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, January 22, 2007

The Chumps of Chance Spar With Danger in the Frozen North

Synopsis (pp. 121-155)

Our plucky lads, responding to a message in a pearl and having emerged from the Northern Aperture, sail toward a date with destiny in the shape of the vessel Étienne Louis Malus bearing the mysterious Vormance Expedition. "Unfamiliar sky-traffic is to be presumed hostile until proven otherwise" (p. 121). A "Ray-rush" is ongoing to prospect, claim and mine the flux densities of the electromagnetic spectrum under the lights of the aurora borealis. Powers behind the throne of this Ray-rush include the "Inter-Group Laboratory for Opticomagnetic Observation (I.G.L.O.O.), a radiational clearing-house in Northern Alaska" (122:20), likened to Lloyd's of London maritime insurance syndicators. A warning (Lutine?) bell (123:13), tied to Pugnax's tail, signals the approach of the Bol'shaia Igra (The Great Game), captained by Igor Padzhitnoff and manned by the Tovarishchi Slutchainyi (123:28), the Russian nemeses/counterparts to our lads. They relate that a Zone of Emergency has been declared by I.G.L.O.O. regarding some vague menace that is compared to an unnamed creature that eats without killing, appreciates pain and is feared by all. They fail to intercept the Malus at Isafjörðr and begin to suffer from dementia borealis, imagining the presence of an "extra man" who is familiar but unfamiliar to them. They purchase a "blue ivory" (mammoth bone) inukshuk to serve as a totem/signpost/mascotte to serve a glimpse of "some expression of a truth beyond the secular."(126:8)

We now (126:14) switch POVs to the motor vessel Étienne Louis Malus, heading North on an unspecified mission - perhaps to find a new source of Iceland spar (? to corner the spar market and end the "spar famine"). The crew behaves much like the chums, sing sea-shanties to the accompaniment of rustic instruments and speculating whether the Captain has gone Ahab on them. They encounter (127:4) walls of green ice in a paragraph that mentions green four times, so we may be permitted to suppose it might be Greenland. Here Constance Penhallow, a woman of noble bearing (as painted by her grandson Hunter) observes the arrival of the Malus. Wherever we are, it evokes images of Viking raiders and the Ginnungagap ("seeming emptiness") that called out to Harald Hardråde (127;28) like a siren. Somehow, Harald put over the tiller at the last moment to avoid tragedy. Hunter Penhallow, from a family that made its fortune in Iceland spar, stows away aboard the E.L.M. without much objection, as sort of a mascotte.

The Vormance gang are staying in town at the Hotel Borealis (where you can check out anytime), which features a "curious open turret" (129:10). Mystery to me. Closest I can imagine is some sort of campanile. Hunter paints the place, drops of the salt fog mixing with and subtly altering his pigments. Just North is Ominous Unnamed Glacier. The Vormance crew are getting cabin fever and talking about moving on before Winter sets in. They are fed up with the Meat Olaf and an unspecified speaker offers to spice things up with a bottle of Special Sauce. The tropical paradise with parrot evoked by the sauce label is separated from the boreal by "only the thinnest of membranes" (130:10) and reachable by chanting the mantra "¡Cuidado Cabrón!" like a parrot. This has the effect of a Tibetan prayer wheel. Members of the Vormance Expedition are now introduced over a couple of pages (130:18-132:40). The roster includes Dr. Vormance of Candlebrow University; Dr. V. Ganesh Rao, quaternionist of Calcutta U., who is seeking a gateway to the Ulterior; American bucket-shop desperado Dodge Flannelette, a practical sort; Fleetwood Vibe, son of Scarsdale, sent to keep an eye on things; Sir Templeton Blope of the University of the Outer Hebrides and his collegial nemesis, Hastings Throyle; and Otto Ghloix, expedition alienist. And the "extra man" of Arctic Expeditions. The Transnoctial Discussion Group ponders the Nature of Expeditions (131:16 - I suspect they're well into the Aquavit by this time) exploring the wilderness dimension by dimension, encountering God, time and Riemann space. The mission document of the Malus describes their trajectory as being "at right angles to the flow of time" (132:4). The talk takes us through Lineland, Flatland, 3-space, the complex plane, and Dr. Rao's karmic circular representation of linear time. The talk turns to the Æther, with Blope contending the immeasurability of the Æther is the active work of a sinister presence in Nature (132:26). Vormance chides Blope for believing in spooks. Mission alienist Otto Ghloix pipes up that "What cannot be resolved inside the psyche must enter the outside world and become physically, objectively 'real'". But undetectable, immeasurable. The "extra man" snarks "fairies under mushrooms" (133:6). The Book of Iceland Spar in the Library of Iceland is recalled and noted as recording history even into the future. Iceland spar is said by the Librarian to be related to the contemporaneous system of complex numbers and together they allow access to additional dimensions, including a subterranean one of menacing "hidden people"(134:1-11).

Meanwhile (134:23), Hunter Penhallow is preparing to take his leave of Constance and pops over to Narvik's Mush-it-Away Northern Cuisine, which, being the only game in town, the queue of people waiting to get in move in Zeno's paradox of infinitesimal increments (135:23). Hunter endures Narvik's hoary jokes, and walks out with Meat Okaf, root slaw and Mystery Sauce on the side (136:4). He returns home through channels in the "bad ice", which like the proverbial infinite monkeys at their typewriters will go through all possible topological permutations and at some point in time will mimic the layout of Venice. Hunter's wanderlust increases. In the morning, Hunter and the Malus have gone.

Section break to an extract from the Journals of Mr. Fleetwood vibe (138). First sensed via a song about the doughty Arctic explorers Nansen and Johansen and their sturdy ship Fram, then viewed as an enlarging dot, then a massive overhead presence, the Inconvenience. Lines are lowered, the airship moored, a sumptuous picnic shared. Science Officer Dr. Counterfly (the mature incarnation) warns the doubting Malus crew that they are in mortal danger. The nunatak by which they are moored is far too regular in shape to be natural (139:27). they enter the Inconvenience's control cabin, straight out of Dr. Frankenstein or Dr. Tesla, the most sensitive vortices of vibration picked up by a human caul (veil), which is said to grant second sight. They view deep into the pseudonunatak using an alternate frequency and observe a series of inscriptions in an unknown language, which they interpret as warnings, like to those hieroglyphic inscriptions on Egyptian tombs that have such a potent effect on grave-robbers and Egyptologists (141:18). Here a crucial story point: an object comes into focus on the viewing screen. "The Figure appeared to recline on its side, an Odalisque of the snows" (141:29). The entity is immediately perceived as evil. They make the predictable decision to recover it and take it home with them, and the Chums make no move to stop them. Dogs non-barking herald the approach of Old Magyakan, known to Throyle in Siberia and hailed by him in Tungus (142:37). Magyakan is both here and home in Siberia. He takes tea and a Havana stogie and relays his warning.

"They" don't wish to harm us, and may even love us, but out of necessity or instinct, like starving mushers and dogs, and with as little mutual understanding, will kill us (143:18-26). The strangeness makes it all seem more unsettling. Magyakan wanders off. The Vormance gang debates whether this is a prophecy, but conclude that shamans, like the Book of Iceland Spar operate in multiple dimensions of time. Pugnax organizes a sled-dog union. The tone gets more and more ominous on the trip home with the Thing. It is vaguely anthropomorphic, with "eyes" (144:17), but never clearly described, as it is never really well-contained in the ship or in this dimension. Delivery is made to a Museum, whence it promptly escapes. Witnesses who claimed to hear it speak on its escape are confined to the mental hospital at Matteawan, but their quotes supply us with our only hints to its character and motive. "Nothing voiced -- all hisses, a serpent, vengeful, restless" "The man-shaped light shall not deliver you" "Flames were always your destiny, my children"(145:16-22). Not much to be learned there. This is just a difficult, dense and obstinate piece of writing.

Fleetwood Vibe now, feeling his work done, wants to catch a train to Washington to report in to the Washingtonian Entity employing him (145:25). The rampage of the Beast has evidently begun, as panic is gripping the streets, and it is a fiery one, since vendors are hawking respirator helmets (145:40). He arrives in the District and visits the "less fashionable" Explorer's Club (146:19) where the usual bores regale him with the usual blather. Monster Ravages Metropolis doesn't explicitly come up, but a choice tidbit is tossed with the revelation that the aforesaid Nansen expedition of '95 planned, as loads got lighter and supplies shorter, to kill sled dogs and feed them to their surviving huskies, who at first refused but then accepted the meat (147:20). Pugnax's union dogs might have balked, but this throws light upon Magyakan's story. It's a dog-eat-dog world. The notion is immediately extended to cannibalism and man's inhumanity to man.
",,,but we do use one another, often mortally, with the same disablement of feeling, of conscience...each of us knowing that at some point it will be our own turn. Nowhere to run but into a hostile and lifeless waste."
"You refer to present world conditions under capitalism and the Trusts." (147:32-36) Very anarchistic talk for such a setting! It's put down to evolution - survival of the fittest - and the American Corporation "in which even the Supreme Court has recognized legal personhood--a new living species, one that can out-perform most anything an individual can do by himself, no matter how smart ot powerful he is." (148:2) "It was understood by all at some point that they were speaking of the unfortunate events to the north, the bad dream I still try to wake from, the great city brought to sorrow and ruin." (148:11-13) What can I say? Is the Entity a Corporation?

We switch in the next section back to the POV of the Chums aboard the Inconvenience, racing south to try to head off the Malus before she reached civilization with her evil cargo. They now have the knowledge that the Vormance crew had been duped by the Invader to believe what they were carrying was a meteorite. In the city, now a shambles, a Board of Inquiry meets in an upper room in the Museum of Museumology. The Vormance party relate the "Eskimo" belief that all objects possess ruling spirits that can be malevolent and must be propitiated. Collecting this spirit, moreso than the object that contained it, was the intent of the Vormance party. In the city, away from its usual outlets of vengeance, the entity took on other, catastrophic means. City-dwellers, used to living on the edge but with defense mechanisms to deny it, instinctively knew what they were up against, even as the scientists did not. The havoc of the progress of the Figure through the city is detailed. As are the reactions of the city, its feeling of violation and attempts at propitiation. At the edge of the zone of destruction, a monumental arch is erected, bearing the inscription, "I AM THE WAY INTO THE DOLEFUL CITY - DANTE" surmounted by a light show (154:21).

Hunter Penhallow, on his way out of the city, turns to observe the tragedy, and finds himself wandering in an unfamiliar dreamscape until he comes upon a group of evacuees who usher him into something like a subway. It proceeds onward and downward, although glimpses of the city are still visible, and become more futuristic, as the proceed toward "refuge, whatever that might have come to mean anymore, in this world brought low" (155:32).


Notes & Commentary

Please click on the Iceland spar image in the accompanying Additional Discussion post for an annotated web album of images related to this section. Some minor cribbing was done from the Pynchon AtD Wiki.

Part II: Iceland Spar.

This section's tone and action remind me of the movie cliffhanger serials of the 1930's-1950's. I was tempted to insert effects and stage directions, but I'm no screenwriter and they would only encumber the flow. Imagine them if you will.

By now, I presume we all know about Iceland spar, introduced at 114:14 in the pearl message. Calcium carbonate. Formerly mined in Iceland. Birefringent. Polarizing. Here's a readable historical summary. The discovery of polarization is credited to Étienne Louis Malus, though the prior contributions of Huygens, Erasmus Bartholinus and Thomas Young should be noted. His discovery is described here. "In 1808, Malus famously discovered that light could be polarized (a term coined by Malus) by reflection as he observed sunlight reflected from the windows of the Luxemburg Palace in Paris through an Iceland spar crystal that he rotated." What I want to emphasize is that the light passing through an Iceland spar crystal is divided in a specific way, based on the structure of the molecular lattice, into an Ordinary Ray and an Extraordinary Ray. They appear the same, as the double image produced by placing a crystal prism on a page of text, but they are not identical. One rotates with the crystal. One is in violation of Snell's Law. They are differently polarized and can set up interference patterns. They are beam-splitters a la Michelson-Morley. They just about drove the final nail into the coffin of the corpuscular theory of light. In short, we have a little alternate-reality generator on our hands.

