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.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tell Me, Baby, You Ever Been Four-Cornered?: pp. 260-279

Welcome back, Chumps of Chance, to another weekly installment of of everyone's favorite turn-of-the-20th-century, transnational, steampunk opus, Against the Day, brought to you this week, as every week, by Vibe Corp, manufacturer of high quality vibrations since 1885! This week's rollicking adventures brings us back to Colorado, where we rejoin the continuing saga of the Traverse family. As I'm sure you all recall, my dear Chumps and Chumpettes, the Traverse family is in a shambles since its patriarch, Webb, was murdered by Deuce Kindred and Sloat Fresno, a couple good-for-nothings hired by the mining companies to put an end to Webb's pro-Union, pro-Anarchist bombing campaign.

Telluride Saloon, 1903, source

This week's readings cover two chapters (the 12th and 13th in Iceland Spar), both of which remain focused on the action in Colorado spanning the years 1903-04. The first chapter opens with Deuce and Sloat "sharing quarters" at a flophouse outside Telluride (260). Bored, the two ride to town to cruise the electric-lit streets and to, as grandma used to say, troll for poon. After an exciting night of whore hopping and opium smoking, the boys find themselves at the Nonpareil Eating House where (who else?) Mayva and Lake Traverse are running the show.

There, the unthinkable occurs: Lake and Deuce start making eyes at one another, start making conversation with one another, and then, wham bam, start making plans for marriage. Deuce, it should be noted, understands the strange situation he's getting into -- "she had the man's face, for Christ's sake" (262). Lake, by contrast is not explicitly privy to this information, though "[s]ome would've said she knew even then what she'd done. Could not have helped knowing, God sakes" (263).

Needless to say, this decision is viewed as questionable. Lake and a coworker, have an argument that climaxes when Lake "slam[s] a plate down so hard that the stack of hotcakes on it, each glistening with bacon grease, went toppling, rudely surprising a single-jacker who snatched his hand away screaming" (264). This is followed by Mayva's and Lake's falling out: the two argue; Lake reveals that she is engaged; and Mayva packs up and leaves town. It is the last time Lake sees here mother. Even Sloat is disturbed when he hears Deuce's marital plans, and he wonders if it's possible "Deuce was being haunted by what he did, and that marrying Lake looked like some chance at putting that one ghost to rest, some way, God help him, of making it up to her?" (266).

They marry in a ceremony officiated by a Swedish minister, Lake in "a simple dress of pale blue albatross cloth" (266). Sloat, best man, drops the ring. The Swede sends them off with an aphrodisiac of peach tinctured everclear.

My favorite passage so far:
She was a virgin bride. At the moment of surrendering, she found herself wishing only to become the wind. to feel herself refined to an edge, an invisible edge of unknown length, to enter the realm of air forever in motion over the broken land. Child of the storm.
Which is pretty much the high point of the relationship. Soon Sloat moves in, and, no time flat, we've got sodomy, double penetration, the taste of shit mixed with other fluids, bestiality-tinged bondage, and an indecent act performed directly above Four Corners.

Meanwhile, the mine company is concerned that Deuce didn't actually kill Web. They tell him the bombings have continued unabated, same M.O. as the Kieselguhr Kid. And then there's that other thing, that "'matter,'" the mine officer tells Deuce, "'of your personal relations with the subject's daughter'" (270).

Things get tricky when Lake starts suspecting something's up and wants to know why the mine owners are after Deuce, the reality of which Deuce cannot, of course, relate. Sloat also starts getting nervous and Deuce begins to suspect that his partner has sold him out to the mine companies. The chapter ends with Sloat's departure and Deuce having a vision of "a luminous face suspended above where her [Lake's] own [face] would have to be, would have to, for this spectre floated high, too high, off the ground, or where the ground was supposed to be" (272).

The second chapter also follows the aftermath of Webb's death, but focuses on Frank who, Reef having "gone his way, . . . glide[s] back down to Golden on winds of inertia" and onto Denver where he spends the next year going through "a number of disguises" (273). The disguises mustn't be very effective, as Frank is continuously propositioned with job offers from Vibe Corp., which, being that he suspects Vibe of being involved with Webb's murder, he finds kind of icky, so that he is "soured . . . on silver and gold" altogether (274). And heck, "[t]he table of elements was full of other possibilities, 'the weeds of mineralogy,' as one of his professors used to say, 'just sitting there, part of the Creation, waiting for someone to figure out how they can be made useful" (274).

Zinc! source

So instead, Frank heads to Leadville where there's a "Zinc Rush" on, and Tom alludes in rapid succession to the the repeal (in 1893) of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, to Haw Tabor, and to chemistry puns ("Molly-be-damned"), before we meet Frank's new romantic entanglement, Wren Provenance, "a girl anthropologist a year out of Radcliffe" (275) who came "west to search for Aztlan, the mythic ancestral home of the Mexican people, which she believed to be located somewhere around the Four Corners" (277).

She and Frank then discuss the slag heaps around town that bear a more than passing resemblance to mysterious, ancient forms like the great pyramids, adding that "'[t]hat shape is common to a lot of the old cultures. Secret wisdom -- different details, but the structure underneath is always the same'" (275).

The Great Pyramids, source

Then, a flashback to Frank and Wren's first meeting, at first in a bar with a number of Harvard chums, then later that evening, when Wren, presumably trying to keep pace with Lake, turns out to be quite the kinkstress herself. She and Frank head over to Jennie Roger's House of Mirrors, where Wren finds it "'a relief to be back in stays again'" (276) and "'simply ruined . . . for everyday bourgeois sexuality'" (277).

Corset (without stays), c. 1900, source

Returning to the main action, Wren explains her research to Frank, telling him of the catastrophic end of the Aztlan people, who, following an "'incursion from the north,'" climbed "'up the steepest cliffsides they could find and built as securely as they knew how defenses against . . . well, something'" (277). She shows him pictures of the invaders from wall drawings, "people with wings . . . human-looking bodies with snake and lizard heads, above them unreadable apparitions, trailing what might have been fire in what might have been the sky," as well as signs of cannibalism (277).

Orestes Pursued by the Furies, by William-Adolphe Bourgueeau, 1862, source

Later, out at the bars, Frank and Wren run into Booth Virbling, city crime reporter, who tells that he's seen Reef recently, and that Frank's brother is "flush, but downhearted," from which information Frank begins to feel that it may be his time to take up the family cause (279). Frank, through unnamed sources, has discovered the identity of his father's killers but is, as yet, unaware of his sister's actions. The chapter ends with Frank deciding to return to Telluride to check on Mayva and Lake as Wren heads off to study the South Pacific islands. She advises that he return to Telluride undercover, which, as he ought to be sober to act with such stealth, requires them to drink up now.

Here ends the reading.

Additional Discussion: pp. 260-279

So you've read every word Pynchon's ever written and even tracked down that anonymous Boeing in-house publication that randomly makes a joke about Pippen the Elder on the (maybe not so) off chance that Tom penned it, too. A-and, you have a theory as to how it all ties together.

Here, my friends, is where you can wave your knowledge of Pynch's oeuvre like the giant willy stand-in that it is. I know I will.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Chums Of Chance In Venice, Or How The Cool Kids Played Tetris In 1902

(pp. 243-259)

Anamorphous image of Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov

The Plot

Returning to the Chums thread, we find Our Heroes in Venice, while The Inconveniece undergoes an upgrade. In keeping with the boy's-comic style, everything's gone Italian, the Chums are now "Gli Amici", the Inconvenience the Seccatura, and so on. The boys seem the same, Noseworth and Suckling continue their bickering, Miles lost in his own innocent agenda, moved by another occurence of the Picardy thirds. On a scouting misson, they come in over Murano, (famous for it's glass-blowers) and soon come across their target - the Isola Del Specchi, the Isle Of Mirrors itself. Once again, they find themselves followed by The Bol'shaia Igra, which raises suspicion among the crew - how do the Russians always know where The Inconvenience will be?

John Singer Sargent, "Small Channel In Venice". Source

On land again, the boys gather for dinner beside a little canal. Randolph ruminates out loud on his motivations, the first of many examples of the boys' desire for at least partial independence from their job in the sky. As Counterfly chats up the waitresses for information on Padzhitnoff, the Russians turn up in the very osteria (cafe) the Chums have chosen! The boys decide to stand their ground, and Randolph toasts all with their motto, "Red blood, pure mind".

