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 08, 2007

Strategic Balkan Musicology and Anarchist Golf


PAGES 930-950

Having left our peyote glimpse into the ancient meso-american (anarchist?) village of Casas Grandes we fly now on the winds of prose to Frank's brother Reef, who with Yashmeeen and Cyprian has stumbled upon an anarchist spa called Yz-les Bains . The spa village is in the foothills of the Pyrenees with a secret path into Spain. There is a real Aix-le Bains hot springs resort town in western France, but Pynchon has given the reader a preWW1 anarchist counterforce in these less determinate y, z coordinates, where lefties are gathered for a little R&R, strategic Balkan musicology and a few games of anarchist golf.

Ratty McHugh is there, inspired by Cyprian's disposal of Theign, along with many others, to leave Whitehall . On his way out he kissed his secretary, Sophrosyne(moral sanity)Hawkes, who has joined him along with his wife in a merry menage, oppositely gender weighted to Reef, Yash and Cyp. That gender balance is significant as he introduces the newcomers to the community and they discuss among other things the all-male structures like T.W.I.T. that "blighted the hopes of anarchism for years".

As Pynchon introduces us along with Ratty, Reef and Cyprian to the comic delights of anarchist golf I would like to suggest that Yz-le-Bains is a probable stand-in for Esalen , the Big Sur birthplace and resort of new age and counter culture ideas, practices and voices like Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Abraham Maslow, Fritz Perls, Gregory Bateson, Hunter Thompson and Joan Baez . There are many parallels, the founding in sexual openness and role reversal, the western-edge geography, the eclectic spirituality and theorizing, but I think the clincher is The importance of the psychic dimensions of golf to Esalen founder Michael Murphy, author of Golf in the Kingdom . Also, in response to Reef's eager suggestion of the possible use of explosives, the anarchists say they are following a path of" co-evolution"as an alternative form of resistance to anarchist bombs. This kind of use of the word co-evolution is definitely from the west coast 60s ala Stewart Brand, Paul Erlich, Esalen.

While golfing , Ratty tells them about a map , "purportedly the Belgian Congo" but really thought to be the Balkan Peninsula in Code. Later we are introduced to Coombs De Bottle with whom they and the ladies examine and discuss the map in detail, which points toward the coming European War, along with details like a poison gas minefield. Everyones abilities and experience contributes to a cumulative understanding.

Yashmeen asks the question "why not let them have their war?"implicit in her question that war would be self destructive of the corrupt monarchies and powers. Others argue persuasively that war reinforces the worst aspects of nation states and industrial corporations and would destroy the growing discontent with nationalism and the interest in alternatives. They consider unpromising ways to disarm the phosgene, and Yashmeen , who seems to be internalizing the horror of the situation along with a committment to act, says "this is terrible". Cyprian perceives her plans to accompany a mission and he and she have a gentle disagreement about the risks of giving birth in such circumstances. Cyprian, struggling with an inner vow not to return to the Balkans, reluctantly asks the group "How should we go in?", perhaps ready to "relax into his fate".

Here we are introduced to Professor Sleepcoat, an ethnic musicologist, who is concerned about the drastic absence in Balkan recordings of music in the Lydian mode ( Sleepcoat uses example of F to F on white keys with a b natural instead of b-flat.) . He also mentions rumors of a neo-pythagorean cult with particular aversion to the Lydian. This is the 2nd reference to Pythagoras(T.W.I.T. first) and also introduces the myth of Orpheus who used the Phrygian mode(E to E on white keys) favored by the pythagoreans.

So they form a plan to explore the Balkans as song collectors - a practice already historically underway(Bartok, Vaughn Williams) as Euro folk cultures were already stressed and threatened. This shift from geopolitics to song collecting at first struck me as comical but I think it is really pretty serious, carrying the thoughts deep into the question of what makes life precious, what is worth preserving . There is an article in newest Harpers about the Congo; the author found that most Congolese have no historical memory of the Belgian colonial rule, the same loss of history taking place in the US, whole languages disappearing rapidly.

At this point Reef is associated with the anarchist enterprise through "class hostility", Cyprian is without political faith, but Yashmeen feels at Yz -les- Bains a re-awakening of transcendent hope.
"This is our own age of exploration" she declared "into that unmapped country waiting beyond the frontiers and seas of Time. We make our journeys out there in the low light of the future, and return to the bourgeois day and its mass delusion of safety, to report on what we've seen."
The sexual limits among Yash ,Cyp and Reef continue to fall and Reef muses with genuine amazement how he feels no jealousy and has become very fond and respectful of Cyprian.

They join Sleepcoat(the name reminds of Josephs dream coat of many colors; his concern for the losses of traditional song as though colors are disappearing from the dreams of the culture) and Sleepcoats's helpers in Beograd( Belgrade) and make their first stop for research in Sofia.
One night they hear 2 lovers sing a duet across a valley, and it is

as if the division between the singer were more than the width of the valley, something to be crossed only through an undertaking as metaphysical as song, as if Orheus might once have sung it to Eurydice in Hell.
Later they share thoughts on Orpheus's failed rescue.

R ,Y and C start to look for the Interdikt line(phosgene gas or?), people shut down and say you don't find them they find you. They go to a dance and C runs into Gabrovo Slim who invites them to his house when Yash has the baby. He tells Cyp that what he thinks are Germans have been burying black cable and bringing dynamos and military equipment to the area. Powerful local Mafia types tried to steal some and disappeared without inquiry. He offers to show them what he can.

They part from the discouraged Sleepcoat and go to Slim's rose farm, where his wife does hybrid experiments. Here we have one of the best one sentence summaries of Children ever.
The farmhouse was teeming with children, though when Cyprian actually counted, there were never more than two.

Zhivka talks with her roses and Cyprian hears them talk back ; he shares with Yash that the flowers foretell a girl. Cyp feels himself estranged from locals and disinterested in erotic adventures.
The baby was born during the rose harvest, in the early morning .....into a fragrance untampered with the heat of the sun. From the very first moment her eyes were enormously given to all the world around her. .....named the baby Ljubica ( Serbo-Croatian for violet, perhaps a reference to Yugoslavian composer Ljubica Maric b. 1909)..
(Cyprian's ) nipples were all at once peculiarly sensitive, and he found himself almost desperate with an unexpected flow of feeling, a desire for her to feed at his breast..... "I knew her once-previously- perhaps in that other life it was she who took care of me- and now here is the balance being restored-"
"Oh , you're overthinking it all ," Yashmeen said, " as usual."


In Colin Turnbull's The Forest People there is a lovely passage where he describes a pygmy ritual in which the father of a newborn holds the baby to his breast to show that he too is to nurture the child tenderly. This last passage, which concludes this section , reminded me of that . There is a lot of funny stuff in this section and there is an interesting combination of lust , friendship, growing intellectual and personal respect, all pushing toward the deep need for an integration of the male and female, the aggressive and passive, the Phrygian and the Lydian, the upper and lower, the past and the future.

You may want to be careful about trying this at home and unsupervised, but I fooled around improvising in the Lydian Mode on my flute. It didn't seem that discordant, more moody and unresolved. I rather liked it. Sorry if the precis is a bit lengthy. Trying to put out some bait for further discussion and possible digression.




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10 Comments:

At Wednesday, October 10, 2007 2:53:00 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At Thursday, October 11, 2007 3:01:00 PM, Blogger sfmike said...

This is a beautiful synopsis, and thanks for pointing out the Esalen analogy, which I think is spot-on. The great irony of Murphy's "Golf in the Kingdom," with its wonderful Scottish mystical hokum, is that it's become a favorite "spiritual" book of a lot of Scarsdale Vibe types.

 
At Friday, October 12, 2007 12:33:00 AM, Blogger sfmike said...

And in the spirit of this particular chapter, may I just raise a decent Crocodile with my fellow Chumps on the choice of Doris Lessing for the Nobel this year. The only other writer to mold my mind quite as radically as Mr. Pynchon was Ms. Lessing, and I'm glad the brilliant old crone is living long enough to be recognized for the serious Cassandra that she is and always has been.

 
At Friday, October 12, 2007 5:25:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Yes, a toast to Ms. Lessing!

Excuse the haste and lateness here, but I've been away from the desk for the last week.

The people in transit and the setting of Yz-les-Bains struck me as exactly how an alternate mail system may have flourished, W.A.S.T.E. not, eh?

The transformations of those like Ratty and De Bottle seem to hold the main message of the book -- that another life is calling from beyond the boundaries of the monitized hyper state, and, moreso, that it can be gained with just a bit of sincere effort.

Along those lines, Ratty's vision of the roots and future of anarchism in the event of a Great War, pg. 938, strike me as going to the heart of the novel's matter, as does the fact of time running out on the heritage of song at pg. 941, a-and the exploration of the unmapped which Yash elucidates a page later.

The sexual move Reef finds himself enjoying at the hands of Yash, pg. 943, is, I believe, the very one Roger Mexico finds appealing when bestowed during lovemaking by, is it Jessica?, in GR.

The Plutonian theme of death and hidden riches again appears in Yashmeen and Gruntling's exchange on pg. 946, in which Yash demonstrates a certain blindness to the lust for wealth.

And while Ljubica's birth in the roses has all sorts of mystic, gnostic overtones, see Rosicrusianism (and those garlanded crucifixes at Yz on pg. 931), we should note that her May arrival, if indeed she was conceived a trois on midnight of Easter morning, is coming either eight months early or five months late. . .

 
At Monday, October 15, 2007 11:53:00 AM, Blogger Decency's Jigsaw said...

Hey all, let me get a quick trivia moment in under the wire: Speaking of Lydians -- something I that remembered about them is that they're famous (or infamous) for being the first people to mint coins. But what I just found out recently is that these Lydian coins were not actually made of gold, but rather a natural alloy of gold and silver called Electrum. I did a double-take at first: electrum? As in... electricity? Not exactly. Electrum is an amber-colored metal, and the Greek word for amber was "elektron." Amber was the first and best-known material that people found to exhibit electrostatic properties, and the word "electricus" (amberlike) goes back to the 1600s.

But waitaminute: electrum is made of gold and silver? As in, how folks see the one when they look at the other through Iceland Spar?...

 
At Tuesday, October 16, 2007 1:35:00 PM, Blogger brooktrout said...

Cool info from dj on electrum. Is he doing all this stuff, or is it just the weirdness of history that once you start to look for connections between things they are everywhere? I think mostly he's doing it. Wonder if he uses wikipedia, or contributes to it under a pseudonym?

 
At Tuesday, October 16, 2007 2:56:00 PM, Blogger Decency's Jigsaw said...

Personally, I think it's completely both TRP and the "weirdness of history."

TRP packs in enough stuff (as exemplified by the new UK pb edition of ATD) that if we as readers want to find a connection, it'll probably be there already, or rather, TRP'll have supplied us with enough dots for us to make any number of trippy, seemingly inevitable constellations. A-and there's that old trope abt how there's nothing new under the sun...

 
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