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, July 02, 2007

Death and Venice

... but the Basilica San Marco was too insanely everything that trade, in its strenuous irrelevance to dream, could never admit.

picture source

(pp. 724-747)

Whatever doubt the reader may have had as to whether Kit had seen Foley Walker in Göttingen, way back on pg. 619, is cleared up (indeed he did) in the opening sentence here.

Foley is traveling with Vibe, while the plutocrat tours northern Italy on a Renaissance Art buying spree, a trip which includes a visit to the bottom of the Venice lagoon, with Vibe in a diving suit, to consider a sunken mural, The Sack of Rome, yet another one of the novel's apparently flat graphic representations of the world which can tremble without warning into three dimensions.

Up on the dive boat, Foley's hands, with a certain Strangelovian will of their own, threaten to plug his boss' air intake, while Kit and Reef watch, unaware, with a pair of binoculars from the shore. They are looking to gauge an opportunity to kill Vibe, but even so bicker over intent.

Meanwhile, Dally Rideout has settled comfortably into the Ca' Spongiatosta (In growing accustomed to life there, we learn a couple pages further on, Dally has witnessed the comings and goings of the princess' many and varied lovers, as well as the mysterious departures and arrivals of the prince, who has some kind of working relationship with Derrick Theign.) Dally's now doing some cooking and marketing for the household, in the course of which one day she runs into Kit and Reef who are, she twigs, up to something. Rebuffed when she asks the boys what that might be, she stalks off.

Later the same day, out strolling with Hunter Penhallow, Dally again runs into Reef, now in the company of Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin, who herself apparently shares an intimate history with Penhallow (which by the next evening seems to have been resumed.) Dally meets the Traverses yet again that marketing day, and now hears of their intention to, somehow, bump off Vibe, which she's long suspected has been on Kit's mind. Once the deed is done, Kit says, his immediate destination will be Inner Asia (and see ya later, Miss Rideout.)

Cazzo, cazzo. . . she thinks.

The princess advises her to forget him. There is a ball the next night at the Palazzo Angulozor (Ass sore, perhaps?). The princess will lend her a gown, introduce her to some rich guys.

By the next noon, Ruperta departs for Marienbad, Reef replaced with Penhallow. Dally and the Traverses go over firearms and tactics for killing Vibe. She advises gut shooting him, then takes the brothers to meet the local anarchist cell of Tancredi and his pals, Mascaregna and Pugliese, who already have Vibe in their sights, looking to call him to account for his many deep sins.

Turns out that Vibe is expected at the Angulozor bash, and that next afternoon the three Americans drink grappa and plot, as an ill wind blows outside.

That night as Vibe appears under the electric lights at the party's canal landing, he is rapidly approached by an apparently empty-handed Tancredi, who, because he refuses a command to stop, is immediately shot down by a cadre of hired gunmen, to the immense delight of Vibe who, after telling his guards to deface the corpse, sees Kit in the crowd watching him, and smirks.

Later on Vibe encounters Foley dancing wildly with three local girls, grateful, Foley says, that Vibe was spared - though, we are led to see, for what might indeed be a more personal future reckoning.

In preparing to blow town in separate directions, Reef and Kit argue as only brothers can, and part ways with no small ill will, born of jealousy and class.

The section finishes as Dally sees Kit off on the night steamer to Trieste, another poignant embarkation for parts unknown in a novel chock full of them.

Some things to consider:

Venice is yet another of our author's V locations, that is, a place where his characters seem to tumble one on top of another, as if directed down a funnel to the same point. Though supposed to have been built on trade (732:13), the city has an extravagant mystery and illogic, glimpsed already at several junctures in the book, at odds with the new machines of 20th century capital.

It is an element of this strange power, perhaps, with which Tancredi seeks to confront Vibe, an infernal machine which Tancredi alone could sense (742:28). We may parse the meanings in that very dense paragraph on pg. 742, though in so many words, I think, Tancredi's invisible weapon is a sort of holy anger which, fatally, blinds him to the reach of the victorious Vibe's worldly power.

And what to make of that old veteran of a war that nobody knew about (576:38), Hunter Penhollow? We learn, maybe, that he had disappeared from England years before during a cricket match, along with the rest of his team (his batting total was 87 and he was still at the crease when play was called for lack of light), and he decamps once again without a word. Demmed elusive cove, if you ask me.

Before departing, though, he warns Dally, and all within earshot, of mistaking confusion for depth. Like a canvas that gives the illusion of an extra dimension, yet each layer taken by itself is almost transparently shallow. (731:19-21)

Noted, thanks.


At Monday, July 02, 2007 5:19:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

I've held off posting the Additional Discussion thread for now, 'cause, basically, there's been little need for it. It's easy enough to resurrect, should it be called for.

There is something though that hit me this past week, a way of seeing AtD as a thematic opposite to Mason & Dixon. That novel was mainly about how a science evolved from magic came to arrange the world along harsh legal boundaries, banishing the fantastic from the everyday. This novel, it seems to me, is obsessed with erasing, or at the very least confusing, the boundaries of the "real" world, by reviving the magic that lays otherwise dormant, or forgotten, in our science and the commonly considered day.

