The Chumps of Choice

A Congenial Spot for the Discussion of Against the Day, by Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Cornell '59, and Any Other Damned Thing That Comes Into Our Heads. Warning: Grad Students and Willie-Wavers will be mocked.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Now Single Up All Lines!


A 1901 Airship. Source


The Light Over the Ranges

Was ever an opening line more packed, more fraught, than this one?

Ships are docked with lines doubled -- that is, with two sets of ropes or chains holding the vessel to the dock. To "single up all lines" is to remove the redundant second lines in preparation to make way.

Beginning the novel with that attention-centering word "now," Pynchon issues a command -- to us, to himself -- that can be read as an exhortation to gather loose threads. Given the material to be introduced in the next few pages, which recapitulates an amazing number of the ideas and motifs of Pynchon's career, all lines are truly being singled up.

The Plot

1.

The Chums of Chance ready the good ship Inconvenient, its patriotic bunting flying, for departure. Their orders are to make for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and they're excited. Darby Suckling, the Baby" of the crew, who serves as both "factotum and mascotte" and sings the difficult tenor parts, earns five more demerits from Lindsey Noseworth for "informality of speech."

Head Chum Randolph St. Cosmo calls off Lindsey, and turns his attention to Handyman Apprentice Miles Blundell, who has tripped over a picnic basket, shattering crockery -- its familiarity perhaps having "rendered it temporarily invisible" to him. Chick Counterfly, the newest Chum -- his probationary period not yet over -- and a "picklesome youth," razzes Miles' officious loyalty: "Like Sunday school around here."

We meet Pugnax, the ship's dog who is possessed of highly expressive tail and eyebrows but who talks like Scooby-Doo, as he reads The Princess Casamassima, a volume of Henry James. Pugnax, we learn, was rescued in the "shadow of the Washington Monument" during the course of a dustup between "rival packs of the District's wild dogs," set forth in The Chums of Chance and the Evil Halfwit. (Gosh, we don't know any Evil Halfwits in Washington, do we?) We learn how the Chums respond to "calls of nature" over the downwind side of the Inconvenience -- and how the "lavatorial assaults" have entered into the realm of the religious among the victims below.

Noseworth lectures Darby Suckling on the subject matter contained in The Princess Casamassima -- the inexorably rising tide of World Anarchism, and we hear of Noseworth's contempt for books -- whose level "can be approached perhaps only by Executive Officers. (Gosh, we don't know any Executive Officers with contempt for book-learning, do we?) We also learn, through Pugnax's inability to discern one, the curious fact that Noseworth, despite his name, has no smell.

We are informed that the Inconvenience's aerial-propulsion device, invented by Professor Heino Vanderjuice of New Haven, is "disparaged as no better than a perpetual-motion machine, in clear violation of themodynamical law." We Pynchon Regulars stand up and whinny -- single up all lines!

We learn in flashback how Chick Counterfly came to join the Chumps -- rescued from a Ku Klux Klan posse comitatus come for Chick's carpetbagger father Richard ("Dick"), who had authored a scam to "sell the state of Mississippi to a mysterious Chinese consortium based in Tijuana" and subsequently "absquatulated."

"Do not imagine," Lindsay instructs the new arrival portentously, "that in coming aboard Inconvenience you have escaped into any realm of the counterfactual.... we must live within the restraints of the given world."

There follows a conversation between Chick and Randolph St. Cosmo that is as thrilling in its up-singling of all lines as it is maddening in its inconclusiveness. "Going up is like going north," St. Cosmo points out, rather unhelpfully. Chick noodles it through: "If you keep going far enough north, eventually you pass over the Pole, and then you're heading south again.... So... if you went up high enough, you'd be going down again?"

St. Cosmo deflects the line of questioning, but we're left pondering his mysterious reference to an equal-and-opposite surface, "all too earthly," that one comes to if one goes too high in the sky.

A-and boy howdy are we reading us some Pynchon!

2.

Inconvenience hovers over the Chicago stockyards, its crew in wonderment at the "unshaped freedom" of the West that now is "rationalized into movement only in straight lines and at right angles and a progressive reduction of choices, until the the final turn through the final gate that [leads] to the killing floor." (Boy howdy!)

Inconvenience prepares to descend into the vast population of airships that have convened for the great international gathering of aeronauts held in conjunction with the World's Fair. There commences some Keystone Kops aerobatics, occasioned by Lindsay's loquacity, Blundell's blundering, Counterfly's contrariness, St. Cosmo's stargazing and Darby's suckling. You wonder how these clowns ever survived any adventures. Sandbags go overboard as the "very mouth of Hell!" gapes wide. Lindsay overcomes St. Cosmo's "familiar inertia," sends Darby aloft to close the opened valve through which their hydrogen was escaping, and the crisis is averted.

The dropped sandbags have flushed a couple -- a clothed man and a nude woman -- from whatever-it-was that they were doing with that camera. As they run, they cast "apprehensive looks upward at the enormous gasbag" that descends alarmingly toward them, "quite as if it were some giant eyeball, perhaps that of Society itself, ever scrutinizing from above, in a spirit of constructive censure." The ship finally anchored to Mother Earth, this sector of the Republic vanishes into the falling darkness.

The Chums descend a Jacob's-ladder to terra firma. Their fellow aeromaniacs, from "laboratory skeptic to Jesus-rapt ascensionary," vol á voile in in their finery. The evening is a-twitter with aviatory pleasantries.

The Chums "dedicate a few moments to song, as a group differently engaged might have to prayer."

Miles and Lindsay prepare for "ground-leave" (well, you wouldn't call it "shore-leave," would you?) and receive a strangely ineffectual lecture on safety from St. Cosmo, now dressed in mufti. Suckling, Counterfly, and Pugnax steel themselves for watch duty. Darby sets to repairing the "very mouth of Hell!" that had caused such consternation earlier in the day. His duty done, he and Chick converse over a cup of coffee and a cubeb cigarette. Chick waxes regretful about his separation from his father -- but their tête a tête is interrupted by the curiously multivocal barking of Pugnax, which heralds the arrival of the Bindlestiffs of the Blue A.C. -- Riley, Zip, and Captain Miss Penelope ("Penny") Black, newly in command of the Tzigane.

The "gossip, shop talk, and sky-stories" lead to talk of "sightings" -- lights, and sounds too, of a tuneless ethereal choir -- "warnings," sez Riley ominously. Talk turns to the Garçons de '71, an outfit formed during the Franco-Prussian War, renegade military balloonists who, "observing from above" concluded "how much the modern State depended for its survival on maintaining a condition of permanent siege -- through the encirclement of populations, the starvation of bodies and spirits, the relentless degradation of civility until citizen turned against citizen.... When the Sieges ended, those balloonists chose to fly on, free now of the political delusions that reigned more than ever on the ground, pledged solemnly only to one another, proceeding as if under a world-wide, never-ending state of siege." The war now over, the balloonists choose "to fly on, free now of the political delusions that reigned more than ever on the ground, pledged solemnly only to one another, proceeding as if under a world-wide, never-ending state of siege.

3.


The White City, World Columbian Exposition. Source

Miles and Lindsay are off to the Fair. Deposited by their cab "a short walk from the Fairgrounds," the electrical glow of the Fair shines in the distance. Paying their way in at a gate "with something of the makeshift about it," they pass through the shadowy darkness of the outskirts, a "strange Limbo" to which exotic exhibits from Africa, India, and Asia -- "not nations of the world but Deadly Sins" -- have been banished. Not for nothing was this "White City" named.

Miles betrays a hitherto unseen clairvoyance in dealing with a three-card monte dealer, a "peculiar feeling" he occasionally gets before "just tripping on my feet again." Once within the relative safety of the White City, the lads make straight for the root beer and "Cracker Jack."

St. Cosmo, however, is still on duty. He makes his way to the office of Nate Privett, Privett Eye. Here it emerges that the Chums -- who now appear to be mercenaries, to put it bluntly -- will be selling "their services" to exploit their "view from overhead" to fly an extra passenger over the Fairgrounds on that most contemporary of 1893 missions: Antiterrorist security.

Duck soup!

Notes and Comments

We are, if the AtD Wikipedia page is anything to go by, to expect "four writing styles in the book that hark back to popular fiction of the period. John Clute identifies four 'story clusters', each with one or more prose styles mimicking a popular fiction genre in the style it was written before the end of World War":
  1. The Airship Boys cluster, which is told in a boys' adventure idiom.
  2. Western Revenge cluster
  3. The Geek Eccentric Scientist cluster, which is told in an amalgam of styles.
  4. The Flaneur Spy Adventuress cluster
Clearly, we're in the Airship Boys style, here, although I'd argue that the last scene, between St. Cosmo and Nate Privett, is beginning to lean into the Western Revenge style.

Mirrorings and binaries everywhere. The "giant eyeball, perhaps even that of Society itself," stares pitilessly downward on hapless goofball miscreants on the ground, while incipient anarchist balloonists watch Society rip itself to shreds from the same vantage point. "Going up is like going north," in that if you go up far enough, you will finally be going down, to "another surface," this one "all too earthly."

Those who have read Mason & Dixon will be familiar with the phrase, but Neophytes may not: As above, so below. Its significance can't be overlooked here.

The Chums oscillate between the anarchist leanings of their brethren in the Garçons de '71 and the necessary discipline of a military unit. If the Chain of Command is broken, their balloon will crash; but note that the Commander, in his "familiar inertia," fails to issue the proper orders, and it is his lieutenant who is forced to break the Chain. Read the word "familiar" in its usual sense, yes, but also leave yourself open to its less used meaning, "of a family." Does that describe the Chums more accurately?

Gotcher Pynch-o-Meters handy? Good!

1:15-17. The Pynchon Wiki has already identified Pynchon's Navy experience as one source for the nautical talk. I'd point to another: Patrick O'Brian, who actually makes an appearance in Mason & Dixon, as "the finest yarn-spinner in all the Fleets." His carefully researched novels on the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars heavily influenced Pynchon's nautical language in that book, what with "the weather-gage" and the "Cheerly now...handsomely!"

1:20 Inconvenience. The British Royal Navy
has a long tradition of warships with names like the following:

Impulsive
Incendiary
Inconstant
Indefatigable
Indignant
Infernal
Insolent
Intelligent
Inveterate
Invincible

Once again, I can't imagine Patrick O'Brian isn't lurking somewhere just offstage...

1:29-30. World's Columbian Exposition. Go. Read all about it. Perhaps the most salient fact in the Wikipedia article is this one: "The International Exposition was held in a building which for the first time was devoted to electrical exhibits. It was a historical moment and the beginning of a revolution, as Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse introduced the public to electrical power by providing alternating current to illuminate the Exposition." Given the fact that the flyleaf notes tell us a walk-on by Nikolai Tesla is to be expected, I can't believe that's insignificant.

2:12: Henry James. James did indeed write a book about anarchists named The Princess Casamassima. "It is the story of an intelligent but confused young London bookbinder, Hyacinth Robinson, who becomes involved in radical politics and a terrorist assassination plot." sez Wikipedia.

2:15. The Chums of Chance and the Evil Halfwit. If the Chums' exploits have been captured in a series of boys' adventure novels, what are we reading here? Are these guys living in the "real world," or is this another Chums novel? I imagine this question is going to get real hairy.

2:15 Pugnax. Latin for "likes to fight." Pugnacious. "A dog of no particular breed," but I can only imagine him as a (wait for it!) pug.

7:4 Pelota

7:40 Absquatulate

8:3 Thick Bush. Google Maps never heard of it. (Later edit: Duh! Who's thick?)

11:14 "plummet" Pynchon Wiki sez "bad physics here."

12:38-39 "...the topological genius of Herr Riemann himself." "Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann November 17, 1826 - July 20, 1866) was a German mathematician who made important contributions to analysis and differential geometry, some of them paving the way for the later development of general relativity."

13:23-40. Many light/dark images here, the first I've been able to discern in the book. Not coincidentally, a great deal of "As above, so below" imagery as well.

15:8-30 A great deal of fun can be had trying to work out the melody of Pynchon's "stupid songs," what he's parodying. Discuss?

17:13. Awwww. Chick misses Dick. Does Dick miss Chick? Every ding-dong day! "We were partners, see?... Swell little moneymaker..." (!!!!! Swell, little moneymaker!)

17:31. Cubebs. Chinese foofaraw...

18:28 Tzigane. A rhapsody by Ravel. Name means "gypsy."

19:27. Garçons de '71. Fictional, but check this out: In 1872, the French naval architect Dupuy de Lome launched a large limited navigable balloon, which was driven by a large propeller and the power of eight people. It was developed during the Franco-Prussian war, as an improvement to the balloons used for communications between Paris and the countryside during the Siege of Paris by German forces...

19:29 Siege of Paris

19:36 "the infamous pétroleurs of Paris" Can't find anything...

21:34. "the electrical glow of the Fair." In 1893 this would have been quite the novel sight: "The International Exposition was held in a building which for the first time was devoted to electrical exhibits. It was a historical moment and the beginning of a revolution, as Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse introduced the public to electrical power by providing alternating current to illuminate the Exposition..."

22:3-4 (Later Edit: Oy! Forgot this one!) "...music from a small orchestra, unusually syncopated..." In 1893, we're a little early for proto-jazz, but we're only about five minutes early for ragtime: "Some early piano rags are entitled marches, and "jig" and "rag" were used interchangeably in the mid-1890s and ragtime was also preceded by its close relative the cakewalk. However, the emergence of mature ragtime is usually dated to 1897, the year in which several important early rags were published."

25:10. Haymarket bomb: "The Haymarket Riot on May 4, 1886, in Chicago is generally considered to be the origin of international May Day observances and in popular literature, inspired the caricature of "a bomb-throwing anarchist."

25:6. Doc Holliday

25:34 "duck soup."

88 Comments:

At Monday, December 11, 2006 3:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and we're aloft!

Character names and jazz:
-Miles (Davis)
-Chick (Corea)
-Darby (Hicks)
-(Boots) Randolph
-(Vachel) Lindsay [a stretch here?]

Reaching too far?

