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.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

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” [432]) 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—” [432].

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” [433] “pari passu” [434] “allegro vivatchy” [446] 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” [436]) 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” [437] 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” [437].

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.” [439], 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” [440]. 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” [442] 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” [443]. 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...” [444]. He sends SG for help – tells him to take “water, oasis maps, and some meat lozenges” [444]. (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…,” [450] 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’” [452] 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” [453] 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” [454], 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…” [454] 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 [455]. 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” [456] 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” [458]. 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” [459] “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.”


At Sunday, April 15, 2007 9:43:00 PM, Blogger Boldly Serving Up Wheat Grass said...

Forgot to mention... I grabbed a bunch of crap off the internet for that graphic. I think I typed in "adventure paperback" or something and found the main pic - from a Flash Gordon book, I think. Then I ran it through about 20 minutes of super-fast Photoshopping to drop in that sand dune picture, the camel, the airship, and the words. I was going to put a tornado in somewhere, but it got late.

At Monday, April 16, 2007 9:20:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

Gee professor blowing shit up, that was really a swell poster! You otta ge a prize or something.
I loved this chapter. Don't have a thing to say right now but had to respond to the Photoshop poster.

At Wednesday, April 18, 2007 5:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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've been seeing those everywhere lately. and it's generally phrased so that "the day" is the status quo, or the natural order of things. so "against the day" is someone fighting, perhaps in vain, against The Way Things Are or The Way Things Must Be.

At Wednesday, April 18, 2007 5:38:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Just some sketchy notes, as I am on the road and borrowing a friend's copy.

Notable here is Merle's feeling (449:20) that he had missed something essential in his transit to Colorado years before, the very same suspicion which the Chums had (427:8) at the end of their Candlebrow sojourn, and one, I'll say, even the most diligent reader of AtD will feel from time to time.

After escaping the attack of the Saksaul and finding his way back to London, Stilton Gasperaux, in appealing to Inspector Sands, allows as how he's crazy, which puts the whole subdesertine adventure in a Very Different Light, wot?

And I may be mistaken here but (457:17). . .

"Rotate something through space-time so it assumes all positions relative to the one-way vector 'time'"
"There you go."
"Wonder what you'd get."

Wouldn't you get something Against the Day??

At Wednesday, April 18, 2007 10:26:00 PM, Blogger Civic Center said...

I’d like to second brooktrout’s praise for Professor BSUWG’s quick “Brave Bilocations” Photoshop. The Chums are finally real. Well, sort of. Here’s a few notes:

The “bilocations” start off with not only Lindsay wanting to couple up with a wife, but with his spooky feeling (page 433:32) when he reunites with the rest of the Chums as they lay around stoned out of their gourds at the Mideastern oasis: “For a terrible moment, he was certain, beyond reason, that none of these figures were his real fellow crewman at all, but rather a ghost Unit, from some Abode he wished never to visit, resolved on working him mischief, who had been painstakingly, intricately masked to look like Chums of Chance.” This goes back to the idea that some of the Chums are time travelers and others not.

As far as the underground sand frigate adventure’s similarities to the Hilary Swank/Aaron Eckhart trash masterpiece “The Core,” all I can say is whattaya mean “god-awful?” I loved every frame.

Thanks for the Manichean link, a whole new important strain of religious history I knew nothing about. The speech by Gaspereaux starting on page 437:38 is amazing: “The ancient Manichaeans out here worshipped light, loved it the way Crusaders claimed to love God, for its own sake, and in whose service no crime was too extreme. This was their counter-Crusade. No matter what transformations might occur—-and they expected anything, travel backward or forward through Time, lateral jumps from one continuum to another, metamorphosis from one form of matter, living or otherwise, to another—-the one fact to remain invariant under any of these must always be light, the light we see as well as the expanded sense of it prophesied by Maxwell, confirmed by Hertz.” This pretty much sums up “Against The Day.”

At the end of this underground section, there’s a great image (page 445:4) where all the sci-fi weapons “now fell into the hands of goat-herders, falconers, shamans, to be taken out into the emptiness, disassembled, studied, converted to uses religious and practical, and eventually to change the history of the World-Island beyond even the most unsound projections of those Powers who imagined themselves some how, at this late date, still competing for it.” Sounds like the Middle East now and for the past 100 years.

At Thursday, April 19, 2007 7:48:00 AM, Blogger Boldly Serving Up Wheat Grass said...

SF- Okay, maybe I was a little hard on "The Core." I'm generally willing and able to suspend disbelief further than most, but that one pushed it off the charts (which, looking back, was the whole point, I suppose).

Spot on about that Middle East comment, btw. That one reminded me of "Sum of All Fears" -- when those nomads find the old nuke in the desert.

At Thursday, April 19, 2007 6:00:00 PM, Blogger Civic Center said...

Dear Professor Blowing Shit Up: My defense of "The Core" was with tongue firmly planted in cheek, so you were not too hard on its crappiness for one second. I just happen to love the movie for its sheer over-the-top silliness and Eckhart and Swank's dueling cheekbones.

A few more notes on the Merle Rideout section: It was nice to have a minor character from the front of the book make a reappearance, none other than Roswell Bounce (pages 60-65) who taught Merle how to be a photographer in the first place. Their place in history and the order of things is celebrated beautifully on page 457:32 to 458:10.

"The day-by-day politics of this conference would've made an average recital of Balkan history seem straightforward as a joke told in a saloon...But the mechanicians understood each other. At the end of the summer, it would be these hardheaded tinkers with their lopsidedly-healed fractures, scars, and singed-off eyebrows, chronically short-tempered before the Creation's irreducible cussedness, who'd come out of these time-travelers' clambakes with any practical kind of momentum, and when the professors had all gone back to their bookshelves and proteges and intriguings after this or that Latinate token of prestige, it'd be the engineers who'd figured out how to keep in touch...."

Go read the whole thing if you don't remember it. I've never read a more stirring appreciation of engineers vis a vis academics.

Speaking of academics, Minkowski is yet another new name for me who turns out to be a crucial character in the history of science. If nothing else, this book is an extraordinary education.

At Thursday, April 19, 2007 9:43:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

I'm still hoping to find an hour to re-read and post on this section. It is one of my favorites. I'm a sucker for Pynchon's silly side and I laughed out loud a bunch here. What follows is an aside which is similar to sfmike's discovery of Minkowski, who I was a ware of in name only . Ya Gotta love Wiki.

My first read of ATD and the reference in this chapter to the Manicheans led me to Wiki the Mandaeans some weeks ago. I was unusually curious. Then I wrote a column for the local paper about the suffering of Iraqis and what appeared on the same page was a news article about the troubles and history of the Mandaeans in Iraq. This further piqued my interest.
Most recently, in the latest issue of Harper's there is a synopsis by Eliot Weinberger of some mythical ideas of this people who lived (some still live) in Iraq but are being killed and driven away in the war

In the Harper's article there were two things relating to ATD.

They believe there have been four ages in the history of the world each repopulated by a single couple. This , fourth and last age, will be destroyed from the air.

They believe that somewhere in the north, beyond the pole, is a world that is the double of this world, called Msunia Kusta. Every living Mandaean has a double there.

Also of Pynchonian interest Their most sacred book the Ginza, has a Right and Left half. At the end of the Right, one turns the book upside down to read the Left. It has 7 contradictory accounts of the origin of the universe.

They believe that ours is one of 365 universes.

At Thursday, April 19, 2007 10:56:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

I wonder if the whole questioning and increasing intimations of paranoid distrust within the Chums is partly Pynchon's version of a kind of Buddhist meditatiion on the unreality of the self and the fundamental paranoia that results from building and maintaining the self story as the primary mental activity?

At Saturday, April 21, 2007 9:18:00 AM, Blogger Joseph said...

Great comments, I too am fascinated by the constant hints at the title.From the different phrases I assume it has multiple meanings but cleek summarizes the consistent sense I get. Yes to what Mike said about the werapons left behind.

I think this chapter marks a turning point for the chums. Up til now they have been steadfastly working for their mysterious higher powers, but here there is a kind of garden of Eden structure with oil as the object of desire the snake is peddling. It even opens as Lindsay passes through the starry dessert and the siren calls of the feminine to enter an oasis where the very water is a kind of mind altering elixir.
This time when the chums come to suspect that they are being used, they decide to break the rules and steal the valuable oil knowledge they supect to be the true purpose of the seach for Shambalah. They seem to be doing this not as agents of anyone but as a freelance proposition.
After being summarily deposited above ground, Miles has a vision of a great war, as below ground the war to occupy and control paradise (Shambalah, Oil, invisible slaves) begins in earnest.

