Save The Drama For Your Baby Momma, pp 358-373
To begin with. I apologize for my avoidance of crazy links, pictures and what not. I’m just not that good with the internet and finding things. Besides, I imagine that you all can grab information by typing it into google as well as I can. This is not, by the way, a commentary on that type of moderation. I just tend to read Pynchon a little differently s’all: I assume that the crazy things he mentions (cattle rustling camels, for instance), probably is true, and in any case, if it isn’t, I don’t really care because the book is fiction whether it’s historically accurate or not. In other words, if the book references the assasination of president McKinley, I have to process the information the same way that I would the radioactive lighters used by the Chums—both are true to the same degree as they are true in the novel, and whatever truth they hold on Wiki is irrelevant unless mirrored within Against the Day.
Sorry. Bit of willie wagging. I will stop.
This section poses an interesting problem in that it is hard to follow the order of the scenes. Clearly the section starts in the middle of the action by bringing Reef Traverse into the fold. On his way down to Arizona, he passes through Duranga and runs into Mayva some time after her falling out with Lake. This brief encounter allows Reef to introduce his own mother to his new Baby’s momma, Stray Briggs—the girl from Utah for those who, like me, forgot what happened a hundred pages before. One may remember that Stray at the point of her last appearance was with child. Well, the intro to this scene does not mention a child, which seems odd to say the least since, Mayva should (one assumes) want to see her grandchild. The dialogue as it goes seems to suggest that Mayva notices something (“You two ain’t married, by any chance?” on p. 358), but baby Jesse has yet to make an appearance.
The big question I think is: where has Reef been. We learn that since falling in with Stray, Reef has had his skills as a would be desperado pimped out by Stray to anyone willing to pay the price. The scene reads like Reef meeting Stray’s extended family: her “friends” which generally serve as middlemen in these schemes. Note the chain: someone needs something done, they hire a middle man, the middle men (“and not all men, of course”) find Stray, who then sends out Reef. In this section Reef and Stray are on their way to Arizona to round up imported Camels that had been let go wild in Arizona for a friend of Stray’s: Archie Dipple. Somehow the passage alludes to the fact that Reef has some breed of lay expertise concerning camels: “these double doms being in Reef’s experience never quite as retiring as they looked, some of them damned touchy, as a matter of fact” (359). Experience? Where did he get experience?
Turns out the two have been crisscrossing the west for years running scams but always running from land owners who are trying to etch out some Capital (in the Marxist sense). Not my willy wagging, by the way; that’s Pynchon. The point seems to be that this is a different sort of Plutocrat, a Plutocrat in training who will defend their material and shoot anyone “if it even looked like they might want to take it.” Thus the happy couple has been obliged to move around to keep from getting shot.
Their baby, Jesse is kept in a dynamite crate without nails so that it won’t attract lightening. Discuss.
Here’s the problem, the rest of the scenes revolve around this scene chronologically with little rhyme or reason. Though what happens next is a flashback, other scenes are far less obvious. In the next scene, we find Reef alone, near Ophir, attempting to blow up some kind of power plant that’s supplying juice for the town’s silver mines. He rounds the corner with a bunch of dynamite and runs into Stray and Jesse. Reef is following in dad’s footsteps, except that he’s turned it religious. Capital and the plutes are undeniably evil, and Reef sees himself as “a damn Christer and his deliverance with that.” I wonder about these visions and there geographical placement in Utah given the religious (?) implications seen earlier in the Jeshimon chapter, but I digress…
Turns out Stray and Reef are good at communicating and so this scene spawns a happy relationship—the particulars of which I’ve already gone over. As far as Reef is concerned, he is no longer set on avenging the single dead man (his father) but all the dead. “They wanted his attention, them and the ones who’d died at other places, the Coeur d’Alene, Cripple Creek, even back east at Homestead, points in between, all kept making themselves known. They were Reef’s dead now, all reight, and di they meake a grand opera of coming around to remind him. Damn” (362). I do not read this literally (Reef as a medium), but the effect is similar. He is avenging all the dead in these battles. What’s more, his position as Christ-like and the many many further mentions of ghosts in this section make statements like this problematic for an easy read of the above passage.
As he has to worry about Stray and Jesse now, Reef decides to head out to Denver, from the town of Ouray in the San Juan range, to bring Frank into the Traverse family business—dynamiting for the union.
Here’s where the problem with putting this chapter in order really comes in. After this scene, Reef will go off and thereafter be essentially sans-Stray and child. He will head off to New Orleans and eventually Genoa. So…when did the scene with Mayva happen? Clearly it had to have happenned before this, but the suggestion is that after that scene, the couple was headed for Arizona where they meet and talk with Dipple and are then seperated. …But the scene of their seperation happens in the San Juan mountains (Southwest Colorado), where they have been fighting the Plutes for some time (I assume since there are all those dead to account for). Am I missing something? Are they returning now from Arizona? Is this the same seperation alluded to at the beginnning of this chapter? Is this seperation out of order; in other words, does it happen after Genoa? I’ll be honest I’m baffled, and in a novel where we see doublings and parrallel dimensions, etc., I’m wondering whether this isn’t a doubling (Reef Traverse through Icelandic spar). I say this because…
In the next scene, Reef leaves Stray and rides out on horse named Borrasca (which means Storm—oh yes; Reef is a rider on the storm) to go up and over the Rocky Mountains. He passes through towns that are burried under snow in the winter and which give names to the ice shelves that are soon to be turned into avalances. It’s all very ominous. We learn that the National Guard often shoot cannons into the ice, which sounds like a clear reference to an idle military building itself up in preparation for the great war.
Somebody hits a shelf of ice near by and starts it going. I realize that there are a lot of really good passages in this section which demonstrate Pynchon’s style and grace, but I want to point out this passage as being especially demonstrative of his skill:
Here she came, the soul-smiting roar, quick as that, grown to fill the day, the bright cloud risen to the top what sky he could still see in that direction, all down here suddenly gone into twilight, and him and Borrasca, dead in the path. Nothing anywhere close enough to get behind. Borrasca being an animal of great common sense, let out with a hell-with-this type of whinny and began to move out of the area quick as he could. Figuring the colt would do better without a rider’s weight, Reef kicked out of the stirrups and rolled off, slipped in the snow, fell, and got up again just in time to turn and face the great descending wall. (365)
Is it pretty? No. But it’s immediate: exactly what is called for in an action scene. Pynchon will probably always be famous for characters who wax intellectual, mixing philosophy, pop culture, and politics into common tongue and colloquialism, but it’s worth noting just how easilly, when needed, he can switch away from that Dickensian/Joycian tongue when the scene all but demands a Hemingway.
In any case, Reef escapes by sheer luck and by sliding down the side of the hill on a waterproof poncho. He nearly falls over a cliff and recovers only to tell his horse that he’s been born again. Reef is split by the ice, recalling the spar, recalling the expedition. What’s funny though is that the horse recognizes this born again-ness in a Hindu sense. In other words, the horse is the reincarnation of someone (Webb?). And then out of nowhere, Reef isn’t alone. What’s even weirder is that Reef isn’t surprised by not being alone as if Jake has always been there. And what’s even weirder than that is that Jake appears without introduction and the scene ends without giving the reader even the slightest mention of who Jake is. I’ll admit it, I’m stumped. Who the hell is Jake and where did he come from?
Reef, Jake, and the horses head back to Ouray where Reef informs Stray that he needs to disappear for a while. Spooked by the assasination attempt, he heads out for a while and assumes the identity of “East Coast nerve case Thrapston Cheesely III,” a continental dandy and polar opposite of Reef Traverse (367). He of course meets a women with a name just as absurd, Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin, a Brit touring the “wild west” (seems to be a run of them these days…) and they begin touring hot springs in search of eternal youth.
Note, the water metaphors are thick in this chapter. If the avalance is the experience of being born again, what does that say about hot springs, especially considering this passage at the top of 368: “Down in the unlighted depths of the great machine, a steam hammer relentlessly slammed away at blocks of ra ice, vapors rose and blew, a confusion of water in all its phases at once.” We have water driving a machine of water which breaks water—a confusion of the state of things with the things themselves, like aether and light, like chemicals and materials, like electiricity and conductor, word and meaning, etc..
The new couple head off to New Orleans where Ruperta becomes offended by Reef’s desire to dance to jass. After her abandonment, Reef meets new friends while smoking reefer (you know we were all waiting for it to happen). The two new characters, an Irish guy,“Wolfe" Tone O’Rooney and an African American jass musician, “Dope” Breedlove are discussing jass’s merits as an expression of anarchism. Reef falls in with Wolfe and is introduced to Flaco, another anarchist “chemist” like Reef. Flaco explains that Europe needs people who are good with explosions because they need to make sure that the trains can make it through the mountains so as to carry soldiers to the front…just in case a war breaks out. I imagine this will get worked out in discussion, but this seems like the first time (of, I imagine, many) dynamite is seen as a tool for smoothing that path for war.
In another of those weird alchemical moments, Flaco explains that governments, in repressing people, are essentially simmulating death, and that Flaco wants a counter-death which he sees as chemistry. Thus chemistry is a mode of freedom. On 372, we learn a little about Flaco’s history. He was rounded up as an anarchist after a bombing at the opening of William Tell in Montjuich. Collected with the other anarchists, he becomes an anarchist and now fights against the state, “which includes: the church, the latigundios, the banks and corporations, of course” (372). The description he gives of becoming an anarchist mirrors the theory of jass offerred by “Dope” earlier—that is anarchist even though it is socially cooperative.
In any case, the assasination of McKinley has made the U.S. an uninviting country for the anarchists, so they’re all attempting to leave in mass out of New Orleans. This dates the scene around 1901, for what it’s worth. In any case, Flaco invites Reef to come along with him to Genoa (heading towards the Chums; cross your fingers) and so they await news of the arrival of their ship, the Despedida
In the last scene, Flaco, Reef and Wolfe sit drinking beer and watching the sun go down. Wolfe comments that because they are drifters they are always in a new place for the new day and so they never see things change except geographically. As they are never part of anything, they become ghosts. Read this into the title as you wish.
…and I’m spent.