Saturday, November 23, 2013

On Aimless Wandering

Let us wander without aim. We’ll wander long and deep into the night and we’ll find many wondrous things therein.

Aimless wandering is a purely intuitive art. There exists a hidden cartography, an orientation of the irrational, by which the wanderer follows the trace of destiny through places both familiar and unknown. All known routes are surrendered at the outset of the journey, the stated objective of which is to attain to flavors as yet untasted by the soul. To the wanderer, every place is the destination, every moment as a wine distilled purely for their indulgence, a wine of a particular fragrance heretofore unknown and never to be known again. The rarest and most hidden treasures are to be found by accident, given only to those without clear aim, who have set out on a route inscrutable. To sin is to miss the mark – but how can one miss is aim is never taken? In wandering, one is wholly without sin. It is the last of the purely innocent arts.

It has been told that if you wander its streets and byways at every hour of the day and night, explore its hidden passageways, allows its secret voice to reverberate deep within your soul as you submerse yourself into its Mysteries, you will at length come to discern the Kabbalistic heart of the city. There you will find the terrible and the sublime. Allow the essence of this hidden heart into your own and you will come to know the heart of every city, from Detroit to Golgonooza.

In ritual, one must orient oneself in accordance with the winds, with the cardinal points, with the rotation of the planet relative the sun and moon and with the stars. Aimless wandering and symbolic orientation are as the Aleph and the Tau of the lost art, while Mem is the tongue of balance between them. Taken all together, we have the word AMeTh – “truth”. This is the word that the golem of Prague bore upon its forehead. If the capacity for aimless wandering is removed, the result is MeTh – “death”. I would suggest that we keep this well in mind. 

Some thoughts on the corresponding art of orientation may be found here

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Works of Sublimity and Mystery: Incidents in the Night by David B.

David B. - Incidents in the Night
Uncivilized Books (Published originally in French as Les Incidents de la Nuit by L’Association)

Ah, to hold within your hands at last a rare and long sought after book. There are books and periodicals that have been all but forgotten, having attained almost to the status of myth. Is not a myth more exalted than the real thing in some cases? After all, myths endure, while paper decays with time. How many people in our day and age have held within their hands one of the few remaining copies of Giodano Bruno's 'Sapphiro Regia Stellantis', or Lautremant's 'La Paon Infernal'? It is often lamented among collectors of rare books that the internet has destroyed much of the joys of collecting, that any book may now be had by anybody willing to put up the money. Yet this is not entirely true. There still exist certain rare volumes which are spoken of only in hints and rumors, nearly (if not completely) unknown online, not to be found on Ebay at any time. 

Incidents in the Night by David B. is a book-lovers dream in graphic novel form. It is the first of what looks to be two volumes. The fictitious periodical which is its subject and from which it takes its name is an invention worthy of Borges. Perfectly plausible, yet (so far as I can ascertain) entirely mythical. The contents of the first volume of the magazine are described in just enough detail within the narrative to give the phantom a hint of substance, to make us feel as though it might be nearly possible to obtain a copy of one of these elusive treasures for ourselves. 

There is yet another book described within this one. Its text consists simply of the letter ‘N’ repeated over and over across the blinding glare of the otherwise empty page. I am reminded of the story ‘N’ by Arthur Machen, which would seem to partake of a theme related to the context in which this book appears. This single letter, taken alone as a signifier, is of interest in itself. In English, it might be taken to refer to the compass point, affiliating it with the magnetic currents of the earth and allowing it to indicate a clear direction of travel. North has always been the direction of mystery, if not for any other practical reason than the fact that, in times past, the climate of the far north made it largely inaccessible. At the extreme north, far beyond the reach of our corporeal nature, lies the pole star around which the heavens revolve. The mystics of Islam, in their cartography of the soul, associated the north with the darkness at the approach to the pole, the sun at midnight in who's invisible light the aspiring mystic is annihilated in the consciousness of the Divine One. The Hebrew letter N signifies the fish, that which is able to survive within the depths of the sea. The sea may be taken to represent the unmapped regions of the unconscious, void of structure, wherein the rational mind cannot abide. This is the place of pure intuition or knowledge of the soul. The human part of us is drowned in this place; only that part of us which is signified by the glyph of the fish may survive in this environment. Interestingly, this book within a book consisting only of the letter ‘N’ is titled ‘The Desert’, which, as with the depths of the sea and the polar regions, acts as a sort of terra inaccessible to that which is most human in us. There is here an association with the forbidden and the impossible, with death and the transcendence of death.

N is also a negation, a nonentity, a cancellation. It represents the signification of a thing by its absence. This mythical book would seem to stand opposed to the Rosicrucian Book M or Liber Mundi, often taken to represent the whole of manifestation as cosmic book. Liber Mundi bears much in relation to the creation myth presented to us in the Sepher Yetzirah, in which the universe is formed by the engraving of 22 primordial letters on the void, and their subsequent permutation. Perhaps this Liber N, then, takes the form of the shadow of the book of the Rosicrucians: it is the void itself, a book containing no words, pages or letters, no light, no truth, nothing whatsoever.

The appearance of the book 'N' in the present work seems to bear the weight of all of these associations. It is enigmatic, consisting of more than the sum of its parts, and at the same time elusive and omnipresent - perhaps it is better if it is never adequately explained.  

The story presented in this book blends admirably the heights of myth with the depths of pulp fiction and noir. It hints at hidden symmetries and the primacy of the unwritten (and, in this case, the unseen). I eagerly look forward to volume 2.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Works of Sublimity and Mystery: O Altitudo by Thomas Strømsholt

Thomas Strømsholt - O Altitudo
Ex Occidente Press, limited to 100 hand numbered copies

One of only three books released in this particular format under the Les Éditions De L'Oubli imprint of Ex Occidente Press (subsequent L'Oubli editions are printed in an entirely different format). A wee tiny little book, beautifully produced. The book has the feel of an imaginary object, a volume extant only in the libraries of Borges or Stanislaw Lem, a book that you want so badly to exist, to hold within your hands, but which by its very nature will be denied to you. Except that in this case it is real, albeit only in a very limited edition. 

There are four stories contained herein: In Search of the Hidden City, The Auwisnat Transfigurations, The Émigré Emperor, and The Furnished Room. Each one is sublime, but it is the first of the four stories that I find myself coming back to again and again.

In Search of the Hidden City is a story that might exist within my dreams. I often dream of stories read and half-remembered, books consisting only of impressions or aesthetic traces which, for all of their immateriality, leave their mark upon my sleeping soul such that the atmosphere of the phantom book remains in memory long after every other detail of the dream has faded. A story in a dream might mingle and blend with the narrative experience of the dreamer. Just so with this story – have I not wandered through some of the spaces detailed therein? I could swear that it’s possible, but when might it have been, and where? A topology of a phantom city, indeed. 

"She saw houses flicker like grinning ghosts in the violet hour. She saw their featureless facades flake away like old skin revealing their brittle bones; a concrete block of flats opened its flat gaze towards the pale blue sky, its tiles swelling to form a voluptuous cupola; an office building was slowly enveloped in an embrace of lush ivy and blossoming periwinkle; and whichever way she turned her eyes, walls grew extravagant ornaments and carved figures…"

Another book is contained within the pages of this one, if only in the form of a partial description. It is called The Copenhagen Peregrinations, and it was written in the late 19th century by Tajny Pruvodce. I highly doubt that it could possibly exist as a real book in the exact format in which it is presented here, and a brief search for its author bears no fruit. But what I would not give to peruse its pages!

This story is long steeped in Mystery and Sublimity, yet is also shot through with depravity and unease. The result is singular and intoxicating, at once audacious and inexplicably familiar. It leaves a resonance upon my palette not unlike that left by my first taste of fine, strong liquor.

"And yet, after three days of meandering about the curved streets, Elaine had a nagging feeling that the quarter was larger than it should be…"

The remaining stories strive toward the perfection of the first, and indeed each comes close in its own particular way. Strømsholt has produced what looks to be a fair amount of published work in his native Danish, but very few pieces in English (so far as I know, none of his Danish writing has been translated). The strictly limited nature of this release does not make it an easy item to track down. It is currently sold out with the publisher, though copies of the book do occasionally turn up in the used book market for a not unreasonable price. As with all Ex Occidente books, the rarity of this item is part of its charm, its mystery. Seek it out. If you do manage to find it, the long sought after artifact will be worth far more to you than if you had simply placed an order on Amazon. 

Dream of an Impossible Hotel

I wandered through a hotel diverse and miraculous. It seems that I had lived there as a child, and indeed it bore some of the features of one of the apartment buildings in which I grew up, along with some distinctive traces of a building in which I spent a handful of my formative years.

Paper figures, delicately painted and folded, lived and moved in opulent rooms and hallways interspersed with dank cellars with leaky, rusted pipes. I passed by a red velvet lounge, railed round with wrought iron, accessible via a curving staircase of ivory steps and tended by a woman made of clattering wooden boxes. The boxes which comprised her body were very delicate, inscribed with scripts of gold and silver, inset with jewels, graced with intricate handles; they opened and closed in gentle unison with her movements as she wiped down the bar and arranged the glasses.

Elsewhere waiters constructed entirely from mysterious playing cards and decorated with characters in an unknown language carried trays bearing exotic concoctions. Everybody everywhere was in costume, wondrous and full of mystery. An aristocracy of wooden puppets intermingled with figures of beautiful destitution. A woman made from painted sticks and rags sang sonorously, her voice meandering over balconies and through half-hidden gratings. 

I was searching for my apartment, unable to find it within the labyrinthine hallways. Retracing my steps, I found that the hotel was in a state of constant flux, never retaining its form in any one place for very long. I wondered if it had always been this way, perhaps I'd simply never noticed in as a child. I vaguely recalled that the place was created as an homage to some fabulous movie, long since forgotten by almost everybody, yet still cherished by few. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Angels of Obscurity: Alice Cooper – Pink Elephants / Journey to the End of the Night

Alice Cooper – Pink Elephants / Journey to the End of the Night 7” Single
Editions Dada (limited edition of 101), 1971


Lurching from the absurd to the sublime with the staggering gait of a drunken sailor, Pink Elephants consists of 3 distinct movements, each having little or no obvious relation to the other. The song opens with Alice singing a cappella, a rough but jaunty tune describing the destructive arc of four pink elephants on a rampage. Softly, softly the music fades in: a carnival orchestral which rises in intensity as the lyrics become increasingly nonsensical, only to come to a jarring halt just at the moment when things reach full swing. The second movement is a beautiful acoustic guitar piece graced by howls of derision from the band. At length the guitar winds itself down like a broken music box, leaving us with screams and yowls of joy or torment as they were white hot sparks of naked terror under penetrating moonlight for all of their rawness and intensity. Tender moments of silence are broken occasionally by shrieks and mutterings incomprehensible, whispered phrases fade in and out like deranged moths in a runaway subway car. The third and final movement resembles an Alice Cooper song proper, complete with full band and vocals. The lyrics follow the nocturnal perambulations of a retired civil servant who harbors a terrible secret, wandering through lost alleyways and deserted boulevards under the stars, communing with “angels of cinderblock and grammars of the midnight sun.” Overall, a powerful and beautiful piece, as compelling as it is perplexing.

Journey to the End of the Night seems to be a re-working of Return of the Spiders from the Easy Action LP. This version is quite a bit more fleshed out then the original, and features completely different lyrics. As in the original, the song is propelled by a steady driving riff, as if charting the perilous course of a train hurtling into the depths of a starless winter night through uncertain territory. The song is clearly an homage to Céline’s classic work. Direct quotes from the book find their way into the lyrics, which are spoken more than sung. The song rises to heights of violence and intensity unknown to the band at the time of the recording of Easy Action, though at no point does it surge off the tracks completely. Indeed, the course is maintained throughout, and the train rolls at last into the safety of the awaiting station.

Extremely rare, this one of twelve Editions Dada releases, each of which were distributed privately in a limited edition in the early 1970s. The song titles are only partly visible on the right hand side of the record sleeve, while the hand-stamped ‘DADA’ logo appears on the lower left corner (as with all Editions Dada releases). The b-side is plain and unadorned save for the lower half of the titles. Hijinks of this sort are typical of the Dada imprint. This lost gem fell into my hands at a very late stage of my fanaticism. The first of my Editions Dada finds (I’ve since found 5 more), I stumbled upon it quite by accident long after I thought that I had tracked down every last Killer era Alice Cooper outtake and bootleg to be had. Imagine my surprise.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Angels of Obscurity: Public Image Ltd. – Behemoth / The Rite of Spring

Public Image Ltd. – Behemoth / The Rite of Spring 12” EP
Bastardo (unknown edition, clearly limited), 1980

I am quite certain that Behemoth is the most unfathomable piece ever produced by Lydon & co. (in this case, Levene, an un-credited Martin Atkins on drums, and perhaps others). Thundering bass drums accompany a cacophonous stream of what sounds like Tibetan ritual horns issuing sustained blasts which weave in and out of an exotic tapestry of exasperated anguish. Lydon’s shrill vocals howl with reckless abandon over the top of it all. The lyrics, consisting of a sort of prose poem in the style of Rimbaud at his most contentious, are at times submerged completely beneath the blasphemous tide (for there is nothing holy in this, at least not in the conventional sense), only to reemerge as if soaring with vengeance toward an invisible sun of penetrating diamond. There is much mystery and beauty in this, agonizing through it may be. At precisely the 2:22 mark, it all comes to a dead stop, followed by exactly one minute of silence. The piece is then wrapped up with a tremulous whimper from Lydon, fading into the all-consuming nothingness of eternal night.

The Rite of Spring is perhaps more along the lines of what might be expected to follow the art-damaged dirges of Metal Box. A rolling and meandering bass line carries twisted melodies wrenched indifferently from Levine’s guitar accompanied by a smattering of drums. The lyrics document an erotic encounter of a quite unusual kind, lacking neither affection nor disdain, perhaps inspired by Cavani’s ‘The Night Porter’ (Lydon mentioned the film as an inspiration in an interview for French TV sometime in late 1979). The ‘Rite’ in question bears no relation to Stravinksy’s Rite as far as I can tell, though it does seem to involve the letting of blood (or is that a strained metaphor?) Overall, a nice addition to the PIL oeuvre, but is it indeed a love song?

I have yet to track down a single item released on the mysterious Bastardo imprint other than this long lost Gnostic gem. The internet remains mostly mums about the whole affair, discounting the occasional oblique mention deep within the bowels of Usenet (from what I can gather, the entire operation was run out of a basement somewhere in Belgium). I scored my copy from a loquatious and rather opinionated war veteran (or so he claimed) who worked a record booth in a flea market in SeaTac, WA. Shockingly, he had not a single good thing to say about the gentleman who’d brought the item in the day before, nor did he approve of my choice of footwear.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Angels of Obscurity: Dead Kennedys – The Typewriter with a Missing Key / Geiger Counter

Dead Kennedys – The Typewriter with a Missing Key / Geiger Counter 12” Single
Cherry Red, Secret Stash edition (limited to 111 pressings), 1979

The a-side of this rare unearthed punk gem lies somewhere between condemnation and satire, with perhaps a smattering of admiration thrown in for good measure. What are we to make of the poet-philosopher-cum-soldier Gabriele d’Annunzio? He turned the city of Fiume into a dada insurrectionist state in 1919, playing a sort of delirious master of ceremonies while Italian troops surrounded the city, perhaps themselves too perplexed and/or amused by d’Annunzio’s antics to take back the city by force. The lyrics seem to celebrate the conjunction of the artist and the psychopath, while at the same time recognizing the catastrophic effect such a conjunction brings to bear upon the lives subjected to it. The track begins with a militant drum beat before the caustic bass line sets in, followed by Biafra’s acidic vocals. The enigmatic title is somewhat of a mystery, perhaps Jello knows something we don’t? Indeed, I’m told that this record originally came with a reproduction of an English tabloid article from the time in which the events concerned occurred, but alas, mine is missing. Perhaps they might provide clue? Any further information would be greatly appreciated.

On the b-side, Geiger Counter recounts the wanderings of what may be the last man on earth as he searches for post-nuclear survivors while trying to avoid areas contaminated with heavy radiation. A slow and sonorous song fraught with reverb and echo, Jello’s voice pierces through the dense fog of sound like a dagger plunged into gasmask. The lyrics grow increasingly frantic and scattered as the song goes on, succumbing at last to a frenzy of paranoia inclined to gibberish. Pounding drums and jarring guitar lines pick up the pace at the very end, intensifying exponentially as the song fades to an icy silence which continues for a good 15 seconds before the needle reaches the inner limit of the vinyl.

This record is truly a lost gem. Good luck tracking down a copy! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Angels of Obscurity: Black Sabbath - Sister Ray / Seraphim

Black Sabbath – Sister Ray / Seraphim 7” Single
Minotaur Records (distributed from Belgium), 1971

Slowed down quite a few notches and beset with a heaviness far exceeding that of the original, Black Sabbath’s cover of The Velvet’s ‘Sister Ray’ is nothing short of haunting. The chorus surges forth relentlessly like a storm tossed sea as the vessel thereon heaves to and fro under a starless sapphire sky, ever threatening to lose control as towering waves roll and break with the vengeance of an insane god. Ozzy wails Reed’s lyrics with reckless abandon tempered with a monotonous tremor reminiscent of such classics as Electric Funeral and Lord of this World. I would never have thought that a phrase so ludicrous as “too busy sucking on a ding-dong” could be delivered to such chilling effect.

Seraphim is a paean to the many-eyed, six-winged fiery serpents encountered by the Jewish people as described in the Old Testament Book of Exodus. The first half of the song features Ozzy’s lurid descriptions of the fiery angels interspersed with short licks from Iommi’s guitar, while the second half kicks into high gear, depicting the descent of the angels onto a sleeping city and the resulting havoc which befalls its terror-stricken inhabitants. The whole thing is simply beautiful, featuring some of the most poetic lyrics in the whole of Sabbath’s repertoire.

This hidden gem is easily the jewel in Minotaur Records’ crown. As with all in the Minotaur Special Dispatch series, this was extremely limited, and has never since been repressed. Perhaps it will be released as part of a retrospective package someday. Or perhaps not, as the band seems to have written it out of their history. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Notes on Dhalgren, Chapter 7: The Anathemata: a Plague Journal

The condition of paranoia is one in which meaning is attributed to arbitrary occurrences, disparate elements are tied conspiratorially together, and patterns are superimposed onto chaos. This is a state that is somewhat intrinsic to the way in which the human psyche works. Meaning is generally understood to be ephemeral; it is not something that has inherent existence in any one thing or another. Rather it is imposed, a matter of interpretation. The mind has always had a tendency to contextualize all signals. Chaos is not permitted in the human psyche. The soul deprived of meaning simply creates meaning of its own; this is true in both for the artist and the paranoiac, and no less for the most vulgar among us.

Literature bears much in common with mental illness. The reader is compelled to draw connections between disparate events and feelings, to become convinced that a higher order exists within the variety of the narrative, and to seek some grand solution to the matter. Perhaps the reader, while immersed in the story, even feels that they are just on the verge of grasping that solution. Kidd explains as much during his psychiatric evaluation with Madame Brown as he glances uneasily at the scar on her leg, noting again the chain she bears as he fingers his own.

“When I was in the hospital - “ remembering, I smiled – “I used to have a friend who’d say: ‘When you’re paranoid, everything makes sense.’ But that’s not quite it. It’s that all sorts of things you know don’t relate suddenly have the air of things that do. Everything you look at seems just an inch away from its place in a perfectly clear pattern.”

The very motifs that appear in both narrative and in mental illness are also present in the initiatory ordeal. In fact, the whole of the book might be considered as an extended initiation in which Kidd plays the parts of both initiate and Hierophant. Kidd’s quest for the Lost Word may be taken also as the journey to adulthood, roughly taking the form of the Ouroboros in much the same way as does Finnegan’s Wake.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s all just meaningless after all. Delany certainly seems to take his pleasure in walking the knife edge between meaning and chaos. We are presented, within the depths of the final chapter, with a string of nonsense phrases from Kidd’s journal. About halfway through the journal entry in question we find the phrase, “I have come to wound the autumnal city”, suggesting that all of the meaning which we have attributed to this cryptic proclamation may be mistaken, that the phrase is simply the result of free-association after all, as meaningless as any of the epithets which surround it (“Pavement sausages split; the cabbage remembers. […] Fondle my noodle, love my dog. […] Pentacle pie in hunger city…”)

Several among the artists of the avant-garde over the last century (the anathematized) have attempted to escape the bounds of the narrative art. Some have attempted to capture the dizzying chaos of life, while others have striven to reach beyond all that we know and all that we are. While the avant-garde has often succeeded at providing a change in perspective for the reader or viewer, it has never quite managed to destroy the classical techniques against which it has striven. It has failed to wound the autumnal city. The human psyche cannot escape its own context, its own tendency to endow all that it encounters with meaning, to tie the sensory data that is presented to it into some sort of pattern. Our experience is all bound up with the process of interpretation, leaving us powerless to perceive the naked truth of the matter. The truth is that we do not perceive the world directly, but rather through a series of mirrors, prisms and lenses of our own making.

Within the space of seven rambling chapters, making liberal use of great beauty and banality, explicit sex and violence, long drifts of unnavigable ruin amidst the shifting streets of a hostile city, Delany has shown us, by way of example, a ubiquitous governing principal which regulates all signals, and to which we are inextricably bound. It is up to us to decide whether we wish to hide behind this principal, to use it as a weapon, or wield it as a tool, whether we wish to take our place in the endless narrative as victim, oppressor, or initiate.

“Pray with me! Pray! Pray that this city is the one, pure, logical space from which, without being a poet or a god, we can all actually leave if – what?”

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Notes on Dhalgren, Chapter 6: Palimpsest

A palimpsest is a piece of writing (commonly – though the term is sometimes used to refer to other media, even architecture) which has been written over an older text, such that at least some of the previous text can be detected. It is a blending of past and present, often unintentional, as the past bleeds through the text that was intended to obliterate it. All narrative necessarily partakes of this dynamic, building as it does on previously established themes, cultural constructs, and the personal experiences of the narrator among other things. The avant-garde, especially insomuch as it tends to attempt a break with past forms, is palimpsestic in nature. It cannot escape its roots no matter how hard it tries, and its struggles merely bind it more tightly to its origins.

Dhalgren often reads like a stochastic mixture of pulp and literature, never quite settling comfortably into any particular genre, long passages drifting unsteadily in no discernible direction, having the same disregard for narrative formality that we find in our own lives, yet revealing a common set of themes in a manner which marks the difference between life and art. The book dispenses with narrative tropes, yet embraces them in more subtle ways. It is almost as if Delany were trying to demonstrate the fact that there is no escape from traditional notions of theme and recurrence in art.

In this chapter, Kidd finds a warehouse filled with the very objects that have most mystified, identified, and transformed him throughout the story: boxes of mirror/prism/lens chains, animal light balls, brass orchids and red eyes. These objects, endowed with significance and power, would seem to be reduced to commonplace novelties, shattering any trace of meaning within Kidd’s mind.

On the other hand, they may be seen as props to be used in a sort of initiation. Initiatory props have no significance outside of their ritual context, yet within that context they contain great transformative power. A sheaf of wheat, commonplace in itself, was said to be shown to initiates at the climax of the Eleusinian Mysteries, resulting in cathartic transformation. It is as if Kidd has been engaged thus far in a ritual reenactment of the Masonic search for the lost Word. He has now been shown the holy of holies, shattering his illusions and suggesting perhaps that his Word is just a common name after all. But is this the final revelation, or is there more to come? Will further revelations reverse the meaning of this mystery as this one has done to those which were revealed before it? Kidd wonders briefly if he will forget the incidence, but ultimately acknowledges that it has left a mark on him: “More likely it is one of those things that I will never be able to speak of, and never forget.” It is worth noting that Kidd steals a brass orchid from this holy chamber, as he were Mercury, the lord of thieves, or perhaps Prometheus stealing one last flame from heaven.

The endowing of an ordinary object with special power based on the context in which it is found relates again to the theme of the palimpsest. Delany seems to take delight in ambiguity – is the warehouse a Holy Temple of the Mysteries masquerading as a common building, or is it the other way around? Is the chain an initiatory mark or a simple decoration? Meaning is given and taken away in layers, each additional layer bearing in some way the significance or lack thereof of all of the layers beneath it. We are being shown, as in an initiatory drama, to find the hidden meaning inherent in our own lives and to descry the themes which dominate our existence, to find our own lost Word, and yet always to beware of regarding anything as absolute, to never be so rigid in our perceptions as to deny the possibility that life is meaningless after all.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Notes on Dhalgren, Chapter 5: Creatures of Light and Darkness

To wound the autumnal city is to upset the balance between light and darkness.

The themes of light and darkness run light a thread throughout every aspect of the book. A mirror is quite meaningless, after all, without any light to reflect. The same holds true for a lens or a prism, and light is defined by darkness.

In the creation myth recounted in Genesis, the stellar luminaries of the sun and moon divide the night from the day. In Bellona their enlarged twins loom large in the heavens and are adopted by its citizens as part of the city’s mythology. George is associated with the monstrous moon, the raw force of unrestrained sexuality. Countering this is the civilizing force of June, who circles around George like the moon ought to circle around the sun, but in Bellona all things are skewed and many things reversed. June doesn’t represent the established order so much as that which is entrenched within it, and it doesn’t seem quite right that she should be associated with the gigantic sun that strikes terror into the hearts of the inhabitants of the city (excepting Kidd). June, her name designating the month of summer solstice but rhyming with “moon”, seems more to indicate the moon’s moon, a satellite circling a satellite, not so much George’s consort as his follower. George’s true consort is Bellona Herself, and it is She who appears in the sky as a tremendous blazing light which stirs panic amongst the natives, just as it is She who sets the buildings afire, and She who brings the bombardment that finally causes Kidd to leave the city.

“But the arcane and unspoken name of what rose on this so extraordinary day, for which George is only consort, that alone will free you from this city!”

If the solar force, typically associated with light, represents poetic vision in both its creative and destructive aspects, the darker lunar force is more visceral, animal, and immediate. It is the experience of raw sexuality and violent impulse. Kidd maintains a foot in both worlds. He is truly a creature of light and darkness.  This is true even in the color of his skin (people generally assume that he’s of Native American descent). Part of the theme indicated by this particular chapter title is concerned with cultural assumptions regarding race, about which there is so much to say that it almost requires another set of essays to explore in full. Ambiguity is liberally employed to highlight the reader’s own preconceptions about race and culture.

The interplay of light and darkness is further demonstrated by the Scorpions, who hide themselves with light forms, veiling their bodies with those of animals. The shields used by the scorpions have little to do with the poet’s shield referred to by Newboy. Rather, these shields are employed to conceal instead of reveal. They form darkness out of light. If Calkins has a garden for each month, the Scorpions are like a wayward zodiac, forever circling around the house on the top of the hill, never allowed to enter except but once during the celebration for the publication of Kidd’s book of poems. The celebration itself appears to be a sort of equinox in which the light and the dark are brought together in equal measure. Again, there is a sense of ambiguity – is it the Scorpions or Calkins and crew who represent the darkness here? The Scorpions operate with little to no foresight, bound to their instincts as they drift rudderless along the shifting tides of the city of chaos. On the other hand, they are the true eyes and ears of the city, while Calkins serves as a false prophet of sorts, a beacon of misinformation desperately trying to maintain his hold over the minds of the populace.

The establishment and the counter-culture each maintain a hold on certain aspects of the light, while yet grasping at the parts they cannot quite reach. Both seem plunged, in equal measure, into their own particular darkness. Kidd appears to play the part of the wounded hero (a cultural icon who did indeed manage to manifest enough to make a discernible difference in the latter half of the 1960s). He has come to wound the Autumnal city, to shift the balance of light and darkness fortuitously against those who seek to control the flow of information so as to impose rigid limitations upon the culture. Or perhaps he’s simply another aimless wanderer, more at effect to the vacillations and unpredictability of the city that at any sort of cause, having as little say in the shifts of balance between light and darkness as the reader has in the events that occur throughout the course of the narrative. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Notes on Dhalgren, Chapter 4: In Time of Plague

Several parallels are drawn throughout the book between the nature of narrative and the experience of various types of mental illness. The fourth chapter is very much tied to the seventh (The Anathemata: A Plague Journal). The former explores the theme of mental illness insomuch as it relates to narrative, while the latter is more focused on narrative as it relates to mental illness.

The reference to ‘time’ in the chapter title refers, among other things, to Kidd’s tendency to lose significant stretches of time. Kidd seems to be entirely absent during the spaces of time which he has lost. Nobody sees or hears from him during these periods. It is as if he has simply vanished for a time, then re-appeared again some time afterward.

Kidd’s tendency to lose time is explicitly referred to as an illness in the book. Perhaps he’s simply experiencing a break in the narrative, a section of the story in which he doesn’t appear. In any story, there are times in which one character or another ceases to exist. The story follows other characters or jumps to a different time, and the character in question perhaps reappears later in the story. Can the character be said to persist when they are not being followed by the narrative, especially if there is no indication of what the character was up to during that time? A character in such a circumstance seems to exist in a kind of limbo. If something of this nature were to happen to a person in the outer world, a real person as opposed to a character in a story, their experience (or lack thereof) might resemble Kidd’s.

It seems that Delany may have endowed his protagonist with extra-narrative tendencies and abilities. Instead of receiving god-like powers, the character who has received these gifts is crippled by them, and can only relate to them as a sort of illness.

Somewhere in the middle of the fourth chapter, Kidd is doing a run on the shopping mall with several members of the Scorpions. At one point he gazes into a mirror and appears to see Delany himself reflected therein. The mystical experience of the created looking upon the face of its creator is deflated, for Kidd is merely confused by this and fails to attribute any special significance to the apparition. The symbol of the mirror is one of the main motifs of the book, and it’s clear that many of Kidd’s experiences are drawn from various points in Delany’s life, the former mirroring the latter. On the other hand, maybe the object through which Kidd and Delaney gaze upon each other isn’t a mirror at all but a lens. Or maybe it’s a prism, dividing a single light into the twin poles of creator and created, that each may be analyzed independently of the other.

Of further interest is the fact that Delany’s image in the mirror seems to be holding Kidd’s notebook. The notebook itself, containing as it does several of Kidd’s own thoughts, seems to have somehow found its way into the story from the outer world. The notebook seems to act almost as if it were a power object or fetish of some sort, bestowing upon Kidd his unasked for powers. Perhaps it is the very means of his ‘illness’. Delany is a cruel god to bestow such gifts on his creation. But then the gift of poetry is classically bound with some sort of affliction, so much so that it is often said to be an infernal rather than a divine gift.

The time of the plague, of course, refers also to the span of time during which Bellona is afflicted. At some point Bellona was presumably a relatively normal city. The constant fog that permeates the city is perhaps of the same nature as that of Kidd’s absent periods. The stars, those lights in the heavens which orient the traveler and aid in navigation, are almost entirely blotted out by clouds and smoke. It is impossible to see anything at a distance other than vague forms. It is this that allows the city to shift and re-arrange its streets and byways, for what is not known cannot me mapped or charted. Even when one is afforded a view of the city from an elevated place, whole stretches of it are blotted and obscured, the flare of burning buildings through the mist and smoke serve as wayward stars in an inverted night sky that drifts and strays according to no known plan or structure.

“The night? What of it. It is filled with bestial watchmen, travelling the extremities of the interstices of the timeless city, portents fallen, constellated deities plummeting in ash and smoke, roaming the apocryphal cities, the cities of speculation and reconstituted disorder, of insemination and incipience, swept round with dark.”

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Notes on Dhalgren, Chapter 3: House of the Ax

The name of the building that the Richards occupy, and with which much of the 3rd chapter is concerned, is The Labry Apartments. This bears a close resemblance to the word labrys, which is the term for a symmetrical double-headed axe which was originally found in Crete. The labrys is considered to be one of the oldest symbols of Greek civilization (it’s also curiously known as a “bipennis”).

The palace of Knossos, thought to be the place of the labyrinth in which Theseus fought the minotaur, was known as “The House of the Double Axe”. The palace was said to be made up of five great complexes of labyrinthine complexity, comprised of over one 1500 rooms. Deep within this network of buildings was hidden the ritual center. (Interestingly, Calkins’ complex has five towers in the back for servants, of which there are said to be fifteen).

“He had a momentary image of all these walls on pivots controlled by subterranean machines, so that, after he had passed, they might suddenly swing to face another direction, parting at this corner, joining now at that one, like a great maze – forever adjustable, therefore unlearnable – “

The theme of the labyrinth also calls to mind that of the quest. Kidd is, willingly or otherwise, immersed in a quest to find his lost name. This very much mirrors the Masonic quest involving the discovery of the lost Word. The name, as with the Word, would theoretically be found at the center of the labyrinth, which represents the end of the quest. Bellona presents itself as a labyrinth, with its shifting geography and seeming lack of consistency, and thus Kidd wanders through the city streets and living spaces. The thread he lays down, mirroring that of Ariadne who accompanied Theseus on his quest, is his poetry, written on the unused pages of the journal. It must be observed that he does indeed find his way back out of the maze by the end of the book. It seems that the journal contains parts of the book Dhalgren, offered to us perhaps as a thread by which to find our way back from the inner depths of the novel.

Later on in the book, in the final chapter, Kidd finds himself daydreaming while in the midst of orgasm. He pictures himself holding hands with someone, and “running among leafless trees laced with moonlight while the person behind me kept repeating: ‘…Grendal, Grendal, Grendal…” A short while later Kidd realizes that he’d arranged the syllables the wrong way. That the word that he’d heard repeated over and over was “Dhalgren”.  At this point in the book, it seems quite feasible that Kidd is in fact William Dhalgren, whose name appears listed among several others in the journal.