The wineglasses turn out to have been a gift from Domenico Sfincuno, whose wish is to claim what he feels is his family's right to the Dogedom of Venice. Made ineligible for the Dogedom, the earlier Sfincuno family formed an alternate (to the Silk Road) trade route to the markets of the East, and the current Sfincuno hires the Chums to recover the lost route - the Sfincuno Itinerary - a "map or chart of post-Polo Routes into Asia, believed by many to lead to the hidden city of Shambala itself."

An anamorphoscope. Source

It turns out the Itinerary is more than a simple map (or route). In another example of light-trickery/duality, the Itinerary is suggested to be anamorphous (or more specifically "paramorphous" in nature, viewed with a specially-made mirror-device, ground at the time by the asylum-artisans of the Isola Del Specchi from... wait on it... Iceland spar. Is the Itinerary a map of real terrain, or of "the architecture of dream" (250:21)?

Miles, gazing at frescoes, finds himself inside "the prophetic vision of St. Mark, but in reverse" - he appears to/becomes a winged lion-being, who proclaims the Chum's current mission as a "pilgrimage", a serendipitous contract as part of a larger (in this case Christian) scheme of things.

Counterfly has a mysterious evening with a young woman, revealing a cigarette lighter that he claims "found him" from the future. The woman reads Tarot cards for him, and finds to her surprise The Campanile, the famous Venetian tower will be struck down soon. Counterfly spends the night, going AWOL in the morning. Suckling comes to fetch him, Counterfly speculates on a life on the ground. Returning to The Inconvenience, the crew tells them of Padzhitnoff's stocking his ship as if 'preparing for an engagement". In a fun moment, Pugnax invites a dog-friend on board in his native dialect, Dog.

Through a series of moment-flash descriptions, it becomes apparent there was a sky battle between The Inconvenience and The Bol'shaia Igra, seen by only the ubiquitous background figures (lasagnoni) in scenes such as these. There is another presence, "some visitation" during the battle, a "lethal impedance in the air". The battle rages, the Campanile comes into range, then Padzhitnoff "saw the ancient structure separate cleanly into four-brick groupings... rotating and translating in all available modes". The Campanile is falling - in the shape of a Tetris game!

The collapsed Campanile in 1902. Source

Randolph wonders remorsefully if one of their armaments ("sky-fish") could be the cause of the historic tower's fall. They meet with Padzhitnoff, who explains the destruction was caused by something else "out there". Talk turns to Japan, where it turns out one of the Chums previous employers was targeted for assassination by the Russians over their role in Manchuria. It becomes clear to the Chums that the Russians are after the Sfincuno Itinerary as well. Once again, routes and rails, connections from point-to-point in both geography and time come to the forefront, asking more questions than answering as the chapter comes to a close.

Notes And Comments

p243 Lots of bells in this chapter, from the bell-flowers (campanula?) in the opening passage to Miles comment on the loss of La Marangona, the largest bell in the now fallen Campanile

243:09 Convenient The Inconvenience drydocks in Venice, no?

p243 Scouting for the Isle Of Mirrors, looking below the surface for hidden meaning

245:37 - 246:06 Pynchon's description of the early evening, "Somewhere an accordian was wrenching hearts..." is another one of those passages, a striking example of descriptive genius

246:38 Suckling channeling Bogart: "...with all the spaghetti-joints in this town..."

247:03 "Purple Thanksgiving", tacchino (turkey) in pomegranate (purple) sauce

247:19 Both red & white wines together in the glass?

249:07 Political commentary: "Those whose enduring object is power in this world are only too happy to use without remorse the others, whose aim is of course to transcend all question of power. Each regards the other as a pack of deluded fools."

250:18 The Professor's speech once again points toward an alternate reality, but as we're apparently inside a comic book already, it's difficult to say what is and isn't real in the first place

250:28 Frescoes of "Istrian stone" - According to this source, there were "two moving lions in Istria stone" originally sculpted on the dado above the belfry of the Campanile. I wonder if they had wings?

p252 I'm enthralled with the writing here, almost 'from memory', a recollection of what it was actually like, rather than what actually happened, "blurry, wet dusk", "silver and niello", "Glagolitic", "radio-lenses", the beautiful dialog

254:20 "Chums... were expected to die on the job. Or else live forever..." Of course, that's what comic-book heroes do. Interesting how these particular heroes seem to be aware of a life 'beside' the one they're expected to live

255:23 Pugnax talking in dog-speak, comic-book reality

256:14 "Fourspace" - the real world (three dimensions plus time)?