Bar well-set, sir!

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 4:01:00 PM, Blogger E.Wurzel said...

I'm curious why Pugnax finds it difficult to smell Noseworthy as human(p8:l11-18).

Also, "Penny" Black. Pynchon philately reference.

I love Pugnax as a reading dog. Perhaps Pynchon's joke as to the ideal
reader;Joyce makes him/her an insomniac, Pynchon's is a dog!

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 4:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another nautical fiction source here, I think, is Billy Budd. Noseworthy, the Master at Arms, bullies the baby of the crew, just as John, the Master at Arms, bullies "Baby" Budd. (Say those last three words three times fast.)

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 4:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops. John Claggart, that is.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 4:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to the "infamous petroleurs of Paris" on page 19, if I had to hazard a guess, I'd imagine this refers to anarchists tossing incendiary devices made with gasoline--the kind of things that, 50 years later, would be named Molotov cocktails.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 4:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I will quit for the night by observing that there are very few American novelists who can simultaneously allude to Billy Budd and to an old story about Suge Knight and Vanilla Ice.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 5:09:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Thank you Ned for the fine start.

I loved how the "mission" of the Chums became shadier as the section went on. Who, for example, pays for the uniforms and orders them places? The story titles of their adventures read like 19th century troublespots, and one senses a young CIA, itself born from the imaginations of the readers of 19th and early 20th century boys adventure fiction.

Chum should also call to mind something which draws sharks.

The voice of the passage is less that of an adventure narrator than a parody of one, something SJ Perelman indulged in, publishing several mockeries of the popular fiction of his youth in the New Yorker.

I don't think you can overstate the influence SJP, whose comic essays were replete with absurd names and beautifully rendered slapstick, has on Pynchon. The lines at 4:37 beginning "Ha-ha..." and up to 5:10 are pure Perelman.

No question we are in Pynchon land, of vertical gnostic meanings and strange dreams: 9:24-5 "These are mysteries of the profession," Chick supposed. // "You'll see. In time, of course."

(Oh that full stop after see. Turns it from a promise to a threat.)

12:1 Liverpool kiss = head butt

It being a Pynchon novel, mentions of hemp and odd cigarettes abound (pgs 16,17 being but two spots) as well as celestial voices, communication on frequencies beyond human ken. 19:19 "Voices calling out together. All directions at once." Voices calling "warnings" heard by the community of aeronauts and discussed furtively.

20:8 "Somebody out there [...] Empty space. But inhabited."

Another fave of TP's are individuals with powers mysterious to themselves, the first encountered here being Miles Blundell, beginning 24:11, who can "see how everything fits together, connects. It doesn't last long, though."

As Randolph St. Cosmo visits White City Investigations, the narration shifts to the harder cadence of detective fiction; talk turns to terrorism and the Chicago Haymarket bombing. The Chums are employed in new security work for the fair.

In a beautiful observation that catches the novel's shifting perspective, we are shown the Chums' chief in the absurd light of the adult world, a far shout from the ripping lines of the opening; 25:23 "He was peering at Randolph now with that mixture of contempt and pity which the Chums in their contact with the ground population were sooner or later to evoke. Randolph was used to it[...]"

The assignment is to take a detective from the agency ("our man" which invokes Graham Greene, who, in his novel of Cuba, was invoking the Conrad of Nostromo.) up for aerial surveilance of the fair.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 5:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Airship Boys cluster, which is told in a boys' adventure idiom"

The cluster mimics quite accurately the over-hearty jocularity of books like one of my dad's ca. 1923, called "Airplane Boys on the Wing".

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 5:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who seems to think the Chums have had an awfully long career to still be called "boys"? I don't know how long they've been at it, but the references to their travel in foreign lands and the previous volumes of their adventures strikes me that they seem as eternally youthful as the Hardy Boys were (unaging from the '50s to the '70s, at least).

One of the early books in the Hardy Boys series, if I remember correctly from my own boys-adventure reading days, was called "The Missing Chums."

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 6:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

5:16-17 -- The Washington Monument, from the base of which the lads had rescued Pugnax -- is itself another skyward image.

8:30 -- another example "invisibility" to go along with the others: the ship is moving so fast, as to be invisible from the ground. My first thought was: but it's only going 60 miles an hour. Well, I suppose that was pretty darn fast in 1893.

Also, I wonder -- where did they take off from?

Until I remembered (knucklehead!) that a southerly wind is a wind from the south rather than a wind moving toward the south, I imagined them taking off from Minnesota, or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or Wisconsin somewhere. Or even Kenosha?

But no. They are roughly (cf. 8:34) no more than a day's flight at 60mph south of Chicago. That would place them -- at the most -- at the far end of the state of Illinois, but perhaps closer to St Louis Missouri, or perhaps Evansville or Bloomington Indiana. I will be curous to see if this region proves significant in later chapters.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 6:17:00 PM, Anonymous cleek said...

in that if you go up far enough, you will finally be going down, to "another surface," this one "all too earthly."

will the path you describe be...parabolic, or linear ?

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 6:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

will the path you describe be...parabolic, or linear ?

I think that depends upon the coordinate sytem being employed.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 7:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

good work, lads-- I'll be devoting my energy to the Pynchon wiki primarily and have started adding stuff to it that you guys uncover (with due credit, of course). great work!

bleakhaus

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 7:33:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

in that if you go up far enough, you will finally be going down, to "another surface," this one "all too earthly."

will the path you describe be...parabolic, or linear ?

I think that depends upon the coordinate sytem being employed.


OK, here comes the test of our "no-referring-to-other-Pynchon-works" policy.

I believe in my heart of hearts we can do this without scaring off the newbies...

So what the hell are these two chowderheads yacketing on about? Parabolic or linear coordinate systems? Jesus Christ, I'm off to Boing Boing!

The conversation between Chick and St. Cosmo about "going up is like going north" is full of what we'll call "Beyond the Zero" moments. When I read Chick's reaction to St. Cosmo's comment (to the effect that "if you go far enough north, you'll pass the North Pole and start going south again") I slapped my forehead and immediately thought "Beyond the Zero! Pynchon, you old obsessive!"

Your understanding of AtD will only be enriched by understanding Beyond the Zero, so here goes.

Gravity's Rainbow (the artistic concept, not the novel) is the parabola described by a ballistic missile. It shoots upward in the sky, describing a parabolic arc, eventually succumbing to the Earth's gravitational pull, and then begins the downward leg of its journey toward death, destruction and body parts all over the place. It's a two-part trip: Up, then Down. But there's a moment -- an infinitessimally small point in time -- when it's going neither Up nor Down. This point, this hinge-point on which two binary opposites are mirrored, is the Zero.

(If you're versed in the history of science, the study of ballistics -- specifically, the study of the flight of cannonballs in the 15th century -- was the first point at which mathematics met science. The attempt to study the flight of a thrown object -- for extremely warlike purposes, you bet your bippy -- would lead to Cartesian algebra, the entire science of modern physics, and would deal the death-blow to Aristotelian philosophy. Not a bad little accomplishment for one little brainchild!)

