Andrés Paniagua Curiel (anselmo_b) wrote,
Andrés Paniagua Curiel

Endless Ægypt.

I recently finished reading John Crowley’s complete Ægypt quartet for the second time. For some of the books it was actually the fifth or sixth time. I know that, like the characters of the novel we left resting at their picnic on top of mount Randa before they have to return down into their world of words, I will also return there in time. But for now I can take a look back and muse. This time I set out with the intention of taking notes and writing clever stuff about the novel afterwards, but I gave up quite soon, driven by the hunger for it, eager to use my available time to read instead of wasting it writing down thought up stuff that couldn't be so important if it won’t stick to the memory on its own. And a good thing it was, because the novel is so wonderfully self contained that it doesn’t make much sense to try and get smart with it; it’s better to pay attention and listen to what it tells you.
I heartily recommend a second reading of the whole series. Not only because of the pleasure – which is reason enough –, not just because the book itself suggests it, but because having the thirst for resolution out of the way allows the reader to get a better perspective on the whole of the work. And a whole thing it is, for all its vastness and multiplicity of layers. It is amazing how much the novel says about itself, about the intention of certain of its aspects. I strongly believe that a piece of literature has an identity that is wholly dependent on its reader – on the beliefs, longings and experience that shape the way the reader absorbs it. But I also believe as strongly that a work of literature has an identity given to it by the author – not only by his beliefs and longings but also by his intentions as an artisan. This latter identity is much more evident in Ægypt than in most books that I know, and its presence – and the potential conflict between both identities – subtly woven into the matter, enhances by much the book’s power of evocation.
I’d be saying nothing new by pointing out the self-referentiality of certain passages, but I think that Crowley accomplished something in the totality of Ægypt that transcends mere pointing at-, or speaking more or less explicitly about- itself; something that is more like the kind of recursion that Quine’s Paradox arises from. Realising this revealed to me for the first time a further layer, a story hidden inside the story; A story that had been pointed out to me before, that is hinted at in all of Ægypt’s books, and is also present in other of Crowley’s novels, but that I had not seen here through my own eyes yet. It is the story of the characters living in the novel, not as characters confined to the discernible plot, but as actual beings striving in an actual – if fictive – (don’t blame me for this paradox, blame Descartes or whoever) universe made of words, as actual as microorganisms striving in a drop of water. At least some of the characters know this and it is evident that Crowley works from this premise, evident in the fact that he doesn’t end the story but simply stops telling it – a fact by the way given a reason for in the novel. The chapter that gives away this secret story – if it is secret at all – is, not surprisingly, the central chapter of «Endless Things»; central because of that, because it tells what the precious thing was that Kraft found in Prague, because it begins exactly at the middle of the book.
The cosmology of the universe in which the hidden story takes place is laid out in that chapter too. It would appear that in Crowley’s opinion it is a mirror image of our own cosmology; according to it, in such a universe what is most unreal are material things, because they are only nouns, and what is most real is the intellectual order; in the book it is brilliantly and explicitly equated to Gnostic cosmology. I’m not sure that I personally believe in that perfect symmetry, I think that fictional works and reality sometimes spill their ontologies into each other – especially in disturbing ways, think of Goethe’s Werther or book burnings – and mess up the hierarchies. Nevertheless, next time I go back there I’ll be equipped with this knowledge and I wonder what new layers it will reveal.
It seems almost astonishing that I’ve managed to write close to a thousand words about Ægypt without mentioning the renaissance, magic, Appalachia or the mutable history of the world, but there you go. It should at least suggest that, even if nothing much can be made of my ramblings, there must be a lot more in that book than meets the eye.

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