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