The Chumps of Choice

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

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Light and Pain

This week's reading covers three chapters centering around Webb, Frank, and Reef Traverse. Below is as brief a summary as I could muster, followed by some questions for the group. I have deliberately left many events unremarked upon, with the expectation that others will fill things in. So let's get right to it, then, shall we?

189-198 / Light over the ranges



We leave Kit and Lew and return once again to Webb. It is around 1902. All his boys have left home, and only the youngest, his daughter Lake, remains. She is "nearly twenty" (192:4), and as restless as the boys had been. She and Webb have stormy conflicts as she shakes loose of the family more and more. She disappears, returning home with money she will not say how she procured it. She claims to have made it betting on boxing matches, which Webb finds implausible for several reasons.

(I will spare y'all my perhaps excessive research on this topic, other than to say that all the boxers mentioned were real, and Webb's opinions are borne out by history. Both Malloys were repeatedly defeated by the scrappy, indomitable Flynn; Andy in fact went on to become Jack Dempsey's manager, who was also defeated by Flynn for the title of heavy-weight champion...)

Webb calls Lake a "child of the storm," and says, "let the god-damned storm shelter you" (190:12, 18-19). He reflects how she is like a "blue norther," a freak storm notable for its extreme and sudden temperature shifts. He fears her as he would a massive and unpredictable storm.

Lake leaves for the last time, and returns to Silverton "like coming home to her real family" (191:7-8). She misses her brother Kit the most, "for they were the two youngest, and shared a kind of willfulness, a yearning for the undreamt-of destiny, or perhaps no more than a stubborn aversion to settling for the everyday life of others" (191:25-28). And she fantasizes about waiting at an overpass and dropping a stick of dynamite on Webb as he passes by below (191:30).

With all his children now gone, Webb joins the Local 63. They find him a bit too zealous, and transfer him from Hellkite out to the Torpedo Workings in the Uncompahgre, where he meets Deuce Kindred. Deuce is described as a "Sickly Youth," who is "more afraid of the fate all too obviously in store for weaklings in this country than of the physical exertion it would take to toughen up and avoid it." He is described, not insignificantly, in terms of light: he absorbs cruelty, and re-emits it at different frequencies (193:7-14).

Deuce and Webb get to talking, and they watch a "sepulchral figure in a three-dollar sack suit" (193:20-1) walk past, whom Deuce believes is a Company spy. Webb is, or seems, unconcerned. He tells Deuce not to worry about the Company Inspectors. Deuce is a charmer, and Webb falls for it. A "couple-three" nights later, he gives Deuce some gambling advice, and invites him to call him Webb.

Then Deuce meets with a shadowy company rep (perhaps the selfsame "sepulchral figure"?) who contracts him to do some "persuading" or perhaps to "take it further" (194:15-40). Turns out, Deuce has a sidekick named Sloat Fresno, twice Deuce's size. In the increasing theme of pairings and dualities, Sloat believes that Deuce is his sidekick. Perhaps he is, in some alternate version of the story.

They've helped out the Owners Association before on jobs needing their talents. They are craven opportunists, mercenaries. They take Webb while he's being confronted by the company inspector about pocketing nuggets. "The first blow came out of the dark, filling Webb's attention with light and pain" (197:3).

Deuce and Sloat ride Webb out into the country. Webb feels damned foolish, through the pain, for having so woefully misread Deuce. In their division of labor, it has fallen to Sloat to inflict physical damage. Using a railroad coupling pin, he smashes Webb's feet and hands. It's just a job, and he takes care not to look Webb in the face. Webb finds himself crying out his sons' names, surprised at the note of reproach in his voice as he does so (197:40).

At 198:1-2, we encounter the sentence that gave Part 1 its name. Webb, severely beaten and now partially blind, watches the light over the ranges drain away. It is unclear, of course, whether the light is draining away because it is nightfall, or because his sight is failing.

They are headed for a place called Jeshimon, "over in Utah" (198:7, 11), where they intend to leave Webb for dead. They pass through Cortez, Colorado, and by chance encounter one Jimmy Drop, a former member of their gang. Deuce and Sloat hightail it out of there, but not before exchanging some "well-meaning rounds" with Jimmy, who tries, rashly and unsuccessfully, to procure a revolver from under one of the fandango girls' skirts. She pulls instead a .22 from her cleavage for him to borrow.

199-208 / Against the daylight



Frank is in mine school. One day, Reef, "out of the usual nowhere" (199:26), invites Frank to come with him to Castle Rock, ostensibly for some entertainment. They are on their way, it turns out, to see a woman of Reef's acquaintence. I like their nicknames for each other, Reefer and Francisco ("Kit" is itself short for Christopher; we can wonder if Lake too also has a nickname among them).

They arrive in Nochecita, where they meet Estrella Briggs. She is known as Stray, which makes sense when you recall the double L is pronounced as a Y in most dialects of Spanish. She turns out to be "real pregnant" (201:8), and it would seem Reef is the responsible party. We meet some of Stray's friends and other regulars: Sage, a Mormon; Cooper, a sensitive motorcycle-riding guitarist and a suitor to Sage; Linnet Dawes, a schoolteacher. Frank slowly comes to the realization that Reef is not perhaps all that welcome here, that Stray's friends are protecting her from Reef, whom they see as unstable, unreliable.

In a beautifully written passage (205-6), Frank and Stray have an oblique conversation, the bulk of which seems to go over Frank's head. What strikes him most, however, is that he finds himself attracted to Stray, deeply, and suddenly, as she sits veiled in her own penumbra, against the daylight (205:14-15). The baby kicks, she turns on the electric light, they look at one another for a long instant, and he knows that his memory of her face will long be a vision to get him through "many a hard mile" (206:10).

