Nora Barnacle (right) with my daughter’s namesake.
Week Fourteen (pg. 225-234 Hilaritas edition, Chapter Eleven, Part II all editions
By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
The Prisoner makes his escape. Sigismunundo’s astounding jailbreak was overwhelmingly reminiscent of John Higgs’ description of Dr. Leary’s escape act from San Luis Obispo in the opening chapter of his excellent I Have America Surrounded. Especially the scene of Leary crossing the telephone wire over the fence to freedom on pg. 8-10. Like Sigismundo, Leary has to face a perilous drop (his was only 20 feet but he was fifty and real as opposed to a spry twenty one year old in an, albeit achingly self-aware, adventure novel) “with nothing but faith and a thin wire between him and the ground below” (Higgs pg. 8). I believe that this is evidence of a feedback loop; did Leary’s account of his stunning escape inspire RAW while writing about Sigismundo’s and was Higgs perhaps inspired by The Widow’s Son when recounting Leary’s escape in his biography? Either way, unlike Leary, Sigismundo has no allies or love waiting for him outside the Bastille.
(Another connection in those thrilling opening pages would be Higgs’ observations about Leary’s features on pg 10: “But while his face was aristocratic, his mannerisms were restless and American and his eyes and smile had an unmistakably Irish charm. It was this subtle Irish glimmer that overrode the American and classical aspects of his appearance and became the prominent characteristic in the memories of those who knew him. His reckless Irish streak could also be relied on to override the other elements of his personality at pivotal moments of his life.” As Sigismundo heads towards Britain we’ll get to see more of this mix of the Irish and the classical, of aristocracy and recklessness before moving on to the Americas in Nature’s God.)
Sigismundo’s God or Author is kind to him in this episode as his hand is not reduced to a bloody pulp by ropeburn (a phrasing that made me shudder) from losing his grip on the wall, although at one point he clings on with his “weaker hand”; nor does he have to swim in the moat or scale and descend the second wall. Sigismundo’s belief in the impossible serves him well as he is able to accomplish a feat he considers only possible for an acrobat, and this probably makes his implausible escape successful.
We are provided with an account of the genesis of de Selby’s romance with Sophie Denevue in “Fuck Off, Buster” and see him shifting his affections from the uninterested-to-the-point-of-feigning-death Denevue to the unknowning Nora Barnacle. Barnacle’s droll attitude towards experimental, high falutin’ writers is transferred from the “real” world (where she wondered why her partner couldn’t just write normal books) to our narrative where she makes the charming understatement that the philosopher, who is trying to “neutralize pleumenary time” and believes he has found an unlikely key to the reoccuring 1132 in the then-unpublished Finnegans Wake, “seems a bit daft.”
As de Selby anticlimactically collides with Joyce’s personal sphere and Sigismundo finds himself out of the frying pan and into the fire, the reader is left with an image of a rat running across our desperate protagonist’s foot as he tries to focus on a higher self. Next week we’ll begin Part III- Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
From Eric Wagner: “I thought Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” might work this week. Sigismundo praises this piece in The Earth Will Shake.”