At Monday, July 02, 2007 7:21:00 AM, Blogger Monte Davis said...

You're on a very fruitful Line here, Will.

In M&D the transit and Stig's axe are pushing hemp trees and were-beavers and Jesuit radio beyond the Ohio -- but two centuries later, Carlos Castaneda will smuggle the magic back in.

In AtD, we watch what was very recently magic (e.g. photography for Merle, wireless, motion pictures) becoming routine technology as business models take hold. Max Weber told us all about the routinization of charisma.

But -- look, up in the sky! Look, under the sand! Look, between the layers of paint! (Or the lines on the page...)

Return of the repressed, anyone?

At Monday, July 02, 2007 7:16:00 PM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

I'm saving Mason & Dixon. It's the one thing by Pynchon I haven't read...and ATD, of course, though I'm making it through.

I would point out that, though I know little about Mason and Dixon, this novel seems to be a real return to famous scenes in other novels. I'm a HUGE Gravity's Rainbow fan and have probably read Crying of Lot 49 a couple of dozen times. I see in ATD a constant rewind to themes that are brought up in both those novels--the seance being the most recent example. It's weird, like that county that shows up in all of Faulkner novels, example that Pynchon's county is conceptual. The rapid move to infinity from what seemed like dichotomies, the depth of the plot necessary for you to enable your paranoia, and yes, magic as technology as magic again (Maxwell's demon). I was a little taken aback a couple of week's ago when Monte said that the sexuality of the novel was pigeon-holed. I'm reading it as having the same polymorphous perversity as everything else I've read by Pynchon.

Will, curious, are you and Neddie doing the moderating these days or is it simply your turn in the rotation. If the latter, where is everyone?

At Monday, July 02, 2007 7:40:00 PM, Blogger Monte Davis said...

...Monte said that the sexuality of the novel was pigeon-holed.

Umm, don't know who said it but not me.

At Monday, July 02, 2007 7:54:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

this novel seems to be a real return to famous scenes in other novels.

Don't mean to crow, but... I believe I was the first to point out a Beyond-the-Zero image back somewhere around p. 9.... I do honestly believe that Our Artificer, approaching 80 years of age, is asking us to assess his entire career with this book. Or, at least, to Sum Up....

At Monday, July 02, 2007 8:10:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Will, curious, are you and Neddie doing the moderating these days or is it simply your turn in the rotation. If the latter, where is everyone?

Just happened to be our turn in the Grand Scheme of Things. BSUWG is next up, followed by Brooktrout. I'm sure they'll do a fabulicious job of stirring up conversation. At the moment, I imagine everyone's languidly posed on a beach chair, festive alcoholic beverage within easy reach. Frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way. Happy summer, everyone!

At Monday, July 02, 2007 8:27:00 PM, Blogger Civic Center said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Monday, July 02, 2007 8:31:00 PM, Blogger Civic Center said...

There were a lot of important strands coming together in this section, and thank you, Will, for directing us back to page 576 where Penhallow was reintroduced after disappearing from the book after his spectacular introduction during the first 100 pages in the Northern Fjords with the Unknowable Monster. I didn't quite understand the section when we first encountered it, but it's starting to look like Penhallow is in some kind of time warp from World War I (which is ten years in the linear future), along with a number of other major characters such as Lew, Kit, Yashmeen, The Chums, etc. What this means in a larger sense I haven't a clue but it's starting to get seriously fascinating, and the three pages following 576 are worth rereading.

The Albernon/Ruperta/Reef confrontation with Dally/Penhallow on page 729 was also great with everyone trying to send signals wildly to everyone else that they knew from some kind of past. Thanks again, Will, for the pointer that Penhallow was a cricketer who disappeared which I completely missed. It ties back in with the anarchist bomber cricketer who goes in and out of time. Gosh, an expert athlete AND artist AND unstuck in time. More Penhallow, please!

On page 732:6, Pynchon is unusually insistent about the reader understanding that what he's writing about is NOW!: "Where acts such as the one he contemplated were given no name but "Terror," because the language of the place--he might no longer say "home"--possessed no others." That's Kit thinking about assassinating Vibe and how it will go down in America.

On page 733:38, we get to my favorite of all the brotherly puns based on Traverse first names mixed with gringo mispronunciations of furren languages. "Got to go run some 'Pert-connected chores, maybe we'll talk later. Areeferdirtcheap, kiddies." Merl Reagle, the brilliant crossword puzzle dude, could do an entire puzzle based on the Traverse brothers' puns with each others' names in this novel.

The "weapon" that Tancredi uses is remarkably similar to the SuperWeapon that the evil Woevre character back in Belgium was running around with in the canals of Ostend. On page 563:35, "He was overcome with certainty that the device was conscious, regarding him, not particularly happy to be in his possession. It felt warm, and he sensed a fine vibration. How could that be? "Jou moerskont!" he cried. It did no good, whatever language the weapon could be screamed at in...Something flashed, blinding him for a moment, leaving his field of vision a luminous green. The sound accompanying was nothing he wanted to hear again, as if the voices of everyone he had put to death had been precisely, diabolically scored for some immense choir." After being thrown to the ground and being helped up by Kit, he says, "Take it. Take the fucking thing. I cannot bear it...this terrible light..."