256:20 Gunners "abolishing Time", GR/ATD concepts coming together right here, at least for me

256:29 Tetris: how cool is *that*? But here's the coolest part - for those of you who didn't pick up on it during the character's original introduction - guess who invented Tetris? Alexy PAJITNOV!!!

Additional Discussion, pp. 243-259

Chumps: here's where we (actually they) discuss this section's contents In Relation To Other Pynchon Novels. Beware: pretty much everyone in here's a Grad Student or better, and have been known to Wave Willies as well.


Administrivia VI

Added "Previous Discussion" links in right column.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Crystals 'helped Viking sailors'

Vikings may have used a special crystal called a sunstone to help navigate the seas even when the sun was obscured by fog or cloud, a study has suggested.

Money quote:

Polarisation cannot be seen with the naked eye, but it can be viewed with what are known as birefringent crystals, or sunstones.

Birefringence, or double refraction, is the splitting of a light wave into two different components - an ordinary and an extraordinary ray.

The researchers found that the crystals could be used to find out where the sun was in the sky in certain foggy or cloudy conditions.

Thanks to ChumpFriend Bruce Grand Pre for the link....

Administrivia V

Having noticed that our Collective Endeavor has grown to the point of mild unruliness, I've built a Technorati Search widget into our right-hand column. I'm getting errors back from Technorati when I try using it right now, but will keep fiddling with it till it works.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Name Dropper’s Guide to English Occultism

Summary pgs. 219-242

Be prepared to enter a realm of unexplained phenomena, ghostly séances and mystic conspirators and Vulcan greetings!

This week, in Against the Day, we return to Lew Basnight, our favorite ex addicted-to-cyclomite-private-eye, as he arrives in England with Neville and Nigel, “Back to the delights of Evil!” (page 219) even though, he reasons, neither of the two Ns have actually seen real Evil.

Both Nigel and Neville belong to the True Worshipers of Ineffable Tetractys, or T.W.I.T., a cabal of occultists competing with Aleister Crowley’s Order of the Golden Dawn and Madame Blavatsky’s Theosphical Society and “other arrangements for seekers of certitude”. The T.W.I.T

has chosen to follow a secret neo-Pythagorean way of knowledge, based upon the sacred Tetractys,

2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9 10,

by which their ancient predecessors had sworn their deepest oath. The idea, as nearly as Neville and Nigel could explain it, was to look at the array of numbers as occupying not two dimensions but three, set in a regular tetrahedron—and then four dimensions, and so on, until you found yourself getting strange, which was taken to be a sign of impending enlightenment.

Neville and Nigel bring Basnight to the T.W.I.T. sanctuary to be initiated into the Order. There, he meets Nicholas Nookshaft, Grand Cohen of the London chapter of T.W.I.T. Mr. Nookshaft goes on to explain the ex detective that, when he jumped into the explosion, he was transported to anther dimension, a Lateral-world which was connected to this other one by the explosion (page 211) and also with Yashmeen Halfcourt, a striking young woman who is in Britain under the protection of T.W.I.T; her guardian, Lieutenant-Colonel G. Auberon Halfcourt, is working for the Political Department somewhere in Inner Asia and young Yashmeen well being could be used against him at any moment.

[A Pythagorean Tetractys]

Nookshaft reveals that the purpose of T.W.I.T. is to observe and interfere with an organization know as the Icosadyad, a series of individuals that actually embody the twenty-two Major Arcana of the Tarot deck. Accused of the crime of creating an “invasion of Time into a timeless word … History, if you like” Lew gets offered a job spying them for T.W.I.T. (page 223) Working for the Followers of Tetractys, he feels related to Yashmeen, with whom he has a very interesting chat about the true purposes of the Order.

