Friday, October 10, 2008

Camp Concentration 017 - Mordecai Washington

“The name sounds vaguely familiar, but I can’t place it”. (CC, p. 35, June 6 entry)

The name “Mordecai” comes from the Bible, but in Camp Concentration it provides a link to another sf novel: Mordecai Roshwald’s Level 7. Roshwald is professor emeritus of humanities at the University of Minnesota, and his book appeared in 1959, eight years before Disch’s. It is the claustrophobic tale of a group of military in a subterranean shelter where they are in charge of the “push button” task, in the event of a nuclear war. They cannot return to the surface and to normal life anymore; in fact, their families receive a message from the Government stating they they have died in service and did not leave any remains. Officially “dead”, and buried in the underground bunker, they have no hope of returning to life whatsoever, and as the nuclear conflict develops, they are the last human beings to die.

The name “Washington” has obvious and ironic ressonances for anyone, and even more for an American. But maybe it was chosen, as well, because of the mirror image it provides for the character’s initials: MW. Two triangles pointing upward, two pointing downward. This pair of letters encapsulates the idea of mirror, of reversal, and also the alchemical motto of “as above, so below”. It also provides a kind of “logo” for the central (in a sense) character in a novel about people entombed in a catacomb above sea level, and also of people who (in the last pages) have to go down to the World of the Dead in order to ressurrect to the World of the Living.

That pair of letters also indicates, alchemically, the Mystical Conjunctio: Man on top, Woman at bottom. This interpretation has ominous consequences, because the only man/woman intercourse which is mentioned in the story (albeit hypothetically) is that between Mordecai and Dr. Busk, through which Pallidine, eventually, is smuggled away from Camp Archimedes and reaches the world at large. (One also muses on the significance of Washington taking Dr. Busk’s “cherry”).

No comments: