Bottom’s Dream – Arno Schmidt (translated by John E. Woods) – week three


Post number three for my journey through Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream” and already I’m thinking that weekly posts are simply not frequent enough. I don’t think an exercise like the amazing read along (alone) conducted by “The Untranslated” would add extra value, as why recreate the same style of notes simply because the book has been published in English?

From a narrative sense the first fifty pages the characters Daniel Pagenstecher (the host and first person narrator – at times), Paul and Wilma Jakobi all argue, debate, Edgar Allan Poe’s works. Meanwhile Paul and Wilma’s daughter Franziska, a sixteen year old virgin, flutters her eyelashes, brushes her hands against Dan, rolls a ring, and generally allures Dan’s sexual urgings. Outside of that it is all labyrinths and wild goose chases, research into obscure texts, a 1,500-page cryptic crossword;

According to Michael Schneider, most research follow’s Schmidt’s own recommended approach to his writings: namely, that the reader should calculate, decipher, and measure the real reference in his texts. According to Lutz Prütting, this approach to his texts, informed by literary realism, has reduced the enigmatic character of Schmidt’s texts to the level of a crossword puzzle for which there is only one solution. (Introduction of Arno Schmidt’s Zettel’s Traum: An Analysis by Volker Langbehn)

and I am not too sure that there is “one solution”, reading this book is a personal experience, where some references will make you jump with joy and delve into some arcane text, other just frustrate you as you don’t even know what they mean, and yet others simply passing you by.

I currently have eighteen pages in one notebook, references or simply snippet’s I’ve enjoyed, and with two blog posts to date I’ve probably covered about six of those pages without going into the depth the work requires.

Today’s post, from a narrative point of view, continues with the theme of Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” and the references that Poe possibly used, for his fictional travel journal. I will also look at a few other references that have appeared outside of Poe. Another post in the coming days to look at one of the (many) themes.

Last week I simply looked the language of the Tsalal, featured in Pym, the possible connection to Hebrew and how could have Poe known such. This week, more on Pym, where did Poe get the concept, the structure?

There is obviously a raft of research on Edgar Allan Poe, and there may be scholarly learnings that have strengthened or even debunked the theories espoused by Arno Schmidt in “Zettel’s Traum”, originally published in 1970, let’s not forget there was no Google back then.

The conversation between the Poe experts, in “Bottom’s Dream” extends to discussing the similarities between J.L Stephens’ “Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia, Petraea and the Holy Land”, the Preface;

The author has compiled these pages from brief notes and recollections, and has probably fallen into errors in facts and impressions, which his occupations since his return have prevented his inquiring into and correcting. He has presented things as they struck his mind, without perplexing himself with any deep speculations upon the rise and fall of empires; nor has he gone into much detail in regard to ruins.

The preface to “Pym”;

One consideration which deterred me was, that, having kept no journal during a greater portion of the time in which I was absent, I feared I should not be able to write, from mere memory, a statement so minute and connected as to have the appearance of that truth it would really possess, barring only the natural and unavoidable exaggeration to which all of us are prone when dealing with events which have had powerful influence in exciting the imaginative facilities.

The end Note of Stephens’ book containing hieroglyphics:


The end Note of Pym also containing symbols, hieroglyphics, translated as “The region of the south”.

Another connection to the satirical travel novel, is brought to our attention; James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Monikins”. The Monikins, two nations of monkeys living near the south pole (the setting is similar to Pym), the Leaphigh (England) and the Leaplow (United States). The Leaphigh are aristocratic and have long tails, the Leaplow are Republican with docked tails who wear prosthetics when on diplomatic visits. The story is narrated by Captain Noah Poke;

(Just like Capt’n POKE ; (and what might >poke< and >poker< be? , I can only say) ; >>P1 ! – <<

Remember “P1:” refers to Volume One of “A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English”.

James Fenimore Cooper crops up again with a reference to “Leatherstocking” who “dies more’r’less as a virgin”, the Leatherstocking tales being “The Deerslayer” (1841), “The Last of the Mohicans” (1826), “The Pathfinder” (1840), “The Pioneers” (1823)” and “The Prairie” (1827). The main character in the series being Natty Bumppo;

how far along, would Y’say, does a man havta be to baptize his cock o’ the walk >NATTY BUMPOE<?

And the far-left column (remember “P1”);


Which leads me to the “Holes at the Poles” reference, a theory that appears in Pym and is also espoused by Jeremiah N Reynolds in his book “Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery” more 1820’s fictional travel literature. You can imagine what Schmidt does with the “Holes at the Poles”;

But at the mention of the >South=pole< ev’ry man, at least, senses a >rod=downunder<!)

We do have further discussion about Pym being set in the south, the “nether” regions, the crevices and crannies, whilst the north would have indicated a breast fetish. The “holes at the poles” theory giving Arno Schmidt all of the sexual references he needs to present more and more sexual innuendo. The frequent sexual allusions are linked to Freud, another common thread that is raised throughout, and of course dreams, but more on that in another post.

Another interesting note, Pym, lands on the islands of Tsalal on 19 January (according to his journal), Poe’s birthday, “Ergo the hero is born”.

Outside of comparisons between other contemporary texts and “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym”, a few pages are dedicated to the possible childhood influences on Poe, as he grew up “sitting in his little washbasket resting in the wings”, watching his mother perform, subconsciously the basket becoming the shape and construction as the canoe Pym uses when he escapes the savages. The basket also appearing in Poe’s “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall”.

This short story is based in Rotterdam where a flying machine, like a “balloon manufactured entirely of dirty newspapers”, “instruments, resembling sheep-bells, which kept up a continual tinkling to the tune of Betty Martin.” Blue ribbons holding a suspended “drab beaver hat” owned by Hans Pfaall who had been missing for five years, presumed dead.

We learn of Pfaall’s disappearance five years previously, in a balloon, charged with a gas whose density is “37.4 times less than that of hydrogen” – (that washbasket manifesting as a balloon basket) – Pfaall’s mission is to fly to the moon.

Hans Phfaall could easily be decoded in Norwegian (aligned with “mast/ubaroty) tree from early childhood ; > we erected (a kind of framework) about the bow…the necessity of a yard (and you can check in P1 as to what >yard< means):”

Other influences on Poe from the theatre are referenced. Did Poe know of Imre Thököly (A Prince of Transylvania), early in “Bottom’s Dream” Dan presents Paul “an old medal commemorating Imre Thököly, a Hungarian noble who led a Protestant uprising against the Austrian Habsburgs.” (from The Untranslated blog), later in our book, Imre=Eymeric (de Gironne) as mentioned in “The Fall of the House of Usher”, Usher’s bookshelves containing ‘Drectorium Inquisitorium”’ by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne, a work defining witchcraft, describing means to find witches.

Another literary reference… “ETA HOFFMANN”, a Prussian author of horror and fantasy, and Calmet’s “>Dissertation on the Vampires of Hungary<” translated into English in 1750.

Eta Hoffmann apparently attributing the wealth of the characters in his works to impressions and images when travelling in a mail-coach “as a tiny tot at his mother’s breast”

Let’s see if I can make enough time to write up a post about the childhood references, the dream references, Freud and the term “etyms”, the language style. Outside of that I am still thoroughly enjoying the depth of riches this book presents, you cannot read a single page without delving into some other literary work, the mosaic of Schmidt’s “zettels” slowly creating an image, a blurry landscape of knowledge one where the “reader has to search for his or her own truth” (Volker Langbehn).


2 thoughts on “Bottom’s Dream – Arno Schmidt (translated by John E. Woods) – week three

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