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Simonini's Masterpiece--The Prague Cemetery
In the chapters I will be writing about today, the artist realizes his vision, creating the core of what will in Russian hands become the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Chapter 12: A Night in Prague
In prison, Joly asked Simonini to go to a friend of his, Guedon, at a bookshop in the rue be Beaune. Guedon is Joly's anti-thesis, a smirking skeptic who is still compassionate enough to send the imprisoned journalist food. Guedon thinks the idealists hopeless, but honest men standing against Louis Napoleon, and that must count for something. Here he meets Toussenel, a socialist and republican, obsessed with the Jews as arch-capitalists, and therefore the enemy of all true socialists.
Simonini learns from Toussenel a very important fact: the left hates the Jews as much as the right. The Jews are not, in fact, his grandfather's personal enemy, but everyone's enemy. To the socialists, they are the arch-exploiters, the ultra-capitalists. To the conservatives they represent change, the decadence of the modern nation with its breach of established categories, order, and honor. To the religious, they are the stubborn Other, which must remain marked, outside the community of believers. To the reactionaries of Russia, they are an unknown quantity, therefore a suspect one, and a convenient target for animosities and energies that might otherwise home in on the tsar and his government. To the nationalists, they are the alien that cannot be assimilated, that is everything the 'true' German, Frenchman, Englishman, Russian, et al is not.
Simonini has discovered, in consonance with his own antipathy, the perfect subject for a masterpiece of his art and trade: no matter who is in power, how parties and loyalties change, how society progresses or fails to progress, the Jews will be hated, and there will be a market in that hate.
The Alliance Israelite Universelle: an organization Simonini investigates in the course of his work as an agent of France's political department.
"To defend the honor of the Jewish name whenever it is attacked; to encourage, by all means at our disposal, the pursuit of useful handicrafts; to combat, where necessary, the ignorance and vice engendered by oppression; to work, by the power of persuasion and by all the moral influences at our command, for the emancipation of our brethren who still suffer under the burdenof exceptional legislation; to hasten and solidify complete enfranchisement by the intellectual and moral regeneration of our brethren:—such, in its chief aspects, is the work to which the Alliance Israélite Universelle hereby consecrates itself."
Simonini continues in his regular work as police agent as well. It is through Lagrange's instructions that he interacts with the world outside of his office. His interactions are generated within the community of heightened awareness, secrecy and cynicism that belongs to the political departments of every state. What was stunted in him as a child has not been afforded room to grow, and he is not interested in cultivating relationships with other men, certainly not with women. He is only comfortable engaged with the abstractions of which his grandfather, the Jesuits, and his father taught him: the Jews, the Masons, and even the Jesuits themselves, once taken out of their individual bodies and made into that cabal of power within the Roman Catholic Church that suits conspiracy theories and novelists.
In his work, he meets with Jacob Brafmann, a Russian Jew who has converted to the Orthodox Church, charged with furthering conversions among the Jews. He shows the zeal of the convert, which could come from any of several causes. The testimony of a convert has immediate impact and appeal, for we assume they know what they speak of when they speak of their former beliefs and community. The insider always knows more than the outsider, and in trusting the testimony of the convert, we do not always pay attention to details or to motives.
We tend to ignore the power of the conversion narrative in shaping the convert's testimony, ignoring the frame for the details. If conversion is the transformation of the person from one in wrong belief, in the wrong community, into a person of right belief, in the right community, the narrative structures their testimony into one in which their former position and community is necessarily negatively positioned. The conversion narrative is about a change of faith, a salvation, and in such a story one does not leave a community of the less right for one slightly more correct; that is a narrative of reform and adjustment, not conversion. This power in the structure of narrative does not address the sincerity of conversion, but only the shape of the discourse participating in the narrative ensures.
Converts may also be tempted to stress the sincerity of their experience, the Truth of their present belief, by becoming more passionate, more engaged, more radical in their adherence to form than others. The convert takes up an ultra-position to protect themselves from accusations of insincerity, deceit, and faithlessness within their new community. They must prove themselves true, while those born into the community do not. This pressure, often combined with real resentment from the community they have abandoned, can result in a deformation of the facts in service to the new belief.
Whether these elements play a part in Jakob Brafmann's address of the Russian Jewish community, I do not know, but they might have. It is true that after his conversion he obtained a position, professor of Hebrew at the seminary in Minsk, that he could not have held before it. It is true that he began an effort to convert the Jews of Minsk in 1866, and that he attributed his failures in this effort to the existence of a secret confraternity of Jews with unlimited means seeking power over Christians and holding back their co-religionists from the true religion. At the time Simonini meets him, Brafmann is working on his Kniga Kahala, published in 1869 that, based on forged documents of the workings of the kahal--('community', a sort of government for those who are kept away from the normal functions of government in Russia)--of Minsk over the period 1794-1803 ascribed a series of illegal and unethical acts to the nature of the Jewish religion. all this he explains to Simonini, and Simonini takes it with him into his vision of the true Jewish conspiracy against the world.
Simonini's creation of the Prague Cemetery--his set scene in which the Jewish conspiracy is revealed through a meeting of 12 rabbis at the grave of Rabbi Loew--takes time. It is a protracted process of imagining, of revisiting scenes from his favorite novels and putting them together in a pastiche rendered finally into a whole narrative. As it comes together, he has other jobs to do, including continuing work for the Russians as a friendly gesture by the French. It is in this mission that he meets Abbe Dalla Piccola, a fellow servant of the French secret service. Abbe Piccola looks nothing like him, is not him, but is another, older man with a hunched back and protruding teeth.