Several parallels exist between the story of Beowulf and Grendal and that of Theseus and the minotaur. The stories of Beowulf and Theseus each involve a character who comes to the aid of a city that is not the city in which he lives, and which is menaced by a mysterious beast. Each cross a body of water; Beowulf crosses a body of water to get to Denmark, and Theseus crosses the Aegean to get to the minotaur’s labyrinth. Beowulf swipes a magic sword from the treasury of Grendal’s mother and uses it to kill her as well as her wounded son. Theseus is directed, by his mother, to reclaim the sword of his father from beneath a stone as his birthright. Both heroes use their weapon to decapitate their enemy.

Kidd resembles both Theseus and Beowulf. The optical chain, found in a cave upon a rock ledge, is his weapon. With this weapon, Kidd defends the wasted city by analyzing the nature of the light which has destroyed it, as well as by reflecting that light and focusing it through a series of lenses.

Later on in the book it is strongly suggested that Kidd is not Dhalgren at all, that William Dhalgren is a reporter working for Calkins. Dhalgren as the reporter represents the enemy. Where Kidd allows himself to descend right down into the mud and muck of the labyrinth, grappling with it in all of its gritty chaos, the reporter chooses to stand back in an attempt to understand the city from afar. Kidd becomes directly involved with the light, using poetry not only in order to represent it in all of its rawness, but also to come to terms with it himself. The reporter, conversely, attempts to confine the light to ‘facts’, eschewing both poetry and direct experience. Kidd is the savage hero, and the reporter the civilized beast. Kidd’s poetry is intended as a wound to the engine of distortion presented by the press, which, in its quest for facts, distorts and ultimately loses touch with the true nature of the light of experience.

On second thought, perhaps Kidd is closer in nature to the beast. He has come to wound the city after all, not to defend it. Both Theseus and Beowulf become kings after having defeated their enemy. Beowulf, after defeating Grendal, returns to Geatland and there becomes the Lord of the Geats. Theseus, after defeating the minotaur, becomes the king of Athens. The name Theseus is thought to be descended from a Greek root word meaning “institution”. Kidd is certainly depicted as the enemy of institutions. Much of the book in fact is built upon the tension between the roles of Kidd and Calkins. The newspaper is the largest institution in Bellona, and Calkins clearly considers himself owner and king of the city. Kidd, on the other hand, quickly becomes somewhat of a legend, and is naturally adopted as the leader of the scorpions (ironically, since each member of the scorpions choses an iconic name, whereas Kidd’s has been given to him). Kidd is arguably the true, if unintentional, king of Bellona.

The ambiguity between hero and villain, king and usurper, outlaw and institution, is one of the keys by which to navigate the book, which itself appears as a labyrinth with seven centers instead of one.

“Like everything else in town, you just hear about it until it bumps into you. You have to put yourself at the mercy of the geography, and hope the down-hills and up-hills, working propitiously with how much you feel like fighting and how much you feel like accepting, manage to get you there. You’ll find it eventually.” 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Notes on Dhalgren, Chapter 2: The Ruins of Morning

Bellona is a city in ruins, a place in which civilization has collapsed. There are no laws, no official agencies, no government of any type. Even the laws of nature don’t run a stable course, the sun and moon behave erratically and the stars overhead are blotted out by smoke and fog. This is a place of total freedom. There are no guidelines, no social order, no justice. The days and months and years revolve upon the whim of Calkins, self-proclaimed overseer of the city, who himself seems to be completely out of touch with the people in it, secluding himself as he does within his mansion.

Every character in the book responds to the freedom of Bellona in a different way. Some keep to themselves, others form groups. Some are violent, others promiscuous. Some, such as the Richards, attempt to carry on as if nothing had happened. What meaning is to be found in the autumnal ruins must be created by the city’s inhabitants, and I think herein lies the key to the theme denoted by the title of the second chapter – when the rules and conventions by which we live fall away, what do we make of the wreckage?

The book itself is subject to this same freedom. It is unrestrained by the conventions of standard plot and narrative. Setting, exposition, central conflict, climax, resolution - all of these things have been laid to waste. The novel unfolds amidst the ruins of its elements. The book is the Bellona and Bellona is the book. As readers, we are left to find meaning amongst the wreckage in much the same way as are the city’s inhabitants.

Discerning meaning from chaos is the method of the diviner. The elements of chance and randomness in divination enable the fortuitous conjunction of intuition and narrative by which the unknown may be brought into greater light. The city of Bellona, and hence Dhalgren as a book, resembles a deck of tarot cards which has been shuffled. What meaning is to be found therein is up to the diviner, who must assemble the impressions laid before them into a coherent story.

This is not to say that there is no inherent meaning in the book. Rather, one of the methods by which the book is made to reveal itself is through the use of chance or randomness. This level of meaning is not entirely under the control of the author (or the reader, for that matter). There is nothing so chaotic as to completely eschew meaning. The human psyche is gifted with an amazing capacity to find a coherent narrative in anything. By presenting us with a city, and a book, in ruins, Delany has given us a rich field of chaos from which to derive something of worth that he as author could not provide in its entirety on his own.

The title of the second chapter of Dhalgren is a little tricky. I prefer to think that it refers to an event that occurred in the morning, leaving the city in ruins. An alternative would suggest that the ruins are found in the morning, and that they are presumably the result of a cataclysm that occurred in the night. The former interpretation suggests that it was none other than the rising of the sun, the shining of a devastating light, that wreaked havoc upon the city.

Imagine a city blinded by the light of greater awareness. The light slowly fades, but nobody can forget what they had seen. Most of the cities inhabitants leave town in an effort to forget the light and get on with their normal lives. Those that stay can never live the way they’d lived before. They are changed through and through. What remains of the city may be the ruins of morning, the unalterable result of the cataclysm of sunrise. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Notes on Dhalgren, Chapter 1: Prism, Mirror, Lens

Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren has been called “a riddle that was never meant to be solved.” I would contend that any book that has a “solution” is somewhat shallow. Literature at its best reveals depths of mystery in which any given solution merely gives way to greater depths. Mystery creates a debt which can only be repaid (though never in full) by engaging with the questions which it raises. In such engagement do we find meaning, the debt and its repayment being mere devices which serve to facilitate the art.

Seven distinct themes seem to run like rivers through Delany’s book. These themes are indicated by the chapter titles. The themes are interrelated, yet each stands on its own. Each is highlighted in its particular chapter, yet is explored throughout the whole of the book.

The chapters are as follows:
I           Prism, Mirror, Lens
II         The Ruins of Morning
III        House of the Ax
IV        In Time of Plague
V         Creatures of Light and Darkness
VI        Palimpsest
VII      The Anathemata: A Plague Journal

Somewhere in the depths of the 3rd chapter, the poet Newboy pontificates upon the “shield of the poet” as he calls it. On one side of the shield is written “be true to your art so that you can be true to yourself”, and on the other, “be true to yourself so that you can be true to your art”. The shield, he says, first appears as a mirror, then becomes a lens, and then a prism. So does the poet’s narcissism slowly transform into the means of observation, at length refining into an instrument by which the very nature of light itself may be analyzed.