He quickly discovers that “the Icosadyad observe neither gender nor number” (page 225). Temperance (XIV) for example, is an entire family and Final Judgment (XX) is a streetwalker form seven dials. After less than a week in England, Lew is in the Grand Cohen’s office when a neophyte of the order comes with a message from Madame Natalia Eskimoff, an ‘ecstatica’ (some sort of medium), which has a Kabbalistic Tree of Life tattooed in her nape, trained by the best mediums in Europe. Lew and the Grand Cohen go to see her.

The Grand Cohen explains to the detective that position of The Devil is filled by professor Renfrew of Cambridge and professor Werfner of Göttingen. Their studies into the Eastern Question developed into a bitter rivalry which in turn developed into actual conflicts in the region, as both of them unleashed it’s ex students and acolytes against each other. (pages 226 – 227) Madame Eskimoff shows them a recording of the previous night’s séance. Clive Crouchmas, semi-governmental functionary and member of T.W.I.T, came trying to contact on of his agents who died in Constantinople during the negotiations for the “Bagdad” railway concession. Thanks to the recording, they discover that the ghosts of Europe are changing practices and now are haunting trains and railway lines, creating a network of phantom railways in Asia Minor.

[The Devil, as depicted in the Rider-Waite Tarot deck]

“Something’s afoot” says the Grand Cohen (page 230). After declaring that Neville and Nigel are at Cambridge keeping an eye on Renfrew, Nookshaft goes on to explain his idea of lateral-world Britain, a darker and more conservative version, in which Queen Victoria dies and her eponymous age is replaced by the Ernest-Augustan Age. Any similarities with our time must be entirely coincidental (page 231).

Lew, however, has bigger troubles in mind, as he tries every sort of drug because of his inability to locate any cyclomite in England (pages 233 – 234) and enlists the help of the two Ns to find some. They bring him to some secret facilities of the War Office, where he meets remarkably unexcentric Dr. Coombs De Bottle, and English scientist with Anarchist sympathies that is charged with the investigation of homemade explosive devices. The doctor tells him the story of the Gentleman Bomber of Heading, who uses poison-gas grenades during cricket matches that provokes dead by inhalation after 48 hours of exposure (page 236). The actual reason for Lew’s presence here, however, is his birthday present: a dinner pail full with cyclomite, courtesy of Nigel and Neville.

Lew is sent to Cambridge with the Cohen to meet with professor Renfrew (page 237). They are received by Clive Crouchmas, who is reveled to have a very long hand when dealing with government money and who tries to convince the Cohen to use the precognitives of T.W.I.T. for profit. However, there seems to be “some serious dissonance between psychic gifts and modern capitalism”, as Nookshaft explains.

After reading some weird newspaper headlines (I’m quite stumped on those, page 239) Lew and Clive meet with Professor Renfrew for beer. After Clive is gone on his merry way, professor Renfrew asks Lew about Yashmeen, and reveals that he thinks old Auberon “simply does not understand how things are dome”. He proposes to employ Lew to use his detective skill for finding the Gentleman Bomber of Heading (page 241) and so Lew finds himself once more searching for a legendary anarchist. Back with the Cohen, Lew reveals that Renfrew offered him a job.

Some points worth discussing

  • The amount of occultist practices Pynchon uses in this section is breathtaking both in its encyclopedic berth and its accuracy. Of special notice is the idea of the Icosadyad, twenty two groups or individuals representing the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck. Could this be used further insight into Against the Day? Which characters could fulfill the roles of the Arcana in this novel?
  • Pynchon’s idea of England is both ironic and cynical. However, America seems to have it better in comparison. From the idea of the ironic, the colonial games of the government, the taste of beer, and the occultist craze, to cricket being the last stand of civilization, Pynchon works with every English stereotype into what turns in the last page to a proper sitcom full with recorded laughter.
  • Werfner's idea of railworthiness (p. 242) seems to be crucial in the development of this section. Railroads are some sort of modern lay lines, connecting the capitalist energies of the days. Ghosts, it seems, are now haunting this lines instead of their traditional places.
  • Also, there a lot of pop culture references in this section. The most obvious one is the way the Grand Cohen and Crouchmas greet each other (p. 237), forming the first letter of the pre-Mosaic name of God. A sign basically meaning “long life and prosperity”. Additional brownie points go to whoever finds the rest of the references.
  • And last, but no least, is worth mentioning that some of the events in this section are greatly reminiscent of events of prior Pynchon novels. That discussion, as always, should be conducted at the Additional Discussion post.

