Friday, January 21, 2011
Issue Six: Aracadia Part Two: Mysteries of the Guillotine
"Arcadia Part Two: Mysteries of the Guillotine"
Having psychically time traveled, the cell meets up with Etienne, a member of the Invisibles, in 1793 France, during the Reign of Terror. Etienne guides them to their target, revealed to be the Marquis de Sade. He also tells them that strange, insectile creatures have been seen in Paris. King Mob identifies these as brainwashed enemy agents known as Cyphermen, sent to disrupt the mission. The group witnesses several bloody executions, as well.
De Sade, in his capacity as an administrator in the revolution, is touring disease-infested hospitals. He comes across a room where three Cyphermen are cutting a woman open. They tempt him to join them in an exploration of his flesh. He begins to give in, when King Mob appears, weilding a weapon designed to destabilize the Cyphermen's psychic projections. Having driven them off, the group tells De Sade that they are bringing a psychic impression him to the future, which his true self will join when it dies.
Sensing that the murderous shadow creature Orlando is growing near, the group attempts to return to their bodies, but finds the way blocked. King Mob suggests they focus on the image of the postcard in his pocket as a physical link back to their bodies. However, something goes wrong, and Boy, KM, and De Sade instead appear apparently INSIDE the postcard, with the others nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile, Orlando enters the windmill, to find the five cell members still in trance. He begins his attack on them by cutting off one of Dane McGowan's fingers.
In a series of scenes that run throughout the issue, Mary Shelley is seen traveling, at her husband Percy's insistence, with their two children to join him in Venice. The hard journey is physically draining on the children. A mysterious man also travels in her carriage - he offers her an apple, mentions that he has met both of her parents, and warns her of the price of idealism and utopia.
The religion of blades
Maybe it's wishful thinking from having started this post quite late, but tonight's issue is a bit less complex than yesterday's. Not that it doesn't have its major points to make, but there are fewer and they're hit harder.
This is a story about the prices we pay when we try for Utopia, and the human reactions that keep us from achieving it. As such, we'll spend most of it in one of the idealist's great warnings: The Terror during the French Revolution.
We start with the Tricoteuses (literally, "knitting women," those who sat and watched the executions as they went on day after day). Percy Shelley might want us to believe in a higher world, but these women (and men) will always be there to remind him that what people want is blood and spectacle, human sacrifice and gods.
Orlando's presence in our story demands a parallel between his own roots in the Aztec civilization, and the bloody deaths of the revolution. In both cases, death was used as a way to beseech a higher power, to beg it for relief from life's woes. Thus we have Saint Guillotine, saint of getting back at those who had the audacity to live above us. We have Liberty, the spirit of getting even.
The past stinks
And time travel itself isn't that great. This is no idealized past we're visiting: just a stinky, filthy place where everyone is just as confused about whose side they're on as they will be in 200 years.
Not to mention that it's crawling with insectile counter-agents, brainwashed by high frequency subliminals (seemingly the opposite of the ELF that the nutjob in the park was worrying about a few issues ago). Thank God King Mob has a gun with him that he can shoot them with. Yay, guns!
I've always found the Cyphermen's attempts to subvert De Sade interesting. I don't usually associate The Enemy in The Invisibles with temptation (although, now that think of it, a few events down the line call that into question) so much as coercion and repression. But they come close, here.
It's a reminder that De Sade is not JUST a philosopher and libertine, that his drives push him toward something it's hard not to describe as evil. He would never cut a woman open himself, I think, but when it has been done for him? When there's nothing left to do but enjoy the spoils? That calls to him.
We think of the Outer Church as a foot stamping down on deviancy and self-expression. But there is also that element of it that is embodied in The Hunt, the part that revels in saying "We are so above you that morality no longer applies." As much as De Sade's drive toward freedom pushes him to The Invisibles, his drive toward cruelty pulls him to the Church, to worship at the impure altar.
(And speaking of the Church, it really is no surprise that all of the worst elements of the revolution are contextualized as a religion, is it? Remember, kids: College good, church evil!
I'm being facetious, but, like I wrote last time, a college is challenging, often formless, while religion, as detailed in the 5-step mysteries (in the sense of a religious ritual) of the guillotine, is structured, comforting. It appeals to the part of us that wants familiarity and the ability to just follow orders without having to think.)
An apple from the teacher
And meanwhile (25 years later, 175 years ago...) we have Mary Shelley making her way across Europe, at her husband's idealistic insistence, with two sickly children (neither of whom is long for this world, I regret to inform you).
Her journey is the human cost of revolution on a personal scale. A change, made with the best intentions for the good of all, with terrible consequences for the weak and the sick. And with a mysterious traveling companion, who offers wisdom and apples.
I read him as Death, a conclusion that took me a surprising amount of time to come to. He is not hostile to the goals of the Invisibles. But he is also a reminder of the costs. He is with you, when you try to change the world, kindly, offering support, but still taking his due.
Case in point - Orlando's arrival at the windmill. Dane has been sick for the entire trip, and while it's possible to interpret that as inexperience, it seems more likely that his own psychic warning systems are just kicking in much, much more strongly than the others. And as the guillotine falls in human sacrifice in Paris, so does Orlando's blade fall on Dane's fingers... And like les tricoteuses, he has no intention of stopping with one cut.
In fact, let's reverse the metaphor. Orlando's going to disassemble everyone, as he puts it, bit by bit by bit... So what does that say about the true purpose of St. Guillotine?