She Blinded Me With Zeta Functions
ATD pp. 489-524
We cut to England with Nigel and Neville (introduced in pp. 219-242) in a steam bath, debating which of Yashmeen Halfcourt’s nipples was glimpsed (“Now was that stage left or audience left?” 489:15) as they spied on her skinny-dipping. Much theatrical atmosphere in this section. They also contemplate each other’s penises (with lethargic annoyance) and reveal that Yashmeen, after returning a trinket from Neville, has a new beau in one Cyprian Latewood, of Latewood’s Patent Wallpapers and Embryo Apostlet at Cambridge University. Yashmeen’s exotic Orientalism and Cyprian’s gayness mark the relationship “It’s that harem mentality, being sweet on the Eunuchs sort of thing. As long as it’s always someone that impossible” (489:17). Their attention then turns to opium beer.
In Reginald “Ratty” Mc Hugh’s rooms at King’s, he and one Capsheaf and Cyprian attempt to mope themselves into the “lilies-and-lassitude humor of the 90’s” (491:18) and with “the ineluctability of certain mathematical convergences”, Yashmeen’s name comes up. Cyprian blurts “I think I’m in love with her”. “As gently as I can, Latewood… You. Sodding. Idiot. she, prefers, her, own, sex”. Having established the (at least nominally) the lay of the land on both sides, Being college students, counter-examples are immediately brought up, including “divine Walt” (Whitman, 492:1) and one Crayke, whose object of affection was Dymphna, of the Shetland pony persuasion. As a last resort, studying is recommended.
Yashmeen has her own fan club in the persons of Lorelei, Noellyn and Faun, who counsel her in similar fashion “dump him” when learning he doesn’t dance; be content with “vegetable love” (ref. to Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress” but immediately taken down the obvious path (494:23). Cyprian’s one redeeming quality to Yashmeen is that he makes her laugh. Yashmeen’s sidelong (c.f. the portrait of Constance Penhallow, p. 127) looks have an erogenous effect on Cyprian.
Ratty has incongruously become a favorite of Professor Renfrew, who is compiling information on everything for his “Map of the World”, in whose orbit Yashmeen also circles, and Cyprian hangs on every tidbit of information about her, including that she has “connections to the Eastward” (496:11).
During summer vacation, Yashmeen returns to her rooms in Chunxton Crescent , feels alienated from T.W.I.T. and distant from Lew Basnight, and immerses herself in mathematics and the “journey into the dodgy terrain of Riemann’s zeta function and his famous conjecture…that all its nontrivial zeroes had a real part equal to one half” (496:30).
Back in Cambridge after the long vac, the mode includes fringes (bangs) worn by the upper-class in imitation of the working girl, the fortunes of Ranji and C.B. Fry of the England XI vs. Australia, slide rule gunslinger facedowns in New Court and Coronation Red. This latter may provide a time cue, as the coronation of Edward VII and Alexandra, finally bringing the Victorian Era to a close, was in August, 1902. Yashmeen realizes her pursuit of the zeta must take her to Göttingen, where Riemann’s papers and Hilbert are. She and Cyprian have a typically understated parting (“There’s little future for you in hanging about here simply being adored. I know nothing about Riemann, but I do at least understand obsessiveness. Don’t I” (499:24). He sidelong admires her neck.
Renfrew, on hearing Yashmeen’s intention, plots against his doppelganger Werfner. Back in Chunxton Crescent, she consults the Grand Cohen, who advises her to be less attractive by being metempsychosed as a vegetable. A package, ostensibly from Renfrew, arrives directing her to an appointment for a fitting of a Snazzbury’s Silent Frock (500:21), the dress that harmonically cancels out any rustling and an instance of the developing theme of camouflage. There are hijinks in the fitting room, Yashmeen drifts into a reverie involving the Earls’s Court ferris wheel (harkening back to the one at the 1893 Columbian Exposition) and jellied eels, and departs for the Continent. Cyprian is dejected, but – feeling all is not over between them – not disconsolate.