[Doctor Spock forming the Hebrew letter shin with his hand. Now go back and check The Devil card again. ]

And that’s it for me, short and sweet, as we like it down here. Reporting from the Mexican chapter of the Chumps of Choice, Los cuates selectos, this was Scientific Officer René López reporting. Until the next time!

Additional discussion, pp. 219-242

Here is the place to speak of any cross references, any sparkings and slippings betwixt books that you have found, or believe you have found. My own thoughts and questions appear as the first comment, below.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Light and Pain

This week's reading covers three chapters centering around Webb, Frank, and Reef Traverse. Below is as brief a summary as I could muster, followed by some questions for the group. I have deliberately left many events unremarked upon, with the expectation that others will fill things in. So let's get right to it, then, shall we?

189-198 / Light over the ranges

We leave Kit and Lew and return once again to Webb. It is around 1902. All his boys have left home, and only the youngest, his daughter Lake, remains. She is "nearly twenty" (192:4), and as restless as the boys had been. She and Webb have stormy conflicts as she shakes loose of the family more and more. She disappears, returning home with money she will not say how she procured it. She claims to have made it betting on boxing matches, which Webb finds implausible for several reasons.

(I will spare y'all my perhaps excessive research on this topic, other than to say that all the boxers mentioned were real, and Webb's opinions are borne out by history. Both Malloys were repeatedly defeated by the scrappy, indomitable Flynn; Andy in fact went on to become Jack Dempsey's manager, who was also defeated by Flynn for the title of heavy-weight champion...)

Webb calls Lake a "child of the storm," and says, "let the god-damned storm shelter you" (190:12, 18-19). He reflects how she is like a "blue norther," a freak storm notable for its extreme and sudden temperature shifts. He fears her as he would a massive and unpredictable storm.

Lake leaves for the last time, and returns to Silverton "like coming home to her real family" (191:7-8). She misses her brother Kit the most, "for they were the two youngest, and shared a kind of willfulness, a yearning for the undreamt-of destiny, or perhaps no more than a stubborn aversion to settling for the everyday life of others" (191:25-28). And she fantasizes about waiting at an overpass and dropping a stick of dynamite on Webb as he passes by below (191:30).

With all his children now gone, Webb joins the Local 63. They find him a bit too zealous, and transfer him from Hellkite out to the Torpedo Workings in the Uncompahgre, where he meets Deuce Kindred. Deuce is described as a "Sickly Youth," who is "more afraid of the fate all too obviously in store for weaklings in this country than of the physical exertion it would take to toughen up and avoid it." He is described, not insignificantly, in terms of light: he absorbs cruelty, and re-emits it at different frequencies (193:7-14).

Deuce and Webb get to talking, and they watch a "sepulchral figure in a three-dollar sack suit" (193:20-1) walk past, whom Deuce believes is a Company spy. Webb is, or seems, unconcerned. He tells Deuce not to worry about the Company Inspectors. Deuce is a charmer, and Webb falls for it. A "couple-three" nights later, he gives Deuce some gambling advice, and invites him to call him Webb.

Then Deuce meets with a shadowy company rep (perhaps the selfsame "sepulchral figure"?) who contracts him to do some "persuading" or perhaps to "take it further" (194:15-40). Turns out, Deuce has a sidekick named Sloat Fresno, twice Deuce's size. In the increasing theme of pairings and dualities, Sloat believes that Deuce is his sidekick. Perhaps he is, in some alternate version of the story.

They've helped out the Owners Association before on jobs needing their talents. They are craven opportunists, mercenaries. They take Webb while he's being confronted by the company inspector about pocketing nuggets. "The first blow came out of the dark, filling Webb's attention with light and pain" (197:3).

Deuce and Sloat ride Webb out into the country. Webb feels damned foolish, through the pain, for having so woefully misread Deuce. In their division of labor, it has fallen to Sloat to inflict physical damage. Using a railroad coupling pin, he smashes Webb's feet and hands. It's just a job, and he takes care not to look Webb in the face. Webb finds himself crying out his sons' names, surprised at the note of reproach in his voice as he does so (197:40).

