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, May 28, 2007

Doughnuts And Coffee (pp. 615 - 636)

19th century veterinary syringes

Back in Göttingen, Kit discovers the credit-line Scarsdale Vibe once extended him has been pulled. Realizing this signals the end of their "mutual understanding", Kit grabs his secret cash-cache and prepares to absquatulate... After finding Yashmeen in the library in the midst of a mathematical epiphany, the two go for a walk, only to be jumped by what Yashmeen refers to as an "Otzovist" - a member of a group of radical anti-Materialist Bolsheviks bent on recalling ("otzovat" = "to recall" in Russian) Lenin's Bolsheviks (who later went on to form the Communist Party in the Soviet Union for reals) whose philosophy revolved around matter and Nature, and their constant reaction to outside forces. The assailant, repelled by Yashmeen's cry of "Yob tvoyu mat" ("fuck your mother"), was yelling "Fourth Dimension! Fourth Dimension" in Russian, and Yashmeen explains to Kit how the Otzovists think she can travel in the fourth dimension - which, it turns out, she actually can do... T.W.I.T. wants her back as well, and Yashmeen explains Madame Eskimoff's belief in the ability to step "outside of Time as it commonly passes here, above this galley-slave repetition of days" (another reference to "against the day"?), which Kit points out would be to interpret the fourth dimension as time. After explaining the process as a movement through a "cut" connecting "Riemann's multiply-connected spaces" (again with the bilocation), Yashmeen and Kit stop at a café, where Kit tells Yashmeen about the Vibe situation ("... if it doesn't work with gold, the next step will be lead" - money or bullets) and his imminent exile. Yashmeen, finding herself in a similar predicament what with her father's position in the Russian government in jeopardy after the Russian Revolution and the Otzovist threat, suggests going to T.W.I.T. for a solution.

Kit thinks he sees Foley Walker, dressed in an outfit "no description of whose tastelessness can be comfortably set upon one's page", which of course Our Man goes on to describe - then chalks it up to being merely an apparition from the fourth dimension. Steeped in paranoia, Kit is visited in the middle of the night by Foley (this time "inelegantly turned out contrary to a whole raft of public-decency statutes"), after which Kit reckons "yo tengo que get el fuck out of aquí" (a classic - enough to be used twice, check page 318).

Kit finds himself at a "Mickifest" ("Mickey Finn" = bar drink laced with chloral hydrate, usu. "slipped" to an unsuspecting patron in order to rob them after they pass out) with a group of his classmates. Big Günther revives over-Mickey'd Humfried with a coffee enema applied with an elephant syringe, then Kit and Gottlob walk the enema-ee to the hospital. Foley tries to apprehend Kit outside the hospital entrance, at which point Humfried provides Kit with a perfect escape by presenting Kit to the waiting orderlies as the patient.

Kit wakes to find himself being attended to by the extremely anti-Semitic Dr. Willi Dingkopf ("willy", "ding"="head", "kopf"="head" (both German), "ding-k", you make the joke), under the guise of diagnosis, prodding Kit for the possiblity he himself may be a Jew, on the basis of his last name, Traverse. Dingkopf expounds on his racist concepts, lashing out at Marx, Freud and Cantor, even after it's pointed out Cantor isn't even Jewish. The hospital compound turns out to be constructed on the "principles of Invisibilism", almost disconnected from the physical world as a result of it's extreme rationality. Someone who Kit assumes ("in his innocence") is a guard explains this resulting in "a few tangles of barbed wire defining the plan-view of something no longer quite able to be seen... perhaps certain odors as well". The person wears a uniform with a Kolonie insignia - a patch with an ax-blade sunken halfway into a human brain, with the motto "So Gut Wie Neu" - "Good As New".

After hearing of a possible real Dirigible landing on the Kolonie's Dirigible Field (usu. a football field), Kit learns of the patients' legend of the Dirigible coming to spirit them away to Doofland, "the ancestral home of the mental inmate". The inmates joke that the football they're playing with "has about as much bounce as the head of Jochanaan", a reference to Strauss' Salome from which inmates had taken a number of taunts to their captors.

A patient, powdered head-to-toe with sugar, claiming to be a jelly-doughnut and yelling "Ich bin ein Berliner!" finds Kit and explains Yashmeen sent him to help him escape. After finding kit asleep at the fence, Dingkopf frees Kit, telling him his British friends have interceded on his behalf. He meets Yashmeen, who tells him of T.W.I.T.'s interest in finding Shambala. They meet Lionel Swome, who tells Kit of the plan to have him elope with Yashmeen to Switzerland. In return for his relocation, Kit is asked to find Yashmeen's father, Auberon Halfcourt, in Kashgar, and return Halfcourt's report to T.W.I.T.

On the day before Kit and Yashmeen leave, the two and Günther make a farewell visit to the Museum der Monstrositäten, a mathematical-monstrosities museum. They find the black-halled underground "temple" strangely deserted, load-bearing statues "... brandishing weapons somehow not yet decipherable, featuring electrodes and cooling fins and so forth". They find murals of recent events in mathematical history, exhibiting "parallax effects" as one walked past, with "background figures" actually appearing and disappearing as one walks past. The three are led by signs to a huge anamorphic room, with 360-degree murals reflecting off of a huge cylindrical wall, real-world objects placed in the "zone of dual nature" between the viewer and wall, provoking Günther to wonder out loud what would happen if the viewer were to cross the space and approach the wall.

Needing some time alone to say good bye, Yashmeen and Günther send Kit to the Quaternions wing, where he comes across a replica of Sofia Kovalevskaia's crumpled handkerchief, an example of a "surface devoid of tangential planes". Reappearing, Yashmeen mentions to Kit her fascination with Kovalevskaia, leaving Kit to say goodbye to Günther. Turns out Günther is headed to Mexico to manage a family coffee plantation - from "chloral to coffee", for the second time in a few days...

The chapter draws to an end with a mysterious voice addressing the trio from somewhere inside the museum - raising again the question where, who, and most puzzlingly when exactly are they - and as a result, we?

Notes And Comments

p618 Yashmeen's fear?

p619 Did Kit imagine Walker's visit? Bilocation?

p620 What voices did Walker claim to hear?

p622 "pun" upside down "und"

p623 "Achtung, Schwetser!" - "Hellooooooo nurse!" ?

p625 the Kolonie as concentration camp

p625 Kolonie insignia?

p625-626 the Dirigible legend - crossing over to Chumps?

p626 "Ich bien ein Berliner!"/doughnut, JFK ref, why?

p627 Kit makes it only to the fence, jelly-doughnut guy a dream?

p631 Baku and Johannesburg all over again

p632 museum/temple, black substance, futuristic load-bearing statues, etc... wtf?

p633 parallax effects

p633 anamorphic presentation of mathematical events

p634 Günther's suggestion one's crossing the zone of dual nature results in timelessness

p636 "Children." "You know who I am"

Additional discussion, pp. 615 - 636

"Fate does not speak. She carries a Mauser and from time to time indicates our proper path."


Monday, May 21, 2007

The Zetamaniacs Strike Back! (pp. 588 – 614)

Greetings, fellow Chumps! This is René López reporting again form the Mexican chapter of the Chumps, Los cuates selectos, as we traveled through time and space to find out the latest on the young vectorist Kit Traverse, as we find him in Göttingen circa 1904, which smells like a tannery, particularly in the mathematics department, where they have preserved Gauss’s brain. We find him along Gottlob (Praise God) and Humfired, commenting about a delicious girl, whose curves are everywhere continuous but nowhere differentiable.

This delicate prodigy of Calculus turns out to be none other than our own Yashmeen Halfcourt, ready to discover the mysteries of Riemann’s Hypothesis and Kit’s Hausknochen. Both engage in a delicious duel of mathematical double meanings and quickly end up in Kit’s room, where Kit claims to able to prove Riemann’s Hypothesis and manifest his dislike for number four, which wouldn’t sit well with the True Worshipers of Ineffable Tetractys. Sadly, the conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Gottlob and Humfried. Yashmeens pulls a strange disappearing act, as she apparently walks through the wall of Kit’s room.

Humfired and Gottlob chat with Kit about the byzantine Kroenecker–Cantor polemic on the legitimacy of numbers. Are all numbers, infinitely divisible, created by God? Could it be that only the positive integers deserve His Grace? Not that this isn’t a very serious issue, but our vectorist is more interested on talking to Yashmeen again. He encounters her some time latter near Gauss’s statue, and she explains to him that all this mathematical turmoil is a reflection of the political turmoil that it’s about to break.

