vision of different periods in man’s life that are, predictably enough, language related. The first period is the time when a baby acquires a language. The second period is that of adolescence when the body is formed and a foreign language is learnt. The third stage is when a person is around 50 when the body starts to disintegrate and etyms are discovered.

When Daniel is talking to Franziska about the early flag of the American revolution, described by James Fenimore Cooper in History of the Navy as “a device representing a pine tree, with a rattlesnake, about to strike, coiled at its root, with the motto, ” Don’t tread on me”, Paul, who has been taken short, asks him under his breath if he has any toilet paper. It turns out that Pagenstecher does. As it is evident that Paul will not be able to sustain his polykorpie (excrement abundance) for long, the discussants leave him behind to tend to his business. Just like Joyce in Ulysses, Arno Schmidt does not shy away from a moment of comical scatology.

Daniel and Franziska discuss the animals in Julius Rodman. Pagenstecher places the image of the antelope caught by the trappers within a larger cultural context that ascribes deer imagery to female beauty. Franziska wonders about the omnipresence of beavers in the novel: they are hunted both for their pelts and meat. Daniel explains to the girl the meaning of the expression bonne bouche (a choice morsel), which iapplied to the beaver meat, following up his explanation with etym-analysis of this French borrowing.

to be continued

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 21, pp. 221-240

  1. What I find fascinating about Pagenstecher’s method is that although being preposterous for the most part, it is always entertaining and in those cases when he is right on, the resulting pun or some linguistic aberration packs myriad shades of meaning impossible to express by simple language.

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