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Diary
By Bartleby (Sat Mar 03, 2007 at 08:22:50 AM EST) books, bugs, doodles (all tags)
About half-way between Frankfurt and Cologne, on the Rhine, there is the city of Koblenz. Castellum apud Confluentes, the place where the rivers Rhine and Mosel meet. In 1812, Coblence was a garrison town on the eastern border of Napoleon's empire.

Near the triangular wedge of land between the rivers, a short walk up the Mosel side, you'll find yourself on the square in front of St. Castor basilica. On the square there is a fountain, erected in 1812, that looks like a monument's pedestal whose statue has gone missing. It has two inscriptions in French. In the original one from 1812, the French commander of the city honours the victorious march of the glorious Grande Armée into Russia. The second inscription was added by his successor St. Priest in 1814: "Seen and approved by us, Russian commander of the city of Koblenz".

This story is not connected in any way to the content of this diary. Inside: Pynchon, Pelevin, König, myrmeleontidae.



Thomas Pynchon: Against the Day

Spoiler-free, since I don't actually intend to say anything about the book. I read it in January, assisted by the Pynchon-Wiki (I link to the first page of annotations rather than the start/index page, as the latter uses an illustration which is a spoiler for an episode fairly early on in AtD). Some of the information I found there was either wrong or irrelevant, but maybe things have improved by now as more people will have read the book and made their contributions to the wiki. Even so, I found the site very useful in handling the characteristically overwhelming amount of data and trivia contained in AtD. On the other hand, at times I found myself not concentrating on the novel as such, but rather waiting for the next thing to look up. I also wonder which, if any, repercussions the existence of such a resource might have had for Pynchon's writing process. Bombarding the reader with obscure information like an antlion* bombards its prey with sand is such a trademark Pynchon method, and back in the day when Gravity's Rainbow was published, the reader would have had no choice but to struggle along (either that or give up), which was part of the experience. Granted, "getting" many of the small things with the help of the wiki doesn't necessarily bring you much closer to actually understanding the big picture, but it does at least alter the way you feel lost. The "if" a few sentences back is a big one, however, since ignoring it would assume that at least an important reason why Pynchon includes all these minutiae is in fact that he tries to disorientate the reader. Maybe he just doesn't care if readers get it.

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Viktor Pelevin: Shlem uzhasa

Translated into English as The Helmet of Horror, which is the literal translation (or as close as it gets, see below). I don't know, I'm not sure about the quality of the English. Maybe because of the alliteration, maybe because it reminds me of the title of a comic by Ralf König, "Das Kondom des Grauens" (translated as "The Killer Condom", literally "The condom of horror"), a sort of gay sci-fi splatter parody, if you will, by Germany's most widely known gay comic artist**. But then, my English is too vague to pass such judgements.

Again, I can't say much about the book itself; I just picked it up the other day on the new acquisitions shelf at the library (I had my final exam in Russian literature on Pelevin, essentially, and I still like his books, imagine that). HoH has the form of an internet chat between people who are locked up in identical hotel rooms with this particular chat as their only connection to the outside, and who have no idea how they got there.

šlem is an interesting word. With some elementary word magic, it isn't too hard to posit an etymological connection between šlem and helmet, and indeed it seems to be there: Černych's etymological dictionary (Černych, P. Ja. (1994): Istoriko-ėtimologiceskij slovar' sovremennogo russkogo jazyka. Moskva: Russkij jazyk) reconstructs "one of the early Germanisms in the common slavic language", *šelm''. It points to, but doesn't explain in detail a connection to Old High German hullan and its modern German cognate hüllen (to cover, to wrap (cf. Engl. hull; cf. also a recent GPotD).

Helmet, šlem and German Helm, thus, are cognates, but they also form a triangle of what translators call "false friends", i.e. words or structures whose similarities lead you up the garden path. Their meanings overlap to a high degree, but they are not identical. A šlem, to paraphrase what my dictionaries tell me, is either the ancient metal military headgear or some of the 20th century kinds of headgear usually made from leather: pilots' or motor cyclists' helmets, also those worn by some parts of the Red Army. Would you even call those flappier things "helmets" in English? In German, "Helm" feels not quite right in these cases, what's annoying me is that I can't think of a better translation. Haube, perhaps, or Kappe, depending on the context.

