Friday, February 26, 2021

The Sot-Weed Factor (part two)


The Sot-Weed Factor

Part Two of my real-time review of THE SOT-WEED FACTOR by John Barth, a review that will evolve in the comment stream below as I read it…

Continued from Part One here:


13 responses to “The Sot-Weed Factor

  1. Part II


    HB continues telling his story to E, his adventures in Maryland and elsewhere in New England and the politics involved, papal or not, not papacy so much as piracy , and his searching for his Burlingame heritage, a telling that became almost as boring as an earlier history in this book that E had equally punctuated with his ejaculations, but perhaps sometimes less boring if more reprehensibly cruel (as shown in example above) with his tales of his seeing, even partaking in, acts of swiving and rogering, whereby machinations of both distaff and spear were obliquely bartered as E had once done with Toast, a couple of French women, mother and daughter, though, being quite cute with their talk and false leadings-on….
    The next chapter looks as if it might be more of the same. ;(

  2. 6 & 7

    Some rare stuff here, an unfinished manuscript history by an earlier Burlingame that HBIII discovered and has received as a clue to his heritage in the New World whither they are now going, a history of which this is a controversial extract…


    And some youthful philosophy from E about the separate falls of innocence and of pride, Adam/Eve and Satan respectively, …

    … virtues, ‘plain’ and ‘significant’, and his conviction, however nonsensical, that his own Virginity is significant.
    I think!!

    And more history from HBIII that I skipped over, as neither plain nor significant!
    Perhaps this book is not so great as I recall it, after all!
    Yet this part resonated with me…


  3. 8 & 9

    “So saying he led the way across the street from the wharves to a tavern advertising itself by two capital letter Cs, face to face and interlocking, the figure surmounted by a three-lobed crown.
    ‘Here’s the King o’ the Seas,’ said Burlingame.”

    …almost in spirit with Ebenezer’s own later adopted Laureate-Poet signature in these chapters, a signature of his wondrous poems-to-be that he now starts setting out in his notebook ledger originally intended for a stationer’s debit and credit columns: viz. the signature being “E.C., Gent, Pt & Lt of Md“… and he even starts a poem about the ship Poseidon he has not yet seen, let alone even embarked upon!
    “‘Twas a woman wiped thy bum at birth and another shall in dotage; what matter if one do’t in between?”
    These are hilarious moments compensating for the boredom in one or two of the previous chapters! Ebenezer, being affrighted by two pirates associated with some devilish historical inscrutable called Coode mentioned in the earlier boring chapters, these characters being in some complicated plot against E and HB, as the latter two wait for the shallop to take them to the moored ship Poseidon that will take them in turn to Md…so affrighted that E beshat his breeches and there is much machination to get them clean afore he tore out one or two blank pages from his notebook ledger designed for poesy, to use as bum paper, I think! Much change of rôle shenanigans also until HB appears again out of the blue — which he often seems to do!
    Along with named philosophers galore being mentioned, in the interim.
    Yet the highlight for me of these two chapters is the explicit contention that Literature exceeds all those Philosophers galore, Literature being the wisest, most preternatural power to guide all of life’s spiritualities and physicalities!! As I will prove with my eventual gestalt of this very book and with my other real-time empirical critiques of Literature over the years…

  4. Cross-referenced to the explicitly mentioned ‘boredom’ or ‘ennui’ in the Danielewski book here:

  5. 10 & 11


    …which sanctity of selfhood on E’s part makes an interesting foil for the surrounding shenanigans of self as someone else, amid many imposters galore, and forgeries, amid concupiscent plots of polling and furrowing, as well as more political furcating…. as E finally boards the Poseidon (the ship in the fleet at Plymouth that he must board before any other as he has already written a poem about it!), boards it disguised as his own servant, and then told by the real servant masquerading as him about some innuendo witnessed between his sister Anna and HB!!! All above my head of course, but by comic restoration osmosis it has no doubt pervaded — and seeped into — my mental sump. To be harvested for serious morals and spiritualities, one day, I hope.

    “Tales are like tarts, that may be ugly on the face of ‘em and yet have a worthwhile end.”

