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, February 12, 2007

The Name Dropper’s Guide to English Occultism

Summary pgs. 219-242

Be prepared to enter a realm of unexplained phenomena, ghostly séances and mystic conspirators and Vulcan greetings!

This week, in Against the Day, we return to Lew Basnight, our favorite ex addicted-to-cyclomite-private-eye, as he arrives in England with Neville and Nigel, “Back to the delights of Evil!” (page 219) even though, he reasons, neither of the two Ns have actually seen real Evil.

Both Nigel and Neville belong to the True Worshipers of Ineffable Tetractys, or T.W.I.T., a cabal of occultists competing with Aleister Crowley’s Order of the Golden Dawn and Madame Blavatsky’s Theosphical Society and “other arrangements for seekers of certitude”. The T.W.I.T

has chosen to follow a secret neo-Pythagorean way of knowledge, based upon the sacred Tetractys,

1
2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9 10,


by which their ancient predecessors had sworn their deepest oath. The idea, as nearly as Neville and Nigel could explain it, was to look at the array of numbers as occupying not two dimensions but three, set in a regular tetrahedron—and then four dimensions, and so on, until you found yourself getting strange, which was taken to be a sign of impending enlightenment.

Neville and Nigel bring Basnight to the T.W.I.T. sanctuary to be initiated into the Order. There, he meets Nicholas Nookshaft, Grand Cohen of the London chapter of T.W.I.T. Mr. Nookshaft goes on to explain the ex detective that, when he jumped into the explosion, he was transported to anther dimension, a Lateral-world which was connected to this other one by the explosion (page 211) and also with Yashmeen Halfcourt, a striking young woman who is in Britain under the protection of T.W.I.T; her guardian, Lieutenant-Colonel G. Auberon Halfcourt, is working for the Political Department somewhere in Inner Asia and young Yashmeen well being could be used against him at any moment.

[A Pythagorean Tetractys]

Nookshaft reveals that the purpose of T.W.I.T. is to observe and interfere with an organization know as the Icosadyad, a series of individuals that actually embody the twenty-two Major Arcana of the Tarot deck. Accused of the crime of creating an “invasion of Time into a timeless word … History, if you like” Lew gets offered a job spying them for T.W.I.T. (page 223) Working for the Followers of Tetractys, he feels related to Yashmeen, with whom he has a very interesting chat about the true purposes of the Order.

He quickly discovers that “the Icosadyad observe neither gender nor number” (page 225). Temperance (XIV) for example, is an entire family and Final Judgment (XX) is a streetwalker form seven dials. After less than a week in England, Lew is in the Grand Cohen’s office when a neophyte of the order comes with a message from Madame Natalia Eskimoff, an ‘ecstatica’ (some sort of medium), which has a Kabbalistic Tree of Life tattooed in her nape, trained by the best mediums in Europe. Lew and the Grand Cohen go to see her.

The Grand Cohen explains to the detective that position of The Devil is filled by professor Renfrew of Cambridge and professor Werfner of Göttingen. Their studies into the Eastern Question developed into a bitter rivalry which in turn developed into actual conflicts in the region, as both of them unleashed it’s ex students and acolytes against each other. (pages 226 – 227) Madame Eskimoff shows them a recording of the previous night’s séance. Clive Crouchmas, semi-governmental functionary and member of T.W.I.T, came trying to contact on of his agents who died in Constantinople during the negotiations for the “Bagdad” railway concession. Thanks to the recording, they discover that the ghosts of Europe are changing practices and now are haunting trains and railway lines, creating a network of phantom railways in Asia Minor.

[The Devil, as depicted in the Rider-Waite Tarot deck]

“Something’s afoot” says the Grand Cohen (page 230). After declaring that Neville and Nigel are at Cambridge keeping an eye on Renfrew, Nookshaft goes on to explain his idea of lateral-world Britain, a darker and more conservative version, in which Queen Victoria dies and her eponymous age is replaced by the Ernest-Augustan Age. Any similarities with our time must be entirely coincidental (page 231).

Lew, however, has bigger troubles in mind, as he tries every sort of drug because of his inability to locate any cyclomite in England (pages 233 – 234) and enlists the help of the two Ns to find some. They bring him to some secret facilities of the War Office, where he meets remarkably unexcentric Dr. Coombs De Bottle, and English scientist with Anarchist sympathies that is charged with the investigation of homemade explosive devices. The doctor tells him the story of the Gentleman Bomber of Heading, who uses poison-gas grenades during cricket matches that provokes dead by inhalation after 48 hours of exposure (page 236). The actual reason for Lew’s presence here, however, is his birthday present: a dinner pail full with cyclomite, courtesy of Nigel and Neville.

Lew is sent to Cambridge with the Cohen to meet with professor Renfrew (page 237). They are received by Clive Crouchmas, who is reveled to have a very long hand when dealing with government money and who tries to convince the Cohen to use the precognitives of T.W.I.T. for profit. However, there seems to be “some serious dissonance between psychic gifts and modern capitalism”, as Nookshaft explains.

After reading some weird newspaper headlines (I’m quite stumped on those, page 239) Lew and Clive meet with Professor Renfrew for beer. After Clive is gone on his merry way, professor Renfrew asks Lew about Yashmeen, and reveals that he thinks old Auberon “simply does not understand how things are dome”. He proposes to employ Lew to use his detective skill for finding the Gentleman Bomber of Heading (page 241) and so Lew finds himself once more searching for a legendary anarchist. Back with the Cohen, Lew reveals that Renfrew offered him a job.

Some points worth discussing

  • The amount of occultist practices Pynchon uses in this section is breathtaking both in its encyclopedic berth and its accuracy. Of special notice is the idea of the Icosadyad, twenty two groups or individuals representing the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck. Could this be used further insight into Against the Day? Which characters could fulfill the roles of the Arcana in this novel?
  • Pynchon’s idea of England is both ironic and cynical. However, America seems to have it better in comparison. From the idea of the ironic, the colonial games of the government, the taste of beer, and the occultist craze, to cricket being the last stand of civilization, Pynchon works with every English stereotype into what turns in the last page to a proper sitcom full with recorded laughter.
  • Werfner's idea of railworthiness (p. 242) seems to be crucial in the development of this section. Railroads are some sort of modern lay lines, connecting the capitalist energies of the days. Ghosts, it seems, are now haunting this lines instead of their traditional places.
  • Also, there a lot of pop culture references in this section. The most obvious one is the way the Grand Cohen and Crouchmas greet each other (p. 237), forming the first letter of the pre-Mosaic name of God. A sign basically meaning “long life and prosperity”. Additional brownie points go to whoever finds the rest of the references.
  • And last, but no least, is worth mentioning that some of the events in this section are greatly reminiscent of events of prior Pynchon novels. That discussion, as always, should be conducted at the Additional Discussion post.

[Doctor Spock forming the Hebrew letter shin with his hand. Now go back and check The Devil card again. ]

And that’s it for me, short and sweet, as we like it down here. Reporting from the Mexican chapter of the Chumps of Choice, Los cuates selectos, this was Scientific Officer René López reporting. Until the next time!



49 Comments:

At Monday, February 12, 2007 2:57:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

Mr. Villamar's remark: "The amount of occultist practices Pynchon uses in this section is breathtaking both in its encyclopedic berth and its accuracy" is right on the mark. People may say all the rude things they want about Wikipedia, but for researching the names in this section, it's invaluable.

My favorite characters from Wikipedia turned out to be Madame Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, who died in 1891, and Pamela Colman Smith, who designed what we know of as the modern tarot deck, which was published for the first time in 1910. Their life stories are almost too insane to be true. It's also interesting that they were both non-English (Ukranian and half-Jamaican respectively) while being total gurus of the occult in London. And that they both spent quite a bit of time in the United States.

The other interesting Wikipedia article was about the Order of the Golden Dawn, which had more royal battles and schisms in its first years than seems possible, and yet its influence for good or for ill is abiding.

Finally, during the Grand Cohen's explanation of the Living Major Arcana story to Lew (and we were wondering if the Tarot was going to be important), he utters one of the great "day" variations so far in the book (page 222, last two lines): "as the grim determinants appeared, assassinations, plagues, failures of fashion sense, losses of love, as, one, by one, flesh-eating sheep sailed over the fence between dreams and the day."

Flesh-eating sheep? Now I'm really going to have nightmares.

 
At Monday, February 12, 2007 3:56:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

As cricket, that other "great game" comes into view, some fine points:

Headingly is the cricket ground in Yorkshire. At the time of ATD a Gentleman Cricketer was understood to be upperclass, university educated and to play first-class cricket without financial reward. (Dr. W.G. Grace, the most famous "Gentleman" player of the time was neither the first, nor second, and most certainly ignored the third.) Professional cricketers, drawn from the working classes, were known, on the other hand, as Players.

Smartly taken at silly point! (222:20) means, in baseball terms, an infielder has made a spectacular catch of a hard hit ball. The fielding positions for cricket are very flexible and change constantly. Point is, I believe, in front and to the left of a right-handed batsman. Long point means the fielder is further from the bat, silly point puts him or her very close to the bat indeed.

Silly field positions may well be considered dangerous field positions, and are usually employed when a spin bowler (like young Bosanquet at 237), in baseball terms, a curveball, or junkball pitcher, is working. Close-in, silly, fielders stand near to the bat, hoping for a squib or bloop hit they can reach, which standing further away would make impossible.