He is taught a lesson in presentation by another anti-Semite and writer, Henri-Roger Gougenot des Mousseaux. Gougenot is an elderly French noble, drawn to the supernatural and animated by an expansive hatred of Jews. He cites statistics, he traces their every crime and rumors of crime through history. He discusses their resistance to disease, their intelligence, their criminality, their lecherousness, their growing population. He does not leave anything unmentioned. From this Simonini learns, as he falls asleep listening to the old man's rambling speech, to focus, to appeal to the imagination of his readers. His rabbis must speak clearly, understandably, leaving nothing for the reader to do but enjoy the scene, feel its impact.
Finally, Simonini writes his Prague Cemetery, his masterpiece of forgery and plagiarism. But he has done more than forge the core of a hoax, he has created a reality: "that experience, the powerful, convincing reconstruction of the Jewish conspiracy, the repugnance that through my childhood and early youth had been no more than (how can I say?) imaginary, all in my head, like voices of a catechism instilled by my grandfather, had now become flesh and blood." He has created a golem, given it life and a spirit through the power of his words. (For the story of the golem, see http://www.pitt/edu/~dash/golem.html).
Chapter 13: Dalla Piccola Says He is Not Dalla Piccola
This chapter serves to remind us that the Dalla Piccola who writes with Simonini is certainly not the Abbe Dalla Piccola that he met in the last chapter, and proves it with a description of his form, his face, his accent, French with a slight Italian inflection.
Chapter 14: Biarritz
The Prague Cemetery scene of which Simonini is so proud is now rushing towards international fame as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and one of its stops along the way will be as part of a historical romance by an agent provacateur in Prussia's service, Goedsche, 1815-1878. Two forgers, Simonini and Goedsche, meet. They share a hatred of Jews. Simonini is looking to profit from his work, selling his scene twice, once to the Russians, and now to the Prussians. But the Prussians will not buy, or so Goedsche says, though he makes a copy to show his masters. Still, Simonini has hope that such quality work will not go to waste, and offers it to the Jesuits through Dalla Piccola.
Dalla Piccola returns, unable to buy it and convinced that Simonini is a fraud, a degraded plagiarist of no value to anyone, for it has been published in a novel, Biarritz, by John Retcliffe (Goedsche) in Germany. His fiction, presented to Goedsche as a fact, has been turned by Goedsche back into a fiction, and it has brought him trouble. Dalla Piccola is angry, and, as Lagrange made clear with the death of Lacroix, an agent who cannot be relied upon must die. If Piccola tells Lagrange of this, Simonini might be judged useless and so eliminated. Therefore, Dalla Piccola must die in order to salvage the illusion of trustworthiness Simonini has created for himself with Lagrange. He kills the priest, and takes his body into the sewers, musing on the state of a world in which all are duplicitous and untrustworthy. This, he thinks, is what the Jews want the world to be.
As a final note, I would like to point out the function of anachronisms in the dialogues that begin to develop in the book during these chapter, and which continue throughout the rest of the book, becoming more and more frequent as we approach the end of the novel. The anachronism is a phrase or a thing that does not belong in the time or place in which it has been conditioned. If you give Patton an Abrams you have created an anachronism. In this particular novel, the anachronisms are verbal. They are particular phrases, particular discourses, that belong not to the 1870s but to the Third Reich, and are easily recognized as such.
Simonini's conversation with Goedsche is filled with anachronisms of this type. Goedsche speaks in the volkist tones of the time, as the first wave of German nationalism rose, but he includes phrases that can only evoke the Holocaust, and they are intended to do so. For example, he speaks of destroying Jewish culture and wealth, as Luther wanted to do, forcing them into cattle sheds and making them laborers: "That is because…arbeit macht frei, work sets you free. The final solution, for Luther, would have been to drive them out of Germany like rabid dogs". Of all the races of the world, only the German is pure, uncontaminated, strong. The gates of Auschwitz: arbeit macht frei. The destruction of the Jews: the final solution.
What are the appearance and the increase in frequency of these anachronisms, these allusions to the future that within the novel does not exist, mean? We are the readers, it is for us to do something with them, or note them and leave them aside. I prefer to do something with them. I suggest that the increase in frequency of these allusions to the Holocaust is connected to the growth of Simonini's faith in his own mission. The horror of the Holocaust is the answer to the Jewish threat, the single effective answer to the threat of world Jewry, so long as you accept the premises of the conspiracy theory, the truth Simonini recreates in his Prague Cemetery scene. The Jews are the single enemy of every group, regardless of their political leanings, left and right, liberal and conservative, radical and reactionary. They are also the singular enemy, the one that is not subject to conversion (their conversions are always false), assimilation (it is in the blood and cannot change), indoctrination, or any other form of coercion or conciliation. The conspiracy theory, the warping of human relationships and realities committed by the theory, guarantees the Holocaust, and as it is repeated, disseminated with slight alterations of detail and argument but by the same plan and to the same end, the eventuality of a Holocaust occurring are strengthened. All the conspiracy theory needs is believers, and the believers are already there, primed and ready to accept the Prague Cemetery.