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, June 25, 2007

"Hand Me That Jar of Cosmoline!"

pp. 712-723

Venedig in Wien (Source)

We're still with Cyprian in this section. As the chapter opens, we are given a fairly blatant hint from Mister P. that it might be of some benefit to throw on the family Victrola the music that's going on "either inside or outside of [Cyprian's] head," the Adagio movement from Mozart's Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 488.

So let's give that a shot, shall we? (Pops a new window. Fazil Say, Howard Griffiths and the Zürcher Kammerorchester, November 2006.)

In your reporter's view, Pynchon, while of course an astonishingly deep writer on a mindbendingly large volume of topics, is at his most insightful and masterful on the topic of music. I think of what I call the "Rock and Roll Chapter" of Mason & Dixon, which depends for its fullest effect on the reader's knowledge of Platonic philosophy, eighteenth-century polyphony and the evolution of musical keys, the origin of the American National Anthem in a drinking-song, and the history of the Blues. It is, trust me, a stunner.

Cyprian isn't actually listening to the music, which, says Our Tom, "might have been prophetic"; the convoluted sentence that follows is a corker, punning on "romance/Romance," (that is, the emotion and the artistic style, in the time of this scene a dying genre) and hinting very darkly at "a hateful future nearly at hand and inescapable." Read that into the little tune you're listening to now....

Cyprian's in Vienna, Mozart's home when he composed this Concerto, being debriefed (ouch!) at the Hotel Klomser. I confess I'm a little unclear on whether Colonel Khäutsch -- Franz Ferdinand's minder in Chicago and recently reunited with Lew Basnight -- is the same person as the Colonel who debriefed Cyprian in a rather different sense in the last chapter. Accompanying illustrations really should be compulsory, don't you think?

The coffee's very good, it seems, as one would expect from Vienna, as are the pastries Cyprian's glomming during his interviews. It's always a pleasure to pick up a new word; apparently a "little-go" is a British university word for a minor mid-term exam.

We learn that Derrick Theign (interesting spelling for that first name) has extensive contacts in Vienna; we meet three of them: Miskolci, "not exactly a vampire" but certainly given to the occasional nip in the neck; Dvindler, whose cure for constipation had me squirming a bit in my seat; and Yzhitza, a specialist in erotic "Honigfalle [what we'd call 'honey-trap'] work" who's good enough at her work that even the "ambivalent" Theign gets a rod-on.

Cyprian, who's put on a pound or two from all the pastry, is given to evening jaunts to "his old sanctuary of desire," the Prater, a large public park in Vienna. The events that lead Cyprian into this nostalgia must have taken place offstage -- or at least at some point in the book where I wasn't paying the strictest attention, because they're a mystery to me. Clearly, now, he's cruising the park for boys, but his recent weight-gain earns him only rejection as a Fettarsch (fat-ass). He now chooses other haunts in the city, and in so doing keeps "blundering into huge Socialist demonstrations" ("talk about the slow return of the repressed!" is a nice Marxo-Freudian pun) where he occasionally gets his head busted by the pigs.

On one of these jaunts, he hears from an open window a piano student, "forever to remain invisible" (why???) playing a common piano exercise by Carl Czerny. (iTunes strikes out on Op. 299, but search on Czerny with it and you'll quickly get the idea: early nineteenth-century didactic -- formal, stiff and very Classical.) As the notes play out their "passionate emergence among the mechanical fingerwork," who should pop around the corner but ol' Yashmeen Halfcourt. The music's the cause of their meeting; "if he had not stopped for the music, he would have been around another corner by the time she reached the spot where he was standing."

Yashmeen's working at a milliner's, a job she thinks has been arranged for her by T.W.I.T.; one of Snazzbury's Silent Frocks showed up on the rack one day. She's aware of being followed around Vienna by someone "local. But some Russians as well." Cyprian reassures her that he can help her deal with the spies if she's willing to wait a few days.

They approach a simulacrum of Venice called Venedig in Wien. Yashmeen's hurting; she's doubtful about her future, and Cyprian's genuinely desperate to help. He calls on Ratty McHugh, the old school chum, who meets Cyprian and Yashmeen at the Dobner, a high-class cathouse, and repair to a safe-house of Ratty's. He plies her with questions about who's following her, and as she speaks, the depth of her predicament becomes desperately clear. Not only is she being dogged by Russians of unclear provenance, but a "Hungarian element" has entered the picture while she was offstage, "peculiar people in smocks... This sort of anti-fraud uniform everyone has to wear when they're doing research into...the 'parapsychical.'"

Ratty speculates that somebody among the T.W.I.T. contingent may have had a psychic foreshadowing of upcoming unpleasantness, because it seems they've all skipped town, leaving Yashmeen vulnerable. She thinks they had something going on behind her back, something malign, because "Whatever they had expected of me in Buda-Pesth, I had failed them."

A brief diversion to Buda-Pesth, (the mention of Váci út gives it away) where the T.W.I.T. contingent is bickering; Swome, bitched at by the Cohen, offers to stick the telephone earpiece up his ass. This scenelet turns out to have been related to Ratty by Yashmeen -- a neat little authorial trick.

Yasmeen brightens after her chat with Ratty. "Lovely to see you back to your old self," compliments Cyps. "And who would that be?" shoots back Yash. (Zing!) They go out walking on the Spittelberggasse, where prostitutes (a lot of them in this chapter, no?) display their wares in shop windows. One of them is a dominatrix, and at the sight of her, Cyprian gets himself a stiffie (lot of them in this chapter, too!) Noting this, Yash takes him into a café to discuss Cyps's "frightfully irregular" sex life. Cyps describes himself as a "catamite," a kept boy, whose "pleasure has never really mattered. Least of all to me."

Yash, ever-helpful, places her "closely laced wine-cordovan boot" (grrrrowl!) against Cyps's willie and does the kind deed under the "virginal tablecloth." Cyps goes Number Three in his pants. He is now A Man! Perhaps even, mirabile dictu, a Straight Man!

Cut to Venice. Derrick Theign is not at all pleased that Cyprian now has a "sweetheart." While his displeasure appears to arise for professional reasons, there is throughout his tirade (a pretty funny one, btw) a strong hint of sexual jealousy -- not of Yashmeen, but of Cyprian. The coin finally drops for Cyps: "Derrick. You want me to assault you... If this isn't as manly as it gets."

The closely laced wine-cordovan boot, it seems, is now on the other foot.

Suggested Discussion

In my own small way I'm just as fucked-up as Cyprian Latewood. (Oh! I just got that name!) So how come no Yashmeen Halfcourt's ever given me a spontaneous foot-job under a Viennese café table? Discuss. At length.

Additional Discusion, pp. 712-723

The Pyncher certainly does have a thing about S&M, doesn't he? It was all over Gravity's Rainbow, Katje Borgesius and all, completely absent from Mason & Dixon, and now here it is, back with a whipcrack.

What's up with that? On the M side it's all about the willing surrender of power over one's body to another, and the concordant acquisition of said power on the S half of the equation. And given that Pynchon concerns himself at rather great degree with power relationships -- political, physical, religious, economic -- I suppose it's not a great stretch to see rather obvious metaphorical uses for it.

No great insights from me on the question. Just thought I'd hang it up and see if anybody knouts it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Thinking outside the

Almost forgot. Flex your other Pynchon muscles here. By the way guys, this area has been a bit too weak as of late. I mean seriously, seances and no mention of Gravity's Rainbow. Carolyn Eventyr would be rolling over in his grave, and talking to a medium to tell us all about it. We have sewer escapes here not to mention zany secret societies and anti-semmitism reminiscent of GR, Crying, and V.. Any thoughts? If anyone hasn't connected the bilocation to the digital logic of Crying yet, damn it, hasn't that time come! Ding ding ding, paging Maxwell's Demon.

The Things A Spy Will Do For His Queen

(pp. 697-711)

I remember thinking who is this guy and why should I care. No matter how large the novel, it’s just bad form to introduce a main character after page 300. Actually, even page 300 is sort of late in the game, especially in a novel with hundreds of characters already running amuck. The entire collection of information that I allowed myself to retain about Cyprian was that he was gay and that he had some mock romantic interest in Yashmeen who doesn’t swing his way even if he were straight. I figuredthat this were some strange Pynchonian meeting of extremes: these two are both so gay that they’re straight again. Aside from this momentary ponderance, I let Cyprian go. I figured I’d get the reason for his inclusion my second time through the novel.

