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"

10 Comments:

At Tuesday, May 29, 2007 6:35:00 AM, Anonymous cleek said...

i assumed that the museum was, in a way, a Klein bottle - kind of a 3d relative of the Mobius strip. i don't have the book with me, but i remember there was something interesting about the entrance to the museum.

 
At Thursday, May 31, 2007 6:50:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

The Kolonie insignia, with the ax through the brain and the motto "As good as new," cracked my ass right up. As did the notion of an ancestral home for the mental inmate named Doofland.

But I'm easily amusiert.

 
At Thursday, May 31, 2007 7:14:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

I can't help but feel we're being given another big piece of the puzzle in this passage, in the Museum der Mostrositäten:

"According to the design philosophy of the day, [my italics] between the observer at the center of a panorama and the cylindrical wall [Wall of Death?] on which the scene was projected, lay a zone of dual nature, wherein must be arranged a number of "real objects" appropriate to the setting -- chairs and desks, Doric columns whole and damaged -- although these could not strictly be termed entirely real, rather part "real" and part "pictorial," or let us say "fictional"....

There's Hamilton's knife, "part real and part imaginary, a 'complex' knife one might say."

Dammit, I wish I understood the math better! I can get the reference to Bertrand Russell's "set of all sets that are not members of themselves," that's rudimentary enough, but the three- and four-dimensional quandaries are beyond my grasp. At this point in scientific history, they are groping toward the notion that the fourth dimension is Time -- Yashmeen toyed with the idea in last week's reading, and Kit explicitly draws the conclusion himself, in conversation with Yashmeen in this week's. But nobody seems to be sure.

So I have to conclude that the question is still an open one in the minds of all the mathematicians being bandied about. Is that the elephant in the room? The nature of Spacetime, which Einstein is, in this period, squirreling away on the answer to?

 
At Thursday, May 31, 2007 7:24:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

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

Sometimes I think he does these things just because they're real fuckin' funny.

Apparently, that JFK/Berliner/jelly doughnut thing is da bunk. Cute, but an urban legend.

 
At Tuesday, June 12, 2007 8:28:00 AM, Blogger Ol' Pal D said...

Re: Kolonie insignia - a reference to something I haven't picked up on, or simply dark humor in and of itself?

 
At Tuesday, June 12, 2007 1:49:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Kolonie insignia - a reference to something I haven't picked up on, or simply dark humor in and of itself?

Sorry -- missed this.

Dark humor, I think. I don't get any concrete allusions, anyway.

 
At Tuesday, January 10, 2012 1:11:00 AM, Anonymous free online essays said...

probably a dark humor))) I prefer it more. it's always fun)

 
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