David Ross (dyvyd) wrote,
David Ross

Saragossa 3

It is curious that Potocki would write such a book of tales if his motive were informed solely by a love of the Arabian Nights.  His book contains a good deal of material that seems to be intended as an historical chronicle, plot-less, and existing aridly outside of any real contribution to the tales themselves. This is especially true in the centuries-long description of individuals and factions of the Muslim religion from earliest times to the present (the 1700s) given by the Great Sheikh of the Gomelez near the end of the book, as though a listing of "begats" of Biblical scale somehow legitimized his fictional existence. This would seem to be for some other purpose than the enjoyment of the reader. Or perhaps it is just the "kitchen sink" of last possible delays occurring in the penultimate tale before all the remaining loose ends are tied?

There is a good deal of story-based chronicle relating to the history of the Jews and Christians as well.  The Wandering Jew character is treated as an object of derision by the Cabalist, and suffers a further demotion in the plot from the status of an actual supernatural being to that of a local shepherd who is merely playing a caricature of the legendary figure.

One of the very modern aspects of Potocki as a writer is that he himself never steps forward to explain or make apologies for his work.  It might be imagined that at the very end he would step forth and say: "Well, after all these revelations, I suppose I should confess that I made all this up out of my own imagination and the many stories I have heard in my travels-- so don't believe a word of it!"  That he does not stoop to laugh with us may indicate that he would rather laugh at us, or maybe that his material is presented in a semi-serious manner that he wants us to sort out as best we can for our own benefit?

The greater burden of the storytelling is done by the Gypsy Chief, a picaresque figure whose tales follow that genre.  At one point he is relating a story that he heard being told by another (more evil) picaresque figure named Busqueros to Don Toledo. But Busqueros is relating to Toledo what was told to him by the Duke of Arcos.  The story itself is what the Duke of Arcos, disguised as the Reprobate Pilgrim (Blas Hervas) told Coranades, the husband of the Duke's mistress in order to convince him to go on a soul-saving pilgrimage so that the Duke and his mistress would have more time alone together. We read the tale of the Reprobate Pilgrim as if from his (supernatural) lips, but the tale is said to be reaching us in its third telling (or fourth if you take the Pilgrim (Blas Hervas) as another new character), or even five times removed from the actual story event if you add to the chain-of- telling that the Gypsy Chief's tale is relayed to us by Alphonse. This conceit does nothing to obscure any details of the story itself, but is assumed to add a pleasurable complexity to its provenance.  Fortunately for the reader, the storytellers all have incredibly excellent memories!

The book contains a great deal of rhetorical humor through carefully constructed conceits.  A favorite example is how the honor-bound duelist, Van Worden (Alphonse's father) once insisted on fighting 11 duels in one day with his fellow jurors to forestall any possibility of ill-will over his dissenting vote. One listener offers the sarcastic praise that only his quick wits kept a dishonorable argument from breaking out.

Velasquez the geometer is the most modern voice of the work.  He espouses through mathematics a natural philosophical relativity that he applies to the nature of man, ethics and religion.  He points out where science fails and one must rely on faith to understand something so simple as the Holy Trinity.  He muses that one can indicate a symbol for infinity without being able to comprehend it.  Finally, that right or wrong depends on the system by which you view reality.  And yet they laugh at him for being absent-minded.  Rather, I see in him modern man's struggle to find a viable context for reasoning-- a place to apply his rational lever where the purchase will hold. He appears vacant only while attempting to identify the current context.
Tags: writers and writing

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