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 30, 2007

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.
chumps2 public web album

H. Rumbold, Master Barber


At Monday, April 30, 2007 9:33:00 AM, Blogger sfmike said...

Very nice job, Master Barber. For the last fifty pages or so, the book has been reading almost like a traditional multi-generational saga a la James Michener, and it was becoming quite soothing. Of course, just when we have the romantic meeting of our young Hero and Heroine, Kit and Dally, their ship(s) bilocate in time and space, and the funhouse floor drops from beneath us yet again.

At Monday, April 30, 2007 11:22:00 AM, Anonymous cleek said...

if Pynchon is talking about squaring series of complex numbers, and bifurcating realities, we should probably expect him to dip into fractals any moment now.

At Monday, April 30, 2007 4:22:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

L’Arimeaux et Querlis - that is fucking rich. Great catch.

Typical indeed, in M&D he has Frankin exclaim, "Fine by me, as Howard said to Howard."

At Thursday, May 03, 2007 5:03:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

MB: Read with great interest your, for all I know, very lucid explanation of Reimann's H. However, can you give us English majors some idea of what's at stake there? Is it a portal, or at least a door sign, to another dimension? The unraveled thread in an otherwise well-meshed universe? A REALLY brainy example of Sodoku?

Specifically I'm wondering if there isn't some connected function between Pinky's (and wotta rude nick(er) name that is!) discovery of the (498:21) tantalizing possibility. . . just out of reach of the Reimann number order and Cyprian's sensing one page earlier (497:33) of the incommensurable mystery, the dense, unknowable Christ. . .

For all you non-Cricketers, Ranji and C.B. Fry were the two idols of the game during W.G. Grace's long eclipse before WWI. Notable for our needs is that Ranji (short for Ranjitsinji, a man from the university-educated Indian nobility) was considered, for his dark skin and utterly unorthodox and fluid batting, something on the order of a magician. Fry, all Christian scoutmaster, body beautiful (nude pix of him exist), correct pillar of the establishment (and mainly closeted gay man) was, of course, Ranjitsinji's stylistic opposite.

At Thursday, May 03, 2007 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Akatabi said...

Thanks, WD, for the elucidation on Ranji and Fry. I have added their portraits to the public web gallery. Wish I understood the game- most of my knowledge comes from the absolutely charming description of an English country match ca. 1906 from E. R. Eddison's A Fish Dinner in Memison, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

As for zeta functions and Riemann, there's probably not much there of practical import that I know of, but proof or disproof of the conjecture remains a very big deal for mathematicians. It has implications for the nature of prime numbers and how to find them- which in turn could affect modern cryptography, since public key encryption methods are based on the fact that it is relatively easy to multiply numbers, but vastly harder to factor the result. And it seems to me that there me be a kind of crux here - if the conjecture is true, math goes one way, of it is false, math goes another way. Kind of like Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometry, real and imaginary numbers, quantum and Newtonian physics. Or perhaps it's a Gödel thing- a statement that is true but can't be proved. The first few zeroes of the function along the critical line can be seen where the red line in the graph in the public gallery touches the x-axis. What their significance is or how to find them (although as I said, billions and billions have been computed) is beyond me. I believe they are cited in in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon as a pseudo-random number generator.

Also added a few more dazzle camouflage ships to the gallery. At first, my reaction was "what U-Boat commander would fall for this, unless he was doubled over laughing?" But a little deeper delving into the dazzle sites makes me a bit more of a believer- at least in the idea that the ship certainly wouldn't be invisible, but details of shape and course might be harder to see as a gestalt than those of a mimic-camouflaged one. Important links, too, to Picasso and the cubists. As I had been hoping, some grad student is tackling the assignment.

At Thursday, May 03, 2007 11:49:00 AM, Blogger Monstro said...

I'm with Will on all this math. I managed second semester Calculus and I'm still lost.

I think in the Yashmeen section, we might say that Pynchon is totally obsessed with chronology. Here's why:

I know that these characters are important in a "at some point," kind of way, but they are totally irrelevant to me right now. Honestly, who cares?

I think what Pynchon is trying to do is to plod along. He's not moving backwards once we meet these people but rather telling us what's going on even with characters who we don't care about yet under the assumption that we will one day care about them.

Normally, this would signal amateur night and a big gong and hook, but the thing is, in this novel, it's a rather daring task to just plod along. I mean, what does it mean to plod when there are time machines and alternate dimensions. Taking such a system and moving it forward an inch at a time is, in and of itself, a herculean feat.

But this, of course, speaks to its difficulty; not it's aesthetic because reading about characters who are trivial at best hundreds of pages after their introduction in this MTV-esque scene switching was beyond annoying. I didn't know what was going on and I didn't care to figure it out. Hats off to your Master Barber, I couldn't have written the summary for this section.

