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 03, 2007

Vendetta's Reunion



Venezia map, with Arsenale highlighted

pp 864-876

Cyprian makes a melancholy winter return to Venice after his near-fatal Balkan adventures. He had stopped in Trieste to look for Yashmeen, where he was told of Vlado's fate from his associates, along with news about his murderer. (854:31) "[Theign] has gone mad," said Vlado's cousin Zlatko Ottician. "He is dangerous now to everyone." On the boat ride into Venice, Cyprian fatefully sees Theign passing by in a traghetto which puts Cyprian into an "unexpected rage...now when he most needed a clever plan, his mind was becoming all staring Arctic vacancy," (856:6) which brings on vague thoughts of murder/suicide. At his old pensione he shared with Theign, Signora Giambolognese tells him that Theign "lives in the Arsenale."

Cyprian then runs into the newly married Ratty McHugh in front of the British consulate, and Ratty takes him to a remote courtyard-within-a-courtyard office where they speak in perfect upper-class English misdirection about Theign and Yashmeen and the horrors of marriage. Ratty strikes a gong for his colleague Piprake, and tells him that Cyprian needs to speak with the Principe Spongiatosta, who is not only the master of the house where Dally has been living, but who was also one of Cyprian's paying sexual clients when Theign was pimping him out, a fact known to both Ratty and Piprake.

Cyprian goes to Ca' Spongiatosta (no Princess or Dally to be seen), they acknowledge their history charmingly, and after a description of the antiques and modern items in the palace, the Prince gives a brilliant disquisition on Venetian history, and how each Doge became a slave to their position and power. "Other nations, Americans notoriously, style themselves 'republican' and think they understand republics, but what was fashioned here over corroded centuries of doges' cruelty lies forever beyond their understanding (868:8)...Unless one has performed in his life penance equal to what he has extracted from others, there is an imbalance in Nature." (868:22) That imbalance is what currently exists with the Austrian empire where nobody can be trusted since everyone can be bought, and Cyprian tells him that he has just returned from "a place less developed no doubt than the sophisticated cultures of the West, still naive, if not quite innocent...They possess what all the treasuries of Europe cannot buy" (869:7) The Prince replies, "Passion." and without further ado, the vendetta plot against Theign is put into motion as the Prince airily dismisses Cyprian.

"One day" Cyprian unexpectedly runs into Yashmeen who is on the arm of Reef, who Cyprian finds sexy. Yashmeen is cold and proper as they exchange brief news about Vlado, Yashmeen's escape, and Cyprian's revenge. "For the next week or so, Cyprian managed to go a little crazy, resuming, though not on a full-time basis, his old trade of compensated sodomy." With his ill-gotten gains, he heads to Fabrizio's for a "combative" makeover, and then takes a train to Trieste where he meets with Vlado's relatives, who promise, "You chase [Theign] into our sights, we'll do the rest."



On page 871, there is an interesting take on how Theign has been playing all sides against each other, with England, Russia, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian empire maneuvering against each other in the context of the Macedonian Question and the Anglo-Russian Entente. However, Cyprian's "field skills" have sharpened on the "whetstone of European crisis" while Theign's had deteriorated "from overindulgence in various luxuries." Cyprian learns Theign's daily timetable as he is accompanied by a "brace of plug-uglies" and plays various pranks on him. One night, when Theign is in front of the Austro-Hungarian consulate ("How much more blatant did the man imagine he could be?"), Cyprian shows himself and tells Theign to "make your arrangements" before disappearing.

An ambiguous, one-paragraph section ensues (872:23) where Cyprian becomes insomniac "as the crisis approached," and has fitful dreams of being betrayed by Yashmeen for "Austria" but not the real "Austria."