We met Étienne Louis Malus at 114:34 in the name of the schooner the Inconvenience was sent to intercept and deter the Vormance expedition from their plans by any means necessary, short of force. His bio is found in the Iceland spar links. Served as an Engineer in Napoleon's Egyptian campaign. Caught plague or tuberculosis. Died young. Just make a note in the margin that also in on Boney's Excellent Egyptian Adventure were Capt. Pierre-François Bouchard, who unearthed a singular stone monolith and a British Naval Lieutenant who was asked by the one-handled adulterer to pass the salt. Malus can mean an anti-bonus, an apple, or a cheek - hence apple-cheeked.

P. 122 - I.G.L.O.O. harkens back to W.A.S.T.E. in COL49, also to U.N.C.L.E., SMERSH, and countless others.

123 - The Great Game was the 19th century Russian-British military/intelligence wrangle for domination in Central Asia. See Rudyard Kipling's Kim and George Macdonald Fraser's Flashman in the Great Game (if by some oversight you haven't already read it). Alexey Padzhitnov invented the video game Tetris, where Capt. Padzhitnoff's signature is dropping bricks and masonry in four-block fragments. Tovarishchi Slutchainyi=accidental comrades (Chums of Chance, or, more idiomatically, friends thrown together by circumstance according to the wiki).

124 - Na sobrat' ya po nebo!
Randolph says "На собратья по небо." What I believe he means to say is "Наши собратья по небу" or Nashi sobrat'ya po nebu, meaning "Our brothers/comrades of the sky" -- perhaps a ritual greeting between the two groups. It is unlikely that Pynchon would make a mistake (the Russian in GR is correct) but Randolph might err. Taken directly from wiki. I can't improve upon it. Communication between the airships is via speaking trumpet. They look like posthorns. See web album.

125 - Isafjörðr (that's an eth - hope your browser handles Unicode ISO 8859-1) is about as far away as you can get in Icelend from Helgustadir, where Iceland spar was mined. However, it is near Djupidalur, where mining was attempted but did not yield spar of sufficient quality (Thoroddsen, 1891, cited in Kristjansson). They are shadowed by the Bol'shaia Igra, "red as a cursed ruby representing a third eye in the brow of some idol of the incomprehensible." The old "Steal the Idol's Eye" wheeze (warning-1891 Savoy operetta synopsis- may not be entirely PC by today's standards).

126 - An inukshuk is a vaguely anthropomorphic guidepost of piled stones in the wilderness, "something which acts for or performs the function of a person." The replica is purported to be real mammoth ivory as opposed to ersatz blue-tinted bonzoline. A "truth beyond the secular" (126:11) connotes divine, not worldly, but the etymology derives from eternal, as in "In saecula saeculorum". "As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."

127 - The Penhallow homestead's location is not specified. My speculation is Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland. Hunter's painting of Constance reeks of Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light™, who will not be linked by this author due to personal aversion to his business practices and high twee index. Jin Wicked has him nailed. Harald Hardråde ("hard ruler") escapes the maw of the Ginnungagap (?Northern Aperture) only to have the misfortune of being the wrong guy to invade England in 1066. At least he softened up the Sassenach Harold for Billy the Conq.

128 - Adam of Bremen's Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum is cited as the Norse source of All Things Ginnungagap.

129 - 129:32 Meat Olaf=obvious anagram for metal oaf, teal foam, feta loam, Ma at floe... (129:38) The hot sauce legend ¡Cuidado Cabrón! Salsa Explosiva La Original (Careful, Dude!) Features a parrot and erupting volcano, and hijinx result when the crew find out the sauce is REALLY hot. The label must mean Pickapeppa Sauce, but the warnings suggest something much more macho (we're talking megascovilles).

130 - The Vormance mob and Scarsdale Vibe somehow evoke in me images of the Tweed Ring crossed with J.P. Morgan. Description (130:18) of the Transnoctial Discussion Group - bearded men in dark suits and matching waistcoats- there must be watch chains and cigar smoke, switching to the local white lightning when the 15-cent bottles of Danish Aquavit run out (132:16). Vormance is a mineralogist, handy on a spar hunt. V. Ganesh Rao evokes math whiz Srinivasa Ramanujan. Dodge Flannelette (classic Pynchon name) is of a pragmatic bent, and is in on the fact that Iceland spar might aid in global transmission of images, similar to the Tesla experiment with power. Fleetwood Vibe is one of the Bad Vibes, watching out for his father Scarsdale's interests, favors to be owed and any evidence of rivals constructing a railroad bridge across the Bering Strait.

131 - During the Nocturnal bull session, Dr, Templeton Blope objects to the colonization of the dimension of time (131:31) as impossible because we are limited to three dimensions and is dissed as a Quaternioninst by collegial nemesis Hastings Throyle. Perhaps this makes Throyle a Vectorist. I picture Blope as Col. Blimp, fresh from the Turkish bath, whereas all I can come up with for Throyle is Draco Malfoy's henchboy Goyle (not likely) and some vague memory of a similar name somewhere in the Sherlock Holmes canon.

132 - The only instance of Ghloix in Googleworld apart from the current context is as an alternate transliteration of a phoneme in the Wa language in the outback of Myanmar a.k.a. Burma. I doubt Pynchon meant to lead us down this path. Maybe the French gloire or something Flemish or Basque.

133 - The mention of the Library of Iceland throws cold water on my Greenland theory. The Book of Iceland Spar is like The Yngling Saga, only different. Like an Extraordinary Ray. "Another Quest for another damned Magic Crystal. Horsefeathers, I say. Wish I'd known before I signed on. Say, you aren't one of those Sentient Rocksters, are you?" (133:25) sounds like the voice of Dodge Flannelette, probably addressing Vormance.

134 – The "hidden people" presumably travel between Niflheim and Muspelhein via the Ginnungagap.

135 - Narvik's plats du jour include braised blubber with cloudberries, skua eggs over easy, walrus chops, snow parfaits and the ubiquitous Meat Olaf, previewed for the salivating crowd on a little railroad like kaiten-zushi.

138 - The menu includes jellied pâté de foie gras, truffled pheasant, Nesselrode pudding and '96 champagne. The Chums do themselves well.

139 - Dr. Counterfly wears anti-glare specs with lenses comprising Nicol prisms made of Iceland spar to extinguish the polarized Ordinary Rays (139:22). A nunatak is a mountain, not covered by glacial ice, poking up and forming a micro-environment.

