Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 25, pp. 301-314

Pagenstecher draws the Jacobis’ attention of  to the fact that Poe completely lacked planning when creating his works. What he did instead was “combinatorics” (not in the mathematical sense, of course). Also, one of Poe’s serious disadvantages was absence of any translation experience. Daniel relegates the American writer to the status of “sampler’ (Probierer), saying that he had never reached the level of “a genius tinkerer” the way James Joyce did.

After briefly talking about Poe’s favourite word “gorgeous” and his relationship with Roma people, Pagenstecher recounts to his audience how on one occasion dust from the Sahara desert ended up falling in his neighbourhood along with snow. A mixture of quartz and limestone particles had been carried all the way from Africa to Germany by the sirocco wind. Daniel points out that the earliest mention of the hot wind coming from the Sahara is to be found in Muslim geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi’s famous treatise Al Rojari or Tabula Rogeriana.

Daniel and Franziska again part ways with the spouses, as Pagenstecher wants to make a brief detour to pick up a white stone for his cottage land. The separation is marked by the division of the main text into two columns. At some point the man and the girl decide to take a rest. They sit down, and, at Franziska’s urging, Daniel returns to the subject of the hollow earth. As you might remember this concept has already been discussed previously in connection with Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth.


Mattia Preti, Saint Paul the Hermit

Pagenstecher is happy to oblige. In his own words, the hollow earth is a “literary Rundling“. He borrows this metaphor from the typical German circular villages characteristic of the early medieval period. He briefly mentions various literary and mythological sources exploring this idea, and even quotes from St. Jerome’s The Life of Paul, the First Hermit (his source is Joseph  Görres’ Die Christliche Mystik, a series of saints’ biographies). The quoted passage recounts how Paul of Thebes discovers a mountain cave that turns out to be a secret mint. Daniel also mentions the 18th century mining engineering professor Johann Gottfried Steinhäuser who came up with the quirky idea that in the hollow of the earth there was an orbiting planetoid which he intermittently called Minos, Minerva, or Apollo. In the course of his lecture, Daniel inevitably transitions from the hollows in the earth to the hollows in the human body, and from there to the Freudian hypotheses about infant sexuality and the wish to return to the mother’s uterus. An etym-based example of the latter is drawn from Poe’s The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Sheherazade in which there is a description of an immense cave footnoted by the author as “The Mammoth Cave of Kentucky”. Pagenstecher interprets this name in the following way: “>Mammas + cave + cunt + tuck=tack=(tictac)<“.

However, besides the openings in the earth, and the human body, adds Pagenstecher, there are also hollows in the human unconscious that hoard numerous images inherited from the previous generations. That’s already the Jungian archetypes he is talking about. According to Daniel, the Extended Mind Game (Längere Gedankenspiel) is inseparable from the notion of the Underworld or the Kingdom of the Dead. Their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of a fat hare that doesn’t seem to be scared of them. This triggers a longish quotation from  Acta Sanctorum,  a compendium of saints’ biographies, in which the story of the Blessed Oringa is recounted. Most pertinent to the situation is her encounter with a friendly hare that saved her life when she was wandering in a dark forest. Then they see a man with a walking stick dressed in a green jacket and brown trousers. It is none other than Arno Schmidt whom they have already met before. The man with the stick stops near the uncommonly frightless hare that doesn’t even move, and shaking his head says that the most humane way of dealing with the animal would be to smash its head with the stick. When the man is gone, Franziska flies into a rage at the cruel words of the stranger. Pagenstecher, however, defends the passerby’s opinion as the hare is doomed anyway: it must be suffering from highly contagious rabbit haemorrhagic disease, which is why it is so unabashed in the first place. Shortly afterwards, Daniel and Franziska are reunited with Wilma and Paul.

The ensuing conversation touches upon the enumeration of different animals in Julius Rodman, with the attendant etym-analysis. They also talk about the cavern/tavern in the same novel whose “dismal appearance” leads Pagenstecher to the etym “di=smell”, i.e. a smell that is produced twice. As they are approaching Daniel’s cottage, the conversation turns towards the topic of plants and their equal rights with humans. This eccentric notion owes its emergence to Daniel’s reading Kurd Lasswitz’s science fiction novel Sternentau: die Pflanze vom Neptunsmond (Star Dew: the Plant of Neptune’s Moon) which philosophically examines the relationship between human beings and plants through the story of an extraterrestrial plant on earth.

Our literary quartet finally reaches Pagenstecher’s house, and this concludes the third part of Zettel’s Traum.

to be continued

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