Bottom’s Dream – Arno Schmidt (translated by John E. Woods) – the first 35 pages

bottomsdreamThirty-five pages into my “Bottom’s Dream” adventure (it starts on page 11) and the number of subjects I could address in my second blog post are many, etymology, etyms (another day), dream analysis, Freud, sexual allusions, slang and so much more all filling my bulging notebook. The book is an absolute wonder of riches, if you take the time to dwell.

Last week I looked more at the structure of the novel, the idiosyncrasies of the language, abbreviations, the connection to Edgar Allan Poe and the other literary references. Today I will explore the Poe link a little further, simply pointing out numerous Poe references that take place between pages 26-42.

As previously mentioned the main characters in “Bottom’s Dream” are Daniel Pagenstecher, an Edgar Allan Poe expert, Paul and Wilma Jakobi, Poe translators, and their sixteen-year-old daughter Franziska. Much of the text I have read to date is taken up with debate amongst the characters about Poe’s writing.

Note – for all of my “Bottom’s Dream” posts it may appear as though there are typos in the quotes, I have transcribed them exactly as they appear in the text, there are numerous word plays throughout, with smaller references to the main text a number of these may not appear relevant, however I will do my best to keep them in tact here.

Since my last post the Poe discussion continues, we have Wilma, on page 26, referring to “QUINN”, who is Arthur Hobson Quinn, author of “Edgar Allan Poe: Critical Biography”. Who is debunked as an “>ordinarius< – (as the pedestrian name itself reveals) – is a >common< man! – nothing more than an >elevated teacher< for tots about 20:”…”Granted, most ‘re well-suited to the cold, wan effrontery of periodically publishing their collected lectures, and having these, rather superfluous, products declared to be books: the frostiest notion ever to come into a paper head.<<”

Two pages later another Poe critic, Marie Bonaparte (“MB from here on”) entering into the debate between Wilma and Paul, whilst, the much older, Dan woos the young daughter Franziska with a magic ring.

>>D’Y” know that scholars ‘ve fallen over=dead? : for joy; upon receiving sev’ral sought:after ref’rence=or other= works just outta the=blue?!<<

A quick reference is then made “Fate, (whose name is also sorrow) HELEN ii)” being a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s “To Helen” a poem that takes place between midnight and dawn, with a walk in an enchanted garden full of thousands of blooming roses.

Poe’s alcoholism is also brought to our attention, not simply through references to various tales, but through a left column reference:

(H)alcyon daze
alk : elk
alcohol? The old Goth of Germany
would have understood it; who used
to debate matters of importance to
their state twice  : once when drunk
& once when sober – sober that they
might not be deficient in formality –
drunk, lest they should be destitute of
vigour!< (LETTER TO B – . ))

This quote is aligned to one in the far right column, which reads:

FAULKNER / GÜNTER (not Agnes) /
FOUQUÉ (especially in old age) /
(.he could swill dreadfully!<;
Herzog K A, envious) / JEAN PAUL
(: and the street urchins ran scree=
hèeching after the great=staggerer : !) /
BÖCKLIN’s statement on wine, (which
even FREUD, obviously embarrassed,
includes) / ANDSOFOORTH ii : All
POEtationists! (>full as a po(e)t<,
P I for >drunk<).

A whole section dedicated to writers of renown who enjoyed a drink or two (Goethe a swiller?)!! A little later…”POE veryvery=tidily converted his dipsomania into literature:?” (don’t forget “P I” refers to Volume One of “A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English”).

In this section there are references to Poe’s stories “The Cask of Amontillado” and “King Pest”. “The Cask” story telling a chilling tale of revenge in the catacombs in return for a taste of Amontillado, alcohol used as a trap. In “King Pest” two penniless drunken seamen, do a runner from an ale-house, the Jolly-Tar. Whilst escaping the landlord of the ale-house they run into the dark quarantined areas of London, during the outbreak of the plague. They break into a house where six people are sitting around a table drinking punch, all deformed in some way, and dressed in various stages of death garb (cotton, muslin, shroud, even a coffin);

“A sentence! – a sentence! – a righteous and just sentence! – a glorious decree! – a most worthy and upright, and holy commendation!” shouted the Pest family altogether. The king elevated his forehead into innumerable wrinkles; the gouty little old man puffed like a pair of bellows; the lady of the winding-sheet waved her nose to and fro; the gentleman in the cotton drawer pricked up his ears; she of the shroud gasped like a dying fish; and he of the coffin looked stiff and rolled up his eyes. (Poe “King Pest”)

A number of quick successive references to Poe and alcohol, a story where a victim is led to his demise by the offer of alcohol, a story where two drunk rogues, drinking punch from skulls are charged with treason and ordered to be drowned in a puncheon of ale. And then we have “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” where alcohol is in play when his life decision to sail the waves takes place, and of course being on the high seas the drinking is quite frequent.

As you can see there are innumerable references, plays on the word “Poe”, throughout “Bottom’s Dream”. When discussing the number of Poe translations that have flooded the market: “That p’tickular lemon’s been squeezed so=dry!” the far right column tells us to “(try POEmegranate<”.

Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”, which I reviewed yesterday, is referenced quite heavily in “Bottom’s Dream”. We have the terms “Anamoo-moo”, and “Lama-Lama!” quite frequently referenced, and in “Bottom’s Dream” there is debate amongst the main characters as to Poe’s knowledge of Hebrew;

(? – : that POE didn’t kno a stroke of Hebrew?)


The >language of Tsalal< is, quite=simply, an, intentionally slightly=corrupted, Hebrew; furnished with the reduplicate endings of the South=Sea languages ; > Ukele=le Tameia=meia, Bora=Bora<.<<


>I do not purpose to interpret the various names or cries of these natives of the black isle, which flows with rivers of blood : to do that, we should need POE’s own associations, and these no one can supply! All we can say is, that cries like Anamoo=moo & Lama-lama remind us of infant babble<?<<

And there are interpretations of the native’s words as used in “Arthur Gordon Pym”;

Lama=lama “>> >Meat<, Dearwilma : luts’n’slutsa meat.” tekeli=li “>> ‘f You’ll check a list of Hebrew >colors<, You’ll find a >tekelth<- (with tee-aitch at the end) – which LUTHER falsely & on principle was wont to translate as yellow, bright yellow, yellow work, yellow silk< – it was at any rate >most radiantly =bright< of the – sapphire<.


how could’ve POE come up with this baroque invention?…

There are quite a few pages, reference and sections dedicated to the language of Tsalal, the language of the natives in “Arthur Gordon Pym”, including a debate about the possibility of Poe drawing these words, tales from THE BOOK OF MORMON as well as an argument that he would have received the information “of things Hebraic=etc from?<< CHARLES ANTHON. Besides a period where the three Poe experts are speechless, there is also a conclusion that for Tsalal, there are multiple meanings, “whole quintets of meanings resound in a muddle”.

As you can see this work is a book deeply embedded with Edgar Allan Poe scholarly knowledge, I suggest any future readers ensure they have the full collected works, poetry, short stories, the novel length prose poem “Eureka” and the novel “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”. The character’s discussions referencing Poe’s works that are relevant to their discussions at the time.

Today I haven’t referred to any of the other features of the first pages of this monumental work, the word play, etymology, dreams and so much more. To date a wonderful journey into a complex, multi layered and revelatory work, a journey I am thoroughly enjoying. I am aware that some of these posts may appear a little droll, however my learnings can only assist future readers of the book, even if it is for them to dismiss my thoughts as frivolous, or it may give them a handle to pursue more than I am personally able.

Next week I can assure you that I will have more interesting references than simply the Poe links, as I’ve recently been reading about Hungarian vampires, witchcraft, and how could have Poe been knowledgeable in all these works, was it through his life as a youngster in the theatre with his mother? More another time.


