The Cruxifixion of Grünewald, or: J.K. Crucified

This is the first chapter of what could become a historical mystery novel about the writer Joris-Karl Huysmans and his descent into 19th century Satanism, together with the demonic chaplain of the Holy Blood in Bruges Louis Van Haecke, and abbé Saunière of Rennes-le-Château:

When I look into the mirror, I see the portrait of a sinner painted by a Flemish Primitive, pictured in the authentic setting of his bedroom, surrounded by the symbols of suffering and substitution: a reproduction of a Grünewald Crucifixion or a photograph of Catherine Emmerich, showing her stigmatized hands. From the ugly but powerfully evocative physiognomy of this man with the perforated throat - ghostly-pale, hollow-cheeked - acute anguish and spiritual turmoil are emanating. The illusion is compelling and sure, manifesting a purity of vision, transforming the material world, affording an escape from the senses.

I still can see, you know. The tumor has closed only one of my eyes.

I still can see you all through the smoke of the cigarettes I’ve smoked all my life, in brothels and in monasteries. I still keep them obstinately rolling between the bloodless bones that are my fingers.

I still can see the doctors who prolonged my life and agony through operations on my eye and on my neck, swollen by cancer. They improved my eye sight but did not ease the pain, while my cancerous jaw turned eating into an excruciating task.

I still can see the doctors. They extracted most of my remaining teeth in an exceptionally painful way, as the anesthetic wore off before the end of the surgery. Some of them tried to halt the tumor’s progress through treatments with the new X-ray technology, but eventually they all confined me to this deathbed, where I grow rapidly weaker now, working with a secretary on Crowds of Lourdes, describing the rites of the grotto and the horrid afflictions of those who come to pray here, the haemorrhage of bad taste, the vileness of the church of the Rosary.

I’ve seen no cures there, but I’ve observed great faith. And I do believe in miracles, although I can authenticate none.

Oh yes, I still can see you. And so I watch you as you silently move through my sleeping room - the spirits of the present and the past. And I remember. How naturalism came as a revelation to me. How, afterwards, I grew weary of the fin de siècle silliness.

I still know how I found what I was seeking, down there, in Germany, before Grünewald’s Crucifixion. Let me shudder again in this deathbed of mine, let me close one of my eyes to revisualize the picture with the extraordinary lucidity of someone’s last hours on this earth.

Full first chapter here:

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