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, October 01, 2007

Frank & Wren's Love Nest

     [pp. 919-930]
Well, I suppose some Chumps may be reluctant to leave the certain fragrance of the previous section, but it's time to switch stories again. But, hey, you never know ... things could get a little spicy in this section, too.
This time, it's back to Chihuahua, Mexico, to pick up with Frank, who's been shot fighting in the Mexican Revolution. A shaman visits him in the makeshift infirmary to let him know Estrella (Stray) is in town looking for him. She's with the "impossibly good-looking Mexican dude," Rodrigo (himself a look-alike -- double -- for "some federal big shot"). Stray tells Frank she's somewhat of a diplomat, gives him some smokes, and leaves as he drifts off.
She returns the following day, this time with Ewball Oust (for whom she'd literally traded Rodrigo). He'd like Frank to help procure some decent mobile arms, such as the Krupp mountain gun (interesting link about that, courtesy of the ATD Wiki). I particularly liked Ewball's observation on 922:
... when all the real nihilists are working for the owners, 'cause it's them that don't believe in shit, our dead are nothin but dead, just one more Bloody Shirt to wave at us, keep us doin what they want, but our dead never stopped belongin to us, they haunt us every day, don't you see, and we got to stay true, they wouldn't forgive us if we wandered off of the trail.
In yet another "and who should walk in but"-type scenario, we see Wren Provenance once again. (Visit Axiomatic's summary  from -- [*gasp!*] -- last February for a, well, summary of their original meeting.) Seems she's been doing some local archaeology, etc. Ewball asks Frank's permission, more or less, to put the moves on Stray. Wren has her fun with the boys, including a lively exchange of "doll-tits" and "puppet-pecker" (see the wiki) with Ewball.
Brief account of the next few pages:  Frank then takes a peyote trip (written, appropriately, in a long stream-of-consciousness narrative), Stray runs off with Ewball, and in no time Wren and Frank are fucking like wild animals (well, amid wild animals, anyway).
Page 927:  Another significant skyward event... This time it's an airplane, possibly the first ever seen by those below (though the Indians, paradoxically, apparently knew what it was). Can't be a good omen... but we'll have to wait until later to know what comes of it.
The shaman gives Frank a (possibly magical) cane and, in no time, he's much better again. He rides off to the Cases Grandes dig with Wren where they discuss and theorize vis-a-vis the history of the people who'd lived there:
[Frank] understood for a moment...that the history of all this terrible continent...was this same history of exile and migration, the white man moving in on the Indian, the eastern corporations moving in on the white man, and their incursions with drills and dynamite into the deep seams of the sacred mountains, the sacred land [928-29].
For, oh, a half-year or so (until late October), it seems Frank and Wren "inhabit the joys of domestic fucking" [929], having shacked up in Wren's little cottage near the dig. Although, Frank "knew that in her unspoken story of long pilgrimage and struggle he only happened to be on the same piece of trail for the moment" [929]. 
El Espinero knows this as well; but, he also tells Frank that Wren will always "see" him -- meaning, I suppose, think fondly of their brief time together (though it's also a play on visibility vs. invisibility).  Yet, she does leave at the end, as expected. 
Also notable on 930 is a brief yet strong, arguably counter-intuitive, critique of the railroad system.  And that's about all for this rather short section.
Just to give some idea of where we're at... From this web page:
One lasting symbol of the history of Chihuahua Mexico is the Chihuahua Pacific Railway. The Railway connects the capital of Chihuahua with the Pacific coast city of Los Mochis, a sixteen-hour train ride that traverses some of the most compelling and rugged scenery in the Americas. Construction of the railway began in 1898, and wasn't completed until 1961. With a dizzying 86 tunnels, 37 bridges, and multiple switchbacks that drop from an elevation of 7,000 feet down to sea level in just 120 miles, the railway is an engineering marvel.


At Tuesday, October 02, 2007 9:56:00 AM, Blogger Boldly Serving Up Wheat Grass said...

Also wanted to point out that this guy's blog features some preview shots from upcoming paperback editions of ATD!

At Wednesday, October 03, 2007 5:44:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

V. interesting cover designs. I especially like the British "Where's Waldo?" one and wonder if our reculsive host's cartoon mug isn't in there somewhere.

