6 times in 6 posts
Chapter 4 Le Nouveau
I am at the cabin and there is no wifi here. So the next posts are bits and pieces as I wander around alternatively looking and things and reading.
So after his walk to the gendarmarie after his encounter with Jesus/himself, finally getting to sleep, he finds himself surrounded in the dark by many men, many languages and 2 very odd men urinating in the corner near him. The passage evokes babel, purgatory even the trial by Pontius Pilate. And yet since Cummings/Christian has already been to the “cross” this must be the place where he comes toward the mountains showing the way to the celestial city. Essentially, he must have been redeemed of his burden of sin.
So after such a day, waking in the prison the first thing we are asked is “What, you don't want coffee?”
The look and taste of the coffee contrasts so bitterly to the coffee he had on the road that we are set for a different kind of learning. What does the coffee represent to him? It has become a symbol in the new lexicography he is developing.
The foulness of the prison immediately breaks the men there into groups. To stay afloat you have to have status and you have to have friends. What a difference it would have made to his stay there if B wasn't there before him and if they weren't who they were. Here, being an artist, made a political difference. That's kind of cool. So some who have made it on their journey this far will go forward and some will not. Whether redemption comes is now a matter of character.
And the women! How very primal the world he describes. It's as if with the undercutting of what he knows he immediately reverts to instinct and emotion. There is no overlay of reason when describing those women...he is following his “spectre” when, “right over my head, they grey stone curdled with a female darkness; the hard and the angular softening in a putrescent explosion of thick wriggling laughter. I started, looked up, and encountered a window stuffed with four savage fragments of crowding Face: four livid, shaggy disks focusing hungrily; four pairs of uncouth eyes rapidly smouldering; with lips shaking in a toothless and viscous titter.” Women like this are the enemy. He hasn't named them but given them object names...like he did his male prison guide the “spectre” and he did earlier with the tin-hats and blue-uniform.
This contrasts rather nicely with a passage later on that talks about the men's animality when going down to “soupe.” “As I contemplated this ferocious and uncouth miracle, this beautiful manifestation of the sinister alchemy of hunger, I felt that the last vestige of individualism was about utterly to disappear, wholly abolished in a gambolling and wallowing throb.”
Not sure what to make of it – but the fact that this is a “beautiful manifestation” and a “miracle” seems to me to contrast to the women's “eyes rapidly smouldering.” No miracle there. Could be lots of things...just the times and the distance between men and women culturally in the period leading up to WWI. Also could be something of Cummings (the author) – his personal take on women, a set up in the novel – don't know.
An interesting chapter, especially read in context of a statement near the end of the chapter: “I exchanged (in the course of the next two hours) a considerable mass of two-legged beings for a number of extremely interesting individuals.”
And his happiness! “I reclined in an ecstasy of happiness and weariness. There could be nothing better than this. To sleep.” Is this simply a return of somatic pleasure when the comforts of “civilization” are withdrawn? Since this story appears to rely so heavily on the Pilgrim allegory, it can't be all. It has to be something that shows the way a person must be to reach out toward the celestial city.
I've always found it rather exciting to remember that there is a difference between what we experience and what we think it means.