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.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Administrivia IV

The Chumps of Choice are on Holiday Hiatus. We'll be back to our Fundament-Siezing Activities on January 8, 2007, when we'll be discussing pp. 57-80. Our Moderator will be Patrick Hillman of Blowing Shit Up with Gas.

In the meantime, please feel free to continue our various discussions in the Comments on our existing posts.

For some bizarre reason, some Comments went into Moderation without alerting me to verify them. I've corrected this now, and your Comments should now appear in their proper spots. My apologies to those who were inadvertently silenced.

Moderators: Joy of joys, Blogger has finally allowed me to move my ponderously gigantic blog over to Blogger Beta, so early in the New Year I'll be sending our your Invitations again, to which in theory you should be able to reply without the Technical Difficulties we experienced earlier.

Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, everybody!


Monday, December 18, 2006

E-Extra!! Read All About It!... Evil Deal Goes Down; Yale Prof. Grabs Big Bucks... Chicago Pariah Finds New Life As P.I... Chums Ordered Eastward...

"You're an artiste, Miss McAdoo?"
picture source

Precis of Pgs. 26-56

The Action

The day following the Chum's arrival at the baloonists' camp, they meet there Merle Rideout and Chevrolette McAdoo, the photographer and model they'd rousted with sand bags during their hasty descent on pg. 13. Rideout is the father of young Dahlia (or Dally), whom he is raising in the absence of her mother, Erlys, who ran off, we learn, to perform with an itinerant Italian magician, Zombini the Mysterious, she'd only just met.

As they get acquainted, Professor Heino Vanderjuice of Yale University, a friend of the Chums, and an old running buddy of Rideout's, arrives at their camp with his assistant, Ray Ipso. The Professor is in Chicago to meet Scarsdale Vibe, an evil financial magnate, though he does not tell this to his friends over lunch. Later that day, at a meeting in Vibe's suite at the Palmer House Hotel, attended also by Ipso and Vibe's henchman Foley Walker, Vanderjuice accepts, for a very large fee, the job Vibe offers him. He agrees to build a device to neutralize one that Nikola Tesla is working on. Tesla's machine is intended to produce vast amounts of electricity for free.

After accepting Vibe's offer, Vanderjuice wonders if any amount of money could replace his friendship with the boys who that day even in their usual unworldliness, had regarded him with something like apprehension (35:5), once they find out what he's done.

In the meantime, the Chums have taken on their paid passenger from White City Investigations, Lew Basnight, a character with a lengthy backstory, who is about to be transferred to Denver to monitor labor activities there. With Basnight, they fly above the fair on a private security detail, paying particular attention to the fences.

As the passage draws to a close, possibly days later, the Chums are up in the Inconvenience with Lew and a reflective Professor Vanderjuice, who muses about the closing of the American frontier as they sail over the Chicago stockyards.

After Lew and the Chums exchange gifts, he departs for Denver. Apparently stuck in Chicago, the Chums suffer low spirits until new orders arrive mysteriously one night, ordering them to fly east. The fair over, the passage ends with the stray dogs and cats of the great exposition happily remembering their conversations and excursions with Pugnax.

Lew Basnight's Backstory (37:10 - 52:8)

An amnesia victim who cannot recall the incident which has not only alienated his wife's affections, but also turned him into a social pariah (He became known as the Upstate-Downstate Beast 37:23), Lew Basnight further suffers because no one will tell him what exactly it was he did. Now something of a human cipher, Lew quits his office job and eventually joins a kind of cult, headed by a man named Drave, who is assisted by Hershel, a mysterious bellhop. They promise to teach Lew detachment.

After gaining something like enlightenment, Lew is in a cigar store one day when a customer, Nate Privitt, somehow recognizes his intense powers of observation. Privitt offers him a job as an operative for White City Investigations, which Lew accepts immediately.

Just previous to his Chums assignment, Lew was protecting the Austrian Archduke Francis (Franz) Ferdinand (whose date with an assassin in Sarajevo in 1914 kicks off WW 1), and the Duke's murderous bodyguard Max Khautsch (umlaut over the a), as they follow the Duke's baser instincts through Chicago's high and low nightspots.

Another of Lew's recent jobs had him spying on a clergyman labor leader, the Rev. Moss Gatlin, and beginning to feel something like sympathy for Gatlin's cause. One day not long after, Lew is ordered, with no explanation, to Colorado for more anti-union work.

Style, Themes and a few Fine Points
picture source

Stylistically the section begins in the parodic Boys' Adventure voice, with a heavy Perelman undertow. The passage starting at 26:9 You bean brain all the way to 27:3 shows the master's touch:

"You're an artiste, Miss McAdoo?"
"I perform the Dance of Lava-Lava, the Volcano Goddess," she replied.

The narrative voice changes to one of rather subtle observation before the friends' lunch on pg. 30, and mainly stays that way to the end of the section. The meeting between Vibe and Vanderjuice is straightforwardly told, as, one is made to see, their transaction is a baldly cynical one, with implications of outright evil.

Thematically, we have in Lew Basnight, like Miles Blundell of the Chums, the quintessential Pynchon hero, a likeable dolt possessing sentient gifts beyond his own understanding. The most notable of these heroes is Tyrone Slothrop, from Gravity's Rainbow, and the organization that finds and takes up Basnight here, White City Investigations, is surely an echo of the White Visitation, Slothrop's institutional overseers in that novel.

Scarsdale Vibe is another Pynchon bastion - one of Them, the People Who Run Things; ofttimes hidden, perhaps shapeshifting, always malign. As such, Vibe is a treat; dropping a scolding old woman in the Palmer House lobby, (31:21) like a tree, with a small bullet to the leg. Scarsdale, aside from a scarred dale, is a very affluent suburb of New York City. Its vibe is fairly heavy.

The Betrayal of Idealistic Youth by Cynical Old Age is another Pynchon theme, as is the Corruption of Knowledge for the ends of Power. Both tropes are at large in Vanderjuice's bargain with Vibe, and very likely in everything which follows.

The thematic center of the passage is Vanderjuice's dark musings as he sails with the Chums and Basnight over the stockyards; observations which re-animate the earlier idea of the progressive reduction of choices (10:20) that lead to the killing floor.

"Here's where the Trail comes to the end at last, along with the American Cowboy who used to live on it and by it." (53:2) "The frontier ends and disconnection begins. Cause and effect? How the dickens do I know?" (53:35)

My ears pricked up at the mention of Dickens. . .

The passage on Basnight beginning at 54:3 is pure Pynchon paranoia; his hero in danger of being disconnected from himself merely for traveling someplace new; and maybe delivered into the control of potent operatives who did not wish him well.

There's a ton of other things going on, which I have glossed over rather tidily. Of particular note is the throwaway line of Ferdinand's as he bolts from a south side bar, The Boll Weevil Lounge, after insulting its black patrons and without paying his hefty tab: (48:34) And when Franz Ferdinand pays, everybody pays! Well, he paid all right in Sarajevo and you might say the world has been paying ever since.

I loved Lew Basnight's story, in which his life is shown to be a kind of waking nightmare. The pulp elements surrounding Basnight include touches of H.P. Lovecraft, in his lost wandering in increasingly strange neighborhoods of what was once a familiar city, as well as Dashiell Hammett - who was a Pinkerton man before taking up the pen. The "hard boiled" prose of Hammett in particular is an essential American voice and has been a heavy influence on our writers ever since. Hammett's amoral hero of his Continental Agency (Pinkerton) tales is a nameless, overweight man he called the Continental Op; a character neatly mirrored by the plump and dapper (42:29) Nate Privitt of White City Investigations.

We also see in this section how the terms of the Chums' existence are apparently specific to the realms of fiction. (36:2) [...] the great national celebration possessed the exact degree of fictitiousness to permit the boys access and agency. The harsh non-fictional world waited outside the White City's limits [...] making the entire commemorative season beside Lake Michigan at once dream-like and real. We already know the ground population regards them with contempt and pity (25:24), and their old friend Vanderjuice here considers their usual unworldliness. What's more, the Chums are under the sway of an invisible force. Still in Chicago after Basnight leaves, (54:36) They seemed held here, as if under some unconfided spell.

Not to make too big an issue of this, but the harsh non-fiction world greets the reader each time she closes the covers of ATD. The Chums inhabit one fictional enclosure within the realm of a much larger one. Indeed alternating fictions seem to rub up against each other in Against the Day; the changing narrative styles being the main giveaway of this. The spell the Chums are under, I submit, is one completely of their author's making, an author who sends written (55:23) orders silently delivered in the night.

And as if there isn't enough going on, there's that Black Spot on page 40. I don't know about you, but my copy has a splotch of ink between lines 10 and 14, obscuring several words in the description of the weird hotel Basnight stays in while studying with Drave and Hershel. I have a hard time believing it's there by accident, Sterne dashed several blobs of ink across pages of Tristram Shandy after all, but I gotta say I'm stumped here. Call it something like a sun spot and press on, sez I.

The House of Seven Babblers

picture source

A home for obscure exchanges of divers bits of Pynchonia which the General Reader of Against the Day may pass over without fear of loss.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Inevitable, isn't it? Though our mission here is to present Against the Day to those who are unfamiliar, indeed wary, of the woiks of T.R. Pynchon (Cornell '59), commentators have already slipped into the slopstream of casting ahead in the work in question (spoilers are verboten here), as well as adding considerations of the other novels.

Like I said, Inevitable. So rather than be a constant scold, I propose a section for Pynchon Pickers Only, called, Ha-ha!, The House of Seven Babblers (a very dumb lit. ref. which Pynchon pimps will tumble to in a trice) for all matters pertaining to the collected works which, let me emphasize, Have No Application In Our Reading Of Against the Day. (And NB, even there, ATD spoilers will be ruled very harshly indeed.)

Certainly it is helpful to point out favored themes of Mr. P's as we encounter them in the new novel, but let's leave it at that in general comments and save all hermetic discussions (which newbies are here warned away from) for The House.

As I am up for the next section, I'll post an entry for The House immediately before I send the main rundown, so as it will sit beneath it and not otherwise trouble the innocent or unwary.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006


13:31: [...] casting apprehensive looks upward at the enormous gasbag of the descending Inconvenience, quite as if it were some giant eyeball, perhaps that of Society itself[...]

Our artist is Odilon Redon, French symbolist, very active in the period described in ATD; could well have been one of Les garcons de '71 and, here I'm guessing, was an avid fan of absinthe and hashish.

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


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!


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.


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:


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!) " 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."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Administrivia III

Comment Moderation Set to "Off." Let's see what happens...

Friday, December 08, 2006

That Thelonious Monk Epigraph

"It's always night, or we wouldn't need light"
-- Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982) Looms Large in the Legend. In his lengthy essay on the young Pynchon, "Who Is Thomas Pynchon, and why is he stealing my wife?" Jules Siegel writes of being exhorted by Pynchon in Greenwich Village in the early Sixties to come with him to watch Monk play at a club. Pynchon says something to the effect that he wants Seigel to "see God." (I'm quoting this absolutely from memory, as Siegel's Playboy essay seems to have disappeared completely from the Internet. Anybody who has a copy of it is hereby begged to hook me up. And yes, I'm intensely aware of this book. I'm not in it, but some of my friends -- including a few people reading this -- are.)

It's also worth pointing out that McClintick Sphere from V takes Monk's middle name, Sphere -- one of the coolest middle names, and one of the coolest fictional characters, in human history.

The import of the epigraph couldn't be clearer -- or more opaque, to we-who-have-not-yet-read-the-book. A quote from a true Jazz Aristocrat referring to night -- in a book called Against the Day -- well. The sinew connecting the two, of course, is light; and I'll be very surprised (not to mention disappointed) if we don't spend quite a lot of time discussing light in our meandering through The Tome.

"It's always night, or we wouldn't need light" is apparently something Monk was given to saying, rather than something he once said. I've found an utterly lovely essay by one Stephan Richter in The African American Review titled "The beauty of building, dwelling and Monk: aesthetics, religion and the architectural qualities of jazz," in which the following extract appears:
It is not by chance that by the time of this writing we still don't have a comprehensive biography of Monk. We tend to encounter him first in anecdotes, in the myths of jazz, rather than in facts. He is the "High Priest of Bebop," which was how Blue Note records advertised Monk, who more encouraged than endured the line. He dances through his sets like a portly bear, doesn't change the attitude of his hands at the end of a set, but shuffles to the bar, orders a drink, and then relaxes. He hears the sound of mariachis, freezes, listens for a while, then puts his finger in the air and says, "B flat!" Like a rock star, he comes late for club dates. His huge rings, various hats, and first-class suits are not only a stage dress but the daily illustration of his own myth. In his few interviews, he gives us laconic wisdom like 'It's always night, or we wouldn't need light.'"
The footnotes for the essay cite the "It's always night" quote as coming from the liner notes for "That's the Way I Feel Now - A Tribute to Thelonious Monk." Clearly, from the context, that quote comes from somewhere else, but I've not been able to determine exactly where.

Now: Kute Korrespondences. I have no doubt we'll be seeing a whole lot of them, and I think I may have just spotted our first. Check that footnotes page again. Many of you have come in here from Left Blogsylvania -- notice who authored the second book listed in "Works Cited"? Yeah. Michael Bérubé. Check Michael's Blogroll (click the "Those Included in the Present Category" category.) Fourth link down. Hi there! Tiny little Internet, ain't it?



