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 15, 2007

Dance of anarchy and change

Hulloh, fellow Chumps! Blue Wren here.

First, full disclosure: I am not a “professor,” just a curious reader who likes a challenge. My moderation of this section won’t dig deeply into physics or mathematics, philosophical hairsplitting or the space-time continuum. My eyes tend to cross when I think that hard. Then I need a nap.

Instead, mine will be a light (wink) overview. I’ll leave the mounds of unearthed jewels to more agile minds than mine. You know who you are.

That said, I’m having a ball with “Against the Day.” But I didn’t write the following without some help. Neddie Jingo, that muskly Pynchon miner, dug up some glittering nuggets for me as I read madly and prepared to write this up. You won’t find them all here, but I’m sure he’ll pipe up in the comments. Will Divide offered some gentle guidance as well, advising a minimalist approach. Gentlemen, the both of them. The chivalrous Chums would be glad to have them aboard. As for me, I’m all agog and quite grateful. Beers are owed.

So, forgive me for reading above my grade level. And let’s plunge into “Against the Day,” pages 81-118:

This section dances with anarchy and change. Look for bifurcations: the reflections and refractions that Pynchon’s been building carefully throughout the story so far.

Page 81 starts in the booming mining town of Telluride on Cowboy’s Christmas. Webb Traverse, the mining engineer whose nose for dynamite drew him to Merle and his alchemy shed in the previous section, wakes after a night under the stars to a morning so hot the nitro is oozing out of sticks of dynamite.

And it’s getting hotter: To Webb, the Fourth of July seems more like “Dynamite’s National Holiday” because everyone in town will be playing with caps and fuses attached to little bits of the explosive stuff, lighting them up as the day progresses. In fact, they’ll be making so much noise celebrating the “bombs bursting in air” aspect of the holiday, Webb figures no one will notice one more explosion. Note: There’s a fun link in the ATD Wiki about thunderstorms, lightning, and how Barbara, a beautiful girl who lived in 4th Century AD Asia Minor, ended up becoming the patron saint of artillerymen and those facing sudden death.

Webb, who hasn’t slept very well – I was struck by the empathy in the line, “he did not so much sleep as become intermittently conscious of time ” (been there, done that) – rides out among “cicadas going on like prolonged richochets” to meet his partner, the passionate worker’s champion Viekko Rautavaara, a Finn.

Neddie says “Viekko” is a rather common name in Finland. “Rautavaara,” however, has a number of meanings. In Finnish, “Rauta” means “iron,” and “Vaara,” “hills” and “danger.” Taken in context with the story’s obsession with currents of light and electricity, and now the theme of mining, explosives, mercury sickness, and the fact that uranium (the anti-stone?) was found near Telluride, the name Rautavaara seems “charged” to me.

The two men meet. Rautavaara, who sees little difference between life under the deposed Russian Tsar and American capitalism, is in a bad mood. He’s received a postcard from his sister in Finland, a minneskort, (a Swedish word, not Finnish, and Finland’s other language of conquest) which is stamped and franked with pictures of stamps and postmarks, since the Russians won’t allow the Finns to use Finnish stamps anymore.

It’s another reference to photography – images made from silver and light, real but not real. Change is relentless.

Webb and Rautavaara are meeting on this sizzling Fourth of July morning to blow up a railroad bridge. A description of the preparation of the charge, the fuse and attachment of the dynamite to the bridge struts follows. Webb notices a hawk looking down on them as they work (like the Inconvenient, perhaps? Another up-down, down-up reflection ...).

Pages 85-86: We learn how an exploding pool ball sent Webb sidelong and in slow motion into his covert career as an anarchist and terrorist, his “trajectory toward the communion of toil.” It begins in the “middle of Cripple Creek ... when men were finding their way to the unblastable seams of their own secret natures, learning the true names of desire, which spoken, so they dreamed, would open the way through the mountains to all that had been denied them.”

At night Webb dreams of standing at a divide, facing west – “something like wind, something like light” and “wake to the day and its dread.” An important passage, here, given the book’s title. There are binaries everywhere – east/west, night/day, Heaven/Earth, life/death, inside/outside.

Page 87: Webb meets up with the Rev. Moss Gatlin, who twists his sermons about Original Sin (only with exceptions) and “fishers of men” to have something other than a religious meaning. Could the name “Moss” be a leap to the eldritch foxfire moss, a bioluminescent, forest fungus? And I couldn’t help but associate “Gatlin” with the Gatling gun, the first machine gun).

Page 89: Here’s a reference to the repeal of the Silver Act and “the Gold Standard reclaiming its ancient tyranny.” Worth a look-up, Neddie says.

Page 92: More opposite pairs, as Gatlin explains to Webb how the slave owners of the South might be gone, but have been replaced by capitalist business owners holding low-wage-earners to their thankless jobs just as surely as slaves. Blacks become whites.

Page 94: There’s a Day Webb and a Night Webb. Day Webb works the mines. Night Webb lives his secret life as an anarchist... another bifurcation, a double refraction. Webb is an important character.

Page 96: This passage: “Four closely set blasts, cracks in the fabric of air and time, merciless, bone-strumming. Breathing seemed beside the point. Rising dirty-yellow clouds full of wood splinters, no wind to blow them anyplace. Track and trusswork went sagging into the dust-choked arroyo.” Isn’t that just fine? “Happy Fourth of July, Webb.”

Page 97-98: A new section that follows young Kit Traverse, Webb’s 17-year-old son who, rather than become a miner, chooses to be an electrician. The first passage is a glory of a list regarding the strange happenings on the “world-reversing” night of the Fourth of July eve of 1899. “...horses gone crazy for miles out into the prairie, electricity flooding up through the iron of their shoes, shoes that when they finally came off and got saved to use for cowboy-quirts, including important picnic tourneys from Fruita to Cheyenne Wells, why they would fly directly and stick on to the spike in the ground, or anything else nearby made of iron or steel...”

Kit was part of the strangeness, working in Colorado Springs for Dr. Tesla on an electrical experiment. Kit thinks of himself as a Vectorist, looking for work that had anything to do with electricity. “Could call me a circuit rider, I guess,” he says of his apprentice days. “It could have been a religion, for all he knew, here was the god of Current, bearing light ...” (Neddie suggests taking a look at Monstro’s comment in last week’s discussion for more on this idea.)

Page 99: Kit is compelled by and obsessed with electricity and its making. “Water falls, electricity flows – one flow becomes another, and then into light. So is altitude transformed, continuously, into light.” Religion, indeed.

An aside from Neddie about the inventor, physicist, mechanical and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla: According to legend, Tesla was born precisely at midnight during an electrical storm ... He had a photographic memory. Tesla was wonderfully weird. Read the Colorado Springs portion of his Wikipedia entry. The magnetic effects experienced on July 4, 1899 must have been the result of Tesla’s experiments with artificial lightning.

Page 100: Note the Twin Vibes. Will we be surprised to find references to “phasing?”

Leaping ahead after Kit’s decision to leave home for Yale, financed by Vibe, alienating his father, and his embarkation into the dark unknown, the story once again shifts, this time back (or forward? I’m floundering) to the Chums.

Page 107: Rousing from inactivity and disuse, the Chums get the “call” to “steer southwest and await course correction from a station unnamed, at a distance indeterminate, which would be calling in from the ship’s Tesla device ...” (a wireless radio?), which of course they answer, guided by westerly winds with “all but geometrical precision.” Hmm. Can winds do that? In this section, we seem to be in a flux of change once again, leaving the Pynchon version of “real” for the magical, the mystical, the ... fictional? Are the Chums aware of their nature as a plot device?

Page 108-109: They soar over a vast ocean (which may be the Indian Ocean) and chains of islands. Miles Blundell notes that these once had names, but “the names are being lost, this sea is lapsing back into anonymity, each island rising from it only another dark desert.” Things must have names to exist, it seems. And on some of these unnamed islands, the Chums observe work details, a reference perhaps to preparations for World War I ...?

And now, the Chums slip through the veil from reality into a sort of whimsical unreality as they reach the last island, where people just appear where there were none before as the Inconvenient touches down. These people are very strange, dressed formally in town suits and tea gowns, but none of them wear shoes. The Chums are the odd ones out, since they do wear shoes. In the center of the town, which also seems to appear out of nothing, is a huge underground construction, concrete pits in which are steam machines and draft animals. Asked what this activity is, the answer is as strange as the people themselves. “It’s home ... “What is home where you come from?”

The Chums move on, whether on this island (the last) or another is unclear, and find the volcano they’ve been looking for. They land and all the equipment the ship has been loaded with is taken out and set up – the idea being that this is the “Earth antipodal to Colorado Springs,” where they’ll measure the effects (or not-effects) of Dr. Tesla’s experiments with electricity ...

Page 110: The Chums have changed, particularly Darby, who seems to have reached the sneering phase of adolescence. Instead of the cheerful jovialness they greeted us with in the beginning of the book, they’re irritable and snarly, and as they wait for the measurement instruments to measure whatever it is they do, the Chums have their own, miniature wallow in anarchy. This is caused by a quarrel over what to replace their damaged figurehead with. Darby wants a curvaceous woman; St. Cosmo suggests the National Bird.

Boys will be boys. While they don’t come to blows, they do flip gobs of asparagus mousse and mashed turnips at each other during dinner, an image which I giggled over for a while.

Page 111: It’s almost the Fourth of July, and the Chums must have a shipboard celebration by standing orders, like it or not. “Explosion without an objective ... is politics in its purest form,” says Miles Blundell.

“If we don’t take care,” opined Scientific Officer Counterfly, “folks will begin to confuse us with the Anarcho-syndicalists.”

“About time,” snarled Darby. “I say let’s set off our barrage tonight in honor of the Haymarket bomb, bless it, a turning point in American history, and the only way working people will ever get a fair shake under that miserable economic system – through the wonders of chemistry!”

“Suckling!” the astounded Lindsay Noseworth struggling to maintain his composure. “But, that is blatant anti-Americanism!”

Page 112: As they shoot off their fireworks, Miles asks them to consider the “nature of a skyrocket’s ascent ... after the propellant charge burns out ...” (From Neddie: Absolutely blatant reference to Gravity’s Rainbow. Hah! “Stop! Stop! It sounds like Chinese!” “Think, bloviators, think!” Huge in-joke at the expense of the English Department.)

The experiment over, the Chums take to the sky again, curiously relieved of their aggravation with each other. They resolve the figurehead dispute amicably and apologize to one another, seeing their odd irritation with each other as a lesson learned.

Page 113: The Chums get new orders in the form of a pearl in a Japanese oyster nearly ingested accidentally by Lindsay Noseworth.

Page 114: Off they go, following orders to proceed by way of the Telluric Interior to the northern polar regions, where they were to intercept a schooner and convince the commander to abandon his expedition, “using any means short of force – which, though not prohibited outright to the Chums of Chance, did create a strong presumption of Bad Taste, which every Chum by ancient tradition was sworn, if not indeed at pains, to avoid.”

This just tickled me. It seems that Pynchon has switched his style again here while I wasn’t looking, and we’re back to a boy’s adventure novel in tone.

Page 115: The Hollow Earth. Now this is a concept. Interplanetary “short-cutting.” Time travel? But something’s wrong: “Navigation’s not as easy this time,” Randolph mused ... “Noseworth, you remember the old days. We knew for hours ahead of time.”

The Chums enter the portal into the Hollow Earth at the pole, with some difficulty; notice that their Tesla Device is ... singing... and figure out that there are people below who are asking for help. They descend, see a castle, people fighting... they have to help ...

Page 117: Pynchon speaks in his own voice: “my harmless little intraterristrial scherzo...” Ahah! Proof the Chums are fictional and don’t exist except in the author’s mind...

Page 118: The portal to the Hollow Earth is closing, perhaps an allusion to the dying out of Myth itself?

That's it for me, Chumps. Your Wren is one tuckered little bird. Have fun!


At Monday, January 15, 2007 11:27:00 AM, Blogger Akatabi said...

Nice work, Blue Wren. Pearls of Wisdom.

At Monday, January 15, 2007 12:57:00 PM, Blogger Madison Guy said...

Webb notices a hawk looking down on them as they work (like the Inconvenient, perhaps? Another up-down, down-up reflection ...). Or like the Inconvenience? Or like an eye in the sky on page 13?

Enjoyed your post -- and this blog -- though I'm so far behind the Chumps of Choice in their reading that I'm torn between "skipping ahead" by following current posts or just closing my eyes and creeping along at my own snail's pace between other things. Maybe I'll limit myself to older posts that match what I'm reading. Anyhow, great job -- keep it up!

At Monday, January 15, 2007 12:57:00 PM, Blogger Decency's Jigsaw said...

Wonderful summary, Wren, thank you!

The interesting thing about that exploding billiard ball (86:14-17) is: it's true. John Wesley Hyatt was intially looking for a cheap replacement for the ivory in billiard balls, since the ivory market was so unstable. The compound he developed, celluloid, was also unstable, and the balls were known to explode on impact. Not the best sound to make in frontier saloons, where everyone is armed and drinking...

Anyway, Hyatt was among the first people to find a "commercially viable way of producing celluloid." His company held the original trademark on the word.

Its flexibility made it a seemingly perfect choice for the film base for photosensitive emulsion in motion picture technology, leading to the burgeoning of that new medium. But if you run celluloid past the hot light bulb in a projector, you may have some trouble with the film melting and burning... And its volatility has also caused no end of trouble in the preservation of those early silent movies. The ones that haven't simply degraded utterly over time have tended to go up in flames.

At Monday, January 15, 2007 1:55:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Agreed, Akatabi. Thanks very much, Wren!

Rautavaara's attitude toward the Tsar seems slightly out of kilter. Finland became a Swedish protectorate sometime in the 12th century, and Swedish became the language of the nobility and the court, much as Norman French did in England post-1066. However, Swedish did not influence the Finnish language to nearly the same extent as did French in England. Bog-Finnish continued to be spoken by the peasantry. The rise of the Finnish language to respectability is a central cultural milestone in Finnish history, much like Gaelic in Ireland.

In 1806, Tsar Alexander I took Finland from the Swedes and made the Grand Duchy of Finland -- it was during this time that the Finnish language began its rise to respectability. By 1900, Finland had been a Russian Grand Duchy for 94 years -- yet Veikko speaks as if his homeland were undergoing some kind of fresh crackdown, where mail is newly censored and Finnish stamps are outlawed.

In fact, it's highly unlikely, given Finland's long, long history as a subjugated nation, that there were ever Finnish stamps -- or would be, until Independence in 1917. Any stamps issued in Finland before the Grand Duchy would have been Swedish...

Which brings us to that Minneskort. That is a Swedish word, not a Finnish one (the Finnish would be something like muistokortti -- but don't hold me to that; my Finnish is mighty, mighty rusty!). If Veikko is being nostalgic for a lost time, his nostalgia is for a time when Finland was occupied by the Big Guy to the West as opposed to the Big Guy from the East.

Not much of a choice, there...

The Minneskort itself as a literary device is well in keeping with our metafiction discussion last week. It's a picture of a piece of writing, an image of literature. Or to put it another way, there are degrees of fictiveness in this book of fiction. Everything in here is fictional, but some things are more fictional than others. The Minneskort is a lie, if you like, a mere image of the truth -- but suppose we were to take that picture-of-a-picture-postcard, lay it on a table, and take a picture of it? We'd be two degrees away from the truth rather than one.

On Rautavaara's name: I wrote to a couple of Finnish friends from my childhood -- brothers, in fact -- and got these thoughtful words back:

One brother replied:

There was a famous nutritionist, herbalist and popular author with the name of Toivo Rautavaara, who was a controversial figure with his
recommendations for healthier, organic, biological and ecological
foodstuffs already in the 1940's I think. He was a pain in the neck for the health authorities because much of what he recommended was not
scientifically proven to be good for you.

In addition to that, he flirted with the paranormal. Interviews I remember of him in fringe magazines used to put much blame for man's problems on the same health authorities that were trying to remedy the relatively poor
nutritional habits of the population in the decades before our present health conscious times. There was also a materialist-spiritualist dichotomy
brought to the fore in these Rautavaara stories, and you know which is good and so on.

His daughter Helinä Rautavaara was even wilder. She travelled the world as an amateur ethnologist from the 50's on and collected a wild menagerie of objects and experiences. They mostly had to do with animist religions, and very likely, sex, which was seldom mentioned though, when she told her
stories from her Rastafarian days in Jamaica, voodoo sessions in Haiti and her inauguration to the Candomble priesthood in Brazil.

Toivo Rautavaara died in the late 80's and Helinä about five years ago. Her collections were just put on display at the new Espoo art museum complex in Tapiola. You remember.

But the real celebrity, of course, was Tapio Rautavaara (1915-1979), the javelin gold medallist from the London Olympics of 1948, and a popular singer and actor. He had qualities that would have made him an international star had he been born in another time and place. And I am pretty sure Pynchon got the name from him. (Tapio Rautavaara died tragically in a swimming hall in Helsinki: he fell on the slippery floor and hit his head on the floor. A freak accident, resembling the fate of Odon von Horvath.)

But there is still one to consider: the famous composer Einojuhani
Rautavaara, born 1928. I understand he is well known at least among choir people all around the world.

So you have a choice for Rautavaara's inspiration: Rautavaara the pseudoscientific herbalist, Rautavaara the female Rastafarian, Rautavaara the athlete/film star or Rautavaara the modern classic composer.

And the small town of Rautavaara (pop. 2 400) is located in the eastern Savo province, in the forest. Obviously, there has been an iron ore extraction site (by the hill) possibly since the Iron Age or long before the industrial age anyway. Never been there and have no desire to go, unless a work related assignment compels.

The other brother writes:

The name Veikko Rautavaara sounds, well, rather powerful. My first impressions are somewhat athletic: of course Tapio Rautavaara (olympic winner in javelin in London -48, also a champion archer - and a very popular singer in 50s'&60's, a sort of Finnish Johnny Cash) comes to mind. On the other hand, Veikko was fairly popular men's name during those days - and the master skier of that bygone era was Veikko Hakulinen.

Rauta means "iron" and vaara means "hill" (of a sort you find in the north-eastern parts of Finland). Vaara also means "danger." So now we already have a quite charged hybrid of a name - and on the other hand, perfectly plausible, even common. A good choice for a bridge-blower, Pynchon!

At Monday, January 15, 2007 2:27:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Madison Guy: Stick around! We're only reading about 25-40 pages a week -- you can catch up!

Exploding pool balls: Thanks for that bit of info, DJ: I knew somewhere at the back of my head that this was historical, but couldn't remember where I'd acquired that bit of trivia... Wikipedia tells us of the Marvel Comics character 8-ball, whose weapons included "a pool cue and hovercraft in the shape of pool rack... His cue stick can amplify applied force by 1000."

His gang used exploding billiard balls as weapons.


At Monday, January 15, 2007 2:56:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

"Telluride" gives us some interesting reading at Wikipedia:

"The Eastern side of town, or the falls side, has Bridal Veil Falls and the intriguing Generator house that sits at the top of the falls. This house is owned by Eric Jacobson, who restored the house and the generator inside, which now provides much of Telluride with its electricity. The house was originally used to power the Smuggler-Union Mine and requires an aerial tramway for Jacobson and his family to get home." [Nice with a full load of groceries, eh?]


"Telluride was originally named "Columbia," but due to confusion with Columbia, California, the name was changed by the post office in 1887. The town was named after an element called Tellurium, which was never actually found in the mountains of Telluride.... An alternate theory for the naming of Telluride is that it is a contraction of 'to-hell-you-ride.'

"In June of 1889, Butch Cassidy and his gang robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride. This was his first major recorded crime. He walked away from the bank with $24,580."

At 114:33, Pynchon gives us the "Telluric Interior" of the Hollow Earth; "telluric" in this sense simply means "of the earth." Telluride and "telluric" share a cognate -- Lat. "tellus," earth.

Heh: "To-hell-you-ride..." And where is Hell located?

At Monday, January 15, 2007 3:01:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

ylhQuick comment before I step out for dinner: RE the exploding pool ball scene. Webb found it miraculous that he'd been "standing in a roomful of flying lead without being hit once." That's highly reminiscent of the central miracle of the movie Pulp Fiction.

At Monday, January 15, 2007 3:25:00 PM, Blogger René López Villamar said...

I'd like to point out a little bit of dialog, here, (on p. 104 : 26-28):

"The same began to happen to me also at your age," Tesla recalled. "When I could find the time for siting still, the images would come. But it's always finding the time, isn't it."
"Sure, always something... Chores, Something."[Kit said]
"Tithing," Tesla Said, "giving back to the day."

I wanted to bring this dialog to attention because to me, this is the reason the book is called Against the Day. I'll expand upon this notion later, but for the time being I would like to hear your impressions.

* * *

On the same quote, the characterization of Tesla reminds me of the Wise Wizard in pop-lit, like Gandalf in The Lord of The Rings, or Albus Dumbeldore in Harry Potter. Tesla seems a wise, highly intelligent albeit a bit crazy wizard, with a heart of gold and ready to fight Against the Day alone if needed be.

* * *

And now that I mention Lord of the Rings, are the inhabitants of p. 108-109 some sort of Hobbits?

* * *

The last scene of Light Over the Ranges, the whole Hollow Earth deal, is one of the things I really didn't expect in a Pynchon novel, but loved every second of it (the destination of this travels, which opens Iceland Spar, is also going to be breathtaking).

I agree with Blue wren on the significance of the shrining of the entrance to the Hollow Earth. The wonders of optimistic Science are dying. No more travels to the depths of the earth. Good bye, Jules Verne, good bye H. G. Wells. One could guess the Chumps will never enter there again. (But one might expect the inhabitants of Hollow Earth to 'resurface' later in the novel.)

The 19th century is closing, the whole end of Light Over the Ranges can be read as a metaphor to the end of innocence that comes with the 20th.

At Monday, January 15, 2007 4:00:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...

Thanks, Blue Wren for the excellent commentary. D.Jigsaw, thanks for the celluloid billiard ball tip-off; never would have guessed. Neddie, how did you become so versed in Finnish over the last 72 hours?

Anyhow a couple riffs:

I was struck by how the chapter that runs from p. 81-96, in which Webb and Veikko bomb the trestle bridge on the Fourth of July, seems to be a commentary on the 9-11 attacks. This impression was first (forgive me) triggered by the discussion at the top of p. 85 of Their use of "Innocent Victimes in whose name uniformed goons could then go out and hunt down the Monsters That Did the Deed," which caused me to look back at p. 81 and the allusion to "Propaganda of the Deed." In this context, Pynchon's opening description of the scene and its "early light on the peaks descending," the final word of which can be read ambiguously, applied either to light or to the peaks (i.e., towers), is quite haunting. As with the Day of the Deed, it is clear with barely a cloud in the sky. Cut to the description of the explosion itself with its "[f]our closely set blasts," one, perhaps, for each plane (85).

In addition to direct textual evidence, we also have the already over-quoted dust jacket's suggestion that this novel is, in fact, a parallel history of our own time. Understood in this context, July 4, 1901 (which I think we're to assume is the year, date on the postcard on p. 84) appears to be a sort of birth date of the new American century, a date whose ignominious analogy in our present century must certainly be 9-11. This also seems to fit with the explosion-as-birth (or Big Bang) theme that Tom is developing through the novel.

Now, all this chemical and historical stuff gets a hell of a lot more interesting when one looks at its moral implications. Veikko, we note, wants to take out a train along with the trestle, an act that would make the attack considerably more 9-11-ish, but Webb fortunately dissuades him. Nevertheless, we're still left with a chapter that casts a highly sympathetic character as analogous to Osama bin Laden. We see Rev. Gatlin on p. 87 echo the anarchist maxim "that there are no innocent bourgeoisie," a meme that would mutate and disseminate over the next century until it found its way into the al-Qaeda playbook. Gatlin is, of course, the very synthesis of radical politics and religion, and Webb is very much under his spell.

The logic here is downright disturbing. I find it chilling, really, and difficult to argue against. If one begins to elaborate the symbolic structure logically, given all the ranting about Original Sin that seems to accompany the good Reverend's appearances and the notion of the originary explosion that Pynchon keeps returning to, one begins to see a rather damning indictment of not only Them, the robber barons, et al., but Us, the Preterite.

As long as I'm at it:
The description of exploding pool balls is also a macro-scale mock-up of a fission reaction. It resembles very closely the uranium gun approach to A-bomb building used in "Little Boy," the device dropped on Hiroshima. Blowing Shit Up with Gas, I imagine you noticed how much Webb's shocked reaction to his own survival after being caught in the middle of this explosion resembles that of Mr. Jules Winnfield, a.k.a. Samuel L. Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction, which plays in nicely with Webb's religious awakening.

Blue Wren and Madison Guy, re: your hawkeye riffing: I think you're right to pick up on the up-down motif of the hawk (85), but look what Webb does with it: he draws an analogy, paralleling the hawk with a mine manager, which creates another symbolic spatial relationship, that of the lateral parallel, which I think TP is developing as a motif surrounding Webb.

While I'm at it, you'll notice that Webb's preferred method of detonation is with a fuse, the burning of which constitutes a massively parallel shemical reaction. Now contrast Veikko and his "oak magneto box and . . . big spool of wire." The magneto and spool are both cyclical or at least spiral structures which, like Webb, defy the more conventional linear relationship that typifies the hawk / mine manager. What the differences between spiralism and parallelism might be, I'm still thinking about.


At Monday, January 15, 2007 4:02:00 PM, Blogger Decency's Jigsaw said...

Patrick wrote: Webb found it miraculous that he'd been "standing in a roomful of flying lead without being hit once." That's highly reminiscent of the central miracle of the movie Pulp Fiction

...I thought of Pulp Fiction, too, but also of that moment early on in Star Wars (what the kids these days are calling "Episode IV") when Threepio and Artoo walk right thru the crossfire without being hit...

At Monday, January 15, 2007 4:04:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...

Seems, Blowing, you beat me to it.

At Monday, January 15, 2007 4:46:00 PM, Anonymous JD said...

No chemical or physical revelations here, just a couple of phrases I liked...Merle Rideout using the phrase "couple-three" being one. I've never heard that outside my home county, let alone in a work of fiction. Also liked Pynchon turning the Cathechism inside out in " For dynamite is both miner's curse, the outward and visible sign of his enslavement..." [87, 7-9]

The sense I get while reading this novel is of being either the hawk or the Invincible, rising and falling with the narrative gusts but always above and never of the action. Although I will say that I've developed quite a fondness for Merle and Webb.

At Monday, January 15, 2007 4:50:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Neddie, how did you become so versed in Finnish over the last 72 hours?

Heh... A bit longer than 72 hours, AA: I had the great good luck to be born to an American diplomat. Spent 1964-69 in Finland, 1971-73 in Sweden... I kind of have those language-rhythms in my blood.

The brothers I contacted for clues about Veikko's name lived in the apartment above ours in Tapiola, outside Helsinki. Fabulous fellows, both.

At Monday, January 15, 2007 5:06:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

a couple of phrases I liked...Merle Rideout using the phrase "couple-three" being one. I've never heard that outside my home county, let alone in a work of fiction.

The dude has got the finest command of spoken colloquial American English evahhh.

Have you noticed his way with contractions, like (opening up at random): 93:2-3, "You been keeping score like I asked, on who it is 't's doin it?"

Who it is 't's doing it -- that's exactly right! That's exactly the way we talk!

O-or (93:12-13): "Nothing vegetable or human that ain't of some use, 's all I'm sayin." Again: perfect!

His miraculously attuned ear for American-English-as-she-is-spoke is one of the major reasons I read the guy with the unalloyed, gut-level enjoyment I do.

At Monday, January 15, 2007 5:24:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

Reading the weekly synopses with learned annotation from the peanut gallery (with experts on Finnish and Celuloid as part of the mix) has made reading "Against The Day" a very rich experience. Thanks, everyone.

I've jumped into Marc Seifer's 1996 biography of Tesla, which is so truly bizarre that it makes much of "Against The Day" look like the soberest of historical fiction (and I'm including the "Chums of Chance" here).

The book mentions that on the eve of July 4, 1899, "one of the most stupendous electrical storms ever recorded in the region rocked Pikes Peak...a magnificent sight was afforded by the extroardinary display of lightning, no less than 10,000-12,000 discharges being witnessed inside of two hours. While tracking the storm with his sensitive receiving apparatus, Tesla noticed that even though the storm had passed out of sight, the instruments 'began to play periodically.' This was experimental verification of 'stationary waves,' periodic electronic vibrations impressed upon the earth itself. Also troughs and nodal points were detected. 'It is now certain that they can be produced with an oscillator,' Tesla wrote in his notebook, and then added in brackets, '[This is of immense importance.]...I have received messages from the clouds 100 miles away...We have just about finished all [the] details; my work is really to begin in earnest right now."

And then he started receiving electronic messages from aliens, I kid you not.

I also loved the exchange between Tesla and Kit that r.l. villamar quotes, and Kit's mystical revelation which precedes it as he sit next to a waterfall (page 99). "Water falls, electricity flows -- one flow becomes another, and thence into light. So is altitude transformed, continuously to light." And further on: "He saw it. The vectorial expressions in the books, surface integrals and potential functions and such, would henceforth figure as clumsier repetitions of the truth he now possessed in his personal interior, certain and unshakable."

At Monday, January 15, 2007 7:56:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

The time framed in this section is especially loosey-goosey. Whether the July 4th of Webb & Veikko's job is the same one where Tesla magnitized the horseshoes while the Chums waited on the other side of the earth is beyond my reckoning.

Not much help is a clue found at 109:30 with the head of President McKinley knocked off by a skyscraper. The future assassination victim, slain at the Buffalo Pan-American Exhibition in September, 1901, was not elected Prez until 1897, which puts the Chums back in Chicago at least four years after the fair of 1893; plenty of time, of course, for Darby to become an anarchist.

NB that the Chinese held the secret of gunpowder for a thousand years and used it for nothing more than the making of fireworks meant to scare away evil spirits. . .

I was very taken with the portrait of the Traverse family, and how they each abided in different ways the angry and rootless Webb.

A hollow earth with prehistoric animals was the major setting for Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar series of adventure novels, an especial fave of mine as a lad. Pellucid is, of course, the polar opposite of tenebrous (115:10), the word Pynchon employs to describe the vast interior world, and gives to a minor character, Tenebrae LeSpark, in M&D.

"Sufficient unto the day" Webb to Veikko, 96:18, another reflection of the title, is drawn from Matthew 6:34: Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

At Monday, January 15, 2007 8:07:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

sfmike: Yeah, that recalls serious old-school science: "Everything flows and nothing is left (unchanged)." That's Heraclitus. This book is packed with science history (I know... obvious statement of the day). The fact that it opens in the 19th century is no surprise:

"William Whewell coined the word ['scientist'] in 1833 at the request of the poet Coleridge. Before that scientists were termed 'natural philosophers' or 'men of science'." [link]

I've been listening to Professor Lawrence M. Principe's lecture series, "The History of Science, Antiquity to 1700" (available, most likely, on CD at your local library) nightly as I jog. The tie-ins to this book come one after another.

At Monday, January 15, 2007 8:22:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

The Minneskort is dated August 14, 1900, so it must postdate the July 4, 1899, "world-reversing night."

Perhaps Webb and Veikko are observing the two-year anniversary in 1901...?

At Monday, January 15, 2007 8:35:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

112:26-29: "...beliefs varied as to the nature of the strange link -- was the signal going around the planet, or through it, or was linear progression not at all the point, with everything happening simultaneously at every part of the circuit?"

I am way, way out of my depth here, but the first thing that went "ding!" in my head when I read that passage was the long buried memory of the profoundly silly (words carefully chosen) Robert Anton Wilson, who suggested that Bell's Theorem was a proof of the Buddhist principle of the Net of Indra -- basically, the Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things...

Here's Heinz Pagels on Bell's Theorem:

"Some recent popularizers of Bell's work when confronted with [Bell's inequality] have gone on to claim that telepathy is verified or the mystical notion that all parts of the universe are instantaneously interconnected is vindicated. Others assert that this implies communication faster than the speed of light. That is rubbish; the quantum theory and Bell's inequality imply nothing of this kind. Individuals who make such claims have substituted a wish-fulfilling fantasy for understanding. If we closely examine Bell's experiment we will see a bit of sleight of hand by the God that plays dice which rules out actual nonlocal influences. Just as we think we have captured a really weird beast--like acausal influences--it slips out of our grasp. The slippery property of quantum reality is again manifested."

At Monday, January 15, 2007 8:43:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Additional notes:

Sorry, folks, if any of this is repetitive. Between the main posts, the comments, the Wiki, and my own random scribblings, it's tough ti keep it all straight.

p. 82 Again, Webb with his sense of smell. "Glory, could he smell the nitro." [82:7], Toward the bottom of that graph, the skinner's dog stays back to bark at Webb. Curious... He's compared with a fox at 90:25, then again at 94:36.

p. 83:33 Neuraesthenic. Didn't get to look that one up yet, nor is it in the wiki.