At 198:1-2, we encounter the sentence that gave Part 1 its name. Webb, severely beaten and now partially blind, watches the light over the ranges drain away. It is unclear, of course, whether the light is draining away because it is nightfall, or because his sight is failing.

They are headed for a place called Jeshimon, "over in Utah" (198:7, 11), where they intend to leave Webb for dead. They pass through Cortez, Colorado, and by chance encounter one Jimmy Drop, a former member of their gang. Deuce and Sloat hightail it out of there, but not before exchanging some "well-meaning rounds" with Jimmy, who tries, rashly and unsuccessfully, to procure a revolver from under one of the fandango girls' skirts. She pulls instead a .22 from her cleavage for him to borrow.

199-208 / Against the daylight

Frank is in mine school. One day, Reef, "out of the usual nowhere" (199:26), invites Frank to come with him to Castle Rock, ostensibly for some entertainment. They are on their way, it turns out, to see a woman of Reef's acquaintence. I like their nicknames for each other, Reefer and Francisco ("Kit" is itself short for Christopher; we can wonder if Lake too also has a nickname among them).

They arrive in Nochecita, where they meet Estrella Briggs. She is known as Stray, which makes sense when you recall the double L is pronounced as a Y in most dialects of Spanish. She turns out to be "real pregnant" (201:8), and it would seem Reef is the responsible party. We meet some of Stray's friends and other regulars: Sage, a Mormon; Cooper, a sensitive motorcycle-riding guitarist and a suitor to Sage; Linnet Dawes, a schoolteacher. Frank slowly comes to the realization that Reef is not perhaps all that welcome here, that Stray's friends are protecting her from Reef, whom they see as unstable, unreliable.

In a beautifully written passage (205-6), Frank and Stray have an oblique conversation, the bulk of which seems to go over Frank's head. What strikes him most, however, is that he finds himself attracted to Stray, deeply, and suddenly, as she sits veiled in her own penumbra, against the daylight (205:14-15). The baby kicks, she turns on the electric light, they look at one another for a long instant, and he knows that his memory of her face will long be a vision to get him through "many a hard mile" (206:10).

One day soon afterwards, a phone rings while Reef happens to be sitting right next to it. He answers. It's Jimmy Drop. "I'm sorry Reef. It's your Pa" (207:3). Jimmy knows where they're headed, too: a place called Jeshimon. Reef wants Frank to go back to look after Mayva and Lake. Frank insists on going with him. They are resolute but indecisive. At last, they get moving, travelling together as far as "Mortalidad, the nearest stop to Jeshimon" (208:30).

209-218 / The ends of the earth

Turns out, Reef is going alone to Jeshimon, which is "well up into Utah" (209:15). He wonders as he approaches the city, "what is wrong with these people?" (209:30). We readers can wonder the same thing. Corpses are strung up on gibbets for miles in every direction. Telegraph poles till they were used up, then "rude structures ... known in Persia as 'Towers of Silence'" (209:40).

Reef meets the fabulously named Reverend Lube Carnal of the Second Lutheran (Missouri Synod) Church, who speaks cheerfully of the strict polarity of the region: "We attract evildoers from hundreds of miles around -- not to mention clergy too o' course" (210:12-13). He speaks of the Mayor of Jeshimon, known as "The Governor." If, after committing your own personal flavor of sin, the Governor takes notice of you, expect no sanctuary in any of the churches. It is a town in every way surrounded and steeped in death -- and piousness. It is a nightmare city of lawlessness, "the place they brought the ones they didn't want found too soon" (210:28). Reef learns, however, "that, for a price, certain accommodations could be made" (210:29-30).

The Reverend takes Reef on a tour of the city, which is a living catalog of outrages, insults, and deviations so extreme and excessive as to be downright comical. Rev Carnal explains that this is because just as in medicine it is believed that the cure grows alongside the cause, here in Jeshimon, sin and redemption flourish side by side (211:28-30).

He says, "We like to think of Jeshimon as being under God's wing." "But wait a minute," Reef protests, "God doesn't have wings--" The Rev replies, "The god you're thinking of, maybe not. But out here, the one who looks after us, is it's a kind of winged god, you see" (211:34-38). Wes Grimsford, the Marshal, and his deputies ride by, expressionless, on black Arabians. They wear the standard sheriff's star, but upside down (212:3).

