Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Sot-Weed Factor - Part 4


The Sot-Weed Factor

Part Four 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 Three here:


10 responses to “The Sot-Weed Factor

  1. I think I must have been drunk or am generally confused whatever the cause — especially when I look back at the tail-end of where I left off on the previous page!



    Ebenezer was of course never dead, and hopefully never will be as long as there are reading eyes to read!
    This is, as you know, the famous chapter where Mary whoremonger Mungummory tells him of bawdiness and her tale of maidenheads while poking fun at E’s own maidenhead!

  2. 30

    I cannot spoil this plot more than I have already, so what if Ebenezer depends on a Lord Baltimore he has effectively never met to retain his Laureateship, amid complaints and recriminations against having been made to sleep in a corncrib all night as well as against Burlingame’s wiles and aliases and alliances, and his fling with E’s sister Anna, I impugn. Whatever the plot’s confusing ins and outs stemming from the channels of Barth’s imaginative wiles, I look forward to aubergines’ aliases, aka eggplants, that were the only real phenomenon that I remembered being in this book from fifty years ago! And they still have not turned up! Perhaps I imagined such eggplants all those years ago?
    Still, E does not imagine, I’m sure, the idyllic sight of his heritage house of Malden as he finally sees it upon approaching across water, not like Christ walking but on a sloop sailing!

  3. Cross-referenced with the HOUSE of Leaves, perhaps significantly, here:

  4. 31

    “To what evil state hath Malden sunk, to house such a circle of harpies!”

    It seems apt, in view of the above cross-reference, that Ebenezer is now, at last, at this book’s HOUSE, humiliated at having been swindled out of it, afraid of his sister’s and father’s reactions when they find out, and suffering the indignity of being helped into the house, in his sorry state, by the erstwhile swine herdswoman. No congratulatory toast for him, I guess. And then potentially tricked into marriage to her, and the sudden arrival of another recurring HenryB-typical return into the action as such plot depths duly pan out… including E witnessing a card game that gives the reader pages of typical textual spaces and tricksinesses so characteristic of the arguably truant bookhouse elsewhere in Virginia! —


    • Not tobacco smoked, so far, but the druggy-angled bookhouse of a more modern age? Of a different Bonnyville?
      “…the fact is, at that very instant his chair rose from the floor, passed through the roof of Malden, and shot up into the opalescent sky. As for Maryland, it turned blue and flattened into an immense musical surface, which suavely slid northwestward under seagulls.”

  5. 31 & 32

    An amazing co-vivid dream within Ebenezer as a premonition in 1960 of our times in 2021 — passages you MUST read about his surreal vision of the two mountains or Twin Peaks and the climbers there up. 

    “I shall make the piece a fiction! […] All my trials I’ll reconceive to suit the plot…”

    Followed by E’s urge to pursue his Laureateship as ‘fiction’, thus solipstically for Barth presaging this very novel itself (“the sot-weed factor allegory” as these chapters have it) (!) on the road to also presaging the truant HOUSE of tobacco LEAVES, I seriously propound.
    All the while still carrying such maddeningly complicated plots of these bookhouses as the PAlimpseST of alternate FUTUREs. Leaving Malden, at the end of these chapters, by journeying to or is it from Cooke’s own Point, with the faces of HB, Anna and Joan Toast explicitly merging in the text as one face…?


    1 & 2

    After dealings with that now wharf-rat called Spurdance, E meets another alias of HB! Who chats to E about his twin sister Anna being in Maryland and about her hankerings (not for himself, HB) but about her lust for her twin brother E!
    Much said, say, about Adam and Eve and Milton’s Satan and the earlier dream of Twin Peaks or Mountains as Anna’s breasts and much else on this topic that I can only convey as the greatest of all surprising literature by quoting it the whole of the second of these two chapters, painstakingly retyped below in the alternate world where I live, and now rescrabbled as follows under the double line (complete with E’s interpolatory ejaculations) … and I now understand why I showed this earlier: 

    “…your mother’s silver ring, that Anna gave you in the posthouse: did you
    know she was wont to read the letters ANNE B as ANN and EB conjoined?
    Can a poet be blind to the meaning of that gift and of the manner of its



    Ebenezer’s mouth opened; his features contorted wondrously.

    “Dear Heav’nly Father, Henry! What have you said?” 

    Burlingame turned his fist in his palm and frowned at the deck as he
    spoke. “Your sister is a driven and fragmented spirit, friend; the one half
    of her soul yearns but to fuse itself with yours, whilst the other half recoils
    at the thought. Tis neither love nor lust she feels for you, but a prime
    and massy urge to coalescence, which is deserving less of censure than
    of awe. As Aristophanes maintained that male and female are displaced
    moieties of an ancient whole, and wooing but their vain attempt at
    union, so Anna, I long since concluded, repines willy-nilly for the dark
    identity that twins share in the womb, and for the well-nigh fetal closeness
    of their childhood.” 

