Subdesertine Adventures (pp. 431-459)
It’s now Section Three, “Bilocations.” The prefix bi- means two, of course, which makes perfect sense to us, having discussed this theme for months now. Presumably, we’ll be seeing how this duple notion applies to the physical world. Will it mean two separate places, linked somehow? Parallel-worlds? Or, the phenomenon of a single being occupying two different places (or even times or dimensions) simultaneously? Guess we’ll have to read on to find out.
I suppose keeping an eye out any imagery suggesting two-ness would be a good idea. For example, in the first paragraph on page 431, we get the image of a Bactrian camel – fitting not only because that’s the variety found in the Asian desert, but also interesting in that it’s the two-humped variety.
We join Lindsay as he’s “cameling along,” noting the firmament, ruminating on the function of light during key moments in history. It’s confusing upon the first pass, as the reader can’t reasonably be expected to understand that Lindsay is actually riding a camel. I note, for no particular reason other than to point it out, that Lindsay Noseworth is described with his full name in this paragraph, yet only Lindsay in the opening paragraph.
Over the following two pages, we learn the back-story. Lindsay had “caught signs of Incipient Gamomania” (“abnormal desire to be married” ) during his most recent physical (mandated by the C. of C. Comprehensive Annual Coverage Agreement, or “CACA” – which the ATD Wiki points out is a universally-known word for “shit”). Note, of course, the “two” imagery there: “…my governing desire in life is to be no longer one, but two, a two which is, moreover, one—that is, denumerably two, yet—” .
The forbidden malady had earned him brief stay in the Biometric Institute of Neuropathy (read “loony-BIN”), from which he’d been discharged to find the Chums at their “subdesertine” post.
(Language notes: Whether obscure two-word phrases -- “mutatis mutandis”  “pari passu”  “allegro vivatchy”  etc. -- strike anyone as odd and somehow meaningful beyond their definitions is perhaps best left for the comments section.)
Page 434/435. The Chums leave the Inconvenience and are now on board the H.M.S.F. Saksaul, navigated by Captain Toadflax. According to this site (which has a picture), Saksaul is a fine name for a subdesertine craft. “Saksaul trees are one of only a few tree species able to survive in the sandy desert’s soils. They are an important ‘keystone’ species, providing shade and shelter to wildlife and grasses while also preventing erosion by stabilizing the sand with their root systems.”
(I assume HMSF must mean Her Majesty’s Sand-Frigate. The ship is referred to as a frigate at the bottom of p. 435, and then specifically a sand-frigate later at p. 440. Speaking of those initials, btw, I never did get around to reading the libretto from Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, but I'd expect to find additional similarities with our Chums.)
So, we’re on board the Saksaul, and learn about some of the equipment (how the “windows” work, the Paramorphoscope, the augers, the steering-blades, etc.). Toadflax comments [p435] that to find Shambhala, you need the right equipment and the right attitude (no doubt a reference to Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path, which I’m sure our host, Neddie, took notice of as well, given the prominence of those eight virtues along his blog’s right-hand margin).
(Funny, the technology and even some of the scenery in this section (e.g., the “Torriform Inclusion” ) reminds me of that god-awful movie The Core.)
Civilian paramorphoscope operator Stilton Gaspereaux (hereinafter SG) outlines a theory about pilgrimages devolving into crusades, warning that the search for Shambhala may run into an “unavoidable military element” [436-7]. He loads the Itinerary into the machine, which produces a dreamlike sensation of falling.
There’s a problem, though. According to SG, the final coordinates appear to be invisible. He believes there’s an “additional level of encryption”  to it, and wonders whether there might be a variety of Iceland Spar “that can polarize light not only in space but in time as well” .
He goes on to describe the Manicheans, an ancient religion you can read all about here. Note the interesting sentence in that article: “Because Manichaeism is a faith that teaches dualism, in modern English the word ‘manichaean’ has come to mean dualistic, presenting or viewing things in a ‘black and white’ fashion.” Notably, the discussion of Manicheanism leads to, IMHO, the most laugh-out-loud exchange in the book thus far (which I’ll repeat here just for fun):
“That’s the choice? Light or pussy? What kind of a choice is that?”
“Sorry, Lindsay, I meant ‘vagina’ of course!”
The discussion ends as they approach Nuovo Rialto “N.R.” , an ancient city with roots tracing back to “Mani himself.” The city had been ransacked by Jenghiz Khan (one would guess in the late 1100s). (And, maybe this is pushing the imagery a bit, but I’m tempted to suggest that the alternate spelling of Genghis Khan, here, is at least notably in keeping with the predominant theme of doubling or at least suggested/possible doubling.)
Toadflax explains the mystery surrounding the dating of the shrines in N.R. as they enter the “port.” The crew, meanwhile, begin their “Passing of the Remarks” (which I took to mean the usual comments the crew always makes before some leisure time).
SG warns the crew about the chong pir, sand fleas each “the size of a camel” . Wikipedia confirms that pulex is indeed a scientific name for flea – thus, Pynchon’s invention of pulicide, against which SG admonishes Suckling (who’d been packing a pistol, just in case). Strange creatures, the chong pir; they don’t so much attack as negotiate for your blood.
In no time, the crew are in the Sandman Saloon, where they meet oilmen Leonard and Lyle (L&L). I couldn’t help but think of George Bush as L&L described a bible-toting wildcatter from “the States,” from whose bible they received an epiphany about the next big strike (at the ruins of Sodom). When the Chums seem surprised about the oil exploration in the area, L&L point out that the Saksaul is not only likely equipped with oil gear, but that such exploration is probably its true objective. L&L slyly mention how valuable the Saksaul’s “logbooks of every bituminous possibility”  would be.
[Interesting note: In that middle paragraph on 442, there’s another mention of “single up all lines,” the opening words of AtD.]
As far as I can tell, there was never any proof (at least at this point) that the Saksaul was hiding anything from the Chums. Near the bottom of 442, there’s an interesting bit of narration from the Chums’ POV: “…[the Saksaul’s] crew continued to pretend that prospecting for oil was the furthest thing from their thoughts.” We’ve talked about paranoia in the previous sections, so this might be a good time to bring that up again. Clearly, the Chums believe Toadflax has a secret motive – and this belief ultimately leads to Randolph being caught in flagrante delicto about to blow the safe in Toadflax’s cabin.
After parting ways with the Saksaul, back aboard the Inconvenience, Miles goes “off on one of his extra-temporal excursions” . His vision closely resembles Chick and Darby’s experience in Dr. Zoot’s machine.
Meanwhile, the Saksaul comes under attack. Now here, it seems perhaps the Saksaul was in fact up to something besides searching for Shambhala. Toadflax, when asked who’s attacking them, remarks that “one mustn’t rule out the Standard Oil...” . He sends SG for help – tells him to take “water, oasis maps, and some meat lozenges” . (You gotta love that detail, right?!) SG makes it to London and begins searching for Inspector Sands (aka “the Sands of Inner Asia”).
Following that is a brief description of a terrible war brewing in the Talamakan desert (in China). Whether this is the same desert as the one we’ve been in for the past 15 pages, I admit, I didn’t catch.
We meet Inspector Sands on 445. He’s currently being called in on some disturbance at a cricket game – some “wog” who looks out of place. Turns out its SG in disguise.
The two stop off at the Smoked Haddock for a pint, where SG lays it on Sands that Shambhala has been found (under the sand, but within some kind of an air bubble) and there’s a war brewing over it.
This ends the subdesertine portion, for now. Were I not mired in my own sand pit all weekend – a.k.a. multi-schedule Federal, State, Local, and even, believe it or not, Canadian tax documents – I’d have gone back to check a few details about which I’m still confused, such as the location of Talamakan vs. the desert they’d been in and of course the discovery of Shambhala. But, if anyone can shed some light on that, I'd appreciate it.
* * *
Okay, I’m on page 449 now and haven’t yet cracked what “bilocations” might mean, specifically. However, we do now jump backward in space and time to Merle Rideout, who happens across (or was possibly looking for) Dally’s old doll, Clarabella. Upon finding it, he begins to cry and soon packs up and heads East.
In Audacity, Iowa, he comes upon a small crowd at a movie theater; they're upset that the projector’s broken, again, and during an exciting part of the movie as well. Merle offers to fix it, and does so with little trouble. “…[Y]our sprocket tension’s gone a little strange, is all…,”  he tells Fisk, the guy who runs the projector while Wilt Flambo is away (having “run off with that feed clerk’s wife”). He then takes over the projection duties for a few weeks, finding himself considering whether there’s a better way to produce the same effect (projecting a movie) as the quite complicated state of the art.
Also, FWIW, I’m not sure if this means anything to anyone, but we have another close-but-not-quite instance of the title on p. 450. Here it says “…against the fading day…” [top paragraph]. Could be nothing, of course.
[I’ll be sure to put up that “Discuss Other Pynchon” section, as I recall Monstro and possibly others discussing Pynchon’s GR and the theme of movies. Perhaps there’s something to be said here. The Wiki author has some thoughts on this that you may want to check out.]
Page 451. Merle happens across Candlebrow University, where a “classic prairie ‘twister’”  is about to touch down in the middle of a professor’s lecture. Everyone crams into the Metaphysics Department’s pimped-out private storm shelter and commences previous conversations as though nothing out of the ordinary were happening. Why? Because, of course, this tornado is a regular visitor to the campus. It’s even got its own name: Thorvald. The thought of students and professors leaving “propitiatory offerings”  of sheet metal and other “dietary preferences” is nothing short of brilliant. This isn’t the first weather-related anthropomorphism Merle’s become acquainted with; recall Skip, the ball lightning from pp. 73-74 or so. Merle doesn’t become as intimate with Thorvald, though – understandable, given the circumstances.
Soon Merle finds himself a regular at the local “bazaar of Time” , an annual summertime gathering of fringe scientists and nut-cases peddling Time-related wares and generally hanging out together. One day he runs into Chick Counterfly and Roswell Bounce (placing the current time at where ever it was in the previous section we covered in which the Chums were acquiring their Hypops gear). “Last I read,” [Merle says, my emphasis,] “you were over in Venice, Italy, knocking down their Campanile…”  Interesting, no? Where’d Merle read that?
Anyway, Roswell recounts his frustration with Scarsdale Vibe, going so far as to suggest an interesting, darker additional use for his Hypops Apparatus. “Kaboom,” says Merle . I guess we’ll see if that happens…
The following day, Roswell and Merle have an interesting conversation about lightning and light (completely oblivious to Thorvald, who’s making another appearance, but decides not to kill them). Turns out Rosewll shares Merle’s thoughts on movie projectors being overly complicated. Roswell plans to head out to California, which he calls “the future of light”  because of the “moving picture” business. The two wind up meandering for miles, discussing various new ways to think about and control time and gravity.
The section closes with a visit from Hermann Minkowski, a German mathematician, who delivers a speech in German, though he “wrote down enough equations so people could follow it more or less” . As usual, Merle and Roswell’s wheels begin to spin as they smoke cigarettes and consider the blackboard equations after everyone else leaves.
Roswell says, “Way I figure it, all’s we need to do’s translate this here into hardware, then solder it all up, and we’re in business”  “Or in trouble,” Merle replies.
Do check out that Wiki page on Minkowski. There’s a quote from him at the bottom. I don’t know what in the hell it means, but it sure sounds like something that Roswell would say:
“Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.”