Monday, February 14, 2005

II.v Of money and drink

Aunty Mary's dirty grin,
Aunty Mary drinks gin.

I can't offer a decent reference to this translation of the Jesuits' motto (Ad Majorem De Gloriam) as it appeared many years ago in a Jesuit "family" magazine. I do remember it as part of an anecdote about writing the abbreviated maxim every day above one's schoolwork, as many Catholic children did in the thirties and forties. The rest is lost, along with the family beachhouse where I picked up the old's sad about the beachhouse actually. And I am right out of gin...

The other translation is of course, 'for the greater glory of God'.

Sinisterra in lots of ways is a mirror image of Wyatt, is he not? A real forger - what the hell is that? Like Wyatt and hell ( according to the Annotations anyway), his house reeks of lavender oil and is referred to as Sheol, the Jewish afterlife zone, of which my Jerusalem Bible has much to say ( more anon, when I get around to getting it out).
Frank reminds one of Shakespeare's 'low life' characters, and certainly provides a welcome break in the story from the seriousness and obscurity of earlier chapters. I think the novel turns upon this chapter, and begins to move forward again. I felt it breathing again at this point first time round ( this time I'm feeling disjointed and can't remember what happened in the previous chapters...)

A funny little aside one page in - 'what's the matter with it? St. Paul was an epileptic'. Is Gaddis suggesting that the light on the road to Damascus, resulting in Paul's conversion from Judaism ( like Mrs. Sinisterra), was no more than an epileptic aura presaging a fall and an attack ( remember Paul falls from his horse)? Just a thought.

I wish this reference was covered in the Annotations - anyone like to take a guess:
'…that secretary of the Treasury under Lincoln, who made the five hands down without even getting a haircut.' p. 490

Gaddis draws a direct relationship between monetary systems and religious systems on p.495 l.6 (and of course in the epigram to the chapter) :
'like so many of the mystic contrivances devised by priesthoods which slip, slide and perish in lay hands, this [i.e. the establishing of currencies] too became a cottage industry...'

An acidic description of Mr. Pivner's spiritual yearnings and his Carnegie bible of the marketplace follows, Pivner being described as seeking '…the elixir which exchanged the things worth being for the things worth having'.
I like the way both episodes are rounded off with the price of Christ's betrayal.

Poor Mr. Pivner, rushing to meet his 'son' Otto, doesn't take the time to take his insulin and is mistaken for a drunk when he falls down in the hotel lobby. Then follows the comic setpiece of the novel, as Otto picks up a girl and Sinisterra's forged money ( 'queer') after mistaking Frank's leg for a table leg and rubbing his own against it all the way through their hilarious interview.

When he runs into his friends later he pretends he has sold his play and starts to throw the money around, in a savagely comic scene with an Ernest Hemingway lookalike in the background. Things get a bit heavy when an undergraduate discussion of SS. Anselm and Augustine's ideas about creativity degenerates into a glib dismissal by Max of religion, and a violent, hysterical cri du coeur from Anselm ensues:
-And what did they do, they damned him, the lens-maker Spinoza. They excommunicated him, right into the darkness of reason.

I have read that Max is modelled on Anatole Broyard, who did not embrace his African- American heritage and was known to Gaddis and Martinelli. Gaddis doesn't set out to flatter Broyard, does he? We see Max’s meaner side in this episode as he talks down to an increasingly hysterical Anselm - perhaps he is narked because Otto has supposedly sold his play.
Sorry, I thought I knew this already - what does Anselm put in Stanley's coffee?

I rather like Sinisterra, going to confession and lighting his candle for Johnny the Gent. 'Be quiet. You think I'm a half-wit? I'm going to confess a sin.' A master of disguise and delicate distinction. You need a thug at times like this to leaven your narrative, and if he is comical so much the better. As Shakespeare well knew.


Blogger Bud Parr said...

Sinisterra as a Falstaff. Hmmmm. Interesting. And a mirror image of Wyatt. Hmmmm. That too. I wish Sinisterra had a bigger role in the book because he is fascinating...could see him in the Inferno.

There are strains of sounds and spells and images running throughout this book - lavender being one of the most prominent - is it just a connection or something else. At first, it was subtle ( I think in Esme's apartment, announcing her connection to Wyatt before we were told otherwise, but by the time we smell it at Frank's, it's reaking, if you will, of obviousness.

Also, this section of the book has some of the most outlandish material (besides stealing the leg from the morgue), like Otto's mixup with FS, but also some very pointed material too.

Excellent post Genevieve! Some interesting things to chew on. Glad to see your addiction coming along so nicely.

February 15, 2005 at 10:12 PM  
Blogger genevieve said...

Thank you Bud.On the Shakespeare thing, I think there is a character in Measure for Measure who is used in this way - Elbow, the constable, runs around trying to arrest pimps (and struggling to get convictions ) while the Duke is using the law to test an overly pure deputy in the delicate matter of integrity. I didn't think of Falstaff but agree that could also happen in that play, and feel Shakespeare often does this when things are a bit too serious.

The mirror idea reflects ( poorly) my hunch about Gaddis' possible use of Jungian ideas - Sinisterra ( left handed, shadow) as the shadow or dark side of Wyatt? And in typical cynical Gaddis style, both muddy the other, both are grey shadows rather than darkness and light.
The stolen leg? I missed that! Off to have a look...

February 16, 2005 at 12:03 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I meant to comment on this earlier in the week, but I got distracted...

I really liked this post, Genevieve. The idea of Sinisterra as Wyatt's image is especially interesting... thanks.

February 18, 2005 at 7:45 PM  
Blogger genevieve said...

thanks Richard - I still haven't gone back to look for the leg...

February 18, 2005 at 7:59 PM  
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