    “I shudder at the thought!” Ebenezer whispered. 

    “As well doth Anna so much so, that her fancy entertains it only in
    disguise yet no other thought than this impelled her to me in the summer-
    house! Twas quite in the middle of a fine May night; the night of your
    sixteenth birthday, and though the time f or’t was some days past, a shower
    of meteors was flashing from Aquarius. I had lingered late outside to watch
    these falling stars and plot their courses on a map of my own devising; so
    engrossed was I in the work that when Anna came up behind ” 

    “No more!” cried Ebenezer. “You took her maidenhead, God curse you,
    and there’s an end on’t!” 

    “Quite otherwise,” Burlingame replied. “We spent some hours discussing
    you, that were asleep in your chamber. Anna likened you to Phosphor, the
    morning star, and herself to Hesper, the mortal star of evening, and when
    I told her those twin stars were one and the same, and not a star at all but
    the planet Venus, the several portents of this fact near made her swoon!
    The sap was risen in her, any man could see. We tarried long in the summer-
    house that night, and long on many a balmy night thereafter; yet always,
    I will swear’t, I pleased her in no wise save as your proxy.” 

    “I’God, and you think this argues to your credit?” 

    Burlingame smiled. “There are two facts you’ve yet to swallow, Eben.
    The first is that I love no part of the world, as you might have guessed, but
    the entire parti-colored whole, with all her poles and contradictories. Coode
    and Baltimore alike I am enamored of, whatever the twain might stand for;
    and you know already what various ground hath held my seed. For this same
    reason ‘twas never you I loved, nor yet your sister Anna, but the twain in-
    separably, and could lust for neither alone. Whence issues the second fact,
    which is, that de’il the times her blood waxed warm the while she spoke of
    you, and de’il the times I kissed her as the symbol for you both, and played
    the sad games of her invention, yet your sister is a virgin still for aught
    of me!” 

    He laughed at Ebenezer’s shock and disbelief. “Aye, now, that wants
    some chewing, doth it not? Think with what relish, as a child, she would
    play Helen to your Paris, but ever call you Pollux by mistake! Recall that
    day in Thames Street when you chided her for lack of suitors and as a
    tease proposed me for the post ” 

    Ebenezer clutched his throat. “Marry!” 

    “Her reply,” Burlingame went on, “was that the search for beaux was
    fruitless, inasmuch as the man she loved most had the bad judgment to be
    her twin! And reflect, in the light of what I’ve told you, on this matter of
    your mother’s silver ring, that Anna gave you in the posthouse: did you
    know she was wont to read the letters ANNE B as ANN and EB conjoined?
    Can a poet be blind to the meaning of that gift and of the manner of its

    “To contemplate it is to risk the loss of my supper/’ Ebenezer groaned, 

    “Yet I must own there is some sense in all you say ” His face hardened. 

    “Save that she’s still a maid! That’s too much!” 

    His friend shrugged. “Believe’t or no. Well find her anon, I pray, and
    you may get a physician’s word for’t if you please.” 

    “But what you bragged of in the Cambridge tavern!” 

    “Many shuffle the cards that do not play. I could as easily have had at
    you in Bill Mitchell’s barn, but the truth is, as I said before, ’tis not the
    one nor the other I crave, but the twain as one. Haply the day will
    come when poor dear Anna’s secret lust will get the better of her reason
    and your own likewise (which, deny’t as you may, is plain to me!) : if such
    a day dawn, why then perchance I’ll come upon you sack a sack as did
    Catullus on the lovers, and like that nimble poet pin you to your work-
    nay, skewer you both like twin squabs on a spit!” 

    The poet shuddered. “This is too much to assimilate, Henry: Coode a
    hero; my father in Maryland searching for Anna and leagued with the villain
    Baltimore; Anna herself yet virginal; and you, after all that hath transpired
    you wholly innocent and still my friend! And marry come up, you make
    matters no simpler when you declare my sister’s lust to be reciprocal! Such
    a prurient notion hath never crossed my mind!” 

    Burlingame raised his eyebrows. “Then you quite deceived your servants
    at St. Giles. Mrs. Twigg was wont to tell me ” 

    “She was a foul-fancied harridan!” 

