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, December 18, 2006

E-Extra!! Read All About It!... Evil Deal Goes Down; Yale Prof. Grabs Big Bucks... Chicago Pariah Finds New Life As P.I... Chums Ordered Eastward...

"You're an artiste, Miss McAdoo?"
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Precis of Pgs. 26-56

The Action

The day following the Chum's arrival at the baloonists' camp, they meet there Merle Rideout and Chevrolette McAdoo, the photographer and model they'd rousted with sand bags during their hasty descent on pg. 13. Rideout is the father of young Dahlia (or Dally), whom he is raising in the absence of her mother, Erlys, who ran off, we learn, to perform with an itinerant Italian magician, Zombini the Mysterious, she'd only just met.

As they get acquainted, Professor Heino Vanderjuice of Yale University, a friend of the Chums, and an old running buddy of Rideout's, arrives at their camp with his assistant, Ray Ipso. The Professor is in Chicago to meet Scarsdale Vibe, an evil financial magnate, though he does not tell this to his friends over lunch. Later that day, at a meeting in Vibe's suite at the Palmer House Hotel, attended also by Ipso and Vibe's henchman Foley Walker, Vanderjuice accepts, for a very large fee, the job Vibe offers him. He agrees to build a device to neutralize one that Nikola Tesla is working on. Tesla's machine is intended to produce vast amounts of electricity for free.

After accepting Vibe's offer, Vanderjuice wonders if any amount of money could replace his friendship with the boys who that day even in their usual unworldliness, had regarded him with something like apprehension (35:5), once they find out what he's done.

In the meantime, the Chums have taken on their paid passenger from White City Investigations, Lew Basnight, a character with a lengthy backstory, who is about to be transferred to Denver to monitor labor activities there. With Basnight, they fly above the fair on a private security detail, paying particular attention to the fences.

As the passage draws to a close, possibly days later, the Chums are up in the Inconvenience with Lew and a reflective Professor Vanderjuice, who muses about the closing of the American frontier as they sail over the Chicago stockyards.

After Lew and the Chums exchange gifts, he departs for Denver. Apparently stuck in Chicago, the Chums suffer low spirits until new orders arrive mysteriously one night, ordering them to fly east. The fair over, the passage ends with the stray dogs and cats of the great exposition happily remembering their conversations and excursions with Pugnax.

Lew Basnight's Backstory (37:10 - 52:8)

An amnesia victim who cannot recall the incident which has not only alienated his wife's affections, but also turned him into a social pariah (He became known as the Upstate-Downstate Beast 37:23), Lew Basnight further suffers because no one will tell him what exactly it was he did. Now something of a human cipher, Lew quits his office job and eventually joins a kind of cult, headed by a man named Drave, who is assisted by Hershel, a mysterious bellhop. They promise to teach Lew detachment.

After gaining something like enlightenment, Lew is in a cigar store one day when a customer, Nate Privitt, somehow recognizes his intense powers of observation. Privitt offers him a job as an operative for White City Investigations, which Lew accepts immediately.

Just previous to his Chums assignment, Lew was protecting the Austrian Archduke Francis (Franz) Ferdinand (whose date with an assassin in Sarajevo in 1914 kicks off WW 1), and the Duke's murderous bodyguard Max Khautsch (umlaut over the a), as they follow the Duke's baser instincts through Chicago's high and low nightspots.

Another of Lew's recent jobs had him spying on a clergyman labor leader, the Rev. Moss Gatlin, and beginning to feel something like sympathy for Gatlin's cause. One day not long after, Lew is ordered, with no explanation, to Colorado for more anti-union work.

Style, Themes and a few Fine Points
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Stylistically the section begins in the parodic Boys' Adventure voice, with a heavy Perelman undertow. The passage starting at 26:9 You bean brain all the way to 27:3 shows the master's touch:

"You're an artiste, Miss McAdoo?"
"I perform the Dance of Lava-Lava, the Volcano Goddess," she replied.

The narrative voice changes to one of rather subtle observation before the friends' lunch on pg. 30, and mainly stays that way to the end of the section. The meeting between Vibe and Vanderjuice is straightforwardly told, as, one is made to see, their transaction is a baldly cynical one, with implications of outright evil.

Thematically, we have in Lew Basnight, like Miles Blundell of the Chums, the quintessential Pynchon hero, a likeable dolt possessing sentient gifts beyond his own understanding. The most notable of these heroes is Tyrone Slothrop, from Gravity's Rainbow, and the organization that finds and takes up Basnight here, White City Investigations, is surely an echo of the White Visitation, Slothrop's institutional overseers in that novel.

Scarsdale Vibe is another Pynchon bastion - one of Them, the People Who Run Things; ofttimes hidden, perhaps shapeshifting, always malign. As such, Vibe is a treat; dropping a scolding old woman in the Palmer House lobby, (31:21) like a tree, with a small bullet to the leg. Scarsdale, aside from a scarred dale, is a very affluent suburb of New York City. Its vibe is fairly heavy.

The Betrayal of Idealistic Youth by Cynical Old Age is another Pynchon theme, as is the Corruption of Knowledge for the ends of Power. Both tropes are at large in Vanderjuice's bargain with Vibe, and very likely in everything which follows.

The thematic center of the passage is Vanderjuice's dark musings as he sails with the Chums and Basnight over the stockyards; observations which re-animate the earlier idea of the progressive reduction of choices (10:20) that lead to the killing floor.

"Here's where the Trail comes to the end at last, along with the American Cowboy who used to live on it and by it." (53:2) "The frontier ends and disconnection begins. Cause and effect? How the dickens do I know?" (53:35)

My ears pricked up at the mention of Dickens. . .

The passage on Basnight beginning at 54:3 is pure Pynchon paranoia; his hero in danger of being disconnected from himself merely for traveling someplace new; and maybe delivered into the control of potent operatives who did not wish him well.

There's a ton of other things going on, which I have glossed over rather tidily. Of particular note is the throwaway line of Ferdinand's as he bolts from a south side bar, The Boll Weevil Lounge, after insulting its black patrons and without paying his hefty tab: (48:34) And when Franz Ferdinand pays, everybody pays! Well, he paid all right in Sarajevo and you might say the world has been paying ever since.

I loved Lew Basnight's story, in which his life is shown to be a kind of waking nightmare. The pulp elements surrounding Basnight include touches of H.P. Lovecraft, in his lost wandering in increasingly strange neighborhoods of what was once a familiar city, as well as Dashiell Hammett - who was a Pinkerton man before taking up the pen. The "hard boiled" prose of Hammett in particular is an essential American voice and has been a heavy influence on our writers ever since. Hammett's amoral hero of his Continental Agency (Pinkerton) tales is a nameless, overweight man he called the Continental Op; a character neatly mirrored by the plump and dapper (42:29) Nate Privitt of White City Investigations.

