Friday, January 21, 2011
Issue Seven: Acadia Part Three: 120 Days of Sod All
"Arcadia Part Three: 120 Days of Sod All"
In the windmill, Orlando eats Dane's severed finger, and Dane awakens. His cries for help rouse Fanny, who attacks Orlando. Dane attempts to use King Mob's gun against Orlando but the gun fails to fire. Orlando attacks, slashing Fanny across the chest with his knife before advancing on Dane.
King Mob and Boy are lost on the "ontic highway" with the psychic projection of De Sade. Their surroundings quickly transition from the "Et Arcadia Ego" postcard into Castle Silling, the setting of De Sade's "120 Days of Sodom." The trio are forced to watch a slightly modified version of the events of the book (a vicious satire in which four powerful men kidnap several young people to an isolated castle and wantonly use them to fulfill their every perversion before killing them) before they are allowed to continue on their journey to De Sade's ultimate destination, San Francisco.
In Venice, Percy Shelley mourns the death of his daughter, wallowing in his misery. His wife, Mary reflects that it is easier for poets, because they are allowed to lose themselves in their grief, while she must continue to live.
Ragged Robin finds herself in the French village of Rennes-le-Chateau, where she meets a mysterious chess player (Mary Shelley's carriage companion from the previous issue) who informs her of the mysteries surrounding the village. She enters the chapel at the center of the mystery, only to find a group of Cyphermen there. They claim to have already found what the Invisibles sought there - the oracular head of John the Baptist.
Transvestite v. Shadowman Smackdown!
Let's start today's analysis with a look at what's going on in the "real world" (i.e., the one with the time machine windmill and the fleshless Aztec knife nut). I was trying to put together some fancruft about Dane and Fanny being the ones to wake up because they're the most magically gifted of the cell, but really, I think it's just that the story demands the team be split up, and this way makes the most sense.
King Mob and Boy go with De Sade because they're the grounded ones who are going to be able to avoid taking anything they see too seriously.
Dane's gotta be in the windmill because getting the crap cut out of him by Orlando (and totally failing to do anything about it) is all part of his Hero's Journey thing.
Robin has to deal with the "Head of John the Baptist" because... I don't know, someone had to do it. I might have more on this next issue, when we get into the meat of what the head is, but no promises.
But most of all, it had to be Lord Fanny who took on Orlando.
I'm GUESSING that Orlando's name is a reference to Virginia Woolf's Orlando: A Biography, a semi-true, mostly metaphorical story of Woolf's female lover. In the story, Orlando is born as a man, lives a life of adventure, and then suddenly transforms into a woman. And while our Orlando takes the form of a male, he's similarly transitional - he wears the skin he chooses.
In the other corner, we have Lord Fanny. Without getting into her backstory, she's Aztec, too. A biological male who wears the appearance of a woman - a sexy, kick-ass woman, at that. Like Orlando, she didn't have her identity thrust upon her - she chose it (in a less messy fashion than Orlando's, I hasten to add).
It's her transitional strength that puts her on an even footing with Orlando here - high heels being wielded with a male's musculature, sexual characteristics that act as armor and can be thrown away when damaged - way more than Dane, trying to use King Mob's dick/gun and getting slapped around for it.
Sniffing at the skirts of mystery
Speaking of Robin, though, this is our first issue where she gets any time on her own, but I don't know that I have a lot to say about her yet. She's one of the book's big puzzles, but for now we'll just have to accept what she's presenting on the surface... even though we know that's a mask.
As for the man she meets in the churchyard at Rennes-le-Chateau, well... He's clearly the same man who rode with Mary Shelley more than a hundred years before (the man mentions that it's been 100 years or so since the priest Sauniere came to the town, placing Robin's segments at least in the 20th century, if not present day).
Last issue, I had him pegged as Death, and it's not as though the chess imagery here doesn't support that (not to mention the skull-shaped charm Robin's wearing around her waist!). His position relative to the board indicates he's playing both sides, although we never see him moving the white pieces.
If he is Death, he's as impartial as before, with his warnings about going so far after buried treasure that you pull up worthlessness instead (something I should probably keep in mind as this project continues).
Oh, and the painting he mentions Sauniere buying, "Les Bergers D'Arcadie," is, of course, the Et Arcadia Ego painting that names this arc, under a different title. Not sure of the significance, but I wonder if Morrison set this excursion in Rennes-le-Chateau specifically because the painting recurred there?
The thing I can't stop poking at, though, is the make-up. This issue is book-ended by people in very similar make-up: white face paint, with red circles on the cheek. One of those is our very own Ragged Robin, confronted with Cyphermen and Rennes-le-Chateau and the head of John the Baptist. And the others are the...protagonists? Villains? Central characters of De Sade's "120 Days of Sodom." Is Robin's dark side being hinted at? Foreshadowing of poor Mr. Quimper?
I'm inclined to think it's the reverse, actually. Robin's make-up is her little way of pointing out the ridiculousness of her life. It's all pantomime, and she's just another clown.
The make-up worn by the Banker, the Duke, the Priest, and the Judge is a similar marker of theatricality. After all, in the same scenes where it's first shown, they're shown "getting into costume" as they put on their wigs and robes. De Sade was trafficking in the far extremes of brutality, not because it got him off (although... yeah, it got him off, and again we see that pull toward rage and darkness that sits in the man/movement, alongside the urge toward freedom) but to form an instructive lesson.
I'm not saying anything the text doesn't spell out on its own, but the events that Boy and KM and De Sade experience on the Ontic Highway (and, to jump back to our discussion of the cave and the shadows from a few days ago, ontic means "real" - we're into a "higher" level of reality here, closer to our side of the page, the stuff casting the shadows) are for our, the reader's benefit. We're the ones being addressed by the Judge after the world is ended in rage and despair. The original De Sade didn't write about "electronic tagging" or "DNA fingerprinting files." That's all for our benefit.
It can be easy to see the things that the Outer Church does and blame it on the archons - the monsters made me do it! But while they may supply the supernatural mojo, 9 times out of 10 it's us doing the actual killing and crushing and raping. Everybody on The Hunt was 100% human.
And even then, it's not them who pull the trigger. That's the last joke, that it's the prey, the blank brutalized faces, as Big Malkie might put it, who are the ones who actually end it all in our little playlet... once they've been put in front of the button, of course.
If Arcadia is about the conflict in the human spirit between idealism and cynicism, then last issue's trip through the Terror was cynicism's triumph in the "real world" - the shadow - and what we see here is the platonic ideal, the true object casting that shadow. This entire issue is tinged with failure - the events in Castle Silling, Dane's impotence against Orlando, Percy Shelley's descent into melancholy over his daughter's death, the Cyphermen discovering the head... The case that's being made to us is that humanity is flawed, un-savable, and the idealists are so lost in their ideas that they ignore the people they love and get them killed. It's a damn grim message.
Thank God this arc is four issues, not three, huh? See you tomorrow for the counter-argument, San Francisco-style!