|A Reader's Guide
to William Gaddis's The Recognitions
II.6 pp. pages 542-564
542.epigraph] "Des gens passent. On a des yeux. On les voit": Fr.: "People pass by. One has eyes. One sees them"; source unknown.
543.33] Carnot: Sadi Carnot (1837-94), fourth president of the French Republic, assassinated on June 24 1894 in Lyons by the Italian anarchist Caserio. Gross recounts this incident as another example of the unreliability of witnesses (Criminal Investigation, 39).
544.32] Grimm Brothers? the Froschkönig: "The Frog King," the story Esme reads on page 273.
545.18] What happened to Huss? [...] the Antichrist is to be found in Rome: from EB's account (11:942-43) of Huss's trial and death; cf. BM 140-44 and MMSM 26 ff.
545.25] O sancta simplicitas!: see 46.18.
545.27] Boyg: Gaddis provided the following gloss for his Italian translator (quoted in Koenig's "'Splinters from the Yew Tree,'" 92):
p. 545 l.27 the "Boyg" was the troll king in Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" who wanted Peer to marry his ugly troll daughter and, in order to cure Peer of his 'pestilent nature' and make him see as trolls do, says he will scratch his eyes so that Peer will "see awry; but all that you see will seem fair and brave."
The reference is to Brown, as elaborated on page 375 lines 15-19, Brown as the Boyg-troll king having perverted Wyatt's vision so that the false looks beautiful.
However, the Boyg and the troll king are not the same; the former is a mysterious voice in the darkness, an insubstantial substance, that advises Peer to go around rather than through it. (In act 4 Peer sees a resemblance between the Boyg and the Egyptian sphinx.) The translators of the edition Gaddis used interpret the Boyg chiefly "as the Spirit of Compromise among other things."
545.32] "I lay this destiny [...] receives from me": from "The Romance of Llew Llaw Gyffes," a story from the Welsh collection of legends The Mabinogion, in Lady Charlotte Guest's translation as quoted by Graves (WG 251-58). In a kind of virgin birth, a young boy is born to Arianrhod, who later denies any kinship and refuses to name him. But when the boy (like Wyatt) skillfully kills a wren, she says: "Verily, with a steady hand did the lion aim at it." Thereafter, the boy is called "Llew Llaw Gyffes" - the Lion with the Steady Hand.
545.32] talitha cumi: the Aramaic words ("Damsel, arise") Jesus used to raise Jairus's twelve-year-old daughter from death (Mark 5:41).
545.32] wise virgin: from the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt. 25); like Janet, wise virgins look for Christ's coming.
545.40] Shabbetai Zebi: these details are from Conybeare's sketch of the career of the seventeenth-century Jewish messiah Sabatai Levi (as he spells it), illustrating "how constant and unvarying in character continued to be the expectations and aspirations of this downtrodden race" (MMM 363-66). Forced to choose between death or Islam, he "chose the latter; and Felure [Conybeare's source] testifies to the despair with which the apostasy of their Messiah filled the Jews of Turkey."
546.22] A Day with the Pope: a slim picture-book by Canadian author Charles Hugo Doyle, published in 1950, which describes the daily duties of the pope.
546.27] mi piace: It., "I like it."
546.31] the thought of suicide [...] Nietzsche: from Beyond Good and Evil, section 157.
548.30] The Seven Sins [...] "field full of folk": in William Langland (fl. 1330-86) famous narrative poem Piers Plowman, the narrator falls asleep and dreams of "a fair felde ful of folke" between a lofty tower and a deep dungeon (Prologue); the phrase is repeated in passus 5 (Piers's second dream), in which Reason preaches, then Repentance hears the confessions of the Seven Deadly Sins.
549.42] Lucius in the Golden Ass [...] "odoriferous feet": Lucius Apuleius's second-century satirical romance Metamorphoses (more commonly known as The Golden Ass) concerns a young man named Lucius who is accidentally turned into an ass, in which form he has many adventures. He is eventually restored to human form by Isis: Graves (WG 53-54) excerpts this famous section from William Adlington's 1566 translation.
550.36] Rose of Lima: see 368.2. For the details of her "innocency," see PPM 107-9.
551.3] "somber glow" [...] Flying Dutchman [...] go to heaven in a wave: upon being introduced to Senta (see 93.22), the Dutchman sings (in Paul England's 1895 translation; the one Gaddis used is unknown):
like the voice of long-forgotten ages
This opens the duet that closes the second act. The opera ends as Senta (in the words of the libretto) "throws herself into the sea. Immediately the Dutchman's ship disappears in the waves. In the red light of the rising sun, the glorified forms of Senta and the Dutchman are seen, in a close embrace, rising from the wreck of the vessel, and soaring upwards."
