Bottom’s Dream – Arno Schmidt (Tr John E Woods) – Etyms

Let’s take a look at the language structure of “Bottom’s Dream”, the narrative is straightforward enough, Paula and Wilma Jacobi, Edgar Allan Poe translators, together with their sixteen-year-old daughter Franziska, visit Poe expert (and narrator) Dan Pagenstecher and they discuss Poe (besides Franziska who adds the occasional comment, but is generally the virginal sexual allure for Dan).

Early in “Bottom’s Dream” Dan argues;


EDIT – I suppose I should attempt a translation or explanation. Dan is telling us that Freud’s “interpretation of Dreams” presents the theory that the subconscious presents words which may have several simultaneous meanings, he calls these new wordlike formations ETYMS. The upper level of the subconscious speaks etym (as a language like English, Wilma calls them “roots”, Peter “homonyms” and Franziska “rhymes”.

Instead of these ‘etyms’ being hidden, as in other works, Arno Schmidt has filled the 1493 pages with sexual references galore, taking other well-known texts and pointing out the subconscious references. To make this explanation a little simpler, here are a handful of examples:

gentitalman, secunts, up=>porn<=tune, I’ve been >stiff< My hole life long.

Esther Yi, has recently referred to this feature of Schmidt’s book in a recent “The New Yorker” article and interview with translator John E. Woods.

Whilst this feature of the work is enjoyable, amusing and provocative it can also come across as plain smutty, and in 2016 as dated, sexist and immature. However, using the theories of Sigmund Freud, more specifically referencing “Interpretation of Dreams” the ‘etym’ theory suddenly pervades all of your reading.

The theory then leads to multiple interpretations of writer’s works, calling into play the author’s character, unconscious influences, of course this book exposing a plethora of Edgar Allan Poe references it is not exclusively tied to such, with almost every page referencing some other work. At this stage I have read a number of other books connected to Poe or referenced in “Bottom’s Dream”, such as “Undine” by Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte Fouqué (a review will be forthcoming), Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” (Years ago, I’m NOT re-reading it), Tobias Smollett’s “The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker” (I’ve read this a number of times as Smollett was an influence on Dickens and I used to be an avid Dicken’s reader),  I have Jules Verne’s “An Antarctic Mystery”, “The Monikins” by James Fenimore Cooper, of course Sigmund Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” to read. I’ve dabbled in numerous works, a couple that I’ve read quite a large selection from are “Dissertations upon the apparitions of angels, daemons, and ghosts, and concerning the vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia” by Augustin Calmet, J.L Stephens’ “Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia, Petraea and the Holy Land”, the internet proving to be a boon for the research.

Onto the narrative front, the four main players here have continued to walk across the “Horrorfield” and have again crossed the barbed wire (as they did in the grand opening on Page 1), this time Dan’s allure to Franziska obviously stated:


See the ‘etyms’ there?

As I posted last time, this is a work so rich with reference a single post per week is hardly sufficient to cover the material, however making the time to write up a post is also a dilemma. I do know of other readers using my journey to assist them through this book, so I will continue to post, so long as it differs from the Untranslated’s material, no point in repeating something just because it’s been published in an different language!

I have also been asked to show a shot of my reading set up. Each time I sit down to read I need the iPad (to reference terms) and have handy various reference books, primarily the full works of Edgar Allan Poe, there is my Moleskine (pink for Schmidt), a pen, and you will note the book itself has two “bookmarks” one to mark the page I’m on, another to mark the part of the page I’m on, I am using a “zettel” at the moment, with a few notes scrawled on it, however that’s also why I have a notebook…oh and I use an old ceramic salt grinder to hold up the book on the left hand side, to stop the spine from splitting.

I have been shopping around for a new desk – madness, buy a book and redesign the house around it!!!




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