A. E. Ellis (Derek Lindsay)
London: Heinemann, 1958; Richmond, Va.: Valancourt, 2014 (with a new introduction by Andrew Sinclair)
Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! He hates him much
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer. — King Lear, 5.3.314
“I have written of evil. . . . Naturally I have exaggerated the pitch along the lines of that sublime literature which sings of despair only to cast down the reader and make him desire the good as the remedy.” — Lautréamont to the publisher of his Chants de Maldoror (emphasis added)
Valancourt Press continues its wholly admirable project of bring back into print — and hopefully to you attention — works of British mid-century fiction that either failed to find their proper place the first time around, or met a rapturous welcome only to be promptly forgotten. We’ve reviewed here some samples of both: John Braine’s The Vodi is a classic example of the first, a sophomore effort pilloried for not recapitulating his first novel success, Room at the Top; A Room in Chelsea Square by “Michael Nelson” is an example of the second.
The Rack also resembles Square in its pseudonymous and eccentric authorship. But the subject matter – wealthy, more or less artistic poofters and their boy toys – couldn’t be further away. Here The Rack lines up with The Vodi – impecunious, shiftless ex-serviceman undergoing treatment for tuberculosis and conducting a doomed love affair; also, we meet some of the same social features of post war Britain.
But mostly, The Rack recalls The Magic Mountain: bland, naïve student comes to Alpine sanitarium, disease is discovered, spends years in treatment funded by inheritance, conducts futile love affair. Of course there are slight differences; our hero, Paul Devenant, is, as noted, an ex-serviceman (thus combining both Mann’s Hans Castrop and his soldier brother, Joachim, whom he comes up to visit), the location is the French Alps, not Switzerland, the time post WWII not pre WWI.
But the key difference is that Ellis/Lindsay’s book is entirely free of the longwinded characters and discussions of politics, metaphysics and metaphysical politics that take up the bulk of Mann’s novel; while TB provides merely a setting, and an occasional metaphor, for Mann’s account of Hans Castorp’s — and by implication, European Man’s — Bildung, The Rack is entirely devoted to charting the progress of Paul’s disease and treatment.
However, anyone who ever said, in a no-nonsense Anglo-Saxon manner, that they’d like to be able to dip into a novel like Mann’s but without all that Teutonic huffing and puffing will perhaps find themselves regretting their wish: The Rack is, at least superficially, some four hundred pages of relentlessly chronicled physical decline, emotional torment and medical torture:
The author, writing perhaps from personal experience, convincingly depicts the medical (mis)treatment suffered by the protagonist, who is given an incredible run-around by ludicrous doctors who diagnose his condition as alternately hopeful then not. The protagonist’s one chance for real happiness, an affair with a fellow (female) patient, does not endure, unlike his illness. The novel’s finale finds him facing a seemingly perpetual future among the sanatoria in the mountains. (Amazon reviewer)
A good index of the difference in tone is the use of the “pneumothorax” procedure; here’s a description from another source:
A needle is inserted between his fourth and fifth rib on his left side and air is pumped into the space between the lung and the rib cage — known as the pleural cavity — with the result that the adjacent lung collapses. The procedure was performed under local anesthesia and was relatively straightforward.
In Mann’s book, Hans meets up with it on his first day, when one of those modern gals whistles at him in passing, without moving her mouth. His brother explains that as a result of the procedure, she can expel air out of her side, and enjoys shocking newcomers with her talent. Later, a comic butt named Herr Ferge has endured the “pleural shock” induced by a botched procedure (a kind of embolism) which he compulsively describes at all opportunities, to great embarrassment all around.
Not so Ellis; the procedure, which is referenced 57 times between p. 44 and the end, is described in great detail, along with all of its excruciating complications.
