Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From Greenwich to Giza: An Excursion to Pyramidiocy

The symbologist's destiny lies in the Orient. The Orient is where the Facile Wisdom of the Ancients lies, that virtus dormativa that will confirm the status quo and contain any threats to the symbologist's spontaneous understanding of himself and the world. Tom Martin's Pyramid provides in beautiful miniature an example of what gets our symbologists from Oxford to Giza and back. Consider the following passage where Catherine and Rutherford with Bezumov the secret and subversive world maps passed on to them from Professor Kent that provide proof of an advanced ancient civilization.

        Rutherford and Catherine leaned over to better see what was causing Bezumov’s excitement. It appeared to be a normal map of the world but in its top right corner it bore the legend ‘Implied Prime Meridian of Piri Reis Map – Property of US Air Force’. The map’s line of zero longitude, instead of running through the Greenwich Observatory in London, ran through the desert, just adjacent to Cairo.
Bezumov was salivating with joy, running his hands up and down the edge of the map.
        ‘Giza! Why didn’t I trust my instincts?’
        Catherine and Rutherford looked at each other in bewilderment.
        Catherine was the first to speak: ‘What does it mean?’
        With a wolf-like smile the Russian turned to her.
        ‘It means, my dear girl, that some kind soul in the American military has gone to the trouble of calculating where the original creators of the Piri Reis map located their degree zero, their equivalent of Greenwich Observatory, and it was Giza...’ (Pyramid p. 193)

This passage contains the crucial discovery that propels our symbologists toward the Great Pyramid. The only problem with Bezumov's discovery and the US Air Force's "calculations" is that it makes absolutely no sense of any kind.

Fig. 1 Piri Reis Map (1513)
Fig. 2 Prime Meridian 
The Piri Reis map (fig. 1) cannot have an "Implied Prime Meridian" because it is not constructed along meridian lines at all. Meridians are imaginary, arbitrary lines of longitude stretching from the North Pole to the South pole and intersecting lines of latitude to give each point on the Earth's surface a distinct numeric coordinate. The equator is the natural place to locate 0° latitude because it is equidistant from the Earth's poles, but the location longitude's 0°, the "Prime Meridian", is completely arbitrary. There has been significant debate about where to locate it, but today by convention the Prime Meridian passes through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, UK (fig. 2). The lines that criss-cross the Piri Reis map connecting its compass roses do not correspond to lines of longitude and latitude, although three of the compass roses are placed roughly at the latitudes of the equator and the two tropics. Even if meridian lines were drawn on the Piri Reis map forming the familiar grid, unless those were notated with numbers indicating where the map makers were counting from, there simply would be no prime meridian. The location of a prime meridian uniformly transforms the figures of navigational charts, but it does not effect the appearance of a map projection. It simply does not even make sense here to talk of the existence of a prime meridian on the Piri Reis map, let alone its calculation. It would be as though one sketched a picture of a friends face in a notebook, then compared it to a photograph, drew a cross over their face and then claimed that the cross indicated the point of origin on a Cartesian coordinate system as calculated from the sketch.  Bezumov's relationship to the USAF map is analogous to this faux-coordinatized face.

Fig 3. Azimuthal equidistant
centered at Giza
As is always the case in Martin, what is immediately striking is the incongruous ignorance of the protagonists. While the reader cannot be expected to have seen the Piri Reis map or know what a meridian is, Catherine is an astronomer and has the Piri Reis map in front of her. Despite being the Youngest Ever Professor of Very Hard Sums at All Souls, she is apparently completely ignorant of all but the most superficial features of her own discipline. My colleague Dr. Sturgeron von Prandleforth has elsewhere developed the apophatic consequences of Rutherford and Catherine's radical and total ignorance of their own fields in connection with their programmatic recapitulation of 19th c. colonial British uses of antiquarianism, meridian astronomy and historical speculation that amounts to the existence officially endorsed Imperial Symbologists in the pay of the British East India Company. I enthusiastically refer the reader to his majestic synthesis of the critique of symbology with Simon Schaffer's indispensable work on the mutual support, condition and cause astronomy and colonial enterprise provided for each other in the 19th c. Here I wish only to point out the majestic elegance with which Tom Martin manages not to make sense on a number of levels at once. He rejects as his content the only conjecture about the Piri Reis map which, even though false, is at least visually convincing, viz. the not that it is a partial representation of an azimuthal projection with its center at  Giza. See The Mysteries of the Piri Reis Map for a more comprehensive treatment of this subject. My aim is not, however, to critique the conspiracy theorists but to point out that Tom Martin isn't even trying.