The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket – Edgar Allan Poe

pymNot your usual book to feature here, however with a heavy connection to Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream” I made the effort to read Poe’s longest work from start to finish. For people not familiar with “Bottom’s Dream” it is (loosely) the story of two Edgar Allan Poe translators, their daughter and a Poe expert.

“The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” was Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, first published in July 1938, it opens with a Preface explaining how two instalments were interpreted by Poe and published in the Southern Literary Messenger, and that the tale from there onwards is written in the hand of Arthur Gordon Pym himself. Although the whole collection is written in the first person, the real reason for the non-serialisation of the work being Poe’s leaving his role at the Messenger.

The early chapters introduce us to Pym and his attraction to rollicking adventures on the high seas. His initial attraction to a career on the seas, a whaling ship, starting when he decides with a highly intoxicated friend, Augustus, to head out to sea in the middle of the night. Their little boat is destroyed by a whaling ship and they are subsequently rescued:

Hardly had I come to this resolution, when, suddenly, a loud and long scream or yell, as if from a throats of a thousand demons, seemed to pervade the whole atmosphere around and above the boat. Never while I live shall I forget the intense agony of terror I experienced at that moment. My hair stood erect on my head – I felt the blood congealing in my veins – my heart ceased utterly to beat, and without having once raised my eyes to learn the source of my alarm, I tumbled headlong and insensible upon the body of my fallen companion.

This adventure only fuels Pym’s further desire to travel the seas and, against his grandfather’s wishes, he stows away on another whaling vessel, in the hull, where he becomes trapped due to a mutiny on board.

I have been thus particular in speaking of Dirk Peters, because, ferocious as he appeared, he proved the main instrument in preserving the lie of Augustus, and because I shall have frequent occasion to mention him hereafter in the course of my narrative – a narrative, let me here say, which, in its latter portions, will be found to include incident of a nature so entirely out of the range of human experience, and for this reason so far beyond the limits of human credulity, that I proceed in utter hopelessness of obtaining credence for all that I shall tell, yet confidently trusting in time and progressing science to verify some of the most important and most improbably of my statements.

The novel has numerous highly co-incidental events and an unreliable narrator. For example, at one stage a note, written in blood is blank on one side, later we learn the note was written on the back of a letter. Characters who perform some act “many years later” are suddenly dead a few pages later. We also have extreme stretches of the imagination (“quite out of the range of human experience”?), at one stage Pym orchestrates the overthrow of the mutineers by disguising himself as a corpse:

As soon as I got below I commenced disguising myself so as to represent the corpse of Rogers. The shirt which we had taken from the body aided us very much, for it was of singular form and character, and easily recognizable – a kind of smock, which the deceased wore over his other clothing. It was a blue stockinet, with large white stripes running across. Having put this on, I proceeded to equip myself with a false stomach, in imitation of the horrible deformity of the swollen corpse. This was soon effected by means of stuffing with some bedclothes. I then gave the same appearance to my hands by drawing on a pair of white woollen mittens, and filling them in with any kind of rage that offered themselves. Peters then arranged my face, first rubbing it well over with white chalk, and afterward blotching it with blood, which he took for a cut in his finger. The streak across the eye was not forgotten and presented a most shocking appearance.

We then move into the world of cannibalism, searching for lost archipelagos in the South Seas, a trek towards the Antarctic and the discovery of Tsalal (more on that name later), and the “savages” that inhabit the islands, and their language;

In truth, from everything I could see of these wretches, the appeared to be the most wicked, hypocritical vindictive, bloodthirsty, and altogether fiendish race of men upon the face of the globe.

