Heights, Depths, and Mexico City
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
You can read in "What’s Up With the Title?" about the various "falls" represented in the novel, and you can read a bit about Amsterdam’s sub-sea-level status in our discussion of the setting. But the idea of heights and depths warrants further discussion, mostly because Jean-Baptiste just won’t stop talking about it. Jean-Baptiste is all about feeling above. He says that he has "never felt comfortable except in lofty places," because he needs to "feel above." Jean-Baptiste wants to feel superior, like God judging all the mortals beneath him, so he wants to place himself physically above others. We argue in "Setting" that by placing himself in Amsterdam, below sea-level, Jean-Baptiste is punishing himself.
But consider the bar in which he spends his time: Mexico City. The real Mexico City in Mexico is almost 8,000 feet above sea level. So while everyone in Amsterdam is below, Jean-Baptiste has still succeeded in placing himself above. When you add into the mix the fact that he’s judging while he sits at the bar, you’ve got a well-nurtured God complex. And this passage makes a lot more sense:
How intoxicating to feel like God the Father and to hand out definitive testimonials of bad character and habits. I sit enthroned among my bad angels at the summit of the Dutch heaven and I watch ascending toward me, as they issue from the fogs and the water, the multitude of the Last Judgment. They rise slowly; I already see the first of them arriving. On his bewildered face, half hidden by his hand, I read the melancholy of the common condition and the despair of not being able to escape it. And as for me, I pity without absolving, I understand without forgiving, and above all, I feel at last that I am being adored!
The Dutch heaven = Mexico City. Also, think about the word "adored" in the context of the title of the van Eyck painting - another Allegory you can read about in our module.