Once you "get" the "Beyond the Zero" idea, large parts of GR snap into place for you. You begin to see these binaries-separated-by-a-Zero-point everywhere. What is dying? Going Beyond the Zero! What separates Murderers from Victims, Rocket-launchers from Rocket-targets? The Zero! Goes up on their side, comes down on our side!

So now go back and look at Chick's musing again. Go north, reach the Pole, keep going, and.... Beyond the Zero. And he's even described a parabola!

That's what gets us so lubricious about reading a new Pynchon book.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 7:41:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Reaching too far?


A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heathen for? (Did someone mention S.J. Perelman?)

Also, "Penny" Black. Pynchon philately reference.

Perfect, thank you. Of course!

I loved how the "mission" of the Chums became shadier as the section went on. Who, for example, pays for the uniforms and orders them places?

Yeah -- the same question occurred to me when I saw a reference to "orders" having come in to make for Chicago: Whose orders are these?

Randolph does refer to "our National Office" in his chat with Privett.

One of the early books in the Hardy Boys series, if I remember correctly from my own boys-adventure reading days, was called "The Missing Chums."

I'd swear I remember as rock band back, oh ages ago, named "Chubby Chum Chet."

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 7:53:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Forgot to mention this:

I'm curious why Pugnax finds it difficult to smell Noseworthy as human

¡No sé!

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 8:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't Beyond the Zero something like Thelonius Monk playing and/or hearing the notes between the notes?

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 9:08:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Isn't Beyond the Zero something like Thelonius Monk playing and/or hearing the notes between the notes?

Ho-lee shit yes it is!

And I hereby award JD the honor of Perceptive MoFo of the Goddamned Week for this stroke of Syncretic Genius! Could this have been the inspiration for the young TRP's obession with Zeros?

Hot diggity spit! The notes between the notes...! Stick around, kid, we need you!

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 9:16:00 PM, Blogger CrayolaThief said...

About the writing styles: I take it the use of quotes around quasi-idiomatic words is standard in the type of boys' adventures Pynchon is aping here ("skimmer," "ground-leave," etc)? This caught my eye almost immediately - I don't recall Pynchon using such stylings in his other novels.

The Nate Previtt scene seems to dip a little into Dashiell Hammett Continental Op territory. Hammett's fiction could be considered a blood relative of the Western revenge, particularly Red Harvest, which was used as the basis for several Western (and samurai) films. Makes me wonder if perhaps a fifth genre could be in the mix - detective pulp fiction.

Duck Soup is of course the name of the classic Marx Brothers flick, as is Horse Feathers, which another character exclaims at one point (I might be reading a little ahead for that one). Since the jacket blurb promises Groucho Marx will put in an appearance, and since the Marx Bros were often described as comedic anarchists, this doesn't seem likely to be accidental.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 9:23:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

CrayolaThief! Our company is (nearly) complete! Welcome aboard!

Now, where are Bobby Lighfoot? Lance Mannion?

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 9:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All right, I'm a chump. Wrote a comment and hit Preview and then closed the browser tab. Suppose it's gone into the *cough^ aether. I'll rewrite, unless someone can help find it. Serves me right.

H. Rumbold, Master barber

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 9:50:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Akatabi: Look to your left.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 10:16:00 PM, Blogger CrayolaThief said...

Thankya, Neddie. Love what you've done with the place.

Forgot to mention - Professor Heino Vanderjuice is right up there on my list of favorite Pynchon names. Rolls right off the tongue.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 11:38:00 PM, Anonymous Matt said...

I'm behind on my reading (only up to page 14!), but I've returned again and again to Pynchon's description of the airship's descent on page 10.

First: "the uproar of flesh learning its mortality -- like the dark conjugate of some daylit fiction they had flown here, as appeared increasingly likely, to help promote" (10). Goddamn, that's good. ("herbaceous nap" on pg. 13 is also amazing)

I'm a first-time Pynchon reader, but it seems to me that he is everywhere satirizing human efforts to impose order on a chaotic universe that refuses to be ordered or contained. From the inept attempts of the crew to single up the lines, to Lindsay Noseworth's efforts to enforce the artificial rules of proper diction on his fellow travelers, to the near-constant breakdown of military command, rational order is continually disrupted and distracted. And that, of course, is where the fun is; most of us would prefer to join Miles as he peeks at the purdy naked girls through his spyglass than to stick to our regimented duties. Order and rationality, after all lead only to "unshaped freedom being rationalized" into the straight lines of Upton Sinclair's killing floor.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 11:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Airship Boys cluster, which is told in a boys' adventure idiom"

The cluster mimics quite accurately the over-hearty jocularity of books like one of my dad's ca. 1923, called "Airplane Boys on the Wing".


I wonder why the word "Pulp" hasn't been mentioned in relation to this passages. The Chums use impossible technology, like the aerial-propulsion device, invented by Professor Heino Vanderjuice of New Haven, is "disparaged as no better than a perpetual-motion machine, in clear violation of themodynamical law." and many others still to come.

heino => Heino?
Vanderjuice => Van der Graaf?

Also, there is a great sense of emptiness and loneliness in the Chums of Chance. To me, this might mean that AtD begins with a fall from innocence: a fantastic world that no longer believes in itself. As boris the spider says, the boys have been boys for too long.

The appearance of Nate, like crayolathief says, it's going to make for a change for the tone in the narrative.

On the "Beyond the Zero" idea from GR, I feel this might be a little far fetched right now, and one of the dangers of trying to relate to the author's previous work. I agree is all interconnected, but I think Pynchon is going for some different stuff here, and thinking about GR we might miss the forest for the trees.

Last, but no least, I read somewhere else in the blog that the word Postmodern is banned in here, so I won't say how delightfully postmodern this novel seems to be. :P

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 4:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cleek said, "will the path you describe be... parabolic, or linear?" And so I said, "I think that depends upon the coordinate sytem being employed." To which our Tripmaster replied: "OK, here comes the test of our 'no-referring-to-other-Pynchon-works' policy."

Oh my, parabolic?... Talk about chowderheads: I didn't even get Cleek's "Gravity's Rainbow" reference! I was speaking purely within the context of AtD. I absolutely agree with Rene, above, that in "thinking about GR (and, I might add, any of his other works too much), we might miss the forest for the trees." So let me put it another way: "I see a theme developing here that will aid our future understanding of the book."

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 4:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quoth JD, Isn't Beyond the Zero something like Thelonius Monk playing and/or hearing the notes between the notes?

On Thelonious Monk -- can I just say: brilliant corners... crepuscule... 'round midnight... Light and dark, notes between notes: I think we have our soundtrack.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 5:43:00 AM, Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

Ned, I've not been scared off yet. I found that many of the ideas and connections were evident to me as I read - and merely confirmed by your comments and the Pynchon wiki.

Of course, there's all kinda extra stuff you and your correspondents bring up that I most certainly did not grasp on my own.

So far, it's fun.

I'm keeping in mind the major major themes as indicated by John Leonard in his reading of the book. Just as a helpful framework, mind you, in case I feel the pull of the book's many ideas spinning me out of control. (Follow the link and see his 4 points.)