We also see in this section how the terms of the Chums' existence are apparently specific to the realms of fiction. (36:2) [...] the great national celebration possessed the exact degree of fictitiousness to permit the boys access and agency. The harsh non-fictional world waited outside the White City's limits [...] making the entire commemorative season beside Lake Michigan at once dream-like and real. We already know the ground population regards them with contempt and pity (25:24), and their old friend Vanderjuice here considers their usual unworldliness. What's more, the Chums are under the sway of an invisible force. Still in Chicago after Basnight leaves, (54:36) They seemed held here, as if under some unconfided spell.

Not to make too big an issue of this, but the harsh non-fiction world greets the reader each time she closes the covers of ATD. The Chums inhabit one fictional enclosure within the realm of a much larger one. Indeed alternating fictions seem to rub up against each other in Against the Day; the changing narrative styles being the main giveaway of this. The spell the Chums are under, I submit, is one completely of their author's making, an author who sends written (55:23) orders silently delivered in the night.

And as if there isn't enough going on, there's that Black Spot on page 40. I don't know about you, but my copy has a splotch of ink between lines 10 and 14, obscuring several words in the description of the weird hotel Basnight stays in while studying with Drave and Hershel. I have a hard time believing it's there by accident, Sterne dashed several blobs of ink across pages of Tristram Shandy after all, but I gotta say I'm stumped here. Call it something like a sun spot and press on, sez I.


At Monday, December 18, 2006 5:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Will, it's just a blot, my page 40 is blotless.

At Monday, December 18, 2006 6:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lines 10-14:

More than once they were obliged to step out into refuse-filled corridors, negotiate iron ladders, cross dangerous catwalks not visible from the streets, only to reboard the fiendish conveyance at another of its stops, at times traveling not even vertically, until at last reaching a floor with a room somehow cantilevered out in the wind, autumnal today and unremitting, off Lake Michigan.

At Monday, December 18, 2006 6:09:00 AM, Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

No blot here, either - though now I kinda wish there was...

I'm doing okay so far, with a little help from the Pynchon wiki.

One exception: The sequence in which Lew Basnight falls in with Drave and the odd building/hotel with the mysterious bellhop and Lew's many errands. Pynchon takes pains to make this pretty fantastic stuff, compared to what we've seen thus far.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to think at that juncture or what this weird group represents. I feel like I'm missing something and wouldn't mind a little help. By contrast, there's an upcoming sequence that's clearly Lovecraftian (starting pg 138) with which I feel like I know where I am. Not so vis-a-vis Lew and the bellhop, unless I'm just making things unnecessarily difficult.

At Monday, December 18, 2006 10:52:00 AM, Blogger Civic Center said...

"We also see in this section how the terms of the Chums' existence are apparently specific to the realms of fiction." On page 37, lines 1-6 we get even more fiction/non-fiction musings:

"Lew obligingly tried to remember: "Wild West, African explorers, the usual adventure stuff. But you boys--you're not storybook characters." He had a thought. "Are you?"

"No more than Wyatt Earp or Nellie Bly," Randolph supposed. "Although the longer a fellow's name has been in the magazines, the harder it is to tell fiction from non-fiction."

I just checked out the Nellie Bly story over at Wikipedia and it's pretty astonishing. I hope she appears later in "Against The Day."

Though I'm as mystified as kevin wolf about the weird cult that takes Lew Basnight in after he's been shunned for unknown crimes, this section of the book is my favorite of the first 56 pages. "Remorse without an object is a doorway to deliverance." (p39, line 16) is a wonderful concept. It's more fully explained on page 41, lines 21-36, which starts with "Many people believe that there is a mathematical correlation between sin, penance, and redemption." and ends with "Think of this as a productive sort of delirium."

All of us, if we look closely enough, "have a wheel riding up on a wire or some rails in the street, some kind of guide or groove, to keep them moving in the direction of their destiny." (p41, lines 27-29). The idea of jumping off that wheel of our own personal "La Forza del Destino" is mind-bending, and so is the instruction that atonement/penance/redemption (also known as karma) is not a simple set of sums and in fact have only a tangential relationship to each other.

As for your ink blot on page 40, Mister Will, it had already been foretold as part of your particular force of destiny on page 39, lines 30-32: "He tried to answer honestly, despite a constant struggle with the pen they insisted he use, which was leaving blotches and smears all over the form."

At Monday, December 18, 2006 11:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree w/ kevin that the Hotel Esthonia sequence means something, but am similarly puzzled. Most notably, Lew is staying in a hotel for which he does not pay monetarily, but rather in some other way("Everyone can pay"), and he is expected to serve the hotel staff, rather than vice versa. What sort of servant gives, rather than receives, orders? A public one, of course. Similarly, in the context of Lew's transition from outcast to P.I., he is required to make a confession that, if incomplete, could result in liablity. To me, at least, this recalls the polygraph interview/background check they give when one applies to work at an intelligence agency.

Re: sfmike's comments on Drave's speech (41:21-36), Drave is espousing an essentially Calvinist theology here, though calvinists would not allow for the possibility of "going off one's trolley"

A pseudo-Calvinist cult inducting sinners into intelligence agencies would make a certain amount of sense in a Pynchon world. The Bad Guys, the Them, tend to be capitalists. plutocrats. As any Weber fan will tell you, Calvinist doctrine was an important factor in the development of capitalism as we know it, and a many of its values persist in modern capitalist society, especially America, and double especially late 19th century America

At Monday, December 18, 2006 7:29:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

27:38 Little Egypt An infamous cootch dancer -- or, perhaps more accurately, two cootch dancers -- the Scandale du Jour. Also, fascinatingly, a nickname for Southern Illinois. Sez Wikipedia:

"Little Egypt was the stage name for two popular exotic dancers, Ashea Wabe who danced at the Seeley banquet at the 1893 World's Fair and Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, also performing under the stage name Fatima, appeared at the "Street in Cairo" exhibition on the Midway at the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893."

Note this well: There were two Little Egypts! In a novel with so many mirrored characters and reflected images, this can't be anything but a Kute Korrespondence put to good use. "Makes Little Egypt look like a church lady"! Har!

Surprised Wikpedia doesn't mention it, but in an online discussion in another world far away, we discovered that Little Egypt's (don't know which one!) theme music was the melody we now usually sing with the lyric "There's a place called France/Where the crocodiles dance," or, slightly more off-color, "There's a place called France/Where the ladies wear no pants."

27:10-11: "But if I promised to go back to the tonic and wait, do you think they'd let me come and sit in?"

For the nonmusical among us, the "tonic" is the home key of a tune. If a tune is in the key of C major, the tonic is C. Music became greatly complicated in the Baroque era with the introduction of the concept of keys, which allow the composer an enormously expanded pallette of musical tricks. Before that era, music had been what we -- if we were being all Pale Male -- might think of as primitive, based on modes. Interestingly and not at all irrelevantly, jazz musicians -- certainly not excluding our Calliope Thelonious Monk -- reintroduced musical modes into their compositions.

Much of post-Baroque Music can be described as a process of going-forth-from-Home and returning-to-the-Tonic. I know we've agreed not to drag in other Pynchon works here, so see the "House of Seven Babblers" thread for Supporting Documentation, but a great deal is made in Mason & Dixon of this idea of "going-forth-and-returning" in Musick.