If the batsman is good, or the spinner is bad, silly fielders are at no small peril.

Cricket balls are red. It is common, and legal, for bowlers to rub up one side of a ball on their pants to keep that side shiny, as an aid to have it swing in the air.

The Ashes (237) is a biennial contest between the English and Australian national teams. When the upstart Diggers took the prize from the Poms in the mid-19th century, they were said to have taken the ashes of English cricket back to Australia with them.

Kim Philby, the famous Soviet double agent nestled for years in British intelligence, was a passionate cricket fan.

(Your faithful moderator is one of the few born-Americans to have played in New York City cricket leagues, mainly at square-leg, some years ago. How? A long story involving Australians.)

Small point: Yashmeen is Halfcourt's ward, not daughter, which leaves the question of her background that much more interesting, n'est pas?

 
At Monday, February 12, 2007 5:32:00 PM, Blogger Monstro said...

I can still remember my History professor explaining WWI in terms of the trains. I am no expert at this, but according to what I remember, the trains and the possible use of them as troop transport required that protocols be planned out long in advance. Once the threat of war became immenent, the men were put on the trains. Once the trains were taking men to the front, it was virtually impossible to turn them around. Once there were armies at the front, war could not be avoided. Thus one of WWI's causes is truly mechanical in both cause and effect.

Weird, then, that we already have ghosts riding the trains and making those lanes ready to receive the dead.

 
At Monday, February 12, 2007 8:50:00 PM, Blogger René López Villamar said...

Rereading last weeks thread I come across a quotation from Gentleman Cricketeer Will Divide:
"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."

While I agree completely, it seems Pynchon actually put this 22 Major Arcana somewhere in the book to be found.

 
At Monday, February 12, 2007 10:02:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

Oh shit, Rene is right. However, I refuse to be one of those detectives, obsessives or willy-waggers who figures out who each one of the 22 represents.

 
At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 5:22:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

It hit me upon waking this morning that the Ashes trophy has a compartment inside it containing the ashes of a burned cricket ball, making it, for my money, the most Pynchonian sports award on the planet.

The Stanley Cup, with its ever-expanding list of names, is close second.

 
At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 6:24:00 AM, Blogger Decency's Jigsaw said...

the Ashes trophy has a compartment inside it

You mean it's... hollow?

 
At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 8:05:00 AM, Blogger Neddie said...

Aren't the Ashes actually a burnt wicket rather than a ball? Ah, here's Wikipedia: "The contents of the urn are reputed to be the ashes of an item of cricket equipment, possibly a bail, ball or stump." So it's amibiguous...

New favorite Pynchon name: Nookshaft. A T.W.I.T led by a twat....

Best gut laff so far in the book: "Ordinarily, Crouchmas...would not, indeed, recognize any appearance of the metaphysical even in the act of morsus fundamento."

Trains: Let's remember earlier in the book, back to Lew Basnight's "going off [his] trolley" (p. 41), and the Calvinist predestination implicit in the image of the train-track. Think, also, of how the freedom of the American West was iteratively reduced to fewer and fewer choices until the only choice is Death.... What, then to make of Renfrew's imputation to Werfner of an obsession with "railway lines.... The primary geography of the planet is the rails, obeying their own necessity..."? (emph. mine.) If we all have "rails" that we must follow -- or jump, in Renfrew's case -- to whom do those rails belong? And what are we to make of rails that "obey their own necessity"? What kind of life is that?

 
At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 9:22:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

I mentioned before that Walther Benn Michaels wrote a seminal work about The Gold Standard and naturalism in 19th-20th century literature and that in that book he does this particularly weird reading of The izard of Oz (follow the yellow brick road)--the echoes of which one can't help but see in the Chumps.

Another such text is The Machine In The Garden. The premise of that text is that late 19th century America was sold on the idea of industrialization despite its vision of itself as a "frontier" because the locomotive was always represented as an extension of nature. Suddenly, train tracks criss cross landscapes, etc..

I say all this because 1.) I wouldn't doubt if Pynchon was thinking about these ideas, and 2.) it falls in line with the notion of a "natural" technology that has now been explored with the codification of light and the harnessing of chemical explosives. The wilds are slowly becoming mechanized. Nowhere is that more evident than with the steam locomotive.

Pynchon seems to be taking it a step further though: not just nature, but the supernatural as well.

 
At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 7:34:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

I don't know, Neddie. I'll see your Nookshaft and raise you an Uckenfay (p 225).

 
At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 8:31:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Re Officer López' mention of pop culture...

Anyone else think of Madonna for Madame Eskimoff? The whole Kabbala thing, I guess...

