Antoine de Sartine ("Sardines") Chief of Police
By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
Week Three: (Hilaritas Press edition pg. 35-50, Chapters 5&6 all editions)
In Chapter 5 we begin with the very pregnant Maria Maldonado troubled over Merovingian nightmares and the distressing misnomer of “morning sickness.” I think her anxiety over what exact time of day she is sick is a good example of the annoying and persistent traps we fall into because of words and labels. Having never been pregnant, nor ever having to entertain the notion that I might one day become pregnant, I don’t know how much leeway I have to judge this scene; but I would say it is an empathetic portrait of the character and true to my own experiences with physical/spiritual anxiety. (It’s worth noting that our Tom Jackson has always pointed out that Maria is, in his opinion, RAW’s most complete female character.)
I haven’t read Holy Blood, Holy Grail and I think that’s one big blind spot for someone trying to lead this group. (I did read The Da Vinci Code when I was fourteen if that counts, haha.) So if any of you have read the book please fill us in on pertinent information, unscrupulously sourced or not, from the book to the Merovingians in The Widow’s Son. With that said, from the context I could pick up about the scene it probably had more to do with Lovecraft than Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh. The Merovingians, while perhaps more aesthetically pleasing, are reminiscent of Lovecraft’s daemonic Deep Ones which manage to be alluring in spite of their grotesque and otherworldly appearance. (If you haven’t read “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” why not?)
Maria’s thoughts also give insights into what I’m beginning to think are two of the most interesting themes of the novel so far: the idea that people usually believe themselves to live in an “enlightened” and advanced time without understanding how primitive their society is and the divide between Catholicism and Protestantism. In light of the first theme in Chapter 5 we have Maria trying to banish her bad dream by thinking “It was 1771 and intelligent people did not believe in old legends like that anymore” and her blind grasps at what might affect her sullen husband. In Chapter 6 we have the facts of Parisian living, a metropolitan lifestyle if there was one according to the standards of the day, soberly related with an emphasis on the pervasive smell of shit hanging everywhere. “The philosophes tell each other how enlightened the world is becoming.” Perhaps we don’t munch on loaves of bread with fecal matter in them everyday but I have a feeling most of us eat more shit than we realize.
The difference between the Catholic mode of reality and the Protestant mode of reality, or at least the eighteenth century thinking person’s remix, is something that is necessarily pervasive throughout this novel. Somehow, like many outdated debates, this seems to be becoming a more relevant issue than it was when I first read this novel. I hope to develop my thoughts on this as we go along.
In Chapter 6 we spend the briefest amount of time with Sigismundo and the rest of the chapter with the characters of Paris and Lieutenant Sartines. While an administrator and chief of police, both secret and exoteric, might not seem like Wilson’s kind of guy I think he expresses a certain amount of respect for Antoine in this chapter, at least implicitly. Having just finished the RAW portion of Erik Davis’ High Weirdness, I was reminded of a small point where Davis points out that RAW occasionally shows sympathy with law-and-order policeman types such as Saul Goodman and Barney Muldoon in Illuminatus!.
Since we do not have a de Selby quote in this week’s reading, here is a selection from The Third Policeman: “in the Layman’s Atlas...he inveighs savagely against ‘the insanitary conditions prevailing everywhere after six o’clock’ and makes the famous gaffe that death is merely ‘the collapse of the heart from the strain of a lifetime of fits and fainting.’” We won’t be truly civilized until we do something about all this goddamned noxious black air.