Along the lines of axiomatic's observations, Veikko has a "abundant and unkempt beard" that suggested "insane fanaticism."

Also, the Wiki notes a section on p. 85 that I'm sure we all underlined: some explosions
"were really set off to begin with not by Anarchists but by the owners themselves." However, the Wiki asserts that this isn't some allusion to the theory that it wasn't necessarily the planes that brought down the twin towers. How the Wiki could so forcefully deny the mere possibility of such an illusion is beyond me. In fact, that's the first thing I thought when reading this passage.

[Not to dis the Wiki, but I think one needs to be careful about making outright statements as to what is and what isn't implied by the text. IMHO, of course.]

Rene: I've been holding off making any firm opinions about why the book is titled as such. We've seen a number of interesting things, as you and Will note. Another is on p. 87: "... it must be negotiated with the day." However, since Book 4 is entitled Against the Day, I'm hoping the meaning will become crystal clear -- or, at least Iceland Spar clear.

Gotta run... Will return later in the week for more! Thanks Blue!

At Monday, January 15, 2007 8:49:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...


RE Bell, I was just blogging about that last week, coincidentally. I'd cited his work, basically, as bringing my independent research into determinism to a grinding halt. [here]

At Monday, January 15, 2007 9:44:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Anyone besides me oggling the babe in the Minneskort??

At Monday, January 15, 2007 11:31:00 PM, Blogger adrian said...


the book is a card game!

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

Excellent, Wren.

Question for the whole group: I have not read a book other than for fun in ages. I am having fun with ATD and do enjoy the contributions of the Chumps but I have barely added two cents myself.

Question is, would my colleagues care to disclose techniques for keeping track of the interesting bits and how/when you Chumps take note of your observations, flights of fancy and other ATD-related flashes of brilliance?

Do you sit down at the end of the day and scribble in your journals? Put post-it notes at the exact spot in the book that inspired a brainstorm - while you're reading? Jot in the margins?

I'm looking for a way to get more involved - and perhaps overcome a life-long aversion to writing in books - by better keeping track of my thoughts as I read. I'm also about to start an (unrelated) college course and could use the brush up of my "reading" skills, being at this point 20+ years outside any classroom.

Any help or suggestions appreciated.

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Oh, my poor, aching head...

The "Tesla Device" carried by the Chums... It appears to be some kind of receiver, but I'm blowed if I can work out exactly what it's meant to receive.

The Tesla Coil is described at great (and quite baffling) length at Wikipedia, but without a degree in Electrical Engineering, I don't seem to be able to make much sense of just what exactly it's supposed to do.

"A Tesla coil is a category of disruptive discharge transformer coils...composed of coupled resonant electric circuits." Well, that's all very fine if you're Kit Webb and lap up that gobbledegook like mother's milk, but it leaves me simply scratching my head and feeling stupid.

Can anyone within the sound of my keyboard give me (and the rest of us) a simple, 50-word explanation of Tesla's Device?

Transmission of energy, I get that, right -- but all it seems to be used for nowadays is light-shows at rock concerts, SFX in Frankenstein movies and those woo-freaky lamps they sell at The Discovery Store...

The passage I cited earlier, at 112:26-29 ("...beliefs varied as to the nature of the strange link -- was the signal going around the planet, through it...etc.") gets quite a lot of light thrown on it by the Wikipedia paragraph about the "skin effect": "The dangers of high frequency electrical current are sometimes perceived as being less than at lower frequencies. This is often, but mistakenly, interpreted as being due to skin effect, a phenomenon that tends to inhibit alternating current from flowing inside conducting media."

Or, in other words, the question posed in the quoted passage in AtD is, Is the Hollow Earth acting as a giant Faraday Cage -- i.e., are the transmissions from Tesla's Experiment traveling to the Chums' monitoring station only on the surface of the Earth, or are they traveling through it, or, most mystically, are they not traveling at all, but "happening simultaneously at every part of the circuit?

And now you see why my poor brain hurts.

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 1:05:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

I'm looking for a way to get more involved - and perhaps overcome a life-long aversion to writing in books - by better keeping track of my thoughts as I read.

Will Divide and A Big Fat Slob may remember Professor Eugen Kullmann of the Religion Dept. at Kenyon College. Perhaps the wisest man I ever met, and a true religious ascetic.

He inculcated in me a deep detestation of the yellow hi-lighter pen. He pointed out, in his nearly indecipherable Old-World Heidelberg accent, that a tiny mark made in the margin of a book was just as immediately visible as an enormous sea of yellow sludge in the middle of a passage. And more importantly, if you're rummaging around in a text looking for things to splosh your yellow goo all over, you're not actually reading, are you...

The first time through for pleasure, the second (and even perhaps third) time with laptop handy for notes, that's my for-moolah. I've devised a fiendishly good one-handed typing technique -- that'll be enough out of you, young man! -- and a sort-of disregard for typos until the time comes for reviewing and finalizing my notes.

Blue Wren cackled at me when I admitted to her that I actually move my lips when reading Pynchon. It slows me down and forces me to comprehend every word.

I do this, of course, in private.

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 1:16:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

And now you see why my poor brain hurts.

The one in my head!

(Fifty hit-points and a stick of Black Jack Licorice Gum to the Chump that can ID that ref...)

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 1:37:00 PM, Anonymous JD said...

Neddie's got an excellent routine there. Me, I go to a coffee shop with wi-fi, jot notes on a legal pad as I read and then Google as necessary, as in "Propaganda of the Deed". I concur with the two to three times through method, as prescribed by my all-time favorite Shakespeare professor.

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 1:37:00 PM, Anonymous cleek said...

Neddie, i know nothing about the nitty-gritty of the electronics of Tesla coil receivers...

but here is a page where the author speculates about such things, including ball lightning, Tesla's power transmission, and... human ears generating sound - can't wait to see if that shows up in AtD!

to me, that page almost reads like a fringe physics primer for AtD itself. and, it looks like it written back in 99. so, who knows...

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 4:07:00 PM, Blogger Employee of the Month said...

Kevin has echoed my thoughts. Thanks for the tips. May actually contribute. wow.

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 8:07:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

I re-read each section, and use a pencil to underline, or set off, certain passages that hit me. I make very few notes in the margins.

This is the first time I've re-read a book while reading it for the first time, and it will come as no surprise that I'm much more attuned to the passage I've just re-read than wherever my forward progress has left me.

I'm now up to pg. 233, btw.

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 9:08:00 PM, Blogger Akatabi said...

From the PBS Tesla series pages:

"In the midst of Colorado's own incredible electrical displays, Tesla would sit taking measurements. He soon found the earth to be "literally alive with electrical vibrations." Tesla came to think that when lightning struck the ground it set up powerful waves that moved from one side of the earth to the other. If the earth was indeed a great conductor, Tesla hypothesized that he could transmit unlimited amounts of power to any place on earth with virtually no loss. But to test this theory, he would have to become the first man to create electrical effects on the scale of lightning."

In my understanding, a Tesla coil in Coloorado Springs is the transmitter and the Chums carry some variant of the electrometer as a detector. But if transmission is through a shell, or everywhere, why bother to travel to the antipodal point? According to Maxwell, that makes more sense for a magnetic field. And the whole experiment makes more sense with a non-hollow Earth.

I started to get the feeling, reading these pages, that Pynchon was shifting, with the introduction of a hollow Earth, from a mildly alternate reality to a radically alternate one. And it bothered me. Maybe it was so intended.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 9:32:00 PM, Blogger Ezra said...

Just tuning in--great show!

"Tithing," Tesla said, "giving back to the day," quoted Rene. "Sufficient unto the day," quoted Will. To that I'll add the Rev. Gatlin:

If you are not devoting every breath of every day waking and sleeping to destroying those who slaughter the innocent as easy as signing a check, then how innocent are you willing to call yourself? It must be negotiated with the day, from those absolute terms. (87)

Someone ought to be keeping track of these unusual formulations.

Also, side note: the Telluride Association ran a "scholarship residence for bright young men" at Cornell beginning in 1910, starting with promising electrical engineers (a la Kit Traverse) and ending up with the likes of po-mo guru Gayatri Spivak. (A journey of the mind I don't reckon has any comparison to a particular author.) The Telluride House, while obscure, is located just a few yards from the Quad on campus, and easy for the observant student to take note of.