Also, do you think there's anything in the "TWIT" being a humorous take on either Masonic orders or post-Davinci Code fascination of such? According to the wonder-wiki, "Cohen" is a Hebrew word that means "priest." Of course, he's the "Grand" Cohen, which is typical of the silly names those orders always have -- and their internal ranking systems which are invariable referred to as "degrees." (Not to mention TWIT's HQ being at Chunxton Crescent -- which is a prominent masonic symbol.) Grown men caught up in fantasy worlds, Richie Cunningham's dad as the "Grand Poobah," etc. Hell, I think my own grandfather was an Elk - even showed me the secret "antler gesture" once.

(I once worked at a Masonic Temple, where I reported to an "Illustrious Potentate." Weird guys, although they didn't mind my smirking at their strange ways.)

BTW, while this is my first Pynchon expedition, I wouldn't mind reading any commentary in about TRP's use of these invented acronyms. I know, for example, about WASTE in 49. Is this something appearing in most of his books?

And, if I may ask another "About TRP" question: I continually see this stylistic thing in which he leaves off the word "said" (or other verbs generally used to indicate that something has been spoken) after a piece of dialogue. For example: "I'll adjust the gas," Neville helpfully, "there. Is that better?" Seems to be a Pynchon signature stylistic device. Do other authors write this way? I can't recall seeing it much and, to be honest, find the practice somewhat distracting -- though I don't mean that as a criticism. I'm tempted to wonder whether (1) it's not meant to distract, for some reason that I'm not understanding, or (2) I'm just not reading these sentences correctly.

 
At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 10:35:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

As far as the way Pynchon handles dialogue, I think several contemporary writers try to break away from the unnatural, repetitive, and at times intrusive quality of the
“...” he said .
“...” she said. structure.
Cormac McCarty does away with these indicators completely,and at first it is disconcerting, especially when 2 young male friends with similar backgrounds are talking. But it forces the reader to really here the “voice” of each character, a voice which the writer must distinguish with great subtlety. Once acclimated it creates an intensely life-like dialog and a more direct immersion in each unfolding moment. He uses other action details to help the reader identify who is speaking but the effect is amazingly seamless.
Pynchon frequently uses an adverb to characterize the tone of the words spoken. At times Pynchon’s approach can be hard to follow, but I find he always requires the reader’s total focus, and always rewards it.
This year my wife and I read a book aloud to each other called Timothy; or; Notes of an Abject Reptile which regularly offers single nouns or past tense verbs as sentences. And non-verbed sentences as though they were complete. Words. Phrases. Separate and lovely in their isolation.

It is beautiful writing and if his English teacher comes back to scold, make red marks, or to presume to edit his book, he can simply say that this is the way tortoises think, because they never went to school.
In the end it is writers who make the rules and English teachers must scramble to explain them. Seems a reasonable division of labor.

 
At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 10:50:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

James Ellroy's 672-page second novel in his Assassination Trilogy (my term, not his), "The Cold Six Thousand," barely has a sentence that contains more than three or four words, so "he said" is thrown out immediately. It takes a while to get used to the practice, but it's not that hard once you figure out the rhythm.

However, the rhythm in Pynchon is tricky, and it goes beyond the lack of "he said." The point of view can change so drastically from one character to an omniscient narrator back to another character again, sometimes jumping back and forth in time, all in the space of a few paragraphs, that it's really hard to get your bearings. What makes the task worthwhile, however, is filling in a lot of the details yourself. It's an act of faith on the part of both reader and writer and is immensely rewarding.

 
At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 11:01:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Was it the New Order of the Golden Dawn who said Shambalah was floating in the Astral plane over Asia or someplace, maybe Monet's garden or Alice's Resturaunt?

From investigating American anarchists to investigating Brit bombers, Lew doesn't seem to have moved as far as he might have wished. But the Renfrew Werfner English German professors with the mirror names seems to be leading him into entirely new territory.For what seems a remakably sill group, TWIT as some unusual interests.kintf

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 4:04:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

T.W.I.T. is certainly a forebear, if not the forebear of GR's White Visitation, an office of British intelligence that was meant to crack Nazi enigmas via seances and ESP; an office which may, in fact, like so many oddities in Pynchon fiction, be grounded in fact.

As for TRP's style, I think cinematic is a not unfair characterization: quick cuts, voices off-camera. Neville helpfully is a direction, so to speak, to the actor, or someone reading a screenplay.

It is wildly frustrating at times to read something so big which you have to pay such close attention to. I read this section twice and still didn't pick up that Lew had been presented with a pailfull of his favorite hallucinogen for his birthday.

As for McCarthy and Elroy's serial offences against syntax: Nonsense, stopping, starting, too much blood, and a nonsense. Towering. Fuck.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 5:39:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

The dropping of the "he said, she said" is generally ascribed to Mr. Joyce, and is considered a convention since on or around the turn of the last century.