One day soon afterwards, a phone rings while Reef happens to be sitting right next to it. He answers. It's Jimmy Drop. "I'm sorry Reef. It's your Pa" (207:3). Jimmy knows where they're headed, too: a place called Jeshimon. Reef wants Frank to go back to look after Mayva and Lake. Frank insists on going with him. They are resolute but indecisive. At last, they get moving, travelling together as far as "Mortalidad, the nearest stop to Jeshimon" (208:30).

209-218 / The ends of the earth



Turns out, Reef is going alone to Jeshimon, which is "well up into Utah" (209:15). He wonders as he approaches the city, "what is wrong with these people?" (209:30). We readers can wonder the same thing. Corpses are strung up on gibbets for miles in every direction. Telegraph poles till they were used up, then "rude structures ... known in Persia as 'Towers of Silence'" (209:40).

Reef meets the fabulously named Reverend Lube Carnal of the Second Lutheran (Missouri Synod) Church, who speaks cheerfully of the strict polarity of the region: "We attract evildoers from hundreds of miles around -- not to mention clergy too o' course" (210:12-13). He speaks of the Mayor of Jeshimon, known as "The Governor." If, after committing your own personal flavor of sin, the Governor takes notice of you, expect no sanctuary in any of the churches. It is a town in every way surrounded and steeped in death -- and piousness. It is a nightmare city of lawlessness, "the place they brought the ones they didn't want found too soon" (210:28). Reef learns, however, "that, for a price, certain accommodations could be made" (210:29-30).

The Reverend takes Reef on a tour of the city, which is a living catalog of outrages, insults, and deviations so extreme and excessive as to be downright comical. Rev Carnal explains that this is because just as in medicine it is believed that the cure grows alongside the cause, here in Jeshimon, sin and redemption flourish side by side (211:28-30).

He says, "We like to think of Jeshimon as being under God's wing." "But wait a minute," Reef protests, "God doesn't have wings--" The Rev replies, "The god you're thinking of, maybe not. But out here, the one who looks after us, is it's a kind of winged god, you see" (211:34-38). Wes Grimsford, the Marshal, and his deputies ride by, expressionless, on black Arabians. They wear the standard sheriff's star, but upside down (212:3).

And then, on page 212, we encounter a long description of the Governor. Remind you of anyone?



Now, Webb wasn't quite dead when Deuce and Sloat brought him into town, and so the buzzards have not yet begun their work when Reef arrives. He buys (or perhaps rents) a set of grappling hooks to ascend Webb's tower. He manages to get Webb down just in time, and flees as the Marshal approaches.

As he rides back toward Telluride, he reflects on the possibility of Webb having been an Anarchist, the Kieselguhr Kid, and if that really were so, then shouldn't someone "carry on the family business...?" He feels "some new presence inside him, growing, inflating" (214:18). At night, around the campfire, he takes to reading to Webb from a dime novel he's had with him for a long time, The Chums of Chance at the Ends of the Earth. He's had the book for years, ever since finding it in the lockup in Socorro, New Mexico. As he read, he "enjoyed a sort of dual existence, both in Socorro, and at the Pole" (215:12). Not only that, but he could read in the dark as long as he didn't notice the absence of light.

And now, riding with Webb, he begins to feel some presence overhead, "as if those boys might be agents of a kind of extrahuman justice, who could shepherd Webb through whatever waited for him, even pass on to Reef wise advice..." (215:16-18). And as they ride for home, he and Webb exchange some words. Webb doesn't know where he is. Reef says they're outside of Cortez, but Webb retorts, "No. That's not where this is. Everthin is unhitched. Nothin stays the same. Somethin has happened to my eyes"... (215:24-30).

They have a small funeral, missing only Kit, who's Back East. Lake is wearing a black dress that seems more suited to quickening pulses than mourning the dead. Reef returns to Nochecita, where Stray has given birth to a son, Jesse. Reef contemplates the dangers of living the double life Webb had lived. "And Webb's ghost, meantime, Webb's busy ghost, went bustling to and fro doing what he could to keep things hopping" (218:31-2).

Questions & Curiosities

Some things to think upon and ponder. I've got a lot more to say about these chapters and all that I list below, but I will refrain for the nonce. I throw these out there now, and then I will, ahem, bustle to and fro in the comments to keep things hopping...

• There are some delightful names (Lube Carnal; Sloat Fresno). And some ominous or even dreadful names (Nochecita; Mortalidad; Jeshimon). This is one aspect of Pynchon that I've come to see as peculiarly Dickensian. Pynchon's names are often whimsical, but never entirely without significance. What do they mean, and what do they mean to you?

• Anyone want to comment on the significance of Lube Carnal belonging specifically to the Missouri Synod? Oh, and does anyone else remember that old Emo Phillips thing of him talking to the guy who's about to jump off a bridge? If I can find my old E=MO2 cassette (and a device that can actually play cassettes!) maybe I'll transcribe choice bits...

• Cooper is riding a motorcycle, which is not in fact an anachronism. His guitar is an Acme "Cornell" (which by a curious coincidence is the name of Our Humble Author's alma mater). Note, too, the description around 202:29 of how Cooper hits "between the wrong frets." Who else does that sound like?... Also, Pynchon's songs hold a special place in the hearts of his readers. Cooper's song is a lovely thing, and I invite any and all to reflect upon the lyrics. There are several other references to music throughout this section. Discuss.

