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Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Widow's Son online reading group, Week 17

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: 


Eric Wagner said...

Arlo Guthrie on President Carter and the bunny.

Alias Bogus said...

I confess to still finding the use of footnotes puzzling, although some amuse me. Normally, when reading non-fiction, you either find brief footnotes at the bottom of the page, or longer ones at the back of the book (indexed).
Generally, when they are at the back, I do not interrupt the flow of reading to look at them, but usually skim through them after finishing the book. Ones at the foot of the page probably get read. I remain pretty compulsive – I even read the footnotes in Finnegans Wake.

It seems like I could easily read through the main text and simply ignore the footnotes, without missing much. Likewise, you could read through the footnotes as a secondary text, and slowly figure out why hammering goes with the time machine (for instance).

Having said all that, the interactions of Hanfkopf (hemp-head) and the others do sometimes amuse, and the mixture of references to real texts and imaginary stays tantalizing. And Bob’s love of lists.
In among the imaginary books, you find references to real material, that may not sound as though they exist, like the Compleat Quantum Mechanical Anthropologist – mind as non-local variable. I got a copy of the article sent from The British Library (back in MLA days) and found it interesting enough, even if I don’t entirely understand the physics. Having said that, I belong to the sceptic side, when it comes to psi phenomena (I don’t deny the possibility, but spent my childhood doing conjuring, and so did Uri Geller). Occam’s Razor suggests that “scientists” and scientific method can be fooled by lateral thinking conjurors, and their devious methods. So Puthoff and Targ did not impress me in the 70s. To clinch that 70s thing, you can even find a respectful comment about Carlos Castaneda near the end. If you think scientists can’t be fooled, check out Project Alpha. I also find it amusing to watch Uri Geller squirm when failing under test conditions provided by Johnny Carson (a conjuror). [Full version here, all 23 toe-curling minutes]

But hey, something interesting may prove emergent from all those statistics. I don’t believe in ‘random’, so if you search hard enough you might find some patterns. As a quasi ‘pataphysician I lean more to the idea that unique events might occasionally break some of our ‘rules’ (and then we end up in what we mean by random, coincidence, synchronicity, etc), but refuse to submit to ‘repeatability’ for a laboratory.

I don’t think we ever find out which one is Spartacus. The coachman or Duccio?

supergee said...

There is a JFK assassination connection here. The judge at Jack Ruby’s trial was Joe B. Brown. Melvin Belli, who defended Ruby, said that local lawyers told him that the judge was known as “Necessity” Brown because of “an old Latin saying: Necessity knows no law.”

Rarebit Fiend said...

Eric- that's great! Thank you.

Alias- I think that RAW was pretty deliberate in the decision on how to use the footnotes. I didn't do a very good job, but I tried to illustrate how the interruption of the main narrative shapes it and introduces ideas to buzz around in the reader's head. Having them break up the text and concern such ostensibly different subject material causes cognitive dissonance that I believe backs up some deeper theme of the book. I've said this before a few times, so I'm sorry for repeating myself, but the footnotes seem to me to be a direct reference to "The Third Policeman." In that book they serve a similar purpose (and concern de Selby and a cabal of scholars). Like Policeman, Widow's Son seems to be a book full of humor and horror. As Sigismundo goes through his "transition" I think the narratives of the two books creep closer together.

I actually hate footnotes at the back of books because I am compelled to flip back and read them every time I come across one. Sometimes I'm able to withhold for a few pages and read a few at a time. I hope you'll find it amusing that while looking up material for our posts I came across a paper examining "The Third Policeman" as a pataphysical novel.

I don't trust my judgement but I remember feeling the pox-marked coachman was Spartacus. Although it is also likely that Spartacus is a shared name between the two men and possibly others. Similar to the theories about de Selby being an amalgamation of various groups.

supergee- I bet that's where RAW got that from! Thank you!

Oz Fritz said...

Another awesome write-up, Gregory. Alan Moore's "Jerusalem" goes on my books to read list. I'm fascinated with theories and anomalies of time.

The beaver anecdote reminds of a recent news story about a Canadian hiker who spotted a mountain lion eyeing her for lunch. She made shooing sounds to no avail, but was able to scare it off by playing Metallica on her cell phone, one chord and the cat split.

Marx Brothers films have been required viewing for me for many years. They are one pf the first things I mention to students of sound engineering or magick. Rumours that the Brothers Marx were Sufi adepts have never been disproven. I compare their hijinks to C.S. Hyatt's excellent essay on "breaking set" found in the Introduction or Preface to "The Eye in the Triangle" by Israel Regardie, the book that turned RAW on to Crowley. I definitely want to see their collaboration with Dali. The unlikely alliance of Schrodinger, Borges, Veilsovky, Churchill and Groucho seems like it could yield something interesting to further analysis.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I am pressed for time and will have to post more later on this week's entry, but this is a good entry in Gregory's series of blog posts. I want to highlight one of the things he wrote:

"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."

In a sense, Sigismundo is almost a James Bond character in the way he is able to deal with the assassination attempts, but the description of the violence takes us away from escapism and gives us a dose of reality, as Gregory says. Perhaps the better comparison is with Odysseus, who is clever and rarely at a loss, but who deals with a world of brutal violence.

Oz, Metallica would probably drive me away, too.

Alias Bogus said...

I really loved Gregory’s idea that because Siggy was in Circuit 2, fighting for his life, that he could understand the language of dogs.