As for fractals, I believe already got one, 1/2 the book is for the Traverses, 1/4 for the Chums, 1/8 for the Rideouts, 1/16 for Lew Basnight (for whom I had such high hopes), 1/32 for the Vibes, 1/64 for these minor characters. Ingenious yes, but is it art?

At Thursday, May 03, 2007 6:35:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Two things jump out at me from the Yashmeen portion of our reading: Blondeness and periodicity.

Blondness: Akatabi, you already pointed out in your excellent summary the passage about blondeness and photography -- "silver darkness on the negative, golden brightness on the print" (493:21). Yashmeen detests it -- note how the light that descends into the dining hall is described by the narrator (definitely omniscient now) as "saturated blonde" (498:9), and not only a few lines later, Yashmeen takes an (unnamed) girl into her bed and "taking the girl by the blonde hair" proceeds -- and not in a nice way -- to... ahem.

Periodicity: Waaaay back on p. 100, we had Foley Walker, an assistant to Scarsdale Vibe who'd stood in for Vibe in the Civil War, took a bullet for him at Cold Harbor? We noted then that they were "twin Vibes" and wondered if we'd get references to "phasing"?

Well, here it is, in that Snazzbury's Silent Frock -- "wave interference, sound canceling sound, the act of walking being basically a periodic phenomenon"... I'm no sound engineer, but the "sound-canceling-sound" phenomenon is quite real; recording engineers have to be careful about microphone placement to avoid exactly this thing. There are points between, say, two saxophones, where the sound is deadened by phasing of the two complex signals. If you've ever miswired a pair of speakers out of phase with each other, you'll have noticed that they sound distinctly weaker. I think that's the principle behind those spooky noise-canceling headphones, too -- but don't hold me to that.

Soon after the bit about Snazzbury's Silent Frock, we have the Ferris wheel that sends Yashmeen into a reverie about "modular arithmetic and its relation to the Riemann problem" -- "vertical rotation on a grand scale."

I'm thinking about a Ferris wheel viewed through a piece of Iceland Spar, with the two resulting wheels beginning to rotate out of phase with each other.

I'm also thinking about another beer. This shit makes this poor Comp. Rel. major's head hurt.

At Thursday, May 03, 2007 6:45:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

most of my knowledge comes from the absolutely charming description of an English country match ca. 1906 from E. R. Eddison's A Fish Dinner in Memison, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

I was wondering where I'd heard of this title before, and realized you'd recommended this very chapter in a comment on a post I did a couple of years ago on a tidbit I'd read in a recent biography of P. G. Wodehouse, on cricket matches from almost exactly this period (1906, to be exact), between teams made up of some marvelous company:

"Wodehouse's team, the Actors vs. Authors, included Arthur Conan Doyle.... He also played for the Punch XI, which included the young A. A. Milne, and J. M. Barrie's XI, the Allahakbarries...."

At Thursday, May 03, 2007 7:04:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Kute Korrespondences Dept.: The very next thing I did after the comment about the Ferris wheels rotating out of phase was to pick up Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head, an excellent book of critical commentary on the Beatles' recordings. I opened it to where I'd left off, to find this as the very first sentence:

"With its fade-out of Goons-style piano, the soundscape of "Tomorrow Never Knows" is a riveting blend of anarchy [!] and awe [!!], its loops crisscrossing in a random pattern of colliding circles. [!!!]"

At Thursday, May 03, 2007 7:43:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Really don't mean to vector, here, but after the Beatle-reading was over I settled down to watch last night's (Tivo'd) episode of "Lost."

It appears that the wreckage of Flight 815 was found in a four-mile-deep trench off the coast of Bali. The bodies were all there.

Meaning: two Flight 815s. It bilocated.


At Thursday, May 03, 2007 9:47:00 PM, Blogger Akatabi said...

Monstro, you have a geometric series there, not technically a fractal, but similar and important for the fact that the part is like the whole. Razzle dazzle camouflage perhaps has the same effect. I like the proportion by character group concept and will be interested to see how it holds up.

Neddie: wheels within wheels! you have just described the quark! And what spin does a quark have? 1/2!!! I am awestruck at your memory, but E.R. Eddison is my absolute fave. Given the similarity of out literary tastes, I think he deserves touting.

At Thursday, May 03, 2007 11:11:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Really enjoying these comments. That bit about the spin of quarks is frickin weird.