Note: you can't shake a stick in Pynchon criticism and not find comparissons to James Joyce (whether valid or no).

The effect is to leave you without a helper. The death of God in philosophy, further aided by modern atrocities, grants considerable skepticism to some kind of uber narrator who walks in, tells you everything, and also provides color commentary. 20th-21st century texts are fairly stark in regards to signals of scene changes, dramatic intentions, etc.. What's more, since 1970 or so, most able writers are reading Pynchon. It's probably better to say that you are reading the guy who started this trend (the disembodied, unhelpful, addled, and comical narrator), then another example of it. But he took his original cues from those who came before, most notably Joyce.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 5:47:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...

Howdy all,

So what struck me most about TWIT, especially w/r/t the novel so far, was how much it emphasizes different belief systems and how persons manipulate or are manipulated by those systems. In a novel that has so far been preoccupied with science, to suddenly be suffused with mysticism is a dramatic contrast, though probably not historically inaccurate, given the lingering, basically mainstream popularity of theosophists even through the turn of the century. (Any interested parties might check out N.Hawthorne's near-great anti-theosophist novel, The Blithedale Romance; basically a hippie novel written the better part of a century too soon.) Pynchon, for what it's worth and according to perhaps untrustworthy anecdote, believed in the literal existence of ESP, but this was in the 60s and he was also likely on a lot of drugs around that time, which, I'm told, can affect one's judgment.

Speaking of which, while I can kind of see the Madonna angle, she struck me more as a raver type -- "Madame E.," "Ecstatica," trances. Was sort of surprised she didn't mention her childhood on Ibiza.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 5:59:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

I think it would be a shame to let this section slip by without some attention paid to Yashmeen Halfcourt's observations on the English and their language (224:32):

"On this island [...] no one ever speaks plainly [...] all English, spoken or written, is looked down on as no more than strings of text cleverly encrypted [....] Any who may come to feel betrayed by them [...] are simply 'taking it too seriously.' The English exercise their eyebrows and smile and tell you it's 'irony' or 'a bit of fun' [....]"

So says the alluring central Asian maths major.

Pardon if I think that ol' Tom has just kicked us, his faithful readers, into a mirror maze, slammed and locked the only door out, and is strolling away humming a hornpipe.

Why? Just seven pages later, after Nookshaft outlines his theory of an alternate Victorian era controlled by Renfrew (the name of Count Dracula's fly-eating English factotum, btw) and Werfner, a theory much to Lew's vocal dismay,

The Grand Cohen shrugged. "Only a bit of fun. You Yanks are so serious." (231:37)

Aaaand, last week I opined that the one redemptive action missing from among TP's characters is unbidden grace. Well, wouldn't you know, in looking up Lew's earlier development, there it was (42:9) ... he entered, all too briefly, a condition [...] which he later came to think of as grace.

Upon reflection, Benny Profane also strikes me as someone under the same influence. But that is another novel, which I don't plan on rereading anytime soon.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 7:55:00 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Will, can you elaborate a bit on what you mean by grace. Is it simply beauty, goodness, purity, etc.? Or is there a deeper or more specific meaning you have in mind (e.g, as in, if I described something as having quality in the context of Pirsig)?

I'm just trying to get my head around the concept, I guess. I'm not sure I understand what unbidden grace is -- except for the obvious, which is "grace" that a character did not invite onto him/herself. So, you're saying they lack unbidden grace? -- that they lack the condition of not asking for redemption? I'm getting lost in the double negative, I think. Can you 'splain it for me?

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 7:57:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Oops, sorry, that last comment was me (Patrick H.).

(I just found out that if you're logged into another Google account, it screws up your commenting!)

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 11:35:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

I wanted to speculate about Werfner and Renfrew"s role and there is one spoilerish note so you may wish to avoid this post.

We don't find out too much about their specific contentions or ideas but they are invested with enormous imaginary force, and it seems no one can stand to be around them for too long. They are associated with the Devil Tarot card, the 2 characters both chained or linked together via the Devils throne. They are presented as competing academics though what their real disciplines are is never clarified that I remember.W and R seem to be experts on "the Eastern Question", and "The Great Game", and they are consulted as experts by Intelligence and Foreign offices, their expertise seemingly in the machinations of power. Their rivalry has moved from "bickering to intense loathing". TWIT has Neville and Nigel watching them, but they want Lew on the case too.

They seem to me to represent combative nationalism, the ego surviving by an omvivorous appetite to know, to demonstrate superiority and to present large and uncontrollable forces as though these forces and details were well understood by the professor's amazing brilliance and astute management of power. It is as though they are the minds of England and Germany defined as much by the enemy as by their own inner life and increasingly reflecting what they claim to despise abou the other. As one reads on in the novel they become more chimeric rather than less and in the end fade seamlessly into the War.