    “Why, they even had a rhyme, the which ” 

    “I know their scurrilous rhyme, whatever it be,” Ebenezer said impa-
    tiently. “I have heard a dozen such, since I was small. Nor is your wicked
    imputation foreign to me, if you must know, albeit I’m not a little shocked
    to hear you share it. Poor Anna and I since birth have breathed in an air of
    innuendo, the which hath oft and oft caused us to blush and lower our
    eyes. Since I was ten our father’s household hath assumed the worst of us,
    for no other reason than that we were twins. Twas Anna’s ill luck her
    body blossomed at an early age, and e’en her fondest girl friends
    e’en that same Meg Bromly who took your letters to her from Thames
    Street they all declared her ripening was my work and drove Anna to tears
    with their whispering! All this, mind, on no grounds whate’er save our
    twinship, and the fact that unlike many brothers and sisters we never quar-
    reled, but preferred each other’s company to the concupiscent world’s! I
    cannot grasp it.” 

    “Then for all thy Cambridge learning,” Burlingame laughed, “thou’rt
    not by half the scholar your sister is! When first I guessed her trouble, long
    ere she saw’t herself, we launched a long and secret enquiry into the subject
    of twins their place in legend, religion, -and the world. Twas my intent by
    this investigation not so much to cure Anna’s itch which I was not at all
    persuaded was an ailment as ’twas to understand it, to see it in’s perspective
    in the tawdry history of the species, if we might, and so contrive the most
    enlightened way to deal with it. I need not say my interest was as heartfelt
    as her own; her oft-sworn love for me, I could see clearly, was love for you,
    diverted and transmogrified by virtuous conscience. When she would run
    to me in the summer-house, ’twas as a jilted maiden runs to a convent and
    becomes the bride of Christ, and I sorely feared, if her case were not soon
    physicked, ‘twould bereave her altogether of her reason or else drive her to
    some surrogate not so tender of her honor as was I.” 

    “Dear God!” 

    “For this reason I led her on,” Burlingame continued. “I declared my
    love for her half in truth, you understand and together we explored the
    misty land of legends, both Christian and pagan; the stories brought back
    by mariners from far exotic places; and the literatures of classic and vulgar
    tongues. Four years we studiedfrom your fourteenth to your eighteenth
    year and all in secret. On the face oft our enquiry was beyond reproach,
    and I yearned for you to join us, but Anna would have none oft, though
    she herself could not say why. i’faith, Eben, what a tireless scholar is your
    sister!” He shook his head in reminiscent awe. “I could not find her volumes
    enough of voyage and travels, or heathen rites and practices: she would
    fall on ’em like a lioness on her prey, devour ’em in great bites, and thirst
    for more! I’d wager my life on’t, at seventeen years she was the world’s
    foremost authority on the subject of twins, and is today.” 

    “And I knew naught oft?” Ebenezer shook his head and laughed
    uncomprehendingly. “But what was the fruit of all this secret labor? What
    is there to know of us twins, save that we were conceived in a single

    “Why, that Gemini is your sign and springtime your season,” Burlingame

    “It wants no scholarship to hit on that. Tis common knowledge.” 

    “As is the fact that springtime and Maytime in particular is the season
    of fertility and the year’s first thunderstorms.” 

    “Don’t teasel” the poet said irritably. “This day and night have been
    my life’s most miserable, and I am near dead from shock and want of sleep,
    to say naught of misery. If all your study ploughed up no lore save this,
    have done with’t and let us rest. ‘Tis all impertinence.” 

    “On the contrary,” Burlingame declared. “So pertinent are our findings,,
    methinks you’d as well give o’er the search for Anna unless you hear ’em:
    ’tis better to be lost than saved by the wrong Messiah.” His manner and
    tone grew serious. “You know that spring is the season of storms and fer-
    tility, but do you know, as doth your sister, that of all the things our rustic
    forebears feared, the three that most alarmed them were thunder, lightning,
    ,and twins? Did you know thou’rt worshipped the whole world over, whether
    by murther or by godhood, if not both? Through the reverence of the most
    benighted salvage runs this double thread of storms and fornication, and
    the most enlightened sages have seen in you the embodiment of dualism,
    polarity, and compensation. Thou’rt the Heavenly Twins, the Sons of
    Thunder, the Dioscuri, the Boanerges; thou’rt the twin principles of male
    and female, mortal and divine, good and evil, light and darkness. Your tree
    is the sacred oak, the thunder-tree; your flower is the twin-leaved mistletoe,
    seat of the oak tree’s life, whose twin white berries betoken the celestial
    semen and are thus employed to rejuvenate the old, fructify the barren,
    and turn the shy maid’s fancies to lusty thoughts of love. Your bird is the
    red cock Chanticleer, singer of light and love. Your emblems are legion:
    twin circles represent you, whether suggested by the sun and moon, the
    wheels of the solar chariot, the two eggs laid by Leda, the nipples of
    Solomon’s bride, the spectacles of Love and Knowledge, the testicles of
    maleness, or the staring eyes of God. Twin acorns represent you, both be-
    cause they are the thunder-tree’s seed and because their two parts fit like
    male and female. Twin mountain peaks represent you, the breasts of
    Mother Nature; the Maypole and its ring are danced round in your
    honor. Your sacred letters are A, C, H, I, M, O, P, S, W, X, and Z ” 

    “I’Christ!” Ebenezer broke in. “Tis half the alphabet!” 