It is the language of the “savages” of Tsalal, and the name of the islands, that I visited this work in the first place. “Bottom’s Dream” by Arno Schmidt, for at least the first twenty-five pages frequently uses the term “Anamoo-moo”, in fact the opening words (in the far left column) of the whole book are “: >Anna Mooh=Mooh!< -“

After searching about for some time, we discovered an inlet, which we were entering, when we saw four large canoes put off from the shore, filled with men who seemed to be well armed. We waited for them to come up, and, as they moved with great rapidity, they were soon within hail. Captain Guy now held up a white handkerchief on the blade of an oar, when the strangers made a full stop. And commence a loud jabbering all at once, intermingled with occasional shouts, in which we could distinguish the words Anamoo-moo! And Lama-Lama! They continued this for at least half an hour, during which we had a good opportunity of observing their appearance.

The sum total of the native’s language throughout Pym’s adventures are as follows, I’m documenting them here for future reference in case Schmidt throws another one or two in there:

Wampoos (great women)
Yampoos (great men)
Too-wit (the chief)
Mattee non we pa pa si (“no need for arms where all were brothers)
Tekeli-li Tekeli-li
Nu-nu (one of the natives they capture)
King Tsalemon or Psalemoun (ruler of the islands), and

The commencement of the words Tsalemon and Tsalal was given with a prolonged hissing sound, which we found it impossible to imitate, even after repeated endeavors, and which was precisely the same with the note of the black bittern we had eaten upon the summit of the hill.

J.V. Ridgley (Columbia University) has published an article in the Edgar Allan Poe Society Journal “Poe Studies” (Vol III) (1970) with the following definitions of the words:

Anamoo-moo: from hana (to shine, to glow) plus mumu (to collect together, a swarm); hence, a collection of shining objects.

Lama-Lama: from lamalama (many lights, much light).

Too-wit: possibly tui, which Tregear gives as “a king, a governor.”

Klock-Klock: no word for “village” located which resembles Poe’s spelling; possibly an imitation of “click” sounds.

Wampoos/Yampoos: Tregear translates pu as “tribe”; the prefix somewhat resembles hau, meaning “illustrious, royal, commanding.”

Mattee non we pa pa si: mate is a common word meaning “to kill, to die”; papa can mean “race, family.” The other words are probably not Polynesian. Poe renders the sentence as “there was no need for arms where all were brothers.”

Tekeli-li: under ririri Tregear gives tekelili (to shiver, to shake). But splitting Poe’s word into tiki (god) and lili (angry) would also fit the context.

Nu-Nu: Tregear gives several translations under nunu, none of which is particularly relevant as the name of this native.

Tsalal and Tsalemon/Psalemoun: not Polynesian, but drawn from a transliteration of the “Ethiopian [Geëz] verbal root” discussed in Poe’s concluding “Note.” The source here was Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Boston, 1836).

“Tsalal”, as pointed out to me by @ReemK10 on Twitter, from KJV Old Testament Hebrew has three meanings;

A verb (1) to be or become or grow dark
a. (Qal) to become of grow darker
b. (Hipil) to shadow

A verb (1) to tingle, quiver
a. (Qal)
1. To tingle (of ears)
2. To quiver (of fear)

A verb (1) (Qal) to sink, be submerged

Initially I was leaning towards the “sink, submerged definition, given the archipelago is like an Atlantis, however when the whole Poe novel is read, the first definition of darkness and shadow definitely is a more likely fit.

Poe’s novel also includes hieroglyphics, for obvious reasons I cannot reproduce them here (I possibly could if I looked at all the Windings font’s but that’s way too hard), I await the Schmidt reference.

There are a number of sections in Poe’s novel that are quite tedious, a few successive chapters where the location of their boat, the temperature, the winds and currents are discussed in detail, the book moves from a boy’s adventure yarn to a ship’s log! As Poe was paid $3 per page, when the work was serialised, although these sections weren’t part of the serialisation) these may be Poe fattening out the tale to a decent length, they may also be to attract the readers of whaling and shipping tales, personally I found them quite droll.

The book itself has a sudden and mysterious ending, adding to Poe’s oeuvre of the mysterious, this was one element I found enjoyable, although often criticised. A work that, although flawed, reinforces the multiple, overlooked, talents of Edgar Allan Poe and a work that shows the typecasting of Poe as a writer of mystery and intrigue is too shallow.

