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, April 23, 2007

Location, Location, Bilocation


ATD PAGES 460-488

Frank and Stray 460-471
From the first graceful sentence of this section Pynchon uses light to define the mood and direction of Frank’s journey.

“Frank came back...splashing up droplets out of the muddy river which transmuted briefly to sunlight he could no longer in his heart appreciate.”

This reminded me of Frank’s earlier fascination with silver transmuted to gold and with the mystical properties of spar. Now it is dreams in the night of Estrella (Star) Briggs which draw him back to the southwest Colorado town of Nochecita (night). Nochecita seems foreign and impenetrable “an unreadable map” which increases his sense of “lines crossable and forbidden” (his brother’s wife?),and estrangement. In his confusion he feels that “the day... seemed set to the side of what he thought was his real life”.

He stays in Stray’s former and now decaying house for 3 "nights”* having fleeting visions of her amplified by the changing light and wondering if she can sense him too, after which he can take no more.

As he leaves he runs into Stray’s friend Linnet, still a pretty schoolteacher; possibly also a hooker. She lets F. know she thinks Stray is quite the drama queen, that Reef has left her and the country, and that she s living in NM and doing a good job raising Jesse.

Next he is slugging a glass of whiskey looking down through a green crystal haze ( more weird light) on the town of Fickle Creek . He finds a room at the Hotel Noctambulo (sleepwalker) where folks are up all night in strange but friendly pursuits. The town is full of motorcyclists, and wired with a desperado energy that includes singing unionists, nihilists, the 4 Corners Gang? , and seemingly a mountain climbing werewolf named Werner. Toward morning Frank goes for flapjacks and finds out Stray was overhead with a motorcyclist named Vang Freely. Bit of a romantic let down after them dreams. They pass him without notice, F. staring at Vang's leather clad crotch, the crowd staring at the contented looking Straying Star as she swings up her skirts to mount the bike, and well, adios.

Jolted out of the land of shamanic spirit journeys, dreams and ghosts and into a fast changing reality. Frank blows the Fickle Creek all night pop stand, and is blowing time and money in Denver when he meets Moss Gatlin (probably modeled loosely after Johann Most)


driving a motorized mini-chapel with bells and steeple, a sign that reads ANARCHIST HEAVEN, and filled with some of the lost souls of Denver. Turns out the vehicle is “borrowed” and the owner wants it back, so they haggle out a bargain over the several souls which are Gatlin’s work. Funny stuff.

We think of Christianity as safely aligned with state power but Christians were once considered dangerous godless nonconformists by the Roman authorities. Seems like throughout ATD Pynchon is outlining a broad-based anarchist faith with different branches and methods, of which are hinted at throughout this chapter. We see a kind of mirror of the dominant capitalist protestantism in Moss Gatlin who preaches about Plute Hell, “subhuman” (Deuce, Sloat) enemies, saving souls, etc. In Frank the author continues a more complex undermining and reordering of what you might call ground truths or moral/spiritual orientation.* His empathy or compassion or searchingness seems to elicit a kind of emotional/ spiritual honesty from others. Frank's mother prays unashamedly for someone to avenge her husband's murder.

This is a dialogue that runs through Western Lit and Pynchon like a vein of silver, or to some, fool’s gold, and might be a good topic for additional discussion at the risk of digging up what seemed a nugget and: “Yup, that there is pure hunnerd percent pyrite”.

Changing modes of transportation and changing names of Towns are all worth paying attention to.

Taking the train for Cripple Creek, Gatlin and F. talk about Webb. Frank is troubled about Sloat but Gatlin says it was a service even to Fresno who “ wont’ get into Anarchist Heaven”.

(F) “Plute Hell?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me”.

In Cripple Creek Frank helps a young man, Julius, who may’ve been Groucho Marx (this was figured out on Pynchon-Wiki) and knows his mother.

Mayva is running an Ice Cream parlor and their time together deepens the emotional bond with honest feelings about prayers, pension money from the mine company, about Sloat, and finally, reluctantly, about Lake and Deuce, Mayva feeling betrayed by Lake. There is some pretty classic Mother /Son, Mother/Daughter stuff going on here. Frank has the inclination to sympathize with his Mother and Father and doesn’t know how to deal with Lake and we get the sense that this incapacity is deep enough so he is finished with any pursuit of Deuce.
The chapter ends with a tender memory of Mayva’s childhood desire to run away and work in a carnival, ending on this final note:

“Yes, and there I was with all o’ you, right in the carnival, and didn’t even know it.” And he hoped he’d always be able to recall the way she laughed then.

Lake and Deuce 472-488

Down from the mountains and eastward through towns “it was better to keep clear of”. Deuce Kindred and Lake travel warily through the exposed smallness and stark social divisions of the kind of prairie town Deuce thought he had left behind.

“it was the light kept reminding him, yellow darkening to red to bitter blackness of the whirlwind brought among the sunlit, wildflowered meadows,...”

They visit Deuce’s sister in his childhood home where we find him reluctant to talk about his mother who was a laudanum user. She died during a frozen winter and couldn’t be buried till spring and the ground
thawed. (phewee!) Deuce can’t sleep in this house.

We begin to see Deuce’s vulnerability in his need for Lake to forgive him, and Lake’s in her need to elicit emotions from her bottled up husband. Despite this internal tenderness and desire to transcend the as yet unspoken truth, there is a sense of forboding as they seem to be moving not toward the open possibilities of a futur
e but into the constricting troubles of the past. Either way they have to confront the stark truth of Webb’s role in their lives.

For all the sprawl of the novel Pynchon can be amazingly spare and the shift between each one’s thoughts and the dialogue is intense. There is a powerful scene which starts with Deuce questioning Lakes love for her Father, but turns to her telling him he didn’t have to kill Webb.
“ could ‘ve stood up .” “could’ve been a man instead of a crawling snake.’

This may mark an end to the possibility of emotional communication , though emotional connection and need continues. After this Deuce has an ominous sensation” like he had put his head into a very small room ....’Well maybe “ his voice echoes, ‘” I could go out and kill a whole lot of other folks ? and then I wouldn’t feel nearly as bad about just the one...”

Funny how a few word
s can just blow your legs out from under you.Definitely worthy of discussion.

Arriving in Wall o’ Death, Missouri, site of an abandoned carnival with the motorcyclists Wall of Death the last intact structure, Deuce is mistaken for an expected sheriff and takes the job. Their life is beginning to seem as normal as it might when they hear news of Sloat Fresno’s death. Here are the only tears we will see from Deuce.
He tells Lake about Sloat and suggests it might have been one of her brothers. She expresses sorrow and sympathy, but he wants to hurt her back.

“you just keep bein faithful to that Anarchist shithouse you grew up in”..he was out the door...

While Deuce is gone the other sheriff’s wife, Tace Boilster, comes over for a smoke and Lake tells her the whole story. Turns out Tace was sexually abused by her Father and brother and a sympathetic friendship starts.

Lake dreams about Mayva talking with animals and understanding them,then singing
”She was only a dynamiters daughter,but caps went off where’er she passed by.”
In the final memory o
f the dream Mayva says” Swear Lake, you’ve gone sour in your old age.”

Tace tries to talk Lake into leaving but Lake writes in her diary:

“I can never leave him....,I have to stay, it’s part of the deal.” Deuce returns soon is begging for forgiveness. She cannot forgive Deuce or her father, will neither leave nor reconcile. Their inability to have children seems evidence of the poison between them. It is hard to fathom what is holding them together . They break into a violent fight after Deuce taunts her with final memories of Webb’s disappointment in Lake. Tace and Eugene Boilster show up with a shotgun before one of them kills the other.
Tace suggests ”You could make a case ...that you’ve both been all along in some unholy cahoots, ...”

TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION?

Pynchon seems to be outlining the tragic force by which abuse is passed on and internalized, becoming a pattern. Is it a deterministic picture or does the author indicate there are better choices possible?

Why Wall o' Death? Is it obvious reference to Richard Thompson Song?

What is he logic of Deuce’s internalized animosity to the anti authoritarians?

What's happening with Mayva fantasizing about being in a carnival and Lake settling in an abandoned carnival site? or Tice's fantasy about being an outlaw?

Is there a connection between Lindsay Noseworth's marriage fantasies and Frank and Lake's journeys? Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?

I put this together on kinda short notice but had a lot of fun browsing the Denver Public Library's photo collection. Wow.

Tried to keep the precis simple and focus on the action rather than the writing. The guy coulda written westerns. Which suggests another topic. Why IS he writing a western ? And the follow -up: Why are there no anarchists or unionizers in Louis L'Amour novels?

I know my fellow chumps will mostly ask and answer their own questions anyway, so I will commence to shut up.

24 Comments:

At Monday, April 23, 2007 9:42:00 AM, Blogger sfmike said...

Dear Brooktrout: That was a very elegant summation. However, you might want to go back and fix the typo in the title ("Bilocaton").

Also the Rev. Gatlin first appears as the Anarchists' Minister all the way back on page 87 after Webb Traverse has his religious conversion in Shorty's Billiard Saloon. Part of Gatlin's sermon then is worth repeating (page 87:7): "For dynamite is both the miner's curse, the outward and audible sign of his enslavement to mineral extraction, and the American working man's equalizer, his agent of deliverance, if he would only dare to use it..."

And then (page 87:21): "Think about it, like Original Sin, only with exceptions. Being born into this don't automatically make you innocent. But when you reach a point in your life where you understand who is fucking who--beg pardon, Lord--who's taking it and who's not, that's when you're obliged to choose how much you'll go along with. If you are not devoting every breath of every day waking and sleeping to destroying those who slaughter the innocent as easy as signing a check, then how innocent are you willing to call yourself? It must be negotiated with the day, from those absolute terms."

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 12:23:00 AM, Blogger brooktrout said...

As one who believes non violence is a better way I find myself moved and shaken by the convictions of Mr. Gatlin. and the way they are backed up by a history of ruthless violence by the rich, the well armed and all their willing accomplices.

Still the democracy of ruthless violence currently in Iraq is not too promising. Like the Marx Brothers sang " I got guns, you got guns, all God"s children got guns."

Guess I don't have much of a knack for hosting, but Pynchon wrote these chapters, and there's plenty of untapped material here.

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 9:51:00 AM, Blogger sfmike said...

Dear brooktrout: You did a great job of hosting, easily one of the best, but what happened to the rest of the Chumps? Have you and I sailed off into our own Bilocated Reality on the other side of the Wall of Death and the other Chumps have sailed off into their own space/time continuum?

Now I'm scared.

By the way, I googled Wall of Death, and found that there are any number of fanatics who treasure the old WoD carnival sideshows, which were designed for motorcyclists to ride on the walls with the spectators looking down on the trick-riders from above. They're pretty cool.

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 1:32:00 PM, Blogger Rhythmball Lynn said...

Is Wall of Death anything like Wall of Sound, originated by Phil Spector, whose murder trial began this week?

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 2:09:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Maybe it's spring fever. The chumps are out where the wild breezes blow, takin their chances.

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 2:19:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Welcome rhythmball lynn. Could be pretty much the same ride for Phl. No sympathy from me.

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 2:20:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Sorry, Brooktrout -- I've been slap-nuts busy at work and exhausted at night. I've been noticing the pattern emerging that we Chumps tend to go quiet during the early part of the week and get more chatty toward the weekends.

I think both Richard Thompson and Thompson Spinach picked up on the Wall of Death idea independently -- it's a mighty hard picture for a person of a poetical (or lyrical) bent to leave alone, very rich with artistic possibilities. A wall between life and death, a binary hinge-point that, like an osmotic tissue, you can go through but never come back, a barrier that only a maniac daredevil would mess with.

Boy, these folks sure do a lot of communicating with each other through dreams, don't they? I've not gone back and counted, but offhand I can remember Mayva in Stray's dream, Deuce in Frank's dream, Webb in Reef's, Webb in Kit's. It's almost like there's two Traverse families -- a Night family and a Day family...

Prolly be an interesting project to pull those dreams out of the book and see if there's a pattern to 'em.

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 2:24:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

The image of Moss Gatlin's horseless carriage with a steeple and bells on it, cracked my ass up.

