The action in Barca Nona, a Barcelona watering hole circa 1925, rises to High Chaos as Count Julius Evola, self-styled political philosopher and Dadaist, pronounces his Fascist Manifesto before the astonished crowd of Worthies. As the band of Jazz All-Stars has grown silent, our Humble Narrator, Dashiell Hammett, takes pointed exception to Evola’s views. The Establishment erupts into an explosion of glass and Cool Cats in every direction. Hammett carries off the final metaphor.
The Reader is reminded that this is a continuation of Undivided: The Redemption Inquiry. The 14th chapter of the novel and the third of…
Part the Third—Zeitgeists: In which The Right Reverend Rav Krishna declaims to his followers, in the visitors suite of the maternity ward, the long and tortuous history of the descent of Humanity’s Soule and Its Darke Twin, The Other, through the four levels of the soul as defined in the Lurianic Kabbalah. It falls out that the turning points in said history coincide precisely with the years—1309, 1925 and 2009—in which The Blessing of the Sun doth intersect with The Festival of the Passover, each year illuminated by a barroom fracas. The Soule of Humanity hath ascended, in the telling, to the realm of Creation, the realm from which the seeds of the Future come forth.
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“Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau!” André Breton’s cri de coeur to the assembly of artists, poets, philosophers and anarchists crowded around their table at Barca Nona. “Like Isis’ collage of her shredded lover, so may The Unconscious move through us in our work of assemblage. You, Man-child Ray-gun, you must be the first to break ground in this exhumation.” Breton, with an exaggerated flourish, bowed and handed Man Ray his fountain pen. The American expat plucked the pen from the hand of the young French alienist and stared with laser beam eyes at the blank white square of linen revealed to him on the tabletop. The Queen of Montparnasse at his side, Man Ray shrouded himself in her scarf, Stieglitz-style, to begin inscribing the first panel of the ‘exquisite corpse’ obscured from the view of the others. It had begun as a parlor game earlier that year in Paris, but had rapidly morphed into the hipcats’ preferred exercise in spontaneous divination. Artistic automatism, the ghost playing with the machine. The Gallerie Pierre crew were nearly all there, fresh from the first heady success of the Surrealist exhibition. The seaside at Barcelona seemed the perfect place to celebrate their anarchic triumph. Barcelona was the birthplace of the anarchist-led general strike of 1919, miraculously yielding a nationwide eight-hour workday law, a boon to workers everywhere. Unfortunately the military coup which followed four years later in 1923 installed an inept dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera, as the head of the government. His lack of clear policies or even a shred of political acumen, the inability to pay for his ill-conceived grandiose public works programs, and his mercurial habit of unpredictably alienating his allies, all contributed directly to the chaos which gave rise to Spanish fascism and the Civil War. It would be nearly a century until American politics saddled the unsuspecting public with a similarly defective character in the White House. Catalonia was a hotbed for revolt. Barca Nona was one of its nerve centers.
Kiki, The unofficial Queen of Montparnasse, in her usual boozy seductress slur, purred at the other couple at the table, “Pauli and Galarina dears, you must go next. It’s crazy. Don’t be wet blankets.” Although they had sailed to Barcelona together, the Éluards’ marriage was on the shoals. Gala had retrieved her suicidal husband from Saigon the summer before. Seems he wasn’t so copacetic about the ménage they had with his buddy Max Ernst. C’est la vie, c’est la guerre. The three of them were back in the saddle together at Barca Nona, but the tension was thick as foie gras. Breton, once in Gala’s thrall as well, barely held back a snarl at her as he snapped, “Yes, Paul. Why don’t you and your moll have a shot at it.” Manny and Kiki reconfigured the table cloth so that only the barest edge of their drawing was visible to the next participants. As the Éluards cloaked themselves in Kiki’s scarf, the young Dali, ten years the junior of Mme. Éluard and still an unknown, dreamed from the shadows of his future connubium with her. She would not notice him that night, so he could peep with impunity.
