Monday, October 13, 2008

Camp Concentration 020 - Stairway to Paradise


(Ladder of Heaven, by John Klimakos, 12th Century)

Camp Concentration is divided in Book One and Book Two. Each Book is divided, loosely, in two parts, which makes for a total of four structural parts.

Part 1:
The handwritten portion of Louis Sacchetti’s journal, written in the Springfield prison. In my copy of the novel, this runs from page 11 to page 19, and from May 11 to May 19.

Part 2:
Sacchetti’s typed journal, which runs from his arrival at Camp Archimedes to the “dream” scene, when he finally realizes he’s been infected with Pallidine too. This runs from page 19 to page 107 (June 2 through June 22) and finishes Book One.

Part 3:
The “asterisks” notes, written after Sacchetti, in despair, refuses to maintain a formal journal. This is the first part of Book Two, and runs from page 111 to page 120.

Part 4:
The numbered entries written by Sacchetti under Haast’s threats; they run from number 1 to number 100, and from page 120 to page 175, the end of the book.

Another way of describing the novel’s structure is that it begins and ends in “countable”, “timetable” form: first a diary, and then a series of numbered items. But, sandwiched between them, there are the “asterisk” notes, a dizzying allusive sequence, full of quotations and allegories, that reproduces the first stages of Sacchetti’s acceptance of the idea of death. It echoes the last entry of his journal, in the end of Book One: the dream sequence in which Sacchetti sees himself as Saint Thomas Aquinas (immensely fat) and in the guise of Aquinas he tells himself that he is infected with Pallidine. That dream, and the asterisk notes that follow it, are heavily allegorical and obscure, and express the refusal-cum-acceptance of Death.

But then comes the interference of General Haast (ultimately, Mordecai) who presses Sacchetti, forcing him to compose himself. He demands facts. Sacchetti refuses to maintain a diary, but he concedes in producing numbered items; they are a return to Time and to life, although Sacchetti doesn’t realize it at first.

It can be said that the journal entries in the beginning of the book show that Sacchetti is bound to Time, and thus he is bound to Death too. The asterisk notes are his descent into Hell and timelessness. Thought is amorphous, non-directional, static, entropic.

The numbered items in the last part of the book, from item 1 to item 100, are a return to Time and (now) to life again. They are the ascent journey. Sacchetti, led by Haast/Mordecai, begins a slow, step by step, journey back to the world of the living. During this ascent, he sometimes thinks he’s going downward. This is a traditional feature of so many mystical processes which bring purification and life through suffering and near-death. It also echoes the ancient motif of the necessity to pass through Hell to reach Paradise.

I'll build a stairway to Paradise
With a new step ev'ry day!
I'm gonna get there at any price;
Stand aside, I'm on my way!
I've got the blues
And up above it's so fair.
Shoes ! Go on and carry me there!
I'll build a stairway to Paradise
With a new step ev'ry day.
(George Gershwin – “I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise”)

6 comments:

Larry said...

Death I agree is a running thread in Disch's book. Your comments on St. Thomas Aquinas are spot-on, as I didn't really think much about that closing scene to Part I until I read your entry. I'm going to keep tabs here and see what else you post and I'll try to respond more either later today or sometime this weekend.

Braulio Tavares said...

Thanks, Larry. As to Aquinas - he was immensely fat (I learned that in Umberto Eco's "Name of the Rose"). Is he Sacchetti's alter ego?...

Larry said...

Not for sure. Always meant to get around to reading his work, though. I'd have to re-read that passage again to see if Aquinas is as much Sacchetti's alter ego as he might be his guardian angel warning him against what was to come after.

Simon said...

Wow, your blog is all about Disch so far? Very detailed accounts of your observations, cool :)

Fábio said...

Braulio, your blog is superb. Like Larry, I´m reading it slowly, to savor every bit of it.

As for Aquinas, I´m going to re-read it today, because you´ve got me very curious. But I think Aquinas is a figment (though a very elaborte one) of his imagination.

Braulio Tavares said...

Thanks, Simon & Fabio. So far, The Reading Gaol is all about Camp Concentration, this is why I chose to name all posts this way. If I begin to annotate another books, I'll name the posts accordingly. But so far it's been fun to discover things in Disch's book, they're just below surface.