• Deuce and Sloat's division of labor in their killings: body and spirit; each seeing the other as the sidekick. Jeshimon as a polarity. Reef's dual existence. Webb's secret identity; Webb, in death, insisting, "no, that's not where this is." Discuss.

• Foax well-versed in other Pynchon works should feel free to drop by in the Add'l Discussion section. I've got some questions and comments over there...

Oh, and one more thing. Let's all take a moment to think of one our Kindly Hosts, Mr Nedward L. Jingo -- Without Whom, &c &c -- who on Monday morning will be (carefully, carefully!) dismembered and remembered in order to have a new hip joint fitted into his delicate organic nether regions. I am sure I speak for all when I wish you a smooth and uneventful procedure, followed by a speedy and restful recovery!

55 Comments:

At Sunday, February 04, 2007 10:21:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Elegant summary, good questions, great image choices. Just a thought on Jeshimon for now which is a Biblical name meaning 'wastelands, or wilderness. The whole scene is like a condensation of the historic crucifixion of Jesus(of N.T.) under roman law as exercised in the hinterlands of empire. The roads lined with telegraph poles and dangling corpses correspond to roads of the occupied country lined with crucified rebels, the clergy for hire to collaborationist priests, Judas's betrayal coresponds to Deuce's via Webb's trust. The local god with wings reminds of the Roman eagle. the "trail of pain" sounds like the stations of the cross on the road to Calvary. "We done both your feet, how bout lets see your hands there old timer." There is even a mocking reference to "that good bodily resurrection stuff".

And on the third day he ascended from hell( Nicene Creed). When Reef arrives in Jeshimon it "looks like a religious painting of hell". The comparisons continue and pick up with Reef reading to Webb's dead body and confused ghost from "The Chums of Chance at the Ends of the Earth".The chums seeming to be "agents of an extra human justice".
reminding one of the book of The Revelation.

There is also a kind of Pentecost with Reef enjoying talking with his Father, adopting his Father's mission and exploding dynamite, "each explosion like the text of another sermon, preached in the voice of thunder".

Well that's my take fellow chumps.I spent a lot of time with the Bible in earlier years and know the territory. I'm not about to start proselytizing, but this revised Pynchonian take on religion , including Christianity and Buddhism, is definitely a recurrent theme of ATD.

 
At Sunday, February 04, 2007 10:40:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Since George Constantine in this sign conquer Bush started using the New Testament as a weapon of mass destruction, one wants to be careful associating to closely with a respect or knowledge of the book. I personally find the gospels to be flawed as an accurate historical account of Jesus life, but that describes a real and charismatic visionary in the mode of Buddha, Ghandi, Mohammed, Pythagoras, Socrates, Moses etc.

Just trying to avoid people misinterpreting me.

 
At Monday, February 05, 2007 5:09:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

At the risk of straying off-topic. . . I can't see how anyone unfamiliar with the NT could presume to call themselves well educated, if only to separate its dross from the gold. The cadences of the King James are everywhere in British and American literature, and I like to think that us ex-believers make the best athiests.

Personally, there is nothing in the Sermon on the Mount I can argue with, and even that dangerous nut job Paul can startle you with some mighty enlightened passages here and there.

 
At Tuesday, February 06, 2007 8:09:00 AM, Blogger Ol' Pal D said...

Here you go, Jigs:

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge,
about to jump off. So I ran over and said "stop! don't do it!"

"Why shouldn't I?" he said.

I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!"

He said, "Like what?"

I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?"

He said, "Religious."

I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?"

He said, "Christian."

I said, "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?"

He said, "Protestant."

I said, "Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"

He said, "Baptist!"

I said, "Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"

He said, "Baptist Church of God!"

I said, "Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed
Baptist Church of God?"

He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God!"

I said, "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879,
or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?"

He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!"

I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off.

-Emo Phillips

 
At Tuesday, February 06, 2007 12:15:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

Has anyone read Milton, specifically "Paradise Lost"? I haven't, but the "young adult" trilogy by Philip Pullman called "His Dark Materials" is supposed to be a gloss on it, and there's a long sequence in the second book, "The Subtle Knife," that feels amazingly similar to the whole scary Jeshimon sequence. I'm wondering if the ur-text of Milton holds any clues.

And by the way, nice review of the material, DJ, but telling people "what to discuss" on this forum is probably going to be met with a stony silence just because of the sheer idiosyncracy of the crew.

 
At Tuesday, February 06, 2007 12:20:00 PM, Blogger Monstro said...

This is coming from a different direction, but I don't know so much that I need spoilers. Having written a bit on Pynchon, I have come across some interesting theories concerning his work. The one that sticks out for me, and I can't remember exactly where it came from, concerns Pynchon and paranoia (a relatively ubiquitous theme throughout his entire collection of works). The thinking goes something like this--if you believe your life is a story in which you are the main character, then you're probably some breed of religious person: there must be a god to tell the story. If you don't believe in god (or God or G_d), but you still believe that your life is a story in which you are the main character, then you've just described paranoia.

My own feelings on this are that Pynchon might be attempting to describe a god-less world (or at least one where god isn't immediately present) that is just as capable of the miraculous as any world inhabited by the divine.

 
At Tuesday, February 06, 2007 1:19:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Only that his work (well, GR, M&D and now ATD) is laced with supernatural/divine beings (angels, ghosts, etc.) and informed by a high morality which casts a very cold eye indeed on the wickedness of humankind.