Now! To Miles and his modesty about his uke playing. His offer to "wait" at the tonic is a way of saying "If I become confused or lost while playing with you, I will gravitate back to our mutually agreed-upon home and wait for everyone to return there before attempting the journey again."

Once, when music was based on "primitive" modes, it was not possible to become "lost" in a piece of music. When Baroque music introduced the idea of keys, music became almost completely impossible to "sit in" on -- that is, play with others in an improvisatory, spontaneous way -- because one had to have the written music to know where it was going, what key would be visited next.

One would, in fact, have to go to the Tonic and wait. And try again.

And get lost all over again.

In becoming Modern and Mathematical, music lost its ability to appeal to Sponteneity.

A-and what kind of music is Miles being so false-modest about? "Hawaiian and Philippino motifs" ("primitive" music) concluding with "Monsieur Saint_Saëns' 'Bacchanale'"!

Of Saint-Saëns it is said at Wikipedia: He was "widely regarded by his contemporaries and some later critics as writing music that is elegant and technically flawless, but occasionally dry, uninspired, and lacking emotion."

I've never heard his "Bacchanale" -- but does it really sound like he's the go-to guy for a tune with that title?

Saint-Saëns, it might be said is, the very epitome of what's wrong with "non-primitive" music.

Jesus. This guy. This guy. The deeper you go, the rounder it gets....

At Monday, December 18, 2006 9:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, no blotches here, either.

I really love Scarsdale Vibe as presented in this pages. The fact that he uses a pistol cane makes him also into a pulp kind of villain.

The "evil deal" is the beginning of a sort of fall from innocence of science. Vanderjuice designed the Inconvenience wonderful devices, but also is ready to use science for evil, and for money. I hope we might have deeper insight into his actions later on.

On Lew Basnight: It felt more Kafka than Lovecraft to me. Still, completely agree on the Dashiell Hammett tone. The small appearance of reverend Moss Gaitlin is enough to make him into one or my favorite Pynchon characters.

Would like to ask how all you felt by the change of narrative tone (and perhaps even voice).

At Monday, December 18, 2006 9:19:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

A-and, of course (forgot to mention earlier), what musician is the Subject of Discussion?

Why Miles, o' course.

At Monday, December 18, 2006 9:20:00 PM, Blogger Civic Center said...

The "Bacchanale" by Saint-Saens is orgy music of the Philistines in the last act of his opera "Samson et Dalilah" (which is a great piece), and it's pretty hot stuff even now, being an early Western adaptation of "Oriental" musical themes. Of course, at the end of the fun orgy music, Samson pulls the frigging temple down on everyone's head, and what else is new?

In any case, the Saint-Saens music is great, and has been stolen from in every possible way for the last 150 years. And I didn't realize until the Wikipedia article you linked to quite what an interesting career Monsieur Saint-Saens had, including a wide-ranging intellectual career and a long-standing interest in the occult.

At Monday, December 18, 2006 9:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

rené: The Basnight sequence has a Hammett tone, a Kafka situation, and a Lovecraftian architecture.

re: the change of tone, this section is the first departure from the Chums of Chance/Boy's Own mode. The Vanderjuice section seems to be standard pynchon-voice, whereas the Basnight bit exhibits the traits I mentioned above. Pynchon is establishing a character/situation dependent voice here, which I fully expect he will fuck with in due course.

At Monday, December 18, 2006 10:59:00 PM, Blogger Rob Hill said...

I second Scarsdale Vibe's nomination as villain extraordinaire, and with a great name to boot. What a blithe bastard. I picture him in pinstripe trousers, for some reason.

Basnight's amnesia strikes me as an exaggeration of noiry protagonists' tendency for a certain ambiguousness of identity. Some film examples - Bogart in Dark Passage has his face altered to mask his identity, Peck in Spellbound can't remember if he was responsible for a murder, Welles in The Stranger is an escaped Nazi masquerading as a respectable New England college professor. Hammett's Continental Op character not only has no name, but barely seems to have a past. So on first pass I regarded Basnight's "hyper-existential" plight largely as parody.

Not to keep bringing up outside material, but the scene in the hotel reminded me a whole lot of Firesign Theatre's Waiting For the Electrician album, which, according to Wikipedia, is "a Kafkaesque fantasy of paranoia in which an unnamed innocent [...] is manipulated by mysterious strangers and authority figures into situations beyond his control." Kinda has a whiff of familiarity, no?

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 12:22:00 AM, Blogger Rob Hill said...

"But if I promised to go back to the tonic and wait, do you think they'd let me come and sit in?"

Coincidentally, Tonic is also the name of an avant-garde-ish music venue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where (Cornell alumni) Elliott Sharp recently performed a set of Thelonious Monk compositions arranged for guitar.

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 4:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lew Basnight's amnesia reminded me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the Stoppard play that bears their name. They also suffer from amnesia, unable to recall anything before the action of the play Hamlet, almost as if they were called into existence by the demands of the plot.

So... It made me think that perhaps Lew had also come into existence in order to appear in some work of fiction, and then had "spun off" somehow, perhaps even jumped from his initial fiction into something else entirely. Oh! Could that be what is meant by stepping "to the side of the day"? (44:5-6)

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 5:56:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Basnight, for me, lives in an utter dream world and those things that are described as happening to him before he signs on with White City have all the illogical and vivid hallmarks of a nightmare.

"Nightmare Town" was the Continental Op short story Hammett turned into the novel Red Harvest.

Okay, a poll: do you pronounce the Professor's first name Hi-no or Hey-no? I like "Hey, No!" myself.

sfmike: re the pg. 40 blob and 39:30-2 -- Yaaaaaaaaaghhhh!!!

Little Egypt and southern Illinois: let us not forget Cairo (pronounced kay-row) at the southern tip of the state. An early destination of, uhm, Huck and Jim.

As for the whole Drave/Hershel sequence; it is an ornament, a riff, a little too diffuse and strange to grasp tightly right now. I'll see all those Calvinist ideas, and raise you a famous Victorian Astronomer, the man who, I only just learned, coined the word Photography and first applied the words negative and positive to photographic images.


At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 8:38:00 AM, Blogger Neddie said...

Okay, a poll: do you pronounce the Professor's first name Hi-no or Hey-no?

The "ei" diphthong in both German and Dutch takes the long "i" sound, so it's "hi-no."


At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 8:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

New to the party, and panting to keep up but delighted to be nipping the heels of this crowd.

Lew B's "off the grid" sequence is also my favorite section so far. I'm with Will on the "hallmarks of a nightmare" interpretation and with Jigsaw on the "stepping aside" idea. Lew's change at end of chapter seems to be related both to going “off his trolley” (love the way P. keeps extending this metaphor of grids, tracks, grooves, etc.) and to being newly enlightened (a “new luminosity”) by the idea that “things were exactly what they were.” (Everything is everything, the hippies used to say...)

Anyone have a theory about the reverse tip? Of all the cryptic reversals and inversions, that one struck me as the most potentially meaningful. (Everyone saw the reflection of Vibe's arrival at the Palmer House, right?)