But alas, here he is again, and the main character of the section I am moderating. Perhaps in a bilocated universe there is a God. Ahem…

The section itself follows Pyhon’s usual structure of linearity. We begin at some undisclosed present moment that is out of synch with where we last left the character. We are then flashed back to a previous moment closer to a point where we remember the character being and then we proceed forward eventually overtaking and surpassing the moment where we began the section with little or no mention of its passing..

In our generic present, Cyprian is in Trieste (Joyce’s stomping grounds as well as his good friend Svevo—neither of whom, sadly, make an appearance). He is monitoring the Neo-Uskok who are, themselves, watching the Turks—watchers watching watchers and we, as readers, are watching them. Cyprian is watching immigration patterns from Austria-Hungary to America and vise versa, as well as sunsets (daybreaks for you title hunters out there). It turns out that this job is of only tertiary importance to this section.

By way of explanation of how Cyprian came to this assignment, we learn that he had been prostituting himself to a heavily influential S. and M. fanatic known as “The Colonel” in the Jewish section of Vienna. The Colonel’s henchmen, Misha and Grisha alert Cyprian that any mention of his affairs with The Colonel will result in very bad things. Thus, when Cyprian runs into his old friend Ratty, he makes a deal with Ratty’s super manly homophobic friends to get him out of Vienna. Cyprian, of course, plans to seduce said homophobes (hilarity ensues).

Cyprian meets with his contact in this group, a man named Derrick Theigh (a reference to both a penis and a thigh; subtle) while dressed in drag (Cyprian not Derrick). To avoid suspicion by men who are shadowing them, the two mimic flirtations and then head off to a Hotel of ill repute (because it has great escape tunnels into the sewers). To protect Cyprian from The Colonel, Misha, and Grisha, Derrick suggests moving Cyprian to Trieste. Cyprian is apprehensive because Derrick does not offer him enough funds to live in for this sabbatical.

Some time ago, somebody (Will Divide, I think) connected sewers, garbage, and sodomy as Plutonic art (art in an age when art has died). I couldn’t help but remember that comment when we learn that the faux homosexual tryst will result in an escape through the sewers (sans platonic cowboy, Indian, or harmonica—sorry couldn’t help myself).

Also, what’s the deal? The male prostitute has a cadre of spies after him and protecting him, and he can’t return home because England has been compromised. Does anyone else think that this is hyperbole or that the various “forces” are overreacting? It makes me wonder if a bilocated Cyprian isn’t somewhere doing something more internationally interesting than working his corner.

Cyprian’s new found friends proceed to threaten Grisha to give up info on The Colonel and we learn that The Colonel is an expert in South Slavic politics and that he uses Croatia-Slavonia as his garden of delights…and then we learn that he’s unimportant. He’s been arrested.

What is important is that Cyprian has proved that his homosexuality can be utilized in service to England—sort of a gay Austin Powers. He’s sent all over with little explanation finally ending up in Vienna where he is to find designs for the “sinister Siluro Diregible a Lenta Corsa or Low-Speed Torpedo”—an Italian submarine.

Even more interesting though is that the Russians have already seen the sub through the use of airships that can cloak themselves. Huh? Are we in the Chums’ world again? At least Alice had a rabbit hole. Pynchon punches his readers through to another level of fiction without so much as a hint of that movement. What, by the way, is happening to the world of the Chums adolescent fiction that it now includes state sanctioned male prostitution, bondage and sado-masochism as appropriate subject matter. What’s next, The Chums of Chance at the Glory Hole?

Misha and Grisha, now freed, are attempting to get away. Derrick (nicknamed “The Good Shepherd”) tries to figure out where to send Cyprian to keep him safe, but this conversation quickly ends with Derrick and Cyprian becoming lovers and thus complicating their professional relationship.

We soon learn that Derrick has been putting together a motorcycle brigade (codename: R.U.S.H.) in his spare time in preparation for war in Europe. These Rushers will act as messengers and shadows. The conversation turns to the philosophical implications of losing one’s self to the person one is shadowing—which of course is extraordinarily relevant in a novel where we have shadows of shadows of shadows and people who are shadows of themselves.