Wittgenstein turned back to Bose, moaning “You see what I’m dealing with? Odiousness and baseness. I know that human beings on the average are not worth much anywhere, but these so-called artists and anarchists are more good-for-nothing and irresponsible than I had expected. I was mistaken when I had thought we were grappling with the same problem, the impossibility of linguistic expression. Now I see it’s simply the impossibility of decent human behavior! You know, I happened to have been present in Zurich when Hugo Ball read his Dada Manifesto. Very amusing. I especially liked the part where he goes on like this, ‘Dada Johann Fuchsgang Goethe. Dada Stendhal. Dada Dalai Lama, Buddha, Bible, and Nietzsche. Dada m’dada. Dada mhm dada da.’ I memorized it! Very funny, very rhythmical. Dispensed with all the pretenses of ‘artistic’ or ‘philosophical’ meaning. Great. But this Surrealism scheisse is just a pseudo-religion if you ask me.”
Bose smiled at the crabby philosopher, “You think scientists and mathematicians are so different from your crowd of artists? A few of them—most notably Heisenberg, Schrödinger and even my hero, Einstein—run around like wild men just as chaotically ‘making whoopie’ as your anarchist artist friends. And many are every bit as naive and irresponsible when it comes to politics and philosophy. Complete inconsistency. Some are truly pre-moral children in their comportment with their fellow humans. Heisenberg, for example, refers to a youthful stint serving with The Freikorps putting down ‘The Bavarian Soviet Republic’ as a ‘game of cops and robbers.’ Think of it. A thousand communists actually died in the street fighting. Some game! The noble Spaniard manqué, Paco as we like to tease him, clearly has fascist leanings and doesn’t really calculate the social implications for his non-Aryan colleagues. He’d fit in quite well in this country of his ancestors, I’m afraid. For my money, the Germans are sorely displeased not to be every bit the colonial power as our dear Brits. I’m afraid they are brewing something nasty. This will not end well for the European neighborhood.”
Wittgenstein nodded his head in somber shared concern. “I for one prefer socialism. Very humane. But we’ve got you beat at the artists table. You see that sinister looking Italian over there with the dark rings under his eyes?” He pointed at a shadowy figure of a man off to the side of the table affecting a cape and a monocle. Bose shivered just to look at him. “Who is he? The man looks like an evil clown. Did you catch ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ at the cinema this year? They must’ve used him as the original model. Lon Chaney has nothing on this character. A real raksha. A monster in an age of monsters.” Wittgenstein snorted, “That’s about the size of it. Julius Evola. Changed his name from Giulio just to sound more imperial. Claims to be a Dadaist, spouts off about all kinds of mystico-magical thinking which I think boils down to an infantile wish for omnipotence. A darling of the Italian fascists.” Both men shuddered. They couldn’t know that the lunatic’s ideas would be resurrected by a neo-fascist movement in the next century spearheaded by an insane internet entrepreneur and soldier of fortune. Even from the point of view of The Redemption, it appears a contemptible repetition of a form of moral insanity, down to the last details of the inept Spanish dictator.
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|CONDENSATES. Tadzhikistan, Russia, 1925. The Pamir mountains, lying in a remote region where the borders of Tadzhikistan, China, Kashmir, and Afghanistan meet, have been the scene of many Almas sightings. Bigfoot of the Caucasus. Mikhail Stephanovitch Topilski, a major general in the Soviet army, led his unit in an assault on an anti-Soviet guerilla force (White Russian Army) hiding in a cave in the Pamirs. The Red Army troops searched the rugged terrain hearing tales of a beast-man who lived in the higher reaches of the soaring Vanch Mountains. They came upon a cave that looked to be a likely stronghold for their White Army enemies. The commanding officer ordered his men to open fire into the cave’s opening. To their shock, a wild hairy creature ran from the cave’s mouth crying inarticulately into a hail of bullets. It fell to the ground, mortally wounded. Several minutes passed before the officer and his troops approached the stilled beast, sprawled out in the dirt before them, quiescent, lifeless. One of the surviving guerillas said that while in the cave he and his comrades were attacked by several apelike creatures.