BTW, the Pump Room is famously located at the Ambassador East, not the Palmer House... and was not there opened till 1938... unless it was replacing one at the PH that no one remembers. Just a reminder that we are in a paralell universe of some sort, I figure.

Also: What's up with Lew's name. Really Lube-Ass Night (as per the P wiki)? That sure doesn't add anything useful. But much is made of its ruination and pronunciation at first...

Couple other things I've noticed and thought I'd throw in:

p. 27: I’m pretty sure that “a circus sky” is a painted drop representing the sky, which makes me wonder if the chumps aren’t not only fictional, but purely and entirely for our entertainment... an airship clown car, if you will.

p. 29: 18: great description of the professor’s hat, which is certainly
that of a magician, no? It comes back on p. 34, where he gazes into “its depths, as if it were a vestiary expression of his present situation.” No rabbit, yet but I'll wait.

p. 34: Vibe wants Vanderjuice to invent a “counter-transformer.” Neat idea that goes down easily enough in the “World System” of binaries and dualities that obtains here but the phrase also echoes “counter-transference--y'know, that psychoanalytic idea that the therapist re-enacts his own childhood agons with the patient as well as versa vice-a. Freud’s a way’s off in the future, yet, but certainly part of the chronological landscape the flap copy tells me we’re going to survey.

The Prof’s literal nausea could be a version of the countertransference phenom vis a vis Tesla, or Vibe (if Vibe is somehow his double or his Evil Enterprise counterpart), or even the Chums... insofar as they might be both his agents and his conscience? I'm trying here to connect that throwaway about the Airship commanders' "symposia on techniques for avoiding the display of hurt feelings" at p. 30:20, which also flagged my attention, though I couldn't read the semaphore.

Anyway, spitballing there, but the reason I’m inclined to dwell on the counter-T is that the exploration of unconscious behavior and motive feels to me like a missing piece of the puzzle of the book, so far.

p. 46, Lew gets his clothes whited by the building material called staff, “meant to counterfeit some deathless white stone.” Same stuff used to build San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, where it was chosen ( a novelist once told me) not only because it passably aped the marble of classical Greece but because a mock-classical building made from the stuff dissolved into a romantic “ruin,” in no time--kind of like pre-faded jeans.

p. 50: Having done some Pynchoning before, I was licking my chops at the prospect of a song lyric but had trouble here: the lyric itself doesn't seem funny, or clever, or dirty, or... anything much but the REAL puzzle is that it just doesn't scan or sing along to the hymn in question. I did look up "Picardy Third," and it turns out to be another instance of Monkish notes-between-notes but no other clues... Maybe the words can be sung to the tune of "all the girls in France," aka Little Egypt? or All Pimps Look Alike to Me? Anyone?

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

The name Basnight, to me has the sense of the French bas, of someone under or at the bottom of the night; something, to my way of thinking, that connects to the waking dream aspect of Lew's existance better than "lube-ass". Of course, a bottom is a bottom. . .

Vanderjuice's hat struck me as a Lincolnesque symbol of times past, standing for certain battered ideals that now seem antique. I'm not positive, but I think a stovepipe hat is taller and more evenly cylindrical than a standard magician's topper.

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 2:22:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Claude: Welcome to the party! Throw your coat any-old-where.

anything much but the REAL puzzle is that it just doesn't scan or sing along to the hymn in question.

The hymn reproduced in the book isn't Blake's "Jerusalem"; it's "another" one that they sing after it. (Tidbit: Hubert Parry didn't set "Jerusalem" to music until 1916. Deliberate misdirection or bad research?)

The lyric in the book sure reads like "The Internationale," which does appear in the IWW's "Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent," a.k.a. "The Little Red Songbook," which the Pynchon Wiki theorizes is the model for the (apparently fictitious, although I'm getting real squirrely about using that word!) Workers' Own Songbook.

I did look up "Picardy Third," and it turns out to be another instance of Monkish notes-between-notes but no other clues...

A Picardy Third is when, at the end of a phrase or passage of music in a minor key, the third of the tonic (!) triad is raised a semitone to make the chord major.

The best example I can immediately think of that we're all likely to know is the Beatles' song "I'll Be Back," where, under the lyric "You know, if you break my heart I'll go/But I'll be back again" the final chord is an A major rather than the A minor we were expecting. (It's a fabulous effect; one of my favorite Moptop tunes!)

Fascinatingly, Parry's setting of "Jerusalem" flirts with a Picardy third under the line "And was the holy Lamb of God/On England’s pleasant pastures seen?" but most definitely not on the closing line "In England's green and pleasant land," which the singers alter to "this our" etc.

I can't help but note with some agitation that the introduction of the Picardy Third within a few pages of Miles' catbird-seat remark about the "tonic" is part and parcel of the same musical motif; a Picardy Third changes the tonic! If Miles were waiting with his uke poised at "Death's for the bought and sold," he'd find himself lost again!

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 5:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi all! Glad to be back at my computer and able to participate again. I’d like to explore Will’s (and others’) mention of the narrative voice a bit deeper (specifically, in relation to his mention of page 30 in the original post).

The POV changes subtly here and there; readers must pay attention well in order to stay with the story. (It’s all there, of course, clear as a bell. But, it’s more demanding than average prose.) I sometimes think of the POV as a kind of cursor. For example, in the previous graph [30:19-25], the cursor is with Randolph, who is wondering what’s preoccupying Vanderjuice. Thus, the pronoun “he” at the end of that graph refers to Vanderjuice. At this point, the cursor (which is my admittedly dumb term for, perhaps, the author’s device for directing readers’ attention) switches over to Vanderjuice. If you miss that transition, you might not follow that “‘Sorry boys,’ he frowned” (in the next graph) is Vanderjuice talking.

The following paragraph [30:26-36] is similarly remarkable. It seems to beg a bit of special attention, though its relative importance in terms of plot is possibly minor. But, from a stylistic perspective, I think it’s interesting how, at the beginning of the paragraph, the cursor I mentioned is clearly with Vanderjuice – and we’re literally swept along with him at “top speed” through the city. We’re swept along so forcefully that, by the middle of that same paragraph, we’re already in the elevator on our way up to meet Scarsdale Vibe!

If I’m rambling and making no sense, perhaps this final observation will further underscore my point. Two paragraphs later [31:3-22], another striking thing occurs. Can any reader help but think of Chekhov’s famous quote: “If a gun is on the mantle in the first act, it must go off in the third”? Well, DAMN! Here, a “gun” is introduced at 30:14 and it goes off at 30:21!

Those elements fascinated me.

[Oh btw, looks like a minor typo at 35:5, eh? Should be “it any” instead of “any it.”]

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 5:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, my amazement with that one paragraph at [30:26-36] is that we're in one place (a restaurant) at the beginning with Vanderjuice talking and a completely different, distant place (Palmer House) at the end (including dialogue there from that unnamed "functionary" person). It's an interesting graph.

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 6:20:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Random Stuff, hoping to spark conversation....

28:6-8 -- "...yet Heaven, in its inscrutability--"

"Heaven, hell," cackled Merle Rideout. "She's out there in the U.S.A..."

29:13 -- "Sucklinggg?" screamed Lindsay... How many of you heard Werner Klemperer goin' "Hogannn?"?