As Derrick dresses Cyprian up as a leather daddy the conversation turns to homosexuality as a means of pursuing eternal youth. Note, at this point, I don’t think it’s too far fetched to think of same sex love as another breed of shadowing and of course there’s the eternal youth that comes with being a fiction such as that which the Chums enjoy. Pynchon seems to be putting all of it in the same pot and mixing it. The more I think about it, the more my brain hurts. Moving on.

Derrick sends Cyprian back to Vienna—the heart of danger for him. While aboard the train, he thinks of all the different agencies whose interest center on The Colonel: the Russians, the British Secret Service, not to mention The Colonel’s men, the Serbs, the Turks, the French, and the Italians. He, himself, is in danger because of his own association with the (incarcerated) Colonel because of his position as one of countless men in Europe that the Colonel had sex with before his arrest.

So, for me the big question is: why Cyprian? I mean, there’s really nothing particularly or uniquely implicating about his encounter with the Colonel, so why this mobilization of every intelligence agency in Europe against him? This seems like a massive overreaction which Pynchon doesn’t really explain, and in fact, the lack of explanation seems conspicuous. Consider the REAL dangers in Europe at this time in the novel: bombers, drug addicts, assassinations, royal claims with questionable validity. Is one affair of man-on-man love really the thing the British Secret Service ought to be worried about when there’s a war about to happen in Europe?

Monstro out.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Oh, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once, When You're Not Anywhere At All?


If you study the heuristics and logistics of the mystics
You will find that their minds rarely move in a line
So it's much more realistic
To abandon such ballistics
And resign to be trapped in a leaf on a vine
-- Brian Eno, "Backwater"
This section, a two-chapter number, ends the "Bilocations" part of the book. Big Important Shit gets said and done in this section, so pay attention, you there at the back!

In the first chapter, we're back with Kit and Yashmeen as they travel from Göttingen toward Kashgar. The first leg of their journey finds them in Intra, on the shores of the Lago Maggiore, which transects the border between Switzerland and Italy.

They are following the the footsteps of the mathematician Riemann, Yashmeen's idol. He had traveled down this way from Göttingen forty years earlier, passing from the "rationalized hell" of the Seven Weeks' War into Sunny Italy, only to die in Custozza. As Kit and Yashmeen make the same journey, the cold rationality of Northern Europe gives way to "much less to engage the rational mind." The Haupt-Bahnhof of Frankfurt, scene of a hideous train-crash a few years earlier, joins other deadly technological catastrophes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century -- the collapse the Venice Campanile and the roof of the Charing Cross Station in London: "equivalents of an Anarchist bomb, though some believed equally laden with intent." Switzerland rises before them like a refreshing dessert after a heavy, greasy German dinner.

They visit Riemann's grave ("I think I should not cry," sez Yashmeen bravely), and she recounts to Kit the memory from her girlhood in Russia of the stranniki -- men who have walked away from their humdrum lives and become voluntarily homeless, "their only allegiance to God." She identifies her exile from Göttingen with these men: "Now I am expelled from the garden. Now in a smooth enough World-Line comes this terrible discontinuity. And on the far side of it, I find that now I am also strannik." She begins to feel her hopes for the zeta-function fade.

At the "fabled" (and, apparently, fictional; I could find no mention of it) Sanatorium Böpfli-Spazzoletta, a spa for those suffering from the "consumptive chic" fashionable in Europe, the Kit and Reef strands of the story meet. Reef, who's been tunneling nearby and who has fallen in with the nymphomaniacally inclined and mellifluously named Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin, now affects European clothing -- "a tourist from someplace out in Deep Europe," it seems to Kit. Some uncomfortable chitchat ensues. Ruperta and retinue have been spa-hopping across Central Europe, visiting some spas so remote they have to have their own potsage-stamps printed up just to get correspondence to official Swiss post-offices.

Reef, it seems, had at some recent point misunderstood the concept of "lap-dog." Hilarity ensues. (We see here a certain dumb slavishness to his own willie that we hadn't seen in Reef before; a certain moronic naïveté in someone who, by his own admission, runs the grift.)

