'And...' A Memory-Fragment Circle



by Justin E. H. Smith

‘Anders And’ is the Danish name for Donald Duck (if I remember correctly, his rich uncle’s name is ‘Onkel Joachim’). ‘And’ here is not a sentence connective, but simply the Danish word for ‘duck’; it is a cognate of the German Ente. In Germany, not only are old VW’s known affectionately as Käfige or Beetles; old Peugeots are in a parallel manner referred to as Enten. One used to see many Peugeot Ducks with a little cartoon figure of a duck wearing a pilot’s scarf and goggles, positioned somewhere near the gas tank and accompanied by the caption ‘I fly bleifrei’, or ‘I fly unleaded’. If the French, who make the so-called Ducks, had the same habit, they would have painted the words ‘I fly sans plomb’ next to the gas tanks. Plomb is the French word for ‘lead’ and it is from there that we get our word for ‘plumber’: a man who works with lead pipes. Moving back to Germany, there is a line in a Bertolt Brecht play, I don’t recall which one, where a character says something like: ‘Only one life to live, and of all things here I am, a plumber in Detmold’. I often think something similar to myself, mutatis mutandis: ‘Only one life to live, and of all things here I am in Montreal, doing whatever it is I do’. It is said that the first person to give the name ‘Montreal’ to what is now the largest city in Quebec was an Italian explorer, who called it ‘Monte Reale’. Thus Montreal and Mount Royal, the mountain at the center of the city, have two separate naming histories, since the explorer was picking out not a royal mountain but a real mountain. Still, it seems, the real and the royal are really the same mountain, under different descriptions. But why are we lingering in the New World, when we started out in Denmark? The Danes used to have a few New World holdings of their own, and even dabbled in the slave trade. We’re used to hearing of the ‘Dutch West Indies’ or –which is the same thing– the ‘Netherlands Antilles’, but the ‘Danish West Indies’ sounds highly implausible. Even the Dutch ones are barely Dutch at this point. In Curaçao you must search long and hard for someone who speaks the language, and the creole that has evolved there, Papiamento, is overwhelmingly Spanish-based. If you look closely at a map, Curaçao and its companions are really more islands off the coast of Venezuela than they are Caribbean. The king of Spain once told Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, to shut up. All Spanish sounds too fast to me, but I imagine Chavez speaks it much faster than the king of Spain. Chavez is said to speak for the voiceless people of Latin America. Maybe that explains it. I once met someone who claimed to be fluent in Cajun, Kreyol, Joual, Pennsylvania German, and even the long extinct Hudson Valley Negerduits –thus to have mastered the dialects of a good many of the historically voiceless peoples of North America– but to know not a word of the European stem languages from which they derive. The circle might split here into multiple paths, as I could note that ‘joual’, in Joual, means ‘horse’, and ‘Cajun’ comes not from Louisiana but from a real, and not  a mythical, place called ‘Acadia’. But it must remain a circle and I suspect those lines would lead us to nothing but dead ends. ‘Dead ends’ in French are called ‘culs de sac’, which is to say ‘butts of sack’; I’m not sure why but anyhow we’re lucky circles don’t have ends. Ends can be terminations but they can also be goals or purposes. Either way they’re the sort of things had not by geometrical figures, and least of all by perfect figures such as the circle, but rather by beings or entities. An entity in Latin is an ens, which is what I hear sometimes when people speak of ‘ends’. An ens has its ends. The ablative of ens is ente, and so ‘through or by the Supreme Being’ comes out as ente supremo. If this were not Latin, but a sort of German-Spanish macaronic, that phrase could easily be taken to mean ‘supreme duck’, but Onkel Joachim is, as far as I recall, as high as any duck is observed to get in the hierarchy of beings, or at least as high as can be conceived in the waterfowl mind of Anders And.

Piece crossposted with Justin E. H. Smith’s website