  6. 12

    “To ask a man what he thinks of gambling is as much as to ask him what he thinks of life,…”

    Much gambling by those on board to while away “ennui”*, gambling at the Captain-measured distance sailed each day, with much hedging of bets and other complexities of gambling, techniques that seem to parallel later in this chapter the bluffs and double bluffs and counter-bluffs of gentleman versus poet versus servant on the “ladder of wit” and other perceived pecking-orders. The latter ricochets of thought or philosophy is spiced by our view of Ebenezer masquerading. as his own valet Bertrand, and B as his own master E and the verbal trickeries that is thus pleasantly generated under the gaze of an “excellently breasted” woman who is perhaps a whore in disguise on board the ship but who reminds E of his own earlier self-honourings regarding Joan Toast. A naïveté that is here explored nicely. A poet as half a god, half a travelling clown? And many other unforgettably witty combative exchanges between E and B….with easeful paradoxes and quick neat turnings of phrase into their opposites. The masks of what one is and of what one wants to be as well as masks against the plagues of humanity, I guess. Or as E maintains…

    “The gentleman valet and the gentleman poet have this is common, that their gentlemanliness is for each a mask. But the mask of the valet masks a varlet, while the poet’s masks a god!”

    *interesting, preternaturally synchronous take-up of what I was saying earlier above about the nature of boringness?

  7. 13

    “He could write no verse: even the sight of great whales, which in happier times would have set his fancy spinning, now called forth not a single rhyme.”

    55EC1070-2B0D-4C76-9BFA-1C368F86F530E resents his position as valet to his own valet, but he tries to turn tables at the end just before the famous pirate attack on the Poseidon. In between, B, his real valet acting as himself as master, speaks of machinations with regard to gambling on days sailed as mingled with his plying of the whore who had the ear of the Captain and could thus affect such gambling! But a mighty storm later intervenes by dunking E from the ‘Ship of Destiny’ into the sea’s “Font of Rededication”, just as if E were Christ who once, it says here, also traveled in cognito like E. In fact, both against the grain and with the grain of such purging, E, after being resurrected by the sea itself back onto the ship, describes to jeering sailors, the difference between ‘ecclesiastical celibacy’ and ‘true virginity’! Amid all this, after his Christening by the sea, and still in a daze, E suffers or enjoys what I can only call perfect examples of today’s Co-Vivid dreaming — dreaming of, inter alios, “twin alabaster mountain cones,…”

  8. 14

    “I vowed to fling myself into the arms of Life, and what is life but the taking of sides?”

    Ebenezer, and thus this early Barth in 1960, seems here to be prefiguring a world of Twitting and Face-booking!
    Other than that, this chapter is a farrago of Papacy and Piracy, Coode and Pound, Maryland to be Romanized or not, which the ledger, which the most precious Journal, who imports the Laureate — switching ships for whatever berths or motives of self and non-self, valet and master vying to become the other depending on the direction of the wind and the treacheries involved. Even “adolescent” wenches in nightdresses being shouldered off by sex-starved seamen… Could make no head or tail of it all. But little matter, with reading and roistering not a million miles apart!

  9. 15

    “: every one of the passengers he could see was female.
    ‘Dear Heav’n!’ he breathed.”

    Surely, there is no other substantive chapter such as this one in the whole of literature! And, if so how could I possibly have forgotten it, even from the time distance of when I must have read it some 50 plus years ago! The great debauch, the taking over of a whore ship, by an attacking force of sex-starved pirates. I must have blocked it from my mind, duly diminished by the unquestioned shame of having read its shockingly powerful reprehensibility of a sex panorama. Yet, more minutely, I can indeed question that shame today, inasmuch as it has a vital effect on Ebenezer vis à vis his own purity of virginity and the thoughts now running through his mind, including a concupiscent lust that he tries to resist, and comparing his earlier rite of passage with Joan Toast, comparing it with the Moor in red headgear raping a woman in the mast’s rigging like a black spider upon its enwebbed prey, and the constructive and complex paradoxes of thought that emerged inside Ebenezer from sight of the event, and the mixed motives of amoral morals in life itself. A revelation. A walking of the spiritual plank, as well as eventually a real one? A self-ravishment.
    Mixed in with this unparalleled, brilliantly written and painfully felt vision are more plot machinations and intrigues and conspiracies, involving a secret manuscript that Ebenezer manages to steal and hide, most of which I found boring, but mentioning the name Burlingame in the light of the latter seeking the source of his heritage. 

    “— the centuries rang and echoed with their cries; the dirt of the planet was watered with their tears!”