Kit introduces Yashmeen to Reef, occasioning the observation that "for a moment she had thought she was seeing Kit and his own somehow aged or gravely assaulted double." Reef appears ready to move in on Kit's action, which annoys both Kit and Ruperta: "Your brother's little wog seems to've taken quite a fancy to you."

Later, alone together at dinner, Kit tells Yashmeen of the Traverse brothers, for purposes of comparison. Reef: "Reckless." Frank: "Reasonable." Kit: "Just the baby." Yashmeen suggests another "R" word: "Religious." ("Hard to tell if she was teasing.") This seems to be in aid of a seduction attempt, but, like so many of these things, communication goes haywire, and they talk at cross purposes: "I say something?" "You didn't say something." Call your correspondent just as hamhanded a romantic halfwit as Kit, but I'm damned if I can figure out what Yashmeen wanted him to say either. "Ite, Missa est."

Reef joins a morose Kit in his room, wangles "a couple of cc's" of Champagne. Reef sidles around to the subject of Scarsdale Vibe, and the unspoken commitment among all the Traverse boys to avenge their father's death. Vibe's in Europe, buying up "some of that Fine Art... doin what the millionaires do." Vibe's headed for Venice, and Reef insists the moment's right for action. Reef gets Kit to bring up the subject of assassination first, to be the first to suggest a plan; for his part Reef "look(s) to be all passion and no plan." The sticking point for the brothers: They don't know what their father wants.

A séance is arranged, to ask the man himself. Madame Natalia Eskimoff, a medium whose "séances were known, you'd say notorious, for their impertinence" -- for "These people are dead! How much more rude does it get?" -- is enlisted, to Reef's grifter's skepticism. A highly suspicious contact with Webb, heavy with generalities and mighty light on material usefulness, ensues. The belligerent Reef is persuaded to try his own hand at the mediuming game, and this time Webb's voice is unmistakable, full of regret at his misdirected earthly anger, his miserable fatherhood. Having channeled his father's profound sadness from the land of regrets, Reef himself is in despair at what he's become: "I don't even know who I fuckin am anymore."

Kit dreams of Webb. Kit is a child; Webb is alone but not lonely, playing poker solitaire with cards that seem to morph into numbers-in-themselves. Kit tries to regress to his childhood, to a state of dependence on his father, but can't help recognizing the cards as artifacts of his adult life, a life in which he's used his mathematical mind to betray his father's ideals: "He must have wanted all along to be the one son Webb could believe in." It is a sad and guilty Kit who wakes up, his betrayal of Webb heavy on his mind, imagining Mayva's disapproval: "There's still traces of his blood all up and down this country, still crying out..."

Kit suffers a crisis of -- what to call it? Faith? Belief? in the once-glimpsed transcendence of Vectorism, of the coexisting world of imaginaries, a "spirit realm" that exists beside and unseen by the world of real numbers. Here's a real important passage: "His own father had been murdered by men whose allegiance, loudly and often as they might invoke Jesus Christ and his kingdom, was to that real axis and nothing beyond it." Vectors are nothing but illusion.

"Someplace out ahead in the fog of futurity, between here and Venice, was Scarsdale Vibe. The convergence Kit had avoided even defining still waited its hour. The man had been allowed to go on with his dishonorable work too long without a payback. All Kit had anymore. All there was to hold on to. All he had."


A disoriented Kit consults with a sleep-deprived Yashmeen about the "detour to Venice for purposes of vendetta." Yashmeen has been ordered off their mission to Kashgar, diverted by T.W.I.T. to Vienna and Buda-Pesth to be the subject of mysterious Psychical Research Activity. She hands him an envelope to be handed to her own father, after Kit's "detour": "Telepathy... would not be -- you say, 'a patch?' -- a patch on the moment you actually put this in his hands."

She boards a boat, and Kit is left, disconsolate, alone.

The action moves to London, where Neville and Nigel, foppish and doped-up as ever, spray seltzer bottles at passersby. Lew Basnight is accompanying them to a fashionable West End play, about Jack the Ripper, entitled Waltzing in Whitechapel. The play is about a troupe of actors trying to put on a play about Jack the Ripper: "An actor playing an actor playing Jack, why that's artificial don't you agree?"