I got a big kick out of Frank's latest peyote experience and what might be the novel's longest sentence (924:23-925:24). Hilarious how the point of view in it changes from Frank's to that of one of the locals making fun of "Frank's" lowland tourist trip.

It's another of the novel's imaginary, or at least bilocated, cities, set in a dimension that is not ours.

Themes of pulp adventure are introduced as Frank comes down, and I've been thinking for a while now of AtD as a towering work of American pulp fiction. Pynchon may be pointing to our own rather debased western dreams of deliverence located in, well, a Western, or detective novel, or boy's sci-fi adventure series.

We seem, as a culture, to have put our collective dreaming into the pages of books, or onto movie screens, rather than a mystic tribal understanding of the sort El Espinero (The Thorn?) offers, something both Kit and Frank are made aware of in their outland travels (note Frank's recovery progress away from the wrecked church on 926.)

Frank recognizes Wren's dig as the remains of the city he visited in his vision, something El Espinero had wanted him to see [...] if he was even to have even an outside chance of saving his soul. It was, and still is, a real place, but now very hard for the likes of us to reach.

At Wednesday, October 03, 2007 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

Any thoughts on "the invaders, the people with wings, the serpents who spoke, the poisonous lizards who never lost a fight". ( 929 halfway)

It kinda seems like he is spiritualizing , or identifying in our collective fears the spirit of colonialism, the demonic militant nature of government itself , our secret aspirations to rise to the top of all food chains and beyond. What makes the city of Franks's vision, or shambalah, different? Can there be a different organizing principal than colonization, profit?

I think Pynchon does everything he can to identify paths of resistance, approaching in many ways simultaneously, through humor, science, politics, adventures, vision quests, etc. what characterizes a cirmumspect and self adjusting counterforce to the kingdom of the talking serpents. It is how he ties personal liberation to collective liberation , while identifying the thousand whirlpools surrounding any such effort that gives the book a heft, ambition, and multidimensionality that is hard to find.

At Tuesday, October 09, 2007 3:10:00 AM, Blogger Civic Center said...

Thanks for the synopsis, BSUWG. It made me want to head out for Mexico and take the great train ride from Los Mochis to Chihuahua.

Just for the record, El Espinero is the same shaman that Frank met on page 390, when Frank had joined the Mexican Revolution with Ewball after their escape from the Guanajuato jail. Frank saved El Espinero's life, along with his wife and sister-in-law, named Estrella. There was an extended peyote trip in that section too.

In fact, El Espinero seems to be a riff/parody on the Carlos Castaneda's "Don Juan." In any case, it's always nice to see a vivid character reappear 500 pages later.

And Brooktrout, "the poisonous lizards who never lost a fight" reads like both a metaphor for demonic capitalism/governments, and also carries hints of extraterrestial evil, such as the monster from the Arctic that wreaked havoc in the first section of ATD. It also reminded me of the second book in Doris Lessing's sci-fi series, "The Sirian Experiments," which includes a section where good and evil forces from throughout the universe play it out in ancient Mexican culture.

At Thursday, May 22, 2008 6:43:00 PM, Blogger The Gid said...

"The biplane slowly became visible" (ATD 927)

From Freudenthal's How Aviation "Firsts" Took Place in Mexico (1945):

"Although, at the beginning of the year 1911, there was practically no aviation in Mexico ... the events taking place in and over Mexico clearly foreshadowed the future importance of this weapon ... in February, 1911, Charles K. Hamilton ... took off from El Paso and flew to Ciudad Juarez, circling twice above the latter city. It was then held by the forces of the Mexican General Navarro. The soldiers, Hamilton reported, showed great fright when he appeared in the skies, running frantically for shelter. Then Roland Garros ... flew his monoplane over the same route, but at an altitude greater than Hamiton’s 900 feet. The following day Rene Simon flew directly over the camp of the insurrectionist General Orozco. These were the first scouting flights of an airplane under actual war conditions" (emphasis mine).

Is the biplane on ATD p. 927 Hamilton’s flight? Here are the clues:

* What: the first wartime use of a plane for scouting (not long before aerial WWI combat)

* When: Feb. 1911

* When: Ciudad Juarez at 900 feet over General Navarro's troops

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To my mind one and all must go through this.

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