In Item 49 of Book Two, Sacchetti mentions his conversations with Schipansky, and says:
“Yet when I admitted to being unfamiliar with Et exspecto resurrectionem murtuorum, he showed a quite missionary zeal in dragging me to the library to listen to it. And what a wonderful new use for ears this music is! After Et Exspecto, I heard Couleurs de la Cité Celeste, Chronochromie, and Sept Haikais. Where have I been all my life? (In Bayreuth, that’s where.) Messiaen is as crucial for music as Joyce was for literature. Let me say just this: Wow.”
I went to the E-Music website and downloaded the CD shown above. And for me, a layman in contemporary music, this was quite an experience. The music is strange, unpredictable, dissonant, angst-ridden. It is not much melodic and rhythmic in the traditional sense. Sometimes it sounds disjointed, full of non-sequiturs, but it maintains the same spirit from beginning to end. There’s a sense of purpose and of emotion that never wavers. It is alternately creepy, joyful, menacing; now delicate as a birdsong, now overwhelming as a tsunami.
The title of the piece translates as “I await the ressurrection of the dead”. I read somewhere that Et exspecto… was composed in 1964, to commemorate the dead of the two World Wars. It was first performed in 1965, in Paris, so it was quite a novelty at the time when Disch was writing his novel. The piece has five movements, named thus:
I - From the depths of the abyss, I cry for you, Lord: Lord, hear my voice!
II - Christ, ressurrected from the dead, will not die anymore; Death has no power over him anymore
III - The hour is coming when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God
IV - They will ressurect, glorious, under a new name, in the joyful concert of the stars and the acclamations of the children of Heaven
V - And I heard the voice of an immense crowd
The prisoners of Camp Archimedes are the dead; from their underground prison, they claim for life. After their leader discovers a way to ressurrect from Death, all of them will be delivered, one by one. Each of them will live again “under a new name”, and they will be able to return to the world.
There is an evident connection between this dramatic piece and Disch’s story. Its religious spirit is in tune with the fact that Sacchetti is a Catholic and that his spiritual crisis in prison makes him oscillate between belief and disbelief. There is also a slightly sarcastic touch (typical of Disch’s irony) in that the “ressurrecting Christ” figure is Mordecai, a black man, who is (in my view) more a Trickster than a Christ-like figure.