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, May 21, 2007

The Zetamaniacs Strike Back! (pp. 588 – 614)

Greetings, fellow Chumps! This is René López reporting again form the Mexican chapter of the Chumps, Los cuates selectos, as we traveled through time and space to find out the latest on the young vectorist Kit Traverse, as we find him in Göttingen circa 1904, which smells like a tannery, particularly in the mathematics department, where they have preserved Gauss’s brain. We find him along Gottlob (Praise God) and Humfired, commenting about a delicious girl, whose curves are everywhere continuous but nowhere differentiable.

This delicate prodigy of Calculus turns out to be none other than our own Yashmeen Halfcourt, ready to discover the mysteries of Riemann’s Hypothesis and Kit’s Hausknochen. Both engage in a delicious duel of mathematical double meanings and quickly end up in Kit’s room, where Kit claims to able to prove Riemann’s Hypothesis and manifest his dislike for number four, which wouldn’t sit well with the True Worshipers of Ineffable Tetractys. Sadly, the conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Gottlob and Humfried. Yashmeens pulls a strange disappearing act, as she apparently walks through the wall of Kit’s room.

Humfired and Gottlob chat with Kit about the byzantine Kroenecker–Cantor polemic on the legitimacy of numbers. Are all numbers, infinitely divisible, created by God? Could it be that only the positive integers deserve His Grace? Not that this isn’t a very serious issue, but our vectorist is more interested on talking to Yashmeen again. He encounters her some time latter near Gauss’s statue, and she explains to him that all this mathematical turmoil is a reflection of the political turmoil that it’s about to break.

Next thing we know, the Russians start killing strikers by the hundreds on Bloody Sunday, followed by an equally bloody Revolution and a terrible loss against the Japanese Empire, that send Russians scattering to the four winds. Some of this Russians, it seems, find their way to Göttingen, perhaps to spy on precious Yashmeen, perhaps to try to use her as a bargaining chip against Major Halfcourt. Yashmeen explains to Kit that, while she appears to be ‘her own person’, she belongs undeniably to the Major, who rescued her from slavery. The sudden intimacy makes Kit forgets vectors and falls completely for our heroine. She, however, is more interested in Günther von Quassel, a follower of Boltzman, interested in entropy and statistical mechanics.

Günther also has another “romantic” interest, the Statue of a Goose girl in the Rathaus square he must kiss on the day of his doctorate. Yashmeen is stricken by jealousy, so Kit and his fellows try to calm her down at Kit’s room. When Günther intrudes the scene, and Kit insults him with accusations of dividing by zero, both men decide to settle this with a duel. Günther proposes a variety of blades, but Kit prefers a couple of Colt six-shooters.

A jolly assembly gathers to witness the duel between, which seems to take the form of a mathematical duel of wits. Yashmeen, disappointed by the lack of blood, decides to leave the scene with an anthropologist. Some claim that she is a new version of Stephanie du Motel, a woman set to destroy promising mathematicians by inducing them to duel one another.

Among one of the many spies arriving to Göttingen, Humfried and Gottlob hook up with Chong, who is quickly recognized by Yashmeen as none other than Kensington Sid, the Ace of Spies. Yashmeen answers questions about the fourth dimensions to Russians while Kit immerses himself in the world of aerodynamics. Later, Yashmeen is spotted providing the groundwork for developing the Hilbert-Pólya conjecture.

And that’s it from Göttingen for the time being, as action suddenly moves back to Chunxton Crescent, where our favorite detective, Lew Basnight, is meeting with PI Vance Aychrome for a Full English Breakfast. Aychrome points Lew in the direction of Lamont Replevin, number XII on the Icosadyad: the Hanged Man. A dealer of antiquities, Replevin seems to be related with the Shambala affair and with a mysterious network of communications using gas lines. After Vance warns Lew to stop pursuing the Gentelman Bomber, Basnight goes to TWIT central to meet with the Grand Cohen. Nookshaft has two items of interest to communicate. First, he is returning to merely Associate status. Second, it seems Replevin actually has a map of Shambala; fortunately, Replevin might not know what he has within his grasp.

Like the good detective that he is, Basnight travels to Elfock Villa to check on Replevin. He finds the Hanged Man literally hanging down with his head inside an oven and wearing a mask. As it turns out, Replevin is only catching on his daily coal-gas soap, The Slow and the Stuppefied. Lew passes himself as an insurance agent, and thus he manages to trick Replevin into allowing him to photograph what appears to be the map of Shambala.