The next section (505) begins with another sendoff, this of Dally and Erlys Rideout picking up from where we left them (357) and boarding the SS Stupendica with assorted Zombinis headed for Europe. This section up to the middle of 515 I find remarkable in its purity and simplicity- to the point of any comments I might make being clumsy and intrusively offensive. Suffice it to say it’s the continuation of the backstory or Merle and Erlys, already pregnant with Dally, meeting in Cleveland after the death of her father, Bert. The sunsets unnaturally vivid due to the eruption of Krakatoa (Krakatau, 1883 – “I thought sunsets were just always supposed to look like that” (507:3). Their unspoken agreement to travel together. Dreams if Dally. Luca Zombini appears and Merlys decamps with him, leaving Dally to Merle. “You know you can have anything from me you want. I’m in no position –“ “I know, but Merle told me I couldn’t take advantage. Is why I was never fixin to do more than drop in, say hello, be on my way again.” … “Turned out to be all different anyhow.” (509:14). Tender, simple and a bit melancholic love of a mother and a daughter. Among the other passengers is one Kit Traverse, traveling to Göttingen on Scarsdale Vibe’s dime to study mathematics and “Become the next Edison” (331). Large obvious implied signpost- That’s exactly where Yashmeen is headed!
Having met before at R. Wilshire Vibe’s Greenwich Village soiree, and with a bit of motherly research, Kit and Dally may acceptably acknowledge each other. Dally knew Frank Traverse in the Telluride Tommmyknocker section so she and Kit have that to catch each other up on. Just as things are lining up nicely – on Dally and Kit on the promenade deck, orchestra playing Victor Herbert and Wolf-Ferrari -- the Traverse history winds toward the Webb/Deuce business and Kit (trying to protect Dally) is gone. Dally relates this as Erlys strokes her hair (513:39) – heart-wrenchingly simply beautiful.
Things return to normal Pynchonian weirdness starting on 515, when Kit -- feeling claustrophobic and constrained vis-à-vis his relationship with Dally -- and his math buddy Root Tubman start poking around below decks. Turns out the Stupendica is also the SMS Emperor Maximillian, 25,000 ton Dreadnought-class battleship of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Vast round empty cabins to accommodate gun turrets, decks hinged like a Transformer to swing down and lower the ship’s profile and become armor plating, crew trained to scramble over the side at a moment’s notice and repaint the hull in dazzle camouflage. The ship is more than a transformer, however- somehow it is both a liner and a Dewadnoght simultaneously, built at two separate shipyards in Trieste (!) and somehow inexplicably merged. A quantum effect, maybe, on a rather larger than usual scale and prompting the question “How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?” In the boiler room we meet American stoker OIC Bodine (!) (Other works post) and Kit is press-ganged into shoveling coal. Apparently the two ships, originally conjoined only at the Engine Room at a “deeper level” (519:23 and Ahab’s argument to Starbuck), are now separate and Kit’s reality exists on the Maximillian. The ship steams around near the coast of Morocco and Kit observes German families in place to be offloaded in order to create a ready-made “hostage crisis”. Kit slips ashore at Agadir, stays long enough for a drink and some gnaoua culture, and is promptly re-shanghied on the trawler Fomalhaut out of Ostend. Discussion with Moïsés, resident Jewish mystic, centers on the duality between this Agadir and the other Agadir or Tarshish also known as Cádiz (simultaneously?) as Jonah’s landing-place and the possible function of the Straits of Gibraltar as a quantum diffractor or Maxwell’s demon (521:38). Back aboard the alternate reality of the Stupendica, Dally searches fruitlessly for Kit, and after a brief atmospheric pause in Venice, arrive at their destination, the bilocationally-apt city of Trieste.
Notes and Commentary
Nigel and Neville, to me, speak in the voices of Julian and Sandy from the BBC comedy series “Around the Horne”.
Laterality and lighting are, as always, keys.
The Apostles are a secret society/debating club at Cambridge whose new members are referred to as embryos. Famous members are numerous and include those in government, the arts, spies and homosexuals, none of which is mutually exclusive.
Lilies and lassitude were trademarks of Oscar Wilde.
Yashmeen’s nickname at Cambridge is Pinky (493:9) rendered Peeng-kyeah. Coincidentally (?) it was also former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s nickname at Harvard.
The three blonde girl-chums (although I can’t get Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo out of my head) are girls of “high albedo… the girls of silver darkness on the negative, golden brightness in the print” (493:20). The Grossmiths and Weedon (494:37) who the girls wouldn’t disdain a tipped wink from are authors of “Diary of a Nobody” explained here. Grossmith Senior starred in many of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. Also, aside from the Lorelei/siren thing, there’s the Rhine Maidens in Wagner to consider.
