Source blog: Tibetans, lightning, and divination.

Throughout “Hopscotch,” all sorts of different political and philosophical ideologies spring up, and one strange one is the Tibetan Bardo in Chapter 28. Ronald’s enthusiasm is cut short by Oliveira’s assertion that it’s a “book for dead people” (p157). This sparks a philosophical dialogue that eventually leads into La Maga’s discovery of Rocamadour’s death. Ronald’s excited explanation of the Bardo is rather insufficient, and his throwaway reference to the Libri Fulgurales is confusing.

First, the Bardo: We might better recognize it by its Western, bastardized name, the Tibetan Book of the Dead (thus explaining what turns out to be a rather pedestrian pun by Horacio). The Bardo itself describes three bardos, or transitional states, that a dying person goes through:

  1. The chikhai bardo or “bardo of the moment of death,” which features the experience of the “clear light of reality,” or at least the nearest approximation of which one is spiritually capable.
  2. The chonyid bardo or “bardo of the experiencing of reality,” which features the experience of visions of various Buddha forms (or, again, the nearest approximations of which one is capable).
  3. The sidpa bardo or “bardo of rebirth,” which features karmically impelled hallucinations which eventually result in rebirth. (Typically imagery of men and women passionately entwined.)

Horacio’s experiences in Hopscotch clearly correspond to the bardos: the “moment of death” for Rocamadour (and, through the consequences, for Horacio); the “experience of reality” through the meticulous accounts of the Horacio’s philosophical conversations and strange interpersonal experiences; and a “rebirth” in Horatio’s hallucinations at the end of the book. Whether or not Horacio truly gains any kind of spiritual foothold, I believe, would inspire some serious debate.

The appearance of the Libri Fulgurales is somewhat more complex. Having apparently little to do with Tibetans, the Fulgurales is an Etruscan book on divination by lightning. However, after some close reading, the relevance becomes more apparent.

Weather makes several appearances in Hopscotch – for example, La Maga and Etienne have a conversation in the rain, and when Oliveira leaves La Maga and ends up listening to Madame Trepat, it is on a day that “smelled like a rainy afternoon…he didn’t feel too well.” And later, “Suddenly he wants to go visit the old man in the hospital, or he is surprised to find himself applauding this madwoman in a corset. Strange. It must be the cold, his wet shoes” (Chapter 23). Lightning itself makes several appearances in the book – in both the first and last (at least in the outdated paradigm of page numbers) chapters. On page 4, in describing meeting La Maga, the narrator remarks that she “tried to open [her] umbrella in the park in a proud sort of way, but [her] hand got all wrapped up in a catastrophe of cold lightning shafts and black clouds” The narrator had apparently been on his way to read a palm reader – he never took La Maga, because he was “afraid she would read some truth about [him] in [La Maga’s] hand.” Oddly enough,  the mention of lightning in the “last” chapter (“the inextricable mixture of two lightning flashes in his wrathful helicoid”) is sandwiched with the discovery of a list of advertisements for soothsayers and fortunetellers (559). Its third mention is almost precisely halfway through the (physical) book on page 271 and is in the midst of a conversation about Traveler’s changing affections for Talita:

“Maybe there’s no bomb for you, pussycat,” he said, smiling with an expression that softened Talita, made her try to get more comfortable in his arms. “Look, I’m not going around looking for lightning to strike me on the head, but I don’t feel I should wear a lightning-rod for protection; I think I ought to go out with my head uncovered until it’s twelve o’clock on some day. Only after that time, after that day, will I feel the same again. It isn’t because of Horacio, love, it isn’t only because of Horacio, even though he may have come like some sort of messenger. If he hadn’t come, something else like it would have happened to me. I would have read some disillusioning book, or I would have fallen in love with some other woman…Those folds of life, you understand, those unexpected evidences of something that a person hadn’t suspected and which suddenly turn everything into a crisis. You’ll have to understand.”

All of these mentions of lightning have some relationship to fortunetelling or the indication of a change. Weather, then, and particularly lightning, makes for a complex metanarrative (among many others) throughout Hopscotch.

-Jocelyn Petyak


~ by jocelynpetyak on February 1, 2010.

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