Next thing we know, the Russians start killing strikers by the hundreds on Bloody Sunday, followed by an equally bloody Revolution and a terrible loss against the Japanese Empire, that send Russians scattering to the four winds. Some of this Russians, it seems, find their way to Göttingen, perhaps to spy on precious Yashmeen, perhaps to try to use her as a bargaining chip against Major Halfcourt. Yashmeen explains to Kit that, while she appears to be ‘her own person’, she belongs undeniably to the Major, who rescued her from slavery. The sudden intimacy makes Kit forgets vectors and falls completely for our heroine. She, however, is more interested in Günther von Quassel, a follower of Boltzman, interested in entropy and statistical mechanics.

Günther also has another “romantic” interest, the Statue of a Goose girl in the Rathaus square he must kiss on the day of his doctorate. Yashmeen is stricken by jealousy, so Kit and his fellows try to calm her down at Kit’s room. When Günther intrudes the scene, and Kit insults him with accusations of dividing by zero, both men decide to settle this with a duel. Günther proposes a variety of blades, but Kit prefers a couple of Colt six-shooters.

A jolly assembly gathers to witness the duel between, which seems to take the form of a mathematical duel of wits. Yashmeen, disappointed by the lack of blood, decides to leave the scene with an anthropologist. Some claim that she is a new version of Stephanie du Motel, a woman set to destroy promising mathematicians by inducing them to duel one another.

Among one of the many spies arriving to Göttingen, Humfried and Gottlob hook up with Chong, who is quickly recognized by Yashmeen as none other than Kensington Sid, the Ace of Spies. Yashmeen answers questions about the fourth dimensions to Russians while Kit immerses himself in the world of aerodynamics. Later, Yashmeen is spotted providing the groundwork for developing the Hilbert-Pólya conjecture.

And that’s it from Göttingen for the time being, as action suddenly moves back to Chunxton Crescent, where our favorite detective, Lew Basnight, is meeting with PI Vance Aychrome for a Full English Breakfast. Aychrome points Lew in the direction of Lamont Replevin, number XII on the Icosadyad: the Hanged Man. A dealer of antiquities, Replevin seems to be related with the Shambala affair and with a mysterious network of communications using gas lines. After Vance warns Lew to stop pursuing the Gentelman Bomber, Basnight goes to TWIT central to meet with the Grand Cohen. Nookshaft has two items of interest to communicate. First, he is returning to merely Associate status. Second, it seems Replevin actually has a map of Shambala; fortunately, Replevin might not know what he has within his grasp.

Like the good detective that he is, Basnight travels to Elfock Villa to check on Replevin. He finds the Hanged Man literally hanging down with his head inside an oven and wearing a mask. As it turns out, Replevin is only catching on his daily coal-gas soap, The Slow and the Stuppefied. Lew passes himself as an insurance agent, and thus he manages to trick Replevin into allowing him to photograph what appears to be the map of Shambala.

Some points worth discussing

Again, in this segment the amount of mathematical metaphors and double meanings can be quite daunting for the uninitiated. The fact that Pynchon always gets it right it’s also quite impressive. You might want to remember the deal about the Zeta function presented previously here on the Chumps. Just like in that other segment, there seems to be a strong parallel with Neal Stephenson’s work. Notably, one of the characters in Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle is also named Praise God.

Theories about the Fourth Dimension are discussed at length on these pages. Of particular interest, I submit to you the following quote from C. Howard Hinton’s What is the Fourth Dimension?:

Were such a thought adopted, we should have to imagine some stupendous whole, wherein all that has ever come into being or will come co-exists, which passing slowly on, leaves in this flickering consciousness of ours, limited to a narrow space and a single moment, a tumultuous record of changes and vicissitudes that are but to us.

Could it be that Iceland spar allows us a quick glimpse into the Fourth Dimension?

According to Replevin, Akaša=Aether=Chaos=Gas. What could be the implications of this equation? The Gas network seems to be a direct ancestor of virtual reality, perhaps even of the Internet: a chaotic network of information that can’t be controlled by a central authority.