    “Each hath its separate import,” Burlingame explained, “yet all have
    common kinship with swiving, storms, and the double face of Nature. Your
    A, for example, is the prime and mightiest letter of the lot a god in itself,
    and worshipped by heathen the great world round. It represents the forked
    crotch of man, the source of seed, and also, by’s peak and by’s cross-line,
    the union of twain into one, that I’ll speak of anon. When you set two A’s
    cheek by jowl you see the holy nippled paps of Mother Earth, as well as
    the sign of the holy Asvins, the twin charioteers of Eastern lore. Your C
    betokens the crescent moon, that in turn is held to resemble man’s carnal
    sword, unsheathed and rising to the fray; two C’s entwined are the union of
    Heaven and Earth, or Christ and his earthly church ” 

    “In Heaven’s name, Henry, what are these riddles thou’rt flooding me

    “Anon, anon,” Burlingame said. “Your H portrays the same happy union
    of two into one: ’tis the zodiac sign for Gemini; the bridge ‘twixt the twin
    pillars of light and dark, love and learning, or what have you; ’tis also the
    eighth letter, and inasmuch as 8 is the mystic mark of redemption (by
    virtue of its copulating circles), ’tis no surprise that H is the emblem of
    atonement the making of two into one.” 

    “Again this mystery of twos and ones!” the poet protested. 

    ” ‘Tis no mystery when you know about I and O,” said Burlingame. “In
    every land and time folk have maintained that what we see as two are the
    fallen halves of some ancient onethat night and day, Heaven and Earth,
    or man and woman were long since severed by their sinful natures, and
    that not till Kingdom Come will the fallen twain be a blessed one. Tis
    this lies ‘neath the tale of Eve and Adam, and Plato’s fable, and the fall of
    Lucifer, and Heav’n knows how many other lovely lies; ’tis this the Lord
    Himself refers to, in the second epistle of Pope Clement: He declares His
    Kingdom shall come When the two shell be one, and the outside as the
    inside, and the male with the female. Thus all men reverence the act of
    fornication as portraying the fruitful union of opposites: the Heavenly
    Twins embraced; the Two as One!” 

    Ebenezer shivered. 

    “Your I and O are plainly then discovered,” Burlingame said with a
    smile: “the one is male, the other female; together they are the great god
    lo of Egypt, the ring on the maidens* merry Maypole, the acorn in its cup,
    the circumcised prepuce of the Jew, the genital letters P and Q and the
    silver seal ring Anna slipped upon your finger in the posthouse!” 


    “As for the others, your M is the twin mountain breasts I spoke of; S
    is the copulation of twin Cs face to face, and is sprung as well from the
    sacred Z; W the double-you, as M is the double-me W, I say 7 is a pair of
    Vs sack a sack: ’tis thus the sign of the Heavenly Twins of India, called
    Vritrahana, and the third part of the Druids’ invocation to their god, the
    whole of which was I.O.W. X, like A and H, is the joining of Two into
    One, and as such hath been venerated since long ere the murther of
    Christ; Z is the zigzag lightning flash of Zeus, or whatever god you please,
    and is ofttimes flanked, in ancient emblems, by the circles of the Heavenly
    Twins ” 

    “Enough!” the poet cried. “This dizzies me! What is the message oft,
    and what hath it to do with Anna and me?” 

    “Why, naught in the world,” Burlingame responded, “save to show you
    how deep in the marrow of man runs this fear and reverence for twins, and
    their connection with coitus and the weather. All over Africa the birth of
    twins is followed by dances of the lewdest sort: sometimes ’tis thought to
    prove the mother an adultress, since husbands generally get one babe at a
    time; other folk think the mother hath been swived by the Holy Spirit, or
    that the father hath an inordinate lingam. In sundry isles of the western
    ocean ’tis common for the salvages to throw coffee beans at the walls of a
    house where twins are born; they believe that otherwise one must die,
    inasmuch as twins break the laws of chastity while still embraced in their
    mother’s womb! In divers lands no living twins can be found, for the
    reason that one is always slain at birth; but murthered or not, they are
    worshiped in every place, and have been since time out of mind. The
    old Egyptians had their Taues and Taouis, the twins of Scrapeum at
    Memphis, as well as the sisters Tathautis and Taebis, the ibis-wardens of
    Thebes; in India reigned Yama and Yami, and the holy Asvins I spoke of
    earlier, that drew the Heavenly Chariot; the Persians worshipped Ahriman
    and Ormuz; the ancient myths of the Hebrews tell of Huz and Buz,
    Huppim and Muppim, Gog and Magog, and Bne and Baroq, to say naught
    of Esau and Jacob, Cain and Abel or as the Mohammedans have it, Cain
    and Alcima and Abel and Jumella —” 

    “Ah!” Ebenezer exclaimed. 