I have a question for the group (though this issue was touched on above, too): As someone who never read any boy's adventure stuff when I was young (not even the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift stuff we had at home), was it common for the boys in these tales to be this inept? Or is this all Pynchon's plot and/or parody?

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 5:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt: I've returned again and again to Pynchon's description of the airship's descent on page 10 (snip) Goddamn, that's good.

Huzzah, brother - I think that's one of the things that kicks my ass 'bout TRP's work, so much beauty-ness just strewn about.

Crayola: yeah, I picked up on the "quotes" right off as well. Many of them are song titles, but I can't draw enough connections to make a decent call (yet). Feeler-antennae definitely up and out.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 6:13:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

was it common for the boys in these tales to be this inept? Or is this all Pynchon's plot and/or parody?

The comic portions of the run-of-the-mill boys' adventure books of the period were typically made up of the exploits of simple, eye-rolling Darkies or other inept ethnic types conspicuously missing from the crew of the Inconvenience.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 7:21:00 AM, Blogger Employee of the Month said...

The view of the stockyards (page 10)...

reduction of choices equates to death.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 7:45:00 AM, Anonymous navan.ghee said...

Re: mirrorings. You missed one.

"The 'giant eyeball, perhaps even that of Society itself, stares pitilessly downward on hapless goofball miscreants on the ground..."

Close, but we have no bananas today.

The giant eyeball (perhaps even of Society itself) stares pitilessly downward on a photographer.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 7:57:00 AM, Blogger Employee of the Month said...

Boys adventure idiom - not quite dead. I recall reading this series in elementary school...

http://tinyurl.com/ybgyut

I recall one of their adventures involved a balloon.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 8:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Navan.ghee, all due respect, but note the placement of the quotes, here:

The "giant eyeball, perhaps even that of Society itself," stares pitilessly downward on hapless goofball miscreants on the ground...

I thought Ned was here describing the photographer and model as hapless miscreants. (Candid photography, nudge nudge wink wink.) Unless I misunderstand your point?...

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 9:08:00 AM, Blogger Neddie said...

The "hapless miscreants" angle was what I was shooting for, but Navan.Ghee is quite right to point out that the miscreants in question are a photographer and his nudie-cutie model. For while they are engaged in a bit of eyebrow-waggling naughtines, they are also engaged in photography -- the capturing of light.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 9:35:00 AM, Blogger sfmike said...

For a first-time Pynchon reader, only up to page 14, Matt seems to have his finger on the thematic pulse of the author quite brilliantly: "I'm a first-time Pynchon reader, but it seems to me that he is everywhere satirizing human efforts to impose order on a chaotic universe that refuses to be ordered or contained."

p15:(27-31)
"the Chum of Chance is a pluc-ky soul,
Who shall neither whine nor ejac-u-late,
For his blood's as red and his mind's as pure
As the stripes of his bla-a-zer immac-u-late!"

When younger, I adored boys' adventure books, from the Hardy Boys mysteries to their antecedents in John Buchan ("The 39 Steps" and its successors) and H. Rider Haggard ("King Solomon's Mines") which are all insanely homoerotic (and racist), yet "pure and immac-u-late!" It was a joy to open "Against The Day" and be thrust into a parody of one of them, complete with chums who never seem to age, which is a narrative absurdity that occurs in most long-running genre works.

"The Princess Casamassima," which the dog Pugnax is reading, is an early Henry James novel whose anarchism subject matter is uncharacteristic for the author, to say the least. Its inclusion made me laugh out loud since it was the punch line of a story an old friend once told. He was hitchhiking along the Eastern seaboard and found himself stuck one afternoon, so he sprawled out on the lawn of an apparently empty estate and put his nose into a novel, until the lady of the house marched out the front door and imperiously demanded to know what he was reading. He showed her the book, "The Princess Casamassima," and her response was a haughty, yet satisfied, "You may continue," before she returned inside.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 9:48:00 AM, Anonymous navan.ghee said...

decency's jigsaw & neddie--

Yeah. The whole mirroring aspect, combined with the allusion to an eyeball observing a photographer... It seemed to stark to pass up pointing out.

Sorry if I came across as rude in how I said it.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 9:51:00 AM, Blogger Neddie said...

Sorry if I came across as rude in how I said it.

Not at all, NG.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 10:48:00 AM, Anonymous cleek said...

11:14 "plummet" Pynchon Wiki sez "bad physics here."

i was thinking the same thing - closing the hole wouldn't stop the descent - once they became heavier than air again, they'd stay that way and would fall like all other heavier-than-air objects. so, i finally concluded that they must have a (fast-working) hydrogen-producing device on-board somewhere - or that the scene is a tall-tale told by a narrator we really shouldn't be trusting. or that Pynchon himself made a big honking gaffe and maybe i shouldn't trust him, either.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 11:30:00 AM, Anonymous the ghastly fop said...

Matt's right on about the theme of the attempt to impose laws of order. And the view of the stockyards, "...streets and alleyways in a Cartesian grid... unshaped freedom being rationalized into movement only in straight lines and at right angles and a progressive reduction of choices, until the final turn through the final gate that led to the killing-floor" does equate reduction of choices with death, as employee of the month sez.

And I will just whisper the words Mason & Dixon here. This business about the Grid and Reduction and Death isn't just an Against the Day theme, it's one of Pynchon's favorites.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 11:32:00 AM, Anonymous the ghastly fop said...

Speaking of page 10, the first paragraph is as hair-raising a vision of Hell as I've read in quite a while. Worth going back to and reading aloud.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 2:49:00 PM, Anonymous foolishmortal said...

re: the petroleurs: the line reads "citzen was turned against citizen, even to the point of committing atrocities like those of the infamous petroleurs of Paris" (sorry, my printer's down and don't have the meter yet, but it's at the bottom of 19) Given all the political stuff running around this section, I read the petroleurs to be Middle Easterners, and the atrocities to be 9/11 etc...

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 3:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Perceptive MoFo of the Goddamned Week "

Gotta put that one on the shelf by my forensics awards (and she grins)

I am honored, Mr. Neddie.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 3:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Daaang Neddie, that was some intro. Don't you know not to lead with a trump? While I was not, while growing up, a devoted follower of some of the youth fictions mentioned thus far (was more of a Hitchiker's Guide and Crichton fan) the language of the novel in this section reminded me constantly of one of my favorite tweens authors who was alive and writing in the teens in the Lake Michigan area during the Exhibition and who TP has in the past displayed a more than ample affinity for and who had a thing for balloons to boot: the illustrious L. Frank Baum of the Oz novels. One senses that this novel may be set - ahem - over the rainbow.

Other random observations:

1:15 Pants of "sky blue" already demonstrate an inversion of sorts. One should also note that blue jeans, those most American of trousers, were originally constructed by the Levi-Strauss Co. out of sail material, demonstrating that the wind in one's drawers may once have been of a slightly less onion-y disposition than presently abides.

1:21 Interesting to see TP's association between and therfore implicit criticism of both science (to be expected) and art (say what?) by stressing their inclusion in the Exposition. Maybe a resonance here with the pervasive pulp influence.

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 6:10:00 PM, Blogger Employee of the Month said...

24:38 "Yeah, and maybe this aint the Epworth League."