140 - The usual electronics. Sparks and auras everywhere, received frequencies emanating from a brass speaking trumpet, data recorded on an early Poulsen's Telegraphone (140:28), a nice demonstration of Maxwell's equations in operation and the predecessor of the notorious wire recorder. (140:31) Gauge pointers are in the exquisite moon form of Breguet. The caul or veil is an amniotic membrane. It is magical in the context of that used by Saint Veronica to wipe the sweat off the face of the suffering Savior and by extension the Shroud of Turin (both interpreted by some as photographic processes), but I can't get lambskin condoms out of my mind.

141 - The famous painting of the Odalisque is the one by Ingres (1814). The term came to connote "reclining nude", although not all Odalisques in paintings are reclining, and the ones in harems likely had other duties. There are some nice reclining Buddhas in stone, which may be closer to what we are dealing with.

142 - The usual melodramatic gimmicks to build tension during the excavation. The diggers unnaturally chirpy while the native bearers melt away and the dogs go crazy barking. Except one time when they don't (142:37). Sherlockians will immediately flash to Silver Blaze:
"You consider that to be important?" he asked.
"Exceedingly so."
"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

143 - (143:4) Bilocating - Iceland spar. Get it? I knew you would.

144 - Bringing the Monster home with you has been a theme from King Kong (1933) on down. Whitehall gigs (144:40) don't help us peg the locale, as they're generic harbor boats and both London and New York have Whitehalls.

146 - At the depot, the "ungoverned mass of us was somehow spun into single-file" (146:8), mirroring the Chicago stockyards of the opening of the book and Magyakan's humans/dogs analogy. In the Explorer's Club, "Dr. Jim's little adventure" is the Jameson raid of Brits vs. Boers, 1895-6.

150 - In the ruined city, abandoned streetcars "hitched to animals months dead and yet unremoved" (150:9) conjures up the scene in Un chien andalou with the man pulling the dead mules and grand pianos. The only ones to remain cheerful and efficient in the ruibed city were the White Wings - streetcleaners (150:25). From the architectural description, it seems the Museum of Museumology must be the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Its Hayden Planetarium features meteorites, including fragments of the massive Cape York.

153 - As a defemse measure against the Figure, the Church of the Prefiguration projects a "three dimensional image in full color, not exactly of Christ but with the same beard, robes, ability to emit light as if -- should the worst happen, they could deny all-out Christian allegiance and so make that much easier whatever turnings of heart might become necessary in striking a deal with the invader" (153:12-16). The Shroud of Turin again.

154 - The Arch might have continued "Abandon hope all ye who enter here" but "Arbeit Macht Frei" seems to work as well.

155 - The tragedy and destruction on New York certainly parallel the September 11 event.


[Finale] Now please look again narrowly at the AtD dust jacket. As Neddie recounted early on in his conversation with the M&D designer, Pynchon is likely to take great care about such details. The title is not duplicated once in a fixed orientation as if viewed through a prism of Iceland spar; instead it is duplicated twice, with the middle text in a serif font and diverges as if lighted from center bottom. Maybe another way of interpreting Against the Day is through that prism uncovered by Bouchard in the Egyptian incursion. A granodiorite monolith with inscriptions in three languages (hieroglyphic, demotic and Classical Greek) linking Ptolomey V to Stanley Kubrick and serving the wise with a key to the word. A Rosetta Stone Against (in the sense of "In preparation for" as used by Samuel Pepys) the Day.

[SFX - sting and out. Fade to black. Roll credits.]
H. Rumbold, Master Barber

38 Comments:

At Monday, January 22, 2007 5:32:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

The mystery of who the Chums are, or at least what sort of organization they belong to, deepens in this passage. Not only in the nature and execution of their assignment, but also in a very mysterious passage beginning 122:25. We are here in a dark assembly-room, among men with watch chains dark vests, pen nibs. (Them, of course.) Is the speaker at 123:1, "You like to fricasseed a bunch of my boys[...]" the Chums' boss?

One of the things I'm enjoying about ATD is how Pynchon compresses plots and action which might otherwise constitute whole other novels in the narrative; the story of Constance and Hunter Penhallow being one here.

Even then, though, he undercuts the emotional pull of the Penhallow story with the goofy visit to the all-night restaurant.

The Journal of Fleetwood Vibe is yet another narrative trope, that of the epistolary novel, Stoker's Dracula being one terrific example. From the perspective of this fiction, the Chums take on a dashing, grownup nature.

The Buddha is often represented in a reclining posture, and the creature's possibly "Mongoloid" (141:32) features reinforce a certain duality, an anti-Buddha. (Impossible, of course, as all dualities are reconciled in the Buddha. So perhaps it is the purest avatar of the distroying power of the cosmos. It appears to hold no animus for its victims, anyway.)

The beast proclaims that Jesus, the man-shaped light (145:20) is powerless to stop it. And indeed at 153:12 we see that the citizens of New York have put up an electric 3-D projection of something like Jesus to expell the thing. Doesn't work.

Our author is known to live in Manhattan and the words ending 148 the bad dream I still try to wake from, the great city brought to sorrow and ruin. strike me as from the heart. Indeed the whole passage from 149:10 to the end of 155 is a vast metaphor, an almost heart-breaking reimagining of 9/11, cast in the forms of inquest and memory.

Readers of Gravity's Rainbow will also detect more that a few echos of the unreal city, London in the blitz, in the last paragraph of 155.

Thematically, it is worth noting that the scientists of the Vormance expedition, though amply warned, had no idea what they were unleashing on humanity.

 
At Monday, January 22, 2007 5:50:00 AM, Anonymous cleek said...

i think we all now know one possible example of the anti-Philosopher's stone.

and, "Blope" is my favorite name.

 
At Monday, January 22, 2007 9:47:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

H. Rumbold, Master Barber--

My God, it's full of stars! That was incredible. Thank you because I'll be honest with the introduction of what seemed like an entire different novel altogether, I kind of missed a lot.

Two things. First off, one of the great studies done in the name of American Culture is a book called The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: American Literature at the Turn of the Century, and one of the more interesting things it does is look at The Wizard of Oz as a pro-gold standard metaphor. Now, how about all those emerald colored cliffs of ice?

Second, there's something saga-esque about ATD. And I mean that in the sense that it seems to want to follow families around and tell giant chronicles. It's not just that it has a cast of thousands, surely that's true, but that it's also telling a number of sagas at the same time. Most notably, at this point, Vibe. I mean, what other justification do we have for following these people around.