The chums have moved from Chicago , with its promises of hight tech gadgetry and skirmishes between plutes and lefties on the edges of empire through some dangerous warnings about science and the future to the brink of War. They are no longer innocent .

At Saturday, April 21, 2007 5:02:00 PM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

Given the overwhelming opposition to my commentary on last week's post, I assume that most of you are fairly stringant about the book's temporal and historical setting. I'm not and that's fine.

I'm just wondering for all of you who don't see a link between the "past" of the chums and the situations (Iraq, global warming, etc.) which are at issue in our own time--how do you read the chums run in with people willing to go to war for oil. I mean, it's hard to read such a situation as leading to WWI, so what do you all do with it? What does such an encounter mean in terms of 1905 (or whenever this section is supposed to be happening)? This is btw not a call to arms. I'm seriously just curious how other people are reading these sections.

BTW I thought this section was hillarious. Here they are looking for a lost city beneath the sand, and the whole area is not only NOT desolate but totally overpopulated.

At Saturday, April 21, 2007 9:42:00 PM, Blogger Civic Center said...

Dear Monstro: Don't get paranoid. What the moderators intended, and here I'm guessing or trying to be empathic or some such shit, is to try and keep The Chumps on track. There are so many byways where we could start pulling a Chums of Choice fight, it's ridiculous, and declaring what Everything Means in The Present Day is one of those dangerous byways.

For instance, World War One was partly started so that British Petroleum could be created to take over Iraq oil. And we're still dealing with that shit. But that's not what this particular journey is about. Pynchon is the great synthesizer of art/science/history in our time, and what we are doing is trying to figure out What The Fuck He's Telling Us, not how the world actually exists. They are two different things. God, Iceland Spar binary thinking has completely taken over, hasn't it?

At Sunday, April 22, 2007 5:30:00 AM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

Hey SFMike:

Don't mean to be paranoid, just getting shot down quite a bit in here...

WWI was started for a lot of reasons. Concentrating on oil in the Middle East seems conspicuous. As is a creature that comes out of a breaking iceberg. As are beings from the future complaining of natural disaster.

It seems to me that if we ignore these factors that connect our present moment with the fictional past of the Chums, we're missing out on a central issue of the book. For me, Pynchon seems to be linking up the mentality of the turn of the century adventure story with the mentality of late twentieth century politics, while at the same time creating a rationale for violent revolutionaries. That's what the book is about for me. I really am curious how people see it otherwise at this point.

At Sunday, April 22, 2007 2:59:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Given the overwhelming opposition to my commentary on last week's post, I assume that most of you are fairly stringant about the book's temporal and historical setting.


I'm very sorry that my intent was unclear, and I apologize for any pain you've suffered because of it. I certainly never intended my words as a smackdown or an attempt to steer the conversation away from any irrelevancy. The points we were grappling with (historicity and fiction in AtD) were extremely relevant, and I only imagine that enormous numbers of academic hard-drives are filling with copious notes on that very subject as we speak.

You seemed to me to be saying that the historical circumstances of the setting of this novel absolutely shouldn't be taken into account when thinking about it. I simply disagreed with that interpretation -- that, for example, the birth of Modernism that is happening during this time-period is highly relevant to the subtext of what we're reading. Again, if I hurt you I apologize.

I don't at all disagree that the book is also commenting on our current time -- practically the first real gut-laff in the book is the title of The Chums of Chance and the Evil Halfwit, set in Washington. And clearly, a brewing war over oil can't possibly be interpreted as anything other than a reference to our own time.

It's quite clear that we're not reading a work of historical fiction. What are we reading? I'll leave the answer blowin' in the wind; I'm not equipped to reply.

The Modernism thing: We're still living with it, it informs everything we see and say, from architecture to typography to music to this very book we're reading. It was the movement that quite literally makes the world we live in. It began (many agree) in 1904, among certain pockets of intelligentsia, and really took hold after the destruction of all moral and political certainty occasioned by (wait for it!) World War I.

