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Friday, September 27, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Six

The eight towers of the Bastille.

Week 6 (pg. 71-79 Hilaritas Press edition, Chapters 11&12 all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

On pg 71 we are treated to two paragraphs of extremely sharp writing from RAW that manages to be atmospheric writing “[p]recisely at midnight, Captain Loup-Garou summoned his trolls,” which hits on three or four horror themes in a sparse sentence, to the humorous amount of detail we can glean about the concierge and her character from a paragraph and a sentence. “The only way to terminate her monologue without the using a rifle-butt was to salute and leave.”

Loup-Garou and Lt. Lenoir and the reader get to savor the bizarre circumstances that have led to Sigismundo’s presence in the office of the lieutenant criminal before the arrest. Sigismundo seems to have an interesting effect on both men with Lenoir recounting the failed assassination “dreamily” and Loup-Garou thinking his eyes are “like some Christs in old paintings.” During the arrest we are treated to another glimpse at Sigismundo’s skills as Lenoir realizes that he couldn’t account for Celine’s movements from desk to window and concludes “[m]aybe I should get a Neapolitan fencing teacher.” Incidentally, I couldn’t find much significance in the name “Lenoir” the closest being that it is occasionally used to refer to a dark, swarthy man. Considering how Loup-Garou and Lenoir observe his physical traits as a dark Southerner or Neapolitan this is somewhat interesting.

I imagine most of the men reading this felt a reflexive twinge simply reading about the method by which Sigismundo is first quieted.

The Bastille, with its eight gaunt towers, is an appropriately frightening vision, especially considering this is happening in the dead of night. That RAW describes what is happening as Sigismundo being in the process of becoming a non-person adds to the horror of the moment. We are given two probable reactions from Loup-Garou, one pious, one an invocation of ever present merde.

Chapter 12 is a beautiful, cryptic chapter where we once again find ourselves considering the stone that the builders rejected, that is worshipped by all and reviled by almost all. The fate of those who speak of the stone in the arch, as described in this missile, is similar to that of Aleister Crowley, William Blake, Ida Craddock and others who spoke during their lifetime about the supernal. The association of the aspirant with the “refiner’s fire” is a reference to Malachi in the Old Testament and also used during the confrontation between Sir John Babcock and Aleister Crowley in Masks of the Illuminati. “Only the fool takes our past lightly…” The tarot reference isn’t lost on most of the audience, I imagine.

In the footnote RAW quotes the alchemical writings of Thomas Vaughan, brother of Metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan, who was himself an influence on Philip K. Dick. Vaughan was a well-known alchemist whose writings are regarded as especially poetic and sophisticated, as opposed to simply being confusing. RAW, in Sex, Drugs, and Magick uses the same passage from The Collected Works to illustrate his theory that much of the pre-Modern alchemical scripts were coded instructions for tantric sex.

De Selby’s ten witnesses to his alchemical transformation, noted by Hanfkopf to have been “blind drunk and notorious liars,” are reminiscent of the Eight Witnesses whose pledge to the veracity of the existence of golden plates and seeing stones are emended to every copy of The Book of Mormon. And once more Hafkopf seemingly puts a rival scholar of de Selby in relatively grave danger by placing 150 kg (330 lbs!!) of pure heroin in his hotel room during a conference. The menace of the figure is either heightened or given a lilt of humor when the phone call again described the frame up being orchestrated by a Germanic villain, reminiscent of Caligari, Mabuse, or someone with the voice of Conrad Veidt in Casablanca.

For those of us who are inclined to such a past time, I’d like to suggest taking a couple or more moments to meditate on the allegory given in Chapter 12 “until he [sic] understands the extent of lunacy of this species and why only the bravest may be entrusted with guardianship of the Grail.”

Another excellent selection from Eric Wagner:

“I’ve selected Mozart’s first piano concerto this week. I tend to prefer Mozart’s mature work, but Greta Thunberg has reminded me of how much young people have to offer.”


Eric Wagner said...