From Phoenix Masonry.org:

"A youth order of the Methodist Episcopal Church (Now the United Methodist Church) founded in 1889 in Cleveland, Ohio. Still active and on-line. For over half a century the Epworth League, the Methodist youth organization, was especially strong. The group was authorized in 1890 by the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and local churches soon began organizing their youth in Epworth leagues. The purpose of the leagues was to develop young church members in their religious life and to provide training in churchmanship. It was parallel to the Sunday school and typically met on Sunday nights. The name Epworth came from the boyhood home in England of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement."

But the haminna-hammina moment comes when you look at the League's badge and motto:

"LOOK UP - LIFT UP"

http://tinyurl.com/yckbby

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 6:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi all-

Just back from a quick vacation. Glad I only missed a day or two, as there's been a ton of thought-provoking conversation. I've skimmed most of the blog so far, but will return and reread more carefully asap.

A couple of things that jumped out as I read others' comments:

1. References to hemp, etc: Darby's hair is "tow" colored -- which my dictionary sugggests indicates similarity to, spreifically, a hemp rope!

2. Not sure if anyone mentioned this, but what are your thoughts on some of the odd punctuation or spelling (e.g., "coordinate" twice with an umlaut over the second o)? Is that meant to simply indicate a certain pronunciation, or is it merely a stylistic, funny quirk? Or, more likely I suppose, a visual reminder that we're in the late 1890s, when such words might have appeared as such? (Same basic issue on 16:12, where "innuendo" is italicized. Or 18:19, in the appearance of "manoeuvres.")

3. Thanks to Neddie for elucidating the Beyond the Zero concept, as I may have to write up a rather lengthy tangent about that in Week 3. For now, though, I recall someone (probably Neddie, again) talking about the cover design of nonserif-serif-nonserif type. Seems like this Beyond the Zero concept may be being echoed there (though I have a few additional theories I'm kicking around as yet).

4. As Chance would have it, the last book I read (not more than a week ago) was the *definitive* biography of Scott Joplin (entitled King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era, by Edward A. Berlin). Here's a snippet from his book, dealing with the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition that you may enjoy:

"...The fair was also a signal event in ragtime history, for, according to numerous accounts during the next two decades, it was here that ragtime surfaced from its incipient stages in black communities and became known to the wider American public. The following quotations from the ragtime years serve as typical references to this public emergence of ragtime at the fair:

"Not until the "midways" of our recent expositions stimulated general appreciation of Oriental rhythms did "rag-time" find supporters throughout the country.

The [coon song and ragtime] fad had its origin along about 1893, the year of the Chicago World's Fair.

It has been said that "rag-time" first appeared in our music-halls about the time of the Chicago World's Fair."

There are other quotes in the book as well. Joplin attended, and even led a band there, but this was 6 years prior to his almost single-handedly formalizing the genre as we know it today -- via his Maple Leaf Rag.

More later... 11 hours in a car today has me fairly tired.

-Patrick

 
At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 7:04:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

"coordinate" twice with an umlaut over the second o)? Is that meant to simply indicate a certain pronunciation, or is it merely a stylistic, funny quirk? Or, more likely I suppose, a visual reminder that we're in the late 1890s, when such words might have appeared as such?

I feel certain that the effect being sought here is exactly that -- to reinforce the antique-iness of the style. "Coördinate" is in fact a sort of creakily pedantic nineteeth-century spelling, although I believe the New Yorker still adheres to it in their editorial styleguide, along with such quaint antiquities as the double-s spelling of "focussed."

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 2:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Packed and fraught, indeed (Call me Ishmael. Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish...) and singled lines will need to be reconsidered when Iceland spar gets introduced.

The boys' novel motif is most effective in drawing me in and specifically evokes Tom Swift and his Airship. Check out the cover art. And be alert in AtD for examples of Tom Swifties ("I itch all over!" said Tom, rashly.).

Wiki-up the main Tom Swift page and see the third graf of "Modern Influence and References" for a nice surprise.

S. J. Perelman and Patrick O'Brian are good to keep in mind (as are Monk and Joplin). Unfortunately, according to IMDB, SJP is not credited as a contributor to Duck Soup.

As for "the infamous pétroleurs of Paris," see William S. Burroughs' The Wild Boys and the gangs of (anarchistic) youths in Marrakech whose M.O. consisted of filling a pump fire-extinguisher with gasoline, hosing down the tourist or police, and holding a match to the fumes (they had gas that burned in all colors).

Thanks to Neddie and Will and all the commenters who have started this weenie-roast off with a bang. I hope it will continue on this level and help all of us get more out of our reading of the book.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 3:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone observed that, in a book fixated on daylight, our chums are floating around attached to a giant orb of hydrogen (Public Element #1), just waiting to be ignited, another important point given the omnipresence of explosions. And what is it, kids, that ignites the hydrogen of the sun? That's right, all together now: Gravity!

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 5:05:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Perelman is credited with the scripts of the Marxes' Horsefeathers and Monkey Business as well as Mike Todd's Around the World in 80 Days, a lengthy, multi-character baloon/railway travel epic, based, of course, on the Jules Verne novel; a clunky, highly entertaining film which Perelmen never spoke well of.

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 5:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two minor points in response to the Apricot's comment above.

First, I believe it is the Nuclear force, not Gravity, that is responsible for fusion. (Indeed, didn't I read somewhere that at the intimate scale of nuclei, gravity is actually a repulsive force?)

Second (and I say this with all due respect, but also with an eye toward those Pynchon newbies who may be getting nervous, fearing that they really ought to've read all Pynchon's other books afore they can unnerstan) -- Let's get a little further along than Page 25 before we try dragging parabolas, gravity, or even zeros into things.

ATD is itself a self-contained work, rife with and riven by its own dizzyingly thick matrix of symbols, ideas, themes; any prismatic reflections and refractions from his other books, though fascinating and perhaps even at times startling, are not essential for an appreciation of this book. We already have a rich, loamy blanket of ideas, including but not limited to: light/dark; geometry; choice/compulsion; anarchy; photography and unsleeping eyes... We've got a Tibetan stamp and multiply-refracted text on the cover; we've got a mystical quote from a revered Jazz Elder... And that's just the first score of pages! We've got oursleves a ball game, here, foax!

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 9:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Above, René López Villamar makes the Vanderjuice => Van de Graaff connection, which I think must be accurate.
Van de Graaff's own generator, of course, makes static electricity and, according to Wikipedia, a static discharge (or lightening, which is also a static discharge) may have been what ignited the Hindenburg.

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 2:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apologies to you, Jigsaw, and to anyone else I may have offended, but my comment was not intended solely, or even primarily, as a reference to _Gravity's Rainbow_.

Pynchon's novels tend to be characterized by ornate and generally very rigorous symbolic schemes which often carry over from one novel to the next, and, as early indications such as the Altitude vs. Latitude discussion on p. 9 indicates, this one is no different.

It would, however, be folly to eliminate these issues just because they appear in previous works. To cut out any mention of gravity would make discussions of the role of altitude (or any balloon related matter) darn tricky.