  10. 16

    “— he had been fascinated by the aspect of death. […] In the night, between their bed-chambers, he and his sister had examined every form of death they knew…”

    Now E, dunked by plank mid-Ocean speculates on the held-breath experiments he and his sister used to mimic death by drowning. This is strong stuff. And Bertrand, now pointless whether master or servant, floats near… and if I tell you what comes up underfoot in the undertow that would spoil the plot. So read on in my review, at your own peril at the prospect of this book’s death, instead of yours! They reach what they hope is a Golden land, a Shangri-La, where they discover tied up and evidentially tortured in the past a politically incorrect “Negro”. Toe now grown to knee, we are able to be grown-up ourselves about all this and how time changes everything, and about what Bertrand, once in the Ebenezer role, now says he had earlier gambled away before being planked!
    Gambled away Malden itself! A spoiler-moiler beyond our caring. We know all will work out in the end. Even death itself! That’s the truth fiction leaves in the path of sand as footprints, I guess. Behind and before.

HOUSE of Leaves - Part 3



This is part three of my real-time review of HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski and it will gradually appear in the comment stream below…



12 responses to “*

  1. 673DA630-6EBC-4013-B2EA-D9556746A527


    Pages 128 – 133

    “…the house itself not only carried the signal an incredible distance but interpreted it as well.”

    That seems to sum up this whole bookhouse’s SOS, so far. Holloway’s SOS when on Exploration #4 as well as the reader’s. Even that of the conscientious reader.
    And the Truant footnote — not directly attached to that quote, but starting on the very same maze-page where it is quoted — ensues and is worthy of it, telling of his having heard a domed ceiling (in a memory of his boarding school refectory) manage to speak like a ghost, the ghost seemingly of a girl he had then not yet met, but whom he did later meet in Texas and had sex with, even though he had never been to Texas! Are the machinations of general time-and-space in a discrete life’s events as disorienting as this bookhouse’s secret rooms and mutable hallways? The world in which we live as a single bookhouse? Is this the gestalt I have long since identified and have been seeking in literature as it is experienced in real-time — with literature’s evolving audit trail derived from the passion of each reading moment — literature being what I have long considered to be the most likely source of such a gestalt.

  2. 643276B3-6B3D-42C6-9658-0E6A935B9BD2Pages 133 – 152

    These appear to be the two very important footnotes 165 and 166, from which all else stems. Yet there is much more evolving here of “fact or fiction, representation or artifice, document or prank.” Stemming from Holloway’s expedition’s shrieking heebejeebees, we are thrust into a madcap typesetting and textual experiment with even worse effects on the reader, whilst comparing a haunted house with Hollywood movies and other documents and histories of voyages. A hoax or a genuine frightening display? With an academic bibliography! But ending this chapter with a genuinely terrifying Holloway hallway cliffhanger…

    “I’m desperately trying to crawl away, but it’s too late. Nothing can be done now.”
    — Johnny Truant

    PS: As I once infamously (in 2015) said of the then new Thomas Ligotti Penguin Classics collection –
    I feel that these stories — based on my having first read them just under thirty years ago and now re-read them in this momentous Penguin Classics book — represent an artful haunting blend of (a) literary or horror genre prophetic warnings about factors that have emerged in our world since their first publication and (b) a ‘fabulous hoax’ that is essentially an avant garde happening.
    They are couched in a beautiful original Gothic-Baroque prose style.” 

  3. The bookhouse in the outback of MR Cosby has a outback-joining garage with an inspection pit as part of the rest of it….and HoL’s filming explicitly becomes more like flash photographs at the beginning of its next chapter…


    Pages 153 – 165

     Every house is an architecturally structured ‘path’:”

    It is somewhat of a relief, as a reader, to be released from the previous maze-pages into the relatively open liberal spaces of sporadic blanknesses, and perhaps when I published the world’s first discrete blank short story entitled 4’ 33” in Nemonymous Two in 2002, I was already inspired to do that from having read this book by then, I think. But why these empty spaces to breathe in? Where is Truant, why has he gone literally truant, him and his footnotes? The last thing we hear from him in the previous chapter is: “I don’t even know myself.” 

    “Karen may lose herself in resentment and fear, but the Navidson we see seems joyful, even euphoric, as he sets out with Reston and his brother to rescue Holloway and his team.”
    The Hall a “preternatural hull”… and we mustn’t forget Reston is in a wheelchair. And nobody thought to build “handicap ramps” in this morphing Hallway, it is stated at one point!
    And another important part, some critics of this bookhouse seemingly, like me, believe that its mutabilities or straight mutations “reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it.”
    Almost a tautology, perhaps. The same with any great book, I’d say.

