Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Amsterdam. Capital city of the Netherlands; at thirteen feet below sea level, it has the lowest elevation of any capital in the world. Its concentric canals are likened by Jean-Baptiste Clamence to the circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno (c. 1320; English translation, 1802). Its Zuider Zee is called by him almost a dead sea. He lives in the Jewish section and preaches in a bar, which he calls his church. Amsterdam, in this way, lends itself to various Judeo-Christian references, which include his own name, a pseudonym meaning “John the Baptist, crying out.” The references are ironic: Clamence does not believe in the Judeo-Christian deity, by whom he would, as a believer, be judged. Needing to be judged, he must, lacking a judgmental deity, judge himself for having lived inauthentically. His self-judgment includes his self-imposed exile from Paris to the equivalent of Hell (Amsterdam), where his penance consists of confessing his inauthenticity to anyone who will listen. He calls himself a “judge-penitent”: one who judges himself and carries out the penitential sentence imposed upon himself by himself. Furthering his secularization of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition is his recollection that, in the prison camp, he was given the role of “pope.” In the camp he contracted a disease, possibly malaria, and the climate of Amsterdam has aggravated that disease.

Mexico City Bar

Mexico City Bar....

(The entire section is 606 words.)