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Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Twenty Three

Hogarth’s illustration of a scene from Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera”

Week Twenty Three (pg 383-402 Hilaritas Press edition, Chapter 17 & 18, Part III all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger 

Chapter Seventeen asks the very important question- did de Selby fuck enough to understand the alchemical process?

I have little to add to the excerpts from Benoit’s memoirs or our-faux Robison’s, still attacking himself, satanic accusations save for: “[t]he need for this fourth ‘soul’ or higher facility is that mankind is not a finished creature but a being in process of transcending its own past” seems to recall “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” When asked about his short story “Funes the Memorious,” Borges explained that it was a parable about being awake. He explained the category of wakefulness: “Once a student asked the Buddha if he was a god. ‘No.’ The Buddha replied. ‘Are you the Enlightened One?’ Again the Buddha declined. The student then inquired as to what he may be then, The Buddha replied ‘I am awake.’”

While the names are very reminiscent of the players in Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, to my memory, none of these characters show up in the original text. Considering that Gay’s poem was written fortysome years before the events of our narrative, it is doubtful that the footnote on pg. 386 is being totally honest. In our timeline at least the play was inspired by a letter from Jonathan Swift to Alexander Pope suggesting a pastoral opera about whores, informers, and thieves. Their enterprising friend John Gay turned it into The Beggar’s Opera which would itself be retold nearly two hundred years later into Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Wiell’s The Threepenny Opera which is still one of the most potent eviscerations of society dreamt up by frustrated artists in extant.

Sir John is dealing with a different frustration this chapter as he drinks and morbidly contemplates his bisexuality. RAW does a great job in displaying his inner torment and by the time he calls himself “the bifurcated man” I felt a pang of empathy for the poor Parliamentarian. It is interesting that Sir John notes that he met many willing male sexual partners in Baghdad. I remember the oddest part of Regardie’s The Eye In the Triangle is his obsessive detailing of Crowley’s homosexual activities. Regardie seems both sickeningly fascinated by this part of Crowley’s life and it is a bit off putting. I remember at one part of his interpretation he goes out of his way to make sure to note that the Near East offered a plethora of opportunities for Crowley to explore homosexual relationships. I forget if he mentions that much of Crowley’s homosexual-orientalism was merely an adoption of Sir Richard Burton’s. As this has stuck with me throughout the years I wonder if that is where RAW picked up that detail as well.

Just as Gay’s play intersperses vulgarity amongst its character’s lamentable states of being, John’s drunken inner monologue is periodically interrupted by happening in the main barroom as the dregs of society gather to celebrate their lowly station in the world. Here John finds himself in Castaneda’s wilderness or the Buddhist’s carrion-ground as he drinks himself deeper into the world of regret and confusion. Let us hope his Author’s scroll allows him to stagger home without meeting Macheath.

And now our other hero’s cracks are showing as well. In some ways Sigismundo seems to be coming closer to liberation as he contemplates selfhood, language, history, and memory: “Uncle Pietro had encouraged “Sigismundo” -- that is, the invisible being manifesting on this plane under the name “Sigismundo”-- to read Vico, when he was only fourteen, before he did any travelling. That was wise, Vico made clear that every group of men and women is a separate reality-neighborhood...All reality grids were created by people talking to each other. They make their history out of forgotten poems…”

The process continues and it seems as if his jailers are putting him in some sort of psychic centrifuge, separating the robot and the higher facilities. That stinks of danger. The footnotes begin interrupting the narrative incessantly as the reader begins to find themselves drawn deeper into these mad circumstances. “De Selby defined ‘existence’ (he did not believe in ‘the universe’ as an object) as ‘the sum total of such states as encountered and endured, before magnification or exaggeration by the instinct to gossip’” Magic is a disease of language.

no wife, no horse, no moustache

From Eric: “Monday, 1/27, marks Mozart’s birthday, so I thought we would use his Masonic Funeral Music:


Eric Wagner said...

Calling Dr. Johnson. Any thoughts on Vico and this novel in 2020?

Lvx15 said...

“Darling Alice,
You really are a contemptible bitch!...”