For what it's worth, while it is the nuclear force that causes fusion, it is gravity that causes the fusion to occur in the first place, the collective inward pressure of lord knows how much gas bearing down on the matter at the center of the sun -- the anarchist, if you will, who lights the fuse.

The unblinking eye in the sky (13:35-6) to which you refer ties the balloon / sun analogy together even more closely, the sun being iconographically linked with eyes, a fact that stems from the medieval notion that the (human) eye cast forth sensitive rays rather than collecting light as we now understand it to do. This seems to resonate with the power that the balloon exercises (it's "constructive censure") on the masses below, and also serves to explain the religious nature of the poopies from heaven (5:46-7), the balloon being identifiable, at least loosely, with that most conventional of symbols of (a monotheistic) God, the sun.

The whole droppings from heaven thing calls to mind, while I'm thinking of it, a belief of the Church of Subgenius, a mock religion comparable to Discordianism. They worship a dude named "Bob" who is pictured as a happy smiling clipart face with a pipe and who you may know from the cover of the _Are We Not Men?_ Devo album. In Bob's pipe is 'frop,' a drug derived from the droppings of certain (drum roll please) Tibetan Holy Men, and then only at very high altitudes in very cold weather.

Links to the official and Wikipedia Church of the Subgenius pages, respectively:

http://www.subgenius.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_SubGenius

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 3:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And apologies back at you, Apricot: no offence taken or intended. I can only speak for myself, but during this debut week, I know I have been perhaps overly worried about spooking the newbies.

As the weeks go on, and with additional posts and their attendant comment/discussion streams, I'm sure I will feel less skittish about the trans-Pynchonian references. I only meant to emphasize that there is already so much territory in Cis-Pynchonia...

I'm confident we'll look back on these first few weeks as being disproportionately dominated by metadiscussions.

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 3:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ugh, you know what? I'm already sorry about that "Cis-Pynchonia" line. What gaul...

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 7:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Cleek touched on this earlier, but I have another thought...

Challenging the Wiki...

Another topic fopr discussion: Anyone else challenge the Wiki's assertion that the ship plummeting (at 11:13) constitutes "bad physics"?

Personally, I don't think so. The Wiki author seems to be stating that, with the release of so much hydrogen via that screaming valve, the ship would be doomed to continue falling.

True ... but is no ordinary airship! The Inconvenience, were told at 8:25, has a "hydrogen-generating apparatus." One could presume that such an apparatus might have kicked in under such an emergency.

Also, at 6:29 we learn that the ship also has surplus hydrogen that it uses to power the Screw. This hydrogen may've been automatically tapped to replace the lost gas. Or, hey, the Screw couldn've been engaged, offering a bit of emergency lift.

But those excuses aren't my main point here. Considering only the first 25 pages, I think we can conclude that Pynchon clearly has a grasp of basic physics. So, I doubt this is an error. In fact, I'd guess Pynchon is in full control of the ship, so to speak, at this point in the text, and has not overlooked a thing.

If anything, it's more of a tone-setter. He's cleverly telling readers: Get ready for some mind-blowing stuff. After all, we shouldn't forget that this is a rather fantastical ship -- designed in part by none other than Dr. Vanderjuice, whose Screw was viewed as "no better than a perpetual-motion machine, in clear violation of thermodynamical law." (6:32).

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 7:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

decency: I agree with you completly. There's nothing wrong with mentioning gravity, relating it to GR... well, I think we should try first to relate it to AtD. I'm all for intertextuality (me and my big words again), by the way, but I agree with decency that maybe we should wait a little longer.

blowing: The thing is "the hydrogen-generating apparatus" is clearly bad physics in itself. I, however, do not agree with your interpretation that this is a fantastic ship. This being one of the trapping of pulp, I think Pynchon is aiming somewhere different: the wonders of science, the wonders of optimism in science.

The Chicago World Fair was one of the pinnacles of this optimism. Back in 1893, we weren't completely sure what science could do and what it couldn't do.

The Chums live in this world where science is equal with amazement and wonder, a great betterment to humankind. It wouldn't surprise me, either (and this not a spoiler, just a supposition) that the Inconvenience engines would start failing later in the novel, as the 20th approaches and the wonders of science become fixed.

As "employee of the month" said: "reduction of choices equal death"

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 8:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

rene: While I don't dispute your points about the state of the scientific word in 1893, I'd have to disagree & reassert that at least some of the aspects here are meant as fantastical. If the hydrogen-generating apparatus constitutes "bad physics," then what is Pugnax? Bad biology? I think it's simply part of -- what did we call it -- the boys adventure idiom?

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 8:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

... I mean, IMHO, of course. ...

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 8:55:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

according to IMDB, SJP is not credited as a contributor to Duck Soup.

Perelman is without question the master mocker of Victorian (and Edwardian, I suppose) boys' adventure fiction. His sendups of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu books are utterly without peer.

I worship Perelman like a minor Oriental deity, and his influence on my own writing style might be a trifle self-evident. Nice catch, Will!

For my money, the single funniest line ever prepetrated in the cinematic sphere, from "Horse Feathers":

Wagstaff's Receptionist: The Dean is furious! He's waxing wroth!

Professor Wagstaff: Is Roth out there, too? Tell Roth to wax the Dean for a while.

If that isn't 120-proof Perelman, my name isn't Sir Denis Nayland Smith...

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 9:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neddie-

Just think: Had you only read ATD before writing that post, you might have worked the word "fronton" (7:8) into your personal ad!

 
At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 11:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's simply part of -- what did we call it -- the boys adventure idiom?

I really, really don't like that "boys adventure idiom" thing. Does it even existed (the phrase, not the thing it defines) before AtD?

blowing: I guess I'm not making myself clear. Mainly, because I have difficult case to make. So I'll try a different approach:

The Inconvenience is fantastic, but it isn't so for the boys. They don't stare in awe at the marvels of their ship, and they even don't consider consider them amazing or special. So, I don't think fantastic is the right word here. I guess when the boys appear again later in the novel (and they are rapidly becoming some of my favorite characters) well have more evidence to support our arguments.

By the way, I do now you, as I do, say thing only as our HO. No offense taken :D

 
At Thursday, December 14, 2006 4:40:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

My fave Perelman line comes in one of his 40s Hollywood tales, in which he is waiting in a bar to meet some starlette. She arrived, he tells his readers, "Three hours late, sobbing drunk, with a Marine on each arm."

Keep in mind too that the fair was called the Columbian Exhibition, and was meant to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the 1492 "discovery" of America. Scientific Progress has been made implicitly at the expense of the land's indigenous people and is now, apparently, beginning to be used against society's poor ones.

 
At Thursday, December 14, 2006 6:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really, really don't like that "boys adventure idiom" thing. Does it even existed (the phrase, not the thing it defines) before AtD?

Alan Moore, author of "V for Vendetta," once used it in an interview when explaining why he was tired of writing superhero comics and the like, which he referred to as boys adventure fiction.

 
At Thursday, December 14, 2006 12:53:00 PM, Anonymous foolishmortal said...

Hey I have something to say about the cover, but I didn't figger it out until later in the book. Nonetheless, it's deducible from just the cover and the contents. Is this too spoilery?