29:21 -- Vanderjuice's hat makes several appearances in this section, all of them meant to underscore his discomfort at the unpleasant task ahead. I think the thing to note about the hat isn't its stovepipe nature, but its outdatedness -- "a vestiary expression of his present situation."

31:3-4 Scarsdale Vibe -- can you just imagine Pynchon overhearing a conversation somewhere: "Ugh, I just can't stand Vicky Sue -- she's just got that Scarsdale vibe!"

31:8 -- Vibe's train's named the "Juggernaut." Wikipedia: "The word is derived from the Sanskrit Jagannātha, meaning "Lord of the universe"; it is one of the many names of Krishna from the ancient Vedic scriptures of India."

33:14 "Old Zip Coon" was an early version of "Turkey in the Straw." No Picardy Thirds here!

36:16-21 -- OK, I'll confess it. I do not understand this paragraph! "The great national celebration possessed the exact degree of fictitiousness to permit the boys access and agency..." The Chums, we are beginning to suspect, know that they are fictional characters -- so they can only have "access and agency" in a place that is itself fictive? B-but the Chicago Fair is not fictional?!? I suspect some PoMo theorizin' is in order here, and I'm beginnin' to entertain the thought, Where's a Grad Student when you need 'im?

37:10 -- Strange thing: "Lew, who wasn't even sure what Anarchists were, exactly, although the word was sure in the air..." But as his backstory is filled in, we learn that he is White City Investigations' leading Anarchist Guy: (51:3): "Lew by this logic became the natural gumshoe to be taking aim at Anarchists..."

37:13 -- Very important sentence re. Basnight's "sin" that hasn't been pointed out yet. Sez NarratorBoy: "As to the specifics of this lapse, well, good luck."

37:40-38:1 -- "I don't deserve this, Wensleydale." "You have destroyed your name." Is it possible that Wensleydale has just directly stated exactly what Basnight's unremembered "sin" was? That he destroyed his name -- i.e., his Signifier, to borrow a Grad Student word?

39:28-32 -- Boy, this is sure dreamlike: The form Lew has to fill out to stay at the Esthonia: "...according to a legal notice in large type at the top of the form, anything less than total confession would make him liable to ciminal penalites. He tried to answer honestly, despite a constant struggle with the pen they insisted he use, which was leaving blotches and smears all over the form."

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 3:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

36:16-21 -- OK, I'll confess it. I do not understand this paragraph! "The great national celebration possessed the exact degree of fictitiousness to permit the boys access and agency..." The Chums, we are beginning to suspect, know that they are fictional characters -- so they can only have "access and agency" in a place that is itself fictive? B-but the Chicago Fair is not fictional?!? I suspect some PoMo theorizin' is in order here, and I'm beginnin' to entertain the thought, Where's a Grad Student when you need 'im?

As far as I can gather, there is some kind of non intervention policy within the Chums. So, usually, the Inconvenience over Chicago would be a huge no-no, but the carnavalesque World Fair allows them to act openly.

Do the chums know they are fictional characters? I think Lew might be more suspicious to his nature than the Chums. I do thinks the Chums do know they are something else, agents of the Powers that Be or something in that style, not truly human.


On Lew's name, perhaps...

Lew = low; Bas = low

And let's not forget "It's always night"

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 4:53:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

I agree with Rene. The fair was elaborately strange enough to allow access by fictive personages. For a contemporary example, let me direct you to Times Sq. in New York City

And then there's this, a critique of American progress in two sentences (36:11):

[...] for at the Fair, where miracles were routinely expected, nothing this summer was too big, too fast, too fantastically rigged out to impress anybody for more than a minute and a half, before the next marvel appeared. Inconvenience would fit right in, as one more effect whose only purpose was to entertain.

In other words, if you think technology has made life more convenient and entertaining, think again.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 6:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

B-but the Chicago Fair is not fictional?

the Fair itself isn't, but all the little dramatizations and re-creations of exotic dances, rituals and habitats are. it's like wandering into a theme park, where you are immersed in a fictional world (Disneyworld), or, simulations of distant cultures (Epcot).


At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 7:06:00 AM, Blogger Employee of the Month said...

The Fair's buildings were built as no more than an elaborate stage set. Permenancy was not to be. "The Devil in White City" spends a lot of time describing the frantic building and "set-dressing" to meet the opening day deadline. The materials used and construction techniques were straight out of the theater. Elaborate make-believe. A fiction.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 7:27:00 AM, Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

Don't know if this will help or merely muddy the waters. Still, one benefit of working at a College is use of the library.

Re all the speculation as to the name Basnight, this is from Oxford's Dictionary of American Family Names, nearly verbatim:

(Vol 1, pg 111) BASNIGHT is probably an Americanized version of German FASNACHT or perhaps alternate Irish spelling of BASNETT.

BASNETT is French, derived from bassinet, a hood or helmet.

FASNACHT is Southern German or Swiss German for "Shrovetide carnival," "Shrove Tuesday" (literally fast eve); probably a nickname for an exuberant person or for someone born between Christmas and Lent, in particular on Shrove Tuesday.

I knew what Shrove Tuesday was, it turned out, though I had to look it up to be sure of myself. I wonder if this bit from the Wikipedia article I've linked has any bearing on ATD:

The word shrove is a past tense of the English verb "shrive," which means to obtain absolution for one's sins by confessing and doing penance.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 8:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apostrophize a grad student, Neddie, and you get a passle of better-thans. (Better because they write prose I can understand!) Maybe one day “Blowing-up-shit’s cursor” will be a term of art in PhD programs—I certainly plan to invoke it next time I try this on students.
Seems that Rene, Will, Cleek, et al have sorted Ned’s mystery paragraph beautifully. I had hopes of doing likewise on the subject of Lew’s unknowable transgression, but wind up chasing my tale—er, tail (perhaps by design). To wit:
I first stopped to wonder, what (the Dickens) does it mean to “destroy your name” in a world where all names are so clearly the mark of an Author. (Let alone to be so told by a guy named after a type of cheese.) This leads down the name-deconstruction blind alley.

After Wensleydale’s exit, the next information source is Basnight’s Troth (a strangely on-the-nose pun), who, at 38: 16, says the problem was multiple wives. I then looked back to examine the initial exchange at 38:8-11: “But what are they saying I did? I swear, Troth, I can’t remember.”/”If I told you, I would have to hear it once again, and once has already been more than enough.”

Any light? I don’t see any. I can only note the doubling of “swear, Troth” and the Klein bottle of once, again, more, and enough and feel that I am being very much fucked with by the guy in charge. (And maybe in that case, Lew’s name is telling both hapless character and grad-student--tending reader to “bend over,” though “good luck” was a friendlier way of expressing the same sentiment.)

No one seems to have yet brought Kafka into the Lovecraft, Hammett, etc. discussion—or did I miss that?—but that’s what I’m getting. The cockroach is not a symbol, it is an experience created by the author for the reader. (And modern theme-park designers call their work “experience design,” so there you are!)

