|A Reader's Guide
to William Gaddis's The Recognitions
II.8 pp. pages 679-699
679.3] Les pieds [...] allemande: "The feet, you see, the feet of that armor, he stumbled, you know. [...] And without his (eye)glasses . . . The feet? the feet? you see? Kraut-style ["Boches" is French slang for Germans], right? See what German clumsiness. . . ."
679.34] penknife: the penknife recalls "The Man of Double Deed" (99.13); the stabbing recalls Tosca (cf. 683.39).
680.18] Il faute [...] vous savez: "It is imperative that I leave, I just remembered an . . . heh heh assignation, you understand, but the Memlinc, you see, the Memlinc, I want to buy it you know [...] At any price, you understand."
680.33] ghood night [...] goo night: perhaps an echo of the adieux at the end of "The Fire Sermon" in Eliot's Waste Land (which are in turn an echo of Ophelia's farewells in Hamlet).
680.37] "as week as Moses": a cliché based on Num. 12:3.
681.3] Attention? [...] tu es fou: "Listen? eh? what do you want then! go on . . . let me by . . ." "Money, you know, [...] you should always have some on you" [cf. 69.43]. "In that case, you're crazy, eh?"
682.1] Sir Walter Scott's past: if this is an allusion to an incident in one of the Scottish author's (1771-1832) novels, it eludes me.
683.17] your daughters all were fair: see 273.14.
683.28] Silent Night: 1818 composition by Joseph Mohr (words) and Franz Gruber (music), apparently as sung by Bing Crosby (cf. 461.10).
683.29] Beethoven's Missa Solemnis: an 1823 mass, the culmination of the composer's late style.
683.31] When the Saints Go Marching In: classic Dixieland tune, of unknown authorship.
683.39] Il sangue [...] un artista: see 393.29 for the first part. During what she thinks is merely a mock execution, Tosca admires her lover's playing dead, saying: "Là! Muori! Ecco un artista!" ("There! Die! Behold an artist!). Upon discovering that the execution was real, she throws herself off a parapet.
683.42] there's where they nailed the wren: "The child Llew Llaw's exact aim was praised by his mother Arianrhod [see 545.32] because as the New Year Robin, alias Belin, he transfixed his father the Wren, alias Bran to whom the wren was sacred, 'between the sinew and the bone' of his leg" (WG 261 - a discussion of the Roman method of crucifixion).
684.6] what chance had you, when hierophants conspired? repeated from 376.11 (but not a quotation: WG/SM).
684.9] I willingly fastened a tail [...] fine and brave: see 375.15 ff.
685.20] I've got a rotten headache: it may be only coincidental that Jake Barnes says exactly the same thing to Lady Brett Ashley in chap. 4 of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1924).
686.41] genizah: a room attached to a synagogue where damaged and heretical books and sacred relics are stored.
687.7] Ah oui [...] monde des truqueurs: "Ah yes, he wanted a souvenir, you know, a tiny little souvenir for memory's sake from the world of counterfeiters."
687.13] Bleu de Prusse [...] vous savez: "Prussian blue, then, it means nothing you know, the sky of Prussian blue, simply retouched you know." See 660.26.
689.4] Thank God there was the gold to forge: in his Paris Review interview, Gaddis identified this as "very much the key line to the whole book" (66).
689.13] ugly venomous toad with the precious jewel in its head: see 245.6.
689.30] Chancellor Rolin [...] for vanity and avarice and lust: see 255.34. Rolin, writes Huizinga, "combined rigid piety with excesses of pride, of avarice and of lust" (WMA 240). In fact, Valentine's harangue on fifteenth-century Flanders owes much to WMA, especially the chapter "Art and Life."
689.37] Adoration of the Mystic Lamb: i.e., the Ghent Altarpiece by the brothers Van Eyck.
690.19] this terror of emptiness: Huizinga writes that form in Burgundo-French art "develops at the expense of the idea, the ornament grows rank, hiding all the lines and all the surfaces. A horror vacui [terror of emptiness] reigns, always a symptom of artistic decline" (WMA 228).