When I see "Special guest blogger" I think of Batman's "Special Guest Villain". Reading about the Bastille in this novel I recall the Bastille scenes in the 1973 "The Three Muskateers".

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I was struck by the passage about how the kingdom of France is careful to hide the identity of political prisoners who had been arrested. Secrecy and abuse of power go hand in hand to this day. If Sigismundo actually had done something wrong, there would no need to conceal the arrest; the authorities would want everyone to know about it.

Oz Fritz said...

This week begins with Chapter 11. 11 = "The general number of magick, or energy tending to change." The first phrase in this chapter, "Precisely at midnight...", the initials, p + a + m = 121 = 11 x 11 i.e. 11 squared. The second phrase, "Captain Loup-Garou summoned his trolls = 115 by the same method. 115 = "Here am I; The heat of the day; To make strong; vehement, eager." From this opening, I expect to see much qabalah/magick to follow. Indeed, it seems we see a wealth of this type of info, not that I understand it all, but will give it a shot.

Looking at that first phrase again: p = peh, midnight = 12 = The Magus (tarot) = Mercury. This resonates with the later sentence, "The prisoner Celine looked up at the 8 gaunt towers and recognized the Bastille." Tower = peh; 8 = Hod = Mercury; Bastille - b = beth = key number 12. "prisoner Celine" - p + c = 88 = "To be hot; Darkness; Roaring, seething; burning which relates both to Sigismundo's predicament and to the fire mentioned in Chapter 12.

Back to the first phrase" p + a + m. p = peh and corresponds with the element Fire. a and m (not the record company founded by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss) represent two of the Mother letters in the Hebrew alphabet of which have three. A = aleph = Air = The Fool (tarot); m = mem = Water = The Hanged Man (tarot).

Fire figures prominently in Chapter 12. That chapter begins and ends suggesting fire to burn the pages. Then, "In Papist nations, such a man and his book would burn together; in supposedly more illuminated lands, the book would burn and the man would go to prison." About halfway through Chapter 12 we get: "It must never be forgotten that once the cosmic furnace is activated, the candidate is not only in, but totally identical with, the "refiner's fire" of which the Prophet spoke.

Crowley = the Prophet of The Book of the Law. He gets referred to as the prophet multiple times there - 26 instances by my count. The ordeal of fire = one of the tests of the candidate. "The gross must pass through fire ..." Liber Al I:50 "Let him come through the first ordeal, & it will be to him as silver. Through the second, gold. Through the third, stones of precious water. Through the fourth, ultimate sparks of the intimate fire." Liber Al III:64 - 67. This sounds alchemical - RAW enlists Thomas Vaughn to describe the "'cosmic furnace' of alchemy.

The conclusion of the section from the A.'.A.'.: " ... the 'refiner's fire' of which the Prophet spoke. Only the fool takes our path lightly or in the mood of a game." appears congruent with the opening phrase from Chapter 11. Prophet, intitial p = peh; fool = aleph = a; mood = m - we see the p + a + m sequence again. Perhaps this sequence suggests a strategy for enduring the trial by fire?

Oz Fritz said...

"The corner stone that the builders rejected" that began our adventure has shapeshifted into "the center stone of the arch, which the builders rejected."

Lenoir can be seen as le noir - "the black" in French. No idea what significance this has, if any, other than it matches the current mood and atmosphere of the plot.

End of Chapter 12: ", Prof. Han Tui-Po author of the classic, but little-known De Selby Te Ching ..."
Crowley authored a translation of the Tao Te Ching under the pseudonym Ko Yuen which means to rob fate. This meaning may have something to do with Predetermination (fate) vs Free Will. Han means Chinese culture. Tui is a form of Chinese manipulative therapy often used in conjunction with acupuncture, moxibustion, fire cupping, Chinese herbalism, t'ai chi, and qigong. Po etymologically means "white, whiteness, and bright light"; "The primitive Chinese seem to have regarded the changing phases of the moon as periodic birth and death of its [po], its 'white light' or soul. So the meaning of Tui-Po appears similiar in magical functioning to Casablanca mentioned near the end. Casablanca = white house; house = beth = The Magus.