Fig. 4 Greenwich Observatory, Center
of the British Empire
But if none of the cartography makes sense, what does?

Giza... the pyramids. This was the apex of the old civilization. And in four days’ time, on Monday, at sunrise, it will be the spring equinox. I must be there! He who controls Giza controls the world...’ (194)
The military in the symbological universe is invariably a pure force of cacognosis, a power-hungry gang of soldier of fortune mythognostic symbologists fighting their way through South American jungles and Arabian deserts in search of lost artifacts that will convey fabulous temporal power (Prandleforth 2009c). In other words, they are the institutional versions of Bezumov, the cacognostic villain of Pyramid. The cacognostic believes that the code is literal. If the Great Pyramid at Giza is the heart of a global network of lay lines commanded by an ancient civilization, then the literalist cartographer would have to put Giza at its actual, visual center, no matter how useless this projection would be for navigation outside of north Africa. Bezumov's equation of Giza with Greenwich is absolutely correct: He who controls Giza controls the world. We use a prime meridian that passes through Greenwich because in the 18th and 19th centuries a cabal of worldly, covetous, power-hungry men based a sophisticated world civilization around the astronomical observatory there. This militant pack capitalists and soliders armed with the erudition of mythognostic symbologists was known colloquially as "the British" and  even though their star is no longer ascendent they have had a lasting impact on our maps. Bezumov is correct, he should have "trusted his instincts," but he cannot. "Instinct" is the masculine version of feminine "intuition" perverted by discursive reason.

All Bezumov can do is reverse the process of imperial cartography and misinterpret the code as referring to the literal center of ancient power rather than to the incongruous power of the ancients facile wisdom, an ideological power destined reinforce the hegemony of the present global empire whose riches Catherine and Rutherford enjoy from the confines of their universities. It is because Bezumov can only conceive of material correlates to the code that he has got hold of the wrong end of the symbological stick. It is as though a brilliant but insane 19th c. Scotish scientist and adventurer got hold of some maps and a copy of Newton's Principia Mathematic from which he concluded that he could take control of the British empire by annexing Greenwich and entering and occupying the Royal Observatory.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tom Martin, or, The Whale

 He was a man who believed that everything happened according to the will of God, but in this case, given everything else he knew, he wasn't sure what exactly God was trying to say.
Julia Navarro, The Bible of Clay
All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event — in the living act, the undoubted deed — there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

 Tom Martin's Kingdom has received surprisingly little direct attention in this forum, despite frequent refgerences, and its centrality to much of the discussion which has inforrmed the analyses published here.  A notable exception is, of course, Twinglebrook-Hastings' work on Lovecraft, but nonetheless I think it is appropriate here to rehearse what I take to be some important  dimensions of Martin's latest book, since I think they are essential to reading Julia Navarro's The Bible of Clay.