    “Some held,” Burlingame went on, “that Lucifer and Michael were
    twins, as are most gods of Light and Darkness; and for the selfsame cause
    the old Edessans of Mesopotamia, who erst had worshipped Monim and
    Aziz, were wont to regard e’en Jesus and Judas as hatched from a single egg!”


    “No more than that God and Satan themselves ” 

    “I don’t believe it!” Ebenezer protested. 

    “Tis not a question of your belief,” laughed Burlingame, “but of the
    fact that other wights think it true; ’tis but a retelling of the tale of Set and
    Horns, or Typhon and Osiris,, whom some Egyptians took for twins and
    others merely for rivals. But I was coming to the Greeks . . .” 

    “You may pass o’er them,” sighed the poet. “I know of Castor and
    Pollux, the sons of light and thunder, and as well of Helen and Clytemnes-
    tra, that were hatched with ’em from Leda’s eggs.” 

    “Then you must know too of Lynceus and Idas, that slew the Dioscuri;
    of Amphion and Zethus, that sacked and rebuilt Troy; of Heracles and
    Iphikles, that are twins in this tale and half-brothers in that, and of Hesper
    and Phosphor, the morning and evening stars.” 

    “And now you’ll go to Rome, I’ll wager, and speak of Romulus and

    “Aye,” said Burlingame, “to say naught of Picumnus and Pilumnus, or
    Mutumnus and Tutumnus. ‘Twas the great respect accorded these classic
    twins that carried them into the Christian Church, which had the good
    sense to canonize ’em in lieu of fighting back. Hence the Greek and Roman
    Catholics pray to Saints Romolo and Remo, Saints Kastoulos and Poly-
    euctes, and e’en St. Dioscoros; the more superstitious amongst them go yet
    farther and regard as twins Saints Crispin and Crispian, Florus and Laurus,
    Marcus and Marcellianus, Protasius and Gervasius —” 

    “A surfeit!” cried the poet. “There is a surfeit!” 

    ‘You have not heard the best of all,” Burlingame insisted. “They will
    hold Saints John and James to be twins as well, and e’en Saints Jude and
    Thomas, inasmuch as Thomas means ‘a twin/ Til not trouble you with
    Tryphona and Tryphosa, that Paul salutes in’s Epistle to the Romans, but
    turn instead to the Aryan heroes Baltram and Sintram, or Cautes and
    Cautopates, and the northern tales of Sieglinde and Siegmunde, the
    incestuous parents of Siegfried, or Baldur, the Norseman’s spirit of Light,
    and his enemy, dark Loki, that slew him with a branch of mistletoe!” 

    “Tis a hemisphere overridden with godly twins!” Ebenezer marveled. 

    Burlingame smiled. “Yet it wants twin hemispheres to make a whole:
    when Anna and I turned our eyes to westward, we found in the relations
    of the Spanish and English adventurers no less a profusion of Heavenly
    Twins, revered by sundry salvages; and the logs of divers voyages to the
    Pacific and Indian Oceans were no different. Methinks there is not a tribe
    upon the planet that hath not the like of the Boanerges! Old Cortez, when
    he raped the glorious Aztecs, found them worshiping Quetzalcoatl and
    Tezcatlipoca, as their neighbors reverenced Hun-hun-ahpu and Vukub
    hun-ahpu. Pizarro and his cohorts, had they been curious enough to ask,
    would have found in the southern pantheon such twins as Pachakamak
    and Wichoma, Apocatequil and Piquerao, Tamendonaré and Arikuté, Karu
    and Rairu, Tiri and Karu, Keri and Kame. Why, I myself, enquiring here
    and there among the Indians of these parts, have leamt from the
    Algonkians that they reverence Menabozho and Chokanipok, and from the
    Naked Indians of the north that they pray to Juskeha and Tawiskara. From
    the Jesuit missionaries I have learnt of a nation called the Zuni, that
    worship Ahaiyuta and Matsailema; of another called Navaho, that worship
    Tobadizini and Nayenezkani; of another called Maidu, that worship
    Pemsanto and Onkoito; of another called Kwakiutl, that worship Kanigyilak
    and Nemokois; of another called Awikeno, that worship Mamasalanik and
    Noakaua all of them twins. Moreover, there is in far Japan a band of hairy
    dwarfs that pray to the twins Shi-acha and Mo-acha, and amongst the gods
    of the southern ocean reign the great Si Adji Donda Hatahutan and his
    twin sister, Si Topi Radja Na Uasan . . .” 

