Victor Hugo’s Last Musical

by devinking

Written in response to the Green Lantern Press’ new book, The North Georgia Gazette, a reproduction of a newspaper produced by arctic explorers almost 200 years ago. Everything comes from other sources in the following piece-if you’re interested in knowing what all the source material is, let me know and all post along.

The musical’s grand opener is called, “We belong to the night,” and then there’s the famous actor Hooper, done up in a pelt but looking like a bat, bounding on all fours, giggling, his back to the curtain, trying to find a dark, circular, puzzle image. There is a detachment in his gambol, a kind of stoicism of the present; the alternately accusing and mutely questioning face of a dead man is all that describes his strange twisting associative dance. All features belong to the actor, Hooper, himself: a force utterly deployed in the world at any given moment, entirely characterized by its full set of features.
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Ever since the philosophers distinguished the living from the non-living children have seemed to display an extensive capacity for awe and wonder along with their horror, a horror that remains distinctly consistent, arising from an experience of cognitive dread which cannot be escaped or evaded. At times Hooper’s actions on the stage suggest that all humans takes things “as” what they are, the actor claims that even blindly using a hammer takes it “as” a hammer. It was such an unusual and unlikely event, this musical; like when the centaur is mated with the cheetah, and their off-spring is not some hellish monstrosity, but a thoroughbred colt able to carry us for half a century and more.
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In the autumn of 1853 Victor Hugo’s family began talking to ghosts. The American habit of table-tapping had reached Europe a few months earlier and the Hugos, bored and in exile, began by contacting their child Leopoldine, who had drowned in a boating accident ten years earlier. At first a sarcastic patriarch, Victor became enthralled by the practice and eventually would talk to Dante, Shakespeare, Moliere, Aeschylus, Galileo, Moses, Jesus Christ, St. Augustine, Voltaire, and Death itself.
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Its aim is precisely to make itself invisible, and it has been used to finesse an already established model of reality. Everything changed. Slumping like Quasimodo under heavy air, Hooper cut through the curiosity of the crowd with a twist of his neck. He hung on to the microphone stand like a man caught in a wind tunnel: ice, paper cups, coins, books, hats, and shoes, flew by him as if sucked up by a vacuum …the octopus appeared, was there, next to him and the octopus baited the crowd; two fans climbed on to the stage and bloodied its nose. Streaked with its own gore, an arm bandaged, the cephalopod was, in a strange way, hardly there at all: this was actually not happening. The stage was full of ghosts; song by song, Hooper ground his teeth down to points.
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Closer to fireworks than ‘soul’, Hooper’s vocals had been hurtled beyond expression into the realm of abstract urgency, outside the syntax of desire. Sampled and modulated on a keyboard, his body moving across the stage in a pelt that made him look like a bat, they, Hooper and the octopus became a barrage of intensities without pretext or context, shudders and shivers that are not so much inhuman as infra-human. Their dancing didn’t bump and grind from the hip; it abandoned the model of genital sexuality altogether for a kind of polymorphous perverse frenzy. It was a dance of tics and twitches, jerks and spasms, the agitation of a body broken down into individual components, then re-integrated at the level of the entire music hall.
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There was no sufficient daylight. Attila the Hun, dead of a burst artery on one of his countless wedding nights, 453 A.D., aged about 47. A vivid description of the reaction of his horde to the death:

“According to their national custom, the Barbarians cut off a part of their hair, gashed their faces with unseemly wounds, and bewailed their valiant leader as he deserved, not with the tears of women, but with the blood of warriors. The remains of Attila were enclosed within three coffins, of gold, of silver, and of iron, and privately buried in the night: the spoils of nations were thrown into his grave; the captives who had opened the ground were inhumanly massacred; and the same Huns, who had indulged such excessive grief, feasted, with dissolute and intemperate mirth, about the recent sepulchre of their king.”
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Victor Hugo also talked to the Ocean, even managing to get a piece of music out of the speaking water. Here’s one of the things the ocean says to Victor Hugo: “You have to understand the language of inanimate objects to be able to understand things like me who haven’t got a visible form. That’s how flowers see souls. There are dialogues between perfumes and essences. In such a way does a rose converse with the dead, and a jar of jasmine on an attic window-sill commune with all the sky”
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Hooper begins singing to the octopus. “It is you who are in error”; “Dædalus is the foundation; Orpheus is the wall; Hermes is the edifice–the whole structure. Come whenever it please you,” he sings, “I will show you the particles of gold left in the bottom of the crucible. I will instruct you in the secret virtues of the Greek word peristera. But before all things, you shall read, one after another, the letters of the marble alphabet, the pages of the granite book.” he sings, “We will go from the doorway of Bishop Guillaume and of Saint-Jean le Rond to the Sainte-Chapelle, then to the house of Nicolas Flamel in the Rue Marivault, to his tomb in the cemetery of the Holy Innocents, to his two hospices in the Rue de Montmorency. You shall read the hieroglyphics with which the four great iron bars in the porch of the Hospice of Saint-Gervais are covered. Together we will spell out the façades of Saint-Côme, of Sainte-Geneviève-des-Ardents, Saint-Martin, Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie–”
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The octopus raises up, has eight torches/suns; two eyes which are always open; an enormous head, but very light; a long but very slender body; it doesn’t eat solid material, but rather liquid; it doesn’t breathe, but shines instead; it has a spouse.
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But we’ve forgotten about blasphemy. What is blasphemy in regard to the forms of life-negation found in the Inferno? Returning to the burning desert, Capaneus, noticing Dante’s inquiring gaze, shouts back to him: ‘What I was once, alive, I still am, dead!’ Nowhere is this more. In its modern variants blasphemy strives to become an ontological principle as well.
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The New World illuminated by a sunburst, the World of the Notion, being already annexed from the conceptual inertia of the “outwardly actual”. A “new face” = a “new people”; the black night resurgent? Do we conquer grey with blackness, or illumine it from within, glaring white? Is it light (“formless whiteness”) or darkness (“the night…”)? Chemistry derives from the Egyptian word for ‘black.’
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The two, Hooper and the octopus, now knowing they ‘cannot vanquish each other’. “I knew nothing, then, of what I am writing now but simply repeated to myself: ‘Nothing can be reduced to anything else, nothing can be deduced from anything else, everything may be allied to everything else’. This was like an exorcism that defeated demons one by one. It was a wintry sky, and a very blue. I no longer needed to prop it up with a cosmology, put it in a picture, render it in writing, measure it in a meteorological article, or place it on a Titan to prevent it falling on my head […]. It and me, them and us, we mutually defined ourselves. And for the first time in my life I saw things unreduced and set free.” Every human and nonhuman object now stands by itself as a force to reckon with. No actor, however trivial, will be dismissed as mere noise in comparison with its essence, its context, its physical body, or its conditions of possibility. Everything will be absolutely concrete; all objects and all modes of dealing with objects will now be on the same footing.
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The two, Hooper and the octopus, now knowing they ‘cannot vanquish each other’. Hugo is nowhere more Weird than in his admirably clear insistence that octopuses, ‘killjoys of the contemplator’, demand a rethinking of philosophy. Though distinguished from the chimera, the octopus is identified with the Medusa, demon, and, repeatedly, with the vampire, reacquainting it, if unstably, with ‘traditional’ teratology, an abnormality of development to be studied. The octopus is obsessively depicted as evil –indeed, such a ‘perfection of evil’ that its existence is a vector of heresies of a double god, a cosmic parity of good and evil. Although, in a more subterreanean moment of French cephalopodia, Lautréamont deploys the octopoid to mock moralism, as when ‘legions of winged squid […] scud swiftly toward the cities of the humans, their mission to warn men to change their ways.’ Hugo’s dialogue is a visionary rumination on the horror of octopus-ness. The creature is described in a vomit of aghast and contradictory metaphors and similes: ‘a rag of cloth’, ‘a rolled-up umbrella’, ‘disease shaped into a monstrosity’, ‘a wheel’, ‘a sleeve containing a closed fist’, ‘birdlime imbued with hate’, ‘a pneumatic machine’ – and on and on. There is no rejection of ‘tentacle’: the word and its derivations appearing twenty times in the short piece. God is confronted by the man ‘changed into an octopus, clamp[ing] eight monstrous tentacles about his body’, the two, Hooper and the octopus, now knowing they ‘cannot vanquish each other’.
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The octopus raises up, has eight torches/suns; two eyes which are always open; an enormous head, but very light; a long but very slender body; it doesn’t eat solid material, but rather liquid; it doesn’t breathe, but shines instead; it has a spouse. The New World illuminated by a sunburst, the World of the Notion, being already annexed from the conceptual inertia of the “outwardly actual”. A “new face” = a “new people”; the black night resurgent? Do we conquer grey with blackness, or illumine it from within, glaring white? Is it light (“formless whiteness”) or darkness (“the night…”)? Chemistry derives from the Egyptian word for ‘black.’
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Victor Hugo also talked to the Ocean, even managing to get a piece of music out of the speaking water, which proved to be a bit of a problem, as the Ocean wasn’t detailed enough in his dictation to give the family the key of the piece. After asking what key to put it in (the family had been trying to arrange the piece for flute) the ocean responds:

“Your flute pierced with little holes like the ass of a shitting brat disgusts me. Bring me an orchestra and I’ll make you a song. Take all the great noises, all the tumults, all the fracases, all the rages that float free in space, the morning breeze, the evening breeze, the wind of the night, the wind of the grave, storms, simoons, nor-easters that run their violent fingers through the hair of trees like desperate beings, rising tide on the beaches, rivers plunging into seas, cataracts, waterpouts, vomitings of the enormous breast of the world, what lions roar, what elephants bellow with their trunks, what impregnable snakes hiss in their convolutions, what whales low through their humid nostrils, what mastodons pant in the entrails of the earth, what the horses of the sun neigh in the depths of the sky, what the entire menagerie of the wind thunders in its aerial cages, what insults fire and water throw at each other, one from the bottom of his volcanic yap the other from the bottom of his abysmal yap, and tell me: here is your orchestra—make harmony from this din, make love from these hates, make peace from these battle, be the maestro of that which has no master.”

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