Let me try that another way. Most novels have a main character. This one doesn't seem to. However, at any point in the novel, there is a main character. At the same time, most novels are about a circle of people linked for some reason. This novel doesn't. However, at any point in the novel, the relationships between the characters is fairly clear.

I don't know what to do with that. It's just something I've noticed.

 
At Monday, January 22, 2007 10:18:00 AM, Anonymous foolishmortal said...

Ok, plenty to say here. I'll start with 153: The robed and bearded image is that of Osama bin Laden. What the hell that means I'm not certain, but in the context of the chapter, placed among mentions of "Loyalty to the Destroyer" and the erection of "propitiatory structures", I think its pretty clear. Discussions on the wiki here

 
At Monday, January 22, 2007 10:33:00 AM, Anonymous foolishmortal said...

Now the spar: it birefracts, yes? It shifts the angle at which light is emitted, such that it projects a two-dimensional image at a different angle in three dimensional space. Now, what properties would iceland spar have in four dimensional space? The spar then becomes a crystal "ball", projecting three dimensional images at a different angle in four dimensional space. Thus, the chapter beginning at 149 is a refraction of 9/11.

Examine the cover. Now examine the back. The front is clearly the title viewed through iceland spar. But note that the title is written upon a sheet of paper, which is also present on the back. Thus, even though there is no text on the back, the format remains the same: one might assume the spar is present though undetectable there as well. If the spar is present on the first page, and the last, one might conclude it is on all of those in between as well. Thus, when reading AtD, we are doing so through a sheet of Iceland spar.

Apologies, I know I'm not explaining myself as well as I might. I'll post to clarify as I think through the material.

 
At Monday, January 22, 2007 12:38:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

FoolishMortal- Not sure I read into it the same way you did (e.g. direct refs to Bin Laden), but I have to say that your theory about the spar is fascinating; and it would explain why whatever metaphor one sees in this work is always skewed slightly. For example, whether the image is (1) Jesus, (2) the Shroud of Turin, (3) Osama, or (4) whatever else readers interpret it as... or, how the "train" can be simultaneously below ground and above ground... or whether this refers to 9/11 specifically or some perhaps past/future nuclear-scale incident(*) brought about by a complicated chain of events... or, hell, even a fitting medium for anyone out there who somehow manages to take it all literally (in a suspension of disbelief kind of way) -- i.e., some ancient power that we dug out of the ice and pissed off -- a la The Thing or whatever.

IMHO, we're only 15% in, when you think about it (which seems incredible, considering how dense this text is). So, all we can do so far (at least, those of us who're not reading ahead) is speculate and keep these notions in mind for future refinement.

This was, for me, the weightiest section so far. Kind of blew my mind a little. I actually took a break & read a vampire novel just to lighten up a bit.

* Anyway, RE the nuclear comment: I don't have my book handy (as I'm at work now, where I'm supposed to be, uh, not discussing Pynchon), but as I said, it's skewed (or, maybe read "refracted") from the kinds of metaphors one might expect. Wasn't there language, for example, about the all-reaching nature of this disaster -- e.g., that there was no hope of escape in bunkers below bridges, etc.? Seems to refer to nuclear bunkers, though it notes the ineffectiveness of such places for this event. So, is it nuclear? My mind flashed not just "atomic bomb" at reading this, but H-Bomb.

Some comparisons:

* Hiroshima was 15,000 tons (15kt)
* Nagasaki was maybe 22,000 tons (22kt)...
* But, the Ruskies lit one off in 1961 that was 50,000,000 tons (50 Mt) ("...the single most powerful device ever utilized throughout the history of humanity." Link to the Tsar Bomba.) They let 'er rip someplace north of the Arctic Circle, btw (and, incidentally, the shock wave from that even refracted, extending the blast's influence of damage even further).

 
At Monday, January 22, 2007 2:00:00 PM, Blogger René López Villamar said...

To me, the whole passage screams of H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. This bit

""They" don't wish to harm us, and may even love us, but out of necessity or instinct, like starving mushers and dogs, and with as little mutual understanding, will kill us (143:18-26)."

seems to be a complete mockery of Lovecraft's sloppy style.

Also, what do you make of the attack of the creature? You might link it to 9/11, but could it be also something that actually happened?

I searched through the 'net and found this. Could it be related? Or is this section referring to a well known catastrophe we foreigners might be oblivious about?

 
At Monday, January 22, 2007 2:07:00 PM, Blogger René López Villamar said...

(sorry for double posting)

Also, on p. 139, "Dr. Counterfly... bearded" The Pynchon wiki says:

Last seen as a boy with low rank. Six years have elapsed, 1893-1899.

I always assumed the beard and the glasses were mainly a disguise. For the Vormance expedition to take them serously, they need to appear older. Or am I reading this wrong?

 
At Monday, January 22, 2007 4:29:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

I love Blowing Up Shit With Gas' comment: "This was, for me, the weightiest section so far. Kind of blew my mind a little. I actually took a break & read a vampire novel just to lighten up a bit." Felt the same way and read an anthology of sick one-act plays from New York's Caffe Cino just to "lighten up a bit" myself.

Rene's H.P. Lovecraft citation also seems dead-on, and the 1900 Hoboken Fire link is just wonderful. What makes the entire section so disturbing is that the horror isn't overexplained, so that you can fill in the scary parts for yourself.

I assumed The City that met with disaster was an unnamed Manhattan partly because it was "north" of Washington, D.C. where Fleetwood Vibe seemingly goes after disembarking, and also it seemed that we were in the subway/PATH Train/Long Island Railway when Hunter is saved and taken out of town by the good samaritans.

 
At Monday, January 22, 2007 8:03:00 PM, Blogger Ol' Pal D said...

H, I don't know whether to clap or mock.

 
At Tuesday, January 23, 2007 10:44:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

One thing I've noticed in pomo literature in general is this strange obsession with the arctic. That may seem strange but its true. There's a lot of that frozen-ness brought up. In Richard Powers Gain, The Clare chemical company gets their first big break coming back from the Arctic. Tours of the Black Clock which is an odd book, ends with the 20th century re-beginning in the arctic, etc..