My only other conclusion is that there have been multiple Lew Basnights in multiple versions (drafts?) of multiple Chicagos and thus, perhaps his author is reminding us that in this maelstrom even he sometimes forgets where he left the guy....

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 10:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...I did look up "Picardy Third," and it turns out to be another instance of Monkish notes-between-notes but no other clues...
...the "tonic" is part and parcel of the same musical motif; a Picardy Third changes the tonic!

Caught me at the piano... let's kill this Picardy thing once-and-for-all: not notes-between-notes, just an unexpected major (read "bright/positive") chord at the very end of a minor (read "dark/negative") passage - like this.

Creates poignancy in TP's example, adding a (probably false) 'hope' to the song of the downtrodden. Does not change the tonic, in fact exactly the opposite - tonic stays the same, the change is to the mode (from minor mode to major mode). The Wiki entry is confusing, it's the deceptive cadence that changes the tonic.

Neddie's Beatles example is great, you can also hear the Picardy Third at the very end of the incredibly sad kill-all-the-children seasonal ditty The Coventry Carol ("...bye bye, lul-ly lul-lay").

37:10 (Lew unsure of what Anarchists are) - stuck out for me, too - I'm just letting the story flow over me now, but I can't help but wonder what the "backstory" actually is, if it's a backstory at all.

Ray Ipsow: a character from "reality" walking around in this possibly fictional world, mirroring/reflecting Vanderjuice? 29:39 "...saw you sailing overhead...", 30:36 Ipsow recognizes evil, 32:03 "Same kind of activities...", underscoring the actual-ness of the situation throughout?

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 11:19:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

I don't think anyone's mentioned yet that Ray Ipsow's name has to be drawn from the legal phrase res ipso locutor: "The meaning speaks for itself."

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 11:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if we're really meant to ever know what Basnight did that was so terrible. It might be like the mysterious glowing contents of that briefcase in Pulp Fiction -- subtext that we, the reader (viewer, in the case of the movie) are meant to fill in for ourselves.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 12:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone's mentioned yet that Ray Ipsow's name has to be drawn from the legal phrase res ipso locutor: "The meaning speaks for itself.

does "res ispo" then mean "for itself" (roughly?)

don't know latin.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 1:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roughly, it does. Although my Latin is getting rusty.

I believe whatever Lew did should be quite important later on. I have a good theory right now, but it's based on the parallelism between Lew and another Pynchon character, so I'll wait for the right time and post. ;)

I then looked back to examine the initial exchange at 38:8-11: “But what are they saying I did? I swear, Troth, I can’t remember.”/”If I told you, I would have to hear it once again, and once has already been more than enough.”

There's a TV add around here against alcoholism where something similar happens. One person is evaded or insulted by all his friends and co-workers and he can't remember why. The moral: do not drink until you loose control of your actions.

Perhaps Lew can't remember what he did because he was on drugs or something?

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 1:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that the Hotel Esthonia may be a mental institution, as perceived through Lew's confusion. (The reference to Nellie Bly, who put herself in the bin, seems to reinforce that idea.) In this view, Lew's amnesia is part of a larger disorder, related to whatever unthinkable thing he did, or thought he did.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 2:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Neddie, not a grad school student, but (shamefaced) the apps are in. I think I can lend some insight and maybe help to inform the whole fantasy vs. science debate to boot.

So I think what Tom's trying to do here is make a comment on free will. In a rigorously mechanistic, detrministic world, as in god-sets-the-watch-and-steps-away kind of worldview, there's not a lot of room for personal agency. this is especially true in a historical setting, where one even loses the appearance of agency that we enjoy in the present. the fictive quality gives a degree of play among the facts -- shows Pynchon finding wiggle room between the rigorous coursing of atoms -- to exercise their will. This seems to parallel the Chums general M.O., which has them blown about by the deterministic force of the wind, but nevertheless operating with a degree of agency in spite of these forces. Of course, they fly only by virtue of Prof. V.'s invention, which is, we've been told "no better than a perpetual motion machine" or something to this effect. This seems to parallel, also, some of TP's extra textual griping about critics' criticism of some of his more fantastic literary strategies.

Also, as Moby-Dick Quotes seem to be my calling card round here, I refer you to the following (lengthy, my apologies) passage, throughout which it is helpful to remember that in the 19th c., 'necesssity' carried with it conotations of determinism:

"I was the attendant or page of Queequeg, while busy at the mat. As I kept passing and repassing the filling or woof of marline between the long yarns of the warp, using my own hand for the shuttle, and as Queequeg, standing sideways, ever and anon slid his heavy oaken sword between the threads, and idly looking off upon the water, carelessly and unthinkingly drove home every yarn: I say so strange a dreaminess did there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by the intermitting dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads. Meantime, Queequeg's impulsive, indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly, or strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by this difference in the concluding blow producing a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of the completed fabric; this savage's sword, thought I, which thus finally shapes and fashions both warp and woof; this easy, indifferent sword must be chance --aye, chance, free will, and necessity --no wise incompatible --all interweavingly working together. The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate course --its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that; free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events. Thus we were weaving and weaving away when I started at a sound so strange, long drawn, and musically wild and unearthly, that the ball of free will dropped from my hand, and I stood gazing up at the clouds whence that voice dropped like a wing. High aloft in the cross-trees was that mad Gay-Header, Tashtego. His body was reaching eagerly forward, his hand stretched out like a wand, and at brief sudden intervals he continued his cries. To be sure the same sound was that very moment perhaps being heard all over the seas, from hundreds of whalemen's look-outs perched as high in the air; but from few of those lungs could that accustomed old cry have derived such a marvellous cadence as from Tashtego the Indian's. As he stood hovering over you half suspended in air, so wildly and eagerly peering towards the horizon, you would have thought him some prophet or seer beholding the shadows of Fate, and by those wild cries announcing their coming. There she blows! there! there! there! she blows! she blows!"

I think this helps to explain Pynchon's reliance on the steam-punk genre as well as the Chums' quasi-fictive status. (Just caught the TP informed cult film _Bonzai Buckaroo_ on cable last night, btw, on Bonzai and his boys enjoy a similar status - a reciprical homage, maybe?)

On a wholly unrelated note, re: Claude's comment on the Prof's hat. Having read a bit (pardon the pun) ahead, I can say, I hope without revealing anything too story-ruining, that hats keep cropping up in odd ways, though I have no idea what their significance might be. I've been trying to record instances on the wikipynchon site and would appreciate anyone's aid along the way for all the hats i've missed. thanks.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 6:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to see you're good and paranoid, Will, even spotting the connections that don't exist. If it makes you feel any better, the wikipynchon site was home a couple of days ago to a discussion on whether the apparent errata that demonstrate doublings of letters might in fact be intentional, the product of some sort of copy-edit-proof iceland spar effect.

Also, Lew.B.'s off-the-griddedness might be taken as a sort of spatial syncopation, which draws together the hardboiled crime theme and the jazz (or more likely at this point in time ragtime) theme, which, needless to say, would prove such comfortably sleazy bedfellows a couple decades down the road.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 6:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, Neddie, the Juggernaut was most famous not as a god, per se, but as an idol to a god which was transported on a cart and which was so revered that its worshipers would throw themselves beneath the tracks, much as america prostrated itself beneath the railways in the 19th c.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 7:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The catwalks motif will be familiar to readers of William S. Burroughs (e.g. the County Clerk scene in Naked Lunch) frequently associated with boys, locker rooms, masturbation and collapse.

