YFTS: A Pestilence: Notes on the Reading for Week 12

(Hey everyone–I’ve asked Richard Hutzler (known to us all in the YFTS comments threads as “RJH (formerly Richard)”) to do a guest-post for week 12‘s reading of Your Face Tomorrow. Big thanks to Richard for some awesome thoughts, and I hope to be able to add a few of my own before the week is out as we pull into the last 350 pages of this mammoth read.)

I’m excited to have this chance to write a post for Week 12’s reading, and just want to begin by thanking Scott for putting this group read together. It’s been tremendously fun. And so now we come to the root of the title of this section: “Poison.” I found so much of weight in these 57 pages that I will go through a few of them in mini-chapters.

Co-Fornication (or Faces, or The Beast With One Back)
Deza’s rumination upon ge-bryd-guma, or co-fornication, was both disturbing and fascinating (and, as with so much of what Deza thinks and expresses to us, even vaguely comical). It seems to me that Jacques feels at once a kind of accomplishment (in the sense of having won a small battle in an unspoken rivalry with Tupra now that they’ve both, as he assumes, slept with “young Perez-Nuix”) as well as a kind of disgust (a sort of “narrative horror” of his own?) with himself. He’s made uncomfortable, at least for a moment, by the fact that they have both slept with her. And while Deza does not explicitly express this thought, as I read these paragraphs I found myself wondering at the fact that Perez-Nuiz allows him to have intercourse with her, but only with her back turned. They do not make a “beast with two backs,” in this instance, but rather a beast with one back and one face—a face which Deza cannot see. He even wonders at the fact that Tupra and Perez-Nuix must have slept with each other face to face . . . and I find myself wondering about Deza’s confusion about these faces with which he’s surrounded himself—not only their “faces tomorrow,” but their faces today. Who are these people? Can he trust them—any of them? Can he trust himself with them? Has he begun to lose his own face?

Names
We discussed earlier the curious mixing of Tupra’s names at the end of Vol. 2. Here, Deza takes it further, continually referring to Bertram as “Reresby”—the name he was using at the disco, and in his attack upon De la Garza. At one point, in last week’s section, he runs through an almost comical list of names for himself, Tupra, and Wheeler: “ . . . we don’t even call ourselves by our real name, but only by a false one or by whichever of the ever-changing names that keep coming along and being added, be it Rylands or Wheeler, or Ure or Reresby or Tupra or Dundas, or Jacques the Fatlist or Jacobo or Jaime” (p. 103). To which we might add: Yago, or Iago . . . the name Reresby uses to either joke with or perhaps subtly reprimand, or even threaten, Deza (“I know you”).The names, the faces . . . which face is any of the characters wearing at any given moment?

Poison (And Telling)
One of the great lyrical lists of the novel so far comes on page 157: “I wanted an end to the fever, my pain, the word, the dance, the image, the poison, the dream . . . ” But before that, we see Deza recognizing how filled with poison he has become, not only here, through the viewing of the videos, but throughout his relationship with Tupra/Reresby/Sir Death and the organization . . . the repeated references to Richard III woven throughout this section, centered on Richard III’s tormented night of dreams during which he is visited by those whom he has killed so treacherously, highlight Deza’s increasingly tenuous, and tension-riddled, state of mind (“Dream on of bloody deeds and death,” and “Bloody and guilty, guiltily awake.”). Recall the second sentence in the novel (from Vol. 1): “Telling is almost always done as a gift, even when the story contains and injects some poison, it is also a bond, a granting of trust, and rare is the trust or confidence that is not sooner or later betrayed, rare is the close bond that does not grow twisted or knotted and, in the end, become so tangled that a razor or knife is needed to cut it.” How twisted has this knot become for Deza?

Eyes
The poison here, unlike much of the other poison throughout the first two volumes, comes not through the ear (“I’ll pour a pestilence in his ear” says Iago about Othello), but through the eyes. The play upon “one-eyed” sleep and “one-eyed” oblivion, brought to the fore again so far in Vol. 3, echoes for me here . . . but Deza is almost forced to keep looking with both eyes open as Reresby runs through his scenes of sex, torture, and death. The image of inoculation is chilling: “something entered my consciousness that had not been there before and provoked in me an immediate feeling of creeping sickness, of something alien to my body and to my sight and to my mind, like an inoculation, and that last term is spot on etymologically, for it contains at its root the Latin ‘oculus,’ from which it comes, and it was through my eyes that this new and unexpected illness entered, through my eyes which were absorbing images and registering them and retaining them, and which could not longer erase them as one might erase a bloodstain on the floor, still less not have seen them” (p. 124). I’ve mentioned in earlier responses to other posts that the blood stain contains for me a heavy echo of Macbeth. Tupra himself has become through all of his experiences—both direct and indirect—stained.