It's the it's-still-with-us aspect of Modernism that made me bring it up. It's not something to be kept locked up in a box stuck in 1904. It began during that time, and hasn't gone away -- especially the moral-and-political-uncertainty aspect. The cobwebbed brains of the Loony Authoritarian Right are stuffed to the rafters with loathing of everything it implies.

It's very 2007.

At Sunday, April 22, 2007 3:24:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...


The Kute Korrespondences in the latest Harper's nearly blew my tiny little mind -- didja notice that Lewis Lapham's editorial (about the death of Arthur Schlesinger) was titled "Time Travel"? I opened the mag up immediately upon putting down AtD.

Then come the Mandaeans -- again, right after I'd read this week's section. Get outta my head, Tom!

A few other details of the Mandaeans read particularly Pynchonesquely:

"Their priests know twenty-one holy words that have never been pronounced or written in a book. They are transmitted written in sand and then erased."

"Their alphabet has 24 letters. Both the first and the twenty-fourth are "A." The alphabet existed before the creation of the universe. Each letter emanated from the previous letter and praised it, until the entire alphabet became swollen with pride. The letters lined up on either side of "L," the middle letter, as enemy camps facing each other, until the letters realized that without cooperation there could be no language, and they all grasped hands."

Then there's the story of Dinanukht, a half man, half book, who sits in the waters between the worlds, reading himself....

May issue of Harper's: hell, yeah!

At Sunday, April 22, 2007 3:37:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

The speech by Gaspereaux starting on page 437:38 is amazing: “The ancient Manichaeans out here worshipped light...

Particularly amazing about that speech is how Pynchon manages to syncretize Manicheanism with both Buddhism and Calvinism. A truly awe-inspiring passage.

Forgot to mention earlier: Great Photochoppery, BSUWG!

At Sunday, April 22, 2007 6:02:00 PM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

Oh hey Neddie, no big Whoop. I'm actually in school to get my Doctorate in post modern literature, so this isn't the first (or last) time I've had a disagreement about Pynchon. Hell, I'll read you a rejection letter from P-notes if you'd like a laugh--I've received a few.

My thing is this, (and I'm still not sure what to do with it which is why I want to hear varying opinions on the subject) say we get a reference to Billy the Kid inside a Chums section, well, is that the REAL Billy the Kid, the Billy the Kid legend that has a reality to itself, or does it owe any sort of loyalty to a real figure at all. Couldn't Pynchon fictionalize Billy the way that Borges did with his ficitonal biographies. What do I need to know and what am I missing because I think I've got what I need to know?

Now, I've noticed that people are grabbing this information as if it is a solid backdrop that can be relied upon and are then doing the next most obvious thing with that information--they're creating a chronological order out of stuff, but I wonder at the chronology given time travel.

This is all fine, because, obviously, it's all there, but the ordering of these conspicuous moments, figures, events, what have you, seems deliberately created in hind sight. It's like a hodge podge of important events picked out from the turn of the 19th century, but picked because of their relevance at the beginning of the 21st century.

Which in and of itself is something I'm grappling with in terms of this book, and it only gets worse when half the story lines are occuring in a fictional world which seems aware of its own fiction, and all the other story lines intersect with each other at various angles of...I don't know...unreality.

At Sunday, April 22, 2007 10:17:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

Monstro said
"It seems to me that if we ignore these factors that connect our present moment with the fictional past of the Chums, we're missing out on a central issue of the book. For me, Pynchon seems to be linking up the mentality of the turn of the century adventure story with the mentality of late twentieth century politics, while at the same time creating a rationale for violent revolutionaries. That's what the book is about for me. I really am curious how people see it otherwise at this point."

I strongly agree with monstro. His reading is very close to my own. at least as far as it goes. A big part of why I love ATD and other Pynchon is the insight into the complexity of now and how we got here. He combines historical precision with contamination" from the real world present, with Monty Pythonesque silliness and other unlikely sources(Feng Shui in M&D) to develop ideas that give us a kind of paramorphoscope for looking at the world in greater dimension.

At Sunday, April 22, 2007 11:09:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...