Nevertheless, The Rack tends to have a powerful, almost life-altering — and life-affirming — effect on its readers. The same Amazon reviewer goes on to say:
I read this novel twenty years ago sitting up all night by a wood stove in South Wales. I was about twenty-five and recently married. I found it heartbreaking. The love affair Paul has with Michele moved me immeasurably, with the final pages finishing me off. Tearful throughout, I broke down, sobbing. Why this book is so often out of print I will never know. Nor can I understand why no film has been made of it. . . . I advise anyone who can get hold of a copy of The Rack to read it and then pass it on to a friend. I don’t think I’ll ever read it again, though. It would be pointless. This book still affects me more than anything I’ve read since.
Finding this book in a second hand shop in 1984, I was impressed by Graham Greene’s effusive rating in the blurb and bought it. I ended up reading it in one go, and like the other reviewers, thought it was exceptional, one of the four or five best books I had ever read and possibly the most emotionally moving. . . . This is a truly great book, I challenge anyone to read it and not find it so. It is incomprehensible that it is not better known. Read it if you can.
Speaking of Graham Greene’s “effusive rating,” let’s dry ourselves off and look at some of that early praise from sober literary critics, lest you think this is one of Oprah’s picks:
“There are certain books we call great for want of a better term, that rise like monuments above the cemeteries of literature: Clarissa, Great Expectations, Ulysses. The Rack to my mind is one of this company.” — Graham Greene
“Book of the year if there ever was one.” — V. S. Pritchett, New Statesman
“A work of sombre power, of soaring comedy.” — Cyril Connolly, Sunday Times
I can’t say that I came to this reprint with the same background, never having read the book in the first place, but it did immediately ring a bell. I recalled seeing it, like many reviewers on Amazon and elsewhere, in used bookstores over the years, either in its original orange Penguin cover or the later ’80s Modern Classic with the monumental cover, and been struck by its stark title and unknown author, but never got around to taking it up. Having had such good luck with Valancourt’s various reissues, I got a copy as soon as it was announced, and after reading this review you should — and will — too.
The Rack is in three parts, like the Divine Comedy, although the comparison could only be ironic (or, as we shall see, perhaps not). The first part, after Paul, slightly tubercular, arrives as part of a group of students on some kind holiday/spa stay, has a relapse and must remain for treatment, consists in “two and a half years of complications resulting from the first pneumothorax.”
“In these enlightened days there is always something we can do. If necessary we could strip down your ribs on the affected side and collapse the chest wall on to the lung: that would surely arrest the secretion.”
“You are a medical student, Monsieur Davenant? No? It is a pity. You see, your temperature curve makes the outline of an inverted frog. First you think it goes down, but I know it goes up. Then you think it goes up, but I know it goes down. Science, I think, is very interesting.”
Actually, of course, “science” has little or nothing to do with it, as none of these doctors knows anything useful about tuberculosis, and the “state of the art” treatments are more akin to mediaeval torture, as Dr. Vernet (an inverted frog, indeed) glibly alludes: “You are now well enough for a new torture, one that I think you will not like at all,” he announced very affably.
In sum, as one critic notes,
. . . the doctors . . . are authoritarian, incompetent or dishonest. Generous or rapacious, kindly or sarcastic, none of his physicians are able to help, and the final outcome would have been much the same if the unspeakable Dr. Bertin (“a notoriously dubious character, a drunkard and a drug addict”) had been in charge.
Not all is unrelieved gloom, of course. Part One interleaves Paul’s torments with the increasing complaints, petitions and ultimately direct action by the students against the food, proudly referred to as le régime — black bread and boiled noodles, in contrast to the rich fare served up to Mann’s elite patients — which seems less medicinal and more like typically cheap and mean French “hospitality,” of the sort gleefully documented by Huysmans in the studies of sordid everyday life that bookend À rebours, En Rade and À vau-l’eau.
The soup was the lachrymal secretion of empty heads and empty larders; the past, in its centimeter of cloudy exudation, looked like a dish of etiolated, disintegrating octopus; the permitted daily ration of fruit was composed solely of grapes of the size and rigidity of small marbles, testicular pellets taut with a surfeit of seeds set in a glutinous and bitter fluid.
“When will you [patients] realize that the true meaning of Christmas is not stuffing but self-sacrifice?”