The State
If we were not overtly “political” before (and of course we were—the references to the Spanish Civil War alone, and many of the long conversations with Wheeler, deal directly with the insidiousness of the State and politics), we are now. “How could it possibly not suit us that people should be weak or base or greedy or cowardly, that they should fall into temptation and drop the occasional very large gaffe, or even be party to or commit misdemeanors? That’s the basis of our work, the very substances. More than that, it’s the bedrock of the State. The State needs treachery, venality, deceit, crime, illegal acts, conspiracy, dirty tricks . . . .If those things didn’t exist, or not enough, the State would have to invent them” (Tupra/Reresby on p. 128).

Patria
Deza has made reoccurring references to the idea of patria, or country, through each of the three volumes . . . He has also, at times, referred to the fact that, in England, he is both literally and figuratively in another country, in a kind of dream that will one day end, when he will choose to return to Spain. Curiously, the phrase “in another country,” has been repeated so many times I cannot count them. I mentioned a few post responses ago that I had read All Souls and Dark Back of Time after finishing Vol. 2 early, and in both novels, there are numerous layered references to Christopher Marlowe and his apparent murder in a tavern, because he was a spy, and to this quotation from Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta:

Friar Bernadine: Thou hast committed—
Barabas: –Fornication. But that was in another country;
And besides, the wench is dead.

I don’t know what this means yet, but it really echoes for me here, as Deza muses upon the fact that Tupra seems to see no separation at all between himself and his actions and his country. Throughout this section, we watch Tupra come disturbingly close to the language which turned so many people off during the previous Presidential administration here in the States…and which has, of course, ruled so often throughout history. (And who else was fascinated by the American, wearing glasses, in the torture scene on the video? Rumsfeld?)

Summa
This section raises many more questions for me than it provides answers. For instance, how much further will Deza allow himself to become entangled in this organization and with Tupra/Reresby/Sir Death? Will we ever learn whether Tupra knew about Deza’s “betrayal” of him with regards to Incompara? Was that entire story a kind of set-up? In other words, I’ve become so suspicious of each of these characters that I even find myself wondering if Perez-Nuix went to Deza with Tupra’s knowledge (far-fetched, perhaps, I know, but still . . . ). How will Deza get out of these entanglements? How poisoned will he actually become, and what act or acts will he commit that may turn us against him, or lead us to regret how truly stained he has become? Will he return to Wheeler for guidance? What will become of his feelings about Tupra?—for he seems to still admire him to a great degree, even after witnessing the near-beheading and beating of De la Garza, even after seeing firsthand (or secondhand, anyway, through videos) how far Tupra is willing to go, how cold-blooded and diabolically patient he is willing to be.
What did you think of Tupra/Reresby’s justification to Deza—that he did what he did because he had to, because if he had not nearly beheaded, then tortured and terrorized De la Garza, Manoia would have done much worse? Does it hold water with you? What does Reresby here reveal about the “state of the State” in our world?

And finally, I ask all of you out there reading: how much has Deza’s face changed since we met him at the beginning of Vol. 1? Are these changes for the better? Has he become less “naïve,” more “worldly”? And if so, is this a good thing? If you’re like me, you’ve come to greatly admire, even love, Deza—so intelligent, so passionate, so human, so filled with many of the same feelings I, at least, have about our current world, so reflective, so curious, so lost to himself in so many ways…so lost, period. Have your feelings about him changed now that we’ve reached the final volume, and are approaching the final two sections of the novel?

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. YFTS: The Redemption of Sympathy In my reading, the point of Deza recalling that awful story his father told him about Ronda--where the fascists baited a man like a bull...
  2. YFTS: Cleaning House I also think that now is an appropriate time to talk about the covers, which, frankly, at first mystified me but now I believe I...
  3. YFTS: The Hardest Part About Fictions Is Not Creating But Maintaining Them A couple of things I wanted to point out from the first 20 or so pages of the segment of Fever and Spear that we're...
  4. YFTS: The Perils of Dancing So a few more comments about last week's section, pp. 122 - 201. I'd like to draw everyone's attention to page 194, which I think...
  5. YFTS: Favors, and The Return of the Socks (!) For those of you who remain with me, we are now just beginning "Dance," the first section of volume 2 of Javier Marias' long book...

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