The Modernism thing: We're still living with it, it informs everything we see and say, from architecture to typography to music to this very book we're reading. It was the movement that quite literally makes the world we live in. It began (many agree) in 1904, among certain pockets of intelligentsia, and really took hold after the destruction of all moral and political certainty occasioned by (wait for it!) World War I.
It's the it's-still-with-us aspect of Modernism that made me bring it up. It's not something to be kept locked up in a box stuck in 1904. It began during that time, and hasn't gone away -- especially the moral-and-political-uncertainty aspect. The cobwebbed brains of the Loony Authoritarian Right are stuffed to the rafters with loathing of everything it implies.

I missed the first part of this conversation, but I have been thinking about this because artistic modernism is how I principally think about the time period and it is relatively absent from the text except in the abstraction of the mathematics. It is also very true that contemporary fascists and "conservatives" almost universally reject and despise modernism.
In fact the modernism in ATD is taking place in the minds of some characters who are breaking away from older forms on every front. I think this is part of what is happening with the chums in approaching their own fictionality.

How do some of you italicize? I tried selecting and apple I( have mac) . No Go. I assume it is html tags, but don't know html.

At Monday, April 23, 2007 5:11:00 AM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

The HTML tag is and . I have a retort to modernism/post modernism but I'll save it for the next additional discussions thing.

At Monday, April 23, 2007 5:12:00 AM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

oh it italicized the "and" okay it's a set of <> with an i in the middle to indicate italicize on and a set of <> with /i to indicate italicise off.

At Monday, April 23, 2007 8:02:00 AM, Blogger Neddie said...

This only works in the Blogger Composer, and not in the Comments widget, but... On a Mac, you can also italicize by hitting Control (not Command) - i

A simple list of basic HTML text-formatting tags can be found here.

At Monday, April 23, 2007 9:15:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

very weird, they can see me, but I can't see them
They're sending me a (Tag is not closed: )message. I have carefully typed the back arrow (shift comma) followed immediately by the small i followed immediately by the forward arrow(shift period) and put this tag before and after the text i was trying to italicize

Where did I go wrong. I don't think I'm going to get starfleet command at this rate. Hand me the periodicity ammo belt Sulu. We're going to have to shoot our way out....................................................
Captain, the fucking control button is also useless on this thing. mayday, mayday.

At Tuesday, April 24, 2007 6:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...put this tag before and after the text i was trying to italicize

it's <i>the text</i>

the tag with the slash "closes" the italics.

At Tuesday, April 24, 2007 7:37:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

Okay, don't touch that button, no folding, bending or mutilating and for God's sake no "funky bogaloo." Just do what the man said.

There; now that wasn't so difficult was it? Welcome aboard captain I believe the entire starfleet and 3 or 4 of your favorite galaxies are now fully italicized.

Thanks cleek. I assume that is standard procedure for all HTML tags? I used Adobe Go Live to build my web site and kind of stepped around the whole HTML thing, though I did make some minor adjustments with HTML code. Seems like the Blogger instructions coulda been a little more explicit. anyway, thanks;given free reign, I'm an italicizing fool.

"People down here talk to giant fleas?"....
"Nonetheless, lad, a useful phrase or two might prove handy in the event of an encounter."

At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 9:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I assume that is standard procedure for all HTML tags?


b=bold, i=italics, u=underline, etc.. there are plenty more tags out there, but i don't know what blogger filters away.

links are <a href="">

if you want to write "<i>", you have to use the HTML escape characters for (at least) the <, and those are : "&lt;"

< = lt = less-than
> = gt = greater-than

and if you want to write "&lt;", you have to write "&amp;lt;"

& = amp = ampersand

At Monday, August 06, 2007 10:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the sense (or meaning) of "Against The Day" is very close to "against the grain" ... isn't it?

Fantastic blog incidentally. I refuse to contribute significantly until I've finished reading the book ... but just lovin' all your work.

At Monday, August 06, 2007 10:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He’s currently being called in on some disturbance at a cricket game – some “wog” who looks out of place."

This seems to be a straightforward mistake ... it's NOT a cricket game. The meaning of wicket here (p445 & p446) is "gate" or "door", i'm pretty sure.

At Thursday, November 06, 2008 4:49:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I'm SO late with this, and don't know if anyone is even still reading this, but i'm surprised no one picked up the "Inspector Sands" reference - if you're a Londoner, you hear it on the tubes fairly regularly...

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