Some points worth discussing

Again, in this segment the amount of mathematical metaphors and double meanings can be quite daunting for the uninitiated. The fact that Pynchon always gets it right it’s also quite impressive. You might want to remember the deal about the Zeta function presented previously here on the Chumps. Just like in that other segment, there seems to be a strong parallel with Neal Stephenson’s work. Notably, one of the characters in Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle is also named Praise God.

Theories about the Fourth Dimension are discussed at length on these pages. Of particular interest, I submit to you the following quote from C. Howard Hinton’s What is the Fourth Dimension?:

Were such a thought adopted, we should have to imagine some stupendous whole, wherein all that has ever come into being or will come co-exists, which passing slowly on, leaves in this flickering consciousness of ours, limited to a narrow space and a single moment, a tumultuous record of changes and vicissitudes that are but to us.

Could it be that Iceland spar allows us a quick glimpse into the Fourth Dimension?

According to Replevin, Akaša=Aether=Chaos=Gas. What could be the implications of this equation? The Gas network seems to be a direct ancestor of virtual reality, perhaps even of the Internet: a chaotic network of information that can’t be controlled by a central authority.

Anyway, that’s it for today. I’m certain there a lot more avenues worth exploring in this segment, but they should make their appearance in Comments. Until the next time, this is René López, reporting live form the Mexican chapter of the Chumps of Choice.


At Thursday, May 24, 2007 12:48:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

I guess we have gotten(gen) so far into the story that all its cards are, so to speak, on the table and there's nothing especially noteworthy in the current arrangement.

Mr. P's riff on the coal gas communication net, (pg. 607) For those blessed with youth, money, and idle time, it amounted to little more than a faddish embrace of the Latest Thing, should put paid to any lingering fantasy about how he might regard our little exercise here.

The sight of Replevin hooked up to enjoy The Slow and the Stupefied prompted the kind of laughter on my part which, in other circs, would have sent milk shooting through my nostrils.

At Friday, May 25, 2007 6:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

we have gotten(gen) so far into the story that all its cards are, so to speak, on the table

so as to not give anything away, let me just say: oh how i wish that was true. Pynchon is a madman.

there are still 400+ pages to go. and that's enough for at least one whole other novel, from a less ambitious writer (maybe two from someone like J. Lethem).

At Friday, May 25, 2007 12:46:00 PM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Hmmm... I suppose better to have said all the cards so far.

My own progress currently has me just past the 850 mark.

And so onward. . .

At Sunday, May 27, 2007 7:12:00 PM, Blogger Civic Center said...

That was a wonderful wrap-up, Rene, which is probably why none of us have much to add. Thanks.

And I'm just keeping up from week to week at this point which is sort of fun.

At Sunday, May 27, 2007 9:27:00 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

I've been away and busy taking windows out of churches. (not as an ecclesiastical art thief, they pay me to fix their windows.) I didn't know The Slow and the Stupefied was even Broadcast outside of Texas, since the lead actor moved on to a D.C. based show The Decider vs the evil doers".

On a different note, I have been nagged by cleek's reasonable doubts and questions about the Q weapon as an SLR though I think this(SLR ) is a valid interpretation. I have been re-reading the section and have come to sense that it is more. The Q device is dividing squaring, rounding, focusing and reflecting light like a camera , but what is it taking a picture of? Theres some pretty weird crystals in there twith time distorting bilocational implications. It seems to be a kind of Karmic reversal tool. Woevre , at first keen to test it on the Italian anarchists, loses control of himself , points it at the now revealed Inconvenience, sees himself in a flash of light and a chorus of sound and is psychically devastated by his own history as an agent of the Belgian exploitation of the Congolese and similar actions in South Africa. P is drawing a Karmic connection between Belgium's cruelty in the Congo and its devastation in WW1.

Somehow there is an implied translation process in these chapters from the mathematics to the technical and social effects of the maths. I wrote something longer and more articulate but a lighning storm killed it.

Kit seems not only to have stepped through, but to have become something of a door to other worlds.

Tired I am , rest I must. may the force of the farce, be with you all 4 ways, and for always. . hold the fries.
Thanks Rene.

At Tuesday, May 29, 2007 3:48:00 PM, Blogger Civic Center said...

In the May 21, 2007 issue of "The New Yorker," there's a rather dumb review of the anti-religion books headed by Christiopher Hitchens' latest screed. The amusing detail is that the article is called "Atheists With Attitude: Why do they hate Him?" and the writer is named Anthony Gottlieb.

God Love, meet God Praise.

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