William Hogarth’s “The Gate of Calais” (1748) shows a healthy slab of English beef being transported past the emaciated French and admired by a fat French friar (representing paparist debauchery and hypocrisy in Catholic France). (He was arrested while making the sketches for this piece as an English spy.)
Week Five (Hilaritas Press edition pg. 63-70, all editions Chapters 9&10)By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
Chapter 9 begins with the same patter between Armand, Lucien, and Georges as in the first chapter: Lucien is condescending, full of himself, and doesn’t want to be told he talks too much, Armand is squeamish but thinks all ‘diegos’ are just opera singers, Georges is wishing Pierre would arrive. When the fourth stooge is added to the routine he’s still complaining about dogshit on his nice shoes. I read this as an element of slapstick in a very dark part of the book and also a portrait of ignorance: RAW makes it clear that these aren’t ruffians-by-choice in many ways but desperate people deprived of education, nourishment, or a desirable position in society. They are hopeless and, in the truest sense, wretched. You can almost smell them wafting off the pages. I’d say Pierre receives the least amount of sympathy from our narrator- despite the capitalistic leanings of libertarianism I’d say RAW shows a decided amount of contempt for those with privilege- especially those who flaunt it. Armand, on the other hand, is given time for his final, flailing moments of consciousness to flicker out his mouth as he bleeds to death: even Sigismundo begins to feel sorry for the pathetic person babbling about cattle, tits, and Papa’s tears. Unlike the more utilitarian Georges, the shifty Lucien, or the signifying Pierre, it’s abundantly clear to the reader that this was never Armand’s preferred line of work.
Lucien brings up some of the more interesting ideas in the group, despite the fact his smirking satisfaction with having the information making it less palatable to Armand, Georges, and the reader. Looking into the French Spartacus as RAW refers to the mysterious author in an earlier footnote I couldn't find any pamphlets. After some more time I couldn’t find much information about who might have been the French “Spartacus” writing before the revolution but I did find a book online from 1944 by Marxist historian Francis Ambrose Ridley: Spartacus: A Study in Revolution.
The most substantial information was herein:
“The revival of classical studies in the early centuries of the modern era again drew attention to the exploits of the Thracian gladiator, the formidable leader of the disinherited in ancient times. In particular, the forerunners of the French Revolution, those intrepid rebels against the dead hand of feudalism, and themselves steeped in classical traditions, rescued the name of the servile leader from the mists of the past.” (Ridley 1944)
Aside from the otherwise undetailed coterie of French revolutionaries who “rescued the name” Ridley mentions Voltaire and the playwright Bernard-Joseph Saurin. Voltaire once observed that, in his opinion, the only just war in history had been the slave revolt begun by Spartacus. Concerning Saurin’s Spartacus, Ridley and the other sources my lazy ass was able to find, is a tragedy in subject and substance.
Interestingly, in 1791, around the time the Revolution was in full swing in Paris there would arise another Spartacus in the French colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispanola, known as the Black Spartacus: François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture. L’Ouverture’s military acumen would lead the former slaves to victory over the French, Spanish, and Germans before the end of the Haitian Revolution in 1804. L’Ouverture’s role in the Revolution, as well as that of his decidedly-more-brutal successor Dessalines, is naturally praised and reviled depending on whom one is speaking to. I wonder what Voltaire would have felt. (The Haitian Revolution is a really fascinating part of history both for the triumph of the slaves over their oppressors and the role that Vodou played in the revolutionaries activities.)
While hungry men wait on him, Sigismundo dines. He begins making his way home under the gibbous moon in Chapter 10. As the four try to pull off their assassination it proves Sigismundo’s reflexive state of sword fighting has been drilled into him by his instructors- an education in fencing seems to be the last thing any of the ruffians could have imagined. The way that Sigismundo doesn’t think but simply does and his lamentations as the unconscious control leaves him reminded me of one of my favorite poems from Crowley’s Book of Lies, “The Mountaineer” (Chapter 32):
Consciousness is a symptom of disease.
All that moves well moves without will.
All skillfulness, all strain, all intention is contrary to
Practice a thousand times, and it becomes difficult;
a thousand thousand, and it becomes easy; a
thousand thousand times a thousand thousand,
and it is no longer Thou that doeth it, but It that
doeth itself through thee. Not until then is that
which is done well done.
Thus spoke FRATER PERDURABO as he leapt
from rock to rock of the moraine without ever
casting his eyes upon the ground.
I am willing to put money I have read this poem quoted or at least mentioned in RAW’s material but a brief search has turned up nothing. (I checked his introductions in my Crowley volumes and Crowley-adjacent books on hand.)
While discussing the formidable Genevieve and her breasts in the last footnote of Chapter 10 RAW mentions the “Song of Solomon” and its mammary focus. This is explored in Wilson’s Ishtar Rising, previously The Playboy Book of Breast. (Due for a new printing from Hilaritas Press soon!)
For our week’s de Selby, the philosopher takes a whack at human conflict:
“De Selby (Golden Hours, p. 93, et seq.) has put forward an interesting theory on names. Going back to primitive times, he regards the earliest names as crude onomatopoeic associations with the appearance of the person or object named-thus harsh or rough manifestations being represented by far from pleasant gutturalities and vice versa. This idea he pursued to rather fanciful lengths, drawing up elaborate paradigms of vowels and consonants purporting to correspond to certain indices of human race, colour and temperament and claiming ultimately to be in a position to state the physiological ‘group’ of any person merely from a brief study of letters of his name after the word had been ‘rationalized’ to allow for variations of language. Certain ‘groups’ he showed to be universally ‘repugnant’ to other ‘groups.’ An unhappy commentary on the theory was furnished by the activities of his own nephew, whether through ignorance or contempt for the humanistic researches of his uncle. The nephew set about a Swedish servant, from whom he was completely excluded by the paradigms, in the pantry of a Portsmouth hotel to such purpose that de Selby had to open his purse to the tune of five or six hundred pounds to avert an unsavoury law case.” (O’Brien, The Third Policeman, p.40)