Also: While I'm sure the subterranean episode goes way back, I could only think of the Mole Men.

Finally: Courtesy akatabi, But to test this theory, he would have to become the first man to create electrical effects on the scale of lightning. "One point twenty-one gigawatts!" To be precise.

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 9:41:00 PM, Anonymous mikeinseattle said...

Synchronistically to Neddie's mention of Robert Anton Wilson, Bob died just this past Thursday, a binary day as noted on his blog . There have been a number of rememberences, including a Paul Krassner post on Huffington Post.

Wilson's novel Shroedinger's Cat Trilogy has been uploaded here. Here is what he has one of his characters say about Bell's Theorem.

"Bell's Theorem basically deals with nonlocality. That is, it shows that no local explanation can account for the known facts of quantum mechanics. Um perhaps I should clarify that. A local explanation is one that assumes that things seemingly separate in space and time are really separate. Um? Yes. It assumes, that is to say, that space and time are independent of our primate nervous systems. Do I have your attention, class?

But Bell is even more revolutionary. He offers us two choices if we try to keep locality, and if there are any students in this class who are seriously interested in the subject this would be a good time to take a few notes. Um. First choice: we can abandon quantum mechanics itself. That of course means inescapably that we abandon atomic physics and about three-quarters of everything we tall science. Um. Now we really don't want to give up quantum mechanics so let's look at choice two. We give up objectivity. Well, that's not too great a sacrifice for those of us who have already given up sweets and male superiority and ha ha faith in the integrity of government or even cigarettes. We can give up objectivity...."

Blowing Shit Up, haven't read your blog yet, but I don't see how this invalidates determinism...

My own point of view, after some particularly awe inspiring acid and mushroom voyages, work with a Vedantic guru in Bombay, etc., is "All that is, is consciousness." Matter arises from consciousness. Everything is alive. Light is alive. Space is alive. There's more here than we can know.

It seems like I read somewhere that experiments are validating the idea that "information" is superluminal. A DNA sample was taken from a person and sent to the other side of the globe. When the person was stimulated in some way, the DNA sample also responded instantaneously. Or so they said. I'm way out on a limb here.

I must say, I'm really enjoying this sharing of ideas.

Mike in Seattle

At Tuesday, January 16, 2007 11:02:00 PM, Anonymous brooktrout said...

Excellent summary from blue wren and really stimulating comments. I wanted to pipe in on a few of them first from akatabi
"In my understanding, a Tesla coil in Coloorado Springs is the transmitter and the Chums carry some variant of the electrometer as a detector. But if transmission is through a shell, or everywhere, why bother to travel to the antipodal point? According to Maxwell, that makes more sense for a magnetic field. And the whole experiment makes more sense with a non-hollow Earth.

I started to get the feeling, reading these pages, that Pynchon was shifting, with the introduction of a hollow Earth, from a mildly alternate reality to a radically alternate one. And it bothered me. Maybe it was so intended."

On the hollow earth and other "underground" passages throughout his novels. I think Pynchon is being very metaphoric with this recurrent theme, and intends these passages to be multilayered and suggestive. they are crucial but intentionally non-literal and aggressively alternate.

As far as the antipodal testing, I can only add another question. Could this be a way of looking for or confirming a global electromagnetic effect, or perhaps the strength of the current at its potentially weakest point? Obviously Tesla was not anticipating a hollow earth.

as far as ax ap's probing of moral questions surrounding anarchy I have some thoughts. First the very idea of anarchy seems to rely on the idea that a society in which everybody's conscience has an equal say is better than one where the power to rule is concentrated in the hands of a few. Webb and Veikko have different takes on what is conscionable and they come to an agreement. The mine owners actively try to subvert their hirelings' conscience and abuse humans,communities, and the environment freely,with no apparent concern for moral code. The cultural context is one of extreme and omnipresent human violence and Given the choice between passive self preservation and service to the mine owners, or some degree of resistance I think Webb is relatively restrained.

Webb's conversation with Merle shows a deep thoughtfulness about these things, but also an unresolvable anger that looks dangerous. Nevertheless I think Pynchon is probing at the very paradigm of war and the good/evil delusion/question. One of the questions that also seems to emerge in ATD is whether anarchy is naively prescriptive or accurately descriptive.

Hey Mike can you give us a reference for that dna test.As a kid who grew up catholic but shares a lot of your ideas might say: help thou mine unbelief.

At Wednesday, January 17, 2007 6:05:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Yeah, I'll take two of whatever Mike is having. . .

At Wednesday, January 17, 2007 7:03:00 AM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Quick note to MikeInSeattle-

Just to clarify: I didn't state or imply that I think Bell invalidates determinism. Just mentioned that I'd been reading Bell when I finally decided to stop obsessing over the problem.

At Wednesday, January 17, 2007 8:45:00 AM, Blogger Ezra said...

Re: Finnish stamps. I don't know why, but there were indeed stamps in Finnish as late as 1885. The 1889 run was bilingual, while by 1891 they were all Russian. (1901 found a token '5 Pen.' in the Roman alphabet.)

There is probably some connection with the Russian policy of Russification , which culminated in Russian being made the official language in 1900 after a period of Finnish revival. It's certainly possible that a man like Veikko could be radicalized by philatelic "strife" (as the Wikipedia article terms it).

At Wednesday, January 17, 2007 8:56:00 PM, Anonymous mikeinseattle said...

I don't have a reference, this was several years ago and I couldn't tell you were I came across it. I just remember it stuck with me probably because of the possibilities that would open up if it were true. One of these days I'll dig it up from the Jack Sarfatti archive or run it by him.

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 3:12:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...


do you remember where you ran into "couple-three?" The phrase actually recurs several more times throughout the book and I'd been keeping track at the wiki site, but I missed Merle saying it.

Thanks in advance,

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 5:06:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Couple quick questions:

Any significance that the Lieutennants of Industry Scholarship Program produces the acronym LISP? Calls to mind the speech impediment or possibly the programming language...

What is to be made of Miles' gibberish? [111:10] Does "blibfloth zep" mean something -- an anagram, perhaps? Another example at 113:12: "glooymbroognitz thidfusp".

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 5:16:00 PM, Anonymous foolishmortal said...

Way out of my depth mathematically, but, given the later emphasis on them, it seems as if the Earth is being described on 115-116 as a kind of Riemann sphere, with the poles as two different points at infinity.

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 7:58:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

What is to be made of Miles' gibberish? [111:10] Does "blibfloth zep" mean something -- an anagram, perhaps? Another example at 113:12: "glooymbroognitz thidfusp".

"blibfloth zep" entered at the Internet Anagram Server gives:


So, I think, it's safe to say, No anagrams intended here.

When I read it, I thought the breakdown of Miles' coherence into complete nonsense was part of the Chums' general irrascibility, but now I think something rather more deliberate is going on: In the example on p. 111, Miles' gibberish is presented as one of two choices he could make in reply to a rebuke from "Thermodynamics Officer" Counterfly -- one reply that makes sense and one that doesn't.

In the second example, on p. 113, again it's a chiding comment from Counterfly that produces the gibberish, this time on the development of protocols to avoid "contamination by the secular." His nonsensical outburst is followed immediately by a rather portentous bit of foreshadowing about grasping "unreflectively at a chance to transcend 'the secular.'...

No, that gibberish means something, but not literally, or denotatively. I think the key to understanding it lies in when it happens, not what the syllables actually mean -- or, I suppose, don't mean, if you follow.

I think the key is in the fact that it's "Thermodynamics Officer" Counterfly that's the trigger for both outbursts. Further than that I'm not qualified to speculate, but perhaps some of our Science Boffins might help out? Is there some thermodynamic principle wherein the changing of some variable affects whether the outcome of an experiment is coherent or incomprehensible? I'm also flashing on Claude Shannon and Information Theory:

"The central paradigm of classic information theory is the engineering problem of the transmission of information over a noisy channel. The most fundamental results of this theory are Shannon's source coding theorem, which establishes that, on average, the number of bits needed to represent the result of an uncertain event is given by its entropy..."

...but the problem with this mode of thought is it mainly consists of me talking out my fundamental aperture.

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 8:54:00 PM, Blogger The Ghastly Fop said...

I'm guessing that the explanation of Miles's gibberish outburts is not to be found in information theory. Guessing, I say again. Two other ideas occur to me:

1. In some unsuspected way, Giles is the Tesla Device. Woo woo!

2. Giles is just your ordinary adolescent boy of above-average intelligence, and thus given to outbursts of gibberish.

But I haven't read ahead enough to be sure there isn't an explanation coming up from Our Author.