"Not immediately clear which will murder the other but the crime itself is as certain as the full moon".

The names reflect each other in mirror, and catch the taste of blood. Wer as in werwolf, Renfrew as Will said ,an assistant to Dracula. Do nations and now corporations live forever by drinking blood?

The chapter ends with Madame Eskimoff's invocation of a purportedly Pythagorean taboo against looking into a mirror with a lamp next to you. This is presented as a rule for the acousmata( those uninitiated into true Pythagorean knowledge). This means It has a deeper meaning and mindlessly keeping the rule is only worthwhile if you seek and perceive that meaning.

How bout Light in the darkness is not to illuminate or cultivate a false image of ones self, but to move freely even in a darkened world.

 
At Friday, February 16, 2007 2:17:00 AM, Blogger Akatabi said...

A nugget that I just have to mine:

BSUWG - The location of TWIT HQ gets even better: it's in "that ambiguous stretch north of Hyde Park known then as Tyburnia" (219:31). After Tyburn, where the English conducted public hangings from the 12th up until the end of the eighteenth century. The geography is accurate. Get it - "stretch"!

And WD, to pick a nit, Drac's henchman was Renfield.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber
"Neck or nothing"

 
At Friday, February 16, 2007 5:10:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Aka: so right you are!

Grace unbidden, a quasi-mystical state where one becomes justified with the cosmos, through no particular action of one's own. Certain, especially devout, x-ians believe that any approach to god is impossible without an element of grace, granted by god unbidden, as a precondition of worship. Others are more stingy regarding how they think it works.

Mainly, and this may stand some correction, most protestant x-ian sects believe that grace must be gained through various applications of good works, religious study and undeviating adherance to particular laws regarding morality. That, it seems to me, is the world, mainly rational (word used conditionally) in how it appraises devine reward and punishment, in which most of Pynchon's characters, excepting the stray magician, psychic, ghost, or 50-foot tall glowing Indian here and there, operate.

This was the religious thinking behind the Enlightenment, protestant work ethic, capitalism, and, with a dose of the Greeks applied, the scientific method.

Then, though, Kekulé intuits the benzene ring while dreaming of a snake biting its tail. A-and Watson (or was it Crick?) has a vision of the double-helix structure of DNA while high on acid. So, I guess there's just no telling, is there?

 
At Friday, February 16, 2007 5:35:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

And I do not mean to imply by the above that most of TP's characters are working for their own salvation. In many cases it is quite the opposite. Most might be better seen as trying to game whatever system they find themselves in.

There is also a penetential element, more catholic than protestant, as a means of gaining grace which a few of the author's characters indulge in in the novels; mainly in the guise of humilating sexual acts.

 
At Friday, February 16, 2007 6:14:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

Will you said,

"Pardon if I think that ol' Tom has just kicked us, his faithful readers, into a mirror maze, slammed and locked the only door out, and is strolling away humming a hornpipe."

I could not agree with you more. But I think that it goes laterally as well. The number of references to his other works creates a sideways (midways?) universe between the real and the fictional which so accurately (and comically) overlays. The sideways comes in when you realize you are reading the precursor to all that craziness at the beginning of GR,and that the family you're reading about is the same family from Vineland. It seems that Tom finally has enough of an oevre under his belt to be able to nudge and wink in that direction too.

But like you said, mirror maze. What does any of it add? Do my connections between this novel and, and say, V. actually add anything or explain anything about this novel or V., or am I simply getting a pat on the back for staying with it this long.

 
At Friday, February 16, 2007 9:05:00 AM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

"Grace unbidden, a quasi-mystical state where one becomes justified with the cosmos, through no particular action of one's own."

Thanks for elucidating, W. I'm having flashbacks to William James... Anyway, that's an interesting initial definition to me because it seems almost secular, even though grace is a concept generally associated with religion. From a purely non-religious standpoint, the apparent randomness inherent in such an unbidden "gift" might in theory weaken a literary character because such a thing could possibly come off as kind of a deus ex machina (depending on the context and circumstances of the story, of course).

But, once you introduce the protestant views, things change -- become more karmic in nature. Unbidden kind of fades off to the periphery, right? Because one is actually striving for grace through one's actions (or, at least, one should be). This reflects more of a free-will scenario (rather than a deterministic world), and so assigns personal responsibility to characters for their actions.

What the two opposing views have in common, of course, is the rarity of the mystical experience itself, which would partially explain the wide appeal of stories that chronicle, for example, a "chosen one" -- a la The Matrix or Harry Potter (or the New Testament, for that matter).

Anyway, I see what you're saying now. (I was just over-thinking it.)

 
At Saturday, February 17, 2007 6:59:00 AM, Blogger Monte Davis said...