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 2:31:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Thinking about it, wasn't there a recent-ish movie that featured a Wall of Death carnival act? British? Or have I been nipping at Mother Kindred's laudanum again?

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 2:39:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 2:39:00 PM, Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Sorry brook... It was an unusually busy week for me as well; I've fallen behind, but plan to catch up in a day or two.

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 3:23:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

There's a subtle nuance in Pynchon's narrative style that has been evident to me since at least Gravity's Rainbow, and another example of it reached out & grabbed me in this section.

477:9-11: "...the sheriff, Eugene Boilster, who'd been standing at the front sill of his office all morning scanning the grass-scape, likely the sky as well..."

It's the word "likely" that attracts my attention. By whose judgment is it "likely" that he's scanning the sky? A truly omniscient narrator would know whether he'd been scanning the sky or not, wouldn't he, and thus omit the word? So is the likelihood-judgment being done by a character? Is the narrator putting that judgment into the mind of an observer, "borrowing" the uncertainty from the fictional observer and making it evident in the narration? If so, which observer?

Or is the narrator not omniscient? Or is he being selectively omniscient?

 
At Thursday, April 26, 2007 5:51:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Ahoy, Chumps! This is just to say yrs trly has been offshore all this week and only just returned. I'll attempt to write something cogent here - no guarantees, mind you - in a day or so.

 
At Friday, April 27, 2007 8:07:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

The whole question of omniscience, omniscient narrative and Pynchon's subversion of omniscient narrative gets strange fast as neddie's thoughts suggest.

By whose judgment is it "likely" that he's scanning the sky? A truly omniscient narrator would know whether he'd been scanning the sky or not, wouldn't he, and thus omit the word?

The Calvinist version of the doctrine of predestination seems to come from the precept of the omniscience of God worked out in the high councils of the early middle ages. But there is a lot in the bible that doesn't fit the omniscience idea:
And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great. and because their sin is grievous; I will go down now,and see whether they have done altogerther according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not I will know. Genesis 18 20-21

Apparently the almighty occasionally gets some bad second hand information. But the omniscient voice seems like the natural voice of traditional myth legend and storytelling and it's funny in the bible passage here to think that the biblical narrator knew and was able to tell us what the Lord did not know.

I mean how much human psychology comes out of this linguistic preference, the presumptuousness of declarative sentences? It is fitting to challenge and play with this preference.

One of the effects of the way Pynchon handles this for me is to make the reader an active part of any meaning, or jokes, or references to be derived , perceived, etc. Instead of a mystery that the writer penetrates or even solves we are given a great deal of information, and hints about different ways to think about it.

 
At Saturday, April 28, 2007 5:21:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Studied in our undergrad English major days were ideas of narrative stances, mainly being: First Person, Omnicient, Limited Omnicient, and, usually an aspect of First Person, the Unreliable Narrator. The last is someone who thinks they know what is going on, but are wrong. Examples of this can be found in Ford's The Good Soldier and Vidal's rather minor effort, 1876. Henry James really advanced the ball with The Ambassadors (the most perfect novel I have ever read) providing an omnicient narrator with access to the psychologies (as Mr. Milch used to say) of two or three characters, while the unreliablity of the observations of the main character lay unexposed 'til the end (and then revealed in the simplest action) even as the rest of his odd psychology is laid bare in the course of the novel's events.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes. . . As Ned so astutely flagged, Pynchon, to my way of seeing it, advances the ball a bit further with an omnicient narrator, like that OT God, with access to his characters' interior lives, without absolute control. He, in so many words, endeavors to present us with a complete picture, but also makes us aware with subtle touches as this that he cannot give a full rendering. This autonomy, me hearties, is the greatest gift an author can bestow upon his characters, to whom he owes as great a responsibility for complete psychological fulfillment (Mr. Milch again) as that owed to the reader for a honest and complete articualtion of the whole tale.

 
At Saturday, April 28, 2007 5:59:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

But on to cases. . .

This is the most heartfelt of sections we've yet read, a very wise telling of the ins and outs of family ties. I'll note that Deuce does a lot of weeping in his exchanges with Lake, which serves to lessen him in the eyes of his wife.

