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, September 24, 2007

Spice of Life

She pretended to gaze at the paprika fields ripening to a red no match for her hair--or lips for that matter (it was occurring now to Kit). . .

picture source

(pp. 908-918)

Instead of shopping Dally to a seraglio in the newly prudish, and renamed, Istanbul, Clive Crouchmas decides to sell her into white slavery in Hungary instead, and commissions two dopes from light opera central casting, Imi and Ernö, yet another of the novel's comic pairs, to kidnap her.

Under the mistaken impression that they are grabbing a redhead for the famous arms dealer Basil Zaharoff, the two accost Dally in her rail compartment while the train is stopped at Szeged. Directly across the platform, on a train headed in the opposite direction--that is, towards Europe--Kit Traverse looks out the window and sees a presentable redhead in some kind of trouble. He intervenes.

Our lovers meet again, cute as ever, and after easily outfoxing the dolts, whom they leave on the moving train, they take off running through a handy paprika field, where in short order they commence to fucking.

Kit, we learn, has drifted back from the Steppes in short hops, eventually tending bar in the Pera district of Istanbul, a colorful spot where he meets again the affable arms dealer Viktor Mulciber, last seen in Göttingen looking for the Q weapon way back on pages 557-8 (hat tip to the Chumps' own search engine!) Mulciber clues Kit into a startup Italian aircraft company, sez Kit can name his price there, and that Mulciber gets a finder's fee.

It so happens that soon after the meeting, Kit gets on the wrong side of the C.U.P., a political party with a goon squad. His boss, Jusuf, gives him a ticket out and some cash while begging for the recipe of a drink that's been wowing the clientele.

Back in Szeged, Dally and Kit prepare their escape to Italy. Before leaving they get an all-clear from Pityu, a psychic waiter, and are tipped by Miklos, the hotel desk clerk, not to miss the great Bela Blasko, in town performing in the inevitably named Pynchon operetta, The Burgher King, which details in song the merry hijinks of a disguised monarch, mixing with the middle-class Heidi, Mitzi, Schleppingdorff, and Ditters. (German song translation, anyone?)

After the show, Dally confides to Kit her rather colorful recent past, an act of trust immediately followed by more fucking.


The themes and tropes at large in this episode should now be old hat to readers, travel along and across parallel lines, beautiful scenery, the perpetual planning of the Powers That Be.

Kit has been drifting out of sight of the readers for two years, and shows no outward signs, good or bad, of his quasi-mystical Asian journey. Dally has grown up almost, if episodically, in front of our eyes--no small feat for an author--and the frank look at her sexual life here and in the previous episode leave this reader with a certain feeling of something, if only innocence, lost. Or maybe she's finally absorbed the lessons she first saw in that Telluride whorehouse.

Those with a lot of time on their hands may have a go at assigning Tarot cards to characters. We certainly know enough about them by now, and our author just led things off regarding The Star and Dally. I here nominate Kit as King, or maybe Knave, of Cups (Reef, Coins, and Frank, Swords.) He was a bartender, and it was the C.U.P., after all, which finally sends him back to Dally.


At Thursday, September 27, 2007 5:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

don't know if this has come up before, but... i was reading an article in Harpers about gravity and saw a familiar, but uncommon name: Rideout.

turns out that a Mr. George Rideout was once the president of the Gravity Research Foundation, an organization whose "underlying imperative was to learn all it could about gravity and defeat it".

interesting coincidence.

At Tuesday, October 02, 2007 6:26:00 PM, Blogger Civic Center said...

Sorry for the late comment, but I so enjoyed this section, with its smattering of jokes, puns, and above all its old-fashioned romantic "made for each other" coupling of our young hero and heroine after 900 pages of feints, parries, and bilocations, that I simply stopped reading and decided to savor the moment for a couple of weeks before Mr. Pynchon takes us down more dark byways.

Favorite bits:

908:09 "in Cagaloglu where he [Crouchmas] had once engineered some of his more, he supposed, Byzantine schemes."

910:18 on the train where Kit is rescuing Dally with "Not if I'm really Basil Zaharoff," Kit, resisting the urge to wink, ducked away down the corridor. As a logical puzzle, it might not have passed muster at Gottingen, but here it might buy him five minutes, and that was all he needed." The paragraph following, "Years later they would be unable to agree on how they found themselves on the Szechenyi-Ter tramline..." is a wonderful moment where the author tells you that even if he's put these characters through hell and may put them through a few more paces, they're happy survivors. It reminded me of the wonderful Italian novel by Manzoni, "I Promessi Sposi" (The Betrothed) where it takes almost 900 pages of bread riots, crazed dukes and abbesses, and the Black Plague, for the betrothed to finally spend the night together and make babies.

Viktor Mulciber, the arms dealer, is like the better double of Clive Crouchmas. It's worth going back to pages 557-558 where he makes his brief appearance around the Q weapon. His scene ends at 558:15: "A weapon based on Time..." mused Viktor Mulciber. "Well, why not? The one force no one knows how to defeat, resist, or reverse. It kills all forms of life sooner or later. With a Time-weapon you could become the most feared person in history." "I'd rather be loved," said Root. Mulciber shrugged. "You're young." On page 912:11, when he advises Kit to go to Turin to check out the aircraft weaponry scene, and Kit thanks him, Mulciber says, "No need to grovel, lad, there's a finder's fee, and it's good for business."

On page 913, I loved the sex scene in the paprika fields, with the line: "they found to no one's surprise but their own how far ahead of them their bodies had been, how impatient with the minds that had been keeping them apart."

On page 914, the psychic waiter with the Halaszle fish shoup became an instant favorite new character, especially with his line, "My mother, who still lives in Temesvar, would say your destiny is much more demanding than that [being a Zaharoff girl]."

"The Burgher King" is an almost pitch-perfect parody of "The Merry Widow" and "Die Fledermaus" and the thousands of lesser Austro-Hungarian operettas written around this time. 915:12 concludes the ridiculous and confusing plot synopsis with "Meanwhile, the comic basso, the husband, Ditters, runs to and fro trying to figure out what his wife is up to, quite soon becoming insane from the effort. It is all great fun." Actually, these confections tend to be rather horrifying, leaden Germanic comedies about adultery and the class structure.

The bit of dialogue at the top of page 917 is about as romantic as it gets. "Some headlong escape, here." ending with "By now they were looking into each other's eyes. Again. There seemed no limit to how long this would go on."

At Saturday, October 20, 2007 2:09:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

The Burgher King!


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