Immediately prior to its publication, a central question which occupied the community of symbological critics was what, exactly, an ideal subject of symbolognosis would look like.  This question arose from the realization (which ultimately resulted in Bremselhacker's formulation of the Generative Grammar,) that it is emphatically not the symbologist.  Close readings of Pyramid, The Gaudi Key, and The Da Vinci Code had revealed that the male symbologist (Rutherford, Miguel, and Langdon, respectively) is in fact a liminal figure whose oscillation between mythognosis and cacognosis represents the motive tension of the narrative (in much the same way that, say, apparent threats to the bourgeouis sexual economy of Georgian England motivate Pride and Predjudice), which is ultimately resolved in his ascension to orthognosis via the "flagrant cop-out."  However, this resolution is ultimately unstable since, as Brown has shown us, the symbologist always reverts to mythognosis.  (Twinglebrook Hastings has pointed out elsewhere that this should mean that any given symbologist gets even more dense with every subsequent iteration, a prediction which is roundly confirmed in Brown's oeuvre.)  This observation lead to the realization that it is in fact the feminine subject of symbolognosis, (paradigmatically embodied in Catherine Donovan,) who is the model, since she is apparently invulnerable to the lure of mythognosis because of her radical ignorance of the particulars of the Code, and equally to cacognosis because of her complete inability to grasp their significance.  She begins and ends the narrative in a state of indifferance to the  reality and the significance of the Code's referent, and is therefore always already orthognostic.  However, her orthognosis is clearly different from that ultimately achieved by the symbologist, since it is inassailable, and this fact led to the distinction of the feminine subject's orthognosis by the somewhat cumbersome but nonetheless essential term "orthognosis(f)," or, more concisely, O(f).  In these respects, O(f) has important homologies with the orthognosis of the Oriental Other (i.e. Poimandres), or O(oo), which is similarly autochthonous and immutable. 

This led immediately to some excited speculation about the possibility of an experimental symbological novel in which the only protagonist was O(f) and the play of positions encompassed in the Generative Grammar was eliminated entirely.  Then, in January 2009, the "unknown but reasoning thing" put forth its features and Kingdom was published.

It is difficult to read Kindom as anything other than a programmatic exploration of the ideal subject of symbolognosis, viz. O(f).  Nancy Kelly, the novel's only important protagonist, is, if anything, a more perfect orthognostic than Catherine Donovan.  She is radically ignorant of everything which could conceivably be important to her mission of discovery, she is only capable of generating knowledge through flashes of intuition occasioned by contact with antique artifacts, and at the novel's end she is completely unfazed by the inescapable and devastating conclusions to which her journey brings her, and returns to her ordinary life.   But Martin's exploration also reveals an unanticipated feature of O(f): its derivation from the patriarchal orthognosis of the figure denoted in Towards a Metasymbology (Prandleforth and Bremselhacker, 2009) as the Father, e.g. Professor Kent in Pyramid, Jacques Saunière in The Da Vinci Code, and Anton Herzog in Kingdom.  Martin uses Kingdom to answer the vital question posed by the O(f), which is what could possibly motivate it to undertake a journey of symbological discovery in the first place.  His unambiguious answer is: the pursuit of the Father.  While the mythognostic symbologist may be distracted by cacognostic jouissance in the play of symbols, the orthognostic(f) subject is drawn through the Code to the Father.

Julia Navarro's The Bible of Clay (2008) is a complex offering which clearly bespeaks a thorough conversance with the classics of symbology and peri-symbology, in which Navarro takes up Martin's themes in order to mount a much more aggressive and fundamental critique of O(f) than that elaborated in Kingdom.  I will attempt to briefly summarize the plot before describing her critique in detail.   

The Bible of Clay opens, immediately prior to the second Gulf War, with a man confessing to a priest that he intends to murder someone.  The penitent immediately flees, and the priest emerges to find a newspaper lying on the ground announcing an archaeological conference in Rome, with the name of a participant circled in red: Tannenberg.  We quickly discover that the would-be murderer is Carlo Cipriani, eminent Italian physician, and that he and three friends, Mercedes, Bruno, and Hans are looking for one Alfred Tannenberg, a vicious ex-Nazi who brutalized them in ways which are frankly Reillyan in their hyperbolic sadism when they were all interned as children at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, and that their entire adult lives have been dedicated to hunting him down and killing him.

