Saturday, October 4, 2008

Camp Concentration 013 - Jewels and Jaws

I didn’t read Samuel R. Delany’s collection of critical texts The Jewel-Hinged Jaw (1977), which includes, I have heard somewhere, an essay on Camp Concentration. The title of Delany’s book always sounded strange and beautiful to me – the right mixture of the anatomical, the mechanical and the exquisite. One could call it “old weird”.

Now, re-reading Disch’s novel, I found this quotation of Sacchetti’s poem, “The Hierodule”:

Behold! Behold the black, ungrainèd flesh,
The jaw’s jeweled hinge that we can barely glimpse…

No doubt that image haunted Delany so much that not only he adapted it for the title of his book of essays, but also created a title of his own for a 1969 story, that somehow echoes Disch’s: “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones”.

Sacchetti doesn’t seem to know what his poem is about (“the fog is thick”) or if it’s of interest to anyone else (“I’m too giddy yet to know if the damned thing scans, much less whether if it’s publishable”). He admits looking up the OED to ascertain the meaning of “hierodule” – “a temple slave” (or, variously, “holy whore”, “sacral prostitute”, etc.).

But his long (110 lines) poem was written in the course of a feverish night after the “Doctor Faustus” essay during which the young inmate, George Wagner, had a crisis onstage and was carried away (to die the following day). And Sacchetti also quotes these lines from his poem, which sum up somehow the fate of all Camp Archimedes prisoners:

While, within, the poison’d hierodule,
Dying, whispers what the god had meant…

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