Off the top of my head, what is lacking in Pynchon's religious hierarchy is any notion of unearned, or simply bestowed, grace. Rather one earns redemption through abasement (though a mighty perilous and insane path, that) or through higher-minded action, self-sacrifice, on behalf of others.

 
At Tuesday, February 06, 2007 2:13:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

And while we are so, so off-topic, here's the latest regarding our fearless leader's condition (he is being gradually rebuilt with titanium parts) from a comment at BNJ!:

"Ned's resting peacefully. Everything went great. It's a good, good thing."

So, yay! I bet soon he'll be doing the Kenosha Kid like no one's business.

 
At Tuesday, February 06, 2007 7:40:00 PM, Blogger Monstro said...

Supernatural? I think, we'll agree to disagree monsieur Divide, but no matter. It is perhaps an argument for another time. Keep in mind the easy to remember differentiation between modernism and po-mo.

modernism: God is dead; now what do we do.

Post modernism: God is dead; what have you done!

How strange that in Jeshimon, the most righeous people are pretty much satanists. Have the extremes met?

I've read Paradise Lost, but I don't think it gives much insight into this frontier town. Satan's likable in that particular text--even kind of sad.

Happy recovery to Mr. Jingo. Hope everything is going well.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 12:27:00 AM, Blogger brooktrout said...

On monstro's miraculous; will's supernatural; and Pynchon's ghosts, alchemy, northern badass aliens, Shambalah, balloonists, human radios of the spirit world, shamans,talking lightning, hollow earthers, Tesla experiments etc.

Let's face it. Pynchon cheats. He sticks all the stuff boys in particular like in his novels. Weird sex too. But one thing he is always doing is reminding us that we don't have the workings of the universe figured out and there's some pretty weird shit going on that seems to stay several steps ahead of the best science, and metaphysics. How do we know if something is "supernatural/miraculous" in evading the " laws" of nature if we don't know what exactly the rules are? ATD looks at how those rules were cased by the best and not quite best minds of the turn of the last century and comes up with some of the relevant questions. Like: How do you get at the rules experimentally if the experiments and their outcomes are limited and controlled by a capitalist, nationalist or any other dogmatic mindset? Enemies always abound if you see the world in terms of us and them and science, art, and human decency can all be labeled enemy combatant if it serves the need of the powerful. Deuce accepts the dualistic mindset of empire and watches himself become a comic book version of Judas, Pilate, and a soldier/executioner. He can tell himself that he isn't killing any son of God,just a damn anarchist, but what if the light he is putting out in Webb is all he will ever have?
Webb himself is also sad in receiving the part of religion that sets him in opposition to empire, but not the part that might allow him to truly love his own family.

In a way I think Pynchon gives us fiction which is a bit like an alchemists lab, and leaves us to play around and see how it works, and you know what? Cool shit happens when you do that. Miraculous? I don't know, but pretty damn good for a collection of words.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 2:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 4:14:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

A note on the above:

The post was removed for two reasons. First and foremost - it was anonymous. Second, it took issue with an earlier comment, of mine, solely with an exclamation of monotonic exasperation along the lines of "eeegahh".

Feel free to disagree with anything anyone proposes here, it's all part of the discussion, and it's fun! But try to use complete sentences, and keep in mind that prickly displays of brittle sensibilities that A) are off-topic, and B) do nothing but shed light on the aching condition of one's own swollen ego are, shall we say?, highly discouraged.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 4:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. I took issue with your comment:

" I can't see how anyone unfamiliar with the NT could presume to call themselves well educated, ..."

While you could argue back and forth about the validity, or otherwise, of your claim, what really irked me was the tone. It seems rather, shall we say, presumptious of you to decide who can and cannot claim to be 'well educated', just because - as an ex-Christian - you do happen to be familiar with the New Testament, and others may not.

You have the right to remove my comment, I've no problem with that, it's your blog after all. But the tone of your comments on the removal are, if anything, even more offensive than the original post!

For instance, the way you have put this - "try to use complete sentences" - comes across as rather rude, and claiming my objection to your statement is off-topic comes across as rather rich, since how on-topic your statement was is debatable in itself. Where you get the idea that I have a 'swolen ego' I have no idea, but can it be as swollen as someone who presumes to decide who has the right to call themselves educated?

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 5:52:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

And here I thought all these years I was wearing my erudition lightly. Guess you showed me.

Moving on. . .

Any thoughts if maybe Reef's favorite reading, The Chums of Chance at the Ends of the Earth is an account of their run-in with Vormance Expedition?

I count eight named Chum's novels so far, Ends of the Earth along with: The Cs of C ...at Krakatoa, ...Search for Atlantis, ...in Old Mexico, ...and the Curse of the Great Kahuna, ...in the Bowels of the Earth, ...and the Ice Palace, and ...Nearly Crash into the Kremlin. Did I miss any?

Also: on Cooper, (202:7) something about his upper lip, which tucked over his teeth in a protective way. . . The few photos we have of Pynchon indicate that his upper lip creates the exact opposite effect. That Cooper rides a V-twin bike and plays a "Cornell" guitar practically begs for attention.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 7:23:00 AM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Wasn't there a C of C and the evil Half-wit mentioned early-on?

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 7:48:00 AM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Just thinking out louod a bit...

"...if you believe your life is a story in which you are the main character ... there must be a god to tell the story...."

Fascinating stuff! I'm straining my brain here, but it reminds me a little of Berkeley's philosophy: To be is to be perceived.

So, a table exists only when someone is looking at it. But then someone says, "So, when no one's looking at it, it disappears?" And Berkely would say no, it's still there -- because God is looking at it.

But if you don't believe in god, and you buy into Berkeley, then who's perceiving you? Surely, that's enough to make folks paranoid.

Aha... Subjective Idealism. That's it.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 7:48:00 AM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

[pardon the tyops, above, please!]

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 10:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 11:22:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Sorry folks, the crybaby took further exception. Apparently my capitulation was deemed insincere.

And if you-know-who wants to take further issue with my mounting incivility, directed very specifically at him or her, he or she is welcome to do so at my place where I promise I won't delete any comments that are neither racist, threatening nor homophobic.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 12:06:00 PM, Blogger Monstro said...

If I may, what I was trying to get at in my earlier comment was not that there is or isn't a god in ATD, but rather the way that religion, like science and art, are repeated as part of Pynchon's palate. The city of the damned, Jeshimon, is straight out of old religious paintings of Hell and is complete with murderous minotaurs with upside down sheriff's badges. This is The Inferno, mixed with the excesses of relgion, ala Spanish Inquisition.

But then, it isn't. It's a town. It's not in Hell. It's in Utah. The fact that there is a Hell on Earth assumes that one needn't an afterlife for this level of debauchery and agony.

But more, this is the dumping ground of capatilism's collective crimes (I'm alliterative today). Suddenly, whatever we say about the Company, we must include in our descriptors an association with religious excess. However, as the religion no longer points up (heaven ward) or down (to the pit, which we know to be filled with tommy knockers), whom does this religion serve? Who is the god (or godlike power or secular standin) of this place, because it must be at least part of the same pantheon of the Company's gods.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 12:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 2:11:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

I was hoping not to disable anonymous posts, but disabled they are until further notice.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 4:18:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...

Re: Pynchon and God

So, for those who claim that there's no God immediately evident in AtD, I'd like to suggest that this does not exactly imply an absence of God.

Assuming for a moment that Chthonica, princess of Plutonia, represents a kind of anti-god (though certainly not a conventionally Satanic on, though perhaps something of a Miltonic Satanic figure), then, as Chthonica was down, God, presumably (and conventionally) should be locatable up (a.k.a. north round these parts). Now, we haven't really seen any single northern or elevated figure to serve as an antithesis for Chthonica. Instead, we get an actic "blank sheet" (137), anabsence typified by "Polar silence" (138) and the slow crawl of "Bad Ice" (134-35, 151).

But, Pynchon's novels are (always, insistently) fictions and all fictions, especially self-conscious ones, have a creator, and in this case, the creator is (always, insistently) absent. Plus there's that whole icy silence and a rather glacial pace of production.

After all, insistently monotheistic Gods (sic) when rigorously construed aren't really best experienced incarnate. It's pretty much the only thing that all ultra-orthodox Jews and Muslims can consistently agree on. That, and the evils of bacon and abortion. Instead, there's the divine ideal, "[a]nd the purit, the geometry, the cold" (170).

Course, that said, we're probably gonna end the book on some peak in Nepal where we meet God who turns out to be none other than Andre the Giant, all as part of an elaborate plot on TP's part to get axiomatic.apricot to bluff himself into the wrong corner.

Oh, and something that actually references this week's reading: did anyone notice a proliferation of numbers in the sections running from 192-93? Specifically, "Love [that] was less than two-way," "Deuce Kindred," "singlejacking," "aught-one," "three-dollar sack suit," "couple-three" (it's back!).

Ideas anyone?

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 4:31:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...

I almost forgot, thanks, Decency's Jigsaw for a fine summary. I love that Breughal painting, btw, been fond of it since I discovered it while reading DeLillo's Underworld.

What's more, while I agree that the chances of paying too much attention to the discussion prompts at the end are slim, I appreciated them as prompts for tactics while approaching further reading.

Finally, Neddie, best of luck on your cyborgification. Dunno if you were aware of this, but you're now the ironic ideal of posthuman feminism. Didn't see that shit coming, didja?

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 8:01:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

axiomatic apricot that was some fun reading. For a moment it reminded me of the immortal words of that amazing war strategist , Don "Rummy" Rumsfeld. " the absence of proof is no proof of absence." Took awhile for the country to shake that one off.

Since dynamite is a kind of religious force in ATD I thought these wikipedia refernces apt.

The word dynamite comes from the Greek word δυναμις (dunamis), meaning power, and the Greek suffix -ιτης (-itēs), meaning small.

[edit] Oracle of Dunamis

In Greek mythology, the Oracle of Dunamis (ca. 1400 BCE), believed to have been situated south of the island of Rhodes, contained a statue of a man who was to lead humanity into a time of spiritual prosperity. Early Christians assigned this to Jesus in support of Biblical prophecies.

[edit] Aristotle

The word dunamis appears in Aristotle's works as a term for what is only potentially real. The word can be translated by such terms as power, capacity, potential, potency, capability and faculty (ability, skill, or power). Aristotle contrasted dunamis with energeia.

[edit] Christianity

In Christian theology "Dunamis" is sometimes used in conjunction with the Holy Spirit.[1] It describes the activities of the Holy Spirit as believers receive Him (Acts 1:8, 10:38). From the same root derives the English words dynamic or dynamite.

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 9:01:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Monstro said: "However, as the religion no longer points up (heaven ward) or down (to the pit, which we know to be filled with tommy knockers), whom does this religion serve?"

I think that is something Pynchon is asking the reader to think about. In a way it is an old question. Galileo and Copernicus caused a stir by making the whole up down /four directions paradigm obsolete as previously conceived. In ATD we are on the verge of the Einstein revolution.Who will the eleased energies serve?
Are we a bipolar species in a multidimensional universe?