Lew surveys the crowd from their box and sees who he thinks is Professor Renfrew, but who turns out to by Professor-Doktor Joachim Werfner. The two bear a mighty strong resemblance. Lew renews his acquaintance with Colonnel Käutsch, our old pal from back at the Chicago Exposition, who's no longer cursed with the thankless task of chivvying Franz Ferdinand about. Käutsch has a pet theory that the true agent of the tragedy of Mayerling, in which the Crown Prince Rudolf and his Vetsera died in a murder suicide pact, was in fact Jack the Ripper.

Werfner, dismissive of the idea, notes that there were hundreds of "possible" Jack the Rippers, each equally plausible to the observer. "Hundreds, by now thousands, of narratives, all equally valid -- what can this mean?" "Multiple worlds," chirps Nigel. "Precisely!" cries the Professor.

I think some loose ends are beginning to be tied up, nicht wahr?

Lew, mystified by Werfner's presence in London, "where he should not be," reverts back to his "pernicious habit" of Cyclomite-nibbling. Well, wouldn't you?

Lew begins to become aware that he's not being told everything he needs to know by T.W.I.T. He notices in the Two N's a certain evasiveness, and he twigs to the conclusion: "They were impersonating British idiots. And in that luminous and tarnished instant, he understood, far too late in the ball game, that Renfrew and Werfner were one and the same person... that this person somehow had the paranormal power to be in at least two places at the same time... and that everybody at the T.W.I.T. had known this, known forever, most likely -- everybody except Lew."


Lew looks it up. Bilocation has been a stock in trade in the mystical line, well, pretty much forever. Dr. Otto Ghloix, an alienist (psychiatrist) (from Switzerland, how interesting) attempts a cod-Freudian explanation: "What crime more reprehensible than to betray that sacred obligation for the shoddy rewards to be had from Whitehall or the Wilhelmstrasse?" Lew protests that he takes T.W.I.T.'s deception personally; Ghloix reminds him that "it is quite common in these occult orders to find laity and priesthood, hierarchies of acquaintance with the Mysteries, secret initiation at each step, the assumption that one learns what one has to only when it is time to."

Which is just about exactly what's been going on with us Chumps for 687 pages, 's all I'm sayin' on that matter.

"Simplifies things, in a way," sez Lew. Brother, you said a mouthful.

The Cohen, knowing that Lew has been reading up on Bilocation and having offered some advice on its study, observing the Plafond-Lumineux, a complex lighting-fixture that seems to give off more light than the sun, muses, "We are light, you see, all of light... When we lost our aetherial being and became embodied, we slowed, thickened, congealed to -- [highly amusing stage direction] -- this. The soul itself is a memory we carry of once having moved at the speed and density of light.... Atonement, in any case, comes much later in the journey."

Atonement. It now follows us -- and Lew -- everywhere.

Lew thinks back to Chicago, to Troth. And we finally get a hint at that terribly oblique and mysterious crime of his back in Chicago! It was a bilocated Lew who'd done whatever-it-was, but it was this Lew who paid the price! He fingers his Browning revolver, tempted... "Whoa there now, Detective Basnight"... But now Lew's turned, his soul has resurfaced. He's beginning to feel again -- "who's to say how far Lew may have taken his contrition at working as long as he had on the wrong side, for the wrong people... in an era where 'detective' was universally understood code for anti-Union thug... somewhere else was the bilocational version of himself, the other, Sherlock Holmes type of sleuth, fighting criminal masterminds hardly distinct from the sorts of tycoons who hired 'detectives' to rat out on union activities."

Everything beginning to fall into place? Three crises of conscience -- four, if you count Yashmeen's -- all trending toward the same malign Plutocratic Presence? Dare we hope?

('Course not! This is Pynchon, not Clifford Odets!)

But that Penance thing, that sure is present, ain't it?

Lew finds Renfrew, thinking to take him by surprise with the accusation that he's not just the same sort of person as Werfner, but exactly the same person. Renfrew's discombobulated, out of sorts. He pulls down a huge map of the Balkans, babbles about Werfner's plans for the Balkans, (Lew imagines a bilocated Lew conducting the exact same interview with Werfner in Göttingen) a frustratingly undefined line of ... something... called das Interdikt.

"It's to do with the Gentleman Bomber," blurts Renfrew. "His immediate detection and apprehension that much more necessary you see." Well, now, here's a job for the right kind of detective! Lew can't get a straight answer from Renfrew about das Interdikt, but maybe the Gentleman B. can be "persuaded" to give up the gen? Lew splits for Fenner's cricket ground, "through the owl-light," to check him out. He's there. But he vanishes.

Lew repairs for a consultation with Dr. Coombs de Bottle to try to get some answers about das Interdikt and its relationship with the Gentleman B. What de Bottle tells him about phosgene anticipates the horror of the impending chemical warfare of World War I.

Then, suddenly, everybody's gone. Chunxton Crescent is a ghost town. The Cohen, Madame Eskimoff, the Two N's -- gone. Off to Buda-Pesth, where (we know) Yashmeen was headed for that Psychical Research Activity. Those Swiss-spa potsage stamps are all over the correspondence. Lew is suddenly without obligation to T.W.I.T.

The shit's about to hit the fan.

"Ite, Missa est."


I think there is some validity to the criticism that Pynchon's characters don't have inner lives until it's convenient to Pynchon that they have inner lives. Discuss.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Red in Tooth and Claw


I have to beg your indulgence on this unhappy Sunday night. It has fallen to me to substitute for a Mod who couldn't do his post this week. Perfectly OK -- happy to help out. This evening I was all ready to punch out a ripping good summary of the last pages of "Bilocations," pregnant as they are with answers to quite a few questions that have been bothering us for months now.

This afternoon, however, I made the mistake of trying to keep my house in good bourgeois order. Down by the lower part of the yard, my mower annoyed some kind of stinging insect, which took quite an effective revenge: It stung me just over my left eyebrow. Half an hour later, my entire eye was swollen completely shut, and I've only now, at about 11:00 PM, begun to get the damned thing to open. I have tried valiantly to type out a Cyclopean precis for you, but the combination of antihistamines and the headache one gets from having one's eyeball squeezed all day have unmanned me, and I had to give up only partway in.

I promise I will have a Mod Essay up in this space tomorrow (Monday), by the evening at the very latest. But now, it's Ho for the ice-bag and a night-night Benadryl.

Monday, June 04, 2007

From Tampico to Tatzelwurms

pp. 637-660

First things first: this week's reading is divided into three of AtD's untitled chapters which are themselves comprised of three, four and four sub-sections respectively. The first two sections treat Frank Traverse's wheelings and dealings down Mexico ways, the third his brother Reef as he works as a tunnel digger in Switzerland.

We join Frank anxious to leave Mexico in order to resolve certain revenge-centric "unfinished business in northamerica", but nevertheless finding it difficulty to extricate himself from the tangle of Mexican politics (637). He's hanging around in a village called Tampico (trans: The Place of the Others, a.k.a. Gringolandia) with Ewball Oust, the young mine engineer from Lake County whom we first met at p. 274, who has since "shifted his interests from rural Anarchism to arms procurement" (637). They both happen to bump into Günther von Quassel, late of Gottingen, now referred to as "El Atiladado," or "The Neat Man," who informs Frank of his own relationship with Kit as well as Kit's now rather dicey relationship with Scarsdale. There follows a passage concerning Frank and Günther's respective coffee preferences, and then all three of them then bump into a former acquaintance of Ewball's, Ramón, né Steve, who invites them to a party up in the hills.

Tom then supplies us with a breathtaking, paragraph-long sentence describing the anxiety the hill-dwelling gringos experience as they dread the inevitable "native uprising" (639). Really gorgeous stuff. You should go back and reread it; seriously, I'll wait.

Cut to the party, which is itself described as filled with uneasiness and partygoers willing to leave in a big hurry should the situation require. Günther and Frank discuss a shipment of Mondragón semiautomatics to be smuggled and meet Günther's sub-agent, the Irish Insurrectionist Wolfe Tone O'Rooney, late of New Orleans, who, like everyone this chapter is traveling under an alias, namely "Eusebio Gómez".