551.8] "I min Tro [...] Solveig: see 375.31.
552.3] What Wotan taught his son [...] The power of doing without happiness: from George Bernard Shaw's The Perfect Wagnerite (4th ed., 1923), a commentary on Wagner's Ring (see 196.16). In his synopsis of The Valkyrie, Shaw writes: "With the son [Siegmund] he himself [Wotan] leads the life of a wolf, and teaches him the only power a god can teach, the power of doing without happiness" (New York: Dover, 1967, 35).
552.30] Frerra jacka [...] soney malatina: a phonetic rendering of the popular nursery song: "Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques, / Dormez-vous, dormez-vous? / Sonnez les mâtines, sonnez les mâtines, / Ding dang dong."
552.40] grot-zy, grot-sy: grazie (It.: "thanks").
553.8] Mithraism [...] failed because it lacked central authority: "There was," Phythian-Adams points out, "as far as we know, no central supreme authority, which could combine the scattered units into a compact and formidable whole. Thus, when the crisis came, Mithraism, though it numbered countless adherents, though it boasted generals, governors, and emperors among the faithful, was helpless before the ordered onset of the Church Militant: isolated and impotent, its small communities could be attacked and crushed in detail" (M 67).
553.14] Chrysippus: see 352.30.
553.21] Pascal said, There's as much difference [...] but that was Montaigne: from the conclusion of Michel de Montaigne's (1533-92) essay "On the Inconstancy of Our Actions." Pascal borrowed much from Montaigne; Gaddis said he found this quote ascribed to Pascal in a book on Pirandello, which I've not identified.
553.29] Morro Castle: a luxury liner that caught fire 7 September 1934 off the coast of New Jersey. Only 85 of the 219 passengers survived.
553.32] Narcissus Festival in Hawaii: see 100.21.
554.2] At Philippi? [...] Why, I will see thee at Philippi, then: cf. 382.40; here the allusion is to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. The ghost of Caesar appears to Brutus as his "evil spirit" and warns him that he will reappear at Philippi, to which Brutus responds: "Why, I will see thee at Philippi then" (4.3.286).
558.29] Chavenet: see 628.29.
558.37] SS Adam and Eve: their feast day is given different days in the martyrologies, but 24 December is the most common.
558.37] 40 Maidens martyred at Antioch: the forty Christian virgins put to death under Decius in Antioch about 251 (BM 17).
559.11] Heidi: the Swiss girl in the novel of the same name by Johanna Spyri (1881), portrayed by Shirley Temple in a popular movie (1937).
559.18] Saint-Gaudens' statue of the Puritan: Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), Irish-born American sculptor. The famous statue is now in Merrick Park, Springfield, Massachusetts.
559.19] heirs to all the ages and the foremost files of time: from Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" (see 290.36), a poem often quoted in J R.
559.27] Be Ye Doers of the word, and not hearers only: ". . . deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22); the line is quoted in an anecdote in MM (128).
560.12] the Fourteenth Street I.R.T.-B.M.T. subway station: at Union Square (Fourteenth Street and Broadway), a large station for both the Lexington Avenue line (formerly known as the East Side I.R.T. [Interborough Rapid Transit]) and the Broadway Metro Transit, which runs NW-SE through Manhattan.
561.34] the Cartesian God, Who can will a circle to be square: in his discussion of the Cartesian doctrine of eternal truths, Jacques Maritain notes: "If in the last analysis these truths depend, as Descartes insists, not on divine essence itself as the eternal object of divine intellection, but on creative liberty - in such a way that God might have been able to make possible a square circle or a mountain without a valley - our knowledge of these truths no longer derives its certainty from essences, but rather that it results from a natural revelation instructing us in what, effectively, divine liberty has chosen" (The Dream of Descartes, trans. Mabelle L. Andison [New York: Philosophical Library, 1944], 193 n.28; cf. 46).
563.9] the evil thereof is sufficient unto the day: see Matt. 6:34.
563.26] Francesco Manfredini's Christmas Concerto: Italian violinist and composer (ca. 1680-1748); the 1718 work is also known as Concerto Grosso per il santissimo natale.
564.2] U. Nu (Thakin Nu): prime minister of Burma at the time.