FY possible I, there was a short thread about grace on the Pynchon listserv that may be of interest. Warning: spoilers, as we quote a number of instances of the word throughout AtD.

Unwrap:

http://www.waste.org/mail/?list
=pynchon-l&month=0702&msg=115443
&sort=thread

 
At Saturday, February 17, 2007 7:02:00 AM, Blogger Monte Davis said...

They seem to me to represent combative nationalism, the ego surviving by an omnivorous appetite to know...

brooktrout, thank you. Spot on.

 
At Saturday, February 17, 2007 7:15:00 AM, Blogger Monte Davis said...

Certain, especially devout, x-ians believe that any approach to god is impossible without an element of grace, granted by god unbidden, as a precondition of worship. Others are more stingy regarding how they think it works.

A-and it's great fun to watch the debate circling up its own ass both pre- and post-Calvin. No sooner does everyone agree that we cannot impiously put any conditions on grace than everyone settles down to argue in detail why sinner X receives it and sinner Y doesn't.

Don't get me wrong: paradox is a central and inescapable element of most fruitful religious notions (and more of philosophy and science than it's comfortable to admit)... but jeez, guys, at least acknowledge that it is a paradox.

Further reading: The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, by William Pynchon (assuming your copy escaped proscription).

 
At Saturday, February 17, 2007 7:30:00 AM, Blogger Monte Davis said...

Yashmeen owes a lot to the eponymous heroine of Max Beerbohm's wicked 1911 Zuleika Dobson (q.v. in Wikipedia and elsewhere), above all in her effortless domination of all the undergraduates. Here's how she appears on the Oxford train:

Ere it had yet stopped, the door of one carriage flew open, and from it, in a white travelling dress, in a toque a-twinkle with fine diamonds, a lithe and radiant creature slipped nimbly down to the platform.

A cynosure indeed! A hundred eyes were fixed on her, and half as many hearts lost to her. The Warden of Judas himself had mounted on his nose a pair of black-rimmed glasses. Him espying, the nymph darted in his direction. The throng made way for her. She was at his side.

"Grandpapa!" she cried, and kissed the old man on either cheek. (Not a youth there but would have bartered fifty years of his future for that salute.)

"My dear Zuleika," he said, "welcome to Oxford! Have you no luggage?"

"Heaps!" she answered. "And a maid who will find it."

"Then," said the Warden, "let us drive straight to College." He offered her his arm, and they proceeded slowly to the entrance. She chatted gaily, blushing not in the long avenue of eyes she passed through. All the youths, under her spell, were now quite oblivious of the relatives they had come to meet. Parents, sisters, cousins, ran unclaimed about the platform. Undutiful, all the youths were forming a serried suite to their enchantress. In silence they followed her. They saw her leap into the Warden's landau, they saw the Warden seat himself upon her left. Nor was it until the landau was lost to sight that they turned -- how slowly, and with how bad a grace! -- to look for their relatives....

 
At Saturday, February 17, 2007 8:35:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

aka tabi noted

And WD, to pick a nit, Drac's henchman was Renfield.
Renfrew's name also hinted to me of the classic French/English Reynard Renart. Accordng to wikipedia a 1962 documentary parrallels Hitler's rise to power with a Reynard fable.

I am curious if anyone else(particularly those who have read further ahead) had a similar reading of Renfrew and Werfner as I laid out?

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 6:51:00 AM, Blogger Neddie said...

I think this Renfrew/Dracula thing is a blind alley. As Akatabi pointed out, Stoker's character is Renfield, not Renfrew.

"Renfrew" is an anglicization of the Gaelic Rinn Friú, which is the name of a town and county near Glasgow in Scotland. I'm damned, though, if any online Gaelic dictionary I can surface will tell me what those syllables actually mean in Gaelic.

"Werfner" is a legitimate (if not common) German surname. I've found reference to "Werfner sandstone" in a work on Austrian geology, and the closest I've been able to get to "Werfner" in any online guide to German surnames is "Werfel," which means "die" or "cube." Tragically, my German falls flat on its face at this point -- do "Werfner" and "Werfel" share the "Werf" cognate, or is that an illusion?

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 10:02:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

neddie
yes I think it would be pretty near impossible to come up with ideal mirroring names that both had fully apt meanings. This isn't the substance of my intuitive sense of these two . more a linguistic intuition and not substantive of itself.

It is the rest of my post that holds the substance of my thoughts that they are not so much professors as archetypal mindsets. They never become fleshy, quirky human , limited. It reminds me of the way we talk about America as though it was something real , but it is as much of a phantom as Santa Claus or "Freedom" or Progress. Anyway I see this Renfrew Werfner opposition as going further by showing that such an identity relies on an enemy. In fact it relies on a false opposite which is not so opposite at all when looked at dispassionately.