692.31] the only lesson the gods can teach: see 552.3.
693.31] Cave, caveat emptor, Dominus videt: "Beware, let the buyer beware, God is watching."
694.40] uncertain where he was in the dark wood: from this point to the end of the chapter Otto's course parodies that of Dante in the Inferno. Here, the "dark wood" of Central Park corresponds to that in the first stanza of the Inferno:
in our life's journey, I went astray
694.41] the driver [...] we'll go down: parallels Vergil's role as Dante's guide through the underworld.
695.21] this concentric ice-ridden chaos: Dante's hell descends concentrically like a funnel; at the bottom is Satan, trapped in ice.
695.22] The wind bellowed [...] red lights: Inferno 3:130-31: "the tear-soaked ground gave out a sigh of wind / that spewed itself in a flame on a red sky."
695.25] stumble around the dark edge of a pool: upon reaching the Acheron, Dante "stumbled into darkness and went down" (3:134).
695.28] owner and the bartender swore at each other: Inferno 7:25-30:
too, I saw a nation of lost souls,
695.31] The place was foul-smelling [...] a clogged drain: recalls the infernal habitat of the Gluttons (canto 6).
695.33] A small figure [...] fixed him with a strabismic stare: from Dante's description of the Sodomites (15:16-21):
. . . a
company of shades came into sight
695.37] a fight started [...] mud-spattered anger: in canto 7, the Wrathful fight each other in muddy slime.
695.41] wet flame: from 8:1-6, where the flames signal Phlegyas, boatman of the Styx:
. . . I
say we came
695.42] the dark lake: canto 8 opens with Dante standing at the edge of a swamp (the river Styx).
696.4] Dis: crossing the
marsh in canto 8, Dante sees the towers of Dis, the capital of hell. The
walls of Dis separate upper from lower hell.
696.21] fortune teller: though this interlude is not part of Otto's infernal descent, the fortune teller recalls those of his profession in circle 8 of Dante's hell (canto 20).
698.4] edge of a chasm [...] dazzled by fire and pitch: cf. 21:16-24:
by Art Divine and not by fire,
the pitch; but I saw nothing in it
I stood and stared into that sink,
698.7] his coat [...] hung heavy as lead: from the description of the Hypocrites (23:58-62):
wore great cloaks cut to as ample a size
outside is all dazzle, golden and fair;
698.9] as though risen from an exposure of pavement: the metaphor recalls the tombs of the Heretics in cantos 9-11.
698.26] counterfeit: in canto 30, Adam of Brescia (see 5.30) is featured as an example of a counterfeiter; like Tantalus, he is condemned to eternal thirst.
699.7] wind: perhaps this wind corresponds with that Dante feels (33:103) as he approaches Satan, the source of the wind. After his meeting with Wyatt Otto notices "the wind had gone down" (699.35), which suggests Wyatt is being equated with the ice-bound Satan; similarly, Otto's reaction to Wyatt's face recalls that of Dante toward Satan's (34:37 ff.).
699.10] mutilated shadows: in canto 28, the Sowers of Discord are characterized by their mutilated bodies. In the following canto, Vergil asks Dante: "'What are you waiting for? Why do you stare / as if you could not tear your eyes away / from the mutilated shadows passing there?'"
699.27] thick gloom: the central pit of Malebolge is thick with gloom (31:11, 14).
699.29] ice: as noted above, the bottom of hell is a lake of ice (32:22-24).
699.37] frozen giants of buildings: in canto 31, Dante sees "what seemed a cluster of great towers," but is told by Vergil that "they are not towers but giants."
699.38] head over heels: this describes the manner in which Dante and Vergil climb over Satan to the opening that leads to Purgatory (34:76-84).
699.39] in the stars: the Inferno ends (as do the other two sections) with a reference to the stars - "God's shining symbols of hope and virtue" (translator Ciardi's note, p. 181).