Thus began the letter that ended Regardie’s relationship with Crowley.

I think there is more than sick fascination behind how homosexual behavior is dealt with in Regardie’s book. It’s certainly not handled as it would be today but hey that book is 50 years old.

Oz Fritz said...

Chapter 17

17 = the path of Zayin = Gemini, the twins = The Lovers (Tarot). In this chapter Babcock agonizes over the dual nature of his love life. RAW again puts an aristocrat, Babcock, into a preterite setting, the Irish bar, where both Babcock and the reader get a good taste of that social strata from the nicknames bartender Mother Damnable uses to greet her regulars.

The Lovers card also indicates the beginning of an Alchemical process, the first footnote in the chapter begins by describing "the basic alchemical process."

I mentioned earlier that excessive male, primate energy wreaks havok in the subtler realms of the body of Nuit should it ever get that far. These three short paragraphs suggest that to me:

"Furthermore and in addition to that, I call your attention to the scandals connected with the Hell Fire Club which are well known to the general, and included the distinguished Earl of Sandwich as an eager participant, at least until the orangutan bit him.
I add significantly that the Bible itself says all men are sinners.
'Why damn my eternal soul, it's Dick Stickpigs," Mother Damnable howled in the main room. Sir John took another strong swig and addressed the wall again: ..."

On a different level, as a wild guess: could Dick Stickpigs reveal RAW's opinion of Alan Ginsberg who suspected our Beloved Author to be a government informant? Ginsberg, of course, appears most famous for his poem Howl.

Chapter 18. 18 is the number of The Moon Tarot trump. Sigismundo enters the lunar sphere:

"Oh yes, I am Sigismundo Celine, not the man in the moon. But then he was the main in the moon. Earth was a distant light in the sky far, far away. Various famous Lunatics were gathered around explaining moon-logic to him."

De Selby gets identified wit the Tao in one footnote: "As Prof. Han says ("De Selby Te Ching", p.31) ..."

" 'Then what did the Knights Templar find in the Temple of Solomon?'
'The birth certificate.'

This seems symbolic, did they even record birth certificates back then? Could there be a birth certificate for Jesus floating around? My wild guess is that the Knights Templar found the Seal of Solomon in the Temple of Solomon, aka the Star of David. This could be considered a birth certificate of sorts.

Alias Bogus said...

Not sure why the teachers/tormentors keep calling him “Joseph”. Trying to turn him into his father, Joseph Balsamo, perhaps.

As Bob works on several levels, any choice of name seems likely to have been thought about a lot.

It could have something to do with the bloodline (Joseph, Jesus’s dad, and his royal geneaology…)

It even seems possible some loose echo of Joseph Malik (?) – during the out of time moments – as he was involved with the deprogramming of Saul and Barney, including confusion of one of the doctors.

And then we have Joseph of Arimathea, first guardian of the Holy Grail (whatever that might refer to). Joseph put Jesus in a cave, from which he vanished. Apparently rumours had it that Joseph himself escaped (mysteriously) from a jail.

And maybe even we have a small reference to the enlightened despot Emperor Joseph II, friend of the Freemasons?
With regards to the other low life names, in the Irish pub, Doll Cutpurse does evoke Doll Tearsheet (from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2).
I confess that the interrogation by the Lunatics puzzles me. More hallucinations of solitude, or a twisted labelling of his real experiences? He still can’t guess the identity of The Widow’s Son…

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I read ahead in the book (I couldn't wait any longer) and found that Sigismundo does finally figure out the identity of the Widow's Son. Patience!

I am from Oklahoma, and the failure of Penn Square Bank was a big deal. The crash was connected with a recession in the energy industry. Oil and gas are big industries in Oklahoma, and there are big boom and bust cycles associated with petroleum.

Rarebit Fiend said...

LVX15- You are correct. I was merely reacting while writing.

Alias- Excellent connection with Doll Tearsheet, I knew there was something I was missing. Henry IV, Part I is my favorite History and probably in my top three plays.

Oz- Your Dick Stickpigs/Ginsberg connection is tempting. I love it.