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Friday, September 20, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Five

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) 


Eric Wagner said...

I, um, am Spartacus.

Eric Wagner said...

Monday marks the start of fall. Vivaldi’s Autumn from the Four Seasons provides our soundtrack this week.

Joshua Hallenbeck said...

I love how Bob sneaks in at least one question or point each week that seems to stick in my head all week. This week the winner is the question of how God is going to chose which bloke he likes best if they both light a candle at church?

Greg, the passage from The Book of Lies seems to me to be spot on. Nice work!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your work. I had some new and interesting associations, as always. But that‘s the point of this thing, I guess.

I have to check out the haitian revolution.
Not speaking from an own perspective of experience, but from other people‘s experiences (such as Grant Morrisons), I‘d like to stay away from Voodoo.

I‘ like to highlight another great portrayal of one of the most important RAW themes - at least in my opinion: the eight human circuits. With the dying thugs in this chapter he is heavily indulging in the first basic survival program, describing brilliantly and very intense the bare, naked horror of experiencing the one thing, the ego fears most: annihilation.

Sigismundos display of the mastery of the art of fighting show pretty well which perfection is possible if (any) action is executed without the thinking of the egoic mind. When the person „becomes“ the doing.
Crowleys poem fits nice here.

Oz Fritz said...

When Sigismundo gets attacked at the start of Chapter 10 his Bio-survival circuit (C1) kicks in and he reacts reflexively with the intelligence of that circuit - what Gurdjieff called the Moving centrum. RAW lets the reader know at least three times that Sigismundo doesn't think about this - he doesn't use C3 initially to defend himself, though does use it to assess the situation. This seems a great example of the different circuits working in harmony toward a particular aim, in this case, saving his life. When he screams "Die" to unnerve the attackers, perhaps this employs C2, the emotional circuit?

I posted a final comment in last week's discussion in which I recommended a great Gurdjieff book that goes into the different "brains" of that system - the forerunner of the Leary/Wilson brain circuits model. A point gets made there that the Moving centrum acts much faster than the Intellectual centrum C3, in fact each brain circuit has its own separate time scale. If Sigismundo had to rely on C3 to figure out the situation before acting, he'd probably be dead.

The excellent Crowley quote above appears to show how something learned by C3 can get transferred to C1

The gibberish Armand spouts in his final moments seems partly inspired by "The Last Words of Dutch Schultz" by William Burroughs that riffed on the abstract, stream of consciousness dialog Schultz spoke as he lay dying.

Nice sleuthing, Greg, on the relationship of Spartacus to the French Revolution - I had no idea.

Anonymous said...

@ Oz Fritz: Very nice comment. Pretty much what I had in my mind...

Ps. Is there a possibiliy to create an account without using Google?
PPs. Sorry for my sometimes somewhat cumbersome english expression. ;)

Rarebit Fiend said...

@Eric- one of the best jokes in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen occurs during the immortal Orlando's summation of their biography where they write about how they narrowly escaped a mass crucifixion due to them being the only person present who apparently wasn't named Spartacus. Thank you for your selection this week, I do love Vivaldi.

@Joshua- Thank you, glad you joined the commentariat! This is for you:

@Anon- My personal experience of Haitian Voodoo has been overwhelmingly positive. While I can't claim to be much of a scholar, I've spent a lot of my time reading about various religions and would have to say Vodou is probably my favorite living religion. Its history and theology are immaculate and born from a sense of a living, palpable connection between humanity and godhead that is astounding; especially considering the history of its innovators/practitioners. In many ways I feel it bears a striking similarity to the ancestral and magical traditions of my native powwow/Appalachian magic. It is a religion that demands respect but that should be extended to any faith that has determined the world's fate. (At the same time, I'm a hypocrite as I am happy, if not gleeful, to misinterpret/pervert Abrahamic theology to my own purposes. Oh well, fuck 'em.) Truly, all of the syncretic Afro-Caribbean religions are works of pure spiritual art. Blake would have approved if he had known. Also Hoodoo is of incredible practical value, again in my experience. The Haitian Revolution is one of my favorite parts of history, if only because I chronically root for the underdog and love stories of triumph against the fuckin Man.

I think you make a great point about the 8-circuits and how deft RAW is at weaving them into the scene for those that have eyes to see.

@Oz- which leads into your comment, enlightening as always. I wish I had your explanatory powers. You are exactly on point about the similarity between Schultz's death rap and Armand's. I have Discovering Gurdjieff in the mail. I've got to finish editing Sex Drugs and Magick first though!

I'm glad everyone liked the inclusion of the poem, like I said- it's one of my favorites and always bears repeating. For pure will, assuaged of lust for result, is in all ways perfect.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Although we had some apparent digressions, each chapter had something leading up to this action sequence, in which Sigismundo is attacked by the four ruffians. As I argued in an earlier comment, this is a clever piece of plotting, with the impending action depicted from various points of view. I was happen to see three of them die, but as Gregory says, RAW does an excellent job of making you see that Armand is really not a criminal by preference and is a human being.

Sigismundo reacts without consciously knowing what is going on. In more than one place, Neal Stephenson depicts the same phenomena -- in an unexpected situation, it can take the mind a few moments to grasp what is going on. I visited the Flight 93 memorial a few days ago (I am on vacation right now) and it reminded me of when I was in the newsroom at my old newspaper in Lawton, Oklahoma, and the advertising manager turned on the TV set. I didn't grasp at first that I was seeing a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center rather than a terrible accident.

By coincidence, I am reading Steve Moore's "Somnium," which takes an obsession with female breasts to a level I've never encountered before.

Alias Bogus said...

I remain astonished at how much detail Bob managed to track down, with books, libraries and correspondence – before Wikipedia and Google, etc.

Spartacus, as Adam Weishaupt’s nom de plume, brings him into this story indirectly (as Sigismundo does not know about The Bavarian Illuminati). Very little of his writings seem to have got translated from the German, and I can only find a list of books, no examples of the pamphlets.

In the Bavarian Illuminati they all used a nom de guerre: Weishaupt=Spartacus; Zwack=Cato; Mirabeau=Arcesilas/Leonidas; Adolph Freiherr Knigge = Philo, etc.

A translation exists of “Diogenes’ Lamp, or an Examination of our Present-Day Morality and Enlightenment”, although it didn’t get a terrific review from Illuminati for Dummies.

You can find his disclaimers (“A Brief Justification of My Intentions: Casting Light on the Latest Original Writings”), translated by Tony Page. Recently (2015), a reputedly complete record of the rituals got published in English, “The Secret School of Wisdom: the Authentic Rituals and Doctrines of the Illuminati”. “Included are the rituals, regalia, passwords, signs, and symbols of the world's most intriguing secret society”, Arturo de Hoyos, 33°, Grand Cross.

It does seem hard to find the pamphlets. You might find some in The Illuminati: Sources and texts on the Enlightenment ideology of the Illuminati Order (1776-1785), but only if you read German.
Weishaupt, Adam, Die Illuminaten : Quellen und Texte zur Aufklärungsideologie des Illuminatenordens (1776-1785) / herausgegeben von Jan Rachold. Berlin : Akademie-Verlag, 1984. 409 p. ; 20 cm. LCCN: 85111344

Or possibly The Latest Work Of Spartacus And Philo At The Illuminati Order (again, only in German)
Weishaupt, Adam, Illuminatenorden. Die neuesten Arbeiten des Spartacus und Philo in dem Illuminaten-Orden jetzt zum erstenmal gedruckt und zur Beherzigung bey gegenwärtigen Zeitläuften herausgeben. [n.p.] 1794. 200, 90, 77 p. 20 cm. LCCN: 77465925.

Most of what we know comes from ‘enemies’ like Robison and Darruel. Oh, and Nesta Webster, etc.

Weishaupt strikes me as a rationalist, and humanist, who had studied Gnostic (direct knowledge) religions, so we might consider him a Deist. Almost certainly anti-Catholic., and pro-Enlightenment (the clue lies in the name). Not sure if he exploited the Freemasonic structures to spread his version of a future plan for self-improvement, and for the world. The cellular structure of cut-outs resembles a spy network, and we see echoes of that in the description of Sartine’s network.

Alias Bogus said...

PS: I haven't found any translations of pamphlets into French, or I might have a stab at reading them. When I searched the catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale de France looking for "Weishaupt" I found some texts, but in German only.

Rarebit Fiend said...

@Tom- I believe it was the other Moore or Higgs who pointed out that Somnium is the most erotic novel written without actually containing any sex. I hope you like it, I guess I have a predilection for breast-based books. I have always believed the universe was made for me to suck- Crowley

@Alias- Thank you for all the information! This is quite the haul, I love anything to do with Baron Knigge. it is a pity we don't have anything of the French Spartacus available. Despite the Illuminati conspiracy theories surrounding the French Revolution and the Grand Orient Lodge I imagine that Weishaupt had little to do with the political events and the Spartacus at hand would have been very different in style and content.

Alias Bogus said...

@Rarebit Fiend

As rumours of Illuminati involvement in The French Revolution abound (Robison, Barruel, etc), and Weishaupt would have been in his early 40s, I assumed that no ‘French’ Spartacus exists, but that Old Bob intended to imply Weishaupt’s involvement, in translation. After all, AW wrote tracts and pamphlets, anti-establishment, anti-Royal, etc. Of course, RAW may have bent the history a bit, to align with Robison’s theories, as no clear proof exists.

But if you still think a different Spartacus existed at the same time, and wrote pamphlets, good luck finding them! I found no trace, at all, at all.

If you care to dig deeper, you can find free downloads at The Gutenberg Project, of
Nesta Webster Secret Societies and Subversive Movements
John Robison Proofs of a conspiracy against all the religions and governments of Europe, carried on in the secret meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati and Reading Societies, collected from good authorities.

And what do you make of this?

Did a secret society bring about the French Revolution? In the classic fictional version of this widely believed conspiracy theory, Alexandre Dumas’s novel Joseph Balsamo (sic), a Masonic society known as the Illuminati gather in a ruined castle in 1770 and plot the overthrow of the French monarchy. Their leader, called the “Great Copt,” speaks of the day when “the monarchy is dead…religious domination is despised…social inferiority is extinguished.”

Features one of the strangest characters in literature, Joseph Balsamo, also known as Cagliostro (later a key figure in the Affair of the Necklace). An alchemist, conspirator, and Freemason, Balsamo figures prominently in the eventual downfall of the French monarchy.

Rarebit Fiend said...

@Alias- The reason I've been trying to find a French Spartacus is based on the footnote on pg 11 (Hilaritas edition) "This French "Spartacus" has not been identified, but should not be confused with the contemporary German "Spartacus" who was, of course, Adam Weishaupt, well known to readers of my Immortal Novels and soon to be introduced to new readers as this Romance proceeds. Peace."

This could possibly be another subversion but I took it at face value.

I never knew about the Dumas novel! That sounds like something I need to read. I did read a biography of Cagliostro that came out a few years ago called "The Masonic Magician." It never seemed to get much attention but I remember enjoying the book. He's already been established to be Sigismundo's half-brother and I think that "Nature's God" indicates eventually there was going to be a climatic reintroduction between the two if the five books had been completed as planned. I believe later in "The Widow's Son" he's revealed to be conspiring with Chartres and others to harass Sigismundo.

Alias Bogus said...

@Rarebit Fiend

Yeah, I backtracked (the fun of re-reading) and stumbled over that early footnote. I suddenly realised that Bob had headed me off at the pass! Doh!

But given that Robison and Barruel get referenced in footnotes in Chs 3 & 7, I applied Occam’s Razor when I assumed that references to seditious literature by “Spartacus” in Ch 9 referred to AW. Hey ho.

Look in Robison (whose theory directly implicates AW/the Illuminati in fomenting the French Revolution). You will find 87 references to Weishaupt, and 97 references to Spartacus, including a quote in French.

Spartacus to Cato, Feb. 6, 1778.
"Mon but est de faire valoir la raison”.

But footnotes never lie or mislead! Peace. And on we go...