    ” ‘Tis your scheme to drive me mad!” 

    “Nay, that is their name, I swear’t: Si Adji Donda Hatahutan and
    his ” 

    “No matter! No matter!” Ebenezer shook his head as though to jar his
    senses into order. “You have proved to the very rocks and clouds that twin-
    worship is no great rarity in this earth!” 

    Burlingame nodded acknowledgment. “Sundry pairs of these twins are
    opposites and sworn enemiessuch as Satan and God, Ahriman and Ormuz,
    or Baldur and Loki and their fight portrays the struggle of Light with
    Darkness, the murther of Love by Knowledge, or what have you. Sundry
    others represent the equivocal state of man, that is half angel and half
    beast: thus with Hesper and Phosphor, Zethus and Amphion,, Castor
    and Polydeuces, Iphikles and Heracles, or Judas and Jesus, the first of each
    pair is mortal and the second divine. Still others are the gods of fornication,
    like Mutumnus and Tutumnus, or Picumnus and Pilumnus; if less than
    gods, they yet may be remembered for incestuous lust, like Cain and his
    Alcima, and even be honored for swiving up a hero, as were Sieglinde and
    Siegmunde. How Anna loved the Siegfried tales!” 

    So heavy with revelations was the poet, he could only wave his hand
    against this remark. 

    “Yet whether their bond be love or hate or death,” Burlingame con-
    cluded, “almost always their union is brilliance, totality,, apocalypse a thing
    to yearn and tremble for! Tis this union Anna desires with all her heart,
    howe’er her mind disguise it; ’tis this hath brought her halfway round the
    globe to seek you out, and your father to fetch her home if he can find her.
    Tis this your own heart bends to, will-ye, nill-ye, as a flower to the light,
    to make you one and whole and nourished as ne’er since birth; or as a
    needle to the lode, to direct you to the harbor of your destinyl And ’tis this
    I yearn for too, and naught besides: I am Suitor of Totality, Embracer of
    Contradictories, Husband to all Creation, the Cosmic Lover! Henry More
    and Isaac Newton are my pimps and aides-de-chambre; I have known my
    great Bride part by splendrous part, and have made love to her disjecta
    membra, her sundry brilliant pieces; but I crave the Wholethe tenon in
    the mortise, the jointure of polarities, the seamless universe whereof you
    twain are token, in coito! I have no parentage to give me place and aim
    in Nature’s order: very well I am outside Her, and shall be Her lord and

    Burlingame was so aroused by his own rhetoric that at the end of this
    speech he was pacing and gesturing about the cabin, his voice raised to the
    pitch and volume of an Enthusiast’s; even had Ebenezer not been too
    dismayed for skepticism, he could scarcely have questioned his former
    tutor’s sincerity. But he was stunned, as well with recognition as with appall:
    he clutched his head and moaned. 

    Burlingame stopped before him, “Surely you’ll not deny your share of

    The poet shook his head. Til not deny that the soul of man is deep and
    various as the reach of Heav’n,” he replied, “or that he hath in germ
    the sum of poles and possibilities. But I am stricken by what you say of me and

    “What have I said, but that thou’rt human?” 

    Ebenezer sighed. “’Tis quite enough.” 

    By this time the sun was bright in the eastern sky, and the Pilgrim stood
    well down the Bay for Point Lookout and St. Mary’s City; the other pas-
    sengers were awake and stirring about their quarters. At Burlingame’s sug-
    gestion they fastened their scarves and coats and went on deck, the better
    to speak in private. 

    “How is’t you know Anna to be in St. Mary’s? Why did she not come
    straight to Maiden?” 

    “’Tis your man Bertrand’s fault,” Burlingame answered and, laughing
    at Ebenezer’s bewilderment and surprise, confessed that when he had dis-
    patched Bertrand from Captain Mitchell’s to St. Mary’s City back in
    September, he had charged the valet not only to retrieve the Laureate’s
    trunk but if possible to claim it in the guise of the Laureate himself, the
    better to throw John Coode off the scent while they made their way to
    Maiden. “To this end I rashly loaned him your commission ” 

    “My commission! Then ’tis true you stole it from me back in England!” 

    Burlingame shrugged. ” Twas I authored it, was’t not? Besides, would it
    not have gone worse with you had Pound been certain of your identity?
    In any case, there was some peril in your man’s assignment, and ’twas my
    thought, if Coode should kill or kidnap him with the paper on his person,
    he might think you yourself were an impostor ‘twould have spun his com-
    pass for fair! Howbeit, he could not rest at fetching your trunk, it seems,
    but must parade St. Mary’s City as the Laureate and declare his post in
    every inn and tavern.” 

    “Ah God, the vain and faithless wretch!” 