Wolfe, Frank, and Ewball start hanging out in a "cantina and gambling den known as La Fontiga Huasteca," a place where when the house band plays, "[e]verybody knew the words to everything, so the whole place sang along" (642). Then, another random meeting: Frank and Ewball's former jailmate and present nogoodnik, Dwayne Provecho. There follows a discussion of the possibility of revolution in Mexico and parts north, though Ewball contends that for the "norteamericaos" it's too late, having already "'delivered [themselves] into the hands of capitalists and Christers" (643). Dwayne leaves them with a hint about a shipment of Krag-Jørgensens up in Juarez that, as the chapter ends, Frank decides to pursue sans Ewball.

The next chapter opens to find Frank peeved that his Juarez contact, whose card (“E. B. Soltera, Regeneration Equipment”) Dwayne gave him, is to be found in "another of these damned lades' gathering spots," a fashionable restaurant for “gringos making their first trip south” (644). E.B. turns out to be none other than Estrella Briggs, a.k.a. Stray. The two talk business then discuss Reef and Jesse, the latter of whom is already playing with dynomite, “’just like his daddy’” (646).

Frank and Stray then head out into town where they meet two less-than-friendly associates of Stray, Hatch and his unnamed sidekick. A face-off occurs wherein Frank is matched with the sidekick (“For it really was the sidekick who presented the problem.”), but shooting is averted when Ewball shows, dues ex machina style, and deflates the tension (647). There follows more Frank and Stray chitchat and a description of a recurring dream Frank has been having about Webb who stands on the other side of a doorway that Frank cannot penetrate.

The chapter ends with Frank and Stray discussing Reef some more, Frank saying she should “[h]ave faith” (650), though she remains certain only of “her own sad story, her dream, recurring, bad, broken, never to come true (651).

Though Stray must remain waiting for her baby-daddy, we are transported by no more effort than a leaf-turn to Switzerland where we see exactly what Reef is now up to, or rather down to. Seems ol’ Reefer’s working with Flaco as a tunnel digger below the Austro-Swiss border in a region plagued by hotsprings and palling around with a typically motley cast including, we’re informed, a number of Anarchists. We catch Reef swapping blood vendetta stories with an Albanian named Ramiz, though Reef observes that such vengeance is getting trickier because “‘lately, as civilization comes creeping out from back east, authorities tend to frown more and more on it’” (654).

The workers have some complicated feelings about the tunnel, some of them holding the “belief that the tunnel was ‘neutral ground,’ exempt not only from political jurisdictions but from Time itself,” which has important implications for Anarchists or Socialists who contend that history is moving inevitably toward a revolutionary end-state. Stranger still is the rumored presence of Tatzelwurms, a “‘snake with paws’” and a horrifying scream which supposedly hibernates in the mountain and which is being disturbed by the drilling and especially by the presence of railroads (655).

And into this utterly proletariat setting, who should set foot but Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin. Ruperta’s come through town for the hot springs and Reef’s as smitten as ever. Ruperta’s been keeping busy slumming as a prostitute, but she and Reef quickly take up where they left off. During a post-coital discussion, they begin to talk of Scarsdale Vibe and Ruperta informs us that the baron has been buying up Renaissance art all around Europe but is currently headed for Venice where she, and she implies Reef, will soon be traveling.

This is followed by a brief passage focused on Phillipe, a tunnel digger and who compares the mountain to a cathedral, saying, “‘In a cathedral what looks solid never is. Walls are hollow inside. Columns contain winding staircases. This apparently solid mountain is really a collection hotsprings, caves, fissures, passageways, one hiding-place within another – and the Tatzelwurms know it all intimately. They are the priesthood of their own dark religion’” (658).

That said, Reef is promptly attacked by one of the pawed serpents, which, strangely greets him by name before it attacks. Reef manages to shoot the ‘wurm, which explodes in a mist of green blood, but it spooks him enough leave his position.

Riding the train down to Venice, Reef, alone in a car, has a conversation with a tunnel ghost, which accuses him of neglecting his obligations. He is living the good life as Ruperta’s boy toy and is not working to avenge Webb. The chapter – and the week’s reading – ends with the ghost not so subtly hinting that maybe Reef should “‘get back to [him]self again’” and target Scarsdale when he gets to Venice.

Additional Discussion: pp. 637-660

For all your non-AtD-centric ramblings and rumblings.