In the title of the first chapter, it is the prism which comes first. A prism divides light into seven particular rays. It is fitting that the prism is indicated first in the chapter title, as the table of contents is the first thing in the book that the reader encounters. Delany seems to indicate that the seven themes that run throughout the book each have their source in a single light, but, in order to analyze the nature of that light, it must first be broken down into its constituent parts so that each part may be understood independent of the rest.

After determining and naming the components into which the light has been divided, it is indicated that this light will serve as a mirror. The mirror is intended to reflect the image not only of the reader and of the author, but also of the main character. After all, having forgotten his name, he is not without need of one. Lastly, the light will serve as a lens through which to see not only ourselves but something of the world in which we live.

Thus is the intent of the book encapsulated in three simple words. The fact that the main character (we’ll call him Kidd) has forgotten his name makes him an appropriate mirror for the reader. It’s easier to identify with a character that has no official name, just as it’s easier to identify with a simple image than it is with a complex image. The lack of particularity and distinction allow us to project our own image upon the ambiguity. The fact that Kidd is bisexual (and androgynously monikered) may be an attempt to allow readers of both sexes to identify, at least to some degree, with this character.

A river, reminiscent of the river Lethe, runs along the border of Bellona. A river makes a lousy mirror. The waters are ever flowing and constantly changing, unlike a pond who’s waters offer a still surface for reflection. This river, appearing as it does at the beginning and end of the book, calls to mind the first sentence of Finnegan’s Wake, which is wrapped around from the end: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”

The first sentence of the first chapter of Dhalgren, as with the Wake, is pregnant with a thousand meanings: “to wound the autumnal city.” Strangely, the first sentence doesn’t wrap around so perfectly with the last, “I have come to”. The ‘to’ is repeated. Is this a pun on ‘to’ and ‘two’? The result of the ‘wound’? A typo? It seems somehow fitting that the end of the book would jar ever so slightly with the beginning.

A city in the autumn of its years is a city who’s time is nearly up. Bellona is the name of a Greek Goddess who is also called the waster of cities. She has come to wound, indeed. Autumn is also the time of the equinox, a time when light and darkness are equal. After the autumnal equinox the light descends toward the time of greatest darkness in winter. Both aspects of autumn will be explored in greater depth in the analysis of the remaining themes. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ulysses, Chapter Fifteen: Circe

The word "parallax" appears several times throughout the book. It refers to the difference in the apparent position of an object as seen from two different points of view. The word is vaguely associated, in Bloom's train of thought, with the lost word of the Freemasons. The lost word bears some relation, as a principal, to the idea of the Logos as the divine utterance which gives rise to all created things. Interestingly, the Greek "Logos" became the Latin "ratio", which may be taken in this case to refer to the proportion between two differing points of view.

This concept appears as the contrast between Stephan and Leopold's hallucinatory vision in regards to the chandelier in the music room of the brothel. The chandelier, for Leopold, becomes the new Jerusalem, as well as the source of his forbidden sexual fantasies. The veil hung upon the chandelier keeps the moth from touching the bare bulbs, which is to say that it prevents the mystic from self-annihilation in Divine consciousness, and Bloom from plunging into depravity with unbridled lust. For Stephan, the chandelier is his dead mother, and the guilt he feels for refusing to pray for her as she was dying.

The ratio between these two points of view is the ratio between father and son, Macroprosopus and Microprosopus, the old and new testaments (and hence, the Jewish and Catholic Mysteries). As the Logos is the organizing principal of the cosmos, this ratio would then be the organizing principal of the book (to be taken with a grain of salt of course, as Joyce would never allow himself to be pinned down to a single organizing principal).

Now that father and son have officially met, Bloom gets his beloved key back (he receives them from a whore after giving her his talismanic potato). Both keys, the silver and the gold, are now his, but only in the visionary sense. The gates of the Mysteries both Greater and Lesser may be open, but the front gate of Bloom's house is not, and Bloom must enter into his own house by other means (this in the Ithaca chapter).

Stephan, in a drunken frenzy, strikes the chandelier with his ashplant with a cry of "Nothung!", which is the name of the magic sword in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelingen (literally translated as "needful" or "sword of need", the sword had been planted in a giant ash tree, hence the ashplant). Try as he may to plunge his "magic rood" into the "mystic rose", as it turns out he only manages to pierce the veil a little. The Lost Word remains mostly concealed, the Holy of Holies is inviolate, and order is soon restored.

Stephan's ashplant refers also in part to the nail, which is the literal meaning of the Hebrew letter Vau (as a word, Vau is also used to represent 'and', which is a word that joins two things together). In Rosicrucian symbolism, the nail fixes the volatile spirit to the cross of matter. Here, it plunges heedlessly into the heart of the Mysteries and sends it crashing into the floor. Our mystical son is still a tad bit immature. It seems just barely possible that, in due time, he and Milly will marry, thus uniting heaven and earth and allowing the rose to bloom on the cross. Joyce keeps all of the symbols slightly skewed. Nothing ever fits perfectly. His characters are not embodiments of archetypal principals as much as they are bound to partial expressions of them in endless variety. They cannot help but bring the mythical into the mundane, but never to completion. Some part of the mystery must always remain veiled.

It is worth noting that the nail also marks the point around which the heavens revolve. 

If the mock mass in the first chapter of the book is the rite of Stephan's exile (from the church, from art, from Ireland's roots, from himself - it is the exile of the son from Eden, or the Vau of Tetragrammaton from the heaven of the Supernal Sephiroth), then the black mass toward the end of this chapter signifies a re-admittance. Here Stephan is admitted into the Mysteries that have no church, ever reserved for wanderers and exiles. (Both rites are performed by Malachai Mulligan). The theme of the Occidental Exile comes to mind (see Suhrawardi), which is very much tied to the theme of the Wandering Jew, who taunted Christ as he hung upon the cross and was cursed to wander until the second coming. The Hymn of the Pearl from the apocryphal Acts of Thomas addresses the same theme, which is that of the spiritual wanderer in exile, forced to remain on the outside, unaware of his Divine origin, until such time as he is allowed back into the heavens of perfection. Stephan and Leopold are both depicted as key-less wanderers throughout the book. Neither of them are accepted by their peers. Of course, Leopold is more or less at peace with this, while Stephan is somewhat of a tortured soul.

Remembering that Bloom corresponds to the Yod of Tetragrammaton, the literal meaning of the letter seems to translate well to the symbols and motifs that surround him. Yod means "hand", which in Leopold's case is shown grasping the bar of perfumed soap for Molly, grasping the potato ("a talisman"), even grasping his own virile member. Yod is also the sperm and the phallus. The phallus of the father is seen at the end of chapter five ("floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands"), and the sperm is discharged onto his shirt in chapter thirteen.

Similarly, Heh means window. Molly is the first Heh in Binah, appearing always veiled between the sheets of the bed, except for a brief scene in the Wandering Rocks chapter in which only her hand is seen emerging from the window in order to throw a coin down to a one legged sailor. We do see Molly, but only through a tiny window. She gets a single chapter to herself.