Regret seems to pervade both episodes and the whole section struck me as something that a young man could not have written so convincingly. The awareness of friends lost during Frank's return to Nochecita is something us old guys know all too well.

There is indeed a wonderful Western story running through ATD, and it struck me how it is something that one could mine out from the rest.

The Julius who Frank meets in the saloon back room is certainly the future Groucho, who turned 15 in October, 1905. The Wikipedia has the Marx family living on East 94th St., however. Having once resided in the same nabe I can't say for sure if it is 93rd or 94th, but there is a bronze marker on the old tenement in question (if it has not been torn down.)

 
At Saturday, April 28, 2007 7:23:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

I think there's something to the limited omniscient narrator in this novel. But there's all kinds of limitations there. Perhaps the narrator is telling this story first person but the first person is god (omniscient with personality). Maybe the omniscient narrator seems uncertain because there are things that he/she/it cannot convey to you (maybe in this timeline/parrallel universe, but not in another equally important one). The Good Soldier is a perfect example of a limited omniscient narrator who is limited by denial. In "My Mortal Enemy" the narrator is limited by being starstruck. Keep in mind, omniscinet, lim. omniscient, second and first person narration are things critics come up with. Writers tend to write and let other people come up with the designations later, and critics like to have a kind of short hand.

 
At Saturday, April 28, 2007 7:28:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

I'll be straight. I'm having trouble coming up with interesting things to say about this section. It seems like a long run for a really short slide. We don't learn much, our opinions don't change much, and aside from the motorcycle thing, I really wasn't all that fascinated by Pynchon's inventiveness. I mean, seriously, so he meets Groucho Marx? It isn't like that scene is particularly relevant by the inclusion of that character. Even the guy whose afraid of X's is sort of uninteresting because we've already talked about this idea of lines of force crossing. It's old hack by now.

I suppose that in a thousand page novel you can afford to spend thirty pages touching base with characters, but I wasn't exactly glued to the book the way I have been in sections past.

No big whoop though, I can stand longer periods of stasis from lesser authors. I will endure here.

 
At Saturday, April 28, 2007 7:31:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

One last thing. I don't have a clue about this because I'm not a real motorcycle guy, but I have driven that patch of road on 80 between Reno and Cheyenne quite a few times and I know that at a certain time of the year it is FILLED with motorcycle riders. The wide open spaces of the West seem to be a kind of open invitation to the Harley enthusiast. I don't know why but I kept being reminded in this section of that surreal feeling one gets when swarmed inside a convoy of bikes all headed towards some secret motorhead mecha to which you, in your Saturn, are not invited.

 
At Sunday, April 29, 2007 4:21:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Don't kow if Julius, Groucho Marx adds anything or not to ATD. The idea that as a youth he got stranded in a fairly wild western town in a time of labor wars does make G. Marx's alternative Marxism seem more informed. Sometimes comedians get away with some pretty radical critiques of culture because they are funny.

 
At Sunday, April 29, 2007 6:37:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

Though this story could be "mined out" and read as a Western, I still don't think I've ever run across the protagonists of a Western tale on TV, film or in a book who were a family of anarchist dynamiters. Probably the closest thing to it is the weird Louis Malle film with Jeanne Moreau and Bridget Bardot called "Viva Maria!" where the two run around being revolutionaries in Mexico.

Come to think of it, I remember being amazed while living in Europe for most of a year in 1972 that Europeans were so obsessed with American West mythology, particularly the Cowboy and Indians branch of it. Most of that mythology was originally created in the period of "Against The Day" so it feels totally appropriate, particularly in light of the fact that Our Heros and Heroines are about to enter The Continent in earnest.

 
At Wednesday, May 14, 2008 7:11:00 PM, Blogger The Gid said...

sfmike sez: "don't think I've ever run across the protagonists of a Western tale ... who were a family of anarchist dynamiters."

A Fistful of Dynamite (aka Duck, You Sucker) comes close...

 
At Wednesday, December 28, 2011 10:35:00 AM, Anonymous buy custom paper said...

I think the English occultist Aleister Crowley was reported by acquaintances to have the ability, even though he himself was not conscious of its happening at the tim

 
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