Topilski ordered the rubble of the cave searched, and the body of one such creature was found. Topilski reported: “At first glance I thought the body was that of an ape. It was covered with hair all over. But I knew there were no apes in the Pamirs. Also, the body itself looked very much like that of a man. We tried pulling the hair, to see if it was just a hide used for disguise, but found that it was the creature’s own natural hair. We turned the body over several times on its back and its front, and measured it.” “The body,” continued Topilski, “belonged to a male creature 165-170 cm [about 5 1/2 feet] tall, elderly or even old, judging by the grayish color of the hair in several places. The chest was covered with brownish hair and the belly with grayish hair. The hair was longer but sparser on the chest and close-cropped and thick on the belly. In general the hair was very thick, without any under fur. There was least hair on the buttocks, from which fact our doctor deduced that the creature sat like a human being. There was most hair on the hips. The knees were completely bare of hair and had callous growths on them. The whole foot including the sole was quite hairless and was covered by hard brown skin. The hair got thinner near the hand, and the palms had none at all but only callous skin.”Topilski added: “The color of the face was dark, and the creature had neither beard nor mustache. The temples were bald and the back of the head was covered by thick, matted hair. The dead creature lay with its eyes open and its teeth bared. The eyes were dark and the teeth were large and even and shaped like human teeth. The forehead was slanting and the eyebrows were very powerful. The protruding jawbones made the face resemble the Mongol type of face. The nose was flat, with a deeply sunk bridge. The ears were hairless and looked a little more pointed than a human being’s with a longer lobe. The lower jaw was very massive. The creature had a very powerful chest and well developed muscles. The arms were of normal length, the hands were slightly wider and the feet much wider and shorter than man’s.”[from Bigfoot Encounters]
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An American dame and her new Scots husband were watching the whole circus of scientists and artists from a nearby table for two, hidden discreetly in the shadows. They had invited me to join them, seeing as I was drinking alone. “The Subcontinental fellow was right. They are all children,” Emma mouthed over her cigarette. “Jamie was such a hero, rescuing me from my exile in his ‘eyn contree’, as he pronounces it in his dashing accent. Fascist US courts had me deported. Actually had the cojones to revoke my US citizenship. Jamie’s marriage proposal got me British citizenship in the nick of time so as the American fascists couldn’t get the Brits to give me the boot. Land of the Free-loading Rich Bullies, Home of the Brave in the Face of Unarmed Opposition is what I say. I’m still so inspired by our man Roger Baldwin. He went down swinging this year when he brought his ACLU smart boys into the fight against those bible thumpers in the Scopes Monkey Trial. The government of Tennessee wanted to suppress established scientific truth in favor of religious claptrap! Old Roger’s legal eagles gave them what for. It’s a crazy country, I tell you. Lunatics on the loose. Can you imagine, forty thousand white-hooded racists marched in the streets of the nation’s capital this year. They say the KKK is the largest fraternal organization in the whole damn country. Who would have thought so many simpletons were lurking in the shadows waiting to parade their ignorance in the light of day. So Uncle Sam and I parted company and I married an anarchist Scotsman. All for the Cause.”
She took another long drag on her Gauloises, nodding to her groom and patting his hand, “Jamie knows I still carry a torch for Sasha, but he’s copacetic about it of course. A lovely June wedding, a month in the country with Jamie’s pal Sir James George, then off to Barcelona on ‘assignment’ from the old anthropologist.” She laughed like a man. Emma Goldman was one tough dame. Rumor had it she was in the assassination biz back in the States. Her lover, Alexander Berkman, aka Sasha, actually got twenty two years in the slammer for plugging Henry Clay Frick full of holes. Didn’t kill him, though. Damned incompetent anarchists. She stubbed out her fag and jawed on, “At fifty six, a honeymoon with your husband of convenience is not quite the passionate affair of the heart as a fling with an assassin in your 20’s! But Sir James gave us a lark of an assignment. Research the founding mythology of Barcelona for his book. He was planning a supplement to his massive twelve volume Golden Bough. We just had to come here, of course. Barcelona simply breathes anarchism.” Jamie smiled gamely and lit another Gauloises for the lady. I supposed it was my turn to pipe up, “I’m here on account of my health. I contracted TB driving an ambulance during the War. Married my nurse. Josie and I have one swell kid, a four year old little girl, and we’re thinking of trying for number two. My last chance for a big scoop. You see I’m a writer, and I’m interested in the political fracas that’s heating up over here. So I figured I’d take in the sea air while doing some research of my own. So whaddya got on the Barcelona story?”