Before throwing up our hands and saying “It’s all Greek to me”, let’s at least dip our toes into the deep waters of Riemann’s Hypothesis. Published by G.F.B. Riemann in an 1859 paper as sort of an aside, it states the conjecture that the real part of all non-trivial zeroes to the zeta function of a complex number is one-half. Okay, what’s a zeta function? Just the infinite sum of the terms one divided by the index raised to the power of the argument. Thus zeta(2) = 1 + 1/(2 squared) + 1/(3 squared) + 1/(4 squared)… on to infinity. Zeta(3) = 1 + 1/(2 cubed) + 1/(3 cubed) + … Contrary, perhaps, to our intuition, the sum of an infinite number of positive numbers isn’t necessarily infinite. Achilles chasing the proverbial tortoise at 1 meter per second runs a meter in the first second, half a meter in the next half second, a quarter meter in the next quarter second and so on until he approaches arbitrarily close to two meters. The series is said to converge to the number 2, or in other words, the limit of the series from n=1 to n=infinity of 1 divided by 2 to the nth is 2. (Since the times are decreasing similarly, Achilles catches the tortoise). The zeta function diverges for n=1 (1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + …) is infinite, and it converges for all real (rational, like 1 and 1/7 and irrational like pi and the square root of 2) numbers greater than 1. Zeta(3) cited above happens to converge (without necessarily warning us) to pi squared divided by 6. So far, so good, eh? What nasty Riemann did in his paper on the number of prime numbers which are less than an arbitrary given number, was apply the zeta function to complex numbers. That is, numbers that have a real part and an imaginary part that is a multiple of the square root of -1. We have met them before. Remember quaternions -- i squared = j squared = k squared = -1? Remember the complex plane, where one axis is the real numbers and the other is the imaginary numbers? Anyhoo, when you plug a complex number (a + bi, where a is the real part and b is the imaginary part) into the old zeta function, Riemann found that there is another way to represent the zeta function as a functional equation (that is, a function defined in terms of itself. Doesn’t seem to buy us much headway on the surface, but diddling with the functional equation shows that all complex numbers with the real part being a negative even integer (-2, -4, -6 etc.) plugged into the equation give you an easy answer, and thus are called trivial zeroes, while all others (called non-trivial zeroes by those to whom trivial is anything that can be proved with less than three blackboards full of equations) have a real part that must be between 0 and 1 and those so far tested by Riemann and others (billions and billions of them) all have a real part of one-half. Big whoop, you may say, and I wouldn’t blame you. Proving that the real part of the non-trivial zeroes of the zeta function of a complex number must be 1/2 has not so far proven to be trivial. Doing so would have implications in number theory and on numerous other proofs that hinge on the assumption of Riemann’s conjecture, but wouldn’t, say, make cracking all our encryption a piece of child’s play. But to mathematicians, proving the conjecture has become one of the Holy Grails, and even more so, now that Fermat’s last theorem has been apparently well and truly sorted. There’s a million dollar prize waiting. So, I hope that we may ponder the mystical ineffability of ½ and Yashmeen’s motivations with a bit more lucidity. Sorry if I didn’t succeed, and sorry for the length. (We get some amusing wacky hits, by the way, if we Google the solutions to the misspelled Reimann’s conjecture).
There’s something going on here about neck-admiring from a 3/4 rear vantage that I doubt has made it into the psychosexual literature. I don’t know if there’s a correlation, but geisha extend the white face powder down the nape of the neck and the collars of their kimono stand quite away from the back of the neck . Also, before going out, someone strikes a flint so that a spark lands there. I don’t know the significance.
The Silent Frock Atelier, L’Arimeaux et Querlis, for which read Larry, Moe and Curly. Typical.
R.M.S. Dreadnought launched 1906, 17,900 tons, 20.9 knots, 10 12-inch guns was so revolutionary that she gave her name to a whole series of battleships and prodded Germany and other countries into a major naval arms race – and a precursor to World War I.
Dazzle camouflage was actually used on ships (notably the liner Mauretania, sister ship to the Lusitania, in her wartime incarnation as troopship/ hospital ship. Instead of mimicry, whose object was to blend in with the surroundings, dazzle was intended to confuse the viewer into believing that one ship was many disconnected objects, thus making it harder to target position and direction. Bilocation, as it were.
Skepticism regarding Jonah’s landing and speed of travel is popular among doubters of Biblical inerrancy. If I remember correctly, it comes up in Father Mapple’s sermon in Moby-Dick.
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