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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okFlNAl7HQQ”