Emma gave the nod to Jamie, “Tell Mr Hammett what we’ve come up with.” So he spilled. “Well, Dash, if you really want to know it’s kind of a snooze so far. Two stories actually. The first claims the city was named after Hannibal’s father, the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca. End of story.” Emma snorted, “Yes, Jamie, boring old Camel Hair Parka.” They guffawed together at their shared private joke. Jamie stoked up again, “The other legend is a bit more keen. Seems Hercules was out chasing the Golden Fleece with Jason and his chums when ship number nine runs aground. Where do you think they crashed?” On cue the three of us clinked our glasses and belted out, “Barcelona!” As soon as we downed our hooch and got reloaded, Jamie continued. “Yes indeed. And when the hero of heroes found his men, they had already made themselves quite at heim in the seaside paradise they had discovered. They named it after their ship, Barca Nona, the ninth boat. The name of this very gin joint where we find ourselves tonight.” Emma chimed in again, “So, according to old Sir James George we’ve got twelve laborious tasks ahead of us here, if I read his book right. Let’s see now.” And she began to tick off the labors of Hercules on her fingertips:
- Slay the Nemean Lion.
- Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.
- Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis.
- Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
- Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
- Slay the Stymphalian Birds.
- Capture the Cretan Bull.
- Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
- Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
- Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon.
- Steal the apples of the Hesperides (Though he had the help of Atlas to pick them after Hercules had slain Ladon).
- Capture and bring back Cerberus.
“I think that about covers it. Right, Jamie?” Jamie nodded lazily in agreement, “Quite a lot of work to do. Ought we look around the place and see if we can start right here? The possibilities seem endless!” The two of them just cracked each other up. It didn’t exactly resemble a hero’s paradise. Outside on La Rambla, hopheads, boozers and hookers were panhandling for jack, pissing in corners and doing the dirty deed in the shadows. The statue of Hercules be damned, it was a convenient rendezvous point for every sordid business. Jason was probably sleeping it off in the bushes getting fleeced. Meanwhile I could see through the haze that the buzz at the artists table was heating up.
The real Spaniards—Picasso, Miro and Dali—were downing shots of aguardiente, Spanish firewater. Old man Picabia and Breton, the young hothead, were squaring off against Tristan Tzara, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. Turns out Tzara had come all the way from Sweden to rejoin his old pals, but Breton couldn’t resist taunting the ‘Clown Prince of Dada’, as he called him. He jeered, “Come on, O Sad Ass, you have to admit that Surrealism has devoured and digested Dada.” The former Samy Rosenstock had just gotten word from the Romanian government that his application for a permanent name change had been accepted. Tzara was feeling pretty good—Swedish girlfriend, new name and all—so he threw a verbal punch back at the Frog shrink, “So now you are so full of your self-consumed self all you can do is regurgitate someone else’s ideas!” Fortunately, before Breton could get off another slug, the gin joint quintet struck up the band with a raucous version of “Oh Lady Be Good”. Turns out the band was a group of talented kids shanghaied by Josephine Baker. She was in town for a gig at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, a really swell joint down the street. Barca Nona was the unofficial after hours club. The musicians were hot—Sidney Bechet on soprano, Stephane Grappelli on the fiddle, a gypsy kid named Django on the guitar, and none other than visiting royalty Duke Ellington on the piano. And the drummer Sonny Greer with a set of skins that had everything but the kitchen sink. They were wailing.