Milly is the second Heh in Malkuth, characterized by her absence from the book, much like a window is characterized by the absence of wall.

Kinets Chien suggests that Leopold and Molly's first son, Rudy, who died at an early age, represents Da'ath, the false Sephira of "knowledge", the eleventh sphere of the tree of Sephiroth, who's spheres enumerate to "ten and not nine, ten and not eleven" according to the Sepher Yetzirah. 

Rudy suggests rudimentary. At the end of the Circe chapter, Rudy appears to bloom in a hallucinatory vision as he stands over the unconscious Stephan (who's been clocked most rigorously by an English militant).

"(Silent, thoughtful, alert, he [Bloom] stands on guard, his fingers at his lips in the attitude of a secret master. Against the dark wall a figure appears slowly, a fairy boy of eleven, a changeling, kidnapped, dressed in an Eton suit with glass shoes and a little bronze helmet, holding a book in his hand. He reads from right to left inaudibly, smiling, kissing the page.)" 

Bloom calls his name, "Rudy: (Gazes unseeing into Bloom's eyes and goes on reading, smiling. He has a delicate mauve face. On his suit he has diamond and ruby buttons. In his free left hand he holds a slim ivory cane with a violet bowknot. A white lambskin peeps out of his waistcoat pocket.)"

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ulysses, Chapter Thirteen: Nausicaa

"Mary, star of the sea." 

At 8am, Buck Mulligan performs a mock mass for Stephan Dedalus using his shaving bowl, razor and mirror. At 8pm, the actual flesh and blood (so to speak) mass commences in a chapel by the sea. After the mass is over, Cissy Caffrey exposes her holy sanctuary while gazing up at fire 'cross the sky, and Leopold Bloom, peering deep into its Mysteries, casts his seed into his shirt which is tucked into his pants. Blessed sacrament. 

Kineta Chien suggested to me, years ago, that Leopold and Stephan represent (among several other things) the Yod and Vau of Tetragrammaton, with Molly and Milly standing in for the first and final Heh. Interestingly, the only difference in name between Molly and Milly is a Vau and a Yod (respectively). Of further interest is the fact that Milly is absent from the book, only her name is mentioned, and the only part of Molly that we see outside of bed is her arm sticking out the window as she throws a coin to a one-legged sailor in the Wander Rocks chapter. 

Somewhat of a big deal has been made about the phrase that Leopold begins to scratch into the sand, "I AM A..." I would suggest that Bloom is misspelling "AIMA", the Great Mother of the Kabbalists (per Isaac Luria) and the Heh of Tetragrammaton. AIMA is perfectly represented by the vastness of the sea, as is illustrated several times in the Proteus chapter, wherein Stephan wanders around this very area musing on various subjects, not the least of which is the blissful yearning for final dissolution in the sea or in the starry heavens (where AIMA is concerned, these are more or less the same). 

I think that attributions of Heh and Heh final here leave some room for ambiguity. On the one hand, Molly and Milly are perfectly suited to represent them. On the other hand, Odysseus and Penelope never had a daughter, so where does Milly fit in? Also note that Molly Bloom does double duty here, on the one hand she's Penelope, but in the fourth chapter she appears as Calypso in the navel of the sea (opposite Buck and Stephan's tower). Molly doesn't seem to fit so well as Stephan's spiritual mother, and Milly is curiously absent for a sister (besides, Stephan has several perfectly legitimate sisters, at least one of whom he has not disowned). Perhaps the Heh of Tetragrammaton is also represented by the sea, and Heh final by Dublin itself. 

Joyce's structure is never rigid or definite, I think it's clear that there is no one key by which any part of the book may be unlocked. Rather, there are a succession of keys, may of which are interchangeable. Stephan and Bloom are both key-less wanderers, and while we as readers are given no shortage of keys, yet still they remain enigmatic, we can never quite make them fit perfectly, and there are always further doors left to be found. 

"That was their secret, only theirs, alone in the hiding twilight and there was none to know or tell save the little bat who flew so softly through the evening to and fro and little bats don't tell."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ulysses, Chapter Seven: Aeolus

Just a few brief notes.

One of the major themes of this chapter is the press. It's Homeric analog is Aeolus, the ruler of the winds. The press is depicted as oracle of the Gods, "translator" of the eternal Word, which is Truth absolute (though the accuracy of the translation is highly questionable). The pale reflection of the same is printed in black ink within the pages of the holy book which is created anew each day, ever subject to the capriciousness of the winds and to unpredictable shifts in direction, be they political, cultural, literary, musical or what have you. The wind which is the breath of Ruach Elohim, the living breath of God, the substance and support of every created thing, finds its earthly application in newsroom sensationalism and advertising, both as insubstantial and elusive as the currents of astral winds wafted earthward from the wings of angels.


The Crozier is the Bishop's staff which confirs blessing. It is linked to the Caduceus, which in turn is very much linked to the idea of the Ruach Elohim, its two winding serpents and central staff bearing a close resemblance to the currents of prana, or life force, in the subtle body: ida, pingala, and shushumna. The life force is carried in the breath. The breath is the vehicle of the word. The word is the carrier of truth and falsehood. "Bathe his lips, Mr. Dedalus said. Blessed and eternal God."

"They always build one door opposite another for the wind to. Way in. Way out."

The opposing doors are the gates of birth and death, by way of which the spirit enters and leaves the created world. Let us not forget that Adam was nothing more than a lump of clay before the Old Testament God breathed life into him.

Also, these are the Solstitial gates (in some traditions these would in fact be the Equinoctial gates), represented by the silver and gold keys which denote the Lesser and Greater Mysteries. The crossed keys play quite a significant part throughout the chapter.

"Like that, see. Two crossed keys here. A circle. Then here the name Alexander Keyes, tea, wine and spirit merchant. So on." 

The riddle is first posed here: "What opera resembles a railway line? Reflect, ponder, excogitate, reply." 

The latter instruction reminds me of an image repeated numerous times throughout the Sepher Yetzirah in reference to the creation of the universe by God, which is synonymous with the creation and use of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet: "He engraved them, carved them out, refined them, weighed them, and transformed them. [...] He engraved them by voice and carved them out with breath."

"The Tribune's words howled and scattered to the four winds. A people sheltered within his voice. Dead noise. Akashic records of all that ever anywhere wherever was." 

The Akashic records contain everything that has ever happened and every idea that has ever occurred to anybody, but it is indiscriminate, failing to discern literal truth from fantasy, subjective conjecture from objective fact.

Bloom, as wandering Jew, is ever in search of the lost Word of the Freemasons (in fact, it is strongly suggested that Bloom is himself a member). His key, which grants him access to the naval of the sea, has been replaced by a talismanic potato, which is both a fruit and a root.

The entire chapter is full of breezes and winds, doors opening and closing, machines clattering and banging, inflated windbags bombasting, windfalls, whirlwinds, hurricanes and blow outs. I've read that every type of rhetoric known to the English language is used exactly once within this chapter.