Also why in hell Utah?

 
At Wednesday, February 07, 2007 10:17:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

"Also why in hell Utah?"

Could simply be convenience of geography and appropriately religion-laden land. Not only is it (Jeshimon) a "wasteland," as you pointed out, but it's also the "desert ... between the hill country and the Dead Sea" (taken from a random Google search page).

According to Google Maps, at least, there's no real "Jeshimon, Utah." So, clearly the name Jeshimon was important to Pynchon. Since it means "desert / wasteland" and you have all of this religious imagery in this section, Utah seems a pretty decent solution to the problem (with Nevada being too far off to make sense).

Now, if you want to reach a bit for meaning (and, why the hell not... it's 1:15 a.m. where I am...), you might make some connection between the story's current year (~1902) and the fact that Utah would've been the latest state to join the Union at that time. (We don't get another one 'till '07 with OK.) So one might entertain the notion that the scene in Jeshimon is a commentary on where the country's headed (then or now, depending on which side of the spar you're gazing through).

(Plus, not to go too off-topic, but Utah's a weird place, IMHO. I've been there ... once. Beautiful, yes, but try ordering a beer in SLC after 10:30 p.m. or so!)

 
At Thursday, February 08, 2007 6:59:00 AM, Blogger cleek said...

Now, we haven't really seen any single northern or elevated figure to serve as an antithesis for Chthonica

perhaps God in ATD is out there on the imaginary plane, where the Chums float, where Earth is a torus, what Iceland Spar shows glimpses of.

hell is here on Earth (maybe Pynchon had a bad layover in Salt Lake), but heaven is at right angles to all other dimensions. it's right there, but we have no easy way to see it.

 
At Thursday, February 08, 2007 2:33:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...

Say what you will about Rummy, he's a distinctive and by no means unsophisticated rhetorician, so Brooktrout, I'm gonna go ahead and take that as a complement. Also, excellent etymological inquiry on dynamite. I especially like the Aristotelian reference. Never ceased to be amazed by the sheer virtuosity of Pynchon's overinvestment of meaning in his prose.

Re: Hell on earth and no heaven at all, I'd like to suggest that we've seen a couple of Hells in addtion to Jeshimon: the Telluric Interior, the City in Terror, and the Chicago Shambles most notable among them (all those shambolic smokestacks call to mind the HooDoos, the local name for rock spires in Utah). Also, Hell's evil, but Pynchon's pretty fond of sinners, so it seems to me that it might be a bit more morally confused of a locale than first glance might suggest. As for Heaven being up with the chums, I think that a better (though only slightly better) evaluation might be to say that the Chums believe that they are experiencing Heaven (and perhaps eternal youth to boot), though their obvious innocence almost necessarily implies a fall (all manner of puns fully intended).

 
At Thursday, February 08, 2007 4:09:00 PM, Blogger Monstro said...

A thought:

Towards the end of the 19th century the cultural landscape of religion was bombarded by the fallout of calvinism. I'm thinking Perry Miller here (btw, Donna Harraway, Geezie Creezie!). So, the country is laden with the desire to have a religion that makes logical sense. Seems strange to us, I know, but that's the desire. It splits off into Unitarianism (anything goes), and into a plethora of religions that claim "proof" of the divine. Spirtitualism is the most popular here, that's talking to mediums and asking ghosts whether or not women should have the right to vote and all that.

The major of these religions to survive until today is Mormonism, the founder of which claimed to have golden tablets that outlined the "newest testament"--this is not a criticism nor an invitation for a flame war, I'm just saying...

One condition here, obviously, is that Utah and Mormonism are intricately linked. Salt Lake for the Mormons was the promised land (as I am not Mormon, I have no idea if this is still the conception). Having spent some time in Salt Lake (and having not found it all that creepy, by the way), I can tell all within hearing distance that it is literally "a city on the hill."

Don't know if this helps, hurts, or whatever, but it may explain why Utah.

 
At Thursday, February 08, 2007 5:10:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

This book, and probably all of Pynchon, would really benefit from being online ala Google Books (or whatever platform) where you could search for the words "day" or "Chums of Chance," for instance. "Against The Day" is such a rich stew, or as axiomatic.apricot brilliantly put it, "Never ceased to be amazed by the sheer virtuosity of Pynchon's overinvestment of meaning in his prose."

This whole section is both one of the lightest and darkest in the book so far, with the horrifying sadism of Webb's drawn-out murder contrasted with the tentative wildness and sexiness of the young characters being introduced to the reader while all flirting with each other in Nochecita (and what a great made-up name for a Western town, or at least I think it's a made-up name).

 
At Thursday, February 08, 2007 7:19:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...

In partial answer to my own query, and therefore as a mild push deeper into my own little solipsistic world, the section from 192-93, while it may contain a large number of numbers, stops before it reaches the critical mass of 4, in the tarot deck, the hanged man. I think it may be a counting up to . . . .

Ever notice, btw, the number of points in a terminal ellipsis?

 
At Thursday, February 08, 2007 10:06:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Alright I found this out about Mormonism. Brigham Young had a teaching that sometimes in order to redeem someone you must shed their blood. Not an exact quote but close.Puts kind of a nice "Christian" twist on how to deal with troublemaking infidels and people living on top of our oil. Definitely reminds me of the righteous in Jeshimon.