I certainly accept the idea of Flann O’Brien as a quasi-‘pataphysician, (His texts would happily fit in among the experiments of OuLiPo, who some people connect with the Sang Real story, etc) although we don’t know if he knew about Jarry. I read At-Swim-Two-Birds first, and only read The Third Policeman much later.

I have an odd relationship with ‘Pataphysics: My first real encounter was in a squat in Paris, which had several mis-shaped books, and some Jarry stamps, etc. I had already read an Evergreen Review, which contains a lot of key texts. It appeared like a deadpan joke (do the Brits and the French have different senses of humour?) A philosophy disguised as a joke, or a joke disguised as a serious philosophy (ring any bells?) In the MLA we had an actual member of Le Collège de ’Pataphysique (Borsky) who elected me as an Oblate (a purely honorary title, and bearing in mind that Bob had made me a Pope). And Bob wore a spiral ring – in ‘Pataphysics the spiral (aka le gidouille) proves very important – again, I have no idea if he belonged. In fact, one ‘Pataphysical text has a rather excellent description of secret societies (a short read), or maybe Chapel Perilous.

Hey ho, so many possible side-trips.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

" the interruption of the main narrative shapes it and introduces ideas to buzz around in the reader's head. Having them break up the text and concern such ostensibly different subject material causes cognitive dissonance that I believe backs up some deeper theme of the book."

The footnotes would appear to be a variation on the use of Burroughsian cut-up prose.

Oz Fritz said...

Chapter 5 finds Sigismundo going through yet another near death encounter after bloody fights that evoke the imagery of Geburah-5 where all the Gods of War get filed, along with the associated color red - "...making a bandage to stop the crimson flow." Mention of the composer Scarlatti's name contributes to this imagery.

"The yard felt empty" (p.187). Sigismundo relies on his intuition here. Intuition appears to get stronger via the higher emotional centrum, hence the word "felt." I consider intuition the intelligence of the heart.

Gregory mentions "heightened sense(s)" and that "Sigismundo stumbled into a clear connection with the second circuit." I suggest these heightened senses engage reflexively from the nearness and confrontation with death. I suspect Sig's C6 gets awakened more than usual. C6 = the higher aspect of C2 in Leary's model. We find this represented on the Tree of Life with the path of Nun (Death) connecting Netzach-7 (human emotions) with Tiphareth-6 (C6).

Confrontation with death whether simulated through ritual or other methods, or the actual nearness of biological death, seems a means for triggering C6 to life - simulated greatly preferred over actual. Contrariwise, an awakened C6 seems key to successfully confronting death.

Sigismundo understanding the communication of dogs makes a nice metaphor. His realization that either Duccio or the Coachman writes as Spartacus gives another example of heightened intuition.

I thought clues appeared earlier to indicate that Duccio = Spartacus, though I could be wrong. One of my favorite lines by Duccio arrives when he introduces himself as "A carver of unreal ideas." This seems like something Spartacus would write. The Coachman never shows any similar signs of intelligence that I saw. RAW plays with ambiguity again.

In Chapter 6, Sigismundo happens to land and get aid in Duccio's domicile, the one person in all Paris to honestly apprise his family of the situation. This seems incredulously lucky ... or, perhaps, as if he gets protected by a Guardian Angel. Thelema's Holy Guardian Angel also has that protective quality similar to Guardian Angels of the R.C. Church. Initial contact with The Holy Guardian Angel gets filed in Tiphareth-6 (C6).

Oz Fritz said...

p. 193 - 194 Bluejay edition: In their religious debate Duccio says to Sigismundo, "This is most serious. You have entered the heresy of pantheism."
"I fear I have."
" ... if everything is God then we do not need the word 'God' anymore. You are an atheist without knowing it."

In Crowley's early foundational effort "Berashith, An Essay in Ontology with Some Remarks on Ceremonial Magic" he writes in a footonote: "Every one must admit that monotheism, exalted by the introduction of the (infinity) symbol, is equivalent to pantheism. Pantheism and atheism are really identical, as the opponents to both are the first to admit." (Personally, I prefer stereotheism over monotheism).

RAW fleshes the idea out slightly more - nice how he brings it to life. Purely a coincidence that I happened to read this somewhat obscure, but important text due to its inclusion in Jerry and Erica Cornelius' ESSAYS 8.

Thoughts on RAW's use of footnotes: I like the points Tom and Gregory made about them. The footnotes in these two chapters appear the most radical departure, so far, from their conventional use. Whether they like it or not, readers get directly confronted with the multi-dimensional, multi-level aspect of his writing. He breaks the readers attention just as they get hooked into the exciting action/adventure of the plot. This appears similar to "breaking set" mentioned above. The Marx Brothers do this kind of thing all the time to other characters and themselves in their films. RAW both mentions them, and uniquely demonstrates their disruptive, annoying and distracting methods of breaking set with the extensive footnote interruptions.

Another related thought: the footnotes, even as comical as they get, presents this book as an academic authority in the sub-text regarding spiritual (artistic) development.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

The "pantheism" mentioned in Chapter 6 -- the God who "fills all space" -- reminds me of these sentences in the "Note" that opens "Email to the Universe":

"I also suspect that this world shows signs of intelligent design, and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and _without_ centralized sovereignty, like the internet; and that it does not function hierarchically, in the style of an Oriental despotism, an American corporation or Christian theology;

"I somewhat suspect that Theism and Atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback."