Thursday, November 18, 2004

Tossing in Some More Early Thoughts

I don't have much to add to the preceding conversation, so I thought I would add something of my own. I have not finished the entire first section, but I am soaking it up, re-reading passages and enjoying the tangents that thoughts or notes take me.

I am really taken by the event on page 25 when Gwyon buys the Bosch table:

A large low table appeared under the window in the dining room. It was the prize of this incipient collection, priceless, although a price had been settled which Gwyon paid without question to the old Italian grandee who offered it sadly and in secret. This table top was the original (though some fainaiguing had been necessary at Italian customs, confirming it a fake to get it out of the country), a painting by Hieronymus Bosch portraying the Seven Deadly Sins in medieval (meddy-evil, the Reverend pronounced it, an unholy light in his eyes) indulgence. Under the glass which covered it, Christ stood with one maimed hand upraised, beneath him in rubrics, Cave, Cave, D8 videt...

Cave, Cave, D8 videt..., Beware, Beware, the Lord Sees.

Wyatt is found on page 30, eating at that table “Unlike children who are encouraged to down their food by the familiar spoon-scraped prize of happy animals cartooned on the bottom of the dish, Wyatt hurried through every drab meal to meet a Deadly Sin...”

and repeating the words “After he had been told the meaning of the rubric, he could be heard muttering in those dark hallways, -Cave, cave, Dominus videt.”

From the Zeidler essay, linked to in the annotations, we know that,

even though “It is very unlikely that the Madrid tabletop has been used as a table:  it would have been too easily damaged.”

Wyatt, a child is allowed, perhaps made, to eat at it. It’s by the window, so he can’t walk around it, but the table was:

...not only meant to be looked at but also meant to be walked around: walking around the table enables viewers to take in each of the seven scenes, but at the same time he or she loses sight of the four Last Things in the four corners of the painting, as well as the two inscriptions on the banderoles ("They are a nation void of sense; there is no understanding in them. If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern what the end would be" [Deuteronomy 32:28-29], and: "I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end will be" [32:20]) and the "Cave, Cave, Dominus Vide" (Beware, beware, the Lord sees) beneath Christ as the man of sorrows in the center. Standing in front of the painting one faces God, one faces eternity, walking around it one enters the world of transience.

I think the table passage on 25 is important. First, “Bosch's work was very popular in the 16th century, was widely copied, imitated, and forged.” Knowing in advance that forgery is a theme and we’ve encountered “Dr. Sinisterra” already, the fact that the table, which according to the annotations will have been found to not be a fake later in the book, represents the idea that it is sometimes the fakes (and perhaps the fakers) that are real and they are only fake in response to an unreasonable (subjectively) society.

I’m not sure what to make of Wyatt’s behavior in regard to the table, but all of his behavior seems to be a response to the unreasonable world he is forced to deal with. Aunt May accuses him already of telling lies, but it is she that is the true faker (do I have to prove that statement?).

From the annotations I found that Gaddis was a T.S. Eliot fan and planned to incorporate every line from “Four Quartets” into the book. That in itself is interesting, but I went back and re-read FQ and found this passage from “East Coker” lines, 75 - 90:

And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us

Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,

Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?

The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,

The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets

Useless in the darkness into which they peered

Or from which they turned their eyes, There is, it seems to


At best, only a limited value

In the knowledge derived from experience.

The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,

For the pattern is new in every moment

And every moment is a new and shocking

Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived

Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm...

Sounds like an outline for this novel (at least, so far). There seems to be a theme of elders competing for the right version of the world to hand to Wyatt, between the Town Carpenter (in a book such as this, shouldn’t we suspect a Carpenter [sic on the uppercase] to be The Carpenter?), Gwyon and Aunt May. I imagine he makes up his own.

So these are thoughts or points of departure rather than statements or conclusion, the sort of thing that, if weren’t for the Gaddis-Drinking-Club, would probably remain in my head, churning around, or scribbled in the margins of the book or a notebook.


Blogger CAAF said...

Bud, that's wonderful, all through.

With their mention of pattern, the lines from FQ remind me of this sentence on pg. 15, about Gwyon's travels (fugue?) through Spain:

"He was pursued down streets by the desperate hope of happiness in the broken tunes of barrel organs, and he stopped to watch children's games on the pavements, seeking there, as he sought in the cast of roofs, the delineations of stairs, passages, bedrooms, and kitchens left on walls still erect where the attached building had fallen, or the shadow of a chair-back on the repetitious tiling of a floor, indications of persistent pattern, and significant form."

I love that sentence (WFBW), but the lines from FQ darken my reading of it as suggesting how impossible Gwyon's search is (b/c isn't his study of religions another broader example of his seeking a "persistence of pattern"?):
"The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,

For the pattern is new in every moment

And every moment is a new and shocking

Valuation of all we have been."

November 19, 2004 at 8:23 AM  
Blogger Bud Parr said...

In Spain, particularly the older towns, or old towns within new towns, there is an absence of pattern, a chaos. But it seems to me that WG is really talking about the "persistent pattern" of history (and perhaps TSE too).

I noticed you used the word fugue; interesting.

November 20, 2004 at 8:11 AM  
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