 
At Friday, February 09, 2007 5:13:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

Well, yes Booktrout, but I'm likely to go with the easiest answer I can (Pynchon's hard after all). Jeshimon is a frontier town, it's lawless, and founded by people who think they've reached the promised land. There's probably scriptures across the board that describe the Jeshimon atrocities. The entire book of Deuteronomy, and that's just Judao-Christian.

I guess I'm just a little weary of suggesting that Pynchon is actively picking on the Mormons. Seems to me more of a question of what Capital is willing to do when it thinks no one's looking--like, for instance, set up a religiously sanctified place where it can anonymously and invisibly (as far as the rest of the world is concerned) dump bodies. Jeshimon is to the company what Poland turned out to be to the Nazis.

 
At Friday, February 09, 2007 5:20:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

"Grad students and Willie Wavers will be mocked."

Just read that. Hmmm... So those of us who actually teach Pynchon, then? In any case.

Tarot: Axiomatic.apricot, where are we getting the Tarot? I know where it comes in for GR, but I haven't seen any references to the Tarot yet. Is that something I'm missing? Also, watch out, depending on who you ask, The Fool is either the last or the first card of the Upper Arcana. I could never quite get Beyond the Zero to match up because of that.

In other news, I just received Zak Smith's book, "Pictues Showing What Happens On Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow." Why am I telling you all this? I'm... bragging.

 
At Friday, February 09, 2007 5:21:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Mormonism in Utah was already a great civic success before the Civil War (as Twain's Roughing It shows). Protestant evangelism and spiritualism were early 19th cent. reactions to several stresses: western expansion and a new, raw commercial environment being the main.

It is probably not coincidental that Mormonism, spiritualism and the first evangelical Christian movement all originated in western New York state, in districts around the Erie Canal. A fascinating book by Paul E. Johnson, A Shopkeeper's Millennium details the evangelical campaigns there, in what was known thereafter as "the burned over district".

 
At Friday, February 09, 2007 6:05:00 AM, Blogger cleek said...

I haven't seen any references to the Tarot yet

it's coming.

 
At Friday, February 09, 2007 7:11:00 AM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Re the tarot: Well, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if it did come up. Without having ever studied the tarot, I'm aware that any card can have multiple meanings. And, even without considering a card's relation to other cards in a given sample during a reading, there's a meaning related to whether each individual card comes up normally or inverted (e.g., the "Death" card may actually be a good omen).

(My wife dresses up as a gypsy each Halloween and does "readings" for the neighborhood kids, so I've picked up a thing or two!)

 
At Friday, February 09, 2007 1:29:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...

Monstro, I forgot that there hadn't been explicit tarot references as yet in the text. Guess I tipped my hand that I've been reading ahead. Apologies to anyone offended by the (I hope you'll consider it very minor) spoiler.

 
At Friday, February 09, 2007 1:49:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Agreed monstro about picking on Mormons, I see the Brigham Young thing more as weirdly direct example of a universal problem with the kind of religious fundamentalism and patriarchy that I think Pynchon is conducting a lively debate with and about. We have already visited this debate in the amusing theological spat between S,Vibe and Ray Ipsow (pg. 32)
And I agree that Utah is also representing the farthest frontier of US control and suggests that the growth of that growing empiredepends on a rather ruthless version of law. ( Has anyone else read Larry Beinharts latest column on the Neo Con version Of "Freedom" ( http://www.commondreams.org/views07/0204-28.htm ) ; very relevant to Jeshimon.)

 
At Friday, February 09, 2007 10:03:00 PM, Blogger Mike P said...

Wasn't there a mention of Tarot earlier in the book? I can't find it (after looking for all of 2 minutes), but I seem to remember one of the characters encoutering a deck of cards that had strange figures and pictures on them. Was it Lew in the "hospital/mental institution"? Ok, now I'm taking shots in the dark. I'm pretty sure I did read this, though, and I haven't been reading ahead.

Christ, only 200 pages in and as a group we can't remember what we've already read.

 
At Saturday, February 10, 2007 3:17:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

Mike P. brings up a point. I'm at 340 or so and have been for weeks. I actually stopped so that you all could catch up and my comments would be fresh. I haven't seen significant mention of the tarot in my neck of the woods, but that doesn't really mean much. I can miss LARGE details sometiemes. For some reason, it didn't register to me that that was Vibe's son in Iceland. I'm now re-reading the book so that I can remember what's going on back a hundred pages or so. I'm not sure how viable it is to comment on a Pynchon book 200 pages before where you are. The details get...fuzzy. At least for me they do.

My question is one of structure. That other guy who pops in once in a while and who is running a "massively post-modern/what is reality/abundant use of french philosophers (though never Montaigne for some reason)" blog keeps talking about the Tarot as if its some underlieing structure for the novel. Frankly, I don't see it. When people say stuff like that it makes me...jumpy, I guess is the word I'm looking for. I don't want to find out that the book I'm reading requires more than layman's knowledge of quantum mechanics, Flinstones episode #5, or what Pynchon's neighbor's wife serves for dinner on Tuesday nights. I don't want to read 1000 pages and end up saying, "huh?" because I never watched "My Three Sons".

Also, something tells me there's a significant number of people in here who actually can read Tarot cards. So...there's that danger too.

 
At Saturday, February 10, 2007 7:05:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

The cards appear, whether for the first time I can't say, in Nigel & Neville's hands, on pg. 186.

Lew: what's with this customer hangin' upside down with his leg bent in a figure four--

As for structure, I think it would be a mistake to assume how planned out Pynchon's works are. More that they reflect tons of research, eons of thought and a constellation of ideas, and thereafter develop organically. Rewriting allows for a certain, uhm, singling up of lines, but I think any author who begins a project willfully intending to, say, hide a skeleton of the major arcana hung with the laws of thermodynamics in the plot, is doomed to either design failure or the production of a very dull work.