Jules Verne uses this novel as the starting point for his work “An Antarctic Mystery”, apparently scholars Partick F. Quinn and John J. McAleer have noted parallels between Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” and this book. In Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” the tiger on the liferaft is called Richard Parker, a character from Pym and the list goes on and on.
Whilst not being anywhere near a scholar in any form of writing, nor having much previous exposure to Edgar Allan Poe, all of my thoughts and comments are to be taken with a grain of salt, I merely read the work as a reference tool for my long-term ambition of reading (and understanding a little more) Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream”, am I any the wiser? I know I enjoyed the novel, I think the “thrill of the chase” understanding the tongue of the Tsalal natives draws a few parallels to Schmidt’s work, only time will tell if the effort was worthwhile.


Bottom’s Dream – Arno Schmidt (translated by John E. Woods) – Initial thoughts

bottomsdreamYesterday was the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death, he died on 7 October 1849 aged forty. Making this an appropriate day to put together my first thoughts on Arno Schmidt’s “Bottoms Dream”.

Why the link to Edgar Allan Poe? More will be revealed shortly.

Let’s start off with my initial thoughts of this massive work. As most visitors here would know this book is massive, besides running to close to 1500 pages, each page is A3 in size.

Upon opening this work you are confronted with a language that appears to not be English. You then very quickly notice that each page is split into various shapes and columns. First thoughts obviously being oh my god, what is this? How on earth will I be able to read this? Answering yourself is simple you cannot explain this book and it will be read with extreme difficulty. That is not to say that it won’t be an enjoyable journey through this monolith, an eye opening experience in German (and world) literature.

I had been fortunate enough to spend time researching this book before it arrived on my doorstep, and what a massive package that was. Research lead me to “The Untranslated” blog where the owner had spent months on end reading, in German, this book and explaining the intricacies. I can assure you it is a very useful reference site.

Whilst I have no intention of replicating the detailed explanations at the untranslated blog, for those intending to take on this work, here’s a few brief explanation as to the structure, characters, language etc.

Firstly, the structure: The page is split into three columns (on the majority of pages), the left column primarily containing discussions about and quotes from Edgar Allan Poe’s collected works, the right column primarily containing quotes from other works of literature, myth or newspaper clippings and the centre column containing the main narrative. However these columns, at times, overlap, the page is a canvas.

Next up the main characters: we have Daniel Pagenstecher, an Edgar Allan Poe expert, Paul and Wilma Jakobi, Poe translators and their sixteen-year-old daughter Franziska. Throughout the text the characters are abbreviated they become P, W, F, D, Dän, Franzel, Fr, or DP. Having said that DP is also a “displaced person” or “Writer-Priest” – for more detail see The Untranslated blog – There are two types of writer’s “DP’s are averse to technical progress and innovation; they ‘flee civilisation’, but by doing it they also reject science and the very spirit that enables them to write in the first place: “to all intents and purposes these DP gentlemen would prefer to completely abandon >spirit< as week=fantastic and lecherous (geil) little creature: and write just >automatically<.” This refers to Poe – and note it is quoted from a blog post and not James Wood’s translation of the book. “The second category is Mosaikarbeiter (Mosaic Worker). Schmidt is one of those and artisan who creates texts from already available tesselae rather than through some mystical inspiration.

Which leads me to the “mosaic tiles” that Schmidt uses here. The book’s original title is “Zettel’s Traum”, a Zettel being an index card, Schmidt writing and collecting over 130,000 Zettel’s which were used in the construction of this text. So why Zettel = Bottom in the translation? The character Bottom from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare speaks the epigraph to this “novel”. (I have copied this letter for letter so if there are typos I have copied them).

>>I have had a most rare vision! I have had a dream – past the wit of man to say what a dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was – there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had – but man is put a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report whay my dream was. – <<

And the German translation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” had the character Bottom translated as “Zettel”.