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*Doodlebugs

If, as I expect, I am in for another sleepless night, I might waste a bit of it in The Antlion pit (besides hoping for some clear sky so I can watch the eclipse). Looks interesting; I got there by way of checking how the usage of the German word "Ameisenlöwe" maps to the English "antlion" (which are the literal translations of each other). It seems to be a German peculiarity that our word doesn't stand for antlions as species, but only for the larvae. The species, as well as the imagines (adult insects), are called "Ameisenjungfern", literally "ant virgins". I guess the explanation for the "virgin" part is that adult antlions, just like other Neuroptera, f.ex. lacewings, superficially resemble dragonflies, and several dragonfly species have "-jungfer" as part of their names. Don't know why that is. Perhaps the wings made people think of veils. And if this isn't true, it's at least a nice invention...

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**Suck my duck

Looking at König's web site, I was reminded of CRwM's recent stroll down artists' alley. Gallery, generously sized scans, advertising signed drawings between 250 and 390 € (You do realise this link is possibly NentirelySFW, don't you?).

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Vu et approuvé. | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
koblenz by aphrael (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Mar 03, 2007 at 09:09:12 AM EST
i love koblenz. :)

festung ehrenbereitstein for the win!

If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.

exactly what I was going to say ... by BlueOregon (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat Mar 03, 2007 at 09:20:27 AM EST

... for I have fond memories of that fortress.

Well, fond in a "stupid things happened" sort of way.

To summarize: I visited in the spring of 1992, probably right after drinking a liter of two of wine that warm afternoon in a wine tasting session along the Mosel. I was there with nearly two dozen other 17-year-olds (give or take a year), and S and I went for an after dinner stroll not only around the grounds but over the walls to the not-so-restored (or open-to-the-public) regions. Along the way I fell down a hill side, lost my glasses, tore the nice black H. Boss slacks my host father had purchased, and had a difficult time re-climbing the hill. A tumble into the poison-something sent me to the showers and I managed to avoid rashes, etc. The next morning S and I awoke before the others so that with the aid of sunlight we could find my glasses, which we did.

The end.

Oh how I love that fortress.

[ Parent ]
I blame Ehrenbreitstein... by Bartleby (2.00 / 0) #4 Sat Mar 03, 2007 at 09:49:12 AM EST
...for the countless hours I spent as a kid building elaborate castles in the sand, mostly in the village where my father's parents lived.

My mother was from Koblenz, and her parents continued to live there, so I got to spend quite a lot of holiday time there, doing touristy things like standing at the Deutsches Eck and looking up to the fortress, going up there on the Sessellift looking down from the fortress to Willy's then empty pedestal, making boat trips etc., and kid things like collecting pebbles at a favourite spot on the Mosel, gaping in awe at the models of the city at different points in history in the Mittelrheinmuseum etc.

I've been down there only two or three times since Granny died a decade ago. It just occurred to me today that I miss the place. I might well have to move later this year, until now I never even thought of Koblenz as a potential next stop, but today I'm feeling nostalgic and sentimental.

[ Parent ]
my Ehrenbreitstein story ... by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #9 Mon Mar 05, 2007 at 02:23:03 PM EST
It was a stop on the trip D and I made through Germany -- flew in and out of Frankfurt, with no plans in between, just a rented car and map of the country. Berlin did not make it on the itinerary. Neither did Munich. I came back and my parents refused to believe I'd actually gone to Germany.

We'd known each other for less than a year, I think, and at the time we lived roughly 200 miles apart, so the trip had high potential for disaster, but we survived. D fell in love, for some reason, with the word Sessellift. I think that was also where we were attacked by bees while eating lunch -- they didn't come after us, but started carrying off bits of ham from our plates that were as large as they were. In the face of such determination, we capitulated and let them have our food.

Oh, and The Helmet of Horror is part of the Canongate Myths series! I'm going to have to pick that up -- though maybe I should read the two other volumes from that series I already own ... nah, what am I saying?