PS: God damn. Can you imagine being so indescribably hip, so slabsided connected to the universe, that when you hear some music, you stop, wet your finger, hold it up in the wind, and say "B flat"? God....damn!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tibetan Ampersands

All right, so we're not gonna start discussing the book until Monday. That doesn't mean we can't admire the packaging, right?

I've found out a couple of interesting things about the cover and front matter of the Tome. I'm going to split them into two posts, so we get two threads of conversation going. (Still feeling our way, here, foax!)

An intrepid poster over at Pynchon-L (the listserv dedicated to Our Artificer, an anarchic and fascinating, if bruising, place -- take it from someone who knows) got curious about the red seal that appears on the cover -- that squiggly thing that we've oh-so-imaginatively appropriated for our own bug at the top of the right column over there. One Ya Sam took a flyer at it, and had this to report:
I contacted the Tibetan Cultural Centre with the request to translate the mysterious legend on the AtD seal. They were kind enough to forward my request to the Tibetan translator Tenzin Namgyal to whose generosity we owe the solution of one more AtD related mystery.

It is the Tibetan language, alright, and it means ...... Tibetan Government Chamber of Commerce.
I have absolutely no idea what to make of this, but I can say from dire experience that it cracks my ass right up. As Sandy Belth, Ya Sam's correspondent at the Tibetan Cultural Center quite sensibly suggests, "Why Pynchon has chosen to place this on the cover of his book is anyone's guess.... Perhaps after one has read it?" Sister, you said a mouthful.

This brings to mind an incident from your correspondent's own experience, years and years ago. Early in my own brash days at Pynchon-L, during the preliminary warmups and stretching before the Main Event -- a group reading of Mason & Dixon -- there arose the topic of the ampersand prominently displayed on the front cover of the very newly published book. I noted the mellifluous name of Raquel Jaramillo listed as the designer of the book's jacket. Being young and fearless (and having once been in the book-design game myself for a few years), I looked up Henry Holt in the phonebook, dialed 'em up:

"Henry Holt, publishers."

"Hi, may I speak with Raquel Jaramillo, please?"

"Certainly, sir, please hold."

(Ring, ring..)

"Hello, Raquel speaking."

Wow. Easy as that.

"Hi, I'm Neddie Jingo. I'm an Internet Creep." (I may not actually have phrased it quite like that, but it sure sounded that way coming out of my mouth.)

Having won her trust with my honeyed words, I extracted from her a fascinating tale about that ampersand. Pynchon had worked closely with her on the design of the jacket, being very fussy about the look of the type, which had been scanned from period documents and manipulated in Photoshop to appear just so. But he was not happy with any of the ampersands in her collection -- either scanned from old papers or ginned up from her type catalog.

Then one day, he appeared triumphantly in her studio with just the right ampersand, which he'd found in a previously overlooked document from his research. Raquel scanned it, ran a few filters, and presto. There it was.

So you can be absolutely certain that that Tibetan Government Chamber of Commerce seal means something. It ain't there by accident.

Let's take that one as an Action Item, eh?

And wouldn't that make a great tattoo for the other arm, eh, Will?

Tomorrow: That Thelonious Monk Quote.

There Goes the Neighborhood

We note with no small degree of trepidation that The Chumps of Choice has been listed in among the "Offsite Resources" at Spermatikos Logos, the Pynchon section of The Modern Word website.

Crap, now we're all gonna have to wear bowties....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


The Fabulous Pynch-o-Meter! (PDF)

I just whipped up a handy little line-gauge for Against the Day. You can download it, print it, and cut it out. The result will be a nice little device that lets you quickly determine which line to reference when commenting or reading others' comments.

Plus, it doubles as a bookmark! Sa-weet!

Later note: If you print the file from Acrobat Reader, remember to change the "Fit to Printer Margins" option to "None" under the "Page Scaling" pulldown. If you don't, the thing will print inaccurately. God, I hate computers.

Administrivia II

Just so's we're all clear...

The festivities begin next Monday, December 11, with pages 1-25 of The Tome.

I will post a reasonably short (maybe even necessarily short) precis of those pages, with some Obs and Queries to spark discussion. Feel free to jump in any time before that, of course -- we've already had some, er, frank exchanges of views in Comments so far.

Thanks to all who have volunteered for Moderator duties. The first thing you need to do, if you haven't already, is get a Blogger account so I can send you an invitation to activate your posting privileges. When you have your account, please email me (the address is in the right column). Let me know your Blogger handle, too, and what name you'd like to use -- they don't have to be the same thing.

UglyEditor, I don't have an email address for you -- can you zip that to me offline, please?