Onto the story itself, it commences with Paul, Wilma and Franziska, just before dawn, heading across “Horrorfield” after croxxing the barbed wire represented as follows:


The horrorfield is full of rusty barbed wire, thistles, that they will come across later, which detract campers and there are cows (a few quotes to give you the idea):

(Cows & clouds : symbols of one another)

:>Ana moo=moo!<

Cause I bull calf came bounding over; and in delite at this rare visit lifted up an amorfuss cry:!

If you are going to tackle this book I do suggest you have a dictionary handy, as well as other reference materials. Within the first few pages I had learned that a “dragoman” was an interpreter, translator and official guide between Turkish, Arabic and Persian speaking countries. Translation is part of the story, Paul and Wilma are Poe translators, there it is an important element, even if it is a tireless activity, “before I could distinguish twixt >dragoman< and >dromedary<”

Another essential reference is the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe, for example within the first pages (second page) we have “My wanderings amid such scenes have been many & fur=surching (FAY)” is a reference to “The Island of Fay” by Poe. Which in part reads:

The other, or eastern end of the isle was whelmed in the blackest shade. A somber, yet beautiful and peaceful gloom here pervaded all things. The trees were dark in color and mournful in form and attitude – wreathing themselves into sad, solemn, and spectral shapes, that conveyed ideas of mortal sorrow and untimely death. The grass wore the deep tint of the cypress, and the heads of its blades hung droopingly, and hither and thither among it, were many small unsightly hillocks, low, and narrow, and not very long, that had the aspect of graves, but were not, although over and all about them the rue and rosemary clambered. The shade of the trees fell heavily upon the water, and seemed to bury itself therein, impregnating the depths of the element with darkness. I fancied that each shadow, as the sun descended lower and lower, separated itself sullenly from the trunk that gave it birth, and thus became absorbed by the stream; while other shadows issued momently from the trees, taking the place of their predecessors entombed.

Yes – within two pages of “Bottom’s Dream”, I have headed off and read a five-page short story by Edgar Allan Poe. As you can see the mood of the traveler’s scenery is depicted by a few short words in the left hand column, prompting you to branch off and read Poe. This story aligns with “>>so I day in green pastures ‘ll do him good; get his mind on other things._ niletest=blouse?-<<” exploring the wonders of nature.

Other reference material is required, for example the right column, second page, refers to Archimago, the sorcerer from Spencer’s “The Faerie Queen” (fortunately I have a copy) aligning with a reference to Wilma’s “bosom” and on the first page there is a quote “did diuide her daintie paps” (refers to young pert breasts) aligning with the dress description of the sixteen-year-old Franziska. The work full of sexual innuendo, in fact the discussion of sexual subjects are references as “S” to keep the virginal ears of F away from the subject.

As I have already mentioned, this is deeply rooted in language, for example the fourth page refers to the word ‘goosebumps, “The Ancient Romans?:- They didn’t kno the feeling: They didn’t have a word for it!<<” Each sentence you read you are dwelling on references, you are reveling in the wonder of language, the tone, the sound, reading this aloud becomes a ritual and you fall into a spell of the text, even if you do not have a clue what is going on.

I know that I am in for an amazing journey here, it will be a long long one and it will have bumps and delays, but already the style, the referencing, the delving is doing wonders for my other reading exploits. Given the sheer size of this book it stays on a large table, with a notebook and Collected works of Poe nearby, and therefore as I travel to work each day I read another book. At the moment I am reading more poetry and essays as the shorter form being more flexible when having to switch from one text to another.

Back to Edgar Allan Poe, let’s finish the first journey through a few pages of Arno Schmidt with a quote by Schmidt, about Poe, in “Bottom’s Dream”:

– Let us agree to the following : he was an interesting writer; and unusual human beings are always somewhat rare : one may boldly term as >original< that person of whom there are a mere=thousand like him, and have him stufft after death,<</: