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.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"It's me..."

(pp. 892 - 907)

The moon Tarot.

The Plot

Having decided they'd had enough of "Bodeo-packing coglioni" and the Principessa's continued Yentl-ism, Dally and Hunter reappear in London. After Hunter finds his way back to "the starched bosom of collateral relations someplace west of Regents Park", jealous-of-oatmeal Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin sets Dally up in a small apartment, deciding there's really nothing going on between she and Hunter. Chirpingdon-Groin introduces Dally to Arturo Naunt, a sculptor specializing in Angel Of Death statuary, who asks Dally to become his new model. Dally reflects on her previous experience in New York as a sculptor's model, she'd modeled for The Spirit Of Bimetallism (gold/silver/sun/moon bi-references here), among others. Dally agrees to model for Naunt, to mixed results.

Perenially-mean Ruperta accompanies Hunter to the Three Choirs Festival to hear a new work by Ralph Vaughn Williams, the "Tallis Fantasia" (for those unfamiliar with Williams, the festival, composer and work are all real). The music induces in Ruperta a life-change, tears streaming, a "levitation" and "return to earth" moved to leave behind her old ways. An almost Buddhist experience?

(Pynchon's breathtaking description of a wonderful night of serious music and it's effect on Ruperta is one of my favorite passages in the whole novel. Cantori/decani splits, Phrygian resonances, "nine-part harmonies occupied the bones and blood vessels of those in attendance" set the scene, and any of us who have allowed ourselves in these 'cool' times to be moved to tears by real music know exactly what Pynchon describes so masterfully here, at least IMHO)

Dally's modeling experience turns a little kinky for her tastes, and she re-runs into R. Wilshire Vibe, who offers her a role in his newest, Wogs Begin At Wigam. Almost by chance, Dally becomes an overnight sensation, then a true celebrity, and finds herself pursued by shady Clive Crouchmas, and old friend of Ruperta's. Dally gives in to the situation, and finds herself Crouchmas' mistress.

In another thread-crossroad which I'll leave to the more-capable to explore (me, I'm just along for the ride, and diggin' the wonderfully blurry scenery flying by the window, a perfect red farm-house here, a leering polar bear there), Dally meets Lew Basnight at a party. Tarot comes up, and Lew reflects on his mission. Another beautiful Pynchon moment, combining Lew, Dally, the Sun, the Moon, the night (and a perfect description of the traditional illustration of the Moon tarot card), each of the elements given voice: "It's me... it's me...", all culminating in Dally's question: "Who turned out to be the star?" Hmm...

Lew convinces Dally (with a big wad of offered cash) to spy on Crouchmas, telling Dally a little bit more about him in the process. (Please excuse my missing what looks like a pretty obvious German joke here, don't-a speak-a the doitsch-a) After apparently going about the business of turning Crouchmas' documents/secrets over to Lew for a while, Dally is finally caught in the act by Crouchmas himself, who it turns out was harboring some pretty deep feelings for her. Reacting harshly, he decides to get his revenge by taking Dally to Constantinople, where he plans to "shop the bitch to a harem". Running into old friend "Doggo" Spokeshave (is anyone else here viewing their daily spam differently after having read ATD? It's much easier for me to deal with Karthik J. Grosshandler's exhortation to "Save your relationship, stop premature ejaculation" f'ing 15 times a day if I imagine he's just one of Pynchon's people as I Delete him again and again... The least Kute Korrespondance of all...), Crouchmas makes plans to head to Constantinople on one of Basil Zaharoff's trains, and convinces Dally to come down and meet him. Lew sees her off, and (I was right, I knew I recognized it, go Duck Stab!) the Wiki confirms her last line to Lew comes right out of The Residents songbook: "here I come, Constantinople". I love this book.


At Thursday, September 20, 2007 5:10:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Vaughn Williams' Tallis Fantasia debuted in 1910, and we might see Ruperta's out-of-body experience, and subsequent conversion to the human race as another example of grace bestowed.

Just a minor note for Am. Lit. nuts, but compare Dally's quick climb up the ladder of the West End to the similar ascent of Dreiser's Carrie on Broadway.

I can't help thinking that Crouchmas is somehow connected to Theign, at least in his simultaneous attachment to England and Germany (903).

And that tall, empty building in London, so black no one can see it, where Crouchmas has his office, strikes me as the managerial parallel to the empty mayonnaise factory where Kit nearly came to a greasy end back on page, gee, 546 (and here I thank the Chump's search engine, now a dandy readers' resource).

If the factory was the belly of the beast then the London office bears a striking resemblance to the lower bowel (904:6): the downward transfer of an undiscussed product from the upper levels to the hidden cargo docks below [...] though the commodity was not exactly a fluid, the equations governing its movement [!!] were said to be hydrodynamic in nature.

More Plutonian realms.

I don't know about the rest of you Chumps, but I have been waiting waiting waiting for some reference, or note, or clue regarding the red Tibetan seal affixed to AtD, and I'm wondering if it may not be part of those strange, official-looking documents concerning foreign arrangements never made pubic [...] these territorial mysteries. (904:16-35)

And strangely enough, the Q weapon has resurfaced in Crouchmas' world. The Japanese had it since Kit gave it to Umeki after surviving the mayonnaise adventure way back in 1904, and page 567, and now apparently are looking for someone to take it off their hands.

The trusty Lampo Dally is packing on pg. 893 can be translated from Italian as flash or lightning bolt, still her step-father's daughter.

(Should you ever see a sign in Italy reading Lava Lampo, know that it is, alas, only advertising a laundromat.)

At Saturday, September 22, 2007 4:49:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...


The pubic above should, of course, be public, though with this book you might never know for sure.

At Saturday, September 22, 2007 12:55:00 PM, Blogger Neddie said...

Ah! I was just going to comment asking what that thing was Spokeshave and Crouchmas were dancing around -- the Q weapon, of course. I'd forgotten about it.

Boy, that Dally's sure bought herself a heap o' trouble, hasn't she?

This section was hard for me. In particular, I regretted my ignorance of Tarot -- I felt I was missing Big Things...

At Sunday, September 23, 2007 9:13:00 AM, Blogger Civic Center said...

The Tallis Fantasia is about as explicitly a "transcendental" work as exists, though I had no idea it was composed at the beginning of Vaughan Williams' career. He probably wrote nothing better.

Ruperta's reaction was wonderful. We'd just read her being spiteful with a bowl of oatmeal ("wait till you cool a bit, start to congeal, see how keen she'll be then") and the next moment she's levitating like the character in Pasolini's "Teorema" after she's had sex with Terence Stamp. Ruperta's reaction, "Somehow, I alone, for every single wrong act in my life, must find a right one to balance. I may not have that much time left." takes us back to the Prince's lecture about the Venetian Doges and how they had to balance out the brutality of their power on earth with appropriate atonement, or the world would be out of balance. And yes, I think we're back in Buddhism-land here.

And Will, good Am. Lit. catch. Dally's scenes also made me think of "Sister Carrie" (possibly my favorite American classic) doing a "little scene" in a musical revue that improbably turns her into the toast of Broadway.

I wonder why nobody has made a movie about the life of Pamela "Pixie" Colman Smith, the illustrator of the modern Tarot deck (and I loved the elaborate pun on page 901, where "pixilated" which means drunk becomes "Pixielated," meaning missing the point of a tarot card because the illustration is too potent). Colman Smith was a mixed-race artist whose father would leave her to make money in Jamaica (her mother died when she was 10), and she was "brought up" by Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Bram Stoker as she traveled around England with their theater troupes. Plus, she was an early member of the "Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn" and an illustrator for W.B. Yeats and his brother Jack. Why do the forgotten people in recent history sound the most interesting?

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