Anyway, that’s it for today. I’m certain there a lot more avenues worth exploring in this segment, but they should make their appearance in Comments. Until the next time, this is René López, reporting live form the Mexican chapter of the Chumps of Choice.

Additional discussion, pp. 588 - 614

"Return to zero," she muttered to herself. "Begin again".

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

That Enigmatic Object Of Desire

picture source

(pp. 557-587)

A group of Quaternioneers, with Kit tagging along, meet with Viktor Mulciber, a weapons dealer interested in getting his hands on a Q-weapon who wants to hear how it might operate. Barry Nebulae and Dr. V. Ganesh Rao explain that such a weapon would employ a wave that somehow accesses the energy behind the flow of time.

But Mulciber is not the only one looking for such a thing. Piet Woevre has in fact managed to purchase something from one Edouard Gevaert, a small, elegant, enigmatic thing, with distinctly fetishistic design touches.

Kit and Umeki Tsurigame's affair continues, though he still runs into Pleiade Lafrisee, sometimes in the company of Woevre.

A Quartion holiday, October 16, is used by de Decker's security apparatus as an excuse to send agents to the Hotel Nouvelle Digue, to keep an eye on the troublemakers there. Seeing the operatives, Kit, quickly followed by the others, 86s the establishment. Around midnight Kit ends up with Rocco and Pino as they try to ride the torpedo through the canals out of Brussels, only to end up in a ghostly industrial neighborhood where they are waylaid by Woevre, who starts shooting.

Woevre, though, seems more concerned with some sort of airship, apparently with a crew, (the Chums, of course) which has been, he believes, stalking him for days. He takes out the strange new weapon for the first time and fires it, though seems to hit nothing other than himself. Deeply freaked out by the rather other-worldly experience, Woevre gives the thing to Kit, who has found him flat on his back, and runs away.

Umeki is completely fascinated by the object and describes the power it apparently has and how it seems to work. After dreaming of her and the device, which seems also to outline a vision of a hidden city, Kit gives it to her, and they prepare to part forever. She returning to Japan and he moving on to inner Asia on the Orient Express, which is in motion, with Kit aboard, as the section ends.

The weapon, as described on pg. 559, may well be the same enigmatic object which Miles saw the Others pointing at him on pg. 417. We see that it is small, with an eyepiece, an interior mirror, set in a leather case and can be slung over the shoulder from a strap. Sounds to me like a weird SLR camera. That it has been sold to Woevre by someone who shares a name with a giant photographic film and paper company, only adds to the impression.

Indeed, as Nebulae describes the action of the w term as something that crosses space and travels with time, one is put in mind of a photograph, something which crosses the three elements of space the instant it is created and then travels its own way through time. When shooting, the weapon produces a flash which briefly blinds Woevre, and another parallel with an SLR can't be ignored.

In describing the inner working of the thing, (565:37 - 566:5) Umeki indulges in what sounds to me as splendid nonsense.

I'll note that both Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray produced what they called enigmatic objects, odd surrealist sculptures which to this day resist interpretation.

And, Cazzo! (562:13), pronounced COT-so, appearing with some reqularity in the narrative now, is the favorite explitive of Naples, and means prick or dick.

Moving on, the Zombini's triumphant European tour hits Venice, where Luca makes a business trip to the Island of Mirrors, where the stage cabinet which had bilocated several members of his audiences had been produced. (We learn also that a Zombini ancestor had worked in the mirror factory centuries earlier before, possibly, running off to America to found a dynasty there.) The factory sales and tech reps, Vincenzo Miserere and Ettore Sanazolo suggest Luca can undo the damage to those bilocated by getting each pair to get back in the box at the same time; an impracticality, Luca decides.

Meanwhile Dally has, as so many of us have, fallen in love with Venice and, unlike most, has the wherewithal to stay - forever she hopes. Erlys and Luca, in a very touching scene, decide to let her, that it is the only thing to do. The Zombinis, with many waves and kisses, depart without her.

Dally becomes a street performer, working the tourist crowd and sleeping wherever she can. She soon befriends Hunter Penhallow, last seen fleeing New York and the Vormance beast on pg. 155. He is an indigent artist who takes Dally under his wing, or perhaps it is vice-versa.

Penhallow, we are told, is a veteran of a great war which, it seems, has not happened yet, quite possibly a time traveler who has found some kind of refuge in the ancient, quasi-imaginary city of Venice, a place whose dark side Dally grows increasingly aware of in her nocturnal travels.

Penhallow finds a place for Dally to stay full time, the palazzo of his friend, the young (or is it timeless?) beauty, Princess Spongiatosta, who takes a shine to our heroine.

Bria Zombini arrives on a jaunt before her parents, who have been crimping her budding teenage social life, return stateside. Hunter also introduces Dally to Andrea Tancredi, a modernist painter and anarchist who renders colorful explosions in oil paint. Dally finds him to be a pretty devastating specimen and, as the chapter draws to a close, visits his studio alone for the first time, hankering for a kiss.

And basta! I will note a certain similarity between the Zombini bilocating cabinet and that enigmatic object from the section previous. There is also a shared interest in the Pentecost (pps 561 & 580) among disparate characters. The great cricketer Dr. W.G. Grace appears to Penhallow in a dream (pp. 577), and let's agree that no one executes the vanishing elephant catch better than Cici Zombini. All else must find the way forward in Comments.

Cue The Band!!

Ehh... as Ned and I deal with certain technical difficulties, why don't y'all enjoy this clip pirated from the ouevre of the immortal Thelonious Monk?

A-and hey, why not use this space for any trans-Pynchonian talk too?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Now Everybody --

(Chorus of Chumps sing with kazoos and ukuleles)

Haaap-py Birthdaaaay to you!

Haap-py Birthday to you!

pictures source

Haaap-py Birthday, Dear Publicity-Shy-Author-of-Recalcitrant-Masterpieces-of-Post-Modern-Am-er-i-can-Fict-ionnnn

Haaap-py Birth-day tooo Youuuuu...!!!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Casino Royale in a Flanders Field

The Docks at Ostend, James Ensor (1900)

pp 525-556

A note about the fairly obscure Belgian James Ensor (1860-1949) from a 1993 "Art News" article: "Nineteenth-century Belgian artist James Ensor's scatological imageries, evident at the peak of his political activism, symbolize the artist's personal rebellion against the ideals and norms of the Belgian society he lived in, and represent his affiliations with an anarchist philosophy. His anarchist beliefs are embodied in his 'Alimentation doctrinaise,' which represents his most explicit imagery."

Kit, truly bilocated, wobbles off the Fomalhaut where he has been regarded as both a curse (first no fish) and a blessing (followed by too many fish) by his fellow seamen. He takes an electric tram to the Continental Hotel "where for some reason he assumed there'd be a room reserved and waiting." This brings up the question of whether the Stupendica's original destination from New York was Ostend rather than Trieste, and whether Kit actually had reservations at the Continental, but before we can ask too many questions like what happened to his luggage, Kit returns to the docks, has a beer in a small cafe, and is immediately recognized as a fellow-Quaternion by an "unkempt, indeed seedy band of varying ages and nationalities." It turns out that Kit has wandered into a Quaternion convention being held "irregularly" in Ostend.

The Quaternions, rather like the Aetherists earlier in "Against The Day," are a tribe of mathematical thinkers who have been deemed superfluous and heretical by the superseding Vectorists. Leaping forward to page 553:31, an unnamed character makes the analogy explicit: "We are the Jews of mathematics, wandering out here in our diaspora -- some desined for the past, others the future, even a few able to set out at unknown angles from the simple line of Time, upon journeys that no one can predict." They are also an eminently amusing crew to hang out with, and Barry Nebulay invites Kit to crash with them in their rooms at the art nouveau Grand Hotel de la Nouvelle Digue, another odd hostelry in a book filled with them.

Also staying at the hotel are the young and silly Eugenie, Fatou, Denis and Policarpe, two women and two men who form the Belgian nihilist cell "Young Congo," who are of great interest to both the French and Belgian secret services because they want to assassinate the King of Belgium. On page 527:13, Kit has "a moment of intense recognition, almost as if he'd once, somehow, actually belonged to the little phalange" in another space-time axis. Hmmm. On page 528:5 Denis gives a classic self-description of the group: "We are metaphysicians at heart. There is a danger of becoming too logical. At the end of the day one can only consult one’s heart.” As an aside, Kings Leopold I and II of Belgium transformed Ostend from a sleepy Northern Flanders seaside village to an opulent resort during the 19th century through their patronage, and Leopold II who reigned from 1865-1909, used the Congo as his private fiefdom, perpetrating horrifying atrocities on the local population while raping their resources on a scale hitherto unseen in history.

Whitehead, 1875, with a battered test torpedo

Joining forces with Young Congo are a pair of comical "Italian naval renegades, Rocco and Pino, who had stolen from the Whitehead works in Fiume the highly secret plans for a low-speed manned torpedo, which they intended to assemble here in Belgium and go after King Leopold's royal yacht." I assumed this was more fiction, but it turns out the Englishman Robert Whitehead (1823-1905) was real and he did have factories in Trieste and Fiume where the first torpedo was invented. Both Fatou and Eugenie flirt shamelessly with the Italians, which frightens Rocco who is obsessed with "danger from lady spies" (italics in the original).

Kit also finds himself playing with a dangerous woman in the bar of the hotel, the Japanese femme fatale math genius Miss Umekie Tsurigane, which may be a bad pun on "You Make Sure Again." While she hoists boilermakers without any perceivable effect, Kit flirts with her discussing various mathematical terms and professors, and she refers to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 that is currently raging. She then asks Kit to escort her into the Grand Salon, but “two steps into the Grand Salon, she had slipped away, or he had, and it would be days before they saw each other again” (page 533:2). Hmmm again. There is a crazed party of Quarternionnaires from around the globe carrying on in the Salon and their overheard conversations starting at page 533 and continuing through the Quaternion Silly Song Lyrics on page 534 are well worth rereading, particularly for its explication of why Quaternions are Anarchist ijk folk while Vectorists are Bolshevik xyz brutalists.

Kit suddenly runs into his lost friend from the Stupendica, Root Tubsmith, which leads to the following exchange on page 535:9, "Nothing's been rigorously what you'd call 'real' lately [Kit said]. Does seeing you in this condition mean that everything is normal again?" "Of course," handing him a bottle of no-name wine, "next question." Hmmm for a third time. Is Kit weaving in and out of bilocated realities? There follows a game among the assembled throng where mathematicians are compared to their corresponding poet: Oliver Heaviside/Walt Whitman; Clerk Maxwell/Tennyson; William Rowan Hamilton/Swinburn; Hermann Grassman/Wordsworth; Gibbs/Longfellow. What all these 19th century scientists/mathematicians/engineers seem to share was the major incomprehension and outright neglect of most of their peers and the fact that their work, rediscovered in many cases, is all essential to modern math and physics. I presumed the "ijk" Quaternion label was a Pynchon language joke because every other word in Flemish ends in "ijk," but instead it’s referring to Hamilton’s “Eureka!” moment crossing a Dublin bridge where he was struck by the Gods with the following equation which was the beginning of quaternions.

The group decides to go to the Casino where Kit is put off by the non-saloon atmosphere of a "temple to money," and where he meets Pleiade Lafrisee, who calls herself a "consultant" but acts more like one of those "lady spies." Meanwhile, using quaternion math, Root is making a small fortune for everyone, including Pleiade. "Our magic is more ancient, and the big advantage to being so outmoded is that nobody recognizes it when they see it." Pleiade offers to buy the entire group dinner where "hilarity at the table was general and prolonged." This leads to my favorite joke in the book so far, when a Dr. V. Banesh Rao of the Calcutta University, using a modern school of Yoga based on Quaternion disciplines, contortions himself into nothingness and reappears as a blond in the kitchen in a tub of mayonnaise. "It is like reincarnation on a budget, without the element of karma to worry about."

The Caress, 1887, Fernand Khnopff (1855-1921)

Pleiade leaves for a rendezvous with Piet Woevre, who has spent too much time in the Heart of Darkness in the Congo being an enforcer with the Force Publique, and who is having a hard time readjusting to “the need not to offend the King, to remain aware of rival bureaux and their own hidden schemes, to calibrate everything against the mortal mass of Germany, forever towering over the day.” After an s/m sexual encounter, she promises to occupy Kit that evening so Piet can look through his room. Kit, “against his better judgment accompanied Pleiade to her suite” and goes through another weird bilocating moment where Pleiade simply disappears from the room but leaves her chiffon dressing-gown standing erect. Returning to his hotel, the Young Congo informs him that the political police have sacked his room and that Kit is now an honorary nihilist outlaw.

