Friday, June 17, 2011

Five Wounds: The Proverbs Sequence in 'A Meeting of Minds'

The video trailer for Five Wounds is not the only time I used mathematical principles in thinking about the book. The only scene in which all five protagonists are in the same place at the same time occurs in the chapter 'A Meeting of Minds', at p. 113, ch. 6, v. 1-18. On this momentous occasion, they all spout banal proverbs at one another. The implication is that they do so in a quasi-trance-like state, perhaps under the hypnotic influence of a divine voice that intermittently interrupts them with the refrain 'MeNe MeNe TeKeL UPHARSIN'. They speak as follows.

1 ‘MeNe, MeNe, TeKeL, UPHARSIN,’ the voice said.
2 ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way,’ Crow said.
3 ‘Freedom exists only in the kingdom of dreams,’ Gabriella said.
4 ‘Give a dog a bad name and hang him,’ Cur said.
5 ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ Cuckoo said.
6 ‘Every bird thinks its own nest fine,’ Magpie said.
7 ‘MeNe, MeNe, TeKeL, UPHARSIN,’ the voice said.
8 ‘One must howl with the wolves,’ Cur said.
9 ‘Better to be a knave than a fool,’ Magpie said.
10 ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ Cuckoo said.
11 ‘The devil can quote scripture for his own ends,’ Gabriella said.
12 ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,’ Crow said.
13 ‘MeNe, MeNe, TeKeL, UPHARSIN,’ the voice said.
14 ‘The cowl does not make the monk,’ Cuckoo said.
15 ‘Love me, love my dog,’ Cur said.
16 ‘Either Caesar, or nothing,’ Crow said.
17 ‘Tell me who your friend is, and I’ll tell you who you are,’ Magpie said.
18 ‘A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wise man,’ Gabriella concluded.

This passage has a marginal cross-reference to Plate 12, 'A meeting of minds', which is reproduced below.

Plate 12: A meeting of minds

There are several things going on in this image, which also relates to Plate 1, Initiation (insofar as it is only possible to make sense of several of the elements within Plate 1 by reference to this subsequent image: you can figure that out for yourself), but Plate 12 receives its immediate textual justification from another passage in 'A Meeting of Minds', at ch. 4, v. 3: Crow imagined all the heads in the room separated from their bodies and floating in jars, dumbly, waiting for the inscription of ulterior motives upon them.

Obviously the particular proverbs that each character 'chooses' to declaim tell us who they are, but the precise sequence is also important, and relates to Plate 12. The sequence breaks into three groups of five, within which each character speaks once (if we remove the three interjections of the disembodied voice, which are null characters in this interpretation). If we assign a letter to each protagonist according to the initial order in which they speak, and break up the sequence accordingly, it looks like this:

a (Crow)
b (Gabriella)
c (Cur)
d (Cuckoo)
e (Magpie)



If you take this list, and use it as if it is a set of vector instructions for a diagram - as if the sequence is actually a program, as I also described the language of heraldry in a previous post - then you get the following layout, which I have scanned in its three successive states, to clarify how it is constructed.

Proverbs 1st

Proverbs 1st + 2nd

Proverbs 1st + 2nd + 3rd

So, if you follow the sequence, and fill in every line accordingly, you progressively build up the figure of the pentacle, as illustrated in Plate 12 above (and in Plate 1, for those who think to make the comparison). Some lines are drawn through twice as the sequence doubles back on itself, but never in the same direction: for example, the fourth transition runs from Cuckoo to Magpie, and the seventh goes back the other direction from Magpie to Cuckoo, but the rule is that once we have traced both directions, we can't then return to this arm of the diagram.

This isn't perfectly logical. In that case, every possible direction would be represented (as it is in the video trailer, using a different set of principles), and for every possible direction to be represented, there would have to be twenty lines rather than fourteen. But this was the best version I could create that also allowed me to construct the pentacle line by line, which is what I was trying to do. I also tried several other ways of arranging the sequence of speakers, but this was the only variant in which I managed to trace all fourteen vectors as unique and unrepeated.

I used a pentacle as the basis for this diagram because it represents the five wounds of Christ in medieval iconography, notably in the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I read as an undergraduate (and which features a talking, severed head!).

As for the mathematical games, either you are the sort of person that thinks in these terms, or you aren't, in which case the whole exercise probably looks insane. But even if it is insane, it does relate to the worldview of the protagonists, whom I have desribed elsewhere as autistic. In particular, Crow and Gabriella, who are the intellectuals of the group, and who therefore appear as the first two points in this sequence, are inclined to think in these terms.

[Plate 12 by Dan Hallett; illegible sketches by me.]

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