Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 22, pp. 241-261

Pagenstecher wouldn’t be Pagenstecher if he didn’t contrive to relate the furs obtained by Rodman and his companions during the trapping expedition to the furs in Zacher Masoch’s Venus in Furs. A relevant quotation about Austro-German psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing’s treatment of fur fetishism is provided.

Daniel explains to Paul another concept of his bizarre theory: enumerations (Aufzählungen). He uses the term to denote a series of associations or kindred notions that tend to increase in intensity the further they proceed. These sequences have a rhythmic nature of a sexual act or masturbation and their constituent elements are often affected by the related indecent concepts.  As an example of such a sequence Paul suggests a list of Santa’s gifts from the 19th century German Christmas song Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann:

Trommel, Pfeifen und Gewehr,
Fahn und Säbel und noch mehr,
Ja ein ganzes Kriegesheer,
Möcht’ ich gerne haben.

Drum, pipes and gun,
Flag and saber and still more
Yes, an entire army
I’d like to have.

Fortunately for all the innocent kids who love this song, Pagenstecher does not proceed with its etym-analysis, but turns his attention back to Poe.

When Wilma wonders why in Gordon Pym Poe chose to populate with all kinds of birds the Kerguelen Islands rather than the islands of Tristan da Cuhna, Pagenstecher goes on another etym-analytical rampage coming up with a variety of associated terms both for “Tristan da Cuhna” and “Kerguelen”.

Some of the numerous birds nesting on the Kerguelen Islands in Gordon Pym are the focal point of the ensuing discussion. Here’s the relevant passage from the novel:

The feathered tribes are discovered in great numbers. Penguins are very plenty, and of these there are four different kinds. The royal penguin, so called from its size and beautiful plumage, is the largest. […]  The other kinds are the macaroni, the jackass, and the rookery penguin. These are much smaller, less beautiful in plumage, and different in other respects.

Besides the penguin many other birds are here to be found, among which may be mentioned seahens, blue peterels, teal, ducks, Port Egmont hens, shags, Cape pigeons, the nelly, seaswallows, terns, seagulls, Mother Carey’s chickens, Mother Carey’s geese, or the great peterel, and, lastly, the albatross.

The great peterel is as large as the common albatross, and is carnivorous. It is frequently called the break-bones, or osprey peterel. […]

The albatross is one of the largest and fiercest of the South Sea birds. It is of the gull species, and takes its prey on the wing, never coming on land except for the purpose of breeding. Between this bird and the penguin the most singular friendship exists. Their nests are constructed with great uniformity, upon a plan concerted between the two species — that of the albatross being placed in the centre of a little square formed by the nests of four penguins. Navigators have agreed in calling an assemblage of such encampments a rookery.

Rockhopper penguins reside in the large the black-browed albatross rookery on West Point Island, Falkland Islands The birds are at peace here thanks to the absence of cats and rats.

Penguins and Albatrosses. Photo Credit: David Stanley

For Pagenstecher the sexual subtext of this ornithological idyll is more than obvious. “Penguin” gives us “Penis=go=in”, whereas “albatross” can be interpreted as “alvus + trous”, an etym combination in which alvus is the Latin for the womb or stomach, and trou is the French for a hole. As for the rookery, it is none other than a metaphor for an assemblage of harbour whorehouses. The albatrosses “of the girl=species” thus represent here, according to Pagenstecher, port district prostitutes visited by sexually starving sailors symbolised by the penguins. After this clarification, Daniel goes on to talk about man and woman metaphorically depicted in world literature as birds.

Daniel returns to the list of the birds inhabiting the Kerguelen islands in Gordon Pym to carry out the etym-analysis of this enumeration. For the most part it is based on the slang meanings of the bird names or some of their parts. Pagenstecher also stresses the fact that Poe invests the birds with anthropomorphic features when describing them.


Photo Credit: Ansgar Walk

When the topic of the birds is exhausted, another animal from the same novel commands Daniel’s attention: the huge polar bear (or the arctic bear, as it is called by Gordon Pym) which is killed in a fierce fight by Peters, the protagonist’s companion, and later provides the whole crew of the schooner with “rank” and “fishy”meat. Pagenstecher notes that the word “bear”, both in English and German, refers us immediately to the idea of pregnancy: i.e. “to bear” and, respectively, gebären. The Latin for bear (ursus) is predictibly spelled as “arse’s”. The Jacobis learn from their erudite friend that the word “arctic” is derived  from the Greek word arktos, which also means “bear”.  I suppose that makes the term “arctic bear” somewhat tautological, at least etymology-wise.

Aggressive bears also appear in Julius Rodman: in one scene two grizzlies attack Julius’s party while they are climbing the steep banks of the Missouri. Needless to say, Pagenstecher has several etyms up his sleeve for this occasion as well. Further on, “Missouri” is spelled as “Miss Whori”.

After showing off to his companions his portable brass sundial, Daniel goes deep into the topic of mushrooms. He explains to the Jacobis in great detail what aspects in the appearance of a mushroom to look for, if they want to bring home quality stuff. Another discussion point is the most widespread symptoms of mushroom poisoning and the relevant measures of fighting it. We are specifically cautioned against eating Satan’s bolete, whose very name is a sure indicator of the dire consequences lying in store for anyone reckless enough to ingest it.

to be continued

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4 Responses to Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 22, pp. 241-261

  1. This novel sounds so weird!

  2. Believe me, it is a thousand times weirder than I make it out to be. I gloss over a lot of stuff, simplify things, and also skip some places where I have no clue what’s going on. My prediction is that only some 5% of those who will buy the book will read it from cover to cover, and, to tell the truth, I am not sure at all if I’m gonna be among these stalwart few. If there ever was a monument to monomania, it is Bottom’s Dream.

  3. Marc Myers says:

    This is a real treat, I just found your blog after searching again to find any information on Woods’ translation of the book, and when it will be published by Dalkey Archive. This is like reading the book ahead of time! I have everything else that’s available by Schmidt in English, and now I can put away FInnegan’s Wake for a few years and concentrate on this.

  4. Thanks for the kind words! You’re not exaggerating when talking about “a few years”, as that seems to be more or less realistic period for properly reading the book. I’m awaiting the first reviews of the translation with dread as there is no way it will be given its due. You can’t read such a book in a month. No way.

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