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 10:26:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Mama Mia, man o man, maybe Miles is a medium, a man with a message, hummmmin' out the frequencies, a human radio, wait'n to be turned on and tuned into.

Yeaaa, pickin up sumthing good!

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 11:07:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

The figurehead debate(109-110) I found particularly hopeful. I would contend it's a debate about identity through identification, and may hint at the unifying loyalties that bind the diverse aspects of the author's interests, ( or more broadly, of human interests.) the various contender's are a) curvy naked babe: romantic/erotic fulfillment , the earth/ life as object of desire, erotic prize for Darby's dummy. b) "the National Bird": the suggested by R St. Cosmo as "safe " and" patriotic". Ah yes the national interest symbolized in the aerial king of predators, the earth as supplier of food, satisfier of hunting instinct, The eagle as symbol of evolutionary superiority, and the ultimate expression of team spirit. the religion of power c) one of the Platonic polyhedra": Lindsay's contender, idealism, "pure abstraction", scientific truth. Miles doesn't car about what it represents but suggests d) something edible.

we are told that the fight is rancorous but compromise is reached around d) a draped maternal figure: Mother earth, earth as lover, sister, and mother, birthplace, grave, friend, that which takes care of us and to which we are assigned as caretakers, ground of being, from which all balloons must ascend and to which all must return.

The reconciliation around this choice is clearly important but seems to portend both transcendence and betrayal.(p. 113)

Maybe someone has other thoughts on these alternatives?

At Friday, January 19, 2007 4:19:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Re: the figurehead:

The McKinley figure, of he who restored the gold standard and launched the imperial war against Spain, gets its head knocked off (the real McKin. was gut shot and took a week to die of peritonitis.) by a skyscraper which "jes grew".

The American adventure has kinda lost its head, through a mix of violence and its own success. What, then, replaces it? Eros, the curvey babe, or Thanatos, the eagle? Love or Power? They compromise. (With the devouring mother?)

NB, before we started putting presidents on U.S. coins, they were the venue for images of babes (liberty) and eagles (puissance) as well as Indians (both).

At Friday, January 19, 2007 6:17:00 AM, Anonymous cleek said...

Is there some thermodynamic principle wherein the changing of some variable affects whether the outcome of an experiment is coherent or incomprehensible?

certainly: chaos theory.

typical example is in fluid dynamics, where even slight perturbations in the flow turns the whole thing into an unpredictable, turbulent, chaotic, mess.

also, fractals, where small changes in the initial inputs can, upon repeated iterations of the calculation, create wildly different outputs.

At Friday, January 19, 2007 8:47:00 AM, Blogger Employee of the Month said...

Miles' gibberish:


or evidence of,

Divine Language?

At Friday, January 19, 2007 1:33:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...


Miles, when he's at his most gobbledy, always reminds me of the Swedish chef.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Miles may be translatable, too, being that Pugnax's Scooby intonations do seem to match, syllable for syllable, the English translations thereof.

On a slightly more sophisticated level, I think brooktrout's onto something, that Miles's utterances might represent many voices different voices. The relevance of his being Chief Thermodynamics Officer comes in, I think, because thermodynamic systems (unlike physical systems whose behavior can be described using liear mathematics) are fundamentally irreducible, that is, to wholly describe how one functions requires recreating the system itself. This sort of defeats the purpose of a description in the first place. The solution to this is to use many different descriptions of the system. Miles many voices seem to recreate this approach. It also seems interesting to note that his different voices typical of persons at different ages and that Miles seems to have a knack for prophecy.

One last thought: Miles Davis was famously difficult to understand when he spoke (a problem then exaserpated by throat surgery), and his musical phrasing was famously succinct and fragmentary, much like Miles Blundell's voice.

At Saturday, January 20, 2007 3:10:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

Getting in late...

First shout outs:

Nice job Blue Wren. An admirable synopsis of crazy material.

Decency's Jigsaw: Your comment about exploding poolballs turn motion picture material turn lost films from the silent era scares me. That's just the kind of metaphor that Pynchon would base a novel off of.

Axiomatic Apricot: I too am reading this book as a vast commentary on post 9/11 America. I especially like the way that the Chums show up to foreign lands and begin criticizing their lack of shoes (shoes=democracy). But I'm holding out till I can get more jigsaw pieces in places. I will say this though, if this is a book about 9/11, it isn't exactly pro-terrorist, but seems more to be a commentary on how all these kinds of things are motivated as much by religion (aether worship) as they are by economics...if that makes any sense at all.

Neddie: The problem with Pynchon's interconnectivity (at least as far as the reader is concerned) is that it involves more than just electrons, or galaxies, but the Dalton gang, their cartoon counterparts, Dante, boy's adventure novels, and everything else. It's all connected. Anything is just as likely a symbol for anything else. Mike in Seatle, Ditto.

Kevin Wolf: Just read. Hell, getting the plot line of a Pynchon novel is as imprortant as figuring out where Tesla was in 1899. I mean, the latter adds to your appreciation of Pynchon's genius. But at the end of the day, if you get all that and don't get what's happening in the book... And believe me that happens all the time. I'm seriously of the opinion that 90% of the scholarly articles about Gravity's Rainbow were written by people who didn't read the last 100 pages of the book. So, I guess my recommendation is, if you can't read next to an internet connection, concentrate on the big stuff--the crazy places where your brain went, 'huh?'

At Saturday, January 20, 2007 3:38:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

And now the comment:

Continuing with my previous line of thinking, once the Michelson-Morley experiment happened, a way of thinking is "locked" into place. I'll leave you all to talk about what that means exactly. For me, it's important just that people no longer believe in aether--an undetectable material through which information (light) is transmuted. Obvious analogies to Tesla who is looking at the Earth as a material through which information is transmuted, but even less obvious is fiction itself, another such material (and just as solid, damn that's a heavy book).

We're shifting away from this philosophy. Information ceases to be transmuted, information just IS. If anything, you are transmuted to it. What does such a shift mean.

Well, first of all, the chums become unreal. I've said this before. They must become fiction because they can't be floating around on the aether wind--there is no aether, and the Earth isn't hollow, etc..

Tesla has to become a Wiki entry. Either that or...what did you say Patrick...somthing about laser light shows at concerts. In any case, his dream of free energy (read that one into the Iraq thing) is dead.

Vibe no longer has to undermine Tesla, and since that was his one and only Dr. Evil moment, what is he now? He certainly isn't the supervillain that he began the book

No, the world of ATD is become more real, but here's the kicker. As it becomes more "real," we are introduced to all manner of unreal occurances. Now, mind you, all of you have done a fine job of pointing out that what I'm calling unreal, really did happen. Fine. It's still crazy. And it will continue to be crazy, probably gettingeven crazier.

Meanwhile, back in the other world. Tesla's still doing his thing as if nothing's happenned, and the Chums...well, they've become jaded. Anybody ever read a boy's adventure novel about jaded heroes?

As unreal as the Chums are now, they've ceased to act like fictional characters. They're starting to question their purpose and become insubordinate. In other words, they're acting more real than the characters that are inhabiting the more historically real sections of the book.

What does this mean? I suspect that it has something to do with the endurance of some of those concepts that we've likely written off. As all of this is being made equivalent, it just seems the natural progression that we might take a step back and rethink our position on what we're calling real and what we're calling fake.

At Saturday, January 20, 2007 11:20:00 AM, Blogger sfmike said...

In the "Additional Discussion" section below, Neddie wrote about how much Vibe & Walker were reminding him of the TV show "Deadwood": "I can not read this section of the book without seeing Scarsdale Vibe as George Hearst, Foley Walker as Hearst's Pinkerton sidekick (who gets the tar whaled out of him by Dan in that memorable street fight), Rev. Moss Gatlin as that preacher from Season One..."

And Mostro writes: "Vibe no longer has to undermine Tesla, and since that was his one and only Dr. Evil moment, what is he now? He certainly isn't the supervillain that he began the book."

I think of Scarsdale Vibe as an almost completely comic character, as opposed to Hearst and his Pinkerton in "Deadwood" who really were scary incarnations of greed and evil. Even in our introducion to him, Vibe was shooting an old woman in the leg with his buckshot-in-a-cane contraption in a fancy hotel lobby when she confronted him with his nefariousness, which struck me as more funny than sinister.

