The Things A Spy Will Do For His Queen
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?