Ellis also creates a wonderfully comic foil for Paul, an English ne’er do well that rivals Blackadder’s Lord Flashheart for boy’s own mag roguery:
“A few weeks from now there’ll be a great smell floating across the Alps — it will be me, stinking of money. Till then, keep alive!”
“Warning, never try the aspirin trick. Just as you’re getting the last one down the first starts coming up. They ought to warn you on the bottle. Best thing’s to stay alive. Try and grab life by the knackers — it gives you something to hold onto!”
As ol’ Flashy would say, “Woof woof!”
But mostly, it’s pretty dire stuff.
Part Two should theoretically be lighter, as it introduces Paul’s romance with a young Belgian patient, Christine. However, Ellis being Ellis, Paul being Paul, and the times being what they are (as we said in our review of The Vodi, in post-war Britain girlfriend = job, which neither is going to be able to handle), we know this won’t end well.
A kiss is just another transfusion: “. . . under his teeth thin fillets of bloods spread from her lips to his mouth.”
And Paul, of course, continues his ineffectual ways:
“How can you speak in such terms of our love?”
“They’re the only terms I know.”
“Terms of defeat?”
Paul held her in his arms. It was the sort of indeterminate, negative decision to which his nature was the most prone. . . .
His life had entered its optimum phase. This was both the meridian and the point of eclipse.
Part Three introduces another level of comedy: the institutional and bureaucratic. The holding company that operates several sanatoria, including Paul’s, begins to rationalize and downsize (now we learn the ultimate reasons for the absurd level of economy with food and accommodations) and the doctors now jockey among themselves to obtain the best positions in the new, combined facilities, while Paul’s treatment continues in its nugatory way. As we might expect, after some transfers and confusions of rooms and doctors, Paul winds up back at Les Alpes with the three medical stooges anyway; neither his locale nor his treatment will ever change, to say nothing of improve.
Patients and personnel were absorbed, as though by transfusion, into the leuchaemic blood stream of Les Alpes. Porters, taxi-drivers and clients bustled down the main arteries of the reviving giant like red corpuscles newly introduced; trunks and cases, fed in great quantities into its digestive system, were distributed, separated from their contents and eliminated. The operation lasted several hours and rested in the resuscitation of the second invalid and in the extirpation of the first.
Dr. Vernet, however, energized perhaps by his professional maneuvering, suddenly evinces both concern and competence, successfully detecting and thwarting Paul’s suicide attempt. Perhaps as a result, he wins his ultimate prize, Médecin Chef of the new institution, only to immediately suffer a relapse into his own, long dormant tubercular condition.
What can be the appeal of this narrative of repetitive, futile medical torture? Of course, there is the high literary quality. Style and subject are integrated from the start, the whole landscape is envisioned for us in the most medicinal, or diseased and funereal ways; on arrival at the sanitarium, birds, for instance, appear to “Wheel about . . . grouped together in great clouds which resembled the myriad of germ cells revealed by a microscope in a drop of contaminated water.” Later, “a series of step gardens, leveled with snow,” appear as
December graves in a paupers’ cemetery. Low trees skirted the periphery of the gardens, their lopped-off branches forming the skulls o white carnival heads brought to a state of dripping decomposition by the sun’s rays.
And from the last part,
The size not of the graveyard but of the graves abruptly diminished, as if patients who had coughed themselves in two had been buried each half separately.
At the same time, ordinary “poetic touches” tare rejected as trivializing attempts to hide rather than reveal the situation, in comparison with this death-infused stuff, and sternly rebuked:
Dr. Bruneau held the syringe to the light. “Opaque and iridescent,” he said dreamily. “Packet- boats gliding down Aegean waters . . .” “It must be crawling,” Soeuer Miriam’s voice rebuked the poet in Dr. Bruneau.
The classic comedy of repetition, à la Beckett, or the Marx Brothers, is occasionally invoked with a bitter aftertaste:
“Why haven’t you complained?”
“What would be the use?”
“It would be no use.”
“That’s why I haven’t complained.”
For the modern reader there are also the anachronistic pleasures we’ve come to expect from Valancourt’s editions. We’ve already noted the presumption that love entails marriage, which entails the male get a good-paying job. Also, we are thrown back to that pleasant time when any Brit with a smidgen of education and travel experience could be expected to meet up with French phrases in conversation, and if reading “serious fiction” would be expected to cope with conversations in French; while today’s American reader has to rely on dimly recalled high school classes or in extreme cases, Google Translate.
It’s often combined with the bitter comedy as well:
“I speak no English. Do you speak French?
“Very badly,” replied Paul
Early on, the jovial Dr. Vernet conducts an impromptu English lesson before skewering Paul once more:
He turned to Dr. Bruneau. “Voyons, mon cher Bruneau, l’anglais est tres facile – tous les mots sont les memes qu’on francais.”
“Ponction sternale, sternal punction,” repeated Dr. Bruneau.
“’Punction’ veut dire ‘pontion’; oui, c’est facile, ca . . . Voila! Nous sommes tous des polyglots! Maintenant travaillons!”
Of course, even here it can’t match The Magic Mountain, which has entire scenes in French.
And, undoubtedly as a function of its immediate postwar origins rather than any “revisionist” impulse, the fabled Holocaust is played for laughs — a delusional patient (Paul’s “only friend in France” quoted above) weaves a complicated tale of running from persecution as a willing collaborator: “Did you hear for the crimes of the Gestapo? You should see what is done to collaborators after the Liberation.” After his suicide his wife arrives to collect effects and neatly punctures the tale:
“But this watch . . . he said he had taken it from a rich Jew.”
“I was the rich Jew. It was my wedding present to him fifteen years ago.”
Based on his own experiences, the combination of fact with the carefully judged literary technique suggests another level of appeal:
This was what [Tom] Wolfe called New Journalism, in which some journalists and essayists experimented with a variety of literary techniques, mixing them with the traditional ideal of dispassionate, even-handed reporting. More specifically, Wolfe experimented with four literary devices not normally associated with feature writing—scene-by-scene construction, extensive dialogue, multiple points of view, and detailed description of one’s status-life symbols (the materialistic choices one makes)—to produce this stylized form of journalism, which would later be commonly referred to as literary journalism.
The Rack can be seen as a kind of New Journalism avant la lettre (as it might say), whose nonfiction cred is attested to by appearing in several studies of patient literature by physicians. In which case it would rank alongside such “non-fiction novels” of death and torture as Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; the latter in fact might have made a good title for Ellis’s book as well.
But of course it’s not called In Cold Blood, it’s called The Rack, and therein lies the ultimate reason for its effect on readers: it more or less covert metaphysical significance.
The meaning of the title does not reveal itself until the very last pages. Beforehand, we only hear it used a few times; appropriate ones, not random, I suspect: a “racking” cough and a rack of medical instruments; symptom and treatment.
Now, the symbolism of the rack is obvious, at least superficially. Pain, torture, and human existence conceived of in its image. Life sucks. (This seems to be what people mean when they call it an “existentialist” novel.)
Fair enough, but I think the symbolism runs a bit deeper here; it‘s not just a clever title but the key to the entire process presented for our edification. It is not the torture as such that matters but the position that is significant; Paul is stretched out on the rack (as the Lear quote makes clear).
Though his lucidity remained unimpaired, his existence was purely physical; an agglomeration of aching, burning flesh, he felt himself to be no more than the sum of his functions and sensations.
This is brought out most clearly in a remarkably scene where Paul, as part of his treatment/torture, is strapped to a table and spun around in vacuous nausea inducing positions. Here he comes to feel “the humiliating perspective from which the horizontal view the vertical.”
This horizontal realm is the Field of Experience, the mathematical grid, the warp and woof of material existence, as explicated by René Guénon in The Symbolism of the Cross and elsewhere.
Faint luminous lines which framed the curtains — a useful, empirical proof that he was not sealed in his coffin.
Both disease and treatment force the patient to become aware of, and be brought to gladly surrender, the material state we are otherwise blindly entrapped in. All aesthetics, philosophy, theology, etc. are ruthlessly kept out of the sterile chamber; its premature introduction would be a contamination.
“Can’t you grasp that you are living in the world of a romantic young boy still at his lycee? Develop, grow up, cher monsieur,” he exhorted, throwing his arms apart.
This idea must be carefully distinguished from the bourgeois notion that the naïve Hans Castorp brings from the lowlands, that disease and suffering somehow inevitably, ipso facto, confer nobility and spirituality on the afflicted. Contact with the inhabitants of the Magic Mountain, such as the aforementioned Herr Ferge, disabuses him of that notion, while Ellis’ approach is too matter of fact for it to be an issue at all.
As Evola explains in the Doctrine of Awakening, revulsion from the material world, arising not from feminine/Christian weakness, but, as in the case of Prince Gautama, from a proud, lofty Aryan revulsion — I am better than this, I am more than this — is not an inevitable reaction, but depends on one’s spiritual endowments. Like the early Pali Buddhism Evola expounds, metaphysical speculation is eschewed and attention directed solely to the poisoned arrow and the means of its removal.
Speaking of Evola, this relates to another metaphysical issue: suicide is not the appropriate response. It’s interesting that Dr. Vernet tries to warn Paul off the idea not by bringing in morality but metaphysics, including a discussion of Schopenhauer.
“There is an old superstition, monsieur, that on is best advised to live out one’s life. Or don’t you mind running the risk of having it all over again? . . . Inability to adapt yourself to this world was perhaps not the best recommendation for prematurely moving on to the next.”
This calls our attention to two chief characteristics of the physical realm, other than pain and suffering: repetition and inevitability, which characterize Paul’s torturous treatment.
This is the way it ended — the same fetal position in which it had begun.
He felt no surprise that his attempt at killing himself had failed; no surprise that the I. S. O. had extended the period of his treatment by a further three months, no surprise that he had a new doctor who promised that he would be cured by the beginning of the summer.
“I tell you now my treatment guide to the T.B.C. Is simple. First time ill – bed rest. First relapse – pneumothorax. Second relapse – throacoplasty. Third, fourth, fifth and sixth relapse — extra pleural, lobectomy, pneumoectomy and pleuropneumonectomy. Then for the morale and to stop worry — prefrontal leucotomy. You see? Easy. Fifty thousand francs, please.“ Out came the grocer’s hand.
Paul stared at him in horror.
“It was succeeded by an inevitable series of accidents . . .” “Inevitable,” repeated Paul. “You mean it never had a chance of succeeding?”
The Field, the horizontal realm of physical nature, is not just static.
#2: Set to open . . . on a new phase . . . of our relationship . . . That is . . . if we’re still here.
#6: Are we likely to move?
#2: It’s possible
#6: Somewhere nice? Built-in bars . . . ?
#2: Also, self-contained. Kitchen . . . bathroom . . . Air conditioning . . . food supplies for six months; you can go anywhere in it. It even has a waste disposal unit
#6: It moves?
#2: It’s detachable.
#6: What’s behind it?
#2: Steel, steel. [The Prisoner, penultimate episode, “Once Upon a Time”]
This movement around the Pole (symbolized in Tradition by the swastika) produces the three dimensional grid of the material world.
Brisset, known narrowly in every European country as ‘le cimetiere de l’europe’, was in reality ‘le cimetiere du monde entier’.
The goal, then, is to become sufficiently aware of, and consequently detached from, the conditions of life on this material plane, so that at death, if not before, one does not simply spiral into a new level, a new horizontal plane, (a new turn of the screw, “just the same shit starting over again,” as Marx said of goal of pre-Marxist socialism) but can stand still (calming the Waters) at the center (the Tree of Life, the World Axis, The Pole, the Mountain — such as the alpine sanatoria here and in The Magic Mountain — the moveable poles Numbers 2 and 48 are tied to in The Prisoner) and rise vertically, symbolized by the smoke escaping from the hole at the top of a traditional dwelling, such as teepee (or Number 1 escaping The Village in a rocket).
The later symbolism was discussed by Coomaraswamy in The Door in the Sky. All possibilities exhausted (as well as oneself), one become nobody. As in Coomaraswamy’s suggested epitaph:
“Blessed is the man on whose tomb can be written Hic jacet nemo” [Here lies no one].
“Look upon the treatment we are giving you as a sport, cher monsieur, as a gamble in which you stand to lose everything. . . . Consider yourself an experiment of the gods in what a man can endure.”
Can all this trouble, more or less torture, whether it be illness or monastic discipline or hermetic practices, be avoided, somehow? Isn’t there an easy way out? Alan Watts, who was often accused of preaching a “no practice” kind of Zen, would respond by noting that every religion seems to evolve some kind of teaching relying on of “other-power” (Pure Land Buddhism, the polar opposite of Evola’s Pali Buddhism) or sola fide (Lutheranism) or the Hesychasts’ Prayer of Jesus.
Is this a recognition of the “problem of self-control” as Watts diagnosed it (asceticism is self-stultifying, being actually the ultimate form of egoism) or rather, a devolution into sloth, degeneracy, and decadence? Are there so few enlightened beings because the path is artificially made difficult, or are we just too lazy?
Near the end of Part One, as Paul believes himself cured, he muses on this chance of cheating disease and death, bringing in another metaphysical notion we’ve frequently employed: the card game metaphor of “passing the buck,” escaping the round of existence by fobbing off one’s Karma on another:
Someone had died, someone was going to recover from a serious illness. . . . Shuffle, cut and shuffle again. Re-deal? Perhaps for the time being the Tarot pack could be replaced face downwards on the chimney-piece. . . . Perhaps sooner or later someone would find out that he had played a confidence trick and that the wrong man had died.
But here, at least, Paul is wrong; he is not the one who escapes, either by cure or suicide. Delmuth “succeeds” in the latter capacity, while Paul is stymied by Dr. Vernet. That the symbolism of the title is revealed by an entry in Delmuth’s journal, read posthumously, is perhaps significant; Paul notieces that his self-pitying quote from Lear (our epigraph, above) is incomplete: “He forgot about the rack.”
Nor does Delmuth truly escape: by leaping from the window he moves horizontally, not vertically — as we‘ve said, suicide is no escape, but only a metaphysical delay, forcing one to start all over again; and ultimately, he moves down not up (as in The Fall; again, repetition. The episode where the Prisoner escapes is titled “Fall Out” and ends with Number 6 apparently starting the whole sequence over again).
Either up and out (or at least, to a new level) or down the drain — the Final Judgment, solvet saeclum in favilla (Dies Irae); the qlippoth of the Qabbalah — at the end of the cycle any positive remainder would be passed on to the new cycle; this was the function of the elite, for Evola.
The realistic choices, neither of them satisfactory, lie between doing nothing and, after two and a half years of complications resulting from the first pneumothorax, inducing a second pneumothorax. The book ends with Paul recapitulating his entire treatment as a prolonged torture with himself stretched “on the rack.”
As Paul faces a return to the beginning of his treatment, though on the other side of the pleura, a new crop of students arrives, this time Dutch, to launch petitions about the food, and Dr. Vernet now joins the ranks of patients, I was reminded again of penultimate episode of The Prisoner, as the recurring No. 2 (played by Leo McKern, who would have made a wonderful Dr. Vernet) falls from grace and joins No. 6 in some kind of underground limbo until, presumably, the whole show starts up again as each episode did, and indeed the final scene does return us to the beginning.
In the end, I can’t agree with some of those readers who have named this the best novel ever written, or even of the 20th century, but it’s certainly a more visceral, and valuable, experience than The Magic Mountain; rather than just reading about Hans and his interesting discussions and possible spiritual growth, one can come close to being, at least in imagination, the alchemical subject oneself. While Mann, true to his title, gives us only the alchemical vessel, The Rack puts the reader on the instrument itself, helping us to realize that we are all in Paul’s position: “As Jung once suggested, life itself is a disease with a very poor prognosis. It lingers on for years and invariably ends with death.”
1. As noted in my review (here), he learned his lesson and returned with Life at the Top.
2. Reviewed here.
3. Andrew Sinclair contributes an informative introduction providing details about the eccentric life of his friend, Derek Lindsay. At first, I thought we had ourselves another Lovecraft, what with his withdrawal from the world and cultivation of 18th-century prose styles, but then Sinclair introduces him to his wife and a ménage à trois ensues, so not so much.
4. Most notably, the goes-without-saying idea that love entails marriage, which entails a male breadwinner, which disqualifies the tubercular protagonist from the start: his “affair is dying through poverty as well as tb.” On the other hand, we also get a relatively less well-off European’s view of postwar Britain’s medical system that Braine’s hero would find hard to credit: “One day you have no money. All right. Good. Your country has free welfare. You go back there and you still have bed and food.”
5. “. . . as uneventful and undistinguished as the rest of my life” said Paul with finality.”
6. One might say that Mann’s novel takes all that for granted (except for the doomed affair, since there has to be some kind of romantic interest) and just starts from there, Hans Castorp settling under his blanket in for the duration.
7. David Ellis,Death and the Author: How D. H. Lawrence Died, and Was Remembered (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.35, which compares Ellis and Mann’s use of the procedure.
8. You can read about them, if you haven’t just eaten, in op. cit., pp 36–37, here.
9. Valancourt’s cover seems to echo a different Penguin cover, the one for Burroughs’ Junky, which may give a false impression of the novel.
10. “The discovery of the X-ray in 1895 had suddenly made it possible to detect early, active pulmonary forms of the disease. Medicine’s diagnostic capability was, however, decades ahead of its therapeutic capacity, and effective antibacterial treatments for TB did not emerge until after World War II. . . . the discovery of streptomycin by Albert Schatz in 1943, the first effective pharmaceutical cure for TB, led to the closure on a massive scale of spas and sanatoriums.” (Iain Bamforth, “The Magic Mountain: Course of Illness,” Lapham’s Quarterly, October 10, 2009 here) — just about the time where Ellis was treated and where the novel is set. Bamforth goes on to make the interesting point that the spas have returned with a vengeance, now peopled not with the idle capitalist rich but with mass consumers of the “spa lifestyle” and funded by national health programs.
11. Solomon Posen, The Doctor in Literature: Satisfaction Or Resentment? Volume 1 (Radcliffe Publishing, 2005), pp. 197–99.
12. Huysmans could not have improved on the concierge who explains, to the protesting students, that the coffee is pre-sweetened with saccharine because providing sugar bowls would involve too much additional labor; the labor of “having to count out the lumps.”
13. And still are, to some curmudgeons: “I’ve been working my ass off since it was legal to work. I don’t know what Obama’s talking about. You’re not supposed to be a dad and work at McDonald’s. That’s a kid’s job.”
14. Google tells me that the nurse’s “Nom de pipe!” either means “pipe name” or is a mistake for “nom d’une pipe,” which seems to be one of those charming French expletives not at all like our crude “four letter words.”
15. E.g., the Walpurgis Night section of Chapter Five, where Cliff’s Notes notes “Mann’s insistence on having his hero address Clavdia in French. He carries on a rather intimate conversation with her and eventually confesses his love to her, all en français. The reason is that he, like all of us, finds it easier to express something delicate or embarrassing in a language whose subtle nuances he cannot tell apart and for which he is therefore not responsible. The author picked French simply because at that time, French was the important language of international communication; in this connection, we remember that Castorp practiced it with Tous-les-Deux, the Mexican lady, long ago.” As I say, that works if you aren’t a proudly monophonic American. Oddly enough, Cioran hit on the same comparison: having switched Romanian for French, he later observed that “For a writer, to change languages is to write a love letter with a dictionary.” — Anathemas and Admirations (translated by Richard Howard; New York: Arcade, 1991).
16. From Wikipedia, here, referencing Tom Wolfe and E. W. Johnson, The New Journalism (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 31–33. We may recall here Greene’s comparison to Richardson, one of Wolfe’s models.
17. 2001, Dr. David Goldberg chose it as one of his top ten books in an article in the British Journal of Psychology.
18. There have been other hints; Paul arrives in a “hermetically sealed” train; his doctors are not only vertical but “esoteric”; Paul laments the “base metal of his life.” Indeed, his name, Devenant, irresistibly suggests “revenant,” anticipating our themes of repetition and rebirth.
19. See my “The Corner at the Center of the World” here, reprinted in Aristokratia II, and in The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others (Counter Currents, 2014).
20. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1996; Chapter Seven, “Determination of the Vocations.”
21. Dr. Vernet is a little vague in his recollection of his metaphysical musings, as in this detail; Guénon is explicit that the conditions of this material plane — space, time and causality — are literally definitive our plane alone, and are precisely NOT found elsewhere — this is the most serious blunder of the “spiritualists,” Anthroposophists, and Mormons with their visions of heavenly farms and vineyards to come, perhaps on other planets — but rather others, unimaginable to us. Evola relates this notion — of our having, in some way, chosen prenatally to live this very life, a choice whose effects cannot be evaded by prematurely ending it — to the Stoics, but also suggests it is the true, original notion distorted by Heidegger as “thrownness” and by Sartre as our “original project.” See his Ride the Tiger (Inner Traditions, 2003), Chapter 30. So again, some are led to find more “existentialism” in the novel; perhaps Ellis is hinting at this by having Dr. Vernet misremember Schopenhauer as “Schweitzer,” Sartre’s grandfather?
22. A. K. Coomaraswamy, Hinduism and Buddhism, p. 30; cf. Whitall Perry: “WHO was—or what was—Ananda Coomaraswamy? The man is of no help here, as he discouraged biographical ‘curiosity’ in his avowed intention to be ‘nothing.’ And yet this very self-willed effacement affords a key to the answer. Hic Jacet Nemo was the epitaph he most desired, and ‘Here lies no one’ is already a clue to the response we are seeking.” — Whitall N. Perry, “Coomaraswamy — The Man, Myth and History,” Studies in Comparative Religion, vol. 11, no. 3 (Summer 1977), online here.
23. See his “Zen and the Problem of Control” in This is IT and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience (1960; Vintage, 1973).
24. See various of my film and TV reviews, such as these soon to appear in a new collection, tentatively entitled Passing The Buck: A Traditionalist Goes to the Movies.
25. In the penultimate episode of The Prisoner, “Once Upon a Time,” Number 6’s past, his karma, is reviewed; 6 manages to escape, apparently, by passing the buck — the drugged wine, as in the Eleusian Mysteries — to Number 2.
26. See René Guénon, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times (Hillsdale, N.Y.: SophiaPerennis, 2002), p. 167. It should be noted that this firmly rejects any happy New Age thoughts of endless reincarnation, to say nothing of the smug rejection of “Judeo-Christian” notions of judgment, eternal damnation, etc.
27. Posen, p. 198.
28. See Collin Cleary’s intensive analysis of The Prisoner here and in print form in his collection Summoning the Gods: Essays on Paganism in a God-Forsaken World, ed. Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2011); in particular, his conclusion: “McGoohan states that his character is “essentially the same” at the end of the series. The final shot of the series is the same as the very first: there is a thunderclap, and the Prisoner comes speeding towards us in his hand-built Lotus. He is caught in the circle: an eternal cycle of rebellion, leading nowhere, and certainly not upwards.” The Village itself suggests an Alpine medical spa locale, though on the Italian side; at one point Paul feels “that his eyes were props and that no more than the constancy of his gaze prevented the whole structure from crumbling around him,” as the Village does at the end.
29. If forced to name one, I’d like cite, for reasons given elsewhere, James Gould Cozzens’ Guard of Honor, which is also a book initially acclaimed (the Pulitzer Prize!) but now forgotten, although in this case due to a deliberately orchestrated campaign of Judaic culture-distortion; and it’s been reprinted already in the Modern Library at least (though a simple search for “guard of honor cozzens” fails to retrieve it, so here it is).
30. A frequent remark of Alan Watts, but I have never been able to confirm that Jung – or anyone but Watts – ever said this.