    Thus it was, Burlingame declared, that on reaching the port of St. Mary’s
    some time ago, Anna had been given to think her brother was in the town
    and had disembarked in quest of him. “I myself heard naught of this until
    old Andrew came to Captain Mitchell’s; he had leamt in London of my
    whereabouts, and, like you, thinks Anna hath come to be my wife. But he
    believes thou’rt party to the scheme as well and are pimping us in some
    wise: when he learns the state of things at Maiden, today or tomorrow,
    he’ll assume you’ve fled with the twain of us to Pennsylvania, where fly
    all fugitives from responsibility the more readily, inasmuch as neither
    Anna nor the false Laureate hath been seen or heard of since she landed.”
    He sucked in the corner of his mouth. ” ‘Twas my intent to stay with
    Andrew, disguised as Timothy Mitchell, the better to temper his wrath
    and learn his connection with Lord Baltimore; but so vain hath been my
    search for parentage in the world, and so much rancor hath that search
    engendered, from the Jesuit Thomas Smith and others, ’twas no longer safe
    to play that role.” 

    Ebenezer asked what were his tutor’s present plans. 

    ‘We’ll put ashore together at St. Mary’s,” Burlingame said. “You then
    enquire in public places for news of Anna or Eben Cooke, and I shall search
    alone for Coode.” 

    “At once? Is’t not more urgent to find my sister ere some harm befall

    “Tis but two paths to a single end,” replied Burlingame. “No man
    knows more than Coode of what transpires in Maryland, and for aught we
    know he may have made prisoners of them both,” 


    “Besides which, if I can win his confidence, he may abet us in regaining
    your estate. ‘Twill be a joy to him, after all, to hear the Laureate of Mary-
    land is his ally!” ^ 

    “Nay, not so swiftly,” Ebenezer protested. “I may be disabused of my
    faith in Baltimore, but I’ve sworn no oaths of loyalty to John Coode. In
    any case, as you well know, I ne’er was Laureate and even had I been, I’d
    be no longer. Look at this.” He drew the ledger from his coat and showed
    Burlingame the finished Marylandiad, which in view of its antipanegyric
    tone he had retitled The Sot-Weed Factor. “Call’t a clumsy piece if you
    will,” he challenged. ” ‘Tis honest nonetheless, and may spare others my

    “What’s full of heart may be bare of art” Burlingame asserted with in-
    terest, “and vice-versa.” He held the ledger open against the rail and read
    the work closely several times while the Pilgrim ran down the Bay to Point
    Lookout, where the Potomac River meets Chesapeake Bay. Although he
    made no comments either favorable or unfavorable, when the time came
    for them to transfer to the lighter for St. Mary’s City he insisted that the
    poem be forwarded aboard the Pilgrim to Ben Bragg, at the Sign of the
    Raven in Paternoster Row. 

    “But he’ll destroy it!” exclaimed the poet. “D’you recall how I came by
    this ledger back in March?” 

    “He’ll not destroy it,” Burlingame assured him. “Bragg is obliged to me
    in ways I shan’t describe.” 

    There was no time to ponder the proposal; with some misgivings Ebene-
    zer allowed his former tutor to entrust The Sot-Weed Factor to the bark’s
    captain, who also refunded the balance of his fare to England, and the
    two men were ferried upriver to St. Mary’s City.

HOUSE of Leaves - Part 5


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



10 responses to “**

  1. Pages 397 – 402

    “How can a little snail grow in its stone prison?”

    The torpid Navidson (obsessed more with revisiting his own bookhouse rather than worrying about the film of his wife Karen being kissed) actually revisits — before possibly embarking on the potentially famous Exploration #5 — my own reading headshell.
    And so I realise that my own return to this bookhouse — after a short break, to get some terrifying medical scans for cancer in my body — is tantamount to having the same two co-vivid dreams as Navidson (the first two of three such dreams), dreams travelling from the lockdown of a concrete chamber to the various symbolisms of the snailshell — and it is more my rite of passage than his. The small clue is in the explicitly meaningful typo of ‘parentethical384’ as an echo of all such interpretations of typos in my gestalt real-time reviewing over the years, thus indicating that I have by now tantamount to written myself into this bookhouse as an option to probably being written out of life itself!
    (Not yet sure Navidson ever did reach the third ‘far most terrifying’ dream!)

  2. Pages 403 – 407

    Truant’s footnote may indeed resolve the misery, and HE might be ‘gifted’ the third dream instead of Navidson. And it is most terrifying I find, making Truant’s sex life and a ship’s engine room and a ‘frat boy’ meld with the act of playing truant, as it were, from a book that is being, by chance, simultaneously real-time reviewed here whereby, ironically, Truant’s narration entails a ‘plastic’ pliability and bodily melting induced by a.n. other not lovingly, as in the other book, but brutally. A disarming deformation purely for real, not even partially figuratively disarming…
    Meanwhile, Navidson’s return to this bookhouse (for Exploration #5??) does not help to heal the colluding tree that made it, nor the person colluding with that tree, I guess! But it seems this bookhouse’s still evolving gestalt, by dint of Navidson’s return, heals a whole wide range of people who are reading (or have read) this huge book of pages and also maybe heals people who have never read it and will never read it, perhaps just such a person as you who is reading my review of it today.