The final paragraph, where Dally and Kit are going into different time vectors, is extremely confusing and beautiful. Page 747:13: "...and both young people understood a profound opening of distinction between those who would be here, exactly here day after tomorrow to witness the next gathering before passage, and those stepping off the night precipice of this journey, who would never be here, never exactly here, again." Again, I have no clue what this means, but it's getting very interesting.

At Tuesday, July 03, 2007 5:10:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

monstro sez: I see in ATD a constant rewind to themes that are brought up in both those novels

I've begun to think of it as an ideological frame in which the other novels have been placed (a set of all sets, so to speak.) This is sort of a brutal load for a book to carry, and I do think it occasionally scrapes along as a result (see my recent comments re: Cyp & Yash.) While I think AtD is first and foremost a magnificent feat of imagination and thought, Mason & Dixon is a masterpiece.

Also, Ned, please, the poor man just turned 70, give him 7 or 8 years before saying he's almost 80. Fucking Time passes quickly enough without your fans helping it along.

At Tuesday, July 03, 2007 5:35:00 AM, Blogger Neddie said...

Whoops! Tental Mypo.

At Tuesday, July 03, 2007 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

Sorry Monte, I think I read one of your earlier comments wrong.

I'm having trouble putting this into words, but let me try. I don't really think that Pynchon is obsessed with these themes so much as he recognizes that we, historically, were obsessed and now we pretend that they don't matter.

For instance, the seance. At one point in time, roughly one third of Americans had been to a seance...and that's just America. Spritualism was bigger in France. In fact, if you look into the history of most abolitionists, you'll find a medium somewhere in there speaking to ex-slaves from the other side. History was, at one point, driven by this strangeness. If one third of Americans believed in contact with the other side, that was, at the time, more people than were America.

But now, we don't think of that point in history, and if we do, we erase this kind of strangeness and rewrite the way it went. That Pynchon shows cultures obsessed with seanses and hooking up your body to electrodes and attempting to become light eaters (eaters of light) isn't like he's harping on minor chords but rather he's playing on major chords that we've in retrospect designated as minor.

It hasn't been that apparent, at least to me, that this has been his historical philosophy, but now that I look back on his other novels, it seems like a major theme.

At Tuesday, July 03, 2007 5:52:00 PM, Blogger Civic Center said...

Dear Will: I noticed at your blog that you'd just finished "Against The Day," and your dismissal of it here with comments like "This is sort of a brutal load for a book to carry, and I do think it occasionally scrapes along as a result" are basically spoilers. Do you think you could please wait until we all finish the book before you utter your magisterial pronouncements on where the book is in the canon? Thanks.

At Tuesday, July 03, 2007 7:12:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Yo, Mike - I've made observations about what I feel to be the thinness of certain characters and action already to this point (like I said, see last week's comments about Cyp & Yash.) At over 700 pages into a novel, I think one might wonder aloud about a tighter design without ruining the reading experience for others. If that has done so for you, after a visit to my other blog, apologies.

At Thursday, July 05, 2007 7:49:00 AM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

On a different note: what I was saying earlier, and which I think I can say better and faster is that Pynchon's version of history includes those ways of thinking that were all important at that time and which now seem to embarass us with their naivete. In response to that embarassment, we leave those ideas out and recast the past as a time just as rational as the present. Pynchon seems to be saying either, we were irrational before and we're probably just as irrational now, OR (and I find this the more interesting) we are rational now and we were just as rational back then.

At Saturday, July 07, 2007 10:54:00 AM, Blogger Boldly Serving Up Wheat Grass said...

Well, it's always interesting to see references to one's home town in the text. When Dally is recommending a gut-shot on Vibe, she references the famous assassination attempt on Henry Clay Frick, an industrialist from Pittsburgh whose name is still found on parks, museums, streets, etc. in the Pittsburgh (and likely New York) areas. For anyone interested, you can read about Frick and the assassination attempt here (which includes a link to a bio on "Brother Berkmann," the Russian anarchist who nearly -- hence Dally's advice -- blew Frick's head off.)

At Saturday, July 07, 2007 7:32:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Gut shooting is exactly what happened to President Wm. McKinley at the hands of anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo in September 1901. McKinley took six days to die of his wound, though competent medical care, even by the standards of the day, probably would have saved him.

At Sunday, July 08, 2007 3:16:00 PM, Blogger Civic Center said...

Dear bsuwg: If you're ever in New York City, do check out the Frick Museum, probably the most beautiful small art museum in Manhattan set in Frick's old Upper East Side mansion. It contains, if I remember correctly, half the Vermeers in New York.

At Monday, August 27, 2012 3:08:00 PM, Anonymous byrd said...

Neddie said: " I do honestly believe that Our Artificer, approaching 80 years of age, is asking us to assess his entire career with this book. Or, at least, to Sum Up...."

My second time through the novel (and first since having read all of Pynchon's novels), and I'd agree completely. I think the opening "Now single up all lines" is pointing us in this direction.

Any of you readers/mods still out there?

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