In re. Comments, I hate the Comments Moderation thing as much as you do, believe me. I haven't seen Creepy McChestpounder back in the server logs since yesterday afternoon, so I hope he's gone on to bigger and better things.

(His ranting did have one salutary effect: Somewhere in the middle of the Recent Unpleasantness, the thought occurred, "A-screaming, comes across this guy." Thank you, thank you, your polite yet awed salon applause is humbling.)

Further on the matter of Comments: While we're in Comment Mod. Lockdown, if something you posted does not appear within an hour or so (and allowing for the fact that Mod. Boy is a diurnal creature), please ping me at the address posted and I'll try to see what's up. I'm letting anything through as long as it isn't...Well. You know. But I don't trust Blogger as far as I can Flogger (stop! I'm killing you!) and the sooner we can get out of Lockdown the happier I'll be.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Sorry to have to do this, folks, but I've turned on Comment Moderation until Ignatius J. Reilly gets a clue.

Your comments won't appear immediately, but I'll approve them ASAP.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Welcome, Chumps!

What you got here is the birth pangs of a place for discussion of Thomas Pynchon's new novel, Against the Day (hereafter cyberabbreviated ATD). It arose after an online chat between myself and Will Divide; I bruited the idea about at my place and received enough enthusiastic agreement from enough enthusiastic folks that we decided go ahead with it.

We'd like everybody to look back on this experiment fondly as a PlaceTime where we had fun, read some great literature, and learned a thing or three.

How it works

Once a week, participants will read a reasonably short and digestible section of the novel. I'm suggesting we use the scheme presented at The Pynchon Wiki as a starting point -- meaning that the first week we'll cover pages 1-25 of the book, the next week 26-56, and so on. We can adjust later if we find this is too fast or too slow.

Each week will be moderated by one person -- which simply means that that person posts a synopsis of that week's reading, noting anything, er, noteworthy, and perhaps posing some questions or observations that get the ball rolling on discussion.

The Moderators' kickoff posts (plus any Administrivia that needs to be disseminated) will be the only items that will appear on the main page of this blog. The rest of the action will take place in the Comments.

On commenting

Anybody -- that's anybody -- is free to comment. But see Rule 1 below.

Da Rules

Rule 1: No Willy-Waving.

Many, if not most, of the folks who expressed an interest in joining this group discussion also expressed trepidation because Pynchon has a reputation for being "difficult." We, the Hosts, disagree with this, preferring to employ the word "challenging" instead. However, we're both intensely aware that Pynchon is flypaper for academics who like nothing better than to string together ream after ream of abstruse jargon with BeWilder:ing POst|MOdren / Punk-Chew-Ation. There are forums in which this sort of thing is acceptable. This is not that forum.

Anybody who tries to make anybody else feel stupid will be mocked. Without mercy. Blogger (as far as we know) doesn't allow for bannination, but we've got some expert mockers.

Rule 2: On the Other Hand...

If you can explain, elucidate, enlighten, or otherwise entertain in a way that makes the rest of us say, "Wow! You're really smart!" without making the rest of us feel stupid, you will not only not be mocked, you will be stroked, licked, kissed and fondled. The line between Rule 1 and Rule 2 is fuzzy, but I think most adults can tell the difference. Be an adult.

Rule 3: We're Friends Here.

Friends treat each other with respect, deference, deference, respect, and respect and deference. 'Nuff Sed.

Rule 4: You Hide. They Seek.

Rule 5: There Is No Such Thing as a Dumb Question.

If you didn't understand a passage in the novel (and believe me, there are passages you're guaranteed not to understand -- by design), or something a commenter or moderator said puzzles or bemuses you, speak up! If you didn't get it, odds are extremely good that others didn't as well, and that's where good conversation and enlightenment come from.

Rule 6: Topicality Is Mutable.

We'd like to stay within at least a stone's throw of the novel, but Pynchon's writing by its very encyclopedic nature encourages wide, wide -- enormous! -- exploration of our world and all the marvels in it. Let's follow all of it where it goes -- that's where the fun comes in. Moderators, please wield a very gentle shepherd's crook.

Rule 7: Humor Is In the Eye of the Beholder.

Before you hit "Send" on that priceless satiric mot, please stop and ask yourself two questions:
1. Is it really funny?
2. Is everybody going to find it funny, or does it have a victim?
If you can't answer those two questions in the affirmative, rethink. And review Rule 3.

Rule 8: The Hosts Make the Rules.

We'll make every effort to keep everybody comfortable and happy. We believe the foregoing rules cover all the bases, but if New Rules are necessary, the Hosts make 'em.