The conference participant, unfortunately, turns out to be Clara Tannenberg, a previously unknown archaeologist of Mesopotamia.  Clara is of Iraqi/German parentage and lives in Bagdhad.  In Navarro's first unambiguous Martinian allusion, Clara attends the conference with her Iraqi husband Ahmed Husseini, director of the Iraq's Bureau of Archaeological Investigations and a member of Saddam Hussein's "inner circle."  At the conference, in a scene which is shockingly reminiscent of the opening meeting in Revelation ("Why is there an alchemist among us?") Clara solicits the solidly mythognostic archaological community for help excavating what she calls "The Bible of Clay," which she believes is buried in Haran, Iraq, at a site recently partially exposed by an American bomb.  In an obvious reference to The Book of Abraham, (already treated at some length in this forum,) she reveals that she is in possession of two tablets unearthed by her grandfather (under poorly defined circumstances) which record the intention by a previously unknown Mesopotamian scribe named Shamas to transcribe the story of creation directly from the lips of the Jewish patriarch Abram, as dictated immediately prior to his departure for Canaan.  She and her husband are ridiculed by the assembled archaeological establishment, and she leaves in tears.

This development is upsetting to the sponsors of the conference, Ronald Brown and Ralph Barry of the Mundo Antiguo Foundation, who in turn are revealed to be the creatures of a triumvirate of octogenarian Germans who jointly run global network specializing in the illicit sale of stolen antiquities, for which the MAF is something of a fence.  It is ultimately revealed that they are all escaped Nazis, and for years have been working in partnership with Alfred Tannenberg.  Their latest scheme is to exploit the outbreak of war in Iraq to systematically loot the nation's museums and sell their contents to the world's (apparently insatiable) collectors of black-market antiquities, an undertaking in which they have the full cooperation of Clara's husband Ahmed and various other key Iraqis.  The group has split, however, over the "Bible of Clay."  Alfred is, in fact, in possession of the two initial tablets, which he did not discover but rather stole from two Jewish archaeologists whom he murdered sometime in the late thirties, and all have agreed to finance an expedition to recover the remainder.  However, Alfred wants his daughter to discover them in the public domain, and thereby gain the "respectability" he fears will be denied her after he dies and his sordid dealings come to light; the other senile Germans want to include the tablets in their museum haul, conceal their existence, and sell them for profit.  [Readers of Matthew Reilly may notice, at this point, that Navarro appears to have adopted both his insistence on Nazis as the ultimate antagonist and his practice of introducing a new, generally irrelevant character every five pages or so.]

Thus, there are two groups interested in Clara's archaological mission to Haran: the Senile German Triumvirate, and the Geriatric Assassination Society.  Neither are aware of one another in the slightest, nor are either particularly interested in the content of the Bible of Clay; the SGT wants only to sell it to the highest bidder, and the GAS wants only to kill Alfred and Clara Tannenberg (their murderous oath extends to Tannenberg's offspring as well).  It is at this point that Navarro makes clear that she is a meta-symbologist, and alerts us that close reading will be rewarded.  In the following passage Carlo Cypriani is consulting his friend Luca Marini, a Sicilian ex-Mafia hunter, for information on hiring a hit man to infiltrate Clara's expedition and kill Tannenberg:
"Luca, I want you to put me in touch with one of those agencies, that's all(...)"
"There are a couple of companies made up of former members of the SAS.  The Brits are very professional; I prefer them to the Yankees.  In my opinion, the best of the m is Global Group. Here," he said, handing Carlo a business card, "this is their address adn telephone number.  Their headquarters is in London.  You can ask for Tom Martin..."
Carlo does, in fact, consult Tom Martin despite Marini's warning (which we might all do well to heed):
"...And trust nobody."
 "Not even your friend Tom Martin?"
"Nobody, Carlo, nobody."
and Martin sends one of his more resourceful assassins, Lion Doyle (another allusion to Reilly).  Simultaneously, the SGT are approach their own preferred mercenary organization, Planet Security, looking for a man who can infiltrate Clara's mission in order to steal the tablets.  For no reason justified by the plot, the CEO of Planet Security, Paul Dukais, consults his friend Tom Martin for a recommendation, and ultimately it is another of Martin's proteges who infiltrates the mission on behalf of the Nazis.  Thus, none of the actors are aware of the agendas or even the existence of the others, with the single exception of Tom Martin, the spider at the center of the web.