  4. Pages 166 – 179

    (Admittedly there is the matter where boredom, due to repetition, stretches time and space. I will deal specifically with this problem in a later chapter entitled ‘Ennui.’203)

    Amazingly, and I sometimes overstate my amazement at such things, these pages deal with ‘revisiting’ places in this connection. And I now relate this to bookhouses as well as places, because, alongside revisiting to review HoL, I am also revisiting to review The Sot-Weed Factor (here) and I have recently and explicitly noted its disorientating me by its new-to-me seemingly boring stretches of text as well as its magnificently entertaining ones. Here, Danielewski is seemingly joining in with this ‘game’ by providing increasing swathes of blankness!

    Furthermore — Structures themselves physically altered by perception as well as personal psychology underpinning that psychology, as if related to the fact that if nobody sees a tree falling in a forest, it did not really happen at all?

    “If one accepts Dahl’s reading, then it follows that Holloway’s creature comes from Holloway’s mind not the house;…”

    Is it significant, by the way, that ‘house’ printed in this bookhouse is subscripted far more than it is superscripted— rather than exclusively superscripted as its footnote numbers are?

  5. Pages 179 – 181

    “…who led me down a hall and then another hall and still another hall…”

    “Incarcerated within the corridors…”

    Glad to see Truant is still present — with his footnotes, as another long one interposes itself, yet his own anguish that he describes so vividly is heart-wrenching, a description that is for me almost prophetically his version of being in his own hollow Holloway Hallways as bound within each other, as a metaphor for today’s lockdowns and the medications required. The “dreams” he suffers being how co-⎌vivid dreams today prevail within all our sleeping patterns, I sense.
    Also he refers to Hailey’s earlier footnote to his own even earlier footnote, which reminds me of gestalt real-time reviewing and the time loops created by the internet today….

    “I must hear what I scream.
    I must remember what I dream.”

  6. Pages 182 – 245


  7. Pages 246 – 252

    Scattershot appraisal of the brothers Will and Tom Navidson, comparing them, inter alia, with Jacob and Esau, and the effect of Tom’s presence on the dynamic of the house and the events ensuing. There is much serious consideration and “exegesis” here about their hindsight fame and the ‘meaning’ of the two brothers amid all the academic and other research conducted about them. We all know how famous and consequently dealt-with they have indeed become, and I have no need to re-rehearse that here, give or take Will’s later potential subsumption by his “atrocity of that darkness.”
    Part of me tries to infer where this pre-and post-fame narcissism derives. The narcissism of the brothers’ parents as it is mentioned explicitly in this bookhouse? The freehold author himself thinking his bookhouse is more famous (and followed avidly by exegesic academics) than it really is? Zampanò? Truant? Some unknown Ed or editor? Even me, with this all-consuming presumption of a review? You? (It says at the very beginning of this book that it is not for you!)
    [Some of these scattershot extracts about the brothers duly has lines of “rzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” intervening sporadically. But what does the ‘r’ stand for?]

  8. Pages 253 – 261

    “Ghosts always go first for the one who’s alone. In fact, I bet they’re here right now. Lurking.”

    Tom’s story, represented by a series of radio calls as he sits in his tent a few miles into the Hallway. A sort of rescue base, I guess, for the others further into the Hallway. This story has a noticeably much larger print font, perhaps to obviate further blank pages, that were creeping in like a sort of fear? Yet he starts raving a bit, with a series of wild bedtime stories, as if his sanity is threatened. One is about a Captain with a red shirt and pirate ships, a scene that happens to resonate with the section of the Sot-Weed Factor that I am simultaneously reviewing.

  9. Pages 261 – 275

    “Well, I’ve changed my mind. The Pekinese belongs here. With Tom’s hand shadows.”

    Strong stuff, I think we were promised earlier. Johnny — in one of his footnotes splitting big-fonted Tom’s Story into two — matches that story as the equally double big-titted Johnnie (a woman with a slightly different name from his own) amid a whole past November of women itemised by Johnny and Lude as a competition in the numbers of women they have instead of writing novels for November! And a Pekinese that Tom, in his tent, sees as Mr Monster in his manic vision and hand shadows, a dog that comes to ill between Johnny and Johnnie. All the while that Karen is feeling sorry for herself and for her missing Feng Shui. Strong stuff, indeed, about which I have given you only half the story. And why did Will Navidson edit into the final film all this about his brother Tom for posterity and for readers like me reading about these films and manias here? We readers of this book need to triangulate all our bespoke coordinates of this book before cohering its ultimate gestalt, I guess. Not only that, all the latest coordinates of participants in this book need triangulating, too, should they still be alive beyond the words and films they left behind.
    Beyond the fact of being ghosts.