Similarly, the scene on pages 100-102 about the Substitution in the Civil War is just plain funny. We start with the mystical idea of of "You know what the Indians out west believe? That if you save the life of another, he becomes your responsibility forever." And instead of the spiritual advice we expect Foley to offer Vibe when he asks, "...those voices you hear. Well, what are they saying to you, Mr. Walker?", instead we get, "You mean lately? A lot of talk about some kerosene company out in Cleveland...'The Standard Oil?'...Voices say now'd be a good time to buy in?"

There's plenty of outright evil in "Against The Day," but it's interesting that the so-called villain is a figure out of farce.

At Saturday, January 20, 2007 1:55:00 PM, Blogger The Ghastly Fop said...

Excellent transmutation of information, Monstro! And here's a clue about how the Chums are acting: They are acting like us, because we are them, floating above the timeline in our spacey airship Against the Day (its real name, inconvenient though it may be).

And first we were a jolly and carefree crew of innocents, confident that we knew just what we were about, but now we've lost our comfortable Æther and we find ourselves asking, in the very words of our Author, "then what's all this other shit?"

At Saturday, January 20, 2007 2:45:00 PM, Blogger Monstro said...

Like what you guys are saying, but then we keep talking about the way science has changed. How about how fiction changes in the twentieth century? That's up for discussion too right? I mean, SFMike, you say that the villain of this book isn't much of a villain, and I would argue that Literature (capital L) in the 20th century doesn't have villains. Ghastly Fop, you say that we are a character in the novel. Yep, that's pretty much a 20th century thing too.

I think these systems: fiction, history, physics, are being made compatible (and that includes some of their wrong turns as well).

At Saturday, January 20, 2007 4:51:00 PM, Blogger The Ghastly Fop said...

Hm. I wonder when it was that the reader began to be visible as a participant in the novel....

(Not that I've carefully checked out my notion that we're the Chums. It might be bullshit, and hey, I haven't read past p. 130 or so. But whether or not we're the Chums, we're still the Chumps and we don't have to defend our theses before a committee, thank god.)

Now Monstro, as to your remark that the systems of fiction, history, and physics are being "made compatible," I find that rather arresting. I touched a while back on the connections between turn-of-the-century physics and our ideas of history, but I'm not strong enough in Lit history to tie in the system of fiction. More, please.

At Saturday, January 20, 2007 9:12:00 PM, Anonymous foolishmortal said...

Speaking of possibilities being locked into actuality and experiments with light, doesn't it seem odd that the double-slit experiment is never mentioned? I think this may be some kind of Pynchonian emphasis by absence, e.g. the holocaust in G.R. This seems like it could be a central metaphor of AtD: the Chicago Stockyards, the Michelson-Morley experiment, the Austrian rail switches, all are examples of possibility resolving to actuality, by a mysterious means.

At Saturday, January 20, 2007 10:47:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Some spicy thoughts from monstro. I think the issue of the resistance to the loss of the aether(old paradigm) is a theme which P. explores with energy and transparency in his essay, Is it O.K. to be a Luddite? Well worth reading in relation to ATD, and all his novels. I love his riff on the Badass.

It is far too soon to dismiss Vibe as farce. We are seeing a direction from innocence to its loss. And vibe may make a darkly comic entrance but this is just an introduction. The incident with the old women he shoots with his cane reminded me of the Dylan song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol" because of the use of a cane, but points to more merciless planning for effortless violence.

Tesla believed he could provide free energy but his projects were sabotaged by JP Morgan(known to Vibe) .His papers were seized at his death by the US Gov. and never released. Whether his dream was possible or not we may never know, but we can see that this was a turning point where the possibilities of the egalitarian implications of Tesla's dream was about to meet a very dark fate, and there is nothing that funny abut Standard Oil. By the way, Tesla did not believe in an aether so was not disappointed by Michelson Morly.

At Sunday, January 21, 2007 4:16:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Hm. I wonder when it was that the reader began to be visible as a participant in the novel....

Historically? Don Quixote.

At Sunday, January 21, 2007 1:07:00 PM, Blogger EmployeeoftheMonth said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Sunday, January 21, 2007 1:23:00 PM, Blogger EmployeeoftheMonth said...

Try this again...

Money quote on page one:

The Tesla High Frequency Coil and Its Construction and Uses

Followed up by Tesla's Own Account:

The Transmission of Electric Energy Without Wires

Yow! Hive-mind!

Not giving anything away, but just wait till page 300ish.

At Sunday, January 21, 2007 2:15:00 PM, Blogger Monstro said...

Fop, I am preparing my answer so as to make it as succint, and not diverting, as possible. Keep in mind, I teach 20th century American literature at a college level. I can bore people with this for days--which is not what I want to do, so...

I'll get back in there with it soon.

At Sunday, January 21, 2007 4:27:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...


Tangent Warning:

Will's spot on by citing DQ as the first example of a self-conscious novel (also, frequently and non-trivially, cited as the first novel). People who assume that literary self-consciousness is necessarily associated with modernism or postmodernism are missing a lot. The critic Robert Alter wrote a fine work detailing this tradition titled Partial Magic, in case you're interested in pursuing it further.

Finally, there are earlier examples of self-consciousness in other traditions, such as The Arabian Nights, though Scherezade & co. didn't begin to influence the English language tradition in a meaningful way till the mid-19th century.

At Sunday, January 21, 2007 5:04:00 PM, Blogger The Ghastly Fop said...

FoolishMortal, which double slit experiment are you thinking of? Young's double-slit experiment with light was in the early 1800s, and "proved," finally, that light was a wave. The double-slit experiment with electrons wasn't done until 1961, by Jönsson.

Einstein first described the photon in 1905. I'm not sure when physicists began coming to grips with the wave/particle duality, but I think it was after the period of AtD. Certainly, public awareness of it was.

At Sunday, January 21, 2007 5:45:00 PM, Blogger Monstro said...

Let's try it this way...

Until the 20th century, there was some idea of natural orders and intrinsic characteristics--that's the whole point of romanticism.

That's big. You could say that in literature previous to the 20th century there was some notion of the divine, but that's not quite right. It's more like, there are ways that things should be and that isn't because of custom but because of intrinsic value. Nature is recuperative. To some people? No, to all people. If not then there's something wrong with the person.

Take manifest destiny. We should own the West because we have guns and if God didn't want us to own the west he would have given the Natives guns as well.

At the point of the 20th century, things started to change a bit. These collosal notions started first to be examined from the personal level, and later became functions of a point of view. Personal subjectivity becomes all important: that's modernism (as an artistic movement in literature). Romanticism doesn't exactly just die out. It takes a big hit in WWI when people wonder what in the world is worth thousands and thousands of lives dieing under such horrible circumstances. What is this intrinsic English-ness that justifies sucking in Mustard gas in a water soaked trench? (I'm getting that from Mrs. Dalloway)

It's real death knell comes with the Nazis who pretty much took all those romantic notions about Germany and culled together their idea of a master race.

In regards to ATD, a scientific view of a stable recongnizably mechanical universe are fading away. The idea of a "big system" is dying off. Well, so too in literature. So too for the Chums who are no longer embodiments of the American adventure spirit, or more importantly, are each able to manifest their own version of said spirit in ways that are often unrecognizable to one another.

If this is long winded and dull, I'm shutting up now.

One last thing, axiomatic.apricot's right. It isn't that there weren't personal narratives before modernism. It's just that those narratives were about systems that had intrinsic value.

At Wednesday, January 24, 2007 10:24:00 PM, Blogger The Ghastly Fop said...

Thanks, Monstro. It helps me to get the ideas to jell in my mind. As I said earlier, the Grid seems to be petering out west of Chicago; that's like your comment on the end of "big systems." Scientifically, Einstein may have been the last of the great Romantics – he wanted to find the Unified Field Theory, the ultimate big system, but he never could; meanwhile his friend Gödel proved that logic itself cannot be complete.

Actually as I write this I realize that's rather contingent. Physicists are still looking for big systems, from the "eightfold path" of quantum mechanics, to string theory. Romance continues, but under a cloud.

All of which has little to do with Against the Day. To close the loop, I do think the Chums come to stand for the Reader, but that's not particularly Modern.

At Saturday, January 05, 2008 12:37:00 PM, Anonymous said...

a-a-and while we're tracking 9-11 analogies...did anyone else get a big RUMSFELD hit offa the "draped maternal figure" compromise?

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