The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance upon Monseigneur. In the outermost room were half a dozen exceptional people who had had, for a few years, some vague misgiving in them that things in general were going rather wrong. As a promising way of setting them right, half of the half-dozen had become members of a fantastic sect of Convulsionists, and were even then considering within themselves whether they should foam, rage, roar, and turn cataleptic on the spot–thereby setting up a highly intelligible finger-post to the Future, for Monseigneur’s guidance. Besides these Dervishes, were other three who had rushed into another sect, which mended matters with a jargon about “the Centre of Truth:” holding that Man had got out of the Centre of Truth–which did not need much demonstration–but had not got out of the Circumference, and that he was to be kept from flying out of the Circumference, and was even to be shoved back into the Centre, by fasting and seeing of spirits. Among these, accordingly, much discoursing with spirits went on–and it did a world of good which never became manifest.
But, the comfort was, that all the company at the grand hotel of Monseigneur were perfectly dressed. If the Day of Judgment had only been ascertained to be a dress day, everybody there would have been eternally correct. Such frizzling and powdering and sticking up of hair, such delicate complexions artificially preserved and mended, such gallant swords to look at, and such delicate honour to the sense of smell, would surely keep anything going, for ever and ever. The exquisite gentlemen of the finest breeding wore little pendent trinkets that chinked as they languidly moved; these golden fetters rang like precious little bells; and what with that ringing, and with the rustle of silk and brocade and fine linen, there was a flutter in the air that fanned Saint Antoine and his devouring hunger far away.
It’s pretty shocking how startlingly relevent this stuff is. It so vividly reminds me of of the kitchy consumeristic hipsterism of the US. Shiny objects, precious collections of useless junk.
The other day I heard on Studio 360 they were interviewing a woman collects the clothes that the munchkins wore in the Wizard of Oz. It’s hard to put the connection into words but these munchkins were paid $50 a day and told to leave. Their costumes and sweatpants then passed into the unreal world where people buy these items on ebay. They spend money, good money, on this completely unreal stuff. It’s not new, people used to buy relics all the time: the hairs from Mohammad’s beard, a piece of Noah’s boat, a bit of the cross, etc. Even so, I think that only churches or rich people bought that stuff. Your average guy on the street didn’t own magical stuff touched by history. Perhaps this isn’t so much an example of oppulence as much as consumors buying into their own crazy myths.
To me the most striking thing about the passage is the complete unreality of the whole situation and the permanence with which everyone views it. The world knows that time is on their side and that the USA will not be dominant for too much longer. Be we chubbily walk around, completely ignorant of the world outside who looks bitterly into our absurd society that creates physical and psychological disorders from excess.