Cyprian and the Prince have an assignation where the Prince tells Cyprian that "it will be tonight" and "you have every right to be present." Cyprian says he'll leave it to the Ottican brothers and wants nothing other than to thank the Prince for his efforts, which startles the Prince: "sometimes, not often, [a man] will simply want nothing for himself, and that must be respected, if only for its rarity." He decides to invite Cyprian to his annual ball on the island, and when Cyprian demurs over having nothing to wear, is told "The Principessa will find something for you."

Theign returns to Venice from a trip to Vienna and realizes immediately he's made a mistake. He's abducted and taken to an abandoned factory where he's tortured to death in a remarkably graphic scene. Reflecting the Prince's previous rumination on "imbalance in Nature," Vastroslav tells Theign after he's gouged out both eyes, "Whenever you people torture, you try merely to cripple. To have some mark of imbalance. We prefer a symmetry of insult--to confer a state of grace. To mark the soul."

The final vignette in this section has Yashmeen sending Cyprian a message which begins, "I must see you." Ratty has given her Cyprian's address. They discuss Vlado, she gives him "The Book of the Masked," and then they fall back into their curious s/m love relationship. She talks about fucking Reef in a way she never would with Cyprian, they play around with Cyprian's sexual desire for Reef, and then fall into recriminations about who abandoned whom. The final paragraph is fascinating (876:9), yet another take on bilocation, time, and alternate realities. "They were two entirely different people who had no business being in the same city together let alone the same room, and yet whatever it was between them was deeper now, the stakes were higher, the danger of how much there was to lose terribly, incontrovertibly clear." I think they have just transcended space and time.

7 Comments:

At Tuesday, September 04, 2007 6:01:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Page 271 finally gives us, I think, the reason we've been following Cyprian all this time (line 11), as he thinks to himself: " [. . .] Theign must have known about the annexation long, long before [. . .] it was the first phase of their damned European war, and he sent me into the thickest of it [. . .]"

Our author has, via Cyp, allowed us-very deftly, if you ask me-to see the fault lines of the looming war in a very clear, indeed personal, way. History may be the cloaked movements of great powers but it also hinges on the actions of particular individuals, for reasons of money, lust, passion, control.

I think we've overlooked, or at least should look again, at the changes wrought in Cyp by his experiences saving Danilo the previous winter. At 840 he sees the usefulness of remaining attached to the day, at 842 he is posessed by a smile he could not control seeing Danilo reunited with his cousin. In another life, Cyprian would have replied in his most withering tones now he weeps sentimental tears.

Later, with Bevis and Jacintha, (848:24) he felt, against the face his soul would have if souls had faces, a brisk vernal equipoise [. . . .] It surprised him, and did not surprise him.

This submersion in the world (or perhaps it is a submission to it) allows him certain skills, like, back in Venice, to become invisible while dogging Theign (871).

I'm not sure the second meeting between Cyprian and the Prince was for sex, rather it was furtive as an assignation. It is also an opportunity for Cyp to express gratitude rather than ask for money.

And just when you think Cyprian's transit has brought him to something like sainthood, Bang-O, he's back in Sacher-Masoch's House of Desire with Yash and Reef. Interesting guy.

 
At Tuesday, September 04, 2007 9:32:00 AM, Blogger sfmike said...

Will, didn't mean to give the impression that Cyprian and the Prince were meeting for a "sex assignation." I was under the impression that Cyprian had done so earlier while he was living with Theign, but that the two meetings in this chapter were about vengeance, and nothing more. By the way, does anybody know what the Italian phrases mean that the Prince and Cyprian exchange when they meet, a reminder of their earlier times together? "Facciam' il porco," the Prince greeted him. Angling his [Cyprian's] head in regret, "Il mio ragazzo e molto geloso."

 
At Tuesday, September 04, 2007 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Facciam' il porco: "Let's make (or do) the pig" likely slang for who knows what.

Il mio ragazzo e molto geloso: "My boy is very jealous." Sorry, can't do the pig (??)

Qualsiasi, Ciprianino: "In any case, little Cyprian (or maybe Cyprie)"

Altezza: Highness

 
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