Monday, December 13, 2004

The Priest is the guardian of mysteries. The artist is driven to expose them: Synopsis Ch. VI/VII

This is Bud, filling in for CAAF. I hope I do you justice here.

Chapter VI

Chapter six begins the morning after the party with Otto, having slept with Esme in the wee hours, waking up at her apartment to a fly on his cheek and the sounds of the opera Aida. (although the Gaddis Annotations synopsis says that he was at Esme's, it seems to me he was at home and then went to Esme's).

On his way to Esme's, Otto encounters someone from the party in the park, heading in the opposite direction. Otto knocks on Esme's door and she hardly recognizes his voice, and doesn't open the door, but telling him to return in an hour. He goes to a coffee shop and returns, encountering yet another friend as he approaches her apartment. (Three times Otto encounters someone from the party on his way to Esme's and each time there is no acknowledgment "Stanley said nothing; but hung his head without recognition as they passed in Washington Square."

When he arrives at Esme's, Otto is frustrated by her lack of remembrance of their encounter and is then interrupted by Chaby Sinisterra, Frank Sinisterra's son (!), who monopolizes her attention (and it appears to be easily monopolized). We also find out in this scene that Esme knows Rektall Brown, and the Lavender smell that Chaby notices first establishes Esme's connection with Wyatt.

Otto's attempt to get Esme in private is foiled when Esme invites Chaby to breakfast with them. The three are then joined by Stanley at the coffee shop and Otto finally leaves in frustration.

Otto spends time around the city; in a bar he tries to call Max, who said the night before he would look at Otto's play. Not reaching Max, he tries Esther with no luck and then reaches Maud Munk who yet again did not go to adopt a child because of her hangover. Otto returns to Esme's after stopping at Max's where he tried but failed to leave his manuscript. He now passes Hannah and she fails to notice him. He arrives just after Esme has given Chaby his scarf, which he had left on his earlier visit.

Otto and Esme sleep together, waking up happily in one another's arms. The talk about their dreams and they both have dreamt of Wyatt, although neither realizes that the other knows him. Both of their comments are significant:

- I dreamt about someone.
- Who?
-Someone you don't know, she said. The she said to herself, -He was in a mirror, caught there.
(This comes back to us at the end of the next chapter.)

- Now I remember who it was I saw in the park (mentioned in the dream earlier), Otto said.
- Who?
- Someone I used to know, someone you don't know, he said, and saw that pale thin man standing in the park vividly silent, watching him without recognition as he approached, blind, with the stick and its retracting point. - A friend, I used's funny, that I miss him.

But we found out later that Esme knows Wyatt too and he is the person she leaves Otto to meet.

Chapter VII

(I defer quite a bit here to the Gaddis site's synopsis)

Chapter seven opens on the same day as the previous chapter with the hapless Fuller, Rektall Brown's servant, and Brown's black poodle who we encountered earlier and ostensibly brought Rektall and Wyatt together. After establishing Fuller's superstitious ignorance and dominance by Brown (which probably says more about Brown than anything) we land in Brown's study where he is waiting for Wyatt with a business associate, the art critic Basil Valentine.

An aside: If I were casting this as a film, Valentine would be played by Claude Rains (Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca) and Orson Welles would play a hilariously dark Rektall Brown.

Fuller has bought a train ticket to escape from Brown, but has given himself away ("Do they use United States of America money in a place called Utica" [226]) and Brown sends him to his room to sit in the dark.

A bulk of the chapter establishes the relationship between Brown and Valentine and tells much about both characters and their illicit business together. Valentine works with Brown by first doubting (in print), then authenticating his commissioned forgeries. (Brown has just picked up Wyatt's old Memling imitation, thinking it original.)

Valentine has come to meet Wyatt and to propose his next forgery. When Wyatt does arrive he soon finds in Valentine someone more sensitive to the implications of forgery than Brown; Valentine is likewise intrigued by Wyatt, and between the two a cautious rapport develops. In the course of the conversation Valentine questions the authenticity of the Bosch table in Brown's possession, knowing that Brown will have it checked out, after which Valentine will replace it with a copy and send the original "back to Europe where it belongs" (688-89) - apparently this has been his practice with others of Brown's works. (This is the genuine Bosch painting Wyatt stole from his father and sold to Brown years before. - The revelation of which has haunted me since I read this because I find it inexplicable that Wyatt would do this. Wondering out loud, is that meant to show Wyatt's lack of regard for the originals? )

Valentine's plan is for Wyatt to forge a work by Hubert van Eyck, Jan van Eyck's shadowy older brother - an Annunciation that Wyatt never does actually paint.

We also get further insights into Wyatt and perhaps the entire novel in this passage on p. 251:

- Like everything today is conscious of being looked at, looked at by something else but not by God, and that's the only way anything can have its own form and its own character, and...and shape and smell, being looked at by God.

Rektall Brown stood beside him, the heavy naked hand on his shoulder.

-And so when you're working, it's your own work, Basil Valentine said. -And when you attach the signature?

- Leave him alone, God damn it Valentine, he...

- Yes, when I attach the signature, he said dropping his head again, - that changes everthing, when I attach the signature and...lose it.

- Then corruption enters, is that it, me dear fellow? Basil Valentine stood up smiling...

After their meeting, Valentine and Wyatt share a cab. They overhear passers by talking about Somerset Maugham, which in a minor way continues the theme of society's attitude toward homosexuality (S.M. was gay). They then nearly run into a man who the synopsis tells us is Mr. Pivner, Otto's father, who will be introduced in the next chapter, and that causes a misunderstanding between Valentine and the cab driver and the cab ride is abruptly ended. Wyatt declines Valentines invitation to dinner and the idea of Valentine coming to his place at another time (despite their rapport, Wyatt doesn't seem to want to continue the relationship).