Prof. Han Tui-Po identifies De Selby with the Tao in the title of his book.

Prof. Han got caught with 150 kilos of heroin in his room that was planted by someone who had it in for him. Crowley notoriously used heroin, prescribed by doctors to treat his debilitating asthma. This fact has been greatly exaggerated and seized upon by those intent on sullying his reputation with the stigma of drug addiction. He didn't sit around stoned all day, rather remained very productive to the end of his life - probably more productive due to the drug as it allowed him to breathe.

Alias Bogus said...

Very interesting couple of chapters. To start with, we see the big picture of what is going on in all the countries involved. Included we find another reference to Spartacus and his pamphlets, also Lycurgus (just for the lysergic echo?) I can still find no live references to these guys, but who knows what books on the French Revolution Bob used for reference. Or (gasp) he made them up. A more detailed section appears on De Sade, but I don’t quite know why (?)
Then we zoom in on Siggy’s personal viewpoint, his diaries, his state-of-mind.

It ends with him not sure if he has gone mad or not. If not, and he has been whisked away from the Bastille (the identical upside down room does not feel cold) we have no idea to where. Who could have arranged it, and how? By putting us into his position we do get to feel his paranoia, and anxiety – the mystery. And we stay inside his head. We no longer have the omniscient narrator (or footnotes) to let us know ”what is actually going on”.

It reminded me of a rich guy (found years ago in a book on practical jokes) who reputedly had an upside down room for guests who got so drunk they passed out, to wake up in.
He also had an en suite bathroom that was a lift (elevator), and while that particular guest was bathing it would go down, so when they tried to return to their bedroom, they might open the door, wrapped only in a towel, to find the door leads onto the reception room, full of well-dressed fellow guests!

Adie said...

@Cleveland Okie--the passage about the prisons and "non-persons" also struck me as very modern and made me think of Foucault's writings about the transition from public to private punishment in the late 18th century, which was confluent with the rise of the modern state and its internalized psychological control over the individual. Types of non-personhood have existed since ancient times; in ancient Rome and Egypt the names of individuals were erased from all public accounts by their enemies (anyone who's read Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series will remember the harrowing passage about Damnatio Memoriae), and there was the concept of homo sacer in ancient Rome, an ostracized individual who could be killed by anyone with impunity so long as they were not sacrificed in a religious ritual. However, the modern nonperson, such as the Bastille prisoners described here, is the opposite of homo sacer in that they can only be killed by the state.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Adie There's been an interesting revival of the concept that people who commit heinous crimes should not be remembered, which as you note goes back to classical times; I've seen pleas that the media not broadcast the names and manifestos of people who commit mass killings.

A friend of my wife is losing her job (for reasons that don't seem valid to me); her employer wants to "erase" her by making her sign a confidentiality agreement about the termination.

Alias Bogus said...

It may not prove strictly relevant to the upside down room, but one of the best histories of the English Revolution I have read has the title ”The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution” (1972) by Christopher Hill. He concentrates more on the smaller rebellious groups (rather than Cromwell and Cavaliers), like the Diggers, Levellers, Ranters, etc (that I think Bob would have loved). And the lovely idea of freelance “masterless men”. Highly recommended. have a look at the PDF, here

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

"The World Turned Upside Down" is a really interesting work of history, so I can second that recommendation.

Rarebit Fiend said...

Thanks for commenting everyone! I spent some more time looking into the reading for chapters 13&14 and look forward to continuing the discussion.

Alias Bogus said...

As I recall, at the end of volume three, an announcement of the fourth book (never written) had the title "The World Turned Upside Down".

Alias Bogus said...

Whoops! Because I have read the whole book a few times, I got lost about our orientation, not realising that each of the Parts of the book had their own chapter numbers, so I think I was looking at chapters 11 and 12 of Part Three, because of not having the right page numbers for the new edition!

Sorry to be jumping so far ahead!