The Primordial Gound.

Yes, you read it right, that’s “gound.” Justin E. H. Smith’s unsettling… essay? … for The Public Domain Review will explain it. Eventually. It begins (after a brief bit of throat-clearing):

Benno Guerrier von Klopp (1816–1903) was a Baltic German philologist, of French Huguenot origin, who studied at the University of Saint Petersburg and made most of his career as an academician ordinarius, while also spending a good portion of his later career at Jena. Klopp is remembered principally for his contributions to the study of Baltic and Slavic linguistics, not least his 1836 dissertation on the disappearance of the neuter gender in Middle Latvian, and his groundbreaking 1868 study of the morphosyntax of the Old Church Slavonic verbal prefix, vz-.

Significantly less well known is Klopp’s work on the development of the mature philosophical system of Immanuel Kant, a fellow Baltic German who may have been more familiar with the languages and customs of that region than other scholars have detected. In fact, if Klopp is correct, Kant’s first-hand ethnolinguistic researches extend well beyond the Baltic. While Klopp’s 1873 book, Die geheime Sumatrareise Immanuel Kants, is not found in the Library of Congress, or even in the supposedly comprehensive online WorldCat, I have been able to locate a copy of it in at least one place: the library of the faculty of Baltistik at the University of Greifswald in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Don’t miss the footnotes, which include tidbits like “Yakov Brius (also known as Jacob Bruce, 1669-1735), was a Russian statesman and scientist. Like Kant, he was of Scottish ancestry. He conducted astronomical observations from the Sukharev Tower in Moscow. It was rumoured among Muscovites that Brius practiced black magic in the tower.” And hang on to your hat!


  1. That was a profoundly punny article.

  2. David Marjanović says

    A secret trip to Sumatra by someone who supposedly never left Königsberg? I wonder if that’s a historical novel.

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    Why no Giant Rat?

  4. Michael Gierhake says

    Pity, the spelling gives it away. The author should read up on the ‘long s’ rules.

  5. Oh, I’m pretty sure the author knows the rules, just as he knows Kant didn’t take a world voyage.

  6. This calls to mind the infamous Dostoevsky-Dickens meeting.

  7. Or Hergé’s TinTin.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Ah yes! The notorious Tintin chez les Anthropologues, now widely condemned for its colonialist preconceptions. And Hergé’s portrait of a thinly disguised Malinowski (“Professeur Malin”) certainly leaves a sour taste nowadays.

  9. Some days, this site provides a fascinating portal to a universe one step away from my own.

  10. I am trying to figure out, unsuccessfully, whether Benno Guerrier von Klopp was real. At least Bruce doing astronomy on Sukharev’s tower is a real thing.

  11. I haven’t read that particular Tintin, though colonialism is an undoubted fact of life in most of the series.
    Malinowski was great and all, but anyone who writes a book called The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia should take a bit of ribbing.

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    I haven’t read that particular Tintin

    In these politically correct days, it is not easy to locate a copy.
    Ironically, the work remains remarkably popular in Sumatra. (The Bahasa Indonesia version tones down some of the less edifying features of the original.)

  13. Eh, Tintin is not hard to find. It’s in print in the U.S. My library has a nice selection in the kids’ section.

  14. Are East Prussians Baltic Germans now?

    Sure they were Germans and lived on the shores of the Baltic sea, but I thought the term Baltic German had much more narrow and specific meaning.

  15. Yes, I also only know that as referring to Germans from what nowadays are the Baltic states.

  16. “Baltic Germans” is a political term: those Germans living in countries under historic Russian rule (other than Russia itself, obviously). Culturally, religiously, and economically they had much in common with the Germans of East Prussia and Lithuania, but the latter were under German rule since the Third Partition, and therefore were not in the same exposed position, distrusted by both the ruling empire and the locals.

  17. By the way, last time I checked, there was no evidence that Kan’t alleged Scottish descent was real. But it’s just a trifle in comparison with all the Borges-esque stuff there.

  18. January First-of-May says

    The moment I got to the description of the Taimyr Pengyr, I started wondering if by any chance he also happened to meet the Hičajqri.

    The Borges comparison is quite apt, however.

  19. P.S. Kan’t was a typo, not an intended pun.

  20. I have learnt a new English word: gound ‘foul matter, esp. that secreted in the eye’ (OED). It has a good Anglo-Saxon pedigree (OE gund, ME gounde) and cognates elsewhere in (NW) Germanic.

    Wiktionary has it too, with this example of use, among others:

    2009, Ammon Shea, Reading the OED:

    The gunk that collects in the corners of the eyes. Gound is the perfect example of a word that is practically useless, and yet still nice to know.

  21. David Marjanović says

    “practically useless, and yet still nice to know” – ha, look what you’re missing by not simply calling it “sand”!

  22. last time I checked, there was no evidence that Kant’s alleged Scottish descent was real.

    Unlike Karl Marx, who had a Scottish granny.

  23. Oddly, the Public Domain Review website no longer carries the linked piece, and I have had to substitute an archived version. Suspicious. I blame Immanuel Kant.

  24. Or rather the Neo-Kantians.

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Kant’s Scots grandmother, as a hardcore Calvinist, will certainly have impressed upon her grandson that morality is for little people and Arminians. These people stick at nothing. Your suspicions are all too plausible.

    I welcome the news of Marx’s Scots granny, as fully validating my own Calvinistic Socialist position.

  26. Trond Engen says

    What Manuel can, Immanuel Kant.

  27. David Eddyshaw says

    That’s why it’s always important to have Manuel overrides.

  28. John Cowan says

    look what you’re missing by not simply calling it “sand”!

    We do certainly have the Sandman, who puts sand in your eyes while you sleep (benignly), though perhaps the semantic collision with sand ‘small urinary calculi doomed its serious use.

    Dr. John Arbuthnot, we are told, wrote a letter in a pub and noticed that it was blotted: blotting paper was not yet available, and it was conventional to use sand instead. He asked a stranger at the next table “Have you any sand about you?”

    “No”, said the stranger, who was in fact Jonathan Swift, “but I have the gravel, and if you give me your letter, I’ll piss upon it.” Arbuthnot thought this was funny and they became great friends.

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