Work on the dig proceeds slowly, overseen by Clara and her monstrous grandfather Alfred, who appears with his personal physician and hospital tent, clearly on the point of death from metastatic cancer, in order to witness the final excavation of his personal obssession. Clara is joined by several other largely superfluous characters, but a significant addition is Father Gian Maria, the priest who heard the confession which opened the book.  He makes his way to Iraq in order to prevent her murder personally, although he does not divulge his agenda to anybody because it would violate the sanctity of the confessional; fortunately, he happens to be an expert in ancient Near-Eastern languages, and therefore has a justifiable cover for participating in the investigation.  Clara's archaeological expertise, by contrast, subsists solely in picking up random fragments of tablets strewn around the site which then engender long intuitive flashbacks to Shamas' interactions with Abram and his transcription of Genesis.  Finally, after a series of superfluous developments, Tannenberg is assassinated by Doyle and the Clara discovers the remaining tablets through pure intuition, after the conventional archaeological experts have all abandoned the project in fear of the impending commencement of American bombing.  The tablets, as presaged by her flashbacks, turn out to contain, simply, the Book of Genesis as it appears in the King James Bible, with no apparent alterations whatever.  Despite the best efforts of the SGT and the GAS, she and Gian Maria succeed in fleeing with the tablets to Europe, where she finally is assassinated and the tablets are stolen (by the GAS and the SGT respectively, who remain unaware of one another throughout) at the gala opening of the exhibit which will display the expedition's findings. 

An initial objection to any attempt to connect The Bible of Clay with Kingdom might be that there is a serious problem of temporal plausibility, since Kingdom was published in 2009 and The Bible of Clay appeared in English as early as 2007.  However, I do not think we need be deterred by this, since the circumstantial evidence of dialogue with the author of Pyramid is overwhelming: Navarro uses a character named "Tom Martin" as the only link between The Bible of Clay's various sub-plots, she introduces another character (not detailed above because of his utter pointlessness) named "Senator Miller," and there are various other homages to Martinian prose (for instance her description of Cairo drivers on page 563).  Navarro may not have had access to Kingdom, but it seems plausible that she had access to the manuscript or, perhaps, the author.

In any case, it is not even necessary to the claim that Navarro is mounting a critique of O(f) to prove that she should have had either; as reviewed above, the questions which preoccupy Kingdom and The Bible of Clay were "in the air" in the late '00s, to the extent that they were explicitly and independently raised by contributors to this forum before either book was discovered.

Whatever the case, it seems clear that Navarro's work proceeds from the same foundations as Kingdom.  In The Bible of Clay, the only consistently significant protagonist is Clara Tannenberg, whose orthognostic credentials equal those of Nancy Kelly.  Despite ostensibly being trained in archaeology she apparently knows nothing except what she has learned from her father about the possible existence of the Bible of Clay.  Like Nancy Kelly, her chief access to it prior to its actual discovery consists in intuitive dream-narratives which are generally occasioned by contact either with the tablets or stones from the site, and she stands in precisely the same relation to the Father (in this case, her grand-father) as do all other notable symbological heroines.  

However, if Martin set out to isolate the perfect subject of symbolognosis, Navarro's project appears to be to remove another layer in order to reveal the conditions of its possibility, or, phrased differently, to exaggerate the elements of the O(f):Father relationship in order to make its fundamental operations visible.  She does this by several means.

Her constitution of the O(f) mirrors Martin's and Browns to begin with, in that Tannenberg is essentially ignorant and incapable of grasping the relevance of her findings, being solely interested in pursuing the Father (or, in this case, the object of the Father's interest); but she then exacerbates the character of Clara in two important ways.  