And here we come to the bisected middle of the entire novel, where Policarpe says, "It's a peculiar game we all play. Against what looms in the twilight of the European future, it doesn't make much sense, this pretending to carry on with the day, you know, just waiting. Everyone waiting."

Kit runs into Pleiade again at a a cafe where she tells him the cultural history of Mayonnaise (which starts with a great "La Marseillaise" joke by Kit, page 544:32), and then makes a tryst with him for that evening at the Mayonnaise Works on the edge of town. It turns out to be a set-up for Kit's Murder by Mayonnaise, but in a "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory" scene Kit narrowly escapes from drowning by kicking out a window and being pushed by the force of the mayonnaise into a canal below, where he is rescued by Rocco and Pino who happen to be test-driving their torpedo. End of section.

Battle of the Skeletons, James Ensor (1907)

The next eight pages (548-556) are deeply, beautifully melancholy on all kinds of levels. The Inconvenience has been given ground leave at Ostend, after a dreary trip to Brussels, at the same time as the Quaternion convention. The dark Piet Woevre and his bureaux vaguely manage to notice the Chums and their craft, on account of the electromagnetic messages sent through their Tesla device from private power sources, which the Belgian secret service mistakenly thinks has something to do with a secret Quaternion War Weapon. However, the population at large doesn't seem to see the Chums and their craft anymore, which leads to a sad reflection (page 549:3). "Once," Randolph with a long-accustomed melancholy, "they would have all been stopped in their tracks, rubbernecking up at us in wonder. Nowadays we just grow more and more invisible."

There are a few low Darby weiner jokes along with the news that Pugnax has developed a taste for human blood, and Miles Blundell, the seer/chef, has horrible premonitions looking down upon the lowlands below. He tells Chick Counterfly that he's seen one of the Trespassers (from the scary Dead Zone on the outskirts of town at Candlebrow University, pages 413-418). His name is Ryder Thorn, and he’s been on the Promenade, and Miles has spoken to him. They shared a love of the ukelele at Candlebrow and discussed the instrument's philosophical implications (page 552:1-9) which center on the ukelele only being able to play one chord at a single moment in time while "to play a melody is to introduce the element of time, and hence of mortality. Our perceived reluctance to leave the timelessness of the struck chord has earned ukelele players our reputation as feckless, clownlike children who will not grow up."

Miles goes on solo shore leave to meet with Ryder who greets him with two bicycles. They cycle southward through the lowlands until they hit Ground Zero of A Flanders Field "on a road between Ypres and Menin." Ryder tells Miles that "our people know what will happen here and my assignment is to find out whether, and how much, yours know.” Miles demurs and professes not to be a fortuneteller, and as the Trespasser becomes more agitated, Miles becomes calmer and smoother which only agitates Ryder more, until he spills the beans and tells him exactly what hell is going to be unleashed on these fields in ten short years “and all history after that will belong to Hell.” Miles continues with his nonchalance, “Sure sounds unpleasant.”

This finally tips the Trespasser over the edge and he reveals that they are not really “time-travellers” but something else, characters "blundering upon a shortcut through unknown topographies of Time" (page 555:2). “No more than ghosts may choose what places they haunt…you children drift in a dream, all is smooth, no interruptions, no discontinuities, but imagine the fabric of Time torn open, and yourselves swept through, with no way back, orphans and exiles who find you will do what you must, however shameful, to get from end to end of each corroded day.” This is when Miles realizes “that there had been no miracle, no brilliant technical coup,” in other words, no remaining young forever as promised. He returns with the news to Chick, telling him that it only confirmed his earlier vision when he met Mr. Ace “when I could not stop crying for hours, for I knew then—with no evidence, no reasoned proof, I simply knew, the minute I saw him, that it was all false, the promise was nothing but a cruel confidence game.” And now it’s up to Chick to tell the other Chums.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Additional Discussion, pp. 525-556

I close my eyes to still my gaze
And ponder strange Creation's ways
To think that I should end my days
Inside a vat of mayonnaise!

-- Rainer Marie Rilke, "Hold the Pickles, Hold the Lettuce," from the Duino Elegies