The number seven shows up quite a bit in this chapter, first with a mention of the seven deadly sins on page 227 and 238, the seven heavens of the Arabs on page 257 and later, seven lillies and others later. This annotation is worth noting:

265.36] Seven days, seven seals [...] Abednego: biblical instances of the magicality of the number seven: "Seven days" refers to the days of Creation, the Holy Week, etc.; "seven seals" from Rev. 5:1; "seven bullocks" (Num. 29:32); "seven times Jacob bowed before Esau" (Gen. 33:3); "seven stars [...] in his right hand" (Rev. 1:20; 4:5; 2:1); "seven years in Eden" (apocryphal?); "seven times seven years to the jubilee trumpet" (Lev. 25:8-9); "seven years of plenty [...] famine" (Gen. 41:29-30); "Nebuchadnezzar heated the furnace seven times" (Dan. 3:19); "the golden image" is described in Dan. 3:1, and the quotation " - Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego" (the three in the furnace) is from Dan. 3:28. (It might be noted this passage occurs in the novel's seventh chapter.)

Wyatt unexpectedly runs into John, a fellow divinity student (he meets him for the second time; the first was on p. 115, almost two years earlier). Both duck into a bar, where John tells Wyatt about his father, still regaling his congregation with pagan parallels to Christianity.

Back at his Horatio Street studio, Esme has come to model for Wyatt, only to find she is not needed. After she reads aloud from the Brothers Grimm (in German), however, Wyatt sees in her the lines of completion needed for the portrait of his mother he began fifteen years earlier, and he plans to use the face in his next painting (which Valentine calls a Stabat Mater). A moment of intimacy is suggested: Esme puts her arms around Wyatt's shoulders, but he suddenly straightens up and dismisses her. Esme goes home, injects herself with heroin, and tries to write some poetry.

Failing to come up with anything of her own, she begins writing the opening lines of Rilke's first Duino Elegy, only to be interrupted by an unidentified knock at the door. In the annotations we find that in regards to the Rilke poem, [277.34] the interrupted seventh line ends: "Each single angel is terrible." Later Max will steal this piece of paper (299.11-13) and, not recognizing it as Rilke's, publish the poem as his own (622.16 ff.).


Blogger Scott Esposito said...

Holy moly Bud! I think this counts as doing CAAF justice.

I'll try to add more intelligent thoughts later in the week, but for now I'll just say this: Isn't Rektall Brown one creepy mofo? Him and that dog . . . I love the way Gaddis plays up the supernatural angle when he's writing from Fuller's perspecitve. Very nice.

And isn't this an amazing quote: "That childhood was like a book read, misplaced, forgotten, to be recalled when one sees another copy, the cheap edition in a railway station newsstand, which is bought, thumbed through, and like as not left on the train when the station is called."

December 13, 2004 at 12:38 PM  
Blogger Bud Parr said...

The more time I spend with T. Recs. the more I'm awed by Gaddis' ability to create dialogue and build (hopelessly unsympathetic) characters. Fuller's innocence is an interesting foil to RB's lack of innocence and part of WG's utterly cynical world-view.

December 13, 2004 at 10:53 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

Wow, this is terrific, Bud -- and 10 times better than whatever I would have strung up. I raise my glass in thanks!!

December 14, 2004 at 9:35 AM  
Blogger DerikB said...

Bud, if you like the dialogue you should try JR. It's mostly dialogue.

A few little things this week:

"...Esma seemed to show how easy it was being happily alive, to be beautiful, not to question." (216) The seeking/question person is the unhappy person?

"Because, my dear fellow, no one knows what you're thinking. And that is why people read novels, to identify projections of their own unconscious. The hero has to be fearfully real, to convince them of their own reality, which they rather doubt. A novel without a hero would be distracting in the extreme. They have to know what you think, or good heavens, how can they know that you're going through some wild conflict, which is after all the duty of a hero." (247) " though I were reading a novel [...] but the hero fails to appear, fails to be working out some plan or comedy, or disaster" (263)

Gaddis seems to be engaging in a little criticism here. The novel we are reading is, of course, very much of the style Valentine is talking about. Wyatt is our hero in a way but we don't know what he is thinking and he fails to appear quite often.

"Originality is a device that untalented people use to impress other untalented people, and protect themselves from talented people..." (252)

December 14, 2004 at 8:48 PM  
Blogger Tito said...

The description of Otto on pg. 204:

"There he studied his eyes anxiously for a moment, then noticed that his skin appeared pale beneath the surface of color, and the mustache hairs were brought into separate and ragged prominence."

Then the description of Wyatt's painting on pg 275:

"Over the emphatic drawing and the underpainting, translucent colors were fixed in intimate detail upon the establishe forms, colors added separately, unmixed on the palette, layer upon layer, constructed from within as necessity disposed these faces emptied in this perfect moment of the transient violence of life.

"Round the closed eyes of the Virgin, where she looked now, the highlights were not opaque colors on the surface, but from the light underpainting tinted with ultramarine."

There seems to be a similarity in the way he describes Otto and the painting (of Wyatt's mother?? I'm not sure here). If this parallel is a stretch, it at least is making me consider a theme of 'layers' to people's appearance versus their 'essence' (possible "paint overs"?) that I can't quite put my finger on yet or fully articulate. But it is interesting that Otto has a veneer of color on top of paleness, while Wyatt's painting has it's color coming from within (despite the opacity of the surface).

December 16, 2004 at 12:59 AM  

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