I've always wondered why, and I wish I had a better answer, but let's face it, At The Mountains of Madness, The Thing, and Predator v. Alien are all cut from this same cloth. Something is frozen in the ice.

I have a feeling that part of the predilection is related the Titanic. This was the first big example of the 20th century that we were, perhaps, being a bit too arrogant about our control over nature. I have often seen it cited as the catastrophe that set off the zeitgeist of that time period, which would make it infinitely linkable to 9/11 and our own contemporary culture.

BTW, I read the bearded figure as Rasputin. There's too much in here about unions and stuff for me not to have gone there.

 
At Tuesday, January 23, 2007 12:31:00 PM, Blogger Employee of the Month said...

A gripping read of the exploration of the arctic is Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail:The Quest fot the Northwest Passage and The North Pole, 1818-1909

 
At Tuesday, January 23, 2007 1:14:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

The arctic was also the final destination of the monster in Shelley's Frankenstein (1818).

 
At Tuesday, January 23, 2007 2:03:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

"Something is frozen in the ice."

There are certainly old-school references as well. Dante, for example. Satan isn't portrayed as ruler of a firey world; he's "frozen in the ice" along with the worst of the worst -- the betrayers.

 
At Wednesday, January 24, 2007 5:54:00 AM, Anonymous cleek said...

IIRC, there are at least two references to using people as food, in reference to the beast/man/object (one in the passage René quotes, and another at a dinner, with the General, just as the destruction starts).

to me, that doesn't sound too much like OBL or Rasputin, or any human at all. it suggests something otherworldly, to me.

 
At Wednesday, January 24, 2007 5:19:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

The heart of the civic horror is explained rather straightforwardly by Pynchon (page 153, line 29), and it doesn't seem to have much to do with 9/11, other than the ugliness of New York's reaction to disaster, which come to think of it is relevant to 9/11.

"So the city became the material expression of a particular loss of innocence--not sexual or political innocence but somehow a shared dream of what a city might at its best prove to be--its inhabitants became, and have remained, an embittered and amnesiac race, wounded but unable to connect through memory to the moment of the injury, unable to summon the face of their violator."

Read the next two paragraphs also, about the city being a "weeping widow" who instead of being "newly reborn, purified by flame" goes onto "lovingly record and mercilessly begrudge every goddamn single tear she ever had to cry, and over the years would make up for them all by developing into the meanest, cruelest bitch of a city, even among cities not notable for their kindness."

No wonder New York, "the catamite of Hell, the punk at the disposal of all the denizens thereof, the bitch in men's clothing," remains unnamed.

 
At Thursday, January 25, 2007 11:22:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

I realize that with everyone trying to tie down the symbolism in the Pynchon novels that it is perhaps an unpopular notion to suggest that we blow it all up, but I'm suggesting it anyway.

Look, the game here, I think, is about interconnectivity. The man with the beard IS Osama Bin Laden, Rasputin the monk, God, two of the three members of ZZ Top, The Hermit card from the Tarot, and possibly Walt Whitman. The city is New York, Jerusalem, the city of God, Berlin, Beirut, Saigon, and Metropolis (from the film of the same name, and also from Superman).

What I'm suggesting is that this novel is attempting get you to make the connections rather than forcing you to see Pynchon's connections. He's laying out a universe of things and asking you to put the various Legos together, subtly guiding you so that in the end, we all build roughly the same toy and it seems like a trick.

But the onus is on us, the readers, to deal with seemingly disparate, often contradictory, possabilities and to, rather than tie ourselves down to one of a million possabilities, discover what's "underneath" those symbols that allows the bearded man to be all those people at the same time. How is God like Walt Whitman like ZZ Top like The Hermit, etc.? And then, what does it mean that such a force is cannibal? What does it mean that the force from the north is simmultaneously terrorists attacking New York and U.S. ground forces attacking Baghdad in retaliation, and what lesson is there to be learned such that we must force these images next to each other and then superimpose them over a Shoggoth.

BTW, I know that ZZ Top might be a stretch, but then, in a certain sense, so is 9/11.

 
At Thursday, January 25, 2007 11:43:00 AM, Anonymous cleek said...

BTW, I know that ZZ Top might be a stretch

well, they were relics from an era people were trying to forget when they sold their souls to the devil of 80's pop music and took over the world of MTV in 1983. and they did it with a record called Eliminator. but maybe the only thing they really destroyed was their legacy.

 
At Thursday, January 25, 2007 4:23:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

You didn't have to say it, Monstro, but you did, but you did, but you did ... and I thank you.

 
At Thursday, January 25, 2007 5:21:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

On topic, gents, if you please. . .

 
At Thursday, January 25, 2007 5:27:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...

I agree with monstro's point that the visitor section is best understood broadly, as representing a broader archetypal calamity, though certainly with heavy, heavy 9-11 resonances.

What interested me most about the section, it's beauty and its (occasionally absent from Pynchon) deep emotional resonance aside, was its relation to Christian symbolism, especially w/r/t the expulsion from Eden.

sfmike appropriately called attention to the passage on 153 that describes the city as "the material expression of a particular loss of innocence," which brings to mind the expulsion, especially as haunting sins seem to be such a recurring motif in the novel.

At the same time, the section ends, or just about, with an invocation of the Gates of Hell in Dante's Inferno, which is the necessary consequence of mankind's fall. I think it's interesting that, although we've already, in one sense, visited Hell in the novel, i.e. when the Chums pass through the Telluric Interior, we nevertheless don't see the gates until this point. (At 154:19 Pynchon invokes Pluto again, explicitly linking this section with the previous.)

In the previous section, however, the Chums were prohibited from becoming involved with the goings on below, an injunction which presumably does not apply to them in the realm above. In this respect, I thought of their leaving the arctic as a sort of thawing, a submission to the contingent, Brownian processes that occur in more central latitudes. A similar thing happens, if I recall, toward the end of the Eco novel If on a Winter's Night a Traveler . . .. That is, they enter an entropic world where time and history commence to act.

Combined with the Christian symbolism, this makes sense. Edenic perfection pretty much requires a lack change analogous to being frozen in ice.

Finally, I'm continually struck by Pynchon's insistence that 9-11 be viewed not merely as a horrible action perpetuated upon us, but as something that we must bear at least some element of responsibility for.

The Eskimo view, we're told on p. 151, suggests that the visitor is merely enacting it's appropriate revenge on urban civilization.