Firstly, by making the object of her search (both as revealed to her in intuitive visions and as it ultimately appears after excavation,) exactly the same as the object it would ostensibly problematize or replace; in Hurley's translation, the text of the Bible of Clay is exactly identical to the text of the King James Bible.  This reveals the sole derivation of O(f) from the Father, since the text holds no real interest otherwise.  Indeed, Gian Maria (the priest who flies to Iraq to protect her from assassination and the closest thing in the novel to a mythognostic) explicitly says when she talks to him about the significance of the Bible of Clay that "the Bible tells us of the existence of the Patriarch Abraham.  Naturally, I believe that he did exist, that he was a real person.  I myself have no need for archaeological proof" (416).  This is is analogous to a Da Vinci Code in which the secret kept by the Priory of Sion turned out to be that Jesus was crucified and after three days rose from the dead, which is perhaps what Navarro was thinking when she said, in response to a question about her work's relation to Dan Brown's, that "they have nothing to do with one another. I believe that the differences are totally obvious." (Incidentally, this remark came during the same interview in which she cited Umberto Eco as a favorite author.)

The second exacerbation to which Navarro subjects Clara is her incessant and implausible orientalization.  Despite being the obedient subject of her wildly racist and vehemently Nazi grandfather and having only ever lived either under his direct supervision or in California, she is persistently described as "Iraqi," which, in true Martinian fashion, is co-opted as part of the Orient:
"As [Clara and Ahmed] exited the plane onto the boarding steps, they felt the slap of heat  in their face and inhaled air thick with the smell of spices.  They were home again, home in the East....She'd loved California.  San Francisco was where she'd grown into a woman, but she'd always known she wouldn't stay and live there.  She missed the middle East - its smells, its tastes, its sense of time - and she missed speaking Arabic.  She thought in Arabic, felt in Arabic.  That was why she'd fallen in love with Ahmed.  American boys seemed dull, flat to her, even though they'd taught her all the things that were forbidden to her, as a woman, in the East."
in combining feminine orthognosis (O(f)) with the orthognosis of the Oriental Other (O(oo)), Navarro creates a subject who represents all potentially stable versions of symbolognosis, which we might designate O(oo-f) for convenience, and it is in the relations and operations of this subject that her critique is implicit.

Clara's sole means of generating and receiving knowledge, qua subject of symbolognosis, reside in her relation to her grandfather the unrepentant Nazi (whom she comes more and more to resemble as he nears his own death), and the visions she she receives via her intuitive scrying; that is to say, her whole epistemological potential is comprehended by allusion to two of the most thoroughly discredited and reviled cultural products of the twentieth century: National Socialism and the Book of Abraham.  The effect is further heightened by the strong irrelevance of the Bible of Clay, which not only turns out (as mentioned above) to be exactly identical to the King James Version, but is also stolen at the end of the book, presumably destined for the private collection of some ethically plastic billionaire. 

Navarro's point, then, seems to be that all versions of orthognosis and therefore all stable configurations of symbological knowledge simply represent the operation of ideology, mystified either by Orientalism in the case of the O(oo) or misogyny in the case of the O(f).  Navarro is following (or anticipating) Martin in leaving aside the elaboration of male subjects of symbolognosis which proceeds from the Generative Grammar in order to systematically characterize and critique orthognosis, but she goes beyond Kingdom in suggesting (in agreement with conclusions we had arrived at regarding the other subject-positions,) that the symbological novel should be understood as a concrete instance of how ideology forms, contains, and re-contains subjects.

This interpretation is further (although admittedly circumstantially) supported by Clara's actual assassination.  After the critique of orthognosis described above has been comprehensively elaborated, Clara and Gian Maria escape to Spain with the tablets.  A grand exhibit is set up, at which Clara will unveil the tablets and finally achieve the "respectability" her Father had desired for her.  Lion Doyle, (AKA Matthew Reilly) is still under orders to kill her, and is planning to do so immediately after the opening of the exhibit.  Mercedes Barrera is the only other consistently important female character in the novel, and is clearly to some extent modeled on Navarro.  She is the youngest of the GAS, and the most determined to see Tannenberg and his descendants wiped out.  Despite Tom Martin's assurances that his man will do the job when an auspicious moment arises, Barerra attends the exhibit opening.  In a scene which I can only take as being emblematic of the entire project of Bible of Clay, Mercedes/Navarro, pretending to stumble into Clara, stabs her through the heart with an awl.