Next thing you know, young Herr Heisenberg has sashayed over to the artists table and is asking the Queen of Montparnasse for a dance. Man they could cut the rug. Meanwhile the Dadaists and the Surrealists finally found something they could all agree on. They stood to a one in absolute opposition to the French and Spanish War against The Republic of the Rif. There was a break in the music and Breton was standing upright again. He cleared his throat loudly, raised a glass of carajillo, and read to the crowd, “On behalf of the Bureau of Surrealist Studies and our friends new and old, I would like to clearly articulate our position with respect to our brothers the Berbers of the Rif Republic. We Surrealists pronounce ourselves in favour of changing the imperialist war, in its chronic and colonial form, into a civil war. Thus we place our energies at the disposal of the revolution, of the proletariat and its struggles, and define our attitude towards the colonial problem, and hence towards the colour question.” Murmured approval.
I overheard Josephine Baker at the next table turn to the Duke with her usual sassy sense of irony, “Tell the man if he’s got a question about color he should come over here and ask me. I’d tell him. I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that makes me mad. I wanted to get far away from those who believed in cruelty, so then I went to France, a land of true freedom, democracy, equality and fraternity. I like Frenchmen very much, because even when they insult you they do it so nicely.” She smiled at Duke and waved her cigarette holder at him for a light. The most sensational woman anyone ever saw. So says my pal Ernie Hemingway. I gotta hand it to her, beauty and cojones. No wonder they call her the Black Pearl. The Duke, well he just smiled and nodded and gave her a light, probably already mellow on the Mary Jane the gypsy kid scored for the band. Then I really got a chill down my spine. The joker in the monocle and cape at the artists table stood up and cleared his throat like he was about to sing. I didn’t like his looks and I liked what he had to say even less. Called himself Baron Julius Caesar Andrea Evola. I called him Death warmed over. But I’ll say he was a smooth talker, alright. The lies rolled out of his mouth like Model-T’s from a Ford factory. I could barely listen as he spewed his honey-coated venom. He had the hypnotic gaze of a cobra, just before swallowing its prey whole. The creep stared around the room, catching each man’s eyes as he rose to speak.
“Gentlemen! And you few ladies. We stand on the precipice of greatness, soldiers in the war for the hearts and souls of humanity.” A faint rumbling as he cased the joint for reactions. Then he revved up his fouled engine, “We believe that the best soldier is one who fights with a precise knowledge of his cause and that ideas — even if they are only intimated, or vaguely grasped, more than clearly formulated — are the essential reality in every genuinely important historical upheaval. Indeed, to exhume meaning from the graveyard of political and spiritual ideas requires a kind of necromancy for which we as artists and philosophers are uniquely prepared. What is a nation, after all, but the physical embodiment of its spiritual purpose. Neither linguistic nor ethnic nor territorial unity is considered sufficient to give the idea of nation its true content. A nation is a predestined, cosmic unity. Such is the case in Spain: a unity, a destiny, an entity subsisting beyond every person, class or community in which it is actualized, not only, but moreover above the total quantity resulting from their aggregation.” The joker’s speech was gobbledygook, but it was his sense of drama that captured the listeners. “That is, it is about the spiritual and transcendent idea of the nation, as opposed to every community — of the right or left — and every mechanism. A true entity of its perfect truth, a living and sovereign reality. Spain tends, consequently, towards its own definite destination. In this regard, we must not only speak of a return in full to worldwide spiritual cooperation, but also of a universal mission of Spain, of a creation by the solar unity that it represents, of a new world.”
You could’ve heard a pin drop in Barca Nona. I overheard Einstein mutter to Pauli, “Sounds just like that scheisskopf, Bergson. Nearly cost me my Nobel with his nonsense.” He was staring straight at Julius Evola, who continued pontificating his pure hogwash with the conviction of a brilliant madman, “Say no to the agnostic State, at most, a police officer in a grand style, ‘the night watchman state’. Rather, let us have the State of all, total and totalitarian, justifying itself, the ideal and perpetual notion of Spain. Eradication of parties and of parliament follows naturally. Spanish society infiltrated by warriors of a New Order, fighting for traditional home and family values, the Catholic interpretation of life. If the Spanish national movement is really penetrated by them, anti-Communists and anti-Bolsheviks, what follows is the whole of a new hierarchical Europe. Through the virility of violent action and eradication of weaker cultures, Spain mounts Hercules’ pyre and achieves superhuman destiny.”