 
At Thursday, January 25, 2007 9:31:00 PM, Blogger René López Villamar said...

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler ... was written by Italo Calvino ;)

"Finally, I'm continually struck by Pynchon's insistence that 9-11 be viewed not merely as a horrible action perpetuated upon us, but as something that we must bear at least some element of responsibility for."

Yet he hasn't, and will not mention 9-11 by name. I really liked monstro's post. All this connections are made by the reader. So this perceived insistence might be read in an entirely different way. This passage will strike some chords even if 9-11 means nothing to you, as it probably won't mean the same to a reader fifty years from now, or someone reading it right now in Belgrade. Basically, is the Trojan horse story: The mighty empire brings home a token of victory, only to be destroyed by it from the inside.

 
At Thursday, January 25, 2007 10:39:00 PM, Blogger Mike P said...

Hi chumps-- good to be on board!

After reading the descriptions of the Figure as being neither here nor there, I was struck by the number of times in AtD things have been "between". A quick list:

--Thelonious Monk, famous for playing "between" the notes
--Noseworth being "between" the scent notes of Pugnax
--The Chums are fictional yet interacting with a "real" (Pynchonian real, anyway) environment, hence being "between" planes of existence.
--The train Hunter rides seems to be both above and below ground
--The face projected by the church is not a specific religious or spiritual symbol but one that can be applied to any number of people.

The idea of "between" can also be applied to the book jacket and title page-- the text that stands out is in the middle, and on the title page "Against the Day" is sandwiched by the author's name.

Ok, enough about "between". There are plenty more examples besides these that I'm sure y'all have noticed.

As a final note, was anyone else reminded of Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Figure burned its way through the container?

 
At Friday, January 26, 2007 12:37:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Mike, Interesting comment RE Raiders of the Lost Ark. I didn't pick up on that, but now that you mention it, it's certainly reminiscent. I'd brought up Raiders in the comments section of the post discussing the opening section of ATD. Will have to look out for any other possible Raiders references.

 
At Friday, January 26, 2007 2:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...even if 9-11 means nothing to you, as it probably won't mean the same to a reader fifty years from now, or someone reading it right now in Belgrade."

Eh? What does this mean? Are you implying that Serbia should have no sympathy for 9-11 because, having been allowed to get away with genocide throuhout much of the 1990s, Belgrade was finally bombed over Kosovo?

 
At Friday, January 26, 2007 2:56:00 PM, Blogger Monstro said...

But that's kind of the point, right? In Serbia, 9-11 might be seen as a kind of echo to calamities on their own soil, whereas, we see the echoes from our point of view. It's always the "here" that's important to the people who are here. If the same kind of thing happens over "there" it loses something--some presence. Some...you know what I'm amazingly off topic at this point.

Mike, about your comment. There are three titles on the front of the book as if one title has been refracted through the spar to create the other two, yes? Which one's the original? Also, since we're in one dimension at that point (yielding above and below) what happens when the spar refracts the title through two dimensions? You get the title on the back cover. Three dimensions? Side cover. Four dimension? Well, what would that mean? We know that the icelandic spar is supposed to have that ability, so we need to keep going, right? How about this? The fourth dimension refers fictionally into the book and factually out of the book. But more than this--all of these bifurcations suggest doublings. Well, do they? It seems to me, that there are 9 versions of Against The Day printed on the cover of my book. The doubling across all these possabilities seems to suggest a range rather than two discreet points. Fiction isn't the opposite of fact, just as labor unions aren't synonimous with Al Kida. Bosnia Herzgovinia isn't Somalia, but something remains the same across it all. Some inherent something keeps meaning even after it travels the void, like light through a vaccuum.

 
At Friday, January 26, 2007 11:33:00 PM, Blogger Mike P said...

Monstro & Co.,

You're right about there being far more than two distinct points that we're dealing with. Going back to the example of the book jacket, we absolutely can't lose sight of the fact that the title is birefracted in different fonts, not just locations.

I don't feel that the idea of "betweenness" is independent from the ideas you stated in your post from the 25th. I agree with you in that Pynchon seems to be leading us underneath the symbolism to ask some deeper questions about the nature of the symbols themselves, but you can be between many, many points at the same time.

If, to steal one of your examples, we are to try to figure out how Whitman, ZZ Top, Osama and Jesus are similar, that will lead us to a middle ground where we are "between" the symbols. I totally agree with you and think that we'll all end up arriving at a similar place despite our different interpretations.

Pynchon seems to have outdone himself with AtD-- we're discussing the interpretation of the interpretation of the symbols in the book. And we're only on page 155!

By the way, I'm sorry if my posts have seemed rather unorganized. It's been nearly 10 years since I've had to write a response to literature.

 
At Sunday, January 28, 2007 2:31:00 AM, Blogger René López Villamar said...

A little off topic:

mike p,

I think you are right. Could this become my favorite Pynchon novel?

Also, it seems to me it's by now a safe guess to say that all those critics and reviewers that said the novel was incoherent and with no plot simply did not read the novel. They just vented their frustration against Gravity's Rainbow and assumed AtD would be more of the same.

I am really enjoying AtD. This section we're just discussing is one of my favorites. I feel really Pynchon has outdone himself in this one.

 
At Sunday, January 28, 2007 9:12:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

Hey Rene,

I'm responding to your comment but under the "talk about all of Pynchon's works (if you dare) section of this blog as I may be spoiling a bit.

 
At Monday, January 29, 2007 10:17:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

The printing on the book cover is not actually double refraction but double refraction with an alternate font sandwiched in between . The Font in between is the text font (the capitals). This is suggestive of an intermediary alternative between the original light transmitted image and the fainter polarized refraction of that original "light message". I would suggest that the intermediating text is the author's version of "what the world might be with a minor adjustment or 2".

Taking the idea bit further, History is honored as source and ground but is transmitted with reasonable realism in the fictional but emotionally, intellectually real lives of the Traverse family, the Rideouts, Tyrian, Yashmeen etc. shuttling between these two and between past and present are the more clearly stylized/imaginative chums, Padzhitnoff , sand submarines and human shaped northern bad-asses(see TP's essay Is it OK to be a Luddite?).

But you might rearrange this basic idea in different ways with satisfying results. The anarchists as intermediary between the colonizers and the colonized.
The shamanic figures as intermediaries between those caught in time and the timeless ground of being.