And ATD, for my money, isn't dull.

 
At Saturday, February 10, 2007 8:40:00 AM, Blogger Monte Davis said...

"As for structure... they reflect tons of research, eons of thought and a constellation of ideas, and thereafter develop organically."

I've long had two scenarios in mind. One puts Pynchon in a barn-sized study, the walls completely covered with minutely-inscribed index cards in many coded colors -- and that's scary. The other has him keeping it in his head -- and that's really scary.

NB the savage ironic justice of p. 196, just before Webb is taken down. Having alienated his own children, he thinks of fixing Deuce up with Lake, calls marriage "a mixed blessing," and calls Deuce "son."

 
At Saturday, February 10, 2007 12:16:00 PM, Blogger Mike P said...

I agree with Monstro-- at this early stage in AtD Tarot doesn't seem to be a major theme of importance-- it's only been mentioned that one time so far. We'll have to wait and see if the Tarot stuff ties in later.

To beat a dead horse, did anyone else catch that Cooper plays the guitar but "with strange notes added into the guitar chords, as though Cooper had hit between the wrong frets, only somehow it sounded right (202:29)?" Thelonious Monk played between the notes, too.

Also to follow up with the comments from a few weeks ago about Miles, music, and tonics, Pynchon mentions Stray being "the C chord in the day's melody [Frank] could always return to (206:11)."

I've been thinking about Will's comment that Cooper's description begs for attention. I agree, and it seems to me that AtD has much more personal feeling invested into it, from the destruction of the unnamed city to the emotional bonds between characters. A common criticism of Pynchon is that his characters are just hollow sketches of real people, but I'm finding this not to be the case with this book. So far, anyway.

Good work, all!

 
At Saturday, February 10, 2007 12:31:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

"...any author who begins a project willfully intending to, say, hide a skeleton of the major arcana hung with the laws of thermodynamics in the plot, is doomed to either design failure or the production of a very dull work."

Either that, or he or she will have penned the next DaVinci Code, which sold a kajillion copies and was no doubt translated into Swahili (or Apache, of you recall that funny joke from Garp).

FWIW, I don't see the Tarot as the underlying structure of ATD. Make that claim about, say, Polanski's Ninth Gate, and I'd say yeah, okay.

On the other hand, that doesn't necessarily imply that there is no underlying structure. This may, IMHO, be a more productive conversation after we're another several hundred pages in.

 
At Saturday, February 10, 2007 1:14:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...

Hey all,

Some notes on soap: I noticed that we keep running into variations on the phrase "greasy ashes," and the descriptive "alkali." Thought y'all might be interested to know that there's an important relation between the two. Alkali, which in its broadest sense refers to anything basic (as opposed to acidic, though the pun seems intended) etymologically, means calcined ashes, or plant matter that has been reduced to ash. Now, if you combine an alkali with animal fat ("greasy ashes") you get soap. I think that there's a suggestion that the slaughterhouse waste / Utahan remains may be the very means by which some (attempt to?) cleanse themselves (of sin?). Food for thought.

 
At Sunday, February 11, 2007 8:42:00 AM, Blogger Ol' Pal D said...

Mike P wrote: To beat a dead horse, did anyone else catch that Cooper plays the guitar but "with strange notes added into the guitar chords, as though Cooper had hit between the wrong frets, only somehow it sounded right (202:29)?" Thelonious Monk played between the notes, too.

Someone help me out here - the sentence reads "between the *wrong* frets", not "between the *right* frets" - meaning he'd played the right notes (the ones between the wrong frets)... right? Am I misreading?

Monk was famous for playing between the *right* notes, and still making it sound right. Definitely something up here, if I'm not mistaken.

 
At Sunday, February 11, 2007 11:52:00 AM, Blogger cleek said...

Someone help me out here - the sentence reads "between the *wrong* frets", not "between the *right* frets" - meaning he'd played the right notes (the ones between the wrong frets)... right?

if the 'right' note is between the 3rd and 4th fret (a.k.a. playing on the 3rd fret), but you played between the 2nd and 3rd, you'd be between the 'wrong' frets.

 
At Monday, February 12, 2007 9:03:00 AM, Blogger scott said...

Any room for a newbie here?

If so, just a few comments. I'm loving AtD and have slowed down after discovering this wonderful blog.

Reviewers who initially bashed the novel clearly hadn't read past the initial Chumps section and weren't aware that various literary genres were in play...this failure also explains the accusations that the characters aren't fleshed out.

As a musician, I always dig the way Pynchon uses music and music theory as metaphor (the afore-mentioned "key of C" passage, among others). A bit of clarification: you can't play between the notes on piano. It's an even-tempered instrument, incapable of quarter-tones or micro-tones. You can bend notes on guitar, you can play between the notes on wind instruments...but not piano. What Monk was famous for (among other things) was playing the "wrong" notes harmonically for a given chord (say, a Db on an F maj chord) and somehow making it sound right.

In any event, Mike p's comment on Cooper and Monk is right on--it seems Pynchon is saying they both can play notes that should not fit in the harmony but do. In other words, they break rules and make things work...

 
At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 12:42:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

Dear Scott: Since nobody else is going to say it, there's no such thing as a "newbie" on this board, and you are indeed most welcome, especially since your musical analysis was fascinating.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 5:42:00 AM, Blogger scott said...

hey sfmike, many thanks.

 
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