Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 26, pp. 317-336

“The intricacy of the universe is drifting, it seems, towards a new maximum”. Thus begins the third part of Zettel’s Traum, which is called Dan’s Cottage (A Diorama). This statement could refer both to the expansion of the universe we know about from modern cosmology and to the growing complexity of the fictional world of Arno Schmidt’s novel.

Daniel and his guests have breakfast pursuing an idle chat peppered with  the usual obscene puns and references to Poe. For want of amontillado, they have to make do with Fanta. Wilma calls Pagenstecher’s garden “a little Eden”, and that’s enough of a pretext to explore the theme of the garden as paradise in Poe’s works and elsewhere. Since the host of the Jacobis prefers to pronounce “Eden” as Aidenn, he doesn’t have any trouble in arriving at the etyms he is most interested in. The Greek language dictionary fetched by Franziska comes in handy. Therein he points out the word Aidoion (private parts, pudenda) which Franziska can’t read as she doesn’t know the Greek letters. The Lenore of The Raven mentioned by Wilma fares no better than Eden: as Pagenstecher  indicates, lena is the Latin for “whore” (but, actually, a procuress or a brothel-keeper).

A digression on the importance of wit as a way of thinking produced by the unconscious (and which, as notes Daniel, writer and theologian Joseph Görres believed to be of demonic nature) leads Pagenstecher to yet another pronouncement in which he places Joyce above Poe. In his opinion, a writer who parodies himself is by far wiser than the one who takes himself seriously. Thus Joyce is a more honourable writer than Poe.

Unexpectedly, Franziska sings the mechanical doll’s aria  (Les oiseaux dans la charmille) from Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann. The song is about a girl in love who finds the reflection of her feelings all around her: in the birds singing in the hedgerow and in the sun shining in the sky. Why exactly this song? Perhaps for Franziska it shares some garden/paradise motifs with the unfolding discussion. Wilma is surprised, as her daughter’s French has never been any good. 

Pagenstecher offers to his audience a brief insight into Islamic eschatology: the conceptions of the Judgement Day and the paradise (Jannah). He recommends to the Jacobis the vivid descriptions of the things to come found in Karl May’s Oriental adventure novel Am Jenseits (In the Hereafter) in which a blind seer, saved in the desert by the protagonists Kara Ben Nemsi and Haji Halef Omar on their way to Mecca, recounts his formidable visions of the end of time. Perhaps the exotic adventure novel of Karl May is not the best source for the Islamic views on the last days and the afterlife, but, as you probably know it, Karl May was one of Arno Schmidt’s (and, consequently, Pagenstecher’s) favourite writers.


Cul de Paris. Image Source

PARadISe for Poe, in terms of etyms, also stands for the city of Paris. Not only is it the setting for such stories as Rue Morgue and Purloined Letter, but also French was the foreign language that Poe knew best.  Pagenstecher comes up with various arguments as to why Paris is of paradisaical nature for Poe, most of them related to what Mikhail Bakhtin would call “material bodily lower stratum”. In The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade, the legendary queen castigates the element of female dress which she describes as “the protuberance of the region which lies not very far below the small of the back”. As it turns out, the name of this fashionable item was cul de Paris, literally “the ass of Paris”. For Daniel, of course, it should be ambiguously perceived as cul de Par(ad)is, i. e. also as “the ass of paradise”. Via a dubious etymological interpretation of  Lutetia Parisiorum, the name of the ancient town established at the place of the present-day Paris, Pagenstecher arrives at the notion of Paris as the excremental paradise. Contrary to what he says, I couldn’t find anything scatological about the word luteus. Different places in the French capital are also subject to etym-analysis. A volume of the Brockhaus encyclopedia brought by Franziska reveals to Daniel’s guests that “the vicinity of Palais Royal” mentioned in Rue Morgue was a stomping ground of prostitutes.

Pagenstecher seems a bit confused by Wilma’s request to clarify the significance of the names that appear in a text from Poe’s Marginalia, a compendium of aphorisms and witty observations:

Here is a book of “amusing travels,” which is full enough of statistics to have been the joint composition of Messieurs Busching, Hassel, Cannabitch, Gaspari, Gutsmuth and company.

Eventually, Daniel says that he seriously doubts that Poe has read any of the authors on this list, and, what is more, he questions the very idea of Poe being well-read.  The only explanation Pagenstecher can produce is etym-based, no surprise here: bush, hussy, cunny & bitch etc.

to be continued

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4 Responses to Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 26, pp. 317-336

  1. DK Fennell says:

    I probably should have noted this before: But what you are doing here concerning this massive work by Schmidt is extremely valuable.

    Many thanks.

    • Glad to be of value! However, I do have my own personal agenda here, as the prospect of publicly posting my thoughts makes me invest in this text more than I would do otherwise. I also hope that by now those who are still on the fence whether to commit to the translation or not have a pretty decent idea of what it is about, and what kind of text it is.

  2. flowerville says:

    it’s well pleasing to see this whole exegesis, me myself i had a good old look again at gold old wollschlaeger’s herzgewächse these days. now james wood has time again he could translate that, or the wollschläger/schmidt correspondence.

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