The scientific inquiries take on the phenomenal world of light, energy, time...and refracted with remarkable verisimilitude the scientific/ mathematical description. and sandwiched between the laws of reality and the symbolic language mathematics and physics is the ever variable interpretation.

That said, I really like foolishmortal's idea of the entire text being sandwiched between layers of Iceland spar.

 
At Monday, January 29, 2007 11:50:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

The Chums of Chance warning to the Vormance Expedition reminds me of Mark Twain's statement that God's big mistake in the Garden of Eden was not to forbid Adam and Eve from eating the Snake. The more the danger was revealed the more curious and determined they became to obtain it. The Chums were sincere but were they the instruments of greater forces?

When is the devastation taking place in this nightmare of the creature from the ice. Is it in fact just a nightmare or is it a devastation that propagates through time and the imagination as light through the "aether"?

The scene in the Explorers'Club has the quality of lucidity in the midst of darkening nightmare, the nervouscalm of the well insulated rich who are asking themselves some troubling questions which point inevitably to the horror which has come from the North. But instead of revenge driven terrorists,their thoughts move first to killing colonial slaves, then to the dog eat dog nature of capitalism, then to the super human longevity and appetites of Corporations and finally to an invasion from outside of "normal" linear time.

The "Cathedral of the Prefiguration" is both hilarious and another implication that this event so reminiscent of King Kong, Godzilla, the War of the Worlds and 9/11 may be a prefiguration along with all those stories of a society haunted with the possibility of a Karmic comeuppance.

 
At Friday, February 02, 2007 9:52:00 AM, Blogger The Ghastly Fop said...

Spot on, Monstro, about all of the resonances (they're not really symbolism, are they?) being valid in reading Pynchon. If he wasn't actually thinking about ZZ Top, he sure wasn't avoiding ZZ Top.

Brother Rumbold, I have to differ vigorously with your take on the description of Hunter's painting of Constance. I don't see Kincaid at all, thank God. What I do see is another description of another face from another Pynchon book, which I'll take up in the Additional Discussion.

Beyond that, the whole paragraph starting at 127:8 is remarkably beautiful writing. I read it several times over; trying reading it aloud, the second sentence especially, and while you might concievably find "thousand-flower print in green and yellow, viewed as through dust" in Kincaid, you sure as hell wouldn't find "steep gabling of many angles, running back into a lizard imbrication of gray slatework, shining as with rain ... wilds of rooftops, unexplored reaches, stretching as to sunset ..."

Finally, about that birefringence of the cover design, I think that's getting overanalyzed a good deal, with perhaps excessively romantic physics. What I see is the title in a Gothic font, contra jour, that is, in the foreground looking into the picture, unrefracted; beyond it, the two refracted images, in two different fonts, one of them a serif font. It occurs to me that the different fonts may signal different times in history, thus birefringence in time as well as space. There's your fourth dimension, if you like, but I think it's a stretch.

 
At Monday, February 26, 2007 7:52:00 PM, Anonymous LED said...

"Fire was always your destiny, my children." Is the "man-shaped light" not Christ, but Edison's light-bulb? And the fire of our destiny that lit in campfires, chimneys, woodfires, flames eldritch and anemic against the vastnesses of night?

Or is the man-shaped light a nuclear blast, as mentioned above, the fireball's destruction our destiny? Campfires will once again light the night after thermonuclear armageddon.

Is this thing described an annunakai, a nephilim, malign and unstoppable? A frozen fish-eyed visitor from Sirius, as per Dogon legend? Is the emergence of this incubus into our world a rip in some Pynchonesqe space-time continuum, the effects of which spread and poison the 20th century?

It is intriguing to watch Pynchon contrast the reaction of the Money Class (cool, dispassionate) to those of the incubus: cool, dispassionate. The "immortal" corporations of the day, the robber-barons, show no empathy for the sufferings of the common man, and neither does this Ice Thing.

Ice the frozen form of water, matter itself the congealed form of light.

The Great City brought low evocative of Revelation.

 
At Monday, April 16, 2007 12:23:00 AM, Blogger Transcontinentalrailroadwarrior said...

Hi All--

Great stuff. Thank you!

I'm so far behind you all, I wonder if anyone will read this. I'll restrict myself to a few bits and pieces.

H. Rumbold: Forgive me if I am dull and am missing the irony in your post, but isn't the obvious anagram for Meat Olaf... Meat Loaf?

Lutine: Variation of "Lutin", a type of hobgoblin. From Wikipedia, '...description of the air, water and terrestrial lutin: "You are invisible when you like it; you cross in one moment the vast space of the universe; you rise without having wings; you go through the ground without dying; you penetrate the abysses of the sea without drowning; you enter everywhere, though the windows and the doors are closed; and, when you decide to, you can let yourself be seen in your natural form."'

A "Lutine bell" would seem a natural companion to both the transdimentional ice spirit, and the visiting, oracular, bifurcated Magyakan.

Re: pp. 144-146: The references to: A strange, ineffectual Christ figure; a destiny of flames; corridors of suffering; penance; disorder; the colors red and black; tunnels and sub-basements; unattainable Heaven; the breakdown of time; and finally, the restriction of choice and the further breakdown of time as 'Wood makes his way down, through the "maze inside" to a "destination impossible to see" (ala the abattoirs in the White City) have me wondering if Fleetwood has escaped "the catamite of Hell" after all.

Next, a jarring transition to the Explorers' Club scene (pp 146), which reads to me like a threnody from Hell: Pestiliential rains. Spacial/temporal dislocation - Fleetwood is "at the Explorers' Club today" (when is "today"? Didn't he escape the city?), and thinking, "I can't imagine what I'm doing here." An indication from the General that Fleetwood has recently arrived from South Africa rather than from the icy north. A prevalent "vernacular of unease and hallucination" among the Africa hands. Fleetwood's mysterious shaking, and a reference to his companions being, "fitful, uneasy, half of them down with a fever of some kind". Intimations of a shameful murder in South Africa. "Nowhere to run but into a hostile and lifeless waste." More references to dislocated time, and finally, Fleetwood's nightmare, "the bad dream I still try to wake from..."

I may be reaching here, but it sure sounds like Hell to me! We'll see if/how Fleetwood Vibe reappears in this tome.

 
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