  3. FA57034D-3B5C-4B31-B238-5001C9A483D5

    When I decided a few weeks ago to real-time review THE SOT-WEED FACTOR here and THIS bookhouse simultaneously, I really had no idea or conscious memory that would have indicated these two bookhouses were thus so obviously linked. Here at the beginning of this chapter with references to Pocahontas, the tobacco industry etc.
    Indeed, having just witnessed Karen’s ‘sisterly’ meeting with the solicitor, I realise that one of their topics was whether there was any evidence of a myth or legend underlying the foundations of the HOUSE which would account for the ‘haunting’. And I now wonder if the Barth bookhouse haunts the Danielewski bookhouse, or vice versa, or both haunting each other mutually?
    And are the LEAVES tobacco????????
    Surely I should have put the two Virginias together before now.
    I have been slipping. 😦

    • Pages 410 – 413

      “…juft a breeze rustling through a handful of dying weeds warning away the illufion of time in the same language of a cemetery.”

      Truant’s footnote takes us into his determination to get to Virginia to suss out the bookhouse for himself – with his being evicted anyway! He visits Lude in transit with the latter’s digressive story involving Gdańsk Man. But I do notice Truant is now often using the letter f instead of the letter s just like Ebenezer Cooke himself (a character reinvoked by Barth) would have done in his eighteenth century published book!
      Meanwhile, in view of the ‘dying weeds’ in quote above….

      “Lude laughed as he finifhed the story and then promptly coughed up a chunk of something brown.”

    • Cf the ‘vagina complex’ mentioned earlier in this review.

    • Pages 413 – 417

      “Ftrange as it muft seem, Tiggs, Verm, and I take comfort in the found.”

      “Nevertheless, while the journal may offer some proof that Navidson’s extraordinary property existed almost four hundred years ago, why that particular location401 proved so significant remains unanswered.”

      Meanwhile, Karen’s compulsion to return there to find her ‘Navy’ and her change of heart about selling it intrigues us, as does her famous smile’s morphing or deconstructing as a result. And what “yawn of dark” did she not see behind her that the text so far avoids describing, avoids it in an unfinished sentence as a means of reductive redaction…

      As an oblique aside, Cf the words
      Tattoo Tobacco

  4. XIX

    “In photojournalism the celerity with which a moment of history is seized testifies to the extraordinary skill required.”

    It’s not just taking a shot and hoping for the best. Or it IS just that because you ARE the BEST. Instincts more important than deliberations. As I feel when taking shots of this book. The emptinesses that are full of meaning. Just like in Navidson’s famous photograph of Delial and the vulture in Sudan.
    And the context of his returning to the bookhouse for Exploration #5 simply because ‘…”he wanted to get a better picture.”410
    My book reviews, incidentally, have long been operated, by instinct, with this chapter’s “seven incarnations […] to becoming an Artist.”

  5. XX

    As in XX in 2019, it is fitting that some poignant crux of this bookhouse’s wild typology and death as an abyss and (tobacco?) ash is reached in chapter XX. An experience of typographical adventure that you will never forget either because it is so inspiringly resonant with Navidson’s huge mountain bike journey, amid references to Mannful magic mountain climbing (cf Ebenezer’s recent twin peaks or mountains of dream vision in the Factor) or because it is so brazenly pretentiously avant garde for the year 2000. Or both! Well, having been born in 1948, I am perhaps the crucial example of this chapter’s ‘septuagenarians puttering about in their English garden’ but now in 2021 I am unable, because of lockdown, to go to the pub to fetch the book of matches that Navidson has already taken on his vast Hallway (often freewheeling) journey as his Exploration #5 and ends up burning this very bookhouse page by page using such a BOOK of matches, as described, matches that are usually used on cigarettes in pubs! This is the very book he is burning for missing light, the bookhouse in which his journey is taking place, and where Navidson exists in the first place, though! No doubt trying to turn it and him into that ash on Ash Tree Lane, “in a trance born out of motion describing the ash floor in front of him before it is already behind him…” “All that remains is the ash black slab…” A “bartizan” that is Barth? “He tries to read faster, inevitably loses some of the text, frequently burns his fingers.” An ash of “A different kind of black”? “…that grotesque vision of absence.”

    “I can’t help thinking I’m going to reach an edge to this thing. I’ll be going too fast to stop and just fly off into darkness.”