Tag Archives: Jules Verne

Reading Zettel’s Traum: Week 16, pp. 149-157

Elevated Hunting Blind

The next important landmark of the journey is an elevated hunting blind discovered in the forest. All the four characters climb it. Franziska shows Pagenstecher a small doll representing a Native American girl that she calls Narra-mattah (after the white girl kidnapped by Indians  in Fenimore Cooper’s tale The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish). The raised platform opens to the observer a beautiful panorama of the forest. As soon as the word “panorama” is uttered, the pandora box of Pagenstecher’s erudition is opened again. Paul believes that “panorama” is an ancient Greek word.  Daniel condescendingly tells him that the first use of the word dates back to the beginning of the 19th century.  Pagenstecher readily grabs the opportunity to regale the Jacobis with another historical excursus. Poe is his starting point: the word “panorama” is mentioned in Arnheim in connection with the view one can enjoy on the summit of Aetna. Originally, however, “panorama” was known not as a natural view but rather as artificial entertainment first introduced in 1792 by English painter Robert Barker.


Cross section of Robert Barker’s panorama at Leicester Square. Robert Mitchell, c. 1793.

Obviously enthusiastic about the subject, Pagenstecher gives a detailed description of Barker’s sophisticated contraption that attracted numerous visitors and earned its designer tons of money. The Englishman’s invention inspired a lot of creative minds, as various modifications of his panorama were soon to follow. For example there was Gropius’ pleorama that presented to the viewers  panoramic views while they were sitting in a rocking boat or Daguerre’s diorama that ingeniously used two transparent screens with pictures through which light was filtered.

Pagenstecher singles out two distinct periods in the development of the panorama. In the first one, from 1800 to 1850, the most popular subject matter of the panorama was a city view, whereas during the second (1860-1900) the thematic focus was on battle scenes.

It is also important to remember that this new type of entertainment had a considerable influence on works of literature. Pagenstecher uses Jules Verne’s adventure novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth as a case in point. The descriptions of the fantastic landscapes in the hollow earth owe a great deal to the effects created by the panorama and its successors. Here is one of the fragments quoted by Daniel:

‘That must be true. But if prehistoric animals lived in the subterranean regions, who is to say that one of those monsters is not still wandering around in the middle of these dark forests or behind these steep rocks?’

At the idea, I scanned the horizon with a certain dread; but no living creature appeared on the deserted shores.

I felt a little tired, and went and sat down right at the end of a promontory, at whose foot the waves were noisily breaking. From there I could see right round the bay, constituted by an indentation in the coast. At the end there had formed a little harbour enclosed by pyramid-shaped rocks. Its calm waters slept, sheltered from the wind. A brig and two or three schooners might have anchored there with room to spare. I almost expected to see some ship coming out, all sails set, making for the open sea on the southerly breeze.

But this illusion soon faded. We really were the only living creatures in this subterranean world. At times, when the wind dropped, a silence deeper than the silence of the desert fell upon these arid rocks and weighed upon the surface of the ocean. I tried, then, to penetrate the distant mists, to tear apart the curtain which had fallen over the mysterious depths of the horizon.

Despite its verisimilitude, this scenery has nothing to do with the known world on the surface; it is an “illusion”, just like the sophisticated panoramic views painted on moving canvas.

to be continued


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The Great Untranslated: O Megas Anatolikos by Andreas Embirikos

MegasAnatolikosThis is to inaugurate a new category of this blog. It will be an idiosyncratic overview of works not translated into any language that I can read or not translated at all, but which, judging by the secondary sources,  seem to me not only tantalisingly interesting reading matter but also an important contribution to world literature.

I would like to begin with Andreas Embirikos, the famous Greek surrealist poet, and his epic novel O Megas Anatolikos (The Great Eastern). Embirikos worked on this meganovel for more than two decades, and it was published only after his death in 8 volumes. The novel has 100 chapters and clocks in at more than 2000 pages. The main characters of the work are the passengers of the ocean liner the Great Eastern travelling from Liverpool to New York in May, 1867. The action takes place within 10 days, but despite this, it is not so much Boccaccio’s Decameron this notorious book has been compared with, but rather Donatien Alphonse François’s The 120 Days of Sodom. The novel is said to contain lots of extremely explicit scenes, and this  translation of the more innocuous passages might give you the idea. Follow this link with caution: definitely not-safe-for-work type of content! One can imagine something like a voyage of the ship Anubis from Gravity’s Rainbow described in minute detail over a couple thousand pages. In the open ocean, far from the shore and unaffected by any social constraints and taboos, the passengers of the ship indulge in all possible hedonistic pursuits many of which might be mildly called perversions. Besides the Marquis de Sade, the volume is also an obvious homage to Jules Verne’s nowadays obscure A Floating City. It is  a sea adventure novel  set on board of the Great Eastern in which a woman  travelling with her husband realizes that the man she is in love with is among the passengers. Jules Verne got his inspiration by actually taking a transatlantic trip to the United States on this ship with his brother in 1867.

Great Eastern at Heart's Content, 1866

Great Eastern at Heart’s Content, 1866

The publication of the novel made quite a splash in Greece, dividing the reading public into belligerent opponents and ardent supporters of Embirikos’ magnum opus. It is worth noting that among the champions of the novel  was the Nobel Prize laureate Odysseas Elytis who admired its visionary quality. According to him, in contrast to the Marquis de Sade who used sexual subject matter to depict hell on earth, Embirikos employed the same material to create paradise. Thus the liner comes to represent some kind of sexual utopia and universal celebration of eros flying in the face of the strait-laced Victorian society.

You can find some additional information on Embirikos’ works on the website of the poet’s Greek publisher Agra. As far as I know, there isn’t a separate volume of Embirikos’ poems available in English translation yet, and in order to at least have some idea of what it is about you might have to check this anthology of Greek surrealist poetry or the mammoth A Century of Greek Poetry 1900-2000. There is no any information even about some plans to translate The Great Eastern into any language. All we have to content ourselves with for the time being is his poetry.

Whale Light

The initial form woman took was the braided throats of two dinosaurs.
Later, time changed and woman changed too.
She became smaller, more lithe, more in keeping with the two-masted (in some countries three-masted)
ships that float on the misfortune of making a living.
She herself floats on the scales of a cylinder-bearing dove of immense weight.
Epochs change and the woman of our epoch resembles the gap in a filament.
© Translation: 2004, Karen van Dyck
From: A Century of Greek Poetry: 1900-2000


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