Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 24, pp. 281-300

First off, an important correction: I was gravely mistaken about the meaning of the word “gall” (Galle) discussed in the previous installment of my read. As it turns out, it is a botanical term denoting an abnormal, usually ball-like excrescence on a plant caused by various parasitic insects. Pagenstecher mentions the widespread phenomenon of “jumping galls” when the infested  spheres of plant tissue fall from the trees to the ground and start jumping as if having an uncanny life of their own. In reality, it is just baby insects, such as gall-forming wasps Neuroterus saltatoriusfrantically beating inside these balls. Daniel brands the relationship between the animal parasites and their host plants as Unzucht (an unnatural sexual act), the word which is usually used when referring to sodomy or bestiality.

The theme of  Poe’s plagiarism or literary borrowings, if we don’t want to be as harsh as Pagenstecher, is reintroduced and explored at some length. This time Daniel demonstrates to his audience how Poe used The Journals of Lewis and Clarke in Julius Rodman.  The said journals document the exploratory expedition through the uncharted north-western territories of the US commissioned by Thomas Jefferson after the Louisiana purchase. Besides that, Pagenstecher also points out Poe’s indebtedness to Washington Irving’s Astoria or Enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains, an official history of the Astor Expedition whose goal was the establishment of a fur-trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River. In Daniel’s opinion, the text of Julius Rodman should be regarded as a cento on account of  its numerous borrowings.


Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child

The ironic and self-conscious revisiting of the legend of Saint Christopher is triggered off when Franziska complains of being too tired to walk further and Pagenstecher goes on to carry the girl on his shoulders. The girl even wonders if she isn’t too heavy for Daniel. As she later confesses, her weight is at least “42 Cúlo” (a pun on “kilo” and the Spanish word  for “ass”).  While riding Pagenstecher, Franziska recalls a scene from The Fifth Voyage of Sinbad in which the Old Man of the Sea in a similar fashion climbs the sailor’s shoulders and by twisting his legs tightly around the poor man’s neck makes him his captive. Sinbad has to serve as the Old Man’s mount for several weeks until contriving to get his captor drunk on wine and killing him.

A lengthy quotation form William Rhind’s 19th century botanical treatise A History of the Vegetable Kingdom provides an account of insects “impregnating” plants — another example of Unzucht across the species.

Paul recounts two recent dreams, and Daniel gladly takes the part of the interpreter predictably resorting to Freudian concepts and etym-analysis. Wilma is outraged by the content of her husband’s dreams:  he makes as if to slap her, pushes her into the river and even lashes her with his trouser belt. Pagenstecher, however, maintains that these dreams are evidence of Paul’s unconditional love and passion towards his wife.

Pagenstecher teaches Franziska the word game Doublets invented by Lewis Carroll. The idea is to change the start word into the end word (often with an opposite meaning) by successively altering one letter of each word in the chain leading to the final transformation. For example this is how Carroll changes “poor” to “rich”:  POOR – BOOR – BOOK – ROOK – ROCK – RICK – RICH. In the right-hand margin, next to the dialogue between Franziska and Daniel, it is demonstrated how the word “head” is changed into “tail” in five steps. Is Arno Schmidt poking fun at the reader struggling to make head or tail of Zettel’s Traum?

Pagenstecher tells Wilma about the importance of drawing distinction between the action in the book (Handlung) and the Extended Mind Game (see Week 18 of my ZT read). In comparison to ordinary people, the EMG aspect of the artist is hypertrophied.  Thus it would be wrong to separate the author from his or her text. Poe himself expresses a similar idea in a series of critical articles named The Literati of New York City:

The supposition that the book of an author is a thing apart from the author’s self, is, I think, ill-founded. The soul is a cipher, in the sense of a cryptograph; and the shorter a cryptograph is, the more difficulty there is in its comprehension; at a certain point of brevity it would bid defiance to an army of Champollions.

The discussion around the psychoanalytical interpretation of the bodies of water in Poe’s tales as stand-ins for urination briefly touches upon the famous Seven Sisters waterfall in the Geiranger Fjord, Norway, and the possible significance of its name. According to Wilma, one would have to be utterly mad if the first image that came to his mind when observing this majestic waterfall was seven pissing giantesses.

to be continued

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