It is surprisingly difficult to find depictions of Washington with red hair.
Week Three: Chapter 3 “Revolutions and Witty Sayings” (pg. 35-48)
By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
This chapter is one of the more Joycean I’ve read in RAW’s novels aside from the direct patiches of “The Penelopiad” and “Circe” in Illuminatus! and Masks of the Illuminati respectively. There’s still plenty of RAW’s voice in the chapter and the combination of their prose styles is beautiful. For instance: “A mystery in blue silk European gentlemen’s clothing sat in a shadowy corner, stirred, translated a glass from the table to its lips. Clinking clank the glass was returned to the table, and a sun glint crept through the window as silently as a burglar to flash sudden golden-purple on the red wine.”
And in that this is taking place in a publican’s tavern, the discussion of Ireland, cynical sentimentalism, and dreadful History all tie back into Joyce. When Sigismundo growls “God save us all from history” that could have been, with less aggression, an exchange between Stephen Dedalus and Headmaster Deasy. Consider also the slightly romantic language that Sigismundo and James use with each other and we can see another, albeit non-paternal, parallel to Bloom and Dedalus towards the end of Ulysses.
Like Bloom and Dedalus, Sigismundo and Moon are wayfarers who have found a brief port before heading off toward different horizons. The reader already knows, aside from the similarities of being brought up in an occupied land, how similar these two tortured souls are in some ways and RAW does an excellent job of reflecting this during their conversation. It is enough to make me wish that there was a way for the two to be reunited, because both of them desperately need a friend. For now, however, Sigismundo “ah Malatesta” is moving towards the Northwest Territory by way of a fictitious trip to New Orleans and Seamus is introduced to a man he can follow at the end of the chapter.
We’ll have a lot of fun talking about RAW’s portrayal of Washington in the weeks to come. As Eric and Oz have pointed out, he bears striking similarities to Washington in Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. (The recently deceased critic Harold Bloom considered Mason & Dixon to be Pynchon’s masterpiece. While I personally preferred Against the Day, it is an amazing novel with the most delightfully named narrator a reader could ask for. (Also I don’t give a shit about ending sentences with prepositions if that hasn’t become apparent yet. English teacher!)) I wrote my Modern Novel seminar’s capstone on the similarities between Pynchon and Wilson so I actually have some material on this...oddly enough I hadn’t read Nature’s God when I was in the class and drew mostly on passages from Sex, Drugs, and Magick and Illuminatus!. I mention this because Eric points out in his foreword that one of the biggest similarities between Pynchon and Wilson’s Washington is that both portrayals are semi-permanently stoned; the reason for this, aside from possible author-influence, is historical fact brought up in the Appendixes of Illuminatus!. Washington was a prodigious hemp grower and his journals clearly indicate he was interested in female flowering plants which are not used for hangman’s nooses or whatever ghoulish excuses square historians have tried to come up with and instead are only required for consuming cannabis. More on this later!
On Washington in this chapter: I don’t know about Washington’s cursing but I imagine that a seasoned military man and frontiersman wouldn’t necessarily be afraid to fully express himself. However, I should note that Washington liked acting the role of a reluctant, Cincinnatus-style leader but had been showing up at the Continental Congresses in full military dress since the first day. While this quandary is complicated by Washington’s personal writings, I think that we can safely say that one doesn’t end up leading a fledgling nation without a little bit of ambition.
Chapter 3 ends with a leap forward to 1968 where, as we see in Illuminatus!, Simon Moon and Hagbard Celine will join historical events with William S. Burroughs, Ginsberg, Shea and Wilson, along with Ed Sanders in protesting the nomination of Hubert Humphreys as the Democratic candidate for President. Curious how writing that sentence reminds me so much of this year’s election.
Sigismundo’s variation of “The Derry Air '' is regarded by Moon to be more mournful and hauntingly fragile than the original. Eric has selected the original for us this week: