|A Reader's Guide to William
Gaddis's The Recognitions
III.5 pp. pages 879-900
879.5] a face tattooed on his fundament! There's homage for a whole coven: at a key point in a witches' sabbath, the devil's posterior (or a facemask attached thereon) was kissed, a parody of the pax of the Mass. This practice is noted by Hughes (W 123) and by Mackay (EPD 470).
879.19] Rubins: Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Dutch painter, the most important artist in northern Europe in his time.
879.37] un escritor muy distinguido,
muy culto: "a very distinguished writer, very cultivated."
881.20] the victim abets the violence just by being there [...] From Dante: untraced, but the statement is in keeping with Schopenhauer's views.
881.32] Transcendent Speculations: see 105.19.
881.41] Mamie: if Rev. "Dick" is named after Dick Nixon, this ridiculous woman is probably named after President Eisenhower's wife.
882.8] Cuando tiene las Fallas en Valencia?: "When do you hold the Fallas in Valencia?" (the double l in Spanish has a y sound; otherwise "Fallas" would sound like "phallus"). Baedeker doesn't mention the Fallas, a Valencian word for "bonfires."
882.18] Granada [...] the Hospital de San Juan de Dios: see Baedeker 345.
882.43] Pietà: a Pietà is not an artist but a subject: "the Virgin mourning over Her son" (127.13-14).
884.1] Micrococcus prodigiosus [...] Looks like blood: in his discussion of the "Red Bread" witches were accused of eating, Hughes quotes another author who explained, "'Now, it so happens that a microscopical scarlet (known as micrococcus prodigiosus), having an appearance not unlike that of blood, may sometimes form on stale food kept in a dry place. This similarity to blood led in the Middle Ages to the assumption that it was blood, and was regarded as proof of maltreatment.' The Jews were supposed to have reduced the Host to this condition by torturing it with pincers. It was a common accusation, and was obviously extended to the witches" (W 129-30).
884.38] merkins: that is, Americans, but cf. 392.20.
885.3] Zuñi prayer stick: see 45.14.
885.41] extreme unction [...] renounce matrimonial relations: from the concluding paragraph of "Extreme Unction" in EB: "It was a popular opinion in the middle ages that extreme unction extinguishes all ties and links with this world, so that he who has received it must, if he recovers, renounce the eating of flesh and matrimonial relations. Such opinions, combated by bishops and councils, were due to the influence of the consolamentum of the Cathars" (9:3; see 532.5 for Catharism).
886.10] La comedia está muy bien: she means comida, "meal."
886.25] H.A.C.: Honourable Artillery Company (80.38); Sinisterra too owns an H.A.C. tie (493.37).
887.25] "The world is too muhvh with us [...] we lay wasre . . .": Wordsworth's famous sonnet begins: "The world is too much with us; late and soon / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." The Christian Ludy does not seem to realize that the poem extols the affinity with nature last enjoyed by the pagans.
887.36] Children's Crusade: the ill-fated crusade of 1212 in which 20,000 children perished. Hughes writes, "it is possible to see this as a cynical expedient for coping with the problem of dispossessed children who roamed the south after the Albigensian persecutions had purged their parents" (W 156 n1).
888.8] blue tones which Leonardo observed [...] and warned: "Somewhere in his treatises Leonardo describes and explains the blue middle tones which he (like the early Italian masters and Van der Weyden, Bosch, etc.) had observed in nature, but warns against painting this 'optical illusion'" - from H. Ruhemann's article "Discoveries beneath the Paint of Masters" (Art News 50.10 [February 1952]: 34), which Koenig notes Gaddis read ("'Splinters from the Yew Tree,'" 76).
889.42] of wars and rumors of wars: from Matt. 24:6.
889.43] the service of both God and Mammon: from Matt. 6:24.
892.2] Eclogues: another name for Vergil's Bucolics (see 28.22).
892.11] George Borrow [...] the most vivid interview with desolation: (1803-81), English traveler, philologist, and writer, best known for his autobiographical novels on Gypsy life (Lavengro, The Romany Rye). He was an agent for the Bible Society in Spain and Russia, and his experiences in the former are recounted in The Bible in Spain (1843), to which the present allusion refers. En route from Portugal to Spain, Borrow comes upon a madman among some ruins and comments: "But the maniac, on his stone, in the rear of the wind-beaten ruin overlooking the blasted heath, above which scowled the leaden heaven, presented such a picture of gloom and misery as I believe neither painter nor poet ever conceived in the saddest of their musings" (66). Gaddis "mentioned Borrow once to Robt Graves who dismissed him as 'the biggest liar who ever lived'" (WG/SM.)
892.36] The Pleiades are rising: see 6.12; the rising of the Pleiades in May was, of course, an auspicious occasion.
892.43] "Kings should disdain to die, but only disappear": writing of the death of Charles II, minor English poet Thomas Flatman (1637-88) was surprised that a monarch simply dies as any commoner would, and he wrote the quoted line, cited in a footnote in De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (see epigraph to II.1).
893.1] "I was that king [...] have vanished away": Lethaby (AMM 145-46) records "the story told by the Buddha to Ananda of 'The Great King of Glory,'" in which the Buddha describes the splendor of his royal capital of Kasavati; he concludes his description with the passage quoted here (which is in turn quoted from vol. 11 of the Sacred Books of the East, ed. Rhys Davids).
894.17] that's a way of putting it: from Eliot's "East Coker": "That was a way of putting it -- not very satisfactory . . ." [JS]
894.24] Go where you're wanted: cf. Housman: "'Oh, go where you are wanted, for you are not wanted here.' / And that was all the farewell when I parted from my dear" (A Shropshire Lad, no. 34, quoted in ODQ).
894.33] hands which like the heart, knew their own reasons: from Pascal's Penseés : "The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of" (ODQ).
895.7] sailing off the Cape forever, the Germans dressed that up [...] with a woman: adding to the basic legend of the Flying Dutchman (see 770.30), Wagner drew upon Heinrich Heine's amusing story "From the Memoirs of Herr von Schnabelewopski" (1831) to equate salvation with a woman's constancy.
895.38] Leptis Magna: see 319.44.
895.42] Hera, and the lilies sprung from her milk: source unknown (not in Frazer or Graves).
896.2] detailed figure [...] being flayed: see 74.30 ff.; it will be remembered that Wyatt cut this detail from Brown's painting.
897.10] all the family at dinner: from Thoreau; see 265.2-4, 821.5-6.
897.28] who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him: from Macbeth 5.1.43.
898.2] not slaying the suitors [...] Penelope spinning a web: from Homer's Odyssey.
898.20] Saint Dominic plucking alive the sparrow that interrupted his preaching: "St Dominic is related, in the Appendix to Lives of the Brethren, to have deliberately plucked alive a wretched sparrow which disturbed his preaching, and which he therefore imagined to be the devil, 'amid much laughter from the Brothers and Sisters, and awful shrieks of the sparrow'" (Coulton, Ten Medieval Studies, 54).
898.24] if the gods themselves cannot recall their gifts: see 335.15, and cf. 820.44. (Pages 820-21 and 897-98 share a number of details, it will be noticed.)
898.40] Biskra [...] Nalut: small towns in Algeria and Libya, respectively.
899.9] yet should I kill thee? with much cherishing?: from Romeo and Juliet; see 383.29.
899.13] varé tava soskei me puchelas: see 255.24 ff.
899.25] ex-Manichee bishop of Hippo [...] Dilige et quod vis fac [...] Love, and do what you want to: from Saint Augustine's On the First Letter of John (ODQ, where it is translated "Love and do what you will"), meaning esteem (charity, respect) should motivate all actions.
900.11] to live deliberately: from Thoreau's Walden: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived" (chap. 2).
900.22] The old man, ringing me on: cf. 481.19. Marlowe's Doctor Faustus ends with an "Old Man" attempting to save Faustus's soul. Jung notes the role the old man archetype plays in the process of individuation (IP 127).