The statue of the Archangel Michael atop the Northampton Guildhall. His views on time expressed in “Clouds Unfold” of Alan Moore’s Jerusalem have much in common with de Selby’s apprehension of plenumary time.
Week Seventeen (pg 275-299 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 5&6 Part III all editions)
By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
Before we begin, I must admit that I was wrong last week when I assumed that the stonecutter that met Sigismundo was Signor Duccio. Thankfully, other readers picked up on what RAW actually intended in the scene.
The narrative of chapter five takes place in the fevered mind of Sigismundo as he fights off two assailants in what is revealed to be Signor Duccio’s backyard. The pitch of battle is humorously broken up by the footnotes detailing controversies surrounding de Selby; for example the footnote extending from 278-280 begins right after the intimate glance between Sigismundo and the second assassin in the yard of angels. It thoroughly takes us away from the main narrative as we are informed about more schemes perpetuated by the shadowy Professor Hanfkopf, the assertions of another nefarious German- Hamburger, Bell’s Theorem and how it relates to de Selby’s concept of plenumary time, and a hilarious attempt at discrediting Ferguson by crudely pasting his face over a picture of Harry Reems and Georgina Spelvin going at it (presumably from the classic porn film The Devil in Miss Walker), the Professor’s subsequent breakdown over the scandal and his conversion to Shinran Buddhism. We are then dropped immediately back into Sigismundo’s plight with the jarring line “[t]hen the assassin fell.” We are travelling at different speeds through time and space. (RAW writes often about Shinran Buddhism and was married in a Shinran Buddhist temple.)
RAW does an excellent job of making violence as ugly and gross as it must be in real life. His use of descriptors like “bloody pulp” and the sensory details such as Sigismundo hearing his own blood squish in his boots take away any possibility of celebrating the fighting as courageous or romantic. It is a nasty, brutish, and short affair.
Perhaps because of his heightened sense(s) of focus Sigismundo is able to cue into the conversation of a trio of dogs that are nearby. Most likely what is happening is that Sigismundo has stumbled into a clear connection with the second circuit, the anal-territorial circuit, through his martial exertions and is able to understand the territorial squabbles and first-circuit complaints (hunger) of animals who are in a similar headspace.
Also on pg 280, I just want to point out the brilliant simile that Sigismundo was “wary as a hunted otter.” I do know that otters can be as vicious as any other mammal (wasn’t there a study about some otters raping baby dolphins that found its way out of the journals and into the internet?) but haven’t had the experience necessary to make the comparison anything more than humorous. I have been angrily chattered at by a beaver who didn’t like how close my kayak was to her/him. Luckily I escaped without further conflict- unlike President Carter who was attacked by a swimming rabbit. (Personally I’m convinced the rabbit is still after him and is responsible for the President’s recent falls.)
Another footnote discusses de Selby’s proposed conversations with dogs and goats and some guesses towards discerning his “real” identity. Perhaps the most disappointing possibility is that de Selby is a pen name for Prince Charles- I guess in between trying to get the British to eat mutton again and waiting for mother to abdicate or die he would have some free time. It is also proposed that de Selby is another pen name for the group of mathematicians behind Nicolas Bourbaki or the result of another cabal consisting of the unlikely alliance of Schrodinger, Borges, Velikovsky, Churchill, and Groucho Marx. It would be very much in the mold of Borges to create a precocious, reality-threatening philosopher as he subverts the line between fiction and nonfiction in works such as Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, The Man Who Wrote Don Quixote, and The Zohar/The Aleph. Borges also admired the Irish imagination and his few comments on Joyce have shaped my own perceptions of that master. Recently a collaboration between the Marx Brothers and Salvador Dali has been published- Giraffes on Horseback Salad which was edited by the comedian Tim Heidecker. Jacoby, the scholar who proposed the unlikely collaboration, evidently proposed a solution to the loud hammering involved in de Selby’s experiments that was fit for a surrealist manifesto.
Sigismundo stumbles into the house of Signor Duccio, who has not arrived home yet, and helps himself to bread and beer. I guess he didn’t know that alcohol thins the blood and isn’t what one should be drinking while hoping a wound will stop bleeding. I was unable to find the original person who said “necessity knows no law” and instead most places seemed to consider it an English proverb. We end with Sigismundo failing to menace the homeowner and fainting with the familiar closing line “back to the Bastille.”
And yet, that isn’t the case, at least not until the end of the chapter. Duccio has of course been searching for Sigismundo and he and his compatriot have a plan to smuggle him out of Paris. While Sigismundo recovers he learns about the political theories of his would-be saviors, debates theology with the atheistic Duccio who is working on an 8AM buzz, and undergoes the culture shock of meeting a representative of the Third Estate. (I guess his experiences with servants and non-noble members of the craft doesn’t count.)
I am curious as to the identity of the P communicating with Chartres- it doesn’t seem to be Pierre at this point but perhaps Sigismundo’s location under his feet in the carriage was the author being coy. Pierre is still hung up on dogs(hit). Sigismundo and the reader are further educated on the hearts of ruffians as he listens to two of them argue in favor of letting their children have pets and hears about the kindness of the late Jules.
And Sigismundo is caught. Back to the Bastille.
From Eric: ”In this week’s reading Sigismundo remembers how he wanted to become a greater composer than Scarlatti, so I chose some more Scarlatti played by Horowitz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-5yWDliZZw