And then, on page 212, we encounter a long description of the Governor. Remind you of anyone?

Now, Webb wasn't quite dead when Deuce and Sloat brought him into town, and so the buzzards have not yet begun their work when Reef arrives. He buys (or perhaps rents) a set of grappling hooks to ascend Webb's tower. He manages to get Webb down just in time, and flees as the Marshal approaches.

As he rides back toward Telluride, he reflects on the possibility of Webb having been an Anarchist, the Kieselguhr Kid, and if that really were so, then shouldn't someone "carry on the family business...?" He feels "some new presence inside him, growing, inflating" (214:18). At night, around the campfire, he takes to reading to Webb from a dime novel he's had with him for a long time, The Chums of Chance at the Ends of the Earth. He's had the book for years, ever since finding it in the lockup in Socorro, New Mexico. As he read, he "enjoyed a sort of dual existence, both in Socorro, and at the Pole" (215:12). Not only that, but he could read in the dark as long as he didn't notice the absence of light.

And now, riding with Webb, he begins to feel some presence overhead, "as if those boys might be agents of a kind of extrahuman justice, who could shepherd Webb through whatever waited for him, even pass on to Reef wise advice..." (215:16-18). And as they ride for home, he and Webb exchange some words. Webb doesn't know where he is. Reef says they're outside of Cortez, but Webb retorts, "No. That's not where this is. Everthin is unhitched. Nothin stays the same. Somethin has happened to my eyes"... (215:24-30).

They have a small funeral, missing only Kit, who's Back East. Lake is wearing a black dress that seems more suited to quickening pulses than mourning the dead. Reef returns to Nochecita, where Stray has given birth to a son, Jesse. Reef contemplates the dangers of living the double life Webb had lived. "And Webb's ghost, meantime, Webb's busy ghost, went bustling to and fro doing what he could to keep things hopping" (218:31-2).

Questions & Curiosities

Some things to think upon and ponder. I've got a lot more to say about these chapters and all that I list below, but I will refrain for the nonce. I throw these out there now, and then I will, ahem, bustle to and fro in the comments to keep things hopping...

• There are some delightful names (Lube Carnal; Sloat Fresno). And some ominous or even dreadful names (Nochecita; Mortalidad; Jeshimon). This is one aspect of Pynchon that I've come to see as peculiarly Dickensian. Pynchon's names are often whimsical, but never entirely without significance. What do they mean, and what do they mean to you?

• Anyone want to comment on the significance of Lube Carnal belonging specifically to the Missouri Synod? Oh, and does anyone else remember that old Emo Phillips thing of him talking to the guy who's about to jump off a bridge? If I can find my old E=MO2 cassette (and a device that can actually play cassettes!) maybe I'll transcribe choice bits...

• Cooper is riding a motorcycle, which is not in fact an anachronism. His guitar is an Acme "Cornell" (which by a curious coincidence is the name of Our Humble Author's alma mater). Note, too, the description around 202:29 of how Cooper hits "between the wrong frets." Who else does that sound like?... Also, Pynchon's songs hold a special place in the hearts of his readers. Cooper's song is a lovely thing, and I invite any and all to reflect upon the lyrics. There are several other references to music throughout this section. Discuss.

• Deuce and Sloat's division of labor in their killings: body and spirit; each seeing the other as the sidekick. Jeshimon as a polarity. Reef's dual existence. Webb's secret identity; Webb, in death, insisting, "no, that's not where this is." Discuss.

• Foax well-versed in other Pynchon works should feel free to drop by in the Add'l Discussion section. I've got some questions and comments over there...

Oh, and one more thing. Let's all take a moment to think of one our Kindly Hosts, Mr Nedward L. Jingo -- Without Whom, &c &c -- who on Monday morning will be (carefully, carefully!) dismembered and remembered in order to have a new hip joint fitted into his delicate organic nether regions. I am sure I speak for all when I wish you a smooth and uneventful procedure, followed by a speedy and restful recovery!

Additional Discussion, pp 189-219

Here is the place to speak of any cross references, any sparkings and slippings betwixt books that you have found, or believe you have found. My own thoughts and questions appear as the first comment, below.