I swear there was foam at the corners of his mouth. I couldn’t believe it, what rock had this guy crawled out from under? My blood was boiling. The Baron of Bushwa was turning the whole crowd into a bunch of saps. Before I knew what I was doing I jumped out of my chair right into the little jerk’s face. The words leaped out of me, “You sir are Yeats’ rough beast, slouching towards Bethlehem.” Nate Bose and Ludwig Wittgenstein nodded with approval. I was on a roll. “You don’t fool me. I went to Catholic schools and you sir are no Christian. Your message is goddam Götterdämmerung, you and your gang of power-mad goons. Just like the Pinkertons I used to work for until I realized that busting heads to bust unions was just plain wrong. Traditional home and family values like hell! Your whole mad cabal is gonna blow up or enslave every quaint little hamlet that comes into the crosshairs of your so-called ‘destiny’. Jump on your own funeral pyre, that’s your business. But drag the whole continent of Europe with you? You got another thing comin’. I fought in the War. I know what that kinda misery looks like. It ain’t pretty. You wanna start another big one? That’s just wrong, mister, wrong as fascism!”
Right then and there in front of that whole crowd of frozen stiffs I drew back to cold cock the little runt. Suddenly the joint comes under attack. Sounded like an army of Tommy guns was firing slugs like nobody’s business, glass shattering everywhere. Somebody yells “Anarchists!” and somebody else shouts “Policía!” Everybody was on their feet hightailing it for the exits. The Duke, cool as a cucumber, cakewalks to the door, murmuring sotto voce, “No, no, no. Don’t use your real name.” It was strange. Real strange. I didn’t see any side arms or uniforms. I hung back as the room emptied. Every piece of glass in the whole damn place, including the giant fin-de-siècle plate glass mirror behind the bar, was blown to smithereens. Weird. No bullet holes, no splintered furniture, not a body wounded. Couldn’t figure it. Then I saw him. The one they called Wolfie. Sitting there still as a stone, his face every shade of purple. The Pauli Effect. That’s what I overheard the science boys call it. Every time Wolfgang Pauli went into a laboratory they all knew they had to skidaddle. Kaboom goes the test tubes. This one was a doozy. Seems he must’ve felt the same kind of crazy I did about Evola’s rant. Really stoked his mojo. I went over to him, put my hand on his shoulder. He just went limp. All the steam went out of him. I patted him on the back, took a look around the joint. What a mess, and nobody to pick up the tab. Hope the place was insured.
Standing there getting my bearings something caught my eye at the artists table. They must’ve finished their little parlor game cause the tablecloth was spread out instead of being folded into little squares, one for each genius to scribble on. Wolfie was coming around, so I left him alone for a minute and mozied over to the ‘exquisite corpse’, what Andy Breton called their little group art project. I wanted to get a closer look. I never was much of a connoisseur of fine art, but something about this piece grabbed me. All chaos, violence and wavy lines. I says to myself, “Dash, that’s it! That awful feel I had looking into the little Italian fascist’s eyes, like staring straight into the face of the madness of war.” Creeps under your skin, grabs your guts and won’t let go. I couldn’t make out anything definite as I studied the ‘cadavre’. Some kind of an abstract checkerboard. Then all of a sudden a figure jumps out at me, out of the chaos of the disjointed corpse. A damned horse. Demonic tortured creature, limbs going ways they shouldn’t, straining against some invisible horror. So damned crazy it was beautiful. Both eyes on the same side of the mad creature’s head. It cut right through my soul. I knew what I had to do. Dashiell Hammett is nobody’s fool. Not leaving that one for the cleanup crew. Nobody the wiser, I nabbed the corpse, rolled it under my arm and escorted Wolfie to the door.