--
"If a tree is impetuous in the woods, does it make a sound?" -- aethucyn

[ Parent ]
four husiites on Ehrenbreitstein! by Bartleby (2.00 / 0) #10 Tue Mar 06, 2007 at 05:05:11 AM EST
albeit (presumably) each at a different time... Could one call that a diachronic HuSimeet?

When I linked to amazon, I noticed how closely the layout of the English edition reproduced that of the Russian one, but now I realise it's more probably the other way around. A note on the copyright page, if that's what you call it, says "published with permission Cannongate" etc., and the book is part of a series with works by mostly Anglophone writers. I doubt the library has bought the translations into Russian, but maybe some of the English editions are in the Anglistics section. I'll make a mental note.

[ Parent ]
asynchronous Husimeet, perhaps by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #11 Tue Mar 06, 2007 at 09:07:23 AM EST
It is indeed called a copyright page. I'd be interested in what you think of the Pelevin, and the other titles in the series if you get around to them.

--
"If a tree is impetuous in the woods, does it make a sound?" -- aethucyn
[ Parent ]
I got a lot out of rereading GR with an scholar's by georgeha (2.00 / 0) #3 Sat Mar 03, 2007 at 09:24:55 AM EST
guide, though I picked up a few allusions the author didn't ( I knew who Smith Klein and French were). It's not much different from a wiki.

I still have to touch ATD, let alone buy it.


True. by Bartleby (2.00 / 0) #5 Sat Mar 03, 2007 at 09:52:34 AM EST
Odd I didn't think of that. Oh well, another sign that I'm losing my marbles. Good riddance. One difference, though, is the time that passes between the publication of the novel and that of the commentary, also in the case of a wiki you have more contributors. Granted that doesn't necessarily result in higher reliability.

It was funny, I seem to have overtaken many other people in reading AtD. Around page 950, the wiki went basically blank.

[ Parent ]
Antlions! by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #6 Sun Mar 04, 2007 at 01:47:30 AM EST
When I was a kid, my paternal grandmother taught me a little rhyme that was supposed to lure doodlebugs from their little lairs. All I remember of it now is the meter and rhythm, and "Doodlebug, doodlebug...." I found her way was much less satisfying than finding an actual ant to drop in the lair and watch the antlion pull the doomed creature down. I felt slightly guilty about the fate of the ant, but not guilty enough not to feed the antlion.

"Das Kondom des Grauens" sounds like it's blending the right kinds of genres. I'll have to see if there's an English translation floating around somewhere.
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inspiritation: the effect of irritating someone so much it inspires them to do something about it. --BuggEye

Re: doodlebug rhymes by Bartleby (2.00 / 0) #7 Sun Mar 04, 2007 at 04:58:50 AM EST
The site I linked to has an anecdote page with stories very much like yours, including several variations on the doodlebug rhyme. Some include a rhyme that I seem to remember from a Tom Waits song (though I haven't tried to find out from which one), "your house is on fire [something][something] home".

If I may give a König reading suggestion (hoping that a translation is available), his adaptation of Aristophanes' "Lysistrate" is one of my favourites. The condom comic, as well his much better known "Der bewegte Mann" and its sequel "Pretty Baby" were also turned into two films (1,2) that I found really awful. Ironically, the "Killer Kondom" comic itself explains why the movie doesn't work: A man who's at the hospital after the condom bit his huge comic character nose (think Asterix) off is asked by a friend how he feels now. "Kinda pointless." ("irgendwie witzlos", a pun based on the fact that "Witz-" in "witzlos" usually means "esprit", but as a simplex means "joke".) By using human actors much of the charm is lost.

[ Parent ]
amazon.com says... by toxicfur (4.00 / 1) #8 Sun Mar 04, 2007 at 04:50:19 PM EST
that Lysistrata is unavailable, but I've added it to my wish list, so I'll remember the next time I go to an actual comic shop. At my favorite one, I bet they'd order stuff for me (especially since I drop close to $100 every time I walk through the door). Thanks for the recommendation, but it's making me realize I should've studied German....

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inspiritation: the effect of irritating someone so much it inspires them to do something about it. --BuggEye
[ Parent ]
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