Tesla has already been mentioned by Neddie in connection with illumination of the White City and reappears in connection with plutocratic power politics. I feel the Wiki entry on Tesla could beef up the dynamic between Edison and Tesla (DC and AC, J.P. Morgan and Westinghouse, static and dynamic, perspiration and inspiration - all seemingly right down the old Pynchon alley). More background can be found here and here. Mention must also be made of the electrocution of Topsy the Elephant at Luna Park, Coney Island in January, 1903. Pynchon himself could have written that script. Ponder, if you will, the electric chair and the near-universal standards of 120VAC 60 Hz or 220VAC 50 Hz.

Anachronisms have been noted in the Pump Room and the setting of Jerusalem (really a big deal when sung full voice by the entire audience in the Albert Hall on the last night of the Proms. Another is at 50:36 "Yet here they were expressing the most subversive thoughts, as ordinary folks might discuss crops, or last night's ball game." Calling Mr. Tesla! The first night game in MLB wasn't til 1935.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 6:55:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

32:31 - Vibe sez: "I am guided, as ever, by Second Corinthians." He had a careful look around the table, estimating the level of Scriptural awareness.

It is one long epistle, just jam packed with observations, tribulations and exhortations. If suffering fools (re: Ipsow) is there, I missed it.

Speaking of scriptural awareness; religion majors?

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 7:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

apricot: what is the steam-punk genre?

old pal: thanks for the Picardy Clarification. That xmas carol nailed me the first time I heard it and now I know why.

akatabi: Topsy the elephant story is a corker!

will: good catch, you lapsed Catholic, you.

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 10:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suffering fools: 2nd Corinthians 11:19 "For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise."

Paul is referring to false apostles here (11:14-15 "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
[15] Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness") and Pynchon thus seems to be referring to Moss Gaitlin.

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 11:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what is the steam-punk genre?


"The prototypical "steampunk" stories were essentially cyberpunk tales that were set in the past, using steam-era technology rather than the ubiquitous cybernetics of cyberpunk but maintaining those stories' "punkish" attitudes towards authority figures and human nature. Originally, like cyberpunk, steampunk was typically dystopian, often with noir and pulp fiction themes, as it was a variant of cyberpunk. As the genre developed, it came to adopt more of the broadly appealing utopian sensibilities of Victorian scientific romances."

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 3:42:00 PM, Blogger Axiomatic.Apricot said...

Thanks, Cleek, for the tagout. I was referring to a conversation from the previous week's discussion and should have clarified.

Regarding Lew's forgotten sin, there seems also to be a gesture toward the doctrine of original sin, for which we all suffer, yet which none of us recall committing.

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 6:39:00 PM, Blogger Boldly Serving Up Wheat Grass said...

Interesting thought, Apricot! In fact, there are many great theories re Lew's sin here. I'm going to read this whole page and then re-read that section again to see which theory seems to resonate with me most.

BTW, sorry, Will, for being so quiet this week. Seems like the holidays are already consuming all of my time (with holiday office parties and other such debauchery).

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 7:31:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

In the reaches of Finnegan's Wake, the dreamer, Earwigger, regularly considers an un-mentionable and depraved incident he was involved in in a park, with a soldier.

Original sin? Sounds good to me.

At Thursday, December 21, 2006 10:04:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Axiomatic Apricot: Thank You! That Melville quote was flippin' amazing. You prove that Grad Students aren't so bad after all...! I love my alma mater!

Shorter OED definion of "original" (sorry, I can't afford all 20 volumes of the Big Kahuna!): "1b: That is such by birth, born."

The thought of original sin was certainly not far from my mind on reading Wensleydale's "You have destroyed your name" accusation. Basnight's "sin" at least evokes, if not directly alludes to, Original Sin.

Pal D: point taken about the "tonic" in a Picardy Third. The tonic note doesn't change, but the tonic's tonality does. And my point still stands: If Miles were waiting "at the tonic" for the band to catch up with him, he'd be thrown off by that Picardy Third: What the hell? Are we minor, or major? Gaah! Middle finger on this fret, or this one?

(A Real Musician would manage the confusion by waiting an instant to see what the next chord holds -- but the point stands.)

Oooh! One point I forgot!

55:33 "my colleague Freddie Turner... refers to Frederick Jackson Turner... "His emphasis on the importance of the frontier in shaping American character influenced the interpretation found in thousands of scholarly histories."

He is also, through utterly wonderful and serendipitous circumstance, the great-great grandfather of Bill Griffith, the creator of Zippy the Pinhead... I Shit You Knot...

At Friday, December 22, 2006 8:23:00 AM, Blogger Ol' Pal D said...

Re: Picardy - dead straight, sir.

Viewed retrospectively, I realize I was willy-wavin', mock away, friends.

And happy holidays!

At Sunday, December 24, 2006 10:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Real Musician would manage the confusion by waiting an instant to see what the next chord holds -- but the point stands

but if Pynchon was writing the song, he'd throw in a suspended chord or two, right there, just to keep you off the scent for a while longer.

At Thursday, December 28, 2006 6:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just FYI, The Straight Dope has an interesting little article about Tesla and his broadcast power idea:

here's an interesting bit:

"Tesla's idea was that the earth was aquiver with electrical energy, like a taut violin string. If one plucked the string at any point, the vibrations would be transmitted throughout its length. Same with the globe. The giant coil was to be Tesla's bow."

sure, Tesla has only a brief mention or two in the first 50 pages... but, well...

At Friday, December 29, 2006 6:10:00 AM, Blogger Boris the Spider said...

Tesla and his broadcast energy make an appearance in the recent movie The Prestige. Tesla is played by David Bowie. The broadcast power lights a field of bulbs at night in Colorado Springs. The rivalry between Tesla and Edison mirrors the rivalry between the two magicians in the movie.

At Saturday, December 30, 2006 3:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This hiatus is pissing me off.25/week is slow enough as it is, but pausing for multiple weeks is just gratuitous. Don't they know there's a war on?

At Saturday, December 30, 2006 4:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I'm at it: Basnight's Sin: what is it? It is a) name-destroying , (b)involves muliple wives, (c) might relate to or erase memory (to whom does les correspond?). Also, Calvinism.

At Tuesday, January 02, 2007 11:40:00 AM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

Holy God! How in the hell do you turn this thing on?!? So, newcomer, tagged in by Blowing Shit Up. Thought you guys were reading a 100 a week or so, so am WAAAAYYY ahead, but got the book for XMAS so...enough of that...

I don't remember which comment I'm...commenting on...I think it has to do with Lew and the hotel. Look at the description. It's like going "behind the scenes": ladders that don't connect, stairways to nowhere, etc.. I think so often, the "they" in Pynchon's novels turns out to be less a "them" and more an "it." I think this scene sets us up to view the paranoia that we all no is coming as a much more positive, karma-based, human form.