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 10:13:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Another interesting name game that doesn't quite pan out is to take the middle letter out of Werfner and come up with Werner, a name with strong resonance in GR and VIneland Werner Von Baun, Brock Vond. The evil V appearing like a double reverse pentagram. Bad Vibe ray tions.

Unfortunately Renrew doesn't seem to go anywhere. Durn consarned mirror.

 
At Monday, February 19, 2007 5:52:00 AM, Blogger Neddie said...

yes I think it would be pretty near impossible to come up with ideal mirroring names that both had fully apt meanings.

Ah, but if anyone could do it, it'd be Our Tom.

But point taken; Renfrew and Werfner are precisely analogous to Yin and Yang; not mirror opposites, but opposing aspects of the same greater thing.

take the middle letter out of Werfner and come up with Werner

A-and pronounce "Werner" backwards! Go on! I dare ya! I double-dog dare ya to try an' pronounce that "Werner" backwards without sounding like Pugnax on a triple Scooby-Doo bender!" Rut-roh! Ren-rew!

 
At Monday, February 19, 2007 12:37:00 PM, Blogger Monte Davis said...

You want magic mirrors? If spoilage is not an issue for you, try looking at the center point of the 1085-page printed text -- say, the lower half of page 542. Could be coincidental. Maybe.

(Originally noted by Robin Landseadel on the WASTE Pynchon listserv)

 
At Thursday, February 22, 2007 8:47:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Very Cool . I missed Robin's post.

That whole passage from the secret with the terrible force of a companion world which one did not know how to enter or leave, to the star cluster woman who mixes some absinthe with champagne and disappears leaving her moving diaphanous garment in the mirror.

Like the moving curve between Yin and Yang.

 
At Saturday, November 17, 2007 8:14:00 PM, Anonymous HD said...

Regarding the dialog thread, check out William Gaddis' novels - especially JR - for examples of entire books made up of unattributed dialog only (and equally as hilarious and complex).

As a Cambridge grad who grew up in London, I can also attest to the amazing accuracy of his geographical descriptions. His ear for English dialog of a certain time and place is as impressive as Johnny Depp's English accent(s).

Love this website. It took me a year to read ATG (took me 4 to finish Mason & Dixon) and now I'm working my way through all the notes and comments. Invaluable!

HD

 
At Tuesday, June 17, 2008 7:26:00 AM, Blogger Robin L said...

I can hardly believe this. As noted before, "The amount of occultist practices
Pynchon uses in this section is breathtaking both in its encyclopedic berth and
its accuracy". All very well and good, but it seems as though I'm just about all
there is as regards Pynchon devotees up on the Occult. If you know Ceremonial
Magick at all, you know that Aleister Crowley is one of its Biggest and most
controversial figures---a heretic's heretic. And as heresy is a central theme
Weird Uncle Al is [and has been] an obvious inspiration for Tommy Boy.

Nicholas Nookshaft is Thomas Pynchon's parpdy version of Aleister Crowley.
T.W.I.T. is a pun on O.T.O. The O.T.O. played both sides in WWI, Crowley working
for MI in the U.K., the O.T.O. was based in Germany. That Occult/Spycraft
connection found throughout Pynchon's writings was inspired by Crowley.

http://tinyurl.com/6k3yth

 
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At Thursday, March 07, 2013 7:47:00 AM, Blogger Aug Stone said...

Hello Chumps!

First off, thank you SO MUCH for this blog! I've been revisiting 'Against The Day' (via the audiobook) and I've really enjoyed reading everything that's on here, giving me a lot of further insights into the book. (It's taken me a week and I'm only up to this post. Looking forward to the rest and of course all the free time I'll have again once I've finished ; ) I've been a huge Pynchon fan since reading GR in 2005. I bought AtD the day it came out but didn't get around to reading it until 2008. It quickly became (along with J.P. Donleavy's 'Schultz') my favourite book.

Some thoughts on the name "Chunxton". It immediately reminded me of -xton areas in London such as Brixton and Hoxton. Which had me looking at that "chun" closer. And although it's a bit of a stretch, it reminded me of "Chum" (or perhaps with the x, chunx/chums).

As I said a bit of a stretch, but if you take the acronym of Chums Of Chance you get C.O.C. which goes along with the female anatomy suggestions, as has been pointed out, of T.W.I.T.

And then there's the Tetractys and Captain Padzhitnoff's namesake and Tetris-like activities. Also the Bol'shaia Igra ("The Great Game") and the Grand Cohen's use of "The Great Game" on p. 227.

So perhaps it's not just a relationship between the T.W.I.T. and the Chums but between the T.W.I.T. and the whole world of the balloonists. I haven't had much of a chance to develop this idea but maybe it's something to do with "As above, so below".

 
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