Don't really get the the math but after a 3rd reading and a couple sips of tequila Master Barber's explanation of the Riemann conundrum started making more sense. I think though in traveling to Europe we are entering a world of fabulous disguises, where ocean liners are battleships, idiot fops are working for British intelligence, mata haris are being fitted with silent skirts, zombini, the master of mirrors is going to tour and Yashmeen is the object of many plots and some role reversing heartfelt love. My sense is that the Riemann puzzle poses in Yahmeens mind as the possibility of penetratng the disguises and encrryptions and being the first to understand the why of something.

She and Kit are on similar quests. Gottingen for them is a western version of a Zen Monastery- the possibility of transcending the pain of their compromised position..

At Friday, May 04, 2007 4:52:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

I want to push a bit at the transformed Stupendica door, not that I think it will swing open to reveal anything, but rather to admire how it was made and hope the knowledge will come in handy somewhere later.

Note first on 514:37 IT HAD BEGUN to seem as if she [Dally] and Kit were on separate vessels. And here I think that, maaybe, they are in separate novels. Keep in mind that Kit has a bad habit of disappearing (pps 349 & 513) whenever things begin to click between them.

I think the Italians have a technical term for what Pynchon pulls on his readers in the Stupendica/Emperor Maximilian transformation, that being scherzo, a joke, or trick. The two ships were merged. How? At whose behest? (517:3)

Ehh... the author's?

This is beginning to sound like a sea story (517:10) sez professional Pynchon character O. I. C. Bodine (Oh, I see), and a big coal-black hand, or just one made of coal, grabs Kit and sends him through fierce spasms of light to-where? Well, a narrative now far removed from the one that still carries Dally.

With Kit in the very Plutonian hold, the liner transforms with no small inconvenience (Hmmm...) to the passengers (518:8-32). The Zombini kids think it's a trick of their dad's. "Yeah, blame it on the magician." he remarks. However, he IS the only character who knows what is happening: "it's the old Liner-to-Battleship Effect." he sez.


Soon things on the Maximilian are back to normal. Kit is on his way to Africa, landed ashore as if reincarnated. The Stupendica also reverts to normal again, leaving its military double to wander the mists (523:1), the recent inconvenience apparently forgotten, but with one missing passenger. Where had that confounded Kit disappeared to? wonders Dahlia.

Behold the power of bilocation (522:3).

NB: those Gnaoua musicians on 522 share the trait of situational invisibility with other minor characters, notably Moss Gatlin (467:8)

At Friday, May 04, 2007 8:52:00 AM, Blogger brooktrout said...

How easily we drift into other universes both personal and social; one day we are sailing along in a constitional ship of state with guaranteed right of citizenship and the next we are in the plutonian nether world of torture, spying, detention without due process. Shit happens.

At Friday, May 04, 2007 9:12:00 AM, Blogger Neddie said...

The two ships were merged. How? At whose behest? (517:3)

Ehh... the author's?


We've been tootling along here with essentially two stories, two groups of characters. I think of them as 1) everybody who was at the Chicago Exposition, and 2) everybody who wasn't -- basically, the Colorado Crowd.

The narrative style and the events described for Group 1) are Flat-Out Pynchon Weird. Got your boy's-adventure-novel style, your hyper-florid parodies of late Victorian diction -- some of those sentences are positively Jamesian -- and your time machines, your Harmonica Marching Bands, your Collapsing Campanili...

Group 2) inhabits something much more naturalistic. (Will, I agree completely that the Traverse arc seems suspiciously like it began life as a completely separate book -- but maybe that's deliberate.) While we do have some Pynchon Weird, like animate ball-lightning and Don Juan peyote-trips, but in the main it's a Western Revenge Saga, with some Nikolai Bukharin and Sinclair Lewis thrown in.

But there is overlap: The Vibe family, and, I think most importantly, Merle and Dally.

I've been reading along wondering just when these two stories are going to start to interact with each other -- why the hell are they in the same book at all?

Well, now we've got it: Kit meets Dally -- and the minute it happens, BLANG-WHIZZ-ZIPPOLA things go into Hyperdrive Pynchon Weird.

(I know Kit and Dally have actually met before -- might be profitable to go back and review that...)

First, I wonder how Kit feels about his New Reality? He seems to be taking being wrenched from a naturalistic Western into Full-on Pynchon Weird with aplomb. (Pynchon characters are often this way, aren't they? I don't know about you, but I would find being followed around by an invisible mechanickal duck, to grab an example out of the air, a bit off-putting...)

Second, I've been thinking of Group 1) as Europe (decadent, surreal) and Group 2) as America (disciplined, naturalistic). I'm not at all surprised to find, now, that the meeting-point of the two groups takes place on an ocean-liner in the middle of the Atlantic.

And, for that matter, just about exactly in the middle of the book....

At Friday, May 04, 2007 9:25:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

(I know Kit and Dally have actually met before -- might be profitable to go back and review that...)

Well, ha-ha, both meetings (pp 349 & 513) are preceded by a public perfomance from la familia Zombini and end with Kit disappearing.

Coincidence?? Ehhh. . .

At Friday, May 04, 2007 9:39:00 AM, Blogger Neddie said...

...Or, to put it more succinctly,


(Relationship George and Independent George. Pass the Iceland Spar!)

At Friday, May 04, 2007 10:23:00 AM, Blogger Neddie said...

Neddie: wheels within wheels! you have just described the quark!

An' me only fourteen years old!

I sure wasn't trying to. Pynchon sure does get the old brain working, doesn't he? I realized this morning that I'd been so weirded out by a Bilocation in "Lost" not because of any conspiracy on anybody's part but because I'd been working the "bilocation-recognition" muscle in my head. Got a regular six-pack of 'em working up there now. Turns heads on babes, I can tell you.

The other thought I had was about the Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things. I read about Snazzbury's Silent Frock, which works with phased frequencies, and advert to my own (amateur) discipline, music. Akatabi reads that and sees quarks.

But music and quarks are governed by the same mathematical rules. (I know, that's a desperate oversimplification, but let me just enjoy my acid flashback, OK?)

I have precious little grasp of the math involved in music, but I do know that wiggling, phasing, overtone-producing frequencies can be described with exacting detail using math. And I now know, thanks to Akatabi, that the spin of a quark is 1/2.

Reading Pynchon, you get the very clear sense that this guy has a deep mastery of both the mathematics of music and of subatomic particles. Now, there are lots of people who have that sort of knowledge -- we call them mathematicians, I believe.

But there is only one person who can force a reader to ponder both of these disciplines through the unbelievably slippery medium of fiction: Thomas Ruggles Pynchon.

I'm very glad we've undertaken this project. Very glad indeed. What pleasant company!

At Friday, May 04, 2007 11:09:00 AM, Anonymous cleek said...

a public perfomance from la familia Zombini and end with Kit disappearing

that's a problem the Zombini's have created for some other people, thanks to their special mirror-box, IIRC.

At Friday, May 04, 2007 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

The mirror box lined with, possibly, the same Italian black fabric from which Snazzbury makes frocks?

At Friday, May 04, 2007 7:41:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Enjoyed the the exposition of the meeting of worlds layed out by neddie jingo. The only distinction I would make is that I think the free radicals are everyone who has direct contact with the chums rather than the attendants of the Chicago exposition.

At Saturday, May 05, 2007 5:52:00 PM, Blogger Decency's Jigsaw said...

Brooktrout sez: ...the free radicals are everyone who has direct contact with the chums... And I emphatically, wholeheartedly agree. Except to add: what constitutes "contact"? We saw Reef start to blur about the edges simply by reading one of their dime novels in the lockup, and later when he read to Webb on their way out of Jeshimon... And didn't we learn recently (423:11) that those Chums dime novels also serve as recruitment brochures of sorts? Ah the power of literature. Gives a whole new meaning to the notion of being "transported to another world" while reading an engrossing novel...

At Saturday, May 05, 2007 6:46:00 PM, Blogger Monstro said...

Might I point out, and maybe this is just too obvious, but the Chums are kind of blurring around the edges there too. I liked Neddies comment except that I'm dividing the book up amongst people who could have existed (even if they didn't) and those who couldn't have (though through immitation, who knows?). So fiction fictional (I guess?). Which I think still creates the criss-cross thing. The supremely fictional characters, the Chums, are becoming more and more realistic, the realistic characters, the opposite. Leaving the middle ground characters to fend for themselves, I suppose.

At Saturday, May 05, 2007 10:30:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

Just about everyone in this book is blurring in time and space, which I think may be the author's intention. He's trying to make our brains crack, which is a good thing I suppose.

Apropos of nothing, I encountered the first typo in this magnificently proofread publication. It's on page 513, line 11: "She smlled falsely."

At Sunday, May 06, 2007 6:39:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

everyone who has direct contact with the chums

Recall also how the Chums appeared more adult and serious (Dr. Counterfly, scholarly, bearded. p 139) to Fleetwood Vibe when they tried to warn the Vormance expedition.

At Monday, May 07, 2007 1:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi enjoying the blog, just been lurking -could I request though - no further spoilers for "Lost" because we havent got that far in the UK yet. Cheers!

At Monday, May 07, 2007 2:50:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Whoops, sorry! Shouldn't be talking about Lost at all, anyway.

Actually, what I said isn't true anyway. Turns out the whole thing was a dream.

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