Except that the hotel is NOT karma. Sin/repentence/guilt/etc. are not directly related. The world is ordered by "other" relationships which seem to be a prevailing metaphor in this book.

Lastly, what are the rules on this commentary thing and where can I find them.

At Wednesday, January 03, 2007 6:29:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Excellent point about the "backstage" nature of the strange hotel.

Commenting rules:

Be thoughtful, polite (no spoliers!) and within hailing distance of the topic(s) at hand.

Oh and tho IM style is mad p0-m0, the use of standard American English - or the fine British variant - is requested; if you no what I mean.

At Thursday, January 04, 2007 4:39:00 PM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

Oopsy. Sorry, I don't IM. I just suck at spelling occassionally. Ho-hum...

Anybody else find it interesting that The Chums of CHANCE are directed by someone? Just saying..."chance".

Also, is the title of the book a reference to that Dylan Thomas poem?

Did the first lines of the book read as square dance instructions to anyone else?

Lastly, I like the hotel people in Lew's scene. It seems to me that they deliver a kind of moral system that acts as an alternative to the standard Christian ethos.

At Saturday, January 06, 2007 3:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhh, a new Pynchon book to start the new year. Does it get much better? I've read through the other Pynchon books solo, so I'm very excited to have a group to bounce ideas around in for AtD. I'm just sorry that I got started so late.

OK, to the meaty stuff:

I think that "subversive" ethnic influence on high society (especially musically) will be an interesting theme in AtD. Note the paragraph that begins at 22:3: "From somewhere too dark to see came music from a small orchestra, unusually syncopated. . ." as well as the stuff about Hawaiian and Philipino music not being "authentic" in Chevrolette's show (27:6-9).

Is the music "too dark to see" because Ragtime in 1893 was too ethnic for attendees of the Exposition? The Lava-Lava music ends with Baccanale, thereby enabling acceptance of the primitive music by removing some of its rough edges (or "Brilliant Corners", as Monk might say).

This seems to dovetail nicely with Neddie's comments about Baroque music and the leap that music made from being "primitive" to "civilized".

Lastly, did anyone else chuckle about the fact that the first 25 pages primarily dealt with an "enormous gasbag" with a crew draped in American flags flying around pissing on the folks of the USA?

Allegory or coincidence?

At Saturday, January 06, 2007 3:41:00 PM, Blogger Monstro D. Whale said...

Oh, I don't think it's a coincidence. Pynchon isn't exactly right wing, and I think there's something to the gung ho all Americanism of the Chums. I wouldn't doubt that we are getting some piece of allegory in all this what with the big evil tycoon who wants to corner the economic market for power.

At Monday, January 08, 2007 10:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have that same blot on page 40! It blots out part of three lines. I thought I was the only one!

At Sunday, January 14, 2007 10:11:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

The Chum’s of Chance

I love anonymous pointing out that the Inconvenience is “an enormous gasbag...”, perhaps an acknowledgement of the risky position of the writer, but also like the Sun, rather important . Pynchon works a lot with the connections between two narrative threads Trystero---the “real “ postal system; The subterranean/underground /telluric/ counterforce--- the historical , the geo-political, the specific, the scientifically verifiable; TRP also has a knack for connecting the wildly imaginative to the equally strange events of history. I see it as a Double helix type structure that connects people, ideas and worlds and produces unpredictable offspring.

Any way I think in ATD he may be trying to make this connective structure more obvious with the Chums of Chance starting out as caricatures inhabiting a clearly fictionalized world and only occasionally “getting down to earth” but the Chums interact with the “more real” world of the fictional characters who live in something artfully reflecting the real world, characters with real emotional lives and self awareness; these more real characters Lew B, Dally, Merle, (they get more real as the story unfolds) in turn interact with real characters of history J.P. Morgan, Nicola Tesla, who in the end are as weird and unknowable as the fictional characters.

It poses some damned interesting questions about what exactly is real. The Chums of Chance represent a classic serial adventure story style which in English Lit runs from Beowulf to James Bond and in which the heroic but human good guys do battle with “evil forces” always winning ,or at least surviving to fight again. Those who belive this story are wed to an inner narrative where the triumph and resolution always remains elusively in the future, requires triumph over an enemy and encourages the accumulation of cool paraphernalia. It is an enduring and fundamental myth of the self as winner and still used to this day when the leading imperial power, in a move both surreal and weirdly brilliant in its flexibility has declared war on terror. Hard to beat terror for an enemy.

Let’s face it, writers are hard pressed to give up this best selling formula and P seems to me to be using it masterfully to steer us into questions that will forcibly break us out of its limits.

At Thursday, January 18, 2007 1:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also have the ink blotch/blob/splotch on my page 40.
I was able to figure out what most of the words were, but not the one on the last line covered by it.
Could someone post the text of the sentence here?

At Saturday, January 27, 2007 12:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The penumbra of Lew's amnesia in the accusatory glare is neatly doubled, in a somewhat obfuscated description on p.1052...of what...exactly? The kind of ethics of 'Chinatown', and its dime-novel geneaology. Impossible to detect what genital act/violation takes place...his Dick is Private...
you come to the conclusion that it is necessary to maintain parodic integrity; as Towne would say, in a phrase extraordinarily fitting for ATD:-

"You have to paint in the available light"

the verso to which we find in Pynchon: tableaux scumbled, the creation of chiaroscuoro.

At Thursday, February 15, 2007 2:29:00 AM, Blogger kirkmc said...

I'm just catching up, and even assuming that no one will read this comment since you're all way ahead... But I wanted to point out that I've noticed some interesting suggestions of neurological symptoms in several places: Miles "spacing out", Basnight's amnesia, and the name of the Esthonia (atonia) Hotel, which might simply be a sort of hallucination. I've been adding stuff to the ATD Wiki if anyone's interested in following up on this.


At Monday, February 26, 2007 8:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me, Lew Basnight's (a knight brought low? The filthy night?) hotel was pure Garcia Marquez, a fantastic dreamscape freighted with dread, limned by a genius. What pleasure.

"To serve is to rule," as the waitstaff demonstrate, to Basnight's confusion.

At Wednesday, April 11, 2007 12:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slaps head! The hotel! It's obviously the actual hotel built by serial killer H.H. Holmes, the top floor of which was "never cleaned by the custodian," and was a giant maze, with doors opening on brick walls, stairways leading nowhere: a trap in which Hunt killed at least 27 people, and maybe 200. In the basement were vats of acid and lime to dissolve the bodies, delivered from the top floor by chutes. Across the street? A pharmacy which Dr. Hunt owned.

Was Lew Basnight the murderer? A patsy? Clearly Pynchon has read "Devil in the White City," and borrowed at least the hotel for his own adventure in mythopoiea.

At Wednesday, June 17, 2009 5:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what many people refer to as Lew's "dream like" state, along with his in and out of worlds other than this rational, on the grid world, seem to me like dropping acid, where our world seems like a product of our limited minds when compared to the many levels of existence that acid opens you up to. Like the perspective I get so far in this book, it points out the limited way we live.

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