 
At Thursday, December 14, 2006 12:59:00 PM, Blogger CrayolaThief said...

Villamar: On the other hand, characters within fantastic stories often don't consider themselves existing within fantastic stories. Example, a Kafka protagonist doesn't find anything unusual about waking up to find himself turned into a bug. As BSUWG infers, the chums don't bat an eye at a dog who reads Henry James, so why should they consider it out of the ordinary to violate the laws of thermodynamics?

So far I've been more inclined to believe there was a whole lot of bad science written into those early adventure stories and Pynchon is just being faithful to the genre. And that if this was a space opera he would dutifully include explosions in space.

The "optimism of science" theory sure ties in with this period of history, though. I'm curious to see how this plays out as we read on.

 
At Thursday, December 14, 2006 1:00:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

FM: I'd counsel saving it until we get to the spot where you figured it out, and then amaze us all.

 
At Thursday, December 14, 2006 3:00:00 PM, Blogger Employee of the Month said...

So far I've been more inclined to believe there was a whole lot of bad science written into those early adventure stories and Pynchon is just being faithful to the genre. And that if this was a space opera he would dutifully include explosions in space.


Could these bad physics also include a dash of Baron von Munchausen ballooning escapades?

 
At Thursday, December 14, 2006 7:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really, really don't like that "boys adventure idiom" thing...

Alan Moore, author of "V for Vendetta," once used it in an interview ...


Damn, that Alan. Those Chums would fit right in with the crowd of "The League of Extraordinary Gentleman".

Example, a Kafka protagonist doesn't find anything unusual about waking up to find himself turned into a bug.

I wouldn't define Kafka as fantastic either, for that same reason. In Harry Potter, for example, everyone is amazed by the magical nature of things. (By the way, is HP boy adventure fiction?). Take Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for another take on the subject. Is A Hundred Years of Solitude fantastic?

Could these bad physics also include a dash of Baron von Munchausen ballooning escapades?

Wait and see :D

 
At Friday, December 15, 2006 7:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, that Alan. Those Chums would fit right in with the crowd of "The League of Extraordinary Gentleman".

Hmmm, it occurs that we could do a "six-degrees of seperation" riff here:

- Alan Moore's V for Vendetta (the comic, not so much the movie) is his expression of his (then) political views on anarchism, which seems to be an important subject in AtD.

- Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlement (again, the comic, not the awful movie) is a clever "what if" that has literary characters from Victorian-era fiction sharing the same world. In the first volume, the villain is Fu Manchu, whom we earlier saw mentioned in this blog via a reference to S.J Perelman.

- And, the closest degree of all: Alan Moore will guest on an upcoming episode of The Simpsons. Our esteemed Mr. Pynchon is already an alum of that august pop-culture fraternity. (I don't think Moore will be seen with a bag over his head, though).

 
At Friday, December 15, 2006 7:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, one more thing about Alan Moore and I'll shut up. Just came across Michael Moorecock's review of Against the Day for the Daily Telegraph (here). Right off the bat he namechecks Moore and refers to his recent Tom Strong series, an homage to "science hero" dime novels. I can't believe I'd forgotten to include that in my previous list. Moore's specific intent with his America's Best Comics series was to imagine a modern comic in a world where superheroes never became the mainstream; instead, pulps and "science hero" books were the norm. His Jack B. Quick boy inventor character would be a good candidate for the Chums of Chance.

 
At Friday, December 15, 2006 12:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

by the way that's a great review of moorcock there. The man surely knows is Pynchon.

 
At Friday, December 15, 2006 8:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I GOT IT!!! (Well, I think I'm onto something... maybe.)

Neddie said: "15:8-30 A great deal of fun can be had trying to work out the melody of Pynchon's "stupid songs," what he's parodying. Discuss?"

Tell me this doesn't make perfect sense... I think maybe he's parodying none other than something from the H.M.S. Pinafore by Gilbert & Sullivan!

Remember the line: "A British tar is a soaring soul..."

Compare that with: "the Chum of Chance is a pluc-ky soul..."

You've heard it before, too. When Marion kisses Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Sallah sings a few lines of this.

And it all fits perfect as something to parody here. From Wikipedia:

"H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass that Loved a Sailor, is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It is one of the Savoy Operas, and the first big hit by Gilbert and Sullivan. It opened at the Opera Comique, London, on May 25, 1878 for a run of 571 performances, which was almost unprecedented for a musical theatre piece, and one of the longest runs of any theatre piece up to that time."
(Link.)

Tons more of interest in that article, btw.

Man, I love those "aha!" moments.
-PH

 
At Saturday, December 16, 2006 6:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good ear, Blowing. G&S seem a natural fit.

Also, re: you're comment on Dr. Vandergraff's hydrogen machine, which critics call "no better" than a perpetual motion machine. I think it's interesting that the critics are so wedded to their theory that an existence proof - the thing running right in front of them - still ain't enough.

Also, relevant to the scifi and genre discussions: there's a genre of scifi called steampunk that generally takes place in the Victorian era (or the Vernian's really more like it), in which steam power has achieved technological feats that did not occur till well into the 20th century (flying machines, computers). Haven't read any myself, but if there are any fans out there, I'd be interested to hear how they thought AtD fit into the genre. (Reminds me, too of the futuristic art deco from the batman cartoon, one of my faves.)

I wonder what we can gather from the retro-futrism. Sci fi usually projects a future that exagerates the present. This seems (according to the jacket blurb) to still hold true, but how's it differ from regular sci fi?

 
At Saturday, December 16, 2006 8:48:00 AM, Blogger Employee of the Month said...

AA get thee to "The Difference Engine" by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling for some cracking steampunk.

A great read re: The Chicago Columbian Exposition is:

"The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America" by Erik Larson. (His latest "Thunderstruck" is on my reading on-deck circle.)

 
At Saturday, December 16, 2006 10:10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Devil in the White City" is already on my Christmas list with a bullet. I hope my husband takes my not-so-subtle hint....

 
At Saturday, December 16, 2006 4:25:00 PM, Anonymous foolishmortal said...

re: Steampunk
China Miéville kind of qualifies (King Rat,Perdido St. Station (dibs on this), The Scar, Iron Council) More steam-fantasy than steam-punk, but the spirit is there.

 
At Saturday, December 16, 2006 10:51:00 PM, Blogger CrayolaThief said...

I second Devil in the White City. Great book. And interesting because it brings up how despite all the technological advances and optimism of the Expo, many of the progressive architects of the time, particularly Louis Sullivan, considered Burnham's Beaux-Arts designs to be a major setback in the development of a uniquely American architectural style.

Meanwhile, anyone who has Slow Learner handy may want to take another glance at Pynchon's introduction which casts some light on his thoughts concerning the period of American history in which AtD is set, as well as the influence of The Education of Henry Adams on him. Adams, of course, visited the Columbian Expo and was profoundly affected by his confrontation with the dynamo.

 
At Sunday, December 17, 2006 12:03:00 AM, Anonymous foolishmortal said...

Ack, crayola, why must you tease? If there are veins